Title: Trinity III: Pilgrimage
Author: XF-Stew
Classification: SHA (Story, Humor, and a little Angst)
Rating: R (for language and adult subject matter)
Spoilers: None in this story, but takes place post-Gesthemane
Keywords: Features Megan Largo and a hint of MSR
Summary: When Mulder hears of a West Virginia man who claims to have run over an alien with his pick-up truck he drags his partners out to investigate. (Based on actual events)
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, nor anyone else who regularly appears on the X-Files. They belong to Chris Carter and 1013 Productions. I am using them for non-commercial purposes, so please don't sue me. Also, I borrowed lyrics from Matchbox 20 (Push) and Sister Hazel (All For You), these are also used without permission. I do 'own' the character of Megan Largo, however, so if you'd like to borrow her, please ask at: xfstew@yahoo.com
***The events depicted in this story are based on actual facts. This is a twisted and partly fabricated take on a 30-second radio blurb I heard last week about a man who claimed to have run over an alien with his pick-up truck. The names and places have been changed to protect both the innocent...and the guilty. This is a lighter take on the new X-Files crew, a little more humor and a little less angst. I hope you like it.


TRINITY III: PILGRIMAGE
by XF-Stew
PART ONE
(xfstew@yahoo.com)

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

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Basement Office
Friday, August 22, 1997
7:35 am

Mulder walked into the newly-expanded basement office. He whistled to himself as he propped the door open and dropped his briefcase on his desk.

Abruptly, his whistling ceased and the corners of his mouth turned down as he spotted Megan Largo, sitting in the chair at her desk in the far corner of the room. She wore a gray blazer over a white shirt, black dress pants, and an amused expression.

"Well, somebody's chipper this morning." She called across the now-large room. "What, did Scully let you hold her hand on the couch last night?"

"She let me do a lot more than that." He replied merrily, waggling his eyebrows up and down.

"Yeah, I'll bet." Largo said, her smooth voice dripping good-natured sarcasm. "Come clean, Mulder."

Mulder smirked. He wasn't completely enamored with Meg Largo. They'd only met a mere two weeks ago, and at that time he'd been certain she was a pawn of the Consortium. Now, he began to doubt that, for he'd seen her by-pass possible opportunities at sabotage on more than one occasion. Still, he didn't trust her completely, but she'd been instrumental in helping him realize what his true feelings for Dana Scully were. In return, he promised himself to be as open and honest about his relationship as she was about her own. She was a strange choice for a confidante, but they had developed a good rapport on this subject, both feeling it was relatively safe territory.

"Okay, okay, I'll come clean." He spread his hands. "She let me kiss her goodnight."

"On the cheek, or on the mouth?"

Mulder held a hand to his chest, an indignant look on his face. "A gentleman never tells."

"Ha! This is you we're talking about, Mulder. Besides, if you don't say, then I'll tell you what *I* did last night."

Mulder's eyes went wide. He threw his hands out in front of himself to ward off the threat. "No, no, that's not necessary...Okay, it was on the cheek, but it's progress, right?"

Largo decided to massage his ego instead of letting it crash by saying, "Sure it is, Mulder. You're doing great."

He beamed, and Largo shook her head at his near-giddiness. When she'd originally heard about 'Spooky' Mulder, everyone depicted him as a dark, brooding man with a sharp mind and an acid tongue. She'd seen flashes of all those qualities, especially the brilliance, but what she didn't expect was to see Fox Mulder when he was falling in love. He was serious when he had to be, which was most of the time, but these morning conversations were her favorites with him. Before the day began, before they put on their official FBI-Agent faces they could speak a little about their personal lives, and Mulder could allow himself a rare moment of happiness.

He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down to attempt some paperwork on the case he and Scully had just completed.

When Skinner reorganized the Division, he sent down a memo outlining the new guidelines for investigative procedure on cases. Although there were three agents in the X-Files Division, only two would be assigned to the field if out-of-town travel was a necessity. The third would maintain office duties and provide support from Washington. When assigned a case by his office, Skinner would choose which two agents would leave and who would stay. However, if they requested an assignment, Mulder and Scully would divide duties themselves.

So far, he and Scully had been out on two short cases, the most recent one involving Satanic rituals; which locals claimed were responsible for the death of two teenagers out in the woods of Tennessee. It was later discovered that a jealous boyfriend had set fire to the couple while they were camping. Mulder had just shook his head over this strange and disturbing conclusion. Love sometimes took haunting turns, pushing people over the edge of sanity.

During both of their road trips, Largo had stayed in DC. From there she provided back-up in the form of data from old X-Files and background checks. In addition, she did research on strange subjects Mulder insisted might be connected to their investigation. During the last case, he asked her to find everything she could on Catholic exorcism. The next day she faxed him a 40 page brief she compiled on the subject, complete with footnotes and an annotated bibliography. She hoped that would shut him up for awhile, but the next day he called and asked her to find all reported incidents of poltergeists in the state of Maine within the last year. She almost...almost told him to go fuck himself, but instead, she calmly and sweetly told him she'd fax it out the next day. Largo knew he was testing her, intentionally sending her on wild goose chases, insisting she prove herself to him.

The problem lay in the fact that she believed *he* should be the one proving himself. Proving to Scully that things would be different, that he wouldn't be running off after lights in the sky anymore. Most of all, she wanted Mulder to prove that he wasn't the arrogant, self-absorbed asshole she'd originally believed him to be. So far, the jury was still out.

She did, however, wish him luck with Scully, mostly because she'd seen the new gleam in Scully's eyes when she looked at Mulder. Largo truly cared for and admired Dana Scully, and she knew Scully had feelings for her long-lost partner. He, however, definitely needed some work.

Of course he did, just look at the man's family! They were nearly as dysfunctional as the Bordens, and the ghosts of childhood still haunted Fox Mulder. That much she knew. True, her own childhood hadn't been idyllic, she'd split her life between two worlds, living a school year in the Twin Cities, then spending the summers on the Redwood Indian Reservation. She was an orphan by the age of 14...but she'd always been loved, and that was the essential ingredient missing in Fox Mulder. Half the time he looked like an old mutt that had been kicked one too many times. And even though she thought he was an asshole, it tore at her heart to see that tortured, hangdog look on the man's face.

That was also why she was so happy when she saw the way Scully washed that look right off his face. Largo wanted this thing to work out between them, but lived in fear of the consequences if it didn't.

The moment the clock hit 8:00 am, Dana Scully strolled calmly into the office. Her punctuality was uncanny, and Largo was occasionally tempted to create a dummy X-File folder with a mock report regarding Scully's eerie promptness and leave it sitting on her desk one morning. She was stayed only by the fact that two files in the cabinet already bore her name, and perhaps Scully, taking it the wrong way, would be upset.

"Morning Scully." She called over her shoulder, already turning back to the paperwork on her desk.

"Morning." Scully replied as she dropped her trench coat on a hook and her briefcase on the desk. Mulder and Scully's desks faced each other in the middle of the room, while Largo preferred the back wall.

Scully was immaculate as always in a black "power" suit and matching pumps, which elevated her to an impressive 5'5". She poured herself a cup of coffee and turned, eyeing both Largo and Mulder as she carefully sipped the hot brew.

"What's the matter, Scully?" Mulder asked.

Smiling as though at a private joke, Scully shook her head, "Nothing. It's just that every morning I walk in here and you two look like cats who just split a canary. Smug, but not happy about having to share."

Largo blinked at her. "Wow Scully, that's deep."

Mulder snorted a laugh, then stopped when no one joined him.

"What do you two talk about every morning before I get here?" Scully asked seriously.

Mulder looked so completely busted Scully wanted to laugh, but didn't. She kept her face neutral as she looked across the room. Largo, however, kept her face neutral. She was a smooth liar, a fact Scully knew all too well.

She looked at Scully blandly, her hand creating small circles in front of her as she calmly replied, "Oh, you know...the pennant race, Jim Rome's sports-radio show, our Washington football team with the derogatory nickname. Or mutants, midgets and geeks--you know, the usual suspects."

Mulder nodded rapidly, ready to agree with anything the young woman said.

Scully just shook her head and smiled enigmatically. "Well, Mulder, you should have stuck with 'a gentleman never tells'."

She watched his jaw drop in surprise and horror. Largo held up a hand to cover her laughter.

"Yes," Scully continued, "sometimes I get here early, and sometimes I get curious about you two. Can't blame a federal agent for eavesdropping. But you," she turned her steely-eyed stare to Largo, who abruptly stopped laughing, "you're worse than he is! Threatening him with you own sordid little details."

"That was low, wasn't it?" Largo said impishly.

"It sure was. You never offer to tell me those details!"

It was Largo's turn to drop her jaw. She gaped at the petite red head. It was perhaps the first time Scully had seen Meg Largo bereft of speech. She cheered inside.

"Gee...well...I...Scully, I never thought..."

"Got you Largo! I've finally shocked the Queen of Shock." She raised her small arms above her head, Rocky-style. "Who rocks now, Largo?"

Largo made a face, she twisted her lips and mumbled, "You rock, Scully."

"Yes I do. Old Mulder's an easy target, but getting both of you in one morning...oh-ho, this is going to be a good day."

She threw her head back and laughed. Mulder nearly went into cardiac arrest, and Largo's almond-shaped eyes got as round as full moons. Both agents were surprised, but pleasantly so, by the rare sound of unadulterated laughter coming from Special Agent Dana Scully, M.D.

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

3:05 pm

Mulder looked across his desk and over at Scully. They'd both been finishing paperwork all day, and he'd been waiting to ask her his question for three hours now. At lunch, he'd received a call from the Gunmen. They'd run across the story of a retiree from Wolftail, West Virginia who claimed to have run over an EBE with his pick-up truck last week. He recovered the head of the creature and had stuffed it, putting it on display in his home.

Mulder desperately wanted to check it out, and considered driving to Wolftail tonight. To hell with Skinner and his *guidelines*, what he did on his own time was his own. But what he really wanted was for Scully to come along with him. One of the major focuses in his life right now was proving to Dana Scully that extraterrestrial life did, indeed, exist, and that they were already here. He didn't understand it. How could she not believe? After everything they'd seen, all the evidence that hinted around the edges. What, did the woman need an EBE to come slap her upside the head with a wooden plank? Maybe that's what it would take, but until it happened, he would continue to try and convince her himself.

"Scully?" He asked quietly, looking at Largo's back out of the corner of his eye. She had a set of headphones on and was tapping her foot to an unheard beat as she typed rapidly at her PC.

"What?" She looked up at him from behind her reading glasses.

"What are you doing this weekend?"

"Well, I've been meaning to talk to you about that. My mother has a small family dinner party planned, and she's been hounding me to bring you to it."

"Scully, you know family things are hard for me. And your brother hates me."

"Bill doesn't hate you, Mulder. He just doesn't know you. Maybe if you'd give him a chance to--and tomorrow night is the perfect opportunity to give him that chance."

"Aw, Scully--" he whined.

"Mulder, will you please come? My mother's been driving me nuts about it, and she hasn't see you since dinner two weeks ago."

Mulder thought for a second, suddenly getting an idea. His face brightened.

"Okay, Scully, I'll make you a deal."

He received a famous Scully-look in return. Skeptically, she said, "A deal?"

"A deal. I'll go to your mother's dinner party on Saturday night, if you'll go to Wolftail, West Virginia with me on Sunday. It'll just be a daytrip."

Her tone was flat. "Why?"

"It's a beautiful drive. Wolftail is in the Monongahela National Forest, and it's only about three hours drive."

"What's in Wolftail, Mulder?"

He tried to look innocent. "Nothing. I just figured it would be a good turn-around point. I just want to take you for a Sunday drive."

"Mulder, that is by far the flimsiest justification you have ever, and I mean *ever* had for getting me involved in one of your little UFO-watching schemes."

"It's not a scheme." He replied, careful of how he phrased the words.

Scully looked up and sniffed the air. "What's that I smell, Mulder? Could it be this ration of crap you're trying to feed me?"

"Scully! Would I lie to you? Would I feed you crap?"

"You've done it on a daily basis for over four years now, Mulder." She sat back in her chair, toying with a pencil between petite fingers. Suddenly, she smiled.

<Uh, oh> Mulder thought.

"Okay Mulder, you have your deal. On one condition." She jerked her head in the direction of Largo's unsuspecting back. "Largo goes with us."

She smiled smugly.

Mulder frowned at her, then at his hands. He looked over at Meg Largo's back. Suddenly, as if she could feel the eyes on her, she turned and glanced over her shoulder. She saw the two elder agents staring at her and removed her headphones.

"What?" She asked, "Did someone stick another 'I love Cancer Man' note on my back?"

Mulder turned back to the smug red head. "But I thought it would just be the two of us, a nice late-summer drive..."

"Sure you did, Mulder."

"Okay," he said in defeat, knowing she had seen through him, "it's a deal."

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

Megan Largo's Apartment
Sunday, August 24, 1997
7:15 am

She smelled coffee brewing, and a faint hint of her favorite perfume. On any other morning but Sunday, that would have been a good enough hint. She rolled over, reaching out an arm to throw across her companion, glad that she had finally moved in to this place for good. She patted the sheets with her fingers, searching for her bedmate.

Nothing.

The right side of the bed was empty. Jolyn Parker groaned and opened her eyes. She glanced over at the digital alarm clock. Way too early to be awake on a Sunday morning. What the hell was this all about? She intended to find out.

"MEG!!" She yelled, startling Lenny, the lithe little striped cat who sat perched on the end of the bed. Lenny jumped down and went to retrieve his owner.

A smooth, sweet voice got louder as it approached the bedroom. "Jo, what are you doing up at this hour?"

"Get out of my head! That's just what I was going to ask you." She said grumpily.

Largo approached and sat down next to Jolyn on the bed. She wore a white t-shirt and loose jeans. All Meg's jeans seemed too loose to Jo, who didn't think her friend had completely recovered from her injuries and illnesses of the past year. And she knew for certain Meg had frequent nightmares, from which she'd awaken sweaty and babbling in her native Dakota. Through it Jo could distinguish the commonly heard English names of "Ben", and "Scully", and the word "omakiza", which Jo knew meant 'help me'. All Jo could do was hold Meg after one of these disturbing dreams, she knew her friend was still healing from emotional scars as well as physical ones.

Now, Largo held out a caramel-colored hand, and Jo slipped hers inside of it. "I forgot to tell you," she said, "I have to go to West Virginia today."

"West Virginia? What's in West Virginia?"

"I have no idea, but Mulder has insisted on taking this daytrip to Wolftail, West Virginia, and Scully said she wouldn't go unless I did."

Jolyn frowned at the wall, "This is getting a little weird, Meg."

Largo shrugged, "I have no idea what kind of game they're playing, but it's only one day. Besides, if Mulder *really* wanted to take her on a romantic drive, he would have dropped the whole thing when she mentioned me joining the party. Don't you think?"

"Who knows? It's every guy's fantasy to have two women instead of one."

Largo clicked her tongue in mock-disgust. "That's nasty, Jo."

"Oh, like he doesn't make any 'threesome' comments down at the office?"

Largo smiled a little, "Yeah, sometimes he does, and I think he's the envy of every male agent in the building. He sits down in the 'privacy' of the basement all day with two women."

"Two beautiful women." Jo inserted.

Largo smiled down at her, a little self-depreciatingly. "I love you, Jo."

"I love you, too, but I still think this is crazy. I'm beginning to think those two are more dysfunctional than a couple on 'Melrose Place'."

Largo laughed, showing a brilliant mouthful of white teeth. "Enough about Mulder and Scully," she said, leaning down for a kiss.

Jolyn obliged, kissing her long and deep for several minutes. Finally, she broke off, out-of-breath. "If they're picking you up soon, you better get out of here. If not, I can't be held responsible for my actions."

"Doh! Mulder!" Largo cursed. She kissed Jo once more, briefly, then made herself leave the room, now regretting her off-hand promise to join her partners on this stupid Sunday morning field trip to Wolftail, West Virginia.

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

7:45 am

Mulder's knock was answered by a stoic Meg Largo, who had thrown on a moss-colored fleece pullover in deference to the crisp morning air. The jacket matched her eyes perfectly.

She didn't invite him in, but answered the door with a backpack over one shoulder and a plastic 'Coffee People' mug in hand.

"Let's go." She said tersely, flying by him and down the hall. She got into the backseat behind Scully and mumbled a hello.

Mulder was a little stunned by Largo's attitude. Normally mercurial and full of good-natured humor, she now seemed almost pissed off...

Suddenly the lightbulb went off and he said, "What's wrong, Largo? Didn't you get your lovin' for the day? Did I interrupt something?"

"Shut up, Mulder." She called from the backseat, crossing her arms over her chest.

He continued to rib her, "Bingo! That's it! I hit it right on the head that time."

"If you're not careful, Mulder, you'll be taking a crack to the head, and I don't mean the one I can see."

"Yeah, that's if you can even remember where it is!" He shot back.

"Well at least I'm getting some, Mulder. Too bad you can't say the same!" Aside, she added, "No offense, Scully."

"Oh yeah, well I--"

"THAT'S ENOUGH!!!" Scully roared over the din. "Both of you! If you want, I can drop you both off in some locker room and you can talk like that to each other all day, but here...NO MORE! Okay?"

They were silent for a moment, then Largo said, "Yeah, I'm sorry. That was mean and I'm just tired, that's all."

"I'm sorry too." Mulder muttered, and started the engine.

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

8:40 am

They'd driven in silence for at least half an hour, when Scully suddenly knew exactly what to do. She turned on the radio. It was set at an AM all-sports station, but she quickly flipped it over to the FM dial.

"Hey, what are you doing?" Mulder protested, a little miffed that she'd play around with his radio. It was set on his favorite station, but Scully patently ignored him and turned the dial to a station she'd seen Largo's own radio tuned to on their car trips together.

Scully spun in her seat to look at the brooding Meg Largo. She still stared blankly out the window, but Scully knew Largo could see her out of the corner of her eye, and she smiled as she saw Largo's mouth begin to twitch up into a grudging grin.

"What the hell is this?" Mulder asked indignantly.

From the backseat, Largo replied, "Duh, it's the Sneaker Pimps. It's 'Six Underground'."

Mulder rolled his eyes. The Sneaker Pimps? Scully smiled at him, her own eyes asking for his indulgence. He nodded slightly and continued to drive in silence until he heard a soft, achingly beautiful voice from the backseat sing along with the music of a new song. The singer on the radio was male, but Largo's rich, smooth voice overtook his just slightly. She sang, as if to him:

     "...I don't know if I've ever been good enough
     I'm a little bit rusty, and I think my head is caving in
     and I don't know if I've ever been really loved
     by a hand that's touched me..."

She seemed to know the entire song, but she sang some parts a little louder than others. He glanced over at Scully, who had her head tilted back, eyes closed, listening.

     "I wanna push you around, well I will, well I will
     I wanna push you down, well I will, well I will
     I wanna take you for granted..."

Was she trying to tell him something? Or was she merely singing? He had no idea Largo has such a beautiful singing voice, but was she trying to manipulate him with some stupid song lyrics? Women!!

     "She said I don't know why you ever would lie to me
     like I'm a little untrusting when I think that the truth is
     gonna hurt you..."

Largo stopped singing and simply hummed along with the rest of the song. She was already beginning to feel better. She knew what she really needed, though, and it was a fast-paced, guitar-driven, summertime kicker to pick her right up. She got her wish, too, because the next song was one of her summer favorites, one that reminded her of Jo. But, in a way, it reminded her of Mulder and Scully and their strange relationship too. Again, she couldn't help but sing along with the band:

     "Finally I figured out
     But it took a long, long time
     But now there's a turnabout
     Maybe 'cause I'm trying.

     There's been times, I'm so confused
     All my roads, they lead to you
     I just can't turn and walk away.

     It's hard to say what it is I see in you
     Wonder if I'll always be with you
     Words can't say, and I can't do
     Enough to prove
     It's all for you."

Mulder listened, surprised that he could actually tolerate this song. He glanced at Scully and saw something he'd never, ever seen: she was tapping her foot AND drumming her fingers against her leg. She even sang softly with the chorus.

So, there had been things the two women shared, things he as yet had no part of. One had been Meg Largo sucking Scully into what Mulder considered to be a cultural and intellectual quagmire: modern alternative music. For the most part, he hated it, and for the next half hour, except for when Largo accompanied the singer in her sweet, heart-breaking tones, it was like nails on a goddamned blackboard.

After each song he asked Largo who sang it, not really caring, just trying to irritate her. However, she foiled him by staying placid and easily ticking off the names of the bands. Mulder either grunted at the absurd names or simply shook his head. Alice In Chains? Smashmouth? Third Eye Blind? For Christssake, one was even called the Squirrel Nut Zippers! Then, to top it off, she told him the next song was by a new band called Love Lode.

< Great,> he thought, < just what the world needs, another angst-driven group of screaming freaks named after ejaculate.>

Largo spoke up from the backseat, "You can turn it off now Scully. I think we all need to talk."

"About?" Mulder asked innocently.

"About what the hell we're going to do in Pig's Eye, West Virginia."

"It's Wolftail."

"Whatever."

"Well," he began, shooting a tentative glance over at Scully, "I was talking to the Gunmen the other day-"

Largo interrupted, "Now, those are your undersexed hacker buddies, right?"

"Undersexed?"

"Yeah, we met 'em very briefly once. I thought the old guy was going to slip on the drool he spilled on the floor from leering at Scully. Geez, do the guy a favor and get him a Playboy or something."

"Okay, old Frohike's kind of a perv," Mulder conceded, "but what did you think of the other guys?"

"Well, that Byers is kind of cute. He looks all natty in that suit of his."

"Oh my God!" Mulder blurted, "Megan Largo has just declared an interest in the male species! Stop the presses!"

"Shut up, Mulder." The women said in unison.

"So, Largo, can I ask you a personal question?" He said, more seriously.

"If it's a legitimate question, go ahead."

"You say you're attracted to both men and women, right? So, how do you meet them? Do you sometimes see a guy or a woman on the street and, you know--"

"Check them out? Stare at their asses? Hit on them? Is that what you want to know?" Largo supplied, looking at Scully to make sure the conversation wasn't making her uncomfortable. It didn't appear so. In fact, she looked very interested.

Mulder nodded an affirmative.

"No, not usually. I've seen attractive people on the streets before, but I don't really stop to check them out. And I would never dream of *hitting on* anyone I saw in the streets. Maybe it's par for the course for other people like me, but that's nothing I would ever do. I've had five relationships over the course of my life. Two with men, and three with women. In each case, I've known the person quite well before we've become involved. By that, I mean that we were friends or associates first. I'll tell you a few things about myself: I don't meet people in places like bars, and I don't go to gay clubs. I do love music but don't really like to dance AND (and this is a very important one) I don't sleep with people I don't have *very* strong feelings for. I don't believe in sex without love, but I do believe that a person's gender isn't what matters. In addition to physical attraction, it's what's inside that person that draws me to them, not whether the person is male or female."

"Wow. That's quite a speech." He replied, surprised by her candor.

"Yes, and now I think I might throw up. I've never said all that out loud before. It's a little scary."

"So you're 'in the closet'?"

"It's not that simple for people like me. Well, maybe I shouldn't say that, because I'm hoping my dating days are over forever. I'm in love with Jo, and, although this might sound overly-optimistic, I hope we stay together forever. She's living with me now, by the way. But back to the subject, most of the general population doesn't accept bisexuality as an actual sexual identity."

Mulder glanced over at Scully. They shared a knowing glance, which Largo caught. "And I can see there's at least one here in this car." Largo lightly touched Scully's shoulder. She turned.

"So, Scully," she continued, "what's your opinion on the subject? Your honest opinion."

"I don't feel comfortable talking about it."

"That's fine, but I would like to know. I'd like to know how you really see someone like me."

"Okay, Largo," she said, deciding to let it all out. "I see you as a person who is becoming very important to me. I see you as a friend as well as a co-worker. I look at you and I see your intelligence and I see your drive and I see a person who picks herself up after every fall and jumps right back into the fray. I look at you and I see a person struggling to stay in harmony with two diametrically opposed cultural backgrounds. And I see a woman trapped between two other worlds as well. I see a person who has to hide her love behind the walls of her home. A person who will never engage in anything even remotely resembling a public display of affection. Who may never marry, may never have children, and may never be comfortable or happy within the confines of mainstream American society. But most of all, I see a person who remains strong, positive, and endearingly optimistic despite all of this.

"I haven't answered your question about bisexuality because, no, I have never believed in the concept of it. I believe either you are attracted to men, or to women, but I've never understood how someone could attest to an attraction to both. Despite this, however, I do believe in you, Largo. Because of you, I'm beginning to change some of my attitudes. You've shown me a strength of character I've rarely seen, and I admire you for your persistence along the difficult path you have chosen. You are true to yourself, which is something many people are afraid to be. Whatever your choices are, I will accept them without question or hesitation, because I believe in you."

Scully stopped speaking and looked out her window. There was silence in the car. Finally, Largo said, "Thank you, Scully."

"You're welcome."

"No one's ever said anything like that to me before."

"Well, they should. You're an incredible person, Largo."

Megan Largo sat back in stunned silence. She had no idea what to say. It was the second time Scully had seen her speechless, but this time, she felt less victorious and more empathic. She knew what her own response would be to such a statement, so she let Largo alone to take it in.

Mulder reached over and took her hand. She squeezed it briefly, then covered his with her smaller one and fitted her petite fingers between each of his.

They drove like that for the next twenty minutes.

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

9:43 am

"So Mulder," Largo said quietly from the backseat, "why *are* we going to Pig's Eye?"

"The Gunmen told me about a man named Frank Jennings, a retired bartender who claimed to have run over an extraterrestrial biological entity on a dark and stormy night with his '82 Ford pick-up truck. Of course, Mr. Jennings didn't call it an EBE, he said he ran over a 'mother-fucking alien'. Now, no incestuous relationship can be proven, but--"

Scully rolled her eyes, "But what, Mulder? He recovered the body and has it on display at his home in Wolftail?"

"How did you know?"

"Call it an *unlucky* guess."

"Actually, it's not the whole body, just the head. Ol' Frank stuffed it and mounted it in his house."

Largo spoke from the back seat. "Let me play the guessing game this time, Scully. Mulder, is the head actually in a 'house', or, by chance, does Mr. Jennings have a trailer?"

"Um...I believe it is a trailer."

"And, is Mr. Jennings, by chance, *charging* his friends and neighbors, oh, maybe $10 apiece to look at this genuine, authentic alien head?"

"Well, this is America, you know."

"And, just one more question; if, perchance, one of Mr. Jennings neighbors, say...JoeBob from up at the feed store, say old JoeBob doesn't have his $10, will Jennings willingly barter two chickens and a fresh baked sweet potato pie in exchange for a glimpse at the E.T.?"

"That I can't say for sure, but aren't you using a bit of a stereotype, Largo?"

"Why yes, Mulder, I am, because I believe it's quite possible that most the people of Wolftail, West Virginia are a bunch of rednecks who might just believe a smelly dead possum hanging on someone's wall is an alien from another world!"

"Largo, calm down." Scully suggested.

"No, I can't calm down. Not right now. I think both of you know the guidelines on UFO-related investigations. I really don't want to lose my job because you, Mulder, wanted to go look at an 'alien' some 'neck in West Virginny stuffed and mounted on the wall of his fucking trailer!"

"You won't lose your job." Mulder assured her. "Look how many times I've screwed up, and I'm still here, aren't I?"

She shook her head in disbelief, "I think you know our situations are a little different. I really don't want to go back to undercover vice work, thank you very much. Yes, I would rather compile a 40 page report for you on vampire bats of Southern Louisiana than sit in a two-tone Deadhead Volkswagon Bus pretending to smoke reefer with unwashed loser-freaks named Ray-Ray and The Sandman. Believe it or not, I like my current position much better."

"And you won't lose it, just trust me."

"Trust you? Trust you!? Mulder, I'll trust you the day you begin to trust me. How about that?"

Scully turned on them again. "OKAY! ENOUGH! Am I going to have to play referee all day with you two? It's already getting old. Mulder, I'm upset as well. You know how I feel about getting dragged up to Nowheresville to look at another 'alien corpse.'"

"I just can't win, can I, Scully? I get in trouble for 'ditching' you, and I get in trouble for dragging you along on my little excursions. You tell me what I can do, and I'll do it, okay?"

Scully chewed her lip, thinking about that one for a moment. "You're right, Mulder. I'd rather be with you than have you disappear for three days."

"I'd kind of like the break." Largo mumbled sullenly from the backseat.

He ignored her. Turning to Scully, his *real* partner, he said, "This won't take that long."

"I hope not, and if it is an actual alien, then we both will owe you an apology."

"Yeah you will."" He agreed self-confidently, inwardly praying this wasn't yet another false claim.

There was silence for a few minutes before Mulder spoke again, "So, Largo, what's your theory on extraterrestrial life?"

Before she could reply Scully answered for her, "We call it the 'Phone Home Theory" Mulder. I'll give you the details later. Suffice it to say Largo thinks aliens are nice, not ruthless bounty-hunters trying to stick oversized pins into the base of each other's necks."

"And I don't think," Largo added, "that they traveled across the far reaches of space to go cow-tipping in West Virginia. It's my opinion that aliens capable of that kind of sophisticated technology are probably smart enough not to play in traffic."

Scully stifled a laugh, turning it into a yawn and covering it with the back of her hand as she caught Mulder's sidelong glance. She had decided to humor him for the day, but couldn't be held responsible for anything Largo came up with on her own.

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

Ed's Country Cafe
Wolftail, West Virginia
11:36 am

Mulder, Scully, and Largo took stools at the counter in Ed's Country Cafe. A woman in her late 50's offered them each a menu. Her nametag read 'FLO'.

Largo rolled her eyes. <Christ!> She thought, <Are there any small town waitresses *not* named Gladys or Flo?>

"What's the special?" Mulder politely asked Flo.

"Chicken fried steak and spuds. You want?"

"Yeah," he replied, smiling at the woman.

"And for you gals?"

<Gals?...Gals?> Largo's brows lifted, <Did she actually call us gals?>

She scanned the menu. It resembled the American Heart Association's worst nightmare. She decided to risk a question.

"You got any sandwiches, Flo?"

"We got meat loaf, we go the patty melt, and we got the turkey melt."

"Could I possible get the turkey, unmelted?"

The waitress looked her up and down. "Listen to me, skinnygirl, you look like you could use a little meat on them bones. Pretty young thing like you won't ever catch herself a man if he can't see you."

She caught Mulder and Scully's snorts of laughter out of the corner of her eye.

"Unmelted, please," she repeated, unamused, "and a Dr. Pepper."

She set the menu back down with finality, hoping Flo would leave her in peace.

She did, moving along to take Scully's order. She asked for waffles and got them on a late Sunday morning. Much to Largo's chagrin, Scully didn't have to take any crap off of Flo either.

As they finished their meals, Mulder called Flo over once more. The hearty waitress waddled over.

"Hey Flo, you know anything about a guy who's got the head of an alien on his wall?"

"Course I do, hon. That's Frank Jennings. Ran over it last week in his Ford. Big news round here. It's not every day you get visited by aliens, you know."

"And not every day one gets the death penalty for jaywalking." Largo mumbled in Scully's direction. The redhead only raised her eyebrows enigmatically.

"So you believe Jennings's story?" Mulder asked the waitress.

She shrugged, "Looks like an alien to me."

Largo spoke, "So you've seen others to use as a comparison?"

Flo frowned at her, a little confused, then her face relaxed as she understood the question. "Naw, but it looks like a lot of 'em you see on the TV."

"You mean like ALF? Or more like Marvin the Martian?"

Flo clicked her tongue at the young woman as she refilled Scully's coffee cup. "Naw, not like ALF. You know, those ones with the big eyes, little noses, little mouth. But Frank's is kinda furry too."

Mulder frowned, "Furry?"

"Yeah. It's got short hair, almost like fur."

Scully rejoined the conversation. "What color is the fur?"

Flo backed away from the counter. "If you folks are so interested, why don't you go take a look for yourselfs. I can give you directions to Frank's place. Only twelve bucks a head."

The women both gave Mulder a sarcastic look. He ducked their stares and took Flo's directions. He paid for their lunch and the trio left Ed's Country Cafe.

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

Wolftail Trailer Court
12:21 pm

They really didn't need directions to the Jennings's homestead. They passed, by Scully's count, 11 signs announcing the presence of the dead alien, all pointing the direction in which to turn. Outside Jennings's trailer was a huge billboard reading:

          REAL LIVE DEAD ALIEN HEAD
          DISCOVERED ON ROUTE 67
          MONDAY, AUGUST 18, 1997
          COME ONE, COME ALL
          COME SEE THE ALIEN HEAD
          
          ADMISSION $12

To Largo's surprise (remember, she'd never been taken to see a 'real live dead alien head' before) there was a line of about eight people, all waiting, money in hand, for a glimpse of the head.

Scully, on the other hand, had seen such lines before, and patiently waited for their turn. When it came, she elbowed Mulder in the ribs, a hint that he was paying their admission. He gladly shoved two twenties at the plump woman who sat behind a card table with an old Folgers coffee can. She dug in the can for a moment and emerged with four singles, which she handed back to him. She then stamped each of their hands with a round orange smiley face.

As they entered the dimly-lit trailer, Largo muttered, "Hope we aren't interrupting today's episode of 'Hee-Haw'."

Scully stifled a snicker. Mulder just shot her a dirty look.

The agents stepped into the trailer, only to be greeted by Frank Jennings, the legend himself. Jennings gathered the group of ten or so into a small circle and told them his story.

"It was a dark night, but the moon was full," said the white-haired retiree, clad in overalls and a checkered cotton shirt. "I was driving home in the old Ford you see out front."

<Probably from the local tavern> Largo added mentally.

"When what should jump out in front of me but a small, white creature. I slammed on the brakes, but luck warn''t with me. I hit the poor fella straight on. When I got outta the pick-up, all I could find was the head."

Mulder was dying to ask questions, but waited patiently for Jennings to complete his narrative.

"Now, I took that head to the county hospital, but they gave me no time. Said they didn't want it, so I took it home here and preserved it myself, as proof of extraterrestrial life here on Earth. That's what I did, I tell ya."

"Mr. Jennings," Mulder asked, "did you see any other aliens, or just this one?"

"I saw two or three others running right along with this little fella."

"And instead of turning the head over to medical officials, you removed the contents of the head and filled it with stuffing?"

"Now, young man, I told you they didn't have no time for an old man like me."

Scully and Largo took the opportunity to examine the alien more closely. It was small, roughly the size of a child's head. The eyes were large and glassy, the nose very small. The face tapered down, and had a curious cleft toward the tiny mouth, which was little more than a slit.

Largo gave it a cursory once-over, not really having much experience with such things. However, when she reached out to touch it, she felt a very familiar furriness beneath her fingertips. Scully was examining the curious bone structure, which seemed almost lumpy. Was it simply a bad taxidermy job, or was it a fake? Scully couldn't tell on a ten second examination.

Then, Scully heard a "P-s-s-t" and walked around to Largo's side.

"Feel this, Scully." She said, placing Scully's hand on the alien's 'neck', then on the top of its head. "What does this feel like to you?"

"I'm not sure. It's kind of familiar. A little like suede, maybe?"

"Close, but I think it's rough deerskin. It's what a lot of our people make medicine bundles out of. But then, I'm not positive. I haven't had a medicine bundle since I was much younger, and I've never taken animal biology, so I can't be sure it's a deerskin."

Scully caught Mulder's eye and motioned him over. She examined the pelt of the creature a moment longer before she sighed and said, "I have taken animal biology, and, upon closer examination, such as small scar, evidence of a past buck shot injury, I'd have to say that this is most probably an Odocoileus Virginianus."

"A what?" Mulder asked, eyes still on the 'alien'.

"A white-tailed deer. The hindquarters, in particular."

Largo quickly covered her mouth to stop the gales of laughter which tried desperately to spring forth. When she found self-control, she leaned over, tears of laughter streaming down her face, and whispered,

"It's a deer's ass, Mulder!"

"It is not!"

"Mulder," Scully said with resignation, "it's a deer's ass. These eyes have been fashioned, and this nose was set up with wires or something from the inside to make it protrude. See the cleft near the 'mouth'? That's...well, I think you get the picture."

"It's a deer's ass?" He was incredulous.

She nodded, putting a consoling hand on his arm.

Largo leaned in closer and jerked an elbow in the direction of their 'host', "So what do we do with Wilford Brimley over there?"

They walked back over to Frank Jennings and showed him their badges. Scully called the local police to report Jennings's fraudulent claims and the fact he'd reaped huge profits by convincing unwitting local yokels his mediocre taxidermy job was the skull of an extraterrestrial biological entity.

Maybe Jennings he could fool the people of Wolftail, West Virginia, but he couldn't fool the trained professionals of the FBI's X-Files Division, one of whom was still having trouble controlling herself, and could be found at odd moments bursting into snorts of laughter as she mumbled, "a deer's ass." The whipcord-thin deputy, a man named Fife (of all unfortunate deputy names), forgave her, though. She was rather young-looking and had alarmingly-bright green eyes. Of course, it probably helped that she wore a very large Sig Sauer in a belt clip at the small of her back. In fact, both the women looked like they could kick his ass, even the hard-nosed little red head.

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

4:10 pm

The police had finally let them be on their merry way after giving official statements attesting to what they'd seen at the Jennings' place. The agents had little idea what would happen to Frank Jennings and his wife, Myrtle (the rotund hand-stamper), but figured it would be little more than a slap on the wrist. After all, pretending to have a 'real live dead alien head' was not on the same scale as counterfeiting a pillowcase full of Ben Franklins in the eyes of local law officials. They usually figured anyone dumb enough to pay to see something as ridiculous as that deserved to have their money taken.

Fox Mulder, however, was not a happy camper on the way home. Once again, he'd failed to convince Scully of the existence of extraterrestrials. Plus, he'd made a fool of himself in front of Largo.

<A deer's ass, for Christsakes! She'll never let me live that one down.>

As if knowing his thoughts, Largo spoke up. "I think you owe me something for this one, Mulder."

"Oh really." He replied drolly.

"Yes, really. I think you owe me a trip out of the office."

"What?"

"Next assignment, *I* get to go and *you* have to stay in the office and fax me reports about anything I want. If I say I want all information available on Silly Putty, you have to spend four hours looking it up for me. If I say I want the skinny on voodoo priestesses who bite heads off live chickens, you'll be waiting in the wings with a grin and a 'yes ma'am'."

"And you think I'll agree to that?"

"Actually, yes, I do."

Mulder was silent. Scully only sat, listening to the exchange, an enigmatic smile on her face.

Finally, Mulder said, "It's a deal. On one condition."

"What's that?" Largo asked.

"You never say the words *deer's ass* ever again."

The car was filled with the sound of female laughter, and, after a few moments, Mulder began to chuckle as well.

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

THE END

Well, I see you have reached the end (for now). Thank you for reading along, and I hoped you liked these little stories. If you're still interested, look for "Trinity 4: Visions," it's slated for release before the end of 1997, and will be posted here as soon as it's finished.

Thanks again, and feel free to drop me a line and let me know how you liked the "Trinity" series.

xfstew@yahoo.com

 


 

Trinity IV: "VISIONS"
by XF Stew
<xfstew@yahoo.com>
Classification: XAR
Rating: R (with an NC-17 section clearly marked in Chapter 18, and an R version for those who prefer it)
Spoilers: Fourth Season
Keywords: Mulder/Scully Romance, Features Megan Largo
Summary: Mysterious deaths at a small-town lake lead Mulder and Scully to investigate while Largo interrogates a mobster suspected of killing a dozen people in an arson fire. Meanwhile, the Consortium is up to some new tricks, playing dangerous games with the members of the X-Files Division that lead to distrust and paranoia, which culminates in a dangerous showdown between two partners.
**Disclaimer: The cast and characters you see on the television series "The X-Files" do not belong to me. I am borrowing them and am making absolutely no money from their use here, so go ahead and sue me, you can have all my profits. The character of Megan Largo, however, is original and belongs to me.
**Also borrowed for this story (without permission) were lyrics from the following:

Sabotage - The Beastie Boys
Possession - Sarah McLachlan
Me And Bobby McGee - Janis Joplin
Undone...The Sweater Song - Weezer
Believe - Lenny Kravitz

Special thanks go once again to Mary Colleen, a wonderful beta reader and a wonderful person. Thanks for all of your help, your suggestions, your feedback, and your enthusiasm. It is greatly appreciated :-)

SUMMARY OF THE TRINITY SERIES:

In order to update readers, and encourage new ones to take a chance on this story, the author has decided to give a brief update on the events of the "Trinity" series. It all started with Fox Mulder's 'death' at the end of Gesthemane, and this is where our story breaks from the X-Files timeline.

In this world, Dana Scully believes her partner dead. She is told that the X-Files Division is going to be kept open, but will be 'reorganized' in a way that will not include the investigation of UFO-related phenomena. Scully is assigned a new partner to assist her in the division, and this is where we are introduced to Special Agent Megan Largo.

Largo and Scully are called to investigate a series of murders in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, wherein each murder is accompanied by a mysterious and frantic 911 call pleading for police intervention. Largo and Scully work well together, and soon form something of a bond.

After the Milwaukee investigation, Largo and Scully continue to work together and have an incredible solve rate. Scully continues to undergo treatment for her cancer, until one day when her doctor shows her a strange cranial X-ray of her skull that indicates her cancer is gone. He tells her that she was misdiagnosed and that she does not have cancer. Scully puts the pieces together and realizes she had been the victim of a huge conspiracy between the medical community and covert government forces. She had been given the physical symptoms of cancer in order to make her believe, and her blood work and X-rays had been tampered with.

Feeling like a pawn in a cruel chess game, Scully realizes she was used by the Consortium to drive a wedge between she and her former partner and to push Mulder over the edge. She feel, now more than ever, responsible for the death of Fox Mulder.

On a late night drive, Scully receives a phone call from Skinner telling her that police in Bend, Oregon have reported finding two bodies with extracted livers and could determine no point of entry for either attack. She drives to her partner's house to deliver the news and makes a startling discovery. Her partner, Megan Largo, has a significant other. A woman named Jolyn Parker.

The pair come to tentative terms with Largo's relationship and head out to Oregon to investigate. Out in the great Northwest, Scully is reunited with Fox Mulder, who has been living in a mountain cabin under the name 'Nick Charles.' Initially, she is angry with his deception, and he has to re-earn her trust.

Upon their return from Oregon, Mulder and Scully find themselves with new feelings for each other. They slowly explore the possibilities of this budding relationship throughout the next few months and into this story.

Mulder rejoins the X-Files Division upon his return to Washington, even though things have changed. He and Scully are both considered lead agents in the division with Megan Largo as a junior partner. Mulder finds it difficult to accept Largo's presence in the basement, clinging to his age-old adage of 'Trust No One,' but grudgingly accepts her partnership as a necessary evil, all the while looking for clues that she could be another turncoat, another Alex Krycek.

This should bring the reader up to speed on the events of the "Trinity" series, and should serve as adequate background for new readers as well. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy Trinity 4: "Visions"

=====
Angst warning: This story is rated AAA (that's triple-A) for angst, angst, angst. Of course, there are liberal doses of humor and the growth of the Mulder/Scully relationship continues, but the road to romance is rocky for our heroes. Don't say you weren't warned!
=====

ANOTHER CRUCIAL WARNING: This story contains a same-sex relationship between two characters. If that bothers you, you may want to bail out now. If not, hold on for the ride, and enjoy the adventure.

**All feedback is welcomed and appreciated at: xfstew@yahoo.com


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
TRINITY IV - VISIONS
by xf-stew
xfstew@yahoo.com
PROLOGUE: "Evil Ways"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Saturday, Oct. 18, 1997
Unknown Location

There was a knock on the door, and the man with the odd, dry voice told the visitor to enter. A tall, thin man with deep, heavy lines in his face came into the room, a Morley cigarette burning between nicotine-stained fingers.

"You wanted to see me?" asked the smoker.

"Yes, please sit."

The Cancer Man did as told, noticing now that they were alone. This was highly unusual, but he knew the purpose of this meeting, and understood why it was to be private.

The Leader tented his fingers from behind the desk at which he sat. In his dusty monotone he said, "I am not pleased. We believed things were taken care of, but I can see that they are not."

"Am I to assume you believe me responsible for the fact that Fox Mulder is alive?"

"That is no longer the issue. He is alive, and we have accepted that. We are, however, displeased with things pertaining to him and to the X-Files Division. Your assurances as to the benign presence of Agent Largo are now being questioned. When you add her particular brilliance to that of Mulder and Scully, even you can see that we are headed in a negative direction."

"With all due respect, I still hold the same opinion of Agent Largo. She is unstable because of her temperament and her medical history. It is only a matter of time until she unravels...perhaps taking the X-Files Division with her."

"We don't have that kind of time," The Leader replied. "I need you to remedy the situation now, before Agent Mulder begins once more to use Bureau resources to investigate in our direction."

The Cigarette Smoking Man took a deep drag. "I can understand your concerns, but--"

"No," The Leader interrupted, "I don't think you understand. I want this taken care of now. Something must be done, something that will divert their attention. Perhaps even shut them down.

"I understand," Cancer Man replied, extinguishing his cigarette and standing. "I believe I have a viable plan which should gain us our desired end."

"Anything you'd care to share?"

"It's still in the works, so to speak, but I believe this is a good place to test one of our new toys."

"New toy?"

The smoker gave a thin smile, "An original take on biological warfare. We need a place to test it, and this will give us a perfect opportunity."

"What will it do to them?"

"I believe it will create a sufficient...diversion. And I believe it will test the boundaries of their newly-formed alliance. Perhaps it may even push one of them over the edge." With that, the Cancer Man turned and exited the room, leaving a trail of foul-smelling air in his wake.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF PROLOGUE
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER ONE: "Sabotage"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

DAY ONE
Monday, Oct. 20, 1997
Megan Largo's Apartment
5:42 am

Something tickled Meg Largo's cheek. She twitched slightly, sleepily bringing a hand up to bat lightly at it. Suddenly, it tickled her ear, and she heard a sucking, slurping sound that brought her out of a peaceful sleep. Small teeth clicked and furry jaws chomped just behind her left ear.

Her eyes flew open to see a small gray and black striped tail swinging lazily in the air. Attached to the short-haired tail was the hindquarters of a lithe little tabby cat.

"Lenny!" she whispered with obvious irritation. "Stop that, damn it!"

The cat showed no intention of compliance. Largo exhaled softly, reaching a caramel-colored hand out to push the cat off her chest. Cat owners knew what they were in for, co-habitating with the planet's most self-absorbed creatures. Every morning Lenny came into the room just before the alarm went off to indulge in one of his favorite little pleasures: chewing on Meg's hair. When he was a kitten she allowed it, feeling it was some type of human/animal bonding. By now, however, it was no longer endearing and had become quite annoying. When Jolyn moved in, a little over a month ago, Largo vowed to break her cat of this morning ritual. She pulled him back so that they were face to face, stroking the tips of his ears until he purred softly. He'd be running in fear any moment now, she knew.

--CLICK--

Abruptly the silence of the room was shattered by the violent whine of electric guitars. Lenny sprang up and bolted off the bed as a loud, nasalized voice began to sing:

"Oh I can't stand it--I know you planned it
But I'm gonna set it straight, this Watergate
I can't stand rockin' when I'm in here
Because your crystal ball ain't so crystal clear
So while you sit back and wonder why
I got this f***ing thorn in my side
Oh my God, it's a mirage
I'm tellin y'all it's sabotage."

Largo let the music play, waiting for a stirring beside her. The only reaction was a blonde head lifting, grabbing the pillow beneath its head, and throwing it violently over the top. Largo couldn't help but chuckle as she wrapped an arm around her pajama-clad companion, pulling her close.

From beneath the pillow Jolyn Parker mumbled, "I don't know what you're so happy about. One thing I *don't* need to first thing in the morning is to be serenaded by the Beastie Boys."

Largo reached a hand over and slapped the clock radio. The room became eerily silent. She removed the pillow from atop Jolyn's head, "Good morning, sunshine."

Jo's eyes remained closed as she tried to snake her whole body under the soft comforter.

"Oh no, you don't," Largo said, her arm becoming firm, holding Jolyn in place. "Aren't you going for a swim this morning? You said last night not to let you sleep."

Jo sighed, then pleaded, "Two more minutes?"

Largo placed her chin on Jo's shoulder and looked down at her, "Nope."

"But Meg, I can't open my eyes yet. It's not even daylight."

Largo knew all about Jolyn's reluctance to wake before the sun was up. She was far from a morning person, and never scheduled a class before 10:30 am. Even back in their college days, Jo dreaded the early morning swim team workouts she was constantly subjected to.

Meg, on the other hand, only needed about 5 hours of sleep a night to awaken refreshed and ready to tackle anything placed in her path. However, she was sympathetic to Jo's reluctance. She spooned her body on the outside of Jo's and pulled the soft blonde hair off her neck to lay soft kisses on it.

"Maybe I can give you some incentive for staying awake."

Jo's voice was low as she replied, "With that kind of incentive, I'll never make it to the pool."

"You could go later, after classes. Or skip it for today. I think you're in great shape as is."

Eyes still shut, Jo smiled and reached back to touch Largo's leg, warm and bare beneath the men's boxer shorts she had worn to bed. "Don't forget why I can't go tonight. The lecture, remember? The one *you're* speaking at."

Largo smiled against her neck, laid one more kiss on it, then sat up, "I guess you're right. Off to the pool with you!" With that, she bounced heavily on the bed, rousing Jo completely from her slumber.

Jolyn finally opened her eyes and rolled over, facing Largo, "You can be really annoying when you want to, you know that Meg?"

Largo grinned, "Course I do. It's part of my natural charm."

Jo couldn't help but return the smile. "Well, do I get one last kiss before I leave the comfort of my bed?"

The grin spread even wider. She said, "Who am I to deny you a last request?" and bent down to kiss her partner long and deep, their tongues meeting, dancing with familiarity to a rhythm they both knew well. Meg broke the kiss and laid her head on Jo's chest. Jolyn squeezed her tightly, never wanting Meg to leave the safety of her arms. Every day, unbeknownst to Jo's conscious mind, she worried. When she came home at night her heart leapt into her throat at the sight of the flashing red light the signaled a phone message, not realizing she secretly feared it would be from Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, or (God forbid) Walter Skinner, giving her terrible news.

She'd been in love with Megan Largo for at least the last five years, probably much longer. Subconsciously, Jolyn lived in fear that her long-awaited union with Meg would be ripped from her grasp, torn away by an unknown menace who lurked inside one of those mysterious cases her friend called the X-Files.

Meg stirred in her arms and sat up, clasping Jo's hand to pull her out of the bed. "Come on lazybones, we're wasting daylight."

Jo rolled her eyes, "Wasting daylight? What is that, some kind of backwoods expression?" Jo, a Twin Cities native, never let by a chance to tease Meg on her rural background.

"It sure is." In a more sarcastic tone, she added, "We used to say that before we got up to milk the cows. Come on, you can shower with me. I gotta hurry to the office anyway."

Largo hoisted her friend and lover out of bed and stuck her in the shower. They left the apartment at 7:05, Largo singing happily along with the radio as Jolyn dozed in the passenger seat.

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

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Basement Office
9:30 am

The day started as an ordinary one for the agents of the X-Files Division, which is to say that they sat at their desks completing paperwork. Mulder had grudgingly agreed to finish the work for the last case since Scully had an autopsy to perform at 10:45. He'd been a little miffed because it wasn't an X-Files case-related autopsy, but one she'd been asked to perform as a favor. Mulder was still annoyed by the fact that they were often given work from other departments when they already had plenty of their own to finish. However, that was the bargain they'd made with Skinner in the reorganization of their department.

It was partly his fault and partly Scully's. He'd chosen the wrong path when he'd given up the fight within the Bureau and faked his own death. Scully had sealed the deal when she make her statement to the committee refuting the evidence of extraterrestrial life on earth, claiming it was all an elaborate confabulation concocted by covert non-entities within their own system.

He still believed in the existence of alien life on earth. He'd seen too much not to believe. Now, his mission was to prove it. But it was going to be much harder now. All investigations dealing with UFO-related incidents would have to be hidden behind 'official stories'. In other words, he'd have to fabricate a justification for investigating such cases, and that justification had to be plausible not only to the higher-ups, but to his partners as well.

Yes, that's partners in the plural form. To Mulder's dismay, in his absence the powers-that-be had assigned another agent to the X-Files Division. Megan Largo appeared, on the surface, to be an excellent young agent. Underneath, however, he wasn't so sure. He'd read her personnel file and was still a little puzzled by it. Her past was dotted with bizarre events (as if his own wasn't), the most revealing of which happened early this year, about eight months ago. Largo was hospitalized with LSD poisoning following a car accident in which her partner, Ben Campbell, was killed. Campbell had also ingested a large amount of LSD, and died of heart failure on the way to the hospital.

After that event, Largo retreated from society for awhile, and it was beginning to look as if she would be forced into permanent leave, the aftereffects of the incident leaving her psychologically damaged. However, she managed to pick herself up and return to work. On her first day back she struck a fellow agent with a large piece of obsidian she used as a paperweight, and was sent on another leave. So much for her stability. Ironically, it was Largo's spotted past that got her assigned as Scully's partner after his 'death'.

Meg Largo was stubborn and headstrong. She was outspoken and sometimes brash. They had formed a curious relationship, and he used her as something of a confidante regarding matters in his personal life. This was strange, because professionally he did not know what to make of her as yet, and in the back of his mind he still wondered if she might possibly be a spy. Another Alex Krycek. He had nothing upon which to base this claim, but he held it, and although she was much more open to the existence of extreme possibilities than Scully, Largo still made him a little nervous.

Mulder knew that Largo was bisexual, and lived with a tall, blonde college professor named Jolyn Parker. This fact didn't repel him, however, but intrigued him even more, and he took every opening he could find to question her about this aspect of her life. Her honesty and candor took him by surprise, but upon reflection he concluded that a person living with such a secret must be somewhat relieved to be able to share the events of their personal life with another, even if it was someone like him.

Largo now stood and stretched. She was wearing a white silk blouse and a gray skirt with black flats. He realized this was the first time he'd seen her wear a skirt instead of pants to work. She grabbed her coffee cup and headed for the pot.

"Anyone else?" she asked.

"No thanks," Scully replied, "I've got to run. Be back in a few hours."

She grabbed her briefcase, smiled at Mulder as she passed, briefly touching his shoulder on her way by, and left the office.

"Mulder?" Largo asked, raising her eyebrows as she held up the pot of coffee.

"Yeah, sure, I'll have a refill."

She brought the pot over and filled his cup. As she was returning he asked, "So, Largo, what are you doing this morning?"

She exaggerated a laugh. "Oh, no you don't. You're not pawning your paperwork off on me again."

He held a palm to his chest and gave her a hangdog look. "I'm wounded you think I would do such a thing."

"Oh? You had honest intentions? Then please pardon me. I'm doing paperwork this morning, then I have to finish preparing a lecture."

"Lecture?"

"Yes. Believe it or not, I've been asked to be a guest lecturer in a series over at George Washington U. Actually," she said in explanation, "Jo recommended me to the man organizing it."

"What's the topic?"

"The Native American Worldview versus Mainstream American Culture."

Mulder raised his eyebrows. He could see why Largo was the natural candidate for such a presentation. He also realized that if these people coming to the lecture expected some philosophical Indian mystic, they were going to be sorely disappointed. Meg Largo was mystical in her own way, but not in a way these people would expect.

"When's the lecture?"

"Today at 5:00, so I'll be leaving a little early."

"If I'm a good boy and do all my paperwork, can I come?"

Largo smirked back at him, "You'll have to take that up with Scully."

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

The day was mainly unremarkable. They spent at least one or two like it every week. The phone rang a few times. VCS asking Mulder to assist on a profile later in the week, Scully being asked her opinion by a local ME.

Largo finished putting her lecture slides together in the mid-afternoon. She complained of a minor headache and downed a couple of ibuprofen before heading off to her presentation.

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

Jefferson Hall Auditorium
George Washington Univ. Campus
5:15 p.m.

Mulder and Scully had to stand along the back wall of the small auditorium. The 150-plus seats had been filled with professors, grad students, and the occasional undergrad. All were raptly listening to the curious lilting tones of Dr. Megan Largo's strange pattern of speech. Even though she'd lived much of her life in the white world, she still retained the odd rhythm many bilingual Native Americans spoke their English with.

She began by stating many facts her partners knew already. She discussed her ethnic heritage, her family's history, and that her grandfather, Joseph Little Bear, was an elder in their tribe and a 'pejutawicasta' or medicine man. Scully noticed the way Largo glossed over the fact that both her parents were deceased, and figured that she'd probably try to deflect questions about them during Q&A at the end, just as she did in their office at work.

Largo slowly paced the stage, her hands behind her back as she spoke with the confident elegance both Mulder and Scully had now grown accustomed to. She explained the general Native American philosophy of the circular nature of life, and contrasted it with Hegel's theory of dialectics and Marx's later theory of dialectical materialism. She explained that although the end result of 'communal living' was the same, the philosophies behind them were at opposite poles. She went on to discuss the dynamics of American culture and the rapid advancements that have taken place, not just since the Industrial Revolution, but in the more-recent 'Age of Information'. She voiced her theory that Westerners feel if they are not progressing, they are stagnating and dying. They feel that life was designed for the gathering of information, and that the supreme accomplishment was in putting that information to use in new ways in order to change society.

The Native Americans, in general, believed their world was designed in a certain way, and they were to live their lives within that world. They did not desire to change it, but instead lived in harmony with it.

Largo went on to tell the Dakota story of how the Wakantanka, or Great Spirit, took pity on the people during a tremendous drought. He saw that too many of the people were dying, and that if nothing was done to aid them they would die and become a forgotten people. So he sent them a gift, the Sunkawakan (Shoon-KA-wa-KAN), or what is now known as the Sunktanka (Shoonk-TAN-ka). The Sunktanka was the 'sacred dog', or the horse, and it saved the people from devastation. It changed the way they hunted, it changed their settlement patterns, and it changed the fabric of their lives. Dakotas tell the story of the Sunkawakan with the same reverence and respect with which Christians tell the story of Christ in the manger.

After two hours of speaking, Largo tried to wrap it up. "So we see, in both cultures, that the stories, the myths, and the legends handed down both in print and by oral tradition have a huge impact on the identity of a people. Just as the 'identity story' in the Old Testament of the passage from Egypt to the Promised Land gives the Jewish people a sense of who they are, the various Native American myths and legends of the ancestors give each group a knowledge of where they came from.

"Over the course of American History, many have viewed the two groups as simply incompatible. The choice, at one time, was between assimilation into the dominant culture, or virtual extinction. We all have our own personal opinions on actions such as these, and I don't want to make this a forum to debate them, but I think I need to mention, as an Indian person, that I see those days as being in the past. We, as Americans, have to move to new ground.

"Native American people live in a difficult state of flux these days. There are pressures from both mainstream society, and from their own tribal leaders. Each of us choose our own path, living within the boundaries of American culture while remembering our roots, our philosophies, and the history of our various peoples.

"Young people like myself sometimes have trouble living between those worlds, and you may find it interesting that no traditional Dakota would have told you the story of the Sunkawakan, the horse. Not because it is sacred or secret, but because it is September, and generally a bad time of year to tell such a story. You see, it is an old Dakota superstition that stories about animals are not to be told unless there is snow on the ground. If a person disobeys this guideline, the spirit of the animal from the story may rise up out of the uncovered earth and posses the storyteller. Only when the snow is present to hold the spirits down can one safely tell stories of animals.

"Do I believe this old superstition, you might ask? No, I do not. However, many of my friends and colleagues, even here in Washington, believe I must have told about fifty mule stories in mid-July because they can personally attest to my possession by an animal with extreme stubbornness."

Mulder and Scully exchanged a smile and chuckled with the rest of the crowd.

Up on the stage, looking calm and composed in her blouse, skirt, and wire-rimmed glasses, she opened the room up to questions. With a dry throat but a warm smile on her fresh young face, Dr. Megan Largo patiently answered questions on various fringe topics, many having to do with her personal experiences and philosophies on current Native American issues.

Finally, after forty-five minutes of Q&A, Largo called the meeting to a close. She unhooked the microphone from her blouse and began to gather her materials. A few of the spectators left, some milled about, searching for friends, colleagues, or others. Many, however, made a bee-line for the small stage where Dr. Largo stood gathering her notes.

Mulder and Scully waited patiently as Largo shook hands and answered even more questions from the remaining guests. It was clear she wasn't going to break free any time soon.

Scully, who felt even shorter among large crowds, was about to grab Mulder and suggest they wait outside, when suddenly she looked up to find Jolyn Parker standing at her side.

"Agent Mulder, Agent Scully. Glad you could make it," the woman said in her low, butterscotch voice.

"Dr. Parker, it's nice to see you again," she said in greeting.

Parker rolled her eyes and clicked her tongue. "Dr. Parker? Only my students call me that. Please, call me Jolyn or Jo."

"Okay Jolyn, but only if you stop calling me Agent Scully. My name is Dana."

Jo smiled at her and shook her blonde head. "I'm sorry, but because of Meg, you'll always be Scully to me. How's that?"

Scully nodded, "Acceptable." She jerked a thumb over her shoulder, "And call him Mulder."

Parker smiled at him, "Not 'Spooky'?"

Pretending to be gruff, Mulder replied, "Definitely not 'Spooky'."

Jo turned back to see how Meg Largo was progressing. "So, did you enjoy the lecture?"

Scully looked over at her, "It was amazing. She's a natural for this kind of thing. And I could swear half the audience was hypnotized just by listening to her voice."

Jo looked away and smiled a secret smile, "Tell me about it." Then, "This is by far the largest turnout for the lecture series. Meg would have made a great professor. She still gets offers, you know?"

Mulder raised his eyebrows, "Really?"

"Yes, just last week a letter came offering her a full-time position at Wisconsin. She doesn't even open them anymore, but I do."

Scully detected a hopeful note in his voice as he asked, "Does she ever think about it? Going into academia, I mean."

Jo seemed a little sad as she replied, "No. She loves the Bureau. She loves the work you guys do. Heck, sometimes I'm jealous."

"Don't be." Scully said, "You'd be sick of HIM at the end of one week."

Mulder looked wounded, and stuck his pouty lower lip out a little.

Jo perked up a bit, "Here she comes."

Largo approached the small group, attach‚ case in one hand, a box of slides under the other arm. She looked a little tired, but was still smiling.

"Hi, all. Let's blow this joint. I'm starving."

Mulder, Scully, and Jo Parker all looked at each other, then began to laugh. Hearing this off-hand, flippant statement from a woman who'd just stood in front of nearly 200 people and lectured to academics for close to three hours on such esoteric subject matter as dialectical materialism seemed so strange, even ironic. However, they knew it was par for the course with Meg Largo.

Walking to their cars, Scully said, "Largo, I have a question for you."

"Well, I'm almost questioned out for the night, but for you..." she smiled, "Shoot."

"Okay," she held out a small hand and began a list on her fingers. "You graduated high school at 16, and were a big-time college athlete. You got your Ph.D. at twenty-two and now you're an FBI agent with an incredible knack for tearing suspects apart during interrogation. You play the piano like a pro and have one of the best voices I've ever heard. In addition to all this, you're an incredibly charismatic public speaker. Tell me, Dr. Largo, is there anything you *can't* do?"

"She's not very domestic," Jo readily supplied with a small laugh. "Can't work an iron, can't sew a button."

"I'm a horrible artist, don't even draw a decent stick figure," Largo added.

"Her penmanship reminds me of a third-grader," Jo said airily.

"I can't dance...I'm a crappy swimmer...takes me hours to balance my checkbook..."

Throwing her hands into the air, Scully pleaded, "Okay, okay, I get the picture."

"AND," Jo said with finality, "she can't cook."

Scully smiled, "Oh yeah, I forgot. I ate at your house once."

Jo groaned, giving her friend a hard time, "What did you feed her, Meg."

Largo shrugged, "Opened a couple of cans, put it in some bowls."

Scully gave her a look and supplied the answer. "She made soup and sandwiches."

"Actually," Largo admitted, "Your mom made those. If I'd have made them, you probably would have started throwing up again."

Mulder interrupted their little Estrogen-fest, "When did you throw up at Largo's house?"

Scully's look turned more serious. "It was when I still thought I had cancer. I had a very strong reaction after one treatment. Upon reflection, I think they'd just given me something to help break up the tissue growth in my sinus cavity. It was some kind of anti-dote or something to straighten my system out. However, it got a little worse before it got better."

"That seems like such a long time ago, Scully," Largo said, looking her seriously in the eye. "I'm so glad it's over. I'm so happy that you're well."

"Me too, Largo," she said, giving Largo's arm a brief squeeze, "me too."

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

The foursome enjoyed a comfortable dinner in a local pub, then said their good-byes for the evening. Mulder drove Scully home and, always the gentleman, walked her to the door.

She opened the door and stood on the threshold, looking up at him. They'd grown closer in the weeks following their reunion. Both were seeing each other in a new light these days. They'd taken it slow, however. Painfully slow for Mulder. He wanted to taste his partner's sweet red lips so bad it hurt. But he understood her caution. His actions in May had wounded her badly, and she needed to feel safe with him again before handing him something she guarded as closely as her heart.

Tonight, however, he stood on her doorstep and felt the change in her demeanor.

She took the initiative, reaching up and hooking an arm around his neck. She pulled his face down to hers. She brushed his lips with her own. Once. Twice. She gently kissed his upper lip, then, finally, his full, pouty lower one. The one that drove her crazy every time she looked at it. It was everything she'd hoped. His lips were soft, just as she'd imagined. The feeling of them against her own sent a warm current down her spine.

He let her control the kiss. At first she was tentative, almost chaste, but as she grew bolder he parted his lips to meet hers as they once again came close. She licked his bottom lip with her tongue, and nothing had felt so sensuous, so right, in all her life.

He pushed out with his tongue and met hers. They explored each other with both their mouths and hands. Mulder wrapped his arms around her back as she brought hers up to roam his chest over the button-down shirt he wore beneath his suit jacket.

Mulder discovered every inch of her sensuous mouth and traced the line of her teeth with his tongue, while hers matched his own stroke for stroke with a passion he never knew she possessed.

Reluctantly, she tore her mouth from his, her breath heavy. "Mulder, we're making out on my front step."

His eyes were closed as he rested his chin on the top of her head and held her close. "What's your point, Scully?"

"I think you should go home now."

He hid his disappointment and simply said, "Okay Scully." He released her, but lifted her chin and gave her another brief kiss. "I'll see you in the morning."

"Goodnight Mulder."

"Goodnight Scully."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER ONE
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER TWO: "This Is How We Go"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

DAY TWO
Tuesday, Oct. 21, 1997
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Basement Office

Mulder, Scully and Largo were in and out of the office all day, rarely seeing each other. Scully performed a morning autopsy, Mulder spent nearly all afternoon up in the VCS Section of the building, and Largo was called into a review meeting with AD Skinner. Since she was new to the department, and coming off of a period of indefinite leave, she was required to meet with her AD periodically for evaluation.

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

Baltimore Medical Examiner's Office
10:15 am

Dana Scully, clad in green medical scrubs, a lab coat, and an ugly white hair net, she the clear plastic eye shield atop her small nose and took a tray of scalpels to the stand near the autopsy table.

She'd been requested to assist Dr. Elvin Jarmer with this autopsy of a 'floater' who had surfaced in Chesapeake Bay yesterday. The victim, Elaine Pierce, had been missing for several days.

Pierce had been scheduled to testify on Monday in front of a grand jury against Michael Bolliani, the son of Agustus 'Papa' Bolliani, a prominent produce magnate who had distribution centers all over the East Coast. The Bollianis were known to everyone in law enforcement as a major organized crime family. However, they were extremely hard to pin down. Papa's oldest son Carlos had recently been put away for at least 10 to 20, but the rest of the family still operated, and were still untouchable.

Pierce was set to testify that she'd overheard Michael Bolliani on the phone instructing one of his underlings to buy "ten keys of China White," then take the courier out. Her case fell under Baltimore's jurisdiction since she'd washed up along the city's riverbanks. Pierce lived in Richmond, however, where she was to testify. This made the case interstate and stressed its importance to the Baltimore ME's office. Dr. Jarmer, the young ME assigned to the autopsy, wanted her assistance to make sure nothing was missed. Dr. Scully was widely considered one of the best and most thorough forensic pathologists around.

Scully approached the body. She looked down at the dead, bloated remains of Elaine Pierce, a single woman who had the courage to stand up to a high-profile crime family like the Bollianis. Elaine Pierce hadn't backed down, hadn't cowered in fear, hadn't hid away like a frightened lamb. Scully held a great deal of respect for Elaine Pierce, and as she gazed down at the woman's misshapen remains, she felt a heaviness in her nose and a tickle in her eyes. Stunned to realize she was near tears, Scully quickly tried to cover by beginning the autopsy.

She and Jarmer went through the preliminaries, noting height, weight, and documenting the physical condition of the body on tape as well as through a set of photographs. They broke out the Stryker saw and opened the cranium, weighed the brain, then made the Y-incision in the victim's chest cavity.

Inspecting the internal organs, Jarmer said, "I see little of the physical trauma that would be consistent with a heavy beating, Dr. Scully. It appears to be a simple drowning case, nothing we can prove to be anything but an accidental death."

Scully nodded distractedly as she took a small blunt probe and gently pushed at the right lung. It was full of fluid, consistent with a drowning death. If she'd been dumped post-mortem, the lung would only be partially full. The stomach was also full of water, and they opened it to find little except HCl (stomach acid) mixed with water.

The smell of a 'floater' was very strong, the time spent in water putrefying the wet flesh at a slower rate. Unfortunately, the internal organs were not so lucky. All pathologists hated 'floaters' because of this intensely disturbing odor; it was enough to make police investigators usually opt to by-pass their privilege of viewing the autopsy. However, Scully's sharp nose detected an incongruous, yet familiar smell when they opened the stomach.

"Dr. Jarmer, do you smell anything...odd?"

Jarmer's face gave away his distaste for the job in front of them, "I smell the unmistakable scent of a floater, if that's what you're referring to, Dr. Scully."

Scully frowned thoughtfully, "No, something else. Wait a second."

She took a scalpel and punctured the right lung. She inserted a shunt and drained the fluid into a specimen jar. Scully looked over at Jarmer, who was staring incredulously, yet with admiration for her courage in what he realized she was about to do.

Scully stepped back from the autopsy table and lifted the jar, holding it just under her nose. She inhaled hesitantly, then took a deeper whiff.

"Rose water." She stated, motioning for Jarmer to come closer.

She held the jar out to him and he took a small sniff. "You're right."

"They putting scented bath oil in Chesapeake Bay these days, Dr. Jarmer?"

He laughed, "Still smells like shit every time I take my kids to the waterfront."

"Then I'd say our victim didn't die in the Bay. I'd speculate that she died in a bathtub, one that smelled like this." She held up the jar.

They tested the saline level of the water. It was not nearly the equivalent of the Bay's saline level, and was far cleaner than the water in the Chesapeake. Scully and Jarmer finished their inventory of the internal organs, then turned back once more to the mottled skin. It was difficulty to determine which injuries the victim had suffered pre-mortem compared to post, and five days in Chesapeake Bay didn't help them any, but the pair were fairly certain the dark bruised along the victim's spine and on her heels and lower legs were consistent with the struggle and thrashing that would occur if one were held underwater within the confines of a bathtub. Of course, the bruises weren't conclusive evidence, but the water from the lungs was.

Elaine Pierce was murdered, then dumped into Chesapeake Bay, far away from her home in Richmond.

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

Walter Skinner's office
10:45 am

"Good morning Agent Largo, please come in."

She shut the door behind her and approached his desk. Skinner stood and they shook hands cordially before she moved to the front of the desk to take a seat.

"I must commend you, Agent Largo. Your reviews are improving all the time."

She chanced a small smile, "You mean my reviews completed by Agent Mulder."

He nodded, "Agent Scully's review remains quite favorable, as always. As you realize, however, this has not always been the case with Agent Mulder's."

It was true and she knew it. Scully gave her stellar reviews, all very specific and all very positive. Knowing that Dana Scully was probably the most brutally honest and inherently objective person she knew, Largo took the favorable reviews as a great compliment. Mulder, on the other hand, had resented her from day one, and his reviews reflected this.

Of course, the coin had two sides, and she wasn't completely enamored with him either. As a professional, though, Largo knew Mulder was top-notch. He was an excellent agent and investigator, and together Mulder and Scully were a formidable team. She was happy to be working with them, despite Mulder's grudging attitude toward her.

"In this last review," Skinner said, holding up a white form, "Mulder said your assistance from the office was quite invaluable. Your quick yet thorough research is impressive, and he enjoys you in this role."

<Of course he does> Largo thought, remembering their 'deal' after the fiasco in Wolftail, West Virginia <He doesn't want to keep up his end, so he's telling Skinner how wonderful I am and how much he needs me in the dungeon. God, Mulder, be more obvious!>

"I do my best, sir."

He picked up another form, this time a blue sheet, "And your latest psychiatric evaluation shows that you're doing well. If the EAP thinks you're stable, that's good enough for me."

Skinner was referring to the acute paranoia she'd developed after the LSD incident in February. Largo had been extremely hesitant to eat anything she hadn't prepared herself from pre-packaged containers made of metal, sometimes not even eating from those. She'd nearly starved herself after her release from the hospital, and had only begun to eat when threatened with re-hospitalization and intravenous feeding.

"Yes sir. I still have a few quirks, but they're under control. I believe my mental health is within the range of normalcy. I'm enjoying my work and feel my relationship with my new partners is growing ever stronger."

"Yes, the three of you have been quite effective."

"Thank you, sir."

Skinner sat back in his chair and laced his hands behind his head. It was a signal that the necessities of the meeting were over and that they could now speak on a personal level. Skinner was always careful about this, separating professional from personal matters, but Largo knew he secretly enjoyed these periodic meetings. They gave him a break from his busy administrative routine and a chance to talk with her, his 'step-daughter.'

"So Meg, how are the nightmares?"

Walter Skinner knew, from the first night Meg Largo spent in his house as a teenager, that she was prone to violent nightmares. She also talked in her sleep, so he often knew the gist of her dreams. Feeling betrayed by her subconscious, the dreams embarrassed her, they made her feel weak, but Skinner needed to know how badly they were bothering her.

She shrugged, getting his standard question over with. Her answer never varied much, no matter how bad the dreams actually were, "Not too bad. I have them once a week or so, sometimes more, sometimes less."

"And how are you getting along down there?"

She smiled, "You know I love it. Scully's great, as usual, and I think Mulder's warming up a little. He came to the lecture last night."

"I'm sorry I couldn't be there." Skinner said apologetically, "There was an emergency in VCS and they needed to borrow some agents."

"You don't need to explain, Walt. You've heard all that stuff before anyway. Some of it was rote and verse from Patrick."

Skinner smiled nostalgically. Largo was one of the only people he allowed himself to smile in front of, and the memory of her father, his best friend of long ago, brought back pleasant memories of the red-haired man spouting away in his Irish brogue about the West and all its notorious progressivism.

"Are you still playing?"

He was now referring to the piano, and she nodded, "I came up with two new songs last month. Come over and I'll play them for you sometime. You can stay for dinner and Monday Night Football."

"We'll have to do that one of these nights."

*One of these nights* meant he probably wouldn't be over, and Largo's heart fell a little. Maybe this was a little cruel, but she had to say it.

"Are you going to ask me about Jolyn?"

Skinner's face was stoic. "Do you want me to?"

She nodded.

"How is Jolyn?"

"She's great. She loves her new classes and got her tenure this fall. She also wants you to come to dinner. So do I."

"Meg--" he left the sentence unfinished.

She knew of his reluctance, and the cause of it. Skinner liked Jolyn Parker, this she knew. He'd known her almost as long as she had. Back when they were undergrads and nothing more than good friends, Jo was a frequent visitor at the Skinner house. Meg would come home on weekends and occasionally invite Jo along. She got on well with Largo's step-parents, especially with Walt. They were both big Vikings fans and analyzed the Sunday morning game together.

However, everything changed when Jolyn was no longer just 'Megan's lesbian friend' and became her lover. Although Meg told him about he own bisexuality when she was in graduate school, six years ago, he still didn't like to admit that she had female relationships. He still believed Megan would one day settle down with a man and get married. Jolyn Parker stood in the way of that dream.

"Walt, I don't want to be a drag, but you're going to have to accept that I'm in love with Jolyn. We are extremely committed to each other."

She looked down at her hands, and particularly at the shiny silver band she wore on her right thumb, a gift from Jolyn. Jo had a similar one Meg had selected for her, and she wore it on her left hand. When Largo took Jo's fair hand in her own the rings tinkled just a bit, a constant reminder that made her heart swell with love and happiness.

"I accept it," Skinner said, "I'm just having a hard time liking it. I guess I just thought you and OT..."

Inwardly, Largo's eyes were rolling. She took a deep breath. Owen Tyler Wallace, or OT, was a big, African-American tailback who played at the University of Minnesota. He and Meg dated for two and a half years, nearly her entire stay at the U. Walt loved him (even though he was wary of the fact that OT was three years Meg's senior), and she had loved him too. Her decision to go to grad school at Northwestern instead of marrying him and following him through his various pro tryouts broke the big guy's heart. It had been a tough decision to make, one of the hardest in her life, but at 19, Meg Largo wasn't ready to become a wife, and OT was certainly not about to forego his chance at pro football glory to become Mr. Megan Largo, future FBI agent. He never made it in the world of pro football, but was putting his criminology degree to use as a sheriff in Austin, MN now. Largo still had a special place in her heart for OT, but Jolyn lit the intense flame of burning love in it.

"Walt, that was years ago," she suddenly grinned at him and rose, "surrender the fantasy."

He smiled sheepishly, "I know. I'll try to stop picturing you two walking down the aisle, but you know it is my favorite dream."

Largo stepped behind his chair, bent down, and wrapped her arms around his upper chest. She set her chin on his right shoulder, her cheek touching his.

"I love you, Uncle Walt, and I really, really want you to share a bigger part of my life. You mean so much to me...but so does Jo."

He reached up to set his hand over hers. "I love you too, Meg. I'll try harder, I promise."

"Then promise me you'll come to dinner."

"When?"

"The next time the Vikings play on Monday night."

With her strong arms wrapped tight around him, her sweet scent in his nostrils, and her warm, loving cheek against his, there was no way Walter Skinner could refuse her anything. He loved Meg Largo more than anyone, and couldn't stand to make her anything but happy.

"I promise."

"Yea!" she cheered softly, and kissed him on the cheek.

Then she stood and crossed to the door. Reaching the handle, she turned back to him, "Oh, am I excused?"

Skinner chuckled under his breath and waved her out the door. "Yes, yes, yes. Get going."

She grinned and winked at him, then twisted the knob and disappeared. Skinner swiveled his chair and looked out the window onto the traffic below. He smiled and shook his head. Sure, his favorite agent got special treatment, but then, none of his other agents ever made him feel like quite like Megan did. Even though Largo had left the room, she left a trail of warmth and optimism in her wake. It made Skinner feel awake and alive, and brought a strong jolt of happiness racing through his veins.

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

1:25 p.m.

Mulder used the stairway to deliver his profile to Violent Crimes. It was eight floors up, but he didn't mind the walk. It delayed the inevitable, and anything that would postpone the sight of that smug bastard Tom Colton (whom he saw *every* time he made the trip to the VCS) was okay in his book, even taking the stairs.

He took a deep breath as he opened the door. The hustle and bustle of the VCS never changed. It was the same fast-paced, dog-eat-dog, must-have-that-report-15-minutes-ago place it was six years ago, when Mulder had his own desk in this section.

And lo and behold, who should be walking briskly down the crowded corridor, on a direct line to intercept him, but Tom Colton, the smug bastard himself. Even with his nose buried deep in a report, the prick exuded the same air of cocksure self-importance he'd had four years ago, even though things had changed greatly.

Mulder honestly tried to avoid Colton, but the big dumb idiot ran smack into him anyway, dropping the thick file he'd been reading in the process.

"What the hell?" Colton snapped, looking up to see who the offending body was. "Well, if it isn't the Spookster. How's life in the Pit Of Dispair, Mulder?"

"Fine," Mulder replied tersely as he bent to help straighten the papers lying all over the floor.

"Seen any hot Reticulans lately? Oh--sorry, I forgot. They pulled the plug on Reticulan cases. I heard Dana went before the Board and told them how full of shit you are. I guess she finally came to her senses."

"She must have, she stopped going to lunch with you, didn't she?"

Colton's eyes grew hard. They stared each other down as they squatted, not even bothering with the papers anymore.

"I've got one question for you, Mulder. Why did you even come back? Why didn't you just stay out in the boonies with your half-crocked MUFON buddies? Why subject yourself to the ridicule of an entire building full of federal employees? Are you a masochist, or are you just fucking stupid?"

Mulder willed himself to remain calm, and didn't bother telling Colton that he'd just asked four questions, not one.

"Oh," Colton added, the smug sneer back on his thin lips, "I almost forgot about the kid they saddled you with. Is she 21 yet, or does she ask you to buy beer for her?" Colton threw back his head and laughed at his own lame joke.

Mulder felt his body tense. He locked his jaw hard enough to make his teeth ache. A wave of pure hate ran through his veins, charging him with testosterone and adrenaline.

"And I heard she was an Indian too! Tough luck Mulder, not only are you still in the basement, they're sticking you with the quota fillers now too."

Mulder was only mildly surprised to discover that he wanted to beat the living, breathing shit out of Tom Colton. He looked away from the brown-nosing little cocksucker and focused on the water cooler down the hall. He tried to picture Scully, the bastion of normalcy and reason. The thought of her calmed him somewhat.

He unlocked his jaw and calmly, placidly said, "So, how's that promotion coming along, Colton?"

He watched Colton's face sag, then twist in a flash of anger.

<Bingo. Direct hit.>

After Colton's actions on the Tooms case, especially the fact that he'd called off their stakeout, indirectly leading to the attack on Scully in her apartment, he'd become a bit of a whipping boy in the Violent Crimes Section. Other agents found it wasn't hard to pin small mistakes or oversights on old Tom Colton. He now had a reputation as an 'adequate' agent instead of an up and coming one. The underlying assumption was that his mere 'adequacy' probably didn't qualify him for his much-desired bump up the ladder. Colton was in the same position he'd been in four years ago.

Sensing that he'd just pushed exactly the right button, Mulder said, "What's the matter, Colton, did I sink your battleship?"

Mulder stood and let the papers he'd picked up slide from his fingers and once again spread out on the carpeted floor. He strode down the busy hallway, profile in hand, and disappeared into the masses and out of Colton's sight.

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

2:52 p.m.

In the afternoon, Scully typed autopsy notes at her desk while Largo reviewed old X-Files looking for all evidence of bizarre animal bites. A Colorado park ranger had called earlier in the week claiming a doe was bitten my a strange, unidentified animal near a National Park. They'd made a plaster impression of the bite, and Largo searched the files to find evidence of anything similar.

"Scully, you got any ibuprofen on you? I'm getting a nasty headache," Largo said, looking up from the stacks of files covering her desk.

"Yes, of course," Scully replied, going to her medical bag near the front door. "Didn't you get a headache yesterday, too? Before you left for the campus?"

Largo nodded, now remembering. "That's right. I had forgotten. I must be reading too much lately."

Scully handed her the bottle, and she downed three of the pills. Scully took two herself before returning the bottle to her case. She was developing a small headache as well.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER TWO
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER THREE: "Somebody's Knocking"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Basement Office
5:15 p.m.

Mulder locked the office door and walked Scully to her car.

Still wearing her office-face, she said, "So Mulder, what are you doing tonight?"

Mulder took the innocent approach. "Oh, I don't know," he exaggerated a sigh, giving her an obvious sign that he would be awfully lonely all by himself, "maybe watch some TV or do some crossword puzzles."

"Uh-huh. Well, don't let me keep you," she replied with a smirk as she unlocked the door to her car.

A little panic set into Mulder's chest. Maybe his hint wasn't good enough--or was she playing with him?

Scully paused before getting into her blue Ford Taurus, gauging his reaction. She almost laughed out loud at his hang-dog look.

"Or, Mulder, if you think your crossword puzzles can wait for another night, we could get some take-out, maybe a little wine..."

His grin was so wide she thought his face might crack, "Now you're talking! I'll follow you in my car."

He sped off to retrieve his car, then followed Scully out of the parking garage. Mulder turned the radio to his favorite sports-talk station and listened to the hosts debate whether the Bullets could trade Chris Webber and a draft pick to the Lakers for Shaquille O'Neal.

He followed the blue Taurus onto the Beltway, thinking about a night alone with Scully. If there was one person who could drive this bitch of a headache away, it was her. With her soft, fine red hair, her smooth, porcelain skin, and her petite little fingers that fit so perfectly between each of his...Mulder knew he was falling hard. Funny that after four years--

Suddenly his eyes snapped wide as he watched the blue Taurus pull sharply to the right. It righted itself momentarily, then swerved once again as she slowed the car and rode it over into the shoulder.

Mulder pulled off behind her. They got out simultaneously to inspect the damage. A full-scale blowout on the front passenger side.

Scully groaned.

Mulder held out his hand for her keys and popped the trunk. He lugged out the spare and the jack. Scully began to protest, saying he didn't have to change her tire for her, but he lifted his palm, effectively cutting her off. This was his chance to exert his masculinity for 'his woman.'

<Of course, if she knew you thought of her as 'your woman' she'd probably shoot you again>

He stared for a moment from the spare tire to the jack, then picked up the jack and turned it over in his hands.

Scully was mildly amused by his befuddlement, "Mulder, have you ever changed a flat before?"

"Uh, sure, sure...once...in England."

"So it was in a limey car."

"Uh, yeah. The jack didn't look like this though."

"Wait a minute, Mulder, I'll get the manual," she said, opening the passenger side door.

Mulder stopped her with a firm hand on her shoulder. "No. I can figure it out."

"Mulder," she said, giving him a pointed look, "just because you don't want other men driving by to see you looking at directions on how to change a tire doesn't mean we should sit here for an hour waiting for you to figure it out."

His eyes flashed at her, angry for a moment. Then it was gone. "I can figure it out, Scully. I don't need the manual."

He took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, then went back to the jack. It took a few minutes, but he figured out how it would work. He got the car up, then stood back, looking satisfied.

Scully pursed her lips, "Aren't we missing something?"

"What?"

"A lugwrench?"

"Oh, yeah." He retrieved it from the trunk, cursing loudly as he hit his head on the roof of it as he stood.

"Shit! Fuck! Damn!"

"You okay, Mulder?"

"Fucking beautiful," he muttered.

He pried at the hubcap for five minutes before it finally popped off. By this time his shirt was damp from perspiration and the pressure of Scully's observation.

The lugnuts took another ten minutes. He scraped his knuckles twice as a nut finally loosened, his momentum breaking his hold on the tight nuts. He swore again as his skin drug painfully across the asphalt.

"I could call Triple-A," Scully suggested, laying a hand on his shoulder.

He turned to look up at her from where he squatted on the pavement. "You don't need to call Triple-A!" he snapped, "I'm doing fine!"

"Sorry," she replied, raising her eyebrows, "It just looked like they were stuck pretty good."

"That was the hard part anyway. We're almost done," he said in a more even tone.

"Can I help somehow?"

"It's kind of a one-person job. You could keep track of these lugnuts though. With my luck at this, I'd probably swallow one."

She held the greasy lugnuts, wanting to help him through this obvious trial. Apparently, he wanted to be her gallant knight, but it pained her to see his struggle. He'd been a little uptight all afternoon.

He managed to yank off the old tire and replace it with the new one. She handed him lugnuts one by one and, grunting and sweating, he tightened each of them. Slapping the hubcap back on, he stepped back to admire his work.

"Mulder, watch out!"

Too late. He stepped back and knocked the old, flat tire with his heel, sending him off-balance, pinwheeling backwards until he fell hard on his butt.

Mulder screamed over the roar of the passing traffic, "Goddamnit! Goddamnit! Goddamnit!"

He stood quickly and gave the tire a swift kick with his size 11 wingtip. He kicked it again, and again, shouting every obscenity he had ever run across in his 36 years.

Scully watched his tirade, her eyes wide. She had rarely seen Mulder so angry. She could understand being upset, but this was uncontrolled rage. She saw his fists ball up tight until every muscle and vein in his hands stood out. She said nothing, but instead calmly waited it out.

Expelling a heavy breath, Mulder unlocked his fists and turned away, walking up the road. He ran a hand through his sweaty hair as he walked. Scully waited patiently for his control to return. This was his way of gathering himself.

When he finally turned and came back, he walked up to her. "Scully, I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me. Please, you know me, you know I'm not like that."

She paused for a second. Should she call him on it, point out the fact that he had just thrown a tantrum to be envied by a selfish three-year-old? Or should she let it slide and chalk it up to simple frustration?

She opted for the latter. "It's okay, Mulder. That was more difficult than I thought it would be. Let's just go."

He stepped up and hugged her to his chest. He was damp and a little smelly, but she held him tight, letting him draw her strength. They picked up the tire, jack, and wrench and returned them to the trunk, then got in their cars and took off, headed for the haven of the Dana Scully domicile.

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

Dana Scully's Apartment
6:25 p.m.

Upon arrival, she sent Mulder immediately to the shower. She dug through her drawers and found a large pair of boxer shorts, some men's sweatpants, and a gray t-shirt with 'US NAVY' emblazoned across the chest. Her brother Charlie had stayed with her for a week in July and forgot almost as much as he'd come with.

She laid the clothes out on her bed for Mulder, then went to the phone to call in their Chinese order. She ordered all of Mulder's favorites in an effort to cheer him up.

He returned, smelling of soap and her Herbal Essence shampoo. He ran a hand over his clean clothes and said, "So Scully, do you always keep a change of clothes for dirty men who drop by your apartment?"

"Well, you may have noticed the steady stream of them coming and going before. The construction workers are my favorites." She clicked her tongue, "They're souvenirs from when Charlie came to visit a few months ago."

"Yeah, right! We both know Charlie doesn't really exist."

"If he doesn't exist, then there's a ship in our fleet somewhere who's engine is about to explode because they have an imaginary chief engineer."

"An engineer, ha! He probably topped out at bosun."

She came up and poked him playfully in the ribs. "Mulder, you smell like a woman."

His face turned serious, "I smell like you, Scully."

"Is this what I smell like?" she asked, rising up on her tiptoes to sniff at his neck.

"No, Scully. You smell even better," he replied, dipping his head to capture her red lips. He'd been longing for them all day, and could barely look at them this morning, the temptation being far too great. He swore though, if Largo hadn't been there, he would have snuck just one kiss. Just one little taste.

He was getting more than one taste of those lips now. She opened her perfect mouth to accept his tongue and his desire. She tasted so incredibly good he forgot all about his previous bad mood. All he wanted right now was more of Dana Katherine Scully. She slowly walked backwards as they kissed, leading him to the couch. He scooped her up into his arms, then sat on the couch with her across his upper legs.

Pulling her mouth reluctantly from his, Scully touched her forehead to Mulder's. "One thing I can say for you, Mulder. You know how to sweep someone off her feet."

He ran his fingers through her hair, burying them in the deep red softness. She reveled in his touch, it was making her body grow warm...too warm.

Planting another kiss on her lips, Mulder said, "It's easy when you're so irresistible, Scully."

She closed her eyes as he continued to explore her thick hair. She smiled, "I just realized something."

He began to kiss his way toward her ear, "What's that?"

"We're so bizarre."

Mulder stopped, curious at her words. "What do you mean?"

She let out a merry little laugh, so unlike her office demeanor he just had to smile.

"We don't even call each other by our first names."

He snorted a laugh, realizing she was right. It had never even entered his mind. "I'm sorry Dana," he said, finding his place along her jawline once more, "but you'll always be Scully to me."

She tilted her head to give him better access. "I love that you call me Scully." Her voice dropped an octave as her body continued to warm. "And whenever I hear the name 'Fox', I look around, wondering where your mother is. For me, though, you'll never be anything but Mulder."

He nibbled at her earlobe, removing her earring with his teeth. "Promise me one thing, Scully. Promise me that if children make their way somehow into our future, we'll never give them animal names."

"Actually, Mulder, I've always been partial to 'Wildebeest' for a girl and 'Sperm Whale' for a boy. What do you think?"

His breath was hot in her ear, "I think I'd go along with just about anything right now."

She pulled away slightly, "You better hold that thought, Mulder. The delivery man will be here any second, and besides, I don't think we're quite at the *picking out names for the kiddies* stage in our relationship."

"I'd like to be there."

She smirked, but kindly, "I know you would, and hopefully, someday, we will be. But not yet."

Leaning to reach her, he whispered, "I can survive with just this for now, Scully." With that, he plunged his hands once again into her hair and brought her face to his. His mouth covered hers, his tongue exploring it as his hands ran through her hair, sending sparks through her scalp and straight to her brain. She met his tongue, and they danced gently, still growing accustomed to each other.

Tentatively, unsure of her response, Mulder brought a hand up and lightly set it on the swell of her breast. She didn't protest. He felt her chest move up and down as she breathed. He moved a thumb to caress the nipple, already taut from her desire. She sighed into his mouth, and Mulder felt a stirring in his groin.

There was a knock at the door. He groaned miserable. Scully pulled her face from his, a little ashamed of her heat and desire just moments after telling him it wasn't going to happen tonight. It made her feel like a tease.

"Saved by the bell," she said, "it's the delivery person."

"I don't care if it's Gandhi's ghost," he muttered, but loosened his hold on her.

She climbed to her feet and answered the door.

It wasn't the delivery man, but Megan Largo. She wore sunglasses and navy blue nylon warm-ups. As Scully looked her over, it became apparent Largo was doing the same to her.

With two fingers, the young woman removed her sunglasses. "Gee Scully, I'm sorry."

Shaking her head in confusion, Scully asked, "What for?"

"Well, uh, you have company," she said quietly, not wanting Mulder to know it was her at the door.

<The last thing I need,> Largo thought, <is to give Mulder one more reason to hate me. I can see his little checklist now: "Item #54, she knocked on the door right before I was gonna slip it to Scully.">

Scully's eyes narrowed, still confused, "How do you know I have company?"

Largo grinned and bent close to her ear. "In college, we used to call it JBF hair, but maybe in this case it's ABF."

"Largo," Scully said a little testily, "will you stop with the obscure acronyms. What are you saying?"

Largo jerked her head toward Scully's mussed red hair, then leaned over again to whisper, "We used to call it JBF--just been fucked. In this case, though, I'm thinking it's ABF--almost been fucked. Sorry to interrupt, but you said something about borrowing these yesterday, and I'm on my way to a soccer game in the area. Say 'hi' to Mulder for me, I'm sure he'll be ecstatic."

She held out a handful of compact discs to Scully, who took them with a befuddled look on her face.

"Oh, and by the way," Largo said with an open expression, "I added this one to the stack." She laid a finger on the top disc and winked at Scully. "R. Kelly--I recommend #2 for just this situation. It's a little tune called 'Bump And Grind'. Perhaps appropriate for the moment." She winked knowingly at her small partner.

Scully was still a little lost. "How did you know about me and Mulder?"

The grin was back on the young woman's face. "I'm a detective, Scully. I detect things. All the hair does is confirm my hypothesis."

Largo reached out and gave Scully a quick, friendly hug. "I'm glad, Scully. I really am. You deserve happiness."

"Uh, thank you Largo. So...you're not going to tell Skinner?"

Largo's face wrinkled, "Why would I do that? It would mess up all my careful planning."

With that, Largo replaced her sunglasses, "See ya, Scully."

"Wait Largo," Scully said, grabbing the sleeve of her warm-up jacket, "You're going to *play* soccer tonight, not watch other people play?"

Her dark brown face wrinkled once again, "What's the fun in that?"

She waved a goodbye over her shoulder and bounded down the stairwell. On her way, she passed the delivery man, who came bearing boxes of chow mien, fried rice, sweet and sour pork, and lots of eggrolls. Scully paid him and shut the door with her heel.

Mulder was in the kitchen. "What took so long? I thought maybe you were thinking of running off with the delivery guy, choosing him for 'Sperm Whale's' father over me."

"The first knock was Largo, she brought me some CD's I had asked to borrow."

"Oh, so you were going to run off with Largo, huh?"

"Hah!" she laughed, "In Frohike's wet dreams!"

Uncomfortably, Mulder said, "That reminds me of something...how does Largo know the Gunmen?"

"I introduced them."

"What!?" Mulder asked with a touch of spite.

He was nonplused by the idea that Scully had brought a possible spy into the Gunmen's safe haven. <But then,> he thought, <the fact that they haven't been bugged or shut down entirely goes on her 'not a spy' list.>

He'd been keeping two lists in his head, and every single one of Meg Largo's actions was put on the 'spy' or the 'not a spy' list. So far, the 'not a spy' list was about 40 times longer than the other. When it grew to about 1,000 times longer, then he'd probably figure Largo was okay.

"I needed help on a DNA test for a case, and the Bureau Lab was stonewalling me; I went to the Gunmen so I'd have the results before Christmas."

"And you brought Largo with you?" His voice was incredulous, and rising in volume just a bit.

"Of course I did. I wasn't going into Frohike's lair all by myself. I was afraid Byers and Langley wouldn't be there and the little troll would ooze all over me. So I brought Largo--for insulation, a little diversion, a second front, you know."

"Scully, did you ever think for a second that maybe she might be a threat to their entire existence?"

She noticed the angry tone creeping into his voice and turned to face him completely. "No Mulder, I didn't. Maybe we should just get this out in the open, right here and right now. I trust Meg Largo. I think she's a great agent, a good friend, and an exceptional person. I don't think she's working with Them because I don't think it's in her to do something like that. If there is one thing Largo is, it's true to herself. But I know that you don't trust her. You still think she might be a plant, a person sent to destroy the X-Files. I'm telling you straight out I think you're wrong. I think you just need to give her a chance."

Mulder took a deep breath and ran a hand through his short dark hair. "I try Scully. I try to give her a chance, but every time she passes my little test I just construct another. I don't know why, but she's, she'd so...so strange, Scully. She's so strange. It's not that she's ethnically different than us, but--"

"Is it her being, you know, with Jolyn?"

"I don't know...maybe? I guess it's that her entire nature is dual. She's a twin with two cultural backgrounds, two philosophies at war inside, two different types of sex...to me it all adds up to two faces. What scares me is who the other face belongs to."

Scully stepped up to him, burying her face in his chest. His arms went automatically around her.

"It doesn't belong to anyone, Mulder, because she is only one. She is who she is. She's with us in the basement every day, alive and young and full of energy. She's like a deep breath of fresh air in our lives Mulder. Look at us, in our four years together as partners, have we ever been this happy?"

He shook his head.

"And who brought me to you, Mulder? Who saw your picture in my wallet and drove me out to see you on a wild hunch? Largo did, and would anyone working for Them have voluntarily reunited the two of us? I doubt it. Krycek tried to rip up apart, but Largo brought us back together. I like her with us, Mulder. I don't care if she sleeps with men or women or farm animals, I like her, and I think she helps our department."

He smiled down at her, "Gee Scully, what can I say to that?"

"You can't say anything, so you'd better get some plates for us before the food gets cold."

He kissed her forehead before turning to the cupboards. Then he swiveled back to her, "Farm animals, Scully?"

Scully smiled wryly, "Well, maybe not farm animals."

Mulder gave her a quick kiss and retrieved the plates.

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

Megan Largo's Apartment
9:15 p.m.

Tired and very dirty, Largo unlocked her apartment door. The game had been grueling. Her team had only one substitute, and apparently everyone there thought FBI agents were in such marvelous shape they could sprint up and down the field for 90 minutes without breaking a sweat.

She tried to keep herself in good shape, but on nights like this one, Largo felt the long-term effects of her past injuries. She knew she was lucky to still be alive, let alone playing demanding team sports at 26, a different age for a woman's body than it is for a man's.

She found Jolyn at the computer, typing an outline for tomorrow's class. Largo came quietly up from behind to kiss her on the cheek.

"Meg, you smell like crap," Jolyn said, still concentrating on her keyboard.

"Do I smell bad, or do I smell like crap?"

"Probably a little of both, but crap is by far the dominating odor."

Largo chuckled close to her ear. "I think they just put new fertilizer on that field. It smelled like a cow pasture. A scent which apparently rubbed off."

"Did you win?"

"Of course, two zip."

"How's your headache?" Jo asked, remembering Meg's mention of a nagging headache before she left a couple of hours ago.

"I must have run it off. I'm much better now, but tired."

Jolyn stood, took off her glasses, and walked up to Largo, who was behind her in a silky red and white diamond-print jersey and baggy nylon soccer shorts. For some reason, the uniform was some kind of turn-on for Jo, and Largo knew it. She was dirty, with muddy evidence of take downs and slide tackles plain on her legs and shirt. Still, Jo pulled her close and kissed her hungrily. Largo wrapped her arms around Jolyn's waist as she opened her mouth to Jo, who explored the inner recesses of it thoroughly. She kneaded Largo's warm, salty neck with one hand, the other planted on Meg's firm, tight ass.

Under Jo's touch, Largo found her weariness replaced by a growing heat. She backed Jo up against a wood-paneled wall, taking control of the kiss. She pushed her tongue out at Jo's, stroking it over and again as her hands went deep into Jo's thick blonde hair.

Jo sighed into her mouth, further exciting her. Largo ground her narrow hips into Jo's, needing more contact. Jo pulled her shirt free of the shorts to snake her hands under it, needing to feel Meg's soft skin beneath her fingers.

Abruptly, Largo's demeanor changed. She yelped a little and pulled away, a brown hand flying to her head. Jo looked on in surprise, then concern, as Largo's face contorted into a mask of pain.

"Meg? Meg, are you okay?"

Largo cried out again, bending a little at the waist.

"Oh my God, Meg--what's happening?"

In a choked voice wrought with pain, Largo croaked, "I'm okay, it's...it's okay."

Her face suddenly relaxed and she opened her eyes, only to see the fright and worry on Jolyn's face.

"I'm sorry, Jolyn."

Jo's eyes rimmed with red, "What happened, Meg?"

She reached out to lay her palm against Jo's cheek. "Oh Jo, don't cry. Please don't. It was a headache, that's all. A short migraine--but it's gone, and I'm fine."

The worry in Jo's low voice tore Largo's heart a little, "Are those the kind of headaches you've been having, Meg?"

"Just yesterday and today. Sometimes it's a nagging headache, sometimes it's a big one. I forgot my sunglasses yesterday, so it's probably just that."

This was a lie, but Largo was smooth and Jo believed it--for now. Meg's eye problems had left her rather sensitive to sunlight. She often kept the blinds shut at home on bright days, and *always* needed sunglasses for the outdoors. In fact, she'd chosen this weeknight soccer league instead of a Saturday morning one for just this reason.

Largo rarely complained of physical pain, however, something Jolyn had known for many years. She thought back to their first weeks together, after the Milwaukee incident. Meg never once mentioned the obvious pain she had to have been in after her encounter with John Thornton. Her face had been a mass of cuts and deep angry bruises.

The image, unbidden, rose in Jolyn's mind. Involuntarily, she shuddered, and reached her hand out now, running her thumb across the small scars on Meg's temple and cheekbone. Scars which had faded, but would always be there, a shade lighter than her dark skin, made even browner now by the summer sun.

Jo's hand made her way to Largo's forehead, where a fresh scar lay. It was the result of a stray bullet. She'd only learned the truth behind the scar by placing a very awkward call to Dana Scully one night while Meg was away at a soccer game. When she had hung up the phone, she simply sat on the couch, shaking like a leaf. One inch, three degrees; that's all it would have taken to have killed Meg instantly. The more Jo tried to push it out of her mind, the more she pictured herself at Meg Largo's funeral. It was a picture she couldn't bear.

Now Meg stood in front of her, placid under her touch, smelly in her dirty soccer uniform. Jo kissed her salty cheek and said, "You'd better get cleaned up. I've got plans for you tonight."

Largo's eyes brightened, "Plans?"

"Yes, and they don't involve cow fertilizer, so go wash it off yourself."

Before the words were out of her mouth, Meg Largo was sprinting down the hall, pulling the shirt over her head. Within seconds, Jo heard the shower start and Meg's sweet voice singing a tune as she washed the grime from her tall, athletic, irresistible body. Although it was lined with scrapes and scars from Meg's frequent near-misses, Jo couldn't imagine her life without it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER THREE
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER FOUR: "Silent Lucidity"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

DAY THREE
Wednesday, Oct. 22, 1997
Fox Mulder's Apartment
5:10 am

Mulder had given up on sleep hours ago. Insomnia was not a rare occurrence, but one which had been less frequent since his return to Washington a month ago. Since he'd been seeing Scully on a regular basis again.

He'd awakened on his couch, as usual, in a cold sweat. He knew he'd been dreaming, and it must have been a terrible nightmare to have done this to him.

He couldn't remember the dream. For a man with a photographic memory, this simply did not happen. Mulder remembered almost every day of his life (except for the most important one, the day Samantha was ripped away from the family), and he always remembered his dreams upon waking. But not this one, although it sent his pulse racing and his heart pounding in his chest. The fact that he couldn't remember bothered him so much he couldn't get back to sleep, so he turned on the television and flipped idly through the channels.

Infomercial. Zif. Ab Roller. Zif. Little House On The Prairie. Zif. 'Plan 9 From Outer Space'. He paused momentarily before ziffing.

A close up of a made-up blonde with sexy blue eyes and gleaming lip gloss that she smacked unabashedly at the camera.

"Hey there lonely boys," the woman said in a lazy, bedroom voice, "this is Wanda. You can talk to me or one of my equally sexy friends when you call 1-900-"

ZIF!!!

Mulder rolled his eyes as he flipped to another station. Looking back on his long-standing fascination with 1-900 numbers, he was a little ashamed, but then thought better of it. Nothing to be ashamed about, it was simple human nature. Lately, though, he didn't have the urge to call those numbers he had memorized long ago. Since his reunion with Scully, he hadn't called a single 900 number. It felt wrong, but more than that, he simply didn't want to. It was the same with the videos. They'd been shipped off to Frohike last week. Mulder hadn't watched but one since his return, and that one he'd turned off after only a couple of minutes. It *had* been one of his favorites, but then, that was before he found out about his other partner. The one with the sexy blonde girlfriend. It just wasn't the same anymore.

After an 45 minutes of channel surfing, he finally gave it up and decided to just get ready and go to work.

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

Dana Scully's Apartment
6:00 am

Scully awoke still tired. Usually, she was revitalized in the morning, and hopped out of bed as soon as the alarm rang, ready to start the day. This morning, however, she felt heavy and lethargic. She didn't know why. She'd gone to bed around her usual time. She hadn't awakened in the night, though she was vaguely aware of having dreamt for a good portion of the night. She wasn't sure what she'd dreamt about, and now couldn't even remember if the dreams had been good or bad.

She slowly pushed herself upright and sat, willing her eyes to open in the early morning light. After much coaxing, they obeyed, and she trudged off into the bathroom, headed for a refreshing shower she hoped would wake her up. She turned on the radio, which she had recently tuned to a local alternative-music station. Before she had met Largo, she'd never listened to that kind of thing. Now, however, she discovered that she liked this type of music. It was energizing, and she could even sing along with some of the often-played tunes. She hoped it would do its magic this morning, and as she climbed into the hot shower she heard a song, sung by who she now knew was Sheryl Crow. It was the same one she and Largo had heard in the car on the way to Bend, Oregon. Remembering the off-beat conversation this song had inspired, Scully smiled, and began to sing the bits and pieces she knew, already starting to feel better.

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

Megan Largo's Apartment
6:00 am

She had slept fitfully, tossing and turning all through the night. Twice she'd awoken from nightmares, bolting up in bed in a cold sweat. The first time, Jo hadn't moved, but the second time the strangled cry that escaped Largo's throat awoke the sleeping woman beside her.

Jo had been awakened before by her friend's nightmares. Often, Meg talked or even shouted in her sleep, sometimes in English, but more often in her native Dakota. When this happened, Jo reached out and rubbed Meg's back until she calmed enough to lay back down and sleep again. Jo knew that sometimes Meg's dreams were about particularly nasty cases she'd worked, but sometimes she was haunted by dreams of the past. On more than one occasion she'd called out Ben Campbell's name during a dream, and Jo had little doubt the nightmare had been about their tragic accident.

Tonight, when Largo bolted upright, Jo laid a soothing hand once more on her back, but as Jo's fingers touched her lover's bare back, Largo flinched, as though unsure of who was there with her. Quickly she turned and saw Jo, her frightened eyes closing in relief.

Jo ran her palm over Megan's smooth skin. However, it was a long time before the woman laid back down to sleep beside her. When she did, she laid an arm across Jo's stomach and buried her face in Jo's side. It reminded Jolyn of a terrified child clutching tightly to a soft teddy bear, cowering in fear of the monsters beneath her bed.

Now, at 6:00 am, Largo hit the alarm clock and popped out of bed, only to be hit by a sudden flash of deep pain behind her eyes. She grimaced and held a hand to her temple. Five seconds later, it dissipated, gone as quickly as it had come. She chalked it up to the poor night's sleep and hopped in the shower.

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

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Basement Office
10:40 am

Mulder sat at his desk working on a VCS profile as Scully refilled their coffee mugs. Largo stood at the filing cabinet, replacing some files she'd pulled yesterday.

BANG!...BOOM!!

Mulder and Scully both started and turned in unison to see the source of the disturbance. Largo stood by the side of the file cabinet, a thick dictionary in hand. They watched as she once again smacked the metal cabinet with the large book.

"Largo!" Mulder shouted, "What are you doing?"

Her eyes roamed the cabinet's side, searching eagerly for something. "There was a huge green bug crawling up the side," she explained.

"So you're going to bludgeon it with my dictionary?"

"This was no ordinary bug. The thing was huge!"

"What did it look like?" he asked, rising to inspect the metal box himself.

"I'm not really sure. I only saw it out of the corner of my eye, but it was bright green and I think it had wings."

"Wings?"

"Yes wings. You know, the things they use to fly."

"I know the purpose of wings, Largo," he retorted tersely.

"Then why did you--"

Scully interrupted them from her desk, "Will you two please just shut up! I swear all you two do all day is bicker back and forth!"

The phone rang, jarring them all. The room was thick with tension as Scully reached out a hand to answer it.

"Agent Scully, this is Kimberly with Assistant Director Skinner's Office, he would like to see the three of you at 11:00."

"We'll be there. Thank you Kimberly." She hung up, then turned to the still-angry duo. "If it's not too much trouble, could you two try to pull yourselves together. We have an appointment with Assistant Director Skinner in fifteen minutes."

Mulder and Largo stared each other down a moment longer, then both turned back to their desks.

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

Skinner's Office
11:05 am

"Good morning, sir," Scully said as the trio took seats in chairs facing the Assistant Director's desk.

"Good morning Agent Scully, Agents Mulder and Largo," he nodded to each. "I ran across something the other day that I've decided to assign to your Division."

He pushed a file across his desk before sitting back to begin his briefing. Mulder and Scully both reached for it, then, noticing the other's movement, stopped short. Scully pursed her lips as he looked at her blandly, knowing she would back down. Reluctantly, she sat back in her chair, allowing him first crack at the folder. He picked it up and began to page through it as Skinner spoke.

"A diver, one Matthew Hurst, disappeared Monday morning while hunting Civil War artifacts in Lake Benson, a small lake outside of Clearwater, Virginia. A rescue team was sent down after him when he didn't surface. One member of the rescue squad, Margo Pahlke, came to the surface dead, apparently the victim of a heart attack."

"And the other diver?" Scully asked, knowing that rescue teams always worked in pairs.

"Shane Beard," Skinner answered, "floated to the surface approximately 30 minutes after diving, nearly out of oxygen and with a bad case of the bends. He remains in the intensive care ward at Bishop County Hospital in Clearwater. His heart is very weak. He's also in a deep coma and is not expected to recover."

The 'bends' referred to the phenomena in which a diver emerges too quickly from deep depths. The result is a pressure imbalance between the fluids in the body and the surrounding water. Tiny bubbles form in the bloodstream, causing it to 'fizz' like a carbonated beverage. The effect is extreme sickness or, more often, death.

Mulder passed the file to Scully, who began to peruse it as she asked, "Has anyone else been sent down into the lake?"

Skinner shook his head.

"Has anyone checked the water for toxins?"

He nodded, "The EPA sent someone out on Tuesday. The water is fine. Beard's blood and tissue samples are normal, no unusual toxins were present. Clearwater is a small community. Their Medical Examiner immediately requested our involvement. Initially, I had planned to assign you, Agent Scully, and Agent Largo to this case." He noted the raising of Mulder's eyebrows and gave him a small, wry smile. "You see, I got wind of a little bargain struck up between the three of you."

Mulder glared at Largo, who sat placidly listening to their superior. He bit back a curse as the AD continued.

"However, Agent Largo has been requested for an upcoming assignment, so Agent Mulder will be assisting you on this case, Scully."

"Yes, sir," Scully replied in her cool, professional tone. Inwardly, though, she mused at Skinner's words and the effect they were surely having on Mulder. Mulder, assigned to 'assist' her; she loved it!

He turned to face the dark young woman, "Agent Largo, your presence has been requested in Richmond, Virginia tomorrow. I believe you are all aware of the arson case Richmond police have been investigating down there."

He was referring to a large blaze set to the Heritage Building, a small office building in the Old Town district of Richmond. The building was a city landmark, and has stood for over 120 years. It was home to a prominent law firm, and the fire had killed over a dozen people who worked in the building.

Skinner continued, "They have a legitimate suspect down there, a man named Richard Ciatti. They believe Ciatti is employed by the Bolliani family."

Everyone in the Bureau knew about the Bolliani family, especially Carlos Bolliani, who'd recently been convicted of ordering hits on three Richmond judges, three hits which had been perfectly executed.

"Carlos Bolliani's law team worked in the Heritage Building." Skinner drew a deep breath, "Richmond PD is playing this one exactly by the book, and Ciatti has yet to be charged, but they want to call him in for questioning early tomorrow, and they want you to interview him, Agent Largo."

"Yes sir," she replied with a nod, "I'll head down first thing in the morning."

"Good. You should be receiving a fax of the case history shortly. I'm sure you will review it carefully before leaving." He threw his glance over the three agents, "That will be all. Good luck with your assignments."

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

Mulder and Scully reviewed the case file, and spent the afternoon making phone calls to Clearwater, Maryland (near Lake Benson) to arrange meetings once they arrived tomorrow. Scully was intrigued by the case, wondering if there was some rare toxin in the water of Lake Benson.

Mulder, meanwhile, held his own theory. He remembered diving into Great Sacandaga Lake to find the downed UFO. True, these divers didn't exhibit any of the same symptoms as those who'd been close to the foreign craft he'd seen in the Sacandaga waters, but who knew what effect an alien ship might have on a submerged human. He kept his opinions to himself, but was eager to discover the mystery of Lake Benson. He didn't want to wait until morning, he wanted to head down now, and was irritated when Scully said she wanted to hold off and gather information first. Why couldn't they get the story there, in Clearwater? Why couldn't it be like the old days, when he just told her where they were going and they headed out? No, he didn't really mean that. He wasn't on a power trip, wanting to be the 'boss' again, but the department changes were aggravating, especially when he wanted to get to the site as soon as possible.

Plus, she'd seemed tense all day. In fact, they all had. He'd snapped at Largo this morning, then Scully had snapped at them both. This afternoon they did their work without speaking, a rare thing for them all. Even Largo, naturally gregarious, had been subdued all day long. Maybe they just needed some time out of the office, which they would get in the next few days.

Largo spent the afternoon researching Carlos Bolliani, his history, his trial, and his conviction. She got Richmond PD to fax her information on the case they were building against Richard Ciatti. She sat at her desk reviewing the information, occasionally downing ibuprofen for her nagging headache.

Periodically, she felt another bolt of pain behind her eyes, and instantly felt her eyes burn with automatic tears. Within seconds it would be gone, but the pain left her shaky and puzzled. Ever since the accident, she'd been prone to occasional headaches, but figured they were the result of the serious head injury she'd suffered. She considered herself lucky to have only infrequent headaches instead of permanent brain damage.

These flashes of intense pain were new, however. She figured she'd have to wait and see if they kept happening, then decide what to do. Ever since Scully's cancer 'misdiagnosis' she'd been wary of hospitals and doctors in general. What she had once considered a sacred institution now made her suspicious. If They'd gotten to Dr. Coen, why couldn't another doctor's oath be compromised for Their evil purposes?

She shook another four Advil out into her palm and tossed them in her mouth. She picked up her coffee cup, filled with a lukewarm brew, and lifted it as she read through pages of fax paper. As the cup reached her mouth she glanced into it...

...and threw the mug down to the floor as she gave a little yelp of fear and surprise.

Mulder and Scully looked up from their desks.

"Largo, what--" Scully began, then stopped as Megan Largo quickly turned to meet her eyes, a look of shocked horror on her face.

Largo's mouth hung open and her breath was ragged as the looked from Scully to Mulder. Largo instantly stood and pointed her finger at the spreading remains of her cup of coffee. She looked back to her partners, as if showing them something terrifying.

Mulder arose and walked closer to her.

"Don't step in it!" she ordered, her eyes still wild.

Testily, Mulder replied, "In what? In the coffee you just chucked on the floor? Jesus Largo, are you trying to destroy this office today?"

"It's not coffee! It's..." she trailed off, blinking rapidly.

Scully stood and joined them, careful not to step in the coffee and upset Megan Largo again.

She placed a hand on the young woman's shoulder. "It's what, Largo?"

Largo swallowed and tore her eyes off the growing mess on the floor to meet Scully's deep blue ones. "I...it's...well..." she gaped for a moment before whispering, "I thought it was...something else."

Having said that, she quickly left the office and grabbed paper towels from the restroom. She returned and cleaned up the mess, which she now realized was nothing more than a puddle of cold coffee. It was not, as she'd originally thought, a cup full of thick red blood.

Dirty brown paper towels in hand, Largo returned to the bathroom to dump them and wash her hands. The door opened as she turned on the water faucet, and she looked up to see Scully in the entrance, arms folded over her chest. Largo knew what that meant: serious conversation time.

"Sorry about the mess, Scully."

In a cool, detached, medical tone, she said, "What's wrong with you, Largo."

The dark young woman's eyebrows knitted in puzzlement, "What do you mean?"

"I mean you look awful today. Your eyes are dull and bloodshot. One of them isn't even open all the way, which I know means you're dead-ass tired. There are circles under your eyes, your hands are trembling, and yesterday I saw you stare at the wall in fascination for ten minutes for no apparent reason. You looked like a cat following a piece of lint in the air. So what's going on with you?"

Largo closed her eyes. The cat analogy was far too close to the truth for her comfort. She kept seeing things out of the corners of her eyes. Strange things like big purple bugs or lemon-yellow stars. But when she'd turn to see them more clearly, they'd be gone.

Scully came up to her, placing a small hand on her arm, "Is everything okay with you and Jolyn?"

Largo wanted to burst out laughing. Jolyn was the furthest thing from her troubles. Jolyn was the only saving grace in her life right now.

She forced a small smile and replied, "There's nothing wrong with me and Jo. I just haven't been feeling very well and its keeping me up at nights, so I haven't been sleeping much."

"Well it shows, Largo. Do you need something to help you sleep? A mild sedative? I can prescribe something--"

Largo quickly shook her head, "No, no drugs. You know I don't like them."

Scully knew quite well. Largo's resistance to prescription painkillers after she was beaten in Milwaukee gave Scully fits. She'd eventually acquiesced, but only after Scully ranted at her for twenty minutes about her impetuosity, her stubbornness, and how lucky she was to even be alive. Largo would have been in serious, almost debilitating pain without the prescription Scully had given her and made sure she took; sometimes going so far as to watch her swallow the pink pills, ignoring the almost hostile glare Largo gave as she washed them down with a glass of water. Of course, this hadn't stopped her from gulping Advil like a fiend in the last few days, which made Scully wonder about the intensity of these headaches her partner was having.

"I understand why you don't like them, Largo, but honestly, you don't look well at all."

"It was just a long night last night, Scully, I swear. I guess the soccer game took a lot out of me. I'm not as young as I used to be. Plus I've had some trouble sleeping, that's all. I'm sure I'll make up for all the missed sleep tonight."

The tone of Scully's voice changed. This new note was not as familiar to Largo, but she'd heard it on rare occasions. It was a voice of concern, one weighted with emotion.

"Maybe you're pushing yourself too hard. You're still too thin, Largo. You need to gain some weight."

Largo took a deep breath and shook her head, "Scully, you know what that's from."

Scully nodded. She did know. Victims of LSD poisoning sometimes suffered a change in metabolism. A few had a reduced metabolism rate, but most felt it rise. Scully had seen Largo put away huge plates of food and never gain a pound. It made her a little jealous, but Scully knew Largo's health risks had increased as well. The need for extra calories, plus her active lifestyle, made the young woman walk a delicate dietary line. Scully watched her for rapid mood swings, fluttering eyelids, or any of the other signs of seizure or diabetic coma. She was a prime candidate for diabetes. Though adult diabetes was usually seen in overweight people with sedentary lifestyles, Largo's high metabolism probably made her blood-sugar rates fluctuate like crazy. Add in the fact that Largo was still a little paranoid about where her food came from and Scully was surprised she hadn't already become diabetic or seizure-prone.

"Look, Scully," Largo continued, "I'm not getting weak or anything. I'm as strong as I've ever been. My body has just changed, that's all. It probably makes me look horrible when I'm tired or sick, but there's nothing I can do about it. I know I'm thin. Before the accident I weighed about 10 pounds more than I do now, but I'm no shrinking violet. I'm fine."

Largo looked into Scully's blue eyes. She was surprised to find empathy and even pain in them. Strange for Scully, who was always so calm, so rational, so able to detach herself. Largo didn't know what to make of it.

"I worry about you, Megan."

Largo put a hand on the smaller woman's shoulder. She squeezed it a little and smiled, "You don't need to. I'm okay, Scully. Really, I am."

Scully stepped up and embraced her firmly. Largo was completely caught off-guard when Scully's arms went around her back and clung tight, but she quickly recovered and reciprocated, her cheek against Scully's brilliant red hair.

Abruptly, Scully broke away, astonished by her actions. "Largo--I'm sorry."

Largo saw that the old Scully was back, and looked her straight in the eye as she said, "Don't apologize, Scully. You hugged me, so what? You needed it, and so did I. Besides, I think *normal* women do that kind of thing sometimes. You can too, you know. Remember, I'm here for you when you need to be a normal woman instead of an FBI agent."

"Thank you, Largo...I, I have to go now."

Scully left the restroom, still astounded by what she'd done. All of a sudden she had been flooded with emotion. She needed to hug Largo, to let her partner know she cared. Not that she went around hugging co-workers she liked all the time. In fact, she rarely touched people. Her mom, sure, and Mulder. She usually touched Largo only to get her attention, but she rarely lost control and blindly groped for someone like that, especially over a simple concern like Largo's lack of sleep. She wondered about it all the way back to the office, where Mulder sat chewing a pencil and staring at the ceiling.

"What are you doing, Mulder?"

"Oh, just sittin' and thinkin'."

"What about?"

He turned to her with a frustrated stare, "About our freak of a partner."

She fixed him with her eyes, "Excuse me?"

"What's her fucking problem, Scully?"

"She dropped a cup of coffee, Mulder."

"But she's been--" He abruptly stopped as Largo re-entered the room.

She grabbed another stack of faxes from the machine and flipped through them, uncomfortable in the office. With her sharp, almost uncanny senses, she was aware of Mulder's hostility, but didn't have enough energy to put up with it today.

"I think all the faxes from Richmond are in," she said, "If there's nothing you need from me this afternoon, I'm going to take these home and work from there. I'm not feeling very well this afternoon."

"No problem," Scully said before Mulder could reply, "I think that's a good idea. Get some rest tonight, Largo. You need to be at your best tomorrow."

"Yeah," Mulder barked in her direction, "This is a huge case, try not to fuck it up for them."

Largo ignored him as she gathered the bundles of fax paper and put them in her attach‚ case. She grabbed her jacket off the coat rack and turned back to her partners.

"If you need me, I've got my cellphone."

Scully's face was open and positive, but Largo could still see the shine from her near-tears in the bathroom. "Good luck tomorrow, Largo. Call me when you're done and let me know how it went."

Largo smiled weakly, "Sure thing...And, uh, Mulder?" she said, spinning to face him directly.

He locked angry hazel eyes with her narrowed green ones, "What?"

She held his gaze, and in a steady, even tone replied, "Shove it up your ass."

She turned and walked out the door.

"Bitch," he mumbled under his breath.

Scully leaned a hip against his desk and crossed her arms in front of herself. He knew, even better than Largo did, what that meant. "Will you please tell me what the hell *your* problem is?"

Still tense, he said, "*My* problem? *I* don't have a problem! Why don't you ask Crazy Horse out there what her problem is? I don't know what's wrong with her, but she'd better get her shit together quick or else--"

"Or else what, Mulder?" Scully interrupted, her voice rising to match his, "Or else you'll transfer her? You, Mulder--you think you're the only one making decisions around here, is that what you think? Well, let me tell you a few things, Agent Mulder. First of all, I really don't appreciate your racial slur, that was completely uncalled for. Second, yours is not the only opinion that counts around here. And third, I think your attitude these days is for shit! You've walked around all week like a bear in a cage, biting our heads off if we get too close to you. I think you need to think about your own asinine behavior before you start going off on Largo!"

She stopped, out of breath. She felt a tickle on her cheek and brushed at it. Her hand came away wet. She was crying, and the instant she realized it the harder the tears fell. Her chest contracted and her head grew heavy. She walked to her desk to grab a tissue.

Mulder stood and stepped up to her, stopping her progress. He laid a hand against her red hair, pulling her into his chest. Her arms went automatically around him as sobs tore their way out of her throat.

"S-h-h-h, Scully. It's all right. I'm sorry...I'm so sorry. S-h-h-h."

He stroked her hair as she held her, wondering what had made him so angry in the first place. And why was Scully, a woman solid as granite, even as small-town cannibalistic ritual murderers held her head on a chopping block, suddenly breaking down into crying fits in the office? And that still left unanswered the question of what was freaking Largo out?

Mulder had none of the answers, he knew only that he was going to have to put a lid on this lightening-quick temper of his. If not, he ran the risk of losing someone very dear to him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER FOUR
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER FIVE: "Lying Eyes"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

DAY FOUR
Thursday, Oct. 23, 1997
Clearwater, Maryland
9:38 am

They arrived at the Clearwater Police Department's Headquarters, a small brick building in the center of the small town. There they met with Chief John Royce, who led them out to Lake Benson for an initial inspection.

"Take a good look around," Royce instructed as they approached the lake, "but I don't think you're going to find anything. My men were out here all day Monday and didn't find anything unusual."

The agents walked out to a small dock. "Is this where they dove from?" Mulder asked.

"Yep," Royce answered, "There's this one, and then there's another small dock over yonder." He pointed out across the hazy lake where another dark wooden dock was just visible. "But this one's where all the diving was done from."

Scully looked up at the tall, overweight Police Chief, "And how far from shore did Beard and Pahlke surface?"

"'Bout thirty yards out or so. Their diving assistant, Billy Sanchez, swam out to haul both back in."

"Has Sanchez been questioned?" Scully asked.

Royce nodded, "He can't tell you much, though. Nothing unusual above the surface. Nothing to be seen. Not much of a case." He shrugged his shoulders and paced the lakeside, waiting for the agents to conclude their inspection of the lake.

Mulder put his hands on his hips as he looked out over the lake, "Chief, has anyone else been in the lake since the incident?"

"Nope," Royce said blandly, "Divers all know about the problem, and it's too cold for recreational swimmers this time of year."

Mulder and Scully took a walk around the area, not sure what they were looking for. Royce followed them carefully, making sure he was always in earshot of their conversation.

After twenty minutes, Scully turned to her partner, "Mulder, I don't think there's anything here to be seen. It's an ordinary lake."

<Above the surface.> Mulder said to himself, but aloud said, "I think you're right. There's nothing we can see from here. Let's head back to the station. I want to read through the transcripts of the interview with Sanchez, then maybe go talk to him."

She nodded and they left, following Royce's car back to Clearwater Police Headquarters.

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

11:20 am

They hopped back into the car and began the drive back to Police HQ. Suddenly, Scully emitted a huge yawn, and Mulder looked over at her quizzically.

"Late night, Agent Scully?"

"I don't think I slept well last night, Mulder."

"Thinking about me, I suppose?" he kidded, smiling.

She didn't return the smile, too lost in her own thoughts and weariness. This morning, again, she awoke still tired and lethargic. She tried to recall her night's sleep, but drew a blank. She wasn't aware of dreaming, yet she woke up twisted in the bedsheets. She didn't even know she'd even moved throughout the night. Still, this morning she'd had trouble waking up, and was still fighting a bad case of the yawns. Three cups of coffee had done nothing to dispel them, nor make her any less tired.

"Scully?" Mulder asked, concerned by her lack of response.

"What?"

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Mulder. I want to look at Pahlke's body. Can we find the morgue or ME's office?"

Her terse reply of 'I'm fine, Mulder' harked back to the days of the *old Scully*, the Scully who was sick and miserable. The Scully who was given physical symptoms that made her believe she had cancer.

Mulder dropped her off at the ME's office, but didn't stay. He sped off to find the Billy Sanchez, the diving assistant who'd helped the rescue unit out at the lake. He needed to know what Sanchez saw that day.

He stopped at a mini-mart to look up Sanchez's address, copied it down, and bought a large cup of coffee from a person Mulder believed to be the slowest clerk in Maryland.

Backing out of the parking lot, he lost his grip on the cup and hot coffee spilled all over his shirt and into his lap, scalding sensitive parts. he slammed on the breaks, jerking him in his seat and slopping more coffee out of the wet paper cup.

"Shit! Fuck! Damn!" he shouted into the emptiness of the car as he threw it in park and jumped out.

A station-wagon sideswiped him and honked as it passed. He glared angrily at the back window just in time to see the driver shoot him the finger before turning out of the lot and speeding down the street.

Mulder ground his teeth together in frustration as he tried to shake his hands dry. Aggravated to no end, he kicked a curb to relieve some of his pent-up rage, but only succeeded in damaging his toe, making him even angrier.

He pulled the car into a space and cleaned himself as best he could in the men's room. Taking deep breaths, he jumped back in behind the wheel and closed his eyes, trying to calm himself. The sudden flash of temper surprised him. He was usually able to keep a better lid on his anger.

Shaking his head, he put the car in gear and pulled out of the lot, searching for a men's department store in which he could buy another shirt before meeting Billy Sanchez.

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

Richmond Police Dept.
47th Precinct
12:45 p.m.

A uniformed officer entered the room and handed a large tray of cafeteria-style food to Richard Ciatti. Largo excused herself politely and left while Ciatti ate his lunch.

When she reached the hallway, Largo knotted her fists in frustration. She'd been with Ciatti for over three hours and had nothing. Add in the fact that the brilliant blasts of pain had been occurring at regular intervals over the course of the morning, and she was in one royally bad mood.

It wasn't so much the pain--it was that she didn't want Ciatti to see her in pain. She couldn't let him see a crack in her cool demeanor, so she had to try not to flinch, not to cringe in anguish when the flare went up across her brain, signaling an enormous rush of pain nearby.

For three hours she'd chatted amiably with Richard ("call me Ritchie") Ciatti, and found out many things about him. She was trying to divert Ciatti with her questions so she could probe him with her knowing eyes, but Ciatti was having none of it. She hadn't yet felt the right vibe, she knew she couldn't do it until the time was right.

She declined the offer of food from one of the detectives, and instead went to an empty interrogation room, where she turned off the lights and sat down at the table in the dim room. She closed her eyes and took deep, cleansing breaths, trying to gather herself. For the first time in more than a year, she wished she had sagegrass to burn. It was an old Dakota tradition, the burning of sage, and the sweet, pungent scent was supposed to have a soothing, healing power. She could use some soothing right now. She knew she'd have to do a hell of a lot better if she was going to get anything out of Ciatti. He was smooth as silk with an ego to match. He was going to be a tough customer because he wasn't like so many of the others. Many of the other people Largo interviewed committed their crimes because they were either desperate, or like Christopher Millgrove, were damaged somewhere inside. Ciatti killed for money. He wasn't remorseful and he wasn't an abuse victim. Ciatti was greedy, he killed people to support his lifestyle. This was the hardest type of person to break, and Megan Largo wasn't sure she was up to the challenge.

At any other time, she'd have accepted the challenge with a spark in her eye, but today, and lately, she wasn't herself. She'd been sleeping poorly, and was tortured by appalling dreams, dreams she hadn't had in years.

It had been twelve years since she'd walked in the door of the Largo home to see the life bleeding out the back of her father's head.

He'd moaned loudly, and when she screamed in horror and ran to his side, Patrick had whispered, "Hey there, Scout," before falling into unconsciousness forever.

Then she had heard a noise and looked up to see a young man, no more than 20, walking from Patrick's study out toward the sliding glass patio door. He made no attempt to hide his identity, but pointed a large black gun at her as he backtracked.

He grinned maniacally and in a mocking voice said, "Hey there, Scout." Retreating through the patio door, the young man called out a warning, "Be a good little half-breed and don't make me shoot you, okay?"

He turned and was gone.

Megan Largo was paralyzed as she sat on the tile of the kitchen, silently weeping as she cradled her dead father's head in her arms.

That was the dream she'd been reliving, the dream she hadn't had for at least eight years. It terrified her and, like a horrible deja vu, made her wake up screaming in the middle of the night once again. They'd never caught the man who killed Patrick, never identified any suspect who fit the description of the cocky punk who'd shot the man she loved most in the world. She'd been drug to five line-ups, but none of the raggedy hoods had the glint of evil that shone so brightly in the young punk's.

She dreamed of other things as well, of Frances Tooms pulling her into the hideous nest slathered in human bile; of Ben and the accident; the maniacal look in John Thornton's eyes as he swung the telephone down and across her face. Sometimes, in her dreams, horrible, terrifying things were happening to Jolyn or to Scully while she stood helplessly by, unable to move, only able to look on and scream in agonizing protest.

The dreams not only disturbed her, they made it almost impossible to fall back to sleep. She'd noticed dark circles under her eyes this morning, and hoped that they were now gone. She was tired as well, but drank a triple mocha on the way to Richmond in an effort to kick start herself for the interview.

However, it was not going well. She sat silent in the dark interrogation room for another half an hour, then took a deep breath and pushed herself up, ready to tackle Ciatti once more. She decided to take another tack with the hit man and arsonist.

<Alleged hit man and arsonist> She reminded herself sardonically.

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

Clearwater, Maryland
1:43 p.m.

Scully waited impatiently at the ME's office. Mulder had left over three hours ago and there was still no sign of him. God damn him, why did he always have to take the car? He was always dropping her off somewhere, then making her wait until it was convenient for him to pick her up. As if she didn't have things to do, just like him! Sometimes he drove her crazy. And now she was sitting here, starving, frustrated by the lack of forensic information they had.

After reading the autopsy reports and visually inspecting Margo Pahlke's already autopsied body, Scully could find absolutely no justification for her death, or for Shane Beard's current condition. Toxicology reports and tissue analysis showed no traces of rare or unidentified bacteria or viruses. Still, There was something down there in Lake Benson that had probably killed both Pahlke and Matthew Hurst, the missing diver, and might very possibly claim Shane Beard as well.

Around two o'clock Mulder finally showed up. He was in a horrible mood that matched Scully's own. Billy Sanchez, the diving assistant, had seen nothing and reported nothing unusual in or around the lake that day. She noticed he had a small coffee stain on his pants, but said nothing, not even wanting to discuss the fact that he'd been calmly sipping coffee somewhere while she sat her bored out of her skull.

And that was when Mulder announced that he was going diving in the morning.

"What?!" Scully yelled, suddenly at the end of her rope.

Mulder glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "I've rented equipment, and I'm going to see what's down there first thing in the morning."

"You really do have a death wish, don't you Mulder? Why don't you save yourself the fifty bucks and just slit your wrists in the bathtub tonight."

Mulder swerved off the road and slammed on the brakes. They both jumped out of the car and faced each other over the top. Scully stepped up on the metal outcropping which housed the door to give herself extra height.

"What the hell is your problem, Scully? That was a horrible thing to say!"

"I know it was Mulder, but shocking statements are just about the only kind that get through to you! Mulder, three experienced divers died in those waters, and you think you can do what they could not? You could be exposing yourself to some kind of life-threatening organism or fast-acting disease down there Mulder. We have no idea what's in that water!"

"Scully, no one's been down there in three days. Today is Thursday, and we still have no idea what's down there."

"It could be biohazardous material of some sort, Mulder."

"Then why aren't all the fish in the lake dead? How come birds still sit on the top of the lake and swim around. It's not killing animals, Scully."

"But it killed two, possibly three people! You have absolutely no common sense, Mulder!"

"We don't know that Hurst was killed. I believe he was abducted."

This statement was greeted by a full-scale Scully-look that could have melted cold steel. Mulder faced it down, though, his own anger rising another notch.

"Abducted? Abducted, Mulder! Did you know that Clearwater is a mere fifteen miles from Chesapeake Bay? Did you also know that often lakes with as high of saline levels as Lake Benson has have small 'tunnels' far below the surface that exchange water with the Bay?"

"What are you saying, Scully?"

Her voice rose as her irritation increased even more, "I'm saying that Matthew Hurst was probably sucked into an underground sinkhole leading to Chesapeake Bay! Hurst has probably washed up on the shore somewhere near Baltimore and is sitting in the morgue as a John Doe!"

Mulder shook his head. She just didn't understand. They could be closer than they'd ever been. He felt it in his bones. Something was down there in Lake Benson, something that abducted Matthew Hurst and had taken care of the rescue squad to elude discovery. There was no sinkhole, it would have been discovered by now, it was 1997 for Christsakes! He held the position that what the divers had seen was something alien, something beyond this world, and he had to find out what it was. She didn't understand that he had to know. Sometimes she was so fucking infuriating!

"So, do you have a better idea of how to find out what's at the bottom of the lake, Scully?" he asked sarcastically.

"As a matter of fact I do. You might think I'm just a useless appendage, Mulder, but occasionally I have been known to put my tiny little feminine brain to use. While I was cooling my heels at the ME's for THREE HOURS, I made a call to a marine biology professor from the University of Maryland. That's the place where they allow pinheads like me to go to college. He's fascinated and wants to bring his four-man mini-sub down to examine the lake. He'll be here around noon tomorrow, if you can hold your water until then and not go jumping in the lake yourself."

Mulder tore his eyes away from her. He put his hands on his hips and walked away from the car, taking deep breaths as he tried to calm himself. Her speech had inflamed him. Her implication that he treated her like an appendage, that he thought she had shit-for-brains made him so angry he thought his head would explode, and he could still feel the residual headache behind his eyes.

Her idea, however, was much better than his plan to go diving alone. He was doubly upset that *he* hadn't thought of getting a mini-sub to explore the depths. He tried to cheer himself with the thought that if they did find a downed UFO in the waters of Lake Benson, he would finally have the proof he needed to convince her of the existence of extraterrestrial life.

He walked back to the car. "I'm sorry, Scully" he said, "I've been in a bad mood all day, and I didn't mean to leave you sitting at the coroner's for three hours."

"No, Mulder, I'm sorry," she said, suddenly regretting her outburst. Realizing she was near tears, Scully came around to his side of the car and put her arms around his waist. "I didn't mean what I said about the death wish. I don't know what got into me, but I'm sorry. I would never want to say anything to hurt you, and I don't know why I just did."

Mulder embraced her and placed a kiss on the top of her head. He inhaled and smelled the fresh herbal fragrance of her hair. He instantly felt better, and lifted her chin to give her a reassuring smile.

She returned it, then buried her face once more against his chest. They held each other by the side of the road for several long minutes, then got in the car and headed back to Washington for the day.

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

Richmond, Virginia
Precinct 47
2:10 p.m.

She re-entered the interrogation room to see a smiling Richard Ciatti. He was a blocky man, only as tall as she, with a swarthy complexion and a smug look on his face.

"Well hello there Agent Largo," he said, grinning broadly, "so lovely to see you again."

She sat down once again in the seat across from him, trying to ignore the unseen stares they were receiving from detectives behind the two-way mirrors.

"So tell me again, Mr. Ciatti, what you do in your job with Bolliani Produce?"

"I already told you, Agent Largo. I also already told you to call me Ritchie. You can call me Ritchie and I'll call you...what's your first name, Agent Largo?"

"Agent," she replied tersely.

His eyebrows lifted in merriment, "Agent, is it? That must be very convenient for you job. Or is it confusing? I mean, Agent Agent Largo is kind of a strange title, isn't it? It's kind of like Sirhan Sirhan."

"Just answer my question please, *Ritchie*," she said, emphasizing his first name.

"Sure thing, *Agent*," he replied, emphasizing hers. "I deliver fruits and vegetables for Bolliani Produce. Sometimes I take orders by phone as well, write up invoices, and do various other mundane tasks."

"Bullshit. That's bullshit, Ritchie," she looked straight into his dark brown eyes. "you don't know a cantaloupe from a fucking rutabaga."

Ciatti held her eyes, his own still mocking. "Tsk-tsk. Such foul language from such a pretty woman, it's kind of a turn-off, Agent."

Her eyes darkened just a little as she said, "And how did you hook-up with Bolliani Produce?"

"I interviewed for a job there when I was nineteen. I've worked for them ever since."

Largo kept her eyes focused on his. She smiled just a little. "But that's only part of the truth, isn't it Ritchie. There aren't many delivery drivers who can afford to drive a Mercedes and wear a gold Rolex, are there? What I want to know is how you *first* met the Bollianis."

Smoothly, easily, Ciatti replied, "Michael Bolliani and I were friends in high school."

Largo's eyes grew a tiny bit browner. "Yes, I know, and you were Michael's strong-arm, his muscle back then, weren't you?"

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

"Back when Michael kept book at Jefferson High. You remember Johnny Pardo, don't you Ritchie? Remember how you gave skinny little paste-eating Johnny Pardo's arm a compound fracture when he was down seven-hundred bucks to Mike?"

Ciatti blinked rapidly, but could not pull his eyes completely from the cool, dark, composed woman's. It was the first chink in his armor.

In a strained voice, he whispered, "How did you know that?"

"I know a lot of things Ritchie. Mike's little brother Carlos got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, didn't he? So who did they call to pay back the overpriced, piece-of-shit lawyers who couldn't get him off? They called in their best guy, didn't they Ritchie? They called you."

Ciatti's eyes narrowed, his confusion evident. Still, he resisted. "You're not making sense. I don't know anything about any lawyers."

Largo was glad she had him entranced enough not to request one of his own. Lawyers were distracting and often made contact much more difficult. Sometimes, though, they made no difference, and Largo could still get all the information she wanted out of a suspect, much to the surprise and chagrin of the unwitting lawyer.

Ciatti had been given the opportunity to request a lawyer earlier, but had declined, claiming he had nothing to hide. She suspected the Bollianis didn't want him to show up with one and throw further suspicion in their direction. She had a feeling the Bollianis were cutting Ciatti loose, knowing his deeply-ingrained loyalty would prohibit him from naming them. She hoped to break through that loyalty.

Now Largo's eyes turned to an almost chocolate color, making Ciatti gasp. Luckily, though, he still did not break contact.

"But you know about incendiary fuses, don't you Ritchie?"

Ciatti gritted his teeth, but gave no answer. A thin sheet of sweat appeared on his forehead.

"You know about accelerants and how few of them you need to torch a tinderbox like the Heritage Building."

A single droplet rolled down Ciatti's temple, but still he stayed silent.

"You don't really deliver vegetables, do you Ritchie?"

Ciatti's mouth contorted, his lips pulling back into a tight grimace of pain, his gritted teeth exposed to Largo as he began to tremble slightly.

"Tell me, Ritchie." Her eyes were soft and pleading, as though now asking a favor of him.

A choked sound escaped from between clenched teeth. "No!"

Largo leaned forward, "No, you don't deliver vegetables. What you do is anything old man Bolliani tells you to do, isn't that right?"

Ciatti shook even more, all the muscles in his body were tensed like live-wires.

"A-r-r-g-g-h," he growled, trying desperately to escape her eyes, but his body, his mind, would not obey.

"You were there that day at the Heritage Building. July tenth. It was a Thursday and a beautiful morning. You pulled up in a delivery van, wearing a baseball cap and a jumpsuit that said 'BOB' on the patch. You went down to the basement and placed the accelerants. And then, from a safe place down the street, you waited for the timed fuses to ignite them."

A strangled cry escaped from between Ciatti's teeth. There was intense hatred in his rich, dark eyes.

Suddenly, a bolt of pain shot across Largo's forehead, and she tensed, biting back a cry of pain. She fought to stay trained on Ciatti. It took every ounce of strength to keep her eyes open. Automatic tears sprang to them as she gripped the arms of her wooden chair tightly, cords of muscle standing out in her hands and arms. She breathed shallowly, trying not to let Ciatti see the struggle within, for the door opened both ways, and while she could read Ciatti's soul; if he was deft enough he could read her own, especially with her defenses down. He was beginning to relax again, his tightly clenched fists loosening on the table as she fought to keep the contact with him.

Suddenly, Ciatti's mouth curled into a wolfish, evil grin. He whispered, "Hey there, Scout."

Largo's eyes widened in shock and horror. Her heart leapt into her throat as Ciatti grinned maniacally at her. She fought to quash her escalating fear, the bile rising in her throat.

As quickly as it had come, the pain in her head was gone, and Largo felt anger and hatred course through her body, replacing the intense terror she'd experienced only seconds before.

He eyes narrowed and bore into Ciatti once again.

"Tell me about the screams you heard from your little hiding place, Ritchie. From that distance, didn't the screams sound just like the cats you used to torture and burn as a child?"

Ciatti's mouth dropped open as his olive-toned Italian face went slack in shock. The shock of discovery. She knew about the cats. She knew about their screams. She knew everything he'd done that morning. She knew he sat in the van masturbating while the old building burned in the distance and he heard the alarms and the screams of the people running like sheep to escape. The screams made him even harder, made him pump himself with that much more heat and fury.

One corner of the woman's mouth turned up into a smirk as she said, "Yes, I know about that too."

Ciatti screamed, he howled, he shrieked into her face, a mere four feet from his own, but he could not break the lock of her gaze.

"Give me the name of the one who ordered it and this will end. They've cut you loose anyway, Ritchie. They sent you right to us, unprotected. You owe them nothing. Give me the name."

Sweat flowed freely down Richard Ciatti's face, and his hands, his arms, his entire body was clenched once again, shaking like a tired leaf in strong wind. Still he stayed silent.

Largo cascaded on the waves of anger still flooding her body from his previous statement, from his probe into her own mind.

Showing no mercy to the once cocky man in front of her, she said, "Give me the name or else I'll tell you what else I know. I'll tell the whole room," she jerked an elbow at the mirror, "about how you watched from down the street, dick in hand, getting off on the pain you were causing those people."

Ciatti shuddered in silence, his tension near the boiling point, but he did not speak.

"Okay, Ritchie, then we can talk about your other crimes. The multiple sodomies of nameless, faceless hookers you picked up on Front Avenue." Her voice lowered into a mockery of Long John Silver, "Them's that died was the lucky ones, weren't they, Ritchie? You liked it so very much when they screamed in pain as you shoved you cock into--"

"STOP!" Ciatti screamed, "STOP! STOP! STOP!!" His hands flew into his hair. He pulled at it, tearing out large chunks in his anguish. "It was Mike! Mike and Papa! They told me to torch the place! I'll do anything the cops want, just leave me the fuck alone you goddamned bitch!!"

Largo quickly pulled her eyes from Ciatti's, too disturbed by what she had already seen there. Her anger dissipated quickly as she realized she had won. She had broken the arrogant son-of-a-bitch.

Ciatti visibly relaxed, his hands falling helplessly into his lap. He glanced about him as though just remembering where he was. Then he looked up at Largo once again.

She was already on her feet and heading toward the door, attach‚ case in hand. Abruptly she stopped mid-stride. She stared at the door in morbid fascination as it suddenly began to drip thick rivers of blood from the top down. She blinked, but still saw the heavy trails of bright red blood oozing down to the floor. Largo took a step backwards, only vaguely remembering the growing anger of the man seated behind her.

She dropped her attach‚ case and stared at the door in horror. She looked around at the walls, and saw them now dripping bright green, orange and purple rivers of bubbly goo as well. The hue of the walls washed into a bright sunflower yellow. Largo turned back toward Ciatti...

...and received a crushing blow across the face by the man's forearm. She was thrown against the door and he pinned her there. She opened tear-blurred eyes only to see Richard Ciatti's head rapidly approaching her face. Before she could react, it struck her. She both heard and felt the sickening crunch of her nose shattering just before pain hit. Quickly, she reached for the gun at the small of her back and cracked Ciatti hard across the temple with it just after his head once again connected with hers, this time squarely in the center of her forehead. Then he dropped like a stone, and the door opened behind her. Meg Largo tumbled backwards and into the arms of a Richmond Police Officer, where she gratefully lost consciousness.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER FIVE
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER SIX: "You Can't Talk To A Psycho Like A Normal Human Being"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dana Scully's Apartment
4:00 p.m.

Mulder had driven back to her place an hour after their separation at the Hoover Building.

"I'm sorry," he said, leaning on the door frame at the front entrance. "I don't know why I got so upset today."

"Wait Mulder. Don't apologize. I'm the one who should be sorry. I don't understand why I've been so hot-headed lately. I didn't sleep well last night, but that's no excuse for treating you that way. I just get a feeling we should leave Lake Benson alone."

Mulder stepped into the apartment. "I didn't come here to talk about Lake Benson."

"I know."

"Scully, I...I--"

She knew he was headed nowhere, so she stopped him by pulling his head down for a kiss. He brought his hands up to her shoulders, resting them atop her plain white t-shirt before moving them down to caress her bare arms.

She sighed contentedly and ran her hands through his soft dark hair.

Breaking away, Mulder said, "Scully, you read my mind."

She laid her head on his black turtleneck, "It's not exactly a nebulous tome, Mulder."

He smiled into her hair and wrapped his arms around her, holding her small body close to his. He bent to inhale the sweetness of her clean, fresh Scully-scent.

Her head still on his chest, she whispered, "Mulder, what are you doing?"

"I'm smelling you, Scully."

"Is it a good smell?"

"It's one of my favorite smells," he replied with great sincerity.

She held him a moment longer, then said, "Would you like to stay for dinner, Mulder?"

He squeezed her a little, "I'd love that."

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

Henrico County Doctor's Hospital
Richmond, Virginia
6:25 p.m.

The doctor who set her nose told her she was lucky, but she wasn't feeling anything remotely resembling blarney right now.

<Luck of the Irish, my ass!> she thought, <Are Irish people really lucky? I don't seem to be, but maybe brown Irish people who are half Indian don't count. Or maybe you have to live in Ireland to be lucky. But then, I've seen Ireland. Those people eat potatoes for every other meal and have to burn shit in their stoves to stay warm. Doesn't sound like Nirvana to me.>

They'd given her something called Darvocet ("To take the edge off, honey," one of the middle-aged nurses had said, patting her shoulder as Largo held an icepack to her rapidly-swelling nose) and now she was floating between reality and some other place. She sat on a table in the emergency room, holding a new icepack to her face and wondering about Irish people, peat-burning stoves, and bloody doors, when a tall bald man in a suit, trench coat and wire-rims entered the ER. He put his hands on his hips as he scanned the room, finally finding his target.

Largo shut her eyes and moaned softly. A mantra began in her head, and before she realized it she heard herself speaking it aloud:

"This is not happening. This is not happening. This is not happening. This is--"

"Megan!" A deep, surly voice interrupted her as the man stepped into the space directly in front of the exam table where she sat.

Great, just what she needed. Her nose a huge lump of pure pain, she had a vicious headache from the second head-butt and was exhausted from too little sleep in the last few nights. All she needed was Walter Skinner making the two-hour drive to Richmond to pick her up from a county hospital. He was not going to be a happy camper. She could feel him warming up for a grand-scale bitch-out session. She'd experienced enough of them during her teen-age years to pick up on the warning signs.

Still holding the ice to her face, she mumbled to him through half-frozen lips.

"Hi Walt."

Skinner didn't reply, he simply stood, hands on hips, staring at her. He reached out a hand and gently removed the icebag. He cocked his head, examining her face.

Her small, narrow nose was swollen to at least twice its regular size, and he could see the bruises already forming beneath both eyes from the trauma. Lucky for her she had dark skin, which somewhat muted all of the bruising she'd sustained from a seemingly constant stream of facial injuries.

"Jesus Christ, Meg," he whispered between clenched teeth, "what the hell did you do this time?

In a thick voice betraying evidence of clogged nasal passages and a mild concussion, Largo replied, "I got a confession out of Ciatti. He fingered Michael and Augustus 'Papa' Bolliani. He later admitted to the sodomizing and murder deaths of three Front Avenue prostitutes."

"Oh, I see...and that was when he beat the shit out of you, right?"

Largo looked away and held the icebag to her face again. "I guess you just can't talk to a psycho like a normal human being."

"That's really deep, Meg," Skinner said sarcastically.

"Thanks, I'm quoting one of those shitty alternative bands you hate so much."

Skinner sighed and continued his lecture, ignoring her last statement, "Let me tell you a little something, Meg. When I get a phone call telling me one of my agents has been assaulted, I am upset. But when they go on to say, once again, that it is you, my heart just about leaps out of my chest. I can't handle much more of this Meg. I'm considering taking you out of the field and restricting you to desk work."

Tired as she was, and even through the thick haze of painkillers she'd been given, Largo reacted instantly and violently.

"NO!" She shouted into the busy ER, people bustling about turned to look at her before going back about their business. "Listen Walt, this was a mistake! A one-time--"

Through his clenched teeth, he cut her off, "Save it Meg! I've heard that 'this was a mistake' speech before."

She suddenly made a frustrated growling noise deep in her throat and threw the icepack against a nearby wall with the force and accuracy of the rifle-armed shortstop she had once been. It shattered instantly, spilling ice and water onto the tile floor beneath. More stared, but she was oblivious to all but the tall, angry, intimidating man directly in front of her.

"Will you let me finish?! Jesus! All of you, you do this to me every time. Pretty little Meg Largo gets knocked around a bit, so we'd better pull her out of the field. Well I'm sick of that shit! Today I helped to possibly bring down one of the biggest organized crime families on the Southeast Coast! I got a man to admit he'd set a fire that killed a dozen people! And as a bonus, as gravy, we can also pin a triple homicide on him for killing the hookers. I don't think I did too fucking bad today!

"Yes, I got my nose broken. Yes, I probably have *another* concussion, but a lot of the people Ritchie Ciatti would have killed are now going to be alive! Yes, I was stupid and I didn't get out of there because I--never mind that! I made one mistake in interrogation, I didn't leave fast enough. But I'll tell you it was worth this to get Ciatti and the Bollianis!"

She stopped, panting, unable to breathe through her nose. She glared at Skinner angrily. Suddenly, Largo realized what she'd just said, and to whom. She lowered her eyes in shame, not caring about the extra pressure and pain in her nose. Skinner was her surrogate father, and she had just raised her voice to him...quite vehemently. This was something deeply ingrained in her as a definite taboo.

He reached out and cupped her cheek in his palm. He lifted her swollen face so that their eyes met.

Skinner exhaled loudly, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but you're right. You *are* an excellent agent, Meg, and I can't lose you, even though it's torture to see what you put yourself through. I'm just so afraid, Meg, so afraid that one day they'll call me one day, and instead of telling me you're in the ER, they'll ask me to identify your body at the morgue."

Megan Largo's green eyes filled with tears. She hadn't realized how much pain she had caused him. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him closer to where she sat on the edge of the table. Carefully, she laid her head on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry," she whispered in his ear. "I'm sorry I was disrespectful and I'm sorry I hurt you."

He embraced her firmly, but gently, all too aware of her injuries. "I'm sorry too. I just can't lose you, Megan. You're all I have left."

"I love you, Uncle Walt," she whispered, squeezing him tight.

They held each other for some time, then Largo pulled away, a new concern springing to mind. "Did you tell Jolyn about this?"

He shook his head, "I'm sorry, I should have thought to."

She laid a hand on his arm, "No, no, it's okay. I'm glad. I wouldn't want her to see me here, like this."

She gestured down to her white shirt, deeply stained with blood in large spots and blotches. It was matted in her black hair as well, and she could feel dried flakes on her forehead.

Skinner looked seriously at her, "You try to protect her from what you do, don't you Meg?"

Largo thought of the many nights she awoke from vicious, terrible nightmares, only to have Jolyn soothe and calm her with gentle words and a loving touch.

"Sometimes it's the other way around, Walt. But I try not to upset her if possible--and seeing me here, like this, would definitely upset her. Look what it did to you."

He couldn't argue with that logic, and proceeded to get Largo released from the ER. He drove her home, assuring her he'd send someone down for the requisitioned vehicle she'd driven there that morning. He told her they'd stop at his place before he took her home. She could shower there and borrow some clean clothes. She reached over and squeezed his hand for a minute, letting him know how much she appreciated his sensitivity and reluctant acceptance of her life and her lifestyle.

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

Dana Scully's Apartment
9:03 p.m.

They were on the couch drinking wine and watching an old movie on television.

Mulder lay stretched out on the couch, his head in Scully's lap. She gently ran her fingers through his hair, sending small sparks tingling down his spine. He hadn't felt this relaxed all day. Hell, he hadn't felt this good in a long time. He was still puzzled by his irrational anger today, though. His childish temper tantrum over the flat tire now seemed embarrassing, even to himself. He certainly wasn't going to tell Scully about it.

But he had to admit that she'd acted oddly too. That outburst about the death wish, that hadn't been Scully at all, and even though she'd been quick to apologize, it bothered him. He could tell it bothered her as well.

He felt her move beneath his head, and he tilted up so she could get more comfortable. As he settled back down, he was pleasantly surprised to find she had scooted down much further, and he now lay the back of his head against her breasts. She set her chin atop his head in an odd reversal of their upright embrace. She wrapped her arms around his chest and sighed contentedly. Mulder relaxed his body, allowing himself to melt into her strong feminine arms.

Mulder was soon lulled to sleep by a combination of the delicious lasagna Scully had put together, the wine, and the rise and fall of Scully's soft chest beneath his head.

--BRING!-- --BRING!--

Mulder was shocked into consciousness by the ringing of the phone. Scully reached an arm behind herself to answer it.

"Agent Scully, this is AD Skinner."

She flipped the volume on the TV down with the remote and said, "Yes, sir. What can I do for you?"

There was a long exhalation and a long pause on the other end of the line.

Scully frowned into the phone. Mulder gave her a questioning glance. She motioned for him to wait as she asked, "Is there anything wrong, sir?"

Skinner exhaled loudly into the phone. "There was a minor...incident down in Richmond today which involved Agent Largo."

Scully sat up straighter, making Mulder sit up as well, "What happened, sir?"

Skinner took a moment before he spoke, "She was assaulted by Richard Ciatti minutes after his confession. He broke her nose."

Scully frowned, her face full of concern. "Is she okay?"

"It's not a pretty sight right now, and she suffered another concussion and cranial contusion, but she'll be okay."

"Sir, if I might ask, why was she still in the room with Ciatti? Doesn't she usually leave right away?"

A long pause. "I don't know why she was still there, Agent Scully. I...I just don't know."

"Thank you for calling, sir," Scully said, and hung up the phone. She stared at the wall, thinking.

Mulder's voice interrupted her reverie. "What's wrong?"

"Largo was assaulted by Richard Ciatti, the suspect in the Richmond arson. He broke her nose. However, she got him to confess."

Mulder winced, then pursed his lips, "Good for her."

At the incredulous look she gave him, he explained, "You know that's what she ultimately cares about. To Largo, it was worth it."

Scully looked at him questioningly, uncertain of his logic. She thought about it for a moment, then knew he was right.

"I'm going to call," she stated, picking the phone back up.

Mulder put his hand over her smaller one, "Wait. Maybe you should give her some time tonight. It sounds like a pretty traumatic experience, and Jolyn is with her for now. Let them have some time together."

"You think?"

He nodded.

She kissed him lightly and smiled a bit. "You're probably right. What are we doing tomorrow?"

"Not much, maybe try to put together a history on Lake Benson. We can't do much else in Clearwater until Saturday. I can handle it by myself if you're thinking what I think you're thinking."

Her smile brightened, "That's what I'm thinking."

She sat back on the couch, fretful, and Mulder put an arm around her waist, turning her to face him.

"Well I've got an idea then. Let's not *think* about Largo anymore tonight," he said, as he bent his head to kiss her.

She lay back, and Mulder leaned in on top of her. His lips, his tongue, his touch was so soft and warm and gentle. He lifted a hand and cupped her breast, teasing the nipple erect with his thumb. They lay back and explored each other for several minutes before Scully broke away, saying,

"Mulder, I think you should go home now."

"Can't I just sleep here, on your couch?" he asked, looking up at her with pleading eyes.

She shook her head, "No, not anymore. Things have changed, Mulder. I can't have you in my living room at nights."

"Afraid of temptation, Agent Scully?"

"In a way. Before I give you more I need a test of faith."

His look was one of puzzlement.

She explained, "We've been really hot and cold in the last day or two, Mulder. One minute yelling and screaming, the next making out on the couch. I think a day away would be good for us, that's another reason I want to stay with Largo tomorrow. As far as the physical side of our relationship goes, I need to see if you have staying power. And going power. If I ask you to leave, I need to see if you can do it."

He smirked, "You make it so hard, Scully, but I can. I can leave."

He grabbed his jacket from the armchair, thanked her for dinner, gave her a brief, fleeting kiss, and left the apartment.

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

Megan Largo's Apartment
11:13 p.m.

Largo unlocked the door and quietly pushed it open. She heard the sound of the television from deep within the house. Good, Jo was watching in the bedroom. She entered the house and sat down heavily on the couch. She had taken her time at Walter's, showering and borrowing a button-down shirt and sweatpants for the night. Then she sat with him for awhile, spending precious time they rarely had together. She thought that with her move to DC she'd see much more of her 'godfather', but with their busy work schedules, and with Jolyn Parker now in her life, they rarely had much quality time.

Now she sat on the couch, preparing for the inevitable. It wasn't that Jo hadn't seen her beat up before, and she had far too much self-confidence to think Jo would be physically put off by this new injury to her face. It was that she knew it would hurt Jo once more to see her like this.

Back in June, when they'd first began their relationship (after nearly ten years of solid friendship) she'd looked much worse. She'd been surprised Jo hadn't been repulsed back then. But her injuries and the emotional trauma she endured seemed to bring Jo even closer to her. It wasn't until then that she recognized the look in her old friend's eyes. Jo was in love with her, and had been for some time. In a moment of clarity it all came crashing down on her. She realized that she, too, had more than friendly feelings for the beautiful, intelligent woman weeping openly at the sight of her damaged face.

Five days later, when they'd first made love, was one of the most powerful emotional experiences she'd ever had, and she suddenly realized what had been missing from her life. Jolyn Parker. She then knew she loved Jo with all her heart and soul. Their relationship went far beyond friendship, and probably always had, she had just never seen it, even though it was sitting there right in front of her eyes the entire time.

She retrieved the stereo remote and turned it on, flipping through the stations to find something to fit her mood. Uncharacteristically, she settled on a soft rock station. She kept the volume low and listened to The Eagles sing 'Hotel California' as she stretched out on the couch to compose herself before talking to Jolyn.

She lay there for a long time, still not inspired. She closed her tired, swollen eyes. The song changed and she opened them again, only to find her living room a pale pink. The light shone an evil orange inside the table lamp, and the furniture was a swirling mass of greens, blues, and light purples. She snapped her eyes shut and held them tight until tears started to leak out the sides. She opened them again to see the room as she knew it was and breathed a long sigh of relief.

There was a soft padding of bare feet in the hallway. Largo quickly stood and walked to the window, where Jolyn could not see her face.

"Hey Meg. What are you doing out here? I heard the stereo and--Meg, what's wrong? How did it go in Richmond?"

Still facing the window, Largo spoke, "Ciatti confessed. It took a long time, and I risked a lot in getting him to break, but he did. I wouldn't be surprised if the Bolliani family suffers a complete breakdown. It, uh, it was hard Jo...""

"What happened, Meg?" Jo asked in her low, whiskey voice.

"Things haven't been going so well lately, Jo. And...and I've been having something of a problem." She paused, unsure of how to phrase her words, and not sure if she should vocalize her fears at all. "These last few days, strange things have been happening to me. I've been...I've been seeing things."

Jo inched closer, but still allowed Meg her space. "What kind of things?"

Largo exhaled loudly and ran a hand through her hair. "Things no one else sees. Jo, I...I haven't told anyone about this...because I'm kind of afraid to. Yesterday, in the office, I was about to drink my coffee, and I looked into the cup. It was full of blood. I freaked out and threw it to the ground, but Mulder and Scully only saw a puddle of coffee on the ground. Later, that's what I saw as well."

Still she gazed out the window. Bright moonlight surrounded her head as she continued, "Today, after Ciatti fingered the Bollianis...I turned to leave and the door was dripping with blood. I swear it was oozing all down the door. I looked at the walls and they had this bubbly green and orange gunk running down them too...No one else saw it, just me."

Jo came up and put a comforting hand on Largo's shoulder. "What happened, Meg?" she repeated, an ominous feeling of dread forming in the pit of her stomach.

"I didn't get out of the room fast enough. I was distracted by the...the hallucination...and Ciatti attacked me."

Reluctantly, she turned to face her friend. "He broke my nose."

Jo uttered a small cry and covered her mouth with her fingers. Her eyes went wide in shock, then began to fill with tears.

Largo reached out a hand and touched the side of her face. "Don't cry, Jo. It's okay. It doesn't hurt, it looks worse than it is."

"Oh, Meg," Jo said sadly, and reached to pull her close.

They held each other for long minutes, and Jo wept on her shoulder as Largo whispered reassuring words in her ear.

"I just can't stand it when they hurt you," Jo mumbled into the side of her neck. "I just can't stand to see you hurt. Meg."

"I'm okay, Jo. S-h-h-h. It's okay," she replied, stroking Jo's long blonde ringlets of soft hair.

Jo pulled away and said, "Are you sure about the...the hallucinations?"

Largo looked down at the floor between them and nodded.

Quickly, Jo said, "That doesn't mean anything. It could be a one-time thing. They might go away. Why would they come now, its been months since..." she trailed off, afraid to say the words.

Quietly, Largo said, "There have been other signs."

Jo frowned and gave Meg a questioning look.

"My dreams are getting worse, Jo. You know that. They aren't like my usual nightmares either."

"What are they like?"

Largo shivered and shook her head, "I can't talk about it, I just can't, not now. But they're...different, they're worse. Dreams I haven't had in years...since, since Patrick...I just can't."

The look of pain on her face made Jo's eyes fill again. She knew all too well about Megan's nightmares, and she did her best to comfort and soothe when they came. In the last few days, the dreams had been much more frequent, frequent enough to frighten and concern Jo about her friend.

Jolyn only vaguely knew about the death of Patrick Largo, her only details small things gleaned from other sources, mostly gossip from the U of M campus, where they were undergrads. Megan very rarely spoke of her father's death, even to Jo. Since both Jo's parents were alive and well and living in Rochester, MN, she didn't know whether this was a typical reaction, or unhealthy.

Jo once again put her arms around Meg, this time the one to offer comfort. Meg didn't cry, but clung tightly to her.

Her head close to Jo's ear, she whispered, "Will you do something for me, Jo?"

"Anything."

"Will you kiss me?"

Jo smiled against the side of Largo's face, "Of course."

She pulled her face back and looked Meg in the eyes. Then she bent forward and gently touched her lips to Largo's trembling ones. So soft. Careful not to touch her sensitive nose, Jo kissed her again, light, feathery kisses, their lips melting together, then, inevitably, coming apart as Jo realized Meg could not breathe through her injured nose.

Standing in the middle of the living room, soft music in the background, Jo tenderly kissed away the hurt and the pain, helping Meg temporarily forget the day and her growing troubles. She surrounded her friend with the only thing that she could give: her love.

The music stopped momentarily, and a DJ's smooth, silky voice called out to them from inside the box, "I hope you enjoyed that, next we've got one from Sarah McLachlan."

The rich sound of a low organ began a haunting melody.

Meg pulled her face away to whisper, "Dance with me, Jo."

She put her left arm around Jolyn's waist, bringing the right up for her partner to hold. As Jo did, she brought their locked hands between them. She pulled Jo's cheek to her own and they swayed there, moving in a slow circle, shutting out the rest of the world as the woman in the box sang just to them.

"Listen as the wind blows/from across the great divide
Voices trapped in yearning/memories trapped in time"

Largo closed her eyes and let the rhythm flow over her. The music was wonderfully sensuous, and just right for the moment. Gently, she pulled her cheek from Jo's and looked her in the eyes. Jolyn met hers without hesitation. Largo smiled warmly as her eyes brightened into a sparkling sapphire that matched Jo's perfectly.

"And I will be the one/to hold you down
Kiss you so hard/I'll take your breath away"

Largo opened her heart to Jolyn, flooding her with the tender emotions Jo evoked in her soul. Jo knew her own were plain for Meg to see, still she thrust them to the forefront of her mind, and when Meg's smile turned to her trademark grin, Jo couldn't help but return it.

<I love you, Jolyn.>

<I love you too. Now will you please shut up and kiss me?>

The grin sparkled even more, beautiful despite the swollen mass above it. Largo closed her eyes and lowered her lips to Jo's. Their tongues met and stroked each other briefly before Largo needed to pull away for air. Instantly, she returned, their passion growing deeper as the music continued:

"Into this night I wander/it's morning that I dread
Another day of knowing of/the path I fear to tread
Oh into the sea of waking dreams/I follow without pride
Cause nothing stands between us here/and I won't be denied"

As the song ended Jo stepped away. She turned and flipped off the lamp behind her. The room lit only in moonlight, she sought out Largo's hand again. Upon finding it, she carefully led her into the bedroom.

Largo lay down on the bed, still in her clothes. Jo lay beside her and held her close. Meg let herself be comforted by Jo's gentle touch. She grasped Jo's hand and kissed the back of it as a lone tear ran down her face.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER SIX
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER SEVEN: "Visions"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

DAY FIVE
Friday, Oct. 24, 1997
Fox Mulder's Apartment
3:30 am

Mulder awoke on his couch in a cold sweat. It was dark and he was alone. A glance at the digital clock atop the fish tank told him it was a little after three in the morning.

The dream had been a bad one. In it, he'd been drenched in gasoline, it was in his clothes, his hair, he felt it between his toes as it sloshed inside his shoes.

In the strange, nonsensical disarray of dreams, he'd just walked out of the cabin in Quantiquatoc, a place he dreaded deep in his soul, and into a clearing in the woods. He realized it was the clearing in Bellfleur, Oregon; the same one where he'd seen...something. The Bellfleur case had been his first with Scully, and he heard a rustling in the trees behind him. He turned, expecting to see her running in, just as she has back then.

But it wasn't Scully. It was him. The Black Lung. The manipulative son-of-a-bitch who'd torn his family and his life apart bit by bit.

The man took a deep, heavy pull and emitted a cloud of foul yellow smoke from his mouth and nostrils. He stood there, one hand in the pocket of his ever-present black suit, the other holding the damn coffin nail. He smiled sadly at Mulder and shook his head.

"What are you doing here?" Mulder had asked the man, disdain clear on his face and in his voice.

"Why, Agent Mulder, I thought you knew. I've come here to watch you die--again. Too bad you didn't stay dead the first time. It would have saved me the trip."

With that, the man took another hearty drag and flicked the cigarette at Mulder. It quickly ignited and he was instantly covered in flames. Mulder screamed as he felt the heat begin to sear his flesh.

And then he awoke, sweating and alone in his apartment. He knew that she would be asleep, but he was unable to help himself. He punched in Scully's home number and held the phone to his ear.

She answered on the second ring. She sounded tired, but her voice didn't have the thick cloudiness of sleep in it.

"Scully, it's me."

"I know, Mulder. No one else calls me at three in the morning."

"Largo doesn't?" he asked, just checking to make sure.

"Largo has someone there with her when she wakes up from her nightmares."

"I hope you don't mind," he said, trying to sound apologetic.

"Of course not, Mulder. Was it bad?"

"It was Him, Cancer Man. He lit me on fire, said I should have stayed dead."

"God Mulder, that's terrible. Do you dream of Him often?"

"Not usually," he replied, "Scully?"

"Yes."

"Were you asleep?"

She sighed into the receiver, "No."

"Why not?"

"Sometimes I have nightmares too."

Mulder paused. She had always been a closed person, never one to share many details of her life. But he wanted her to share these things with him. He decided to ask her.

"Do you mind if I ask what about?"

She blew out a breath into the phone, then said, "Different things. Sometimes memories from old cases pop into my dreams, sometimes not. Tonight, I had a really strange dream about you and Largo."

Mulder's voice betrayed his surprise, "Me and Largo?" he repeated incredulously, then, "How do you figure that one?"

She clicked her tongue, and he could picture her rolling her eyes, "There was nothing sexual about it, Mulder."

"I'm sure Dr. Freud would beg to differ," he teased.

"Do you want to hear about my dream, or not?"

He stopped kidding and said yes.

"Okay then," she said, laying back against her headboard as she settled in to tell her tale, "It was really weird. You and Largo were in the office. She was staring hard at a piece of paper or something in her hand, and she had this strange look on her face. Next thing I know, the two of you have pulled your guns on each other. Then, and this is the really weird part--I don't do anything. I just stand there. I'm just hovering in the corner of the office while you two are playing OK Corral, and everything gets all red, like we're in a darkroom or something. Weird, huh?"

"Weird all right," he agreed, "but what happens at the end? Do we shoot each other?"

"I don't know. That was when I woke up. Creepy dream, though. I've been awake for an hour and can't fall back asleep. The dream really disturbed me."

"Understandable."

There was an awkward moment of silence between them.

Mulder filled it, "So, Scully, what are you wearing?"

She laughed into the phone, "Down boy. You don't want to go there."

"Actually, I do."

"I know you do, Mulder, but I need just a little more time."

"I understand. Listen, I'd better let you get some sleep. You looked tired today, and I know how cranky you can be after sleep deprivation."

"You're right, I get downright in a shooting mood when I don't get my beauty sleep."

"Oh, so that's the real reason why you shot me?"

She chuckled, "That was just general principles, Mulder. Gotta keep you in line."

"Goodnight, Scully."

"G'night, Mulder," she said and hung up, a smile on her face.

The smile remained as she drifted off to sleep once more.

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

Largo's Apartment
8:30 am

From the bathroom, where she was putting her usual small amount of make-up for the day, Jolyn Parker heard the ringing of the telephone. She bolted out of the bathroom with the grace and speed of a gazelle. She glanced down quickly at the caller ID box and answered in a low, hushed voice,

"Hello, Scully."

"Hi Jolyn. We heard about what happened last night. How is she?"

Jo paused before answering, carefully constructing her reply. Meg didn't want Scully to know about her other problems, but Jo wasn't sure that was the best decision. Still, she honored Meg's wishes.

"It's not a pretty sight, but not as bad as it could have been. It's not as bad as Milwaukee, not even close. Her nose is pretty swollen, and last night her eyes were turning black and blue."

The nose wasn't so much Scully's concern as the concussion she had suffered. This was Largo's third concussion in the past nine months, and the other two were very serious ones. Scully knew the dangers of this trend. With each concussion, the patient becomes more susceptible to them. In other words, it becomes easier and easier to bruise the brain, leaving the patient groggy for longer periods of time and increasing the chances of brain cell impairment. Initially, the patient may feel okay, experiencing normal cognitive functioning, but often, after a night's rest, he or she awakens dazed, disoriented, and heavily concussed.

"Did you wake her periodically throughout the night?'

"Why would I do that?"

"She has a concussion, doesn't she?"

She heard Jo breathe angrily for a moment, "She didn't tell me that, and she was...um, she seemed okay last night. I mean...I, uh...Oh God!"

Scully had no idea what Jo was so flustered about, so she turned the conversation back to Largo's health, "So, did she sleep the night through?"

"No. She didn't sleep well. Actually, she woke herself every hour or so."

Scully was puzzled. Concussions usually made the patient extremely sleepy. They needed to be awakened periodically to make sure they weren't slipping into coma from too much hemorrhaging in the skull.

"Was she nauseous? Dizzy?"

"No...nightmares. Either that or one of her headaches."

There was silence on Scully's end. Jo didn't know what to make of it, so she continued her update on Meg's condition.

"They gave her some pain pills at the hospital. I made her take one of them last night and promise to take them today, but I doubt she will. You know how she is about that stuff."

Scully knew all too well about Meg Largo's aversion to prescription pain medication.

Instead of voicing what they both knew, she simply said, "It's good that you were able to get her to take what she did. Has she iced it since she got home?"

"Twice. I told her to do it every couple of hours, but I doubt she will do that either. I'm going to call to remind her throughout the day."

"That won't be necessary, Jolyn. I'm going to come over and stay with her today."

"Scully, I really don't think that's necessary." Actually, she wasn't sure how Meg would react to her partner's presence in her current--situation.

"Still, I would like to come over and check her out."

"Okay," Jo replied with only a hint of resignation, "I have to leave for the campus in about a half an hour, when were you planning on coming over?"

"I can be there in 15 minutes."

"See you then," Jo said and hung up the phone.

Jolyn quickly went to the bedroom and tried to rouse Largo.

"Meg? Meg--wake up." She said, gently shaking Largo's bare shoulder.

No response. Jo was faintly surprised. Meg was a light sleeper and usually awoke at the faintest noise. However, she was exhausted from lack of sleep for--how many days now? Jo didn't even know. She pushed the hair off her forehead and now saw the growing discoloration across it. Largo's dark skin often made it difficult to see bruises right away. Unlike the dark black crescent-moons that hung beneath Largo's eyes, the one on her forehead was a light purple, but Jo got the impression it wasn't done darkening.

She was upset Meg hadn't told her about the head injury. She would never have done what they'd done last night if she knew Meg was in such a condition. And now, here she was, sitting in her bedroom that smelled like sex, feeling incredibly guilty, and trying to rouse her brain-injured lover so she could change the sheets and air the room out before Meg's straight-arrow partner came over. Not that she didn't like Scully, which she did, very much, and she'd been incredibly careful with Meg last night. She just didn't want to get busted by Scully (of all people) for having sex with a person not in control of her mental faculties...and who was now apparently in a semi-coma.

"Meg!" Jolyn shook her harder, "Meg, wake up hon."

Largo's eyes fluttered and opened as best they could, which was only enough to give Jo a slitted glimpse of green. They were badly swollen underneath.

"Jo?" Meg said weakly, smiling a little. She reached out to hold Jo's hand.

"Yeah, it's me, Meg. Listen--Scully is coming over in 15 minutes and we need to get you presentable."

"Huh? S-s-cul-l-ly?"

"Yes, Scully. Scully is coming over soon, and I don't want her to find you naked in bed smelling like we did the nasty for half the night, okay? So I want you to hop in the shower. Can you do that?"

Largo blinked her swollen eyes slowly as she slurred, "I don't feel so good, Jo. My head is all thick."

<No shit, your head is thick!> Jo thought, but said, "That's because you have a concussion. Now try to sit up, okay?"

Largo sat up, then sucked air in through her teeth and brought a hand to her temple, then across to feel her nose. "Oh Jeez, I got a Mulder-nose this morning."

"Don't make fun of your partner, Meg. Now come on, let's go take a shower."

"Both of us? Didn't you already take one?" Largo said innocently, looking her up and down.

"No, just you, Meg. I'm going to start the water; come in there when you think you can, okay?" She rose to go into the bathroom.

"Okay...Hey, Jo?" Largo asked, squinting quizzically at the walls.

Jo turned, "Yes?"

"When did you paint the walls blue?"

Jolyn's chin quivered as her eyes wandered over the white walls, which were beginning to shimmer through her tears.

"Yesterday, Meg," Jo said quietly. "I painted them yesterday. Come into the bathroom when you're ready."

Largo stared at the walls for a few more seconds before slowly standing and making her way to the bathroom. Jo helped her into the shower and closed the sliding door, which obscured the dark brown form inside. She shut the bathroom door and went into the linen closet. Jo pulled out a set of sheets and went back to the bedroom. She removed the light green sheets and began to replace them with a pink set.

She stopped and let her eyes roam the walls. Her lips trembled once again and she sat down heavily on the mattress. She lowered her head to her hands and bawled.

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

8:52 am

The door was promptly opened by Jolyn. Scully stood there in light blue jeans and a Terrapins sweatshirt.

Her smile of greeting turned into a worried frown as she said, "Is everything okay, Jolyn?"

"Yes. Allergies, you know."

Jo stepped aside to allow Scully entrance. The red-head raised her eyebrow skeptically as she stepped inside but said nothing. She heard the sound of a hair dryer deep within the apartment. Abruptly, it ceased.

"Have a seat, Scully," Jo said, leading the smaller woman to the kitchen. "Would you like some coffee?"

"Sure, it smells great."

Jo's smile was a bit strained, but she came up with a small joke, "Straight from Juan Valdez." She added cream to Scully's cup and brought it to her. She sat with Scully, sipping from her own cup.

"HEY, JO!" Came a familiar, yet curiously nasalized voice from the back of the house. "WHO'S HERE?"

Jo stood and leaned into the hallway, half-yelling down the hall, "SCULLY!"

"WHO?"

Louder, Jo repeated herself, "SCULLY'S HERE!"

"WHY IS SHE HERE?"

Scully noticed the slight slur to the voice from down the hall.

Jolyn turned back to her, "Excuse me, Scully."

"Sure," Scully replied, faintly amused as she sipped her coffee.

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

She walked into the bathroom, where Largo was brushing her teeth. She wore jeans that would have fallen off her hips if not for the tightly-cinched belt holding them up. Above the waist she wore only a pale yellow sports bra, which accentuated the sultry darkness of her skin, the flatness of her stomach, and the firm muscle tone of her back and shoulders. It also accentuated the dark bruised under her eyes, across the bridge of her nose, and on her forehead.

Jolyn watched Meg carefully prop herself on one hand before leaning over to spit, then rinse her mouth. She rose back up and caught Jo's reflection in the mirror. She smiled, then looked startled as she rocked involuntarily back on her heels, her balance uncharacteristically off today. Jo quickly stepped up to put a steady hand on her back.

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it."

"Why is Scully here?"

"I told you she was coming over, remember? She wants to check you out because you have a concussion; which you didn't tell me about last night."

Largo's eyes were apologetic. "I felt fine last night, honestly. I figured it must be slight, so I didn't even mention it. Today I don't feel so good, but I'm okay without Scully baby-sitting me all day. I really don't want her here anyway."

"Well, I'm glad she's here. Look at you, Meg, you can barely stand right now. You need someone here."

"But--"

Jo shook her head, "No buts. I know what you're afraid of, but you need her right now. Come on," she led Largo to the bedroom closet to get a t-shirt.

"It's cold in here, Jo."

"That's because I opened the window to air out the room. I don't want Scully to know I took advantage of you last night in your diminished mental state."

Largo grinned, her eyes nearly closing, "You didn't take advantage of me, Jo. I was a willing participant." She leaned closer to Jolyn, "And I enjoyed it very much, didn't you?"

She saw the shiver run through Jo's body and had her answer. Smiling, she carefully captured Jo's lips between her own. Jo instinctively returned the kiss, her arms wrapping around Largo's lower back, feeling the smooth, bare skin.

Abruptly, she pulled away. "Meg," came her whispered plea, "your partner is sitting at the kitchen table and I have to go to class! And your brain is bruised, obviously very bruised. Now please put a shirt on and let Scully check you out. One more question--are you wearing underwear?"

To most, this would sound like a strange question, but between the two of them it was not. Largo's face fell and her shoulders sagged. She whined like a five-year-old.

"Jo! You know I hate 'em! It's bad enough I have to wear them to work everyday!"

Jolyn rolled her eyes. In their personal life together, Meg's aversion to underwear (almost as strong as her aversion to painkillers) was a huge turn-on for Jo, but it wasn't something polite people did when spending the day with their partner from work.

"Put them on," Jo commanded gently.

"It's only Scully. She doesn't care if I'm wearing underwear or not."

Jo's voice became more firm, "Put them on."

"Look, Scully is one of my friends, not just my partner. I'd wear 'em if it was Mulder, but not Scully."

"Put. Them. On."

"Can they be boxers?"

"A-r-g-g-h!" Jo growled in frustration. She spun around and pulled a drawer open, withdrawing a pair of satin panties, which she dumped unceremoniously into Largo's right hand. She opened another and pulled out a white t-shirt, which she dumped into the left before stomping out of the closet. There was a high-pitched giggle from the hallway; Jolyn poked her head out to see Dana Scully with a hand over her mouth, trying to contain a burst of laughter.

"I'm sorry," Scully said as she wiped a tear from her eye, "I was going to call out to you, but the 'are you wearing underwear' comment caught me a little off-guard. The need to eavesdrop was irresistible."

Jo bit her lower lip, trying to suppress a smile. She failed and started to laugh along with Scully.

"What's so funny?" Largo asked from the closet.

When Scully got sufficient control of herself, she said, "You don't have to wear underwear on my account, Largo."

"See Jo, she doesn't care."

"Fine. Whatever. Don't wear underwear. I really am past the point of caring right now."

"It's kind of cold in here," Scully said, rubbing her arms through her sweatshirt.

Jo rolled her eyes again as Largo snorted from the closet. She crawled over the now neatly-made bed and shut the window.

"Smells good in here, though," Scully remarked, sniffing the air, "What is it?"

Knowing Meg's penchant for telling the truth when her mental faculties weren't completely about her, Jo replied before anything could come from the closet, "Apricot potpourri."

There was another snort from the depths of the closet, which Jolyn patently ignored.

"Come on, Scully," Jo said, taking her by the arm, "I'll get you a refill on that coffee."

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

Jolyn was gone by the time Largo entered the kitchen. Scully put her cup down a little too hard on the table.

"Oh my God," she said.

"You really know how to make me feel better, Doc, you know that?"

Scully walked over to where Largo stood. She laid a hand on Largo's shoulder to balance herself as she rose on her toes to take a closer look at her young partner's face. Her nose was a bulb in the middle of her face. It was slightly darker than the rest of her skin, and was almost overshadowed by the shocking sight of the dark black half-moons that hung under Largo's eyes. They made her eyes swell, reminding Scully of the beating Largo had taken in Milwaukee. That, however, had been much worse. She pulled up a chair and motioned for Largo to sit.

"How are you, Megan?"

Largo lifted a heavy, swollen brow. "Oh, it's Megan now, is it? Is that a doctor-thing, or are we just becoming familiar?"

"I'm just worried about you."

"Don't be," Largo said lightly.

"You've been acting strangely, you can't deny that. And now this," she gestured to Largo's face. "What happened, Largo?"

"I messed up. I didn't realize how dangerous Ciatti was. He attacked me."

"That doesn't explain your behavior in the office."

"Well, I'm fine. I had a rough week, bad bout of migraines, and I let them effect my office demeanor. This incident is not related in any way."

Scully accepted that, but had her doubts. She continued with her examination. She bent down slightly in front of the seated Megan Largo to look at her swollen nose and black eyes. Luckily, there was no hemorrhaging in the whites of her eyes this time, but the eyes themselves were barely open, the sockets were swollen so bad.

Scully carefully felt up and down her only living patient's nose, finally deciding that it had been set well in the Richmond ER. She then took a penlight out of the black medical bag she had brought and lifted Largo's right eyelid to peer inside--

She gasped and dropped the light as Largo's eyes faded into a gray, then brightened and became a radiant blue-green, the exact color of Scully's. She stepped back, bracing herself against the refrigerator. Their eyes were locked for perhaps ten seconds, then Largo cried out and closed her eyes. Scully bit her lip and turned her head, her eyes slipping closed as she remembered to breathe.

Meg Largo's head was in her hands, her breath came out in ragged pants. She was obviously in pain, but Scully stood helpless against the refrigerator door, the haunting memory of her nightmare mixed with a new, different blend of horror as she realized that something strange had just happened. Adrenaline raced through her veins. She wanted to flee the house, to run screaming down the streets, to do anything that would get her away from here.

Then Largo's choked voice brought her back to her senses. The Indian woman's dark head was still in her hands, fingers at her temples, but her look was now more woeful than painful. She rocked slightly back and forth as she rapidly apologized.

"I'm sorry, Scully. I'm so sorry. I don't understand. I didn't do it on purpose. I'm sorry. Please forgive me, Scully! I didn't do it, I swear!"

"Largo, shut up!"

For the most part, Largo did, but not before she whispered once more. "I'm losing control."

Scully took a deep breath, then another, regaining her control. Suddenly she frowned and blinked. Her mind began to turn over the event.

<Largo's eyes turned blue. Then what?> Her mind instantly answered her. <Then I knew. I didn't know before, but now I know.>

She replayed the events of the last few minutes in her mind. It had been like a waking dream, a vision, and in it she knew who she was. She was Megan Largo, and she had just unlocked the front door of her house. There was snow outside, but she and Mike had shoveled the walk and the back patio like they were supposed to. She was in high school now, and got home earlier than Mike, who hadn't wanted to skip another grade to go up with her. He was still in 9th grade and at the junior high.

Scully, knowing that she was Megan Largo, had opened the door and taken off her parka and boots in the mud room, then called out to her father, knowing he'd be home early on a Friday afternoon.

"Patrick! Hey Patrick, toki yaun he?"

Scully felt the strange words rolling easily off her tongue in this extremely vivid vision, and knew what they meant. She had just asked Patrick where he was. She walked into the kitchen and heard a strangled moan. Looking down, a startled, anguished cry escaped her throat and she rushed forward. The blood was everywhere. It coated the floor like a thick, red rug. She saw the holes in his body and the one in his forehead as another shriek came out of her throat. Her mind was a blank; she thought nothing coherent but only felt pain tear through her as sharp as a straight-razor. Scully dropped to her knees, unaware of the blood soaking her clothes as she sat and picked Patrick's head off the floor. She knew instinctively it was too late for help.

Patrick moaned again and opened his eyes to look into Scully's. She saw her brown hand move across Patrick's light red hair to the back of his skull, where she tried to stop the brains and blood from oozing out. She looked into Patrick's eyes, which were the same color as her own, a shockingly beautiful sea-green.

Using the last of his remaining strength, he focused on her and whispered, "Hey there, Scout" in his soothing, paternal voice before closing his eyes forever.

Scully was shocked out of the dream by a howl of pain and a breaking of eye contact. She had recoiled in horror as Largo bent her head to her hands.

"Oh Largo, I'm sorry," she said quietly to her partner.

Largo's eyes snapped open as far as they were going to go today. She shot out of her seat, her voice suddenly high-pitched, almost frantic. "Sorry for what!? Sorry for what, Scully!? What are you sorry for!???"

With a sad, almost teary face, Scully answered her in an even, measured tone, "I'm sorry about your father."

Largo's voice dropped to a tortured moan as she backed away from Scully. "Oh no! No, no, no!" She reached the wall and slowly began to slide down. When she reached the bottom, Largo buried the heels of her hands in her eye sockets, oblivious to the intense pain it caused. "This can't be happening! It's not! No--it is not happening! Oh please God don't let it!"

Scully sprang to Largo's side, but the young woman recoiled from her touch.

"Leave me alone, Scully! Please, just go!"

If there was one thing Scully was not about to do, it was leave Meg Largo alone like this. However, she backed off a step, allowing Largo some space. She watched Largo try desperately not to cry, then lose complete control and sob in heart-wrenching gulps.

After a few minutes, Scully approached again. She put her arms around her stricken partner. This time, at her touch, Largo pulled her close and clung tightly to her sweatshirt. Her face was hot in the crook of Scully's neck, and Scully knew the pressure against her nose must be extremely painful. She stroked Largo's soft dark hair rhythmically as she shushed her and whispered soothing words into Largo's small amber-colored ear.

Five minutes later Largo stopped crying, but still clung tightly to Scully. Five minutes after that, Scully realized Largo had fallen asleep. Gingerly, she moved from her knees to a sitting position. She pulled Largo's pliable body with her and carefully set the raven-haired head in her lap. She looked at Largo's youthful, unlined face, now relaxed in sleep.

Scully gently wiped a tear from Largo's brown cheek as she replayed the events of the dream in her mind.

There was no doubt she *was* Meg Largo in the vision. And it was so clear, as though it were one of her own vivid memories. The detail; the snow lining the walk, the tile of kitchen floor--the blood. The image of the dying red-haired man once again filled her mind; she recalled his kind voice and his last words, hearing them ever so clearly in her mind.

"Hey there, Scout."

It was a greeting and a farewell. It was a reassurance. It was a show of unselfish, genuine affection for the terrified, anguished young girl who sat holding him in her arms. A tear slipped out of Scully's eye as she wondered what it does to a child to see a parent brutally murdered. Obviously, as Largo's reaction told her, it damaged the psyche to an incalculable degree. How did Largo function in the incredibly efficient way she did on a day-to-day basis with all of this welling up inside her?

Scully's conclusion was that she didn't. This re-surfacing of memories must be a recent development in Largo's life. Over 12 years had past since Patrick Largo's death, why was his daughter so consumed with it now? Was this the reason for her erratic behavior in the office?

For now, she let it go and simply watched the weary, injured young woman breathe in and out as she slept. She wondered about the experience of the vision, then quickly pushed it out of her mind. Was her experience only a waking dream, or was it truly an insight into Largo's mind? She had no answer to the question, so she reserved it for later.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER SEVEN
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER EIGHT: "Building A Mystery"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

J Edgar Hoover Building
Basement Office
10:15 am

Mulder had been working for three hours on the Lake Benson case. He knew there was no physical evidence he could gather until tomorrow, so he concentrated on the lake itself. He plugged the name into ten different geographical search engines with ten different government agencies and came up with next to nothing. Lake Benson was extremely dull. Except for the excellent summer water sports, the granite-bottomed lake was of absolutely no interest.

His natural paranoia kicking in , Mulder immediately concluded that Lake Benson was entirely *too quiet*. A lake on the outskirts of a town in the middle of Maryland had to have *some* history; a dead swimmer, a water-pollution controversy, a problem with plankton, something. He picked up the phone and called Clearwater Police Chief John Royce.

"Chief Royce? Fox Mulder."

"What can I do for you, Agent Mulder?"

"Not much today. We are, however, planning a trip into the lake tomorrow in a mini-sub borrowed from the University of Maryland. I wanted to notify you of the fact that a small party will be out there, probably only four or five people."

Royce was a slow to respond, "Oh. Okay. Let us know if we can help in any way."

"Actually, Chief, I had a question for you. Has anyone else ever disappeared from Lake Benson or the general vicinity?"

"Heck no, Agent Mulder. I would have told you yesterday if there were any related disappearances."

"Of course, Chief, but I'm talking long-term here. Has anyone *ever* disappeared from the lake area?"

The Sheriff's reply was carefully measured, "No, Agent Mulder, this department has no knowledge of any disappearances from Lake Benson. This is a quiet town. Not much happens here. I think you'd have heard if we had a problem with disappearances here in Clearwater, Agent Mulder."

"I'm sure you're right. Thank you Chief. Goodbye."

Mulder hung up as Tommy, the mailroom intern, knocked on the door. Mulder motioned him inside and Tommy pushed his cart up to the desk as Mulder rubbed his face and frowned thoughtfully. Was Lake Benson really *that* quiet? Was Clearwater that boring? Was Royce telling the truth? Why would he lie? All of these questions and more raced through his brain as Tommy waved him a goodbye and wished him a good weekend.

Coming out of his funk, he waved to the nerdy, bespeckled mailboy and wished him the same. Tommy was one of the few contacts Mulder had with the higher levels of the Hoover Building that he actually liked. True, the kid was a bigtime paste-eater, but he always meant well and was friendly, even to 'Spooky'.

Realizing his head hurt, Mulder popped open a bottle of ibuprofen sitting on Scully's desk and threw four into the back of his throat. He washed them down with lukewarm coffee and went back to thinking about Lake Benson. He found his mind, however, drifting back to the empty chair across from him. He didn't mind a day without Largo. In fact, it was kind of peaceful without her singing under her breath, giving him constant shit, and (more recently) smashing bugs against his file cabinets.

He didn't like Scully gone though. She was right though. They needed some space. He really didn't understand why he'd been acting the way he had. There was no reason for it. He was happier now than he'd been in years. He and Scully were slowly moving toward a solid relationship. He understood her timidity, her caution. He had broken her trust with his disappearing act last May, and she was still healing.

<So why am I trying to screw up everything I've got with her by throwing childish temper tantrums?>

Today, sitting in the office alone, he had a bastard of a headache that wasn't helping things any. He looked again at Scully's immaculate desk, her clean coffee mug in the top corner, a lipstick sitting beside it. His heart swelled with emotion, with love.

<If I love her, why am I doing this to her?> He wondered.

Mulder stared at the lipstick for several minutes, then forced his eyes away. They fell across the stack of mail sitting in front of him. Idly, he began to sort it, giving his fingers something to do.

Junk. Junk. Autopsy reports for Scully. Junk. Inter-office memos--double junk. A note for him from VCS--triple junk!

At the bottom of the stack was a padded Fed-Ex mailer. He felt through the bubble-wrap. Definitely a videotape--he had extensive experience in identifying videotapes that arrived through the mail. He checked the front:

Federal Bureau of Investigation
X-Files Division
Attn: Special Agent Megan Largo

An eyebrow went up. <What? Is Largo getting lesbian porn sent to the office these days?> He himself had stopped this practice when Scully was assigned to work with him all those years ago.

He scanned the package and finally found the small box that gave the sender's address. It was from the Richmond PD. Mulder deduced that this was a copy of Largo's interview with Richard Ciatti. Since she probably hadn't hung around the station too long with her busted schnaz, they sent it to her.

<Why? So she can immortalize the moment? What's she gonna do, play it for her friends? "Hey everybody, come see, this is from that time the hitman broke my nose!">

He smiled to himself and opened the package, realizing that *he* wanted to see the hitman break Largo's nose. He didn't know why, and it wasn't a cruel impulse, but simple curiosity.

A plain black videocassette slid out of the bubble-wrap and thudded on his wooden desk. He cracked it open to look at the white label:

#304173-SU/Richard A. Ciatti/Session#1, 10/23/97 Interviewer: Special Agent Megan Largo, FBI.

He stood and crossed to the VCR on top of the television, grabbed the remote atop the machine, and popped it in. Mulder wheeled his chair in front of the screen and watched as two figures entered the room from a door facing the camera and sat. The man, an average-sized Italian, took the left side of the table, while Megan Largo sat in the chair opposite him. The camera zoomed in to catch a profile of the pair, with more of Largo's face showing than Ciatti's

This was not the best place to set the camera, Mulder knew from experience. They should have set it over Largo's shoulder so that they could catch all of the suspect's face. However, the point was moot now. He'd mention it next time he dealt with the Richmond PD.

He watched and listened for 15 minutes as Largo and Ciatti conversed. She asked him the standard questions about his whereabouts on the day of the bombing, where he worked, when his last vacation was, if he knew any of the victims, etc....

Mulder punched the fast forward button and sped through the preliminaries, occasionally stopping to see where they were at. She didn't seem to be getting anywhere with him, and, knowing Largo as he did, he could tell she was beginning to grow frustrated. Outwardly, she remained calm, but he could tell by subtle non-verbal cues her patience was wearing.

Scully had told him many times about how phenomenal Largo was during these interviews, and he knew from reports that her success rate was outstanding, but from watching this tape, he didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

He sped the tape again and watched the figures quickly fly through regular body movements until they suddenly stood and broke, apparently for lunch. The time indicator read 12:30 p.m.. At 1:17 p.m., the tape began again, and he slowed it to regular speed.

Largo, in her curiously lilting, hypnotic tones, began to re-cover territory, asking him again about his job. He was about to punch the fast forward button again when Largo startled him by saying:

"That's bullshit Ritchie. You don't know a cantaloupe from a fucking rutabaga."

The camera caught Largo's left eye completely, and Mulder could swear, despite the poor quality of the cheap videotape, that her eye suddenly got darker. After more than a month of working with Largo, he was quite familiar with her startling green eyes. They were beautiful, yet a little eerie, set as they were in her dark face. Her eyes made Largo look rather exotic, but now Mulder was almost sure they were not green, but the dark brown one would expect from someone of her race.

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

Largo's Apartment
10:32 am

She'd been sleeping in Scully's lap for 45 minutes before she stirred and twitched, her face drawing down into a troubled frown.

Scully reached out a hand and stroked her hair. She whispered softly down at her partner, "S-h-h Meg, it's okay."

A small, strange sound escaped Largo's throat. She twitched again, still not waking. Laying a hand on her shoulder, Scully pressed gently, trying to pull Largo out of the nightmare. The sleeping woman flinched at the touch.

Louder now, Scully said, "Megan, wake up. You're having a dream, you've got to wake up."

Bolting upright, Largo screamed, "Hiya! No! No! Hiya!"

She now sat directly in front of Scully, still on the tile floor. Scully reached out a hand and ran it over her back, a soothing gesture.

"Jo?" Largo said with a tremble in her throat.

"No, it's me."

"Oh...Scully," came the soft reply, mild disappointment in her tone. She still sat facing the hallway as Scully squatted, her legs full of pins and needles, to continue the reassuring pressure on Largo's back.

Abruptly, Largo seemed to remember the morning's earlier events. She moaned in weary anguish and put her face in her hands, but the note changed to a short cry of pain as they came into contact with her nose.

"Largo, don't touch your face," Scully instructed kindly, rising to fill Largo's familiar blue icebag with small cubes from the freezer.

As she stood about this task at the kitchen sink, she heard Largo's now-nasal voice behind her. "You know, don't you, Scully?"

Careful with her reply, Scully said, "I'm not sure."

"You know," Largo said with certainty. "How much did you see?"

"I had some sort of waking dream, Largo. Right now, I'm not sure what it was or what it means. In it, though, I thought I was you."

Her voice flat, Largo stated, "You were me, Scully. You were me when he killed Patrick."

"No," Scully said evenly, "that can't be." Confident in her knowledge, Scully turned back to the tall, dark woman.

Largo was standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the hall. She motioned with her head and walked down the hallway to one of the apartment's three bedrooms. It held a large workstation, three filing cabinets, two dressers, and a neatly-made double bed, apparently for the odd guest. Largo opened the bottom drawer of a black filing cabinet and pulled out an old, battered green shoebox.

Largo sat on the bed and motioned for Scully to sit beside her. She did, and dropped the icebag next to her as she watched Largo open the box. It was full of old photographs, some black and white, but most in color. She flipped through them, an occasional sad smile crossing her distorted face as she by-passed many photos of a young boy and girl at different developmental stages. Some had snow in the background, some were taken at lake sides, some were candid home photos. She came across a few family photos, finally stopping on one for more than a second. She took it out of the pile and handed it to Scully.

"Is this the man in your *waking dream*, Scully?"

Scully's eyes widened, her lips parted. She held the picture and stared at the smiling face of the man from her vision. In the photo, however, he appeared slightly younger, and with an arm around each of his darker-skinned children. It was him. There was no doubt. The soft, gentle green eyes and the light red hair. His nose was small and narrow, but his grin was wide and made his fair face shine.

She'd seen that same grin many times before, on the face of her partner, Meg Largo.

"Is that him?" Largo repeated.

Scully looked up to meet Largo's swollen eyes. She nodded, then turned back to the picture. This time she studied the children. They were probably 11-years-old. The boy, Michael, was solidly-built with dark black hair, a round face, and black eyes. His skin, however, was a shade lighter than his sister's. She and her brother were the same height, only half a head shorter than their father. Largo had her father's eyes, narrow nose, and generous grin. She was lanky and her hair had reddish highlights, as it still did today. It was short, though, all one length and falling just below her ears.

"This was probably a year and a half before--you know."

Scully pointed to her short hair.

"Yeah. It almost sent my grandfather into cardiac arrest. 'All Dakota women keep their hair long,' he would say. But when my mother died, I cut it. I told him that if she couldn't braid it for me, like she'd done every morning for as long as I could remember, then there was no point in even having it."

Largo omitted the details of this story. The mother-daughter hair braiding ritual had always been her special time with her mother, and the day after Mary Largo died, Meg took a pair of long-handled shears and chopped it off. She had never wore it at braiding length since, and never would.

"You've always been a rebel, haven't you?" Scully asked with a small smirk.

"Yes, particularly where my grandfather is concerned, but I think you're trying to change the subject, Scully. As much as I would love not to discuss it, I think we need to."

Scully's face grew serious. "What happened, Largo?"

"I can only half-answer that. I don't know why it happened, Scully. At the ER last night, five different doctors shined their little lights into my eyes, and nothing happened then. It doesn't usually. I usually have control. What bothers me especially is that this is the second time it has happened with you, and this time was much more powerful."

"You know I don't believe in psychic abilities, Largo."

Largo smiled sadly again, "Then I don't know how you're going to explain this, Scully."

"You told me before that you're the one who gets this *involuntary information*. How are *you* going to explain what happened?"

"What did happen, Scully?"

Scully looked at her, took the chance of meeting her eyes, "I don't know."

"You don't know, or you refuse to believe it?"

"I...I don't know. It was a coincidence. My mind went on vacation and I had some kind of strange daydream."

"And in the daydream you thought you were me. spoke my language, and saw my father dying, just exactly as it all actually happened. Gee Scully, you have some really macabre daydreams."

"So is that how it *did* happen?"

Largo closed her eyes. "This is a very difficult request, Scully. I *never* talk about it. Hardly anyone even knows about it, save the St. Paul Police Department."

"Jolyn?"

Reluctantly, Largo shook her head.

"Largo--" Scully's tone held mild disapproval.

The young woman's eyes snapped open, her voice heating, "And why should I tell her, Scully? Why should I tell her, or let her see that not only was my father murdered, which she does know, but that I arrived home instants later to see him dying in a pool of blood? That I held his head to stop the brains from falling further out of his skull! That I saw the man who did it casually walk out, mocking me with Patrick's last words as she pointed his gun at me!"

"Largo, I didn't know--"

"What? You didn't see that part? Oh, you missed out on the best part then! You didn't see the evil little gleam in his eye as she called me Scout and threatened to shoot me down just like he'd shot my father!"

Largo was crying again. Hot, angry tears this time. Her face was swelling even further, her eyes almost shut now. Scully touched her forearm but she jerked it away, then slumped, her anger dissipating, replaced by guilt at her poor manners.

"I'm sorry Scully. This is not your fault. It's mine, entirely mine. I think I'm losing control of my entire being. I can't trust my eyes, my head, even my mind. I can still play the piano, so I guess I still control my fingers. That seems to be just about it, though."

Scully felt a pain in her heart, more emotions welling. She didn't know what to think of the experience in the kitchen, but was growing more and more certain that she'd witnessed, somehow, an exact moment in Largo's past. Now, however, she could think of nothing beyond the note of hopelessness in Largo's voice.

Was this the final straw? After all she'd been through, was Largo now giving up? Scully had always admired Largo's dogged determination, her mercurial good humor in the face of everyone and everything that tried to hold her back. If Largo's spirit was going...that was an ominous sign. She had come to see her young partner's indefatigable zeal for life as a ray of hope in their dreary world. If Largo was giving up hope, then what hope was there?

"You can leave now, Scully. There's no reason to sit around here listening to me feel sorry for myself. My head feels better and--"

Scully cut her off, "Stop it, Largo. You're not going to feel sorry for yourself and I'm not going to leave. What you're going to do is lay down and put this ice on your face."

"You don't have to do this Scully. I can put ice on my face by myself."

"I know you *can,* but I don't know that you *will.* Anyway, you're my partner, and partners look out for each other, even on the bad days."

Scully broke out a small smile, Largo sheepishly looked down at her hands, her own grudging smile hidden.

"I'm sorry, Scully."

"If you apologize one more time, Largo, I'm going to smack you."

"Okay--sorry."

Scully slugged her playfully in the shoulder. Largo looked up with a small grin on her face. Scully nearly breathed a sigh of relief. The smile was back on Largo's face, everything was going to be okay.

Largo picked up the icepack and lay back, her head on the pillows of the guest bed. Scully scooted, her back against the wall and her feet across the bed. She pulled the box of pictures with her.

Largo sat the icebag on her face. It covered her nose and eyes. "Oh man, Scully, this feels good."

"Then keep doing it for at least twenty minutes."

"Anything you say, Doc. If you're hungry or anything, help yourself. The house is yours."

"Can I look at your pictures here?"

"Sure," Largo said wearily.

She started sifting through them, asking occasional questions about life in Minnesota, on the reservation, or about her family. She discovered that much of Patrick Largo's family still lived in Dublin, that he had been the son of a black sheep, was a naturalized American who'd come to the US to as a child. Of course, Patrick had dismayed the Irish Catholics back in the homeland (as his father had) by marrying a non-Catholic Indian woman.

Scully now fingered a picture of Mary Largo, a black and white. She was a large, round woman with a long braid and an air of wise placidity. She wore a man's plaid shirt and jeans, and was squatting down to tie the hood of a parka beneath a small child's chin. The photo was creased in the middle and had the look of everyday use about it. Scully noticed the curl in the corners and carefully folded it along the crease. It now curved perfectly into an arc--an arc which was probably molded by a young Meg Largo's butt as she carried the photo like a talisman in the back pocket of her jeans as a girl.

Scully felt the sting of tears in her eyes as she once again realized that her partner's life had been less than idyllic. She thought of her own mother, whose gently voice and soft, loving eyes were rivaled only by the size of her heart. Her father was a stern, yet suddenly teddy bear-like man when he caught sight of his large family waiting on the dock for his ship to come back to port.

Largo's own family had been ripped away--far too soon. Scully tried to imagine her teenage years spent in Walter Skinner's house, for he was in the photos too--with hair even. But Scully could not imagine the pain of losing both her parents before adulthood.

She looked over at her partner again, not really surprised to see that Largo had once again fallen asleep. Scully removed the icebag from her face and wiped the wet condensation from her flushed cheeks, still cold from the ice.

Careful, so as not to wake the sleeping woman, she got up and went to the front room. Dana picked up the phone and called her mother, her heart leaping when she heard the soothingly familiar voice of Margaret Scully on the other end.

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

Basement Office
11:30 am

Mulder watched the videotape. Largo was going on about Ciatti being involved in a bookie scam in high school. She accused him of breaking a fellow student's arm when the kid didn't pay off. By Ciatti's reaction, Mulder could see the accusation hit home.

<How did she know that>, Mulder wanted to know.

It was apparent by Ciatti's tight-lipped reaction she was right. Had she researched this guy that thoroughly?

He stared at the screen, brows knitted in deep thought as he listened to their exchange. He leaned forward, close to the screen, the glare from which was reflected back off of his glasses. Largo's eyes were dark. Was it shadows? A trick of the light? It must be. Whatever was going on between the pair, it was getting intense. Largo's questions grew bolder, her demeanor more aggressive. Mulder thought Ciatti might be sweating by this point.

"...and then, from a safe place down the street, you waited for the timed fuses to ignite them."

"A-r-r-g-g-h."

<Why is he so agitated? She's just guessing, isn't she? Not a very sound interrogation procedure.>

Suddenly, on the screen, Largo's face twitched. She kept her gaze on Ciatti, but her eyes narrowed. She blinked quickly, a frown of masked pain on her face. It dawned on him that Largo was getting another of her brief, yet intense, headaches. The figures on the screen sat there, staring each other down, not saying a word.

"What's going on?" He whispered.

Then he saw Richard Ciatti's body ease, the tension leaving him. His hands, which he'd earlier balled into tight fists, opened. He laid his palms flat on the table and whispered something to Megan Largo. Her eyes flew wide open in shock, and she recoiled a little. But still her eyes bore into Ciatti's. Seconds passed, and Largo's face took on a rare expression, that of anger. Mulder couldn't remember seeing Largo truly angry before. She'd been mildly upset before, usually because of something he'd done or said, but never red-hot like this.

<What was that? What happened to her? What did he say?>

Mulder rewound the tape, played it again. It was a whisper, there were words, but they were indistinct. He played it again, turning the volume up high. Nothing. Again he played it, full volume. Still, the words were unclear. The feedback from the background and the whine of the tape's own machinery made the whispered words inaudible on the soundtrack.

"Damnit! For Christssake!" Mulder shouted.

He paused the tape and took a walk around the office, hands on hips. He kicked his trash basket, sending wadded papers and used paper cups flying. When he was over his fit, he came back to the chair.

He watched the sequence one more time before sagging in defeat. With a loud curse, he let the remote fall to his lap. Then, deciding to get some air and cool down, he went out to grab some lunch before watching the rest of the tape.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER EIGHT
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER NINE: "Ring Of Fire"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Megan Largo's Apartment
1:05 p.m.

Largo awoke with a small yelp. In the dream, Mulder, Scully ,and she had been trapped in their basement office. They were circled by a huge ring of fire. Evil smoke curled up to the ceiling, creating a thick, hazy blanket through which she could barely see. Flames licked the walls as they ran about, Mulder trying to beat the flames with his jacket as she and Scully searched the room for a possible exit. But there was no door. Their usual entrance was lined with brick, effectively walling them in. The ring was closing in around them, and she felt her body grow warm as her panic increased.

She looked at Scully for ideas, reassurance, anything.

Scully, who had been searching just as frantically as she, suddenly stopped and looked at her. She calmly crossed her arms over her chest and said, "I'm afraid we're going to die."

Those foreboding words, spoken with a certainty only Dana Scully could display, woke her from the dream. She opened her eyes as far as she could to see the ceiling of their office/guest bedroom. She was in her own house, not the office. She was safe here with Jo, not locked deep in the depths of the 'Hoover Dungeon,' as she had come to call it.

Suddenly Largo remembered she was not here with Jolyn, but with Scully, co-star of her latest nightmare. She rose from the bed to seek her partner out.

Largo crossed to the doorway and stopped in her tracks as the walls swirled about her in a hodgepodge of colors that could only be described as psychedelic. She stared, letting the flashback roll over her like a runaway train bound for an unknown destination. She turned back to see the bed she had been lying on wash a deep purple, the filing cabinets a mixture of yellow and tangerine.

"Largo?"

She drew in a sharp breath and spun. Two feet in front of her was Dana Scully. At least, it was the outline of her petite partner, but Scully's skin was an electric blue, her eyes and mouth black holes, as if in a photo negative. Scully's shocking auburn hair was now a sick neon green.

"Hey Largo, you okay?"

"I'm...I'm fine Scully," she croaked, trying to appear as if nothing was wrong.

"You look like you've seen a ghost."

"Uh, just a little thick in the head, that's all."

"Here," Scully said, taking her arm, "let's get you something to eat. You've got to be starving."

Largo knew her body needed food--was craving it, in fact--but her stomach churned with anxiety, "I don't think I can eat, Scully."

"Nonsense. You're a rail, Largo, and you've lost more weight recently, I can tell. You're not eating again." led Largo to the kitchen, where the abundance of bright colors overwhelmed her. She fell into a chair and immediately closed her eyes, carefully covering her face with her hands. "Scully, could you please get me some more ice?"

"Sure," Scully replied cheerfully, wanting to be useful. She figured Largo's strange behavior upon waking was the result of her bruised brain or simple fatigue. She knew Largo hadn't been sleeping even before Richmond. This would be a good chance for her to catch up.

She handed Largo the fresh icebag. She watched the dark-skinned woman apply it, her eyes still closed. Largo still looked extremely distressed.

"How long have I been sleeping?" Largo mumbled, her upper lip beginning to numb.

"Almost two hours."

Largo's shoulders shook with bitter, silent laughter. "Two hours? That's got to be a record. I can't remember the last time I slept for two solid hours."

"You're kidding, right?"

"I could not be kidding you less."

A few minutes later, Scully walked to the table with two plates, each holding a turkey sandwich and a helping of pasta salad.

"Thanks Scully," Largo said, laying the icebag on the table, "It's very nice of you to come over today. I guess I'm in worse shape than I thought I'd be in."

"I half-expected this reaction. You needed someone here, and since you neglected to mention your concussion to Jolyn..." Scully let the sentence hang as she watched Largo take a small bite of her sandwich.

"I'm sorry. I didn't think it was bad...and I, I don't want to tell that kind of thing."

"Why not?"

Largo gave Scully one of her own skeptical-looks, "Tell me, Scully--do you tell your mother about everything that happens to you in the field? Did you tell her about the time the chicken people almost chopped your head off? I read about that one. In fact, I've read them all. So tell me, do you tell Mrs. Scully about all those things?"

Scully looked away, suddenly very interested in a small lithograph on the far wall.

"I thought so. You don't want her to know. You don't want her to worry about you every time you go out of town, wondering if you're going to come back. You love your mother, Scully, and you don't want to tell her about things that will upset her--things she can't do anything about. I feel that same way."

Largo closed her eyes, the words coming easier when she couldn't see Scully's face. "A lot of people don't understand how I can love a woman, how I can feel this--this very deep connection to a member of my own sex...but I do. I love Jolyn more than anything, she is so important to me. When something happens to me, something like this," she waved a hand at her face, "I don't think about me...I think about her. I think about how she will react when she sees me and if she will cry and what it will do to her. All because I know she loves me and cares about me. And I know that these things hurt her more than me. That is why I don't tell Jolyn about everything that happens to me, or has happened to me before. That's why she doesn't know about Patrick, that's why I can't talk about many of my dreams, and that's why I didn't even want to come home last night. She can't stand to see me hurt, and I can't stand to see her hurting."

Largo opened her eyes. Scully was standing at her side, tears once again in her blue-green eyes. She reached out a small, fair hand and stroked Largo's hair, a comforting gesture. Largo looked up into her eyes, not expecting the tears, yet appreciative of her partner's support.

"I understand, Megan."

"Thanks, Scully. Thank you for everything."

Scully pulled Largo's head into her stomach. Largo put her arms around Scully's waist, careful not to hurt her own face, but hugging her partner hard.

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

Basement Office
1:15 p.m.

He hit the play button and watched as Largo's angry eyes bore into Ciatti with something he thought resembled hatred.

"Tell me about the screams you heard from your little hiding place, Ritchie. From that distance, didn't the screams sound just like the cats you used to torture and burn as a child?"

Ciatti made no reply to this, and Mulder frowned once more, not understanding Largo's prior knowledge of Ciatti. She either had this prior knowledge or else was making extremely accurate guesses. Sick twists like Ciatti often had a history of animal torture, but bringing it up during interrogation was a dangerous tactic.

<Unless...> Mulder let the thought trail off. It couldn't be.

He watched on as Largo ordered Ciatti to reveal the name of the men who had hired him. She pleaded with him to turn tail on the Bollianis:

"Give me the name or else I'll tell you what else I know. I'll tell the whole room (motions with arm to mirrors) about how you watched from down the street, dick in hand, getting off on the pain you were causing those people."

Mulder's jaw dropped. His eyes were full hazel moons. He stared at the screen in utter disbelief. Did she just say what he thought she'd just said?

He rewound the tape. Played it again.

Yep, she'd said it.

<This is getting good.> He thought, leaning close as he let the tape play on.

Mulder watched Ciatti's final outburst this outburst, his own expression clinically neutral. He looked on as Megan Largo rose, picked up her briefcase, turned her back to the camera, and began to leave the room.

<Pretty abrupt exit. Guess she has what she needs.>

On the tape, Largo stopped. Mulder frowned thoughtfully, watching her. Ciatti sat at the table with his head in his hands. Still she stood , her head moving from side to side, up and down.

<What the hell, is she deciding what color to paint the fucking walls, now?>

He looked on, unable to warn his new young partner of the Italian man's approach. He had stood and was now building speed as she neared her exposed back.

She turned.

He rammed into her, pushing her roughly against the door. The angle of the camera allowed Mulder to see him rear his head back and strike her. They were about the same height, and Mulder knew this had to be the nose-shattering blow. She reached quickly behind her back and rapped Ciatti upside the head with her Sig an instant after his second blow. Then the door opened and Largo collapsed.

He watched a minute longer as the room swarmed with uniformed officers and detectives. One attended to Largo, who was apparently unconscious, while four cops threw themselves at Ciatti.

Mulder blew out his breath and ran a hand through her hair. He rewound the tape and watched the last five minutes once more, this time stopping it just after Ciatti's loud and tortured confession.

He turned away from the VCR and swiveled till he faced Meg Largo's desk in the far corner. A slow smile began to spread over his face, making him forget his headache, forget his temper tantrum, forget about the shitty week he'd had.

He ejected the tape and wheeled himself back to his desk. Using his cellphone, he punched in a familiar number. He still needed to be certain, and this was the best way he could think of to do that.

The voice on the other end curtly identified its organization.

"Langley, turn off the tape..." Mulder began, smiling just a bit at the videotape he held in his hand.

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

Megan Largo's Apartment
3:35 p.m.

There was a rattling of keys outside the door before Jolyn Parker entered the apartment with a look of anxious concern on her face. She heard the soft strains of the piano in the front room and was flooded by a certain amount of relief. If Meg was at the piano things couldn't be too bad.

Jolyn followed the sound to see Meg and Dana Scully both sitting at the bench, heads down, oblivious to her presence. She smiled as she watched the curious pair, one tall with dark hair and sultry brown skin, the other petite, fair, and with a flaming shock of lovely auburn tresses.

Scully followed Largo's hands as they glided smoothly across the keys. Jo quickly recognized the tune, one of Meg's new songs she'd recently written. Mentally, she corrected herself; Meg hadn't 'written' the song, she'd 'discovered' it. Years ago Jo had been surprised to realize that Megan Largo could barely read a sheet of music, let alone compose an intricate piece on the lined, structured paper.

Meg was a 'natural', she'd learned to play by ear, which was the key to her success when she played in Gustafson's Piano Bar in Minneapolis. She took requests by the dozen and played almost any song flawlessly, as long as it was something she'd heard before.

Now, Meg was playing a new song she'd recently come up with. It was an upbeat piece, a light love ballad that Meg wouldn't tell her the words to yet. At the end of the piece the pair looked up in unison to see the smile on her face. Neither could help but return it.

"Hey there, Jo." Largo said, still seated on the bench. "How was your day?"

Jo noticed the laziness of her blink and the tired edge in her voice. Realizing that Scully had made her take the pain medication she'd been given in the ER, Jolyn smiled anew.

"Not bad," she replied, "but all day I was worried about you."

Largo made a dismissive gesture with her hand, "No need for that, Scully saw me through my convalescence, didn't you, Scully?" She nudged her smaller partner with a shoulder.

"Yes," Scully agreed, hiding her unease at Largo's misrepresentation to her friend and lover, "just another day nursing Largo's wounds. I'm getting rather used to it by now."

Largo smiled, trying to further lighten the mood, "By the way," she said to Scully, "will my insurance cover all these house calls?"

Scully shook her head, "Nope, I'm gonna have to bill you."

"Ha! You can put it on my tab."

Scully shot her a skeptical look, "How do I know your credit is any good?"

Joyln listened to the conversation as she flipped idly through the mail. "Maybe you can start to repay Scully by inviting her to dinner."

Largo turned to her professional partner, "How rude of me, it must be the drugs. Would you like to stay, Scully? We'd love to have you."

Scully smiled apologetically, "Thanks for the offer, but I think I have plans with You-Know-Who tonight. He's supposed to call me when he gets home."

Largo grinned and waggled her eyebrows at Scully, "You mean 'The Foxy One?'"

Scully covered her mouth to conceal a laugh, "Yes, 'The Foxy One.'"

"Make him take you somewhere expensive," Largo advised, winking across the black piano at Jolyn.

Scully poked her playfully with an elbow, "You stay out of it, kiddo."

Jolyn pulled her blazer off and hung it in the closet. Scully noticed the sparkle in Largo's eyes as she followed Jo's every move. Reluctantly, she pulled her eyes away to meet Scully's.

"So," she said, a teasing note in her voice, "you're going to try to tame Grizzly Mulder all by yourself tonight?"

The corners of Scully's mouth turned up into a small, almost apologetic smile, "He has been kind of a bear lately, hasn't he?"

"You said it babe," Largo told her with a bob of her head. "But maybe a little TLC from you will pull him out of it. Pop in that R. Kelly disc, that'll put him in the mood for sure."

Scully rolled her eyes and nudged her again, "That kind of music is just what I *don't* need. My mind is telling me to take this slow, and R. Kelly's telling me to get down and dirty."

Largo chuckled at her partner's rare sexual innuendo and said, "I see. Your brain says one thing, but your body says, 'God, that lower lip looks mighty tasty', right?"

Scully laughed out loud. The drugs seemed to be making Largo even less inhibited than she naturally was. Scully figured she'd better leave before they got into a discussion of Jolyn's lips, which were almost as full and sensual as Mulder's, so she rose from the piano bench and crossed to the closet to grab her coat.

"You leaving, Scully?" Largo asked, a hint of disappointment in her voice.

"Yep. I've enjoyed our bonding time, but you have another caretaker now."

Largo rose and walked Scully to the door. Her eyes were a little glossy from the painkiller Scully had made her take, but her voice was steady, though quiet. "You're not leaving because Jolyn's here, are you? I mean, is it awkward for you, being here with us?"

Scully shook her head, "No, Largo, it's not that. In fact, I feel very comfortable with you and Jolyn. I like the two of you and always have a good time when I visit. It's just that I'm tired tonight. I haven't been sleeping well myself, and today kind of wore me out. I need to catch a nap if I can."

"I'm sorry about this morning, freaking out on you the way I did. And I'm sorry about--you know."

"Don't apologize. I--well--it's going to take me awhile to figure out just what happened. I need some time with it."

"Okay, Scully. Thanks again."

Scully looked hard at her for a second. "You know, Largo, despite your black eyes and fat nose, you look much better today than you have in awhile."

Largo smiled, "I feel better too. Must be the fresh air; getting out of the dungeon can do wonders for a person."

Largo bent and gave Scully a brief hug, then watched as the redhead walked down the hall and out of the building. Largo closed the door behind her and returned to the living room, where Jolyn was standing in front of the stereo selecting CD's. She found a few she liked and popped them in, then programmed the machine to play certain tracks. She retrieved a glass of wine she'd left sitting on an end table and came back to the couch. Largo sat beside her and listened as Lenny Kravitz, her all-time favorite, began to sing his swan song, 'Let Love Rule.'

Largo smiled and reached out to take Jo's hand. She looked down at their locked fingers, especially at the matching silver rings.

"So," Jo said to her, "were you good today?"

"My doctor didn't have too many complaints."

"Yes, well, you're a little more lively than her other patients."

The smile turned into a grin as Largo said, "Honestly, Jo, I'm feeling much better."

"I can tell."

"I slept for awhile, good sleep too. And I've only had a couple of flashbacks."

"Only a couple, is that good?"

"Yesterday I had several." Largo began a list, "One in the office before I left for Richmond, then that one with Ciatti. In the emergency room I had two more, and another two when I was with Walt. Then one after I came home."

Jo's eyes were stern, "You had one here last night, with me." It was a statement, not a question.

"Yes," Largo admitted, "before you came out to the living room."

They were silent for a long time after that. Then Jo said, "But only two today?"

"Yes, and none in the last couple of hours. I really think they're getting better. The headaches too."

"Good" Jo said, disentangling her fingers to wrap an arm around Largo's shoulders. She pulled her down so that her head lay in Jo's lap, then unfastened the clip at the back of her neck and stroked Largo's thick dark hair.

"Sleep some more, Meg," she encouraged as she ran the back of her fingers against Largo's cheek, a gesture that soothed her over and often put her down for the count.

The music continued to play, moving form one soft ballad to another. Jo had selected the slow songs to relax Meg, and it seemed to work. Within minutes, Largo's breathing became deep, slow, and regular.

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

Dana Scully's Apartment
6:17 p.m.

She was asleep when Mulder called, it was obvious in her voice as she mumbled a sleepy, "Hullo."

"Scully?" Mulder asked, "Did I wake you up?"

She cleared her throat and tried to do the same to her head, but the long days and short nights of the past week were catching up to her. "M-m-m, yeah. I took a nap. A day with Largo tends to wear a person out."

He chuckled, a bit uneasily. "I'll bet. You sound like you're still sleeping, Scully."

"I'm fine, Mulder. Did you find anything new on Lake Benson?"

"Not much," he replied, "apparently it's the most boring lake in the state of Maryland, if not in the entire United States. Nothing of interest has happened there--ever. We have nothing in the files, and a guy I talked to at the Clearwater Herald said that the lake is a pretty quiet place. There hasn't been a death out there since 1935 when a derelict fell in and drowned."

Scully cleared her throat again, "Sounds too quiet. I'm glad we're going out there tomorrow.

"Me too. Lake Benson's a little *too* quiet for my liking. All my alarm bells are going off on this one, Scully. I think something's going on out there. Something no one in Clearwater wants to talk about."

Scully didn't reply.

"Scully?" Mulder asked, "Are you still there?"

"Yes, yes, I'm here," she said, shaking her head to clear the cobwebs. She was rarely this tired, especially in the middle of the day. "I'm just having a hard time waking up."

"Then why don't you go back to sleep. We don't have to do anything tonight, Scully."

"No," she said, forcing her eyes to open, "I want to see you, but I don't feel like going out. Want to get pizza and watch the next Hitchcock tonight?"

Mulder smiled into his cellphone, "Be there in 30 seconds."

"Huh?"

"I'm outside, in my car, with a large combination that smells damn good. If you don't invite me up soon, I'll have to dig into it myself."

"Then get yourself up here, pronto. I'm starving."

It only took him 20 seconds to reach the door, and when she opened it he beamed at her. He'd promised himself there would be no temper tantrums tonight, no harsh words, no flashes of anger. He'd spent much of the afternoon with the Gunmen, who promised to work on the tape over the weekend. Right then, however, they wanted to bombard him with their most-recent theories on Cuban immigration laws, the Whitewater hearings, and the secret evils of NAFTA.

After a couple of hours, their outlandish banter brought him completely out of his foul mood and he joined in the theorizing. Before his trip to their office, he had been exhausted himself, but a good bitch session on the hidden agenda of the CIA and thoughts of another night with Scully had re-energized him.

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

Unknown Location
4:21 p.m.

The dark-haired, foul smelling man entered the abandoned warehouse. The heels of his black wingtips clicked sharply on the concrete beneath his feet as he approached a long table toward the center of the drafty, open space. The Leader swiveled his plush leather chair around as the smoker approached.

"Good afternoon," he rasped in his strained, peculiar tone, "I gather you understand the purpose of our meeting."

The Cancer Man drew a red and white pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket and withdrew a filtered coffin nail. "I believe so," he said, lighting the smoke with a gold lighter.

"Then you've heard about Mulder's investigation into the most recent disappearances from Lake Benson. I hope you realize the implications of this action. This is a crucial time for us all, the Lake Benson site cannot be compromised."

A deep drag and a pillar of smoke preceded the reply, "There is no need for concern. It was an oversight. The case should never have come into the Bureau's system. However, evasive maneuvers will be put into effect."

"What are you planning to do?" The Leader asked with genuine interest. He was growing concerned about the effectiveness of his minion. Lately, things had not been going according to plan.

"Skinner will pull the plug. Mulder will be forced to give it up."

"How can you be certain?"

"Agent Mulder and his female partners are experiencing some...difficulties lately."

"Yes, so I have heard. Agent Largo was admitted to the Henrico County Hospital yesterday. Did that have anything to do with your little *experiment?*"

The deep creases lining the smoker's face lifted into something resembling a smile. "Of course. However, the results of our 'test' have not been as favorable with Agent Mulder and Agent Scully. We expected a strong reaction from Largo, given her predisposition to lysergic acid diethylamide."

"Is that what you've been feeding them, LSD?"

Another pull from the cigarette, another cloud of evil smoke, another twisted smile, "LSD is only one ingredient in this little cocktail."

"And the other ingredients?"

"A combination of mood-altering drugs and hormone enhancers, the hint of LSD was a custom additive, thrown in as a special treat just for Agent Largo"

The Leader leveled the smoker with his heavy gaze. In a sandpaper voice, he said, "Turn it up."

Momentarily startled at the thought of what such an action could do, Cancer Man quickly recovered his composure and said, "Sir, we don't know what--"

He was cut off by a tone of finality, "Turn it up. A want no further problems from the agents of the X-Files Division."

The smoker dropped his cigarette and ground it out on the concrete floor with his heel. "Yes, sir. I'll see to it."

"See that you do. That will be all."

The Cancer Man took a shaky breath, then turned and walked away, leaving a smelly trail in his wake.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER NINE
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER TEN: "Friends In Low Places"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

DAY SIX
Saturday, Oct. 25, 1997
Megan Largo's Apartment
8:15 am

The phone rang, but it went unheeded. The answering machine picked up and Meg Largo's distinctive voice simply announced: "Leave a message."

Next was a beep, and a familiar, authoritative female voice echoed through the house from the speaker, making its way into the back room.

"Largo, this is Scully. Are you there? Largo...pick up if you're there, I need to talk to you."

She fumbled, eyes closed, for the bedside phone. "What Scully?"

"Oh good, you're home. Are you feeling better today?"

"Uh, yeah Scully, I'm fine. I'm great." Her voice was nasal and she sounded a little breathless.

"Good, I'm glad to hear it. I wanted to let you know that Mulder and I are going back to Lake Benson today with Dr. Wilson from the University of Maryland."

There was silence for a moment, then Largo exhaled loudly and said, "Am I invited?"

Scully's voice took on her doctor's tone, "Only if you're okay. I'll have to check you out first."

"I'm okay. Um...I'm just fine. Uh...you at the office right now?"

Scully frowned into her end of the phone. "Yeah, both of us are. Mulder's listening in on the other line. You okay, Largo? You sound strange?"

"Ha!" She gasped into the phone. Then, in a calmer voice said, "Mulder's listening, huh? Well that's great, no problem. I'll be there...uh, I have a few things...to finish here. Is ten okay?"

"Fine. We're leaving for Lake Benson at 10:30."

"Bye Scully."

She hit the disconnect button and dropped the phone. It clanked loudly on the hardwood floor beneath the bed. Largo clutched the bedsheets with tight fists and moaned. She moved her hands down to Jo's head, buried deep between her legs. Jo continued to stroke and suck Meg's throbbing clit with her tongue and mouth, which made Megan Largo, normally the most quiet of lovers, howl out loudly as orgasm flooded through her shuddering body.

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

Basement Office
8:20 am

-CLICK-

Scully held the phone out in front of her, blinking at the instrument. Megan Largo had just hung up on her.

She had called out of personal concern as well as professional obligation, and Largo spoke in abbreviated sentences, punctuated by a hint of breathlessness (which she chalked up to forced mouth breathing because of the broken nose), all culminating in a hang up!

She looked over at Mulder, who slowly replaced the receiver. He was smirking and shaking his head.

"What was that all about?" she asked indignantly. Then, with concern, "You think she's okay?"

Mulder snorted, "I think she's better than okay, Scully."

She gave him a funny look, "What?"

He laughed, "You don't get it, do you Scully?"

"Get what? Get the fact that she's either very rude or very out of it over there."

"Oh yeah, she's out of it all right. Scully, what do you expect when you call someone like Largo at eight o'clock on a Saturday morning?"

"What do you mean, 'someone like Largo'?"

Mulder stared at her in disbelief, "I mean someone with a live-in relationship. Largo is kind of like a newlywed, you know."

Scully's eyes went wide. She blushed furiously, "Oh my God."

Mulder hooted with laughter at the look on his partner's face. Tears streamed from his eyes.

Wiping them away, he said, "Jo was probably eating her out when you called."

She clicked her tongue at him, "Mulder, that's nasty."

"Oh? Would you prefer I said that our young partner was most probably engaging in oral sex when you called?"

"If that's what she was doing, why did she answer the phone?"

"You ordered her to Scully. You're her boss, remember? Largo's very obedient that way."

"Oh...yeah." She blushed all over again.

"That's also why she won't be here until ten, just so you know."

She threw a wad of paper at him, "Shut up, Mulder."

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

9:45 am

Largo walked into the basement office, dressed for a trip to the outdoors.

"Hello, all," she said merrily in greeting.

No reply came, and she looked up at her partners. Both were staring, Mulder with an open mouth, at the sight of her swollen, distorted nose and the rings of bruising that had formed beneath her eyes.

Making light of it, she shrugged and, to Mulder, said, "Well, I can proudly say I received my first head-butt Thursday." Her voice was different, nasalized from the swelling. "It's kind of like a rite of passage. I'm a veteran now."

He gave a snort of disbelief, "More like the veteran of a 'Rocky' movie than anything else."

Scully shushed him and motioned for Largo to step over to her desk. She reached for the bendable lamp to get a better look. Steeling her nerve and quashing memories of the previous day's events, Scully once again examined her young partner's face. She ran her index fingers up and down the sides of Largo's nose, just as she had yesterday. Largo winced as she passed over the enlarged bridge. Scully then held her finger a foot in front of Largo's face and asked her to track the finger as she moved it side to side.

She placed a hand on Largo's forehead, ignoring her protests of pain from the growing bruise there, and lifted each eyelid in turn with her thumb. She swallowed hard before looking into Largo's eyes for remaining symptoms of concussion, dilated pupils or fluttering eyelids.

"You didn't drive here this morning, did you?" Scully asked, noting the energy in Largo's voice this morning. The young woman certainly was feeling better than she had yesterday, which brought this question to Scully's mind. Driving her car with a concussion seemed like an impulsive, Largo-like thing to do.

"Of course not, I got a ride in. My car's still here." Largo didn't mention that she didn't plan on driving for awhile, until the hallucinations subsided. Right now, she still held out a hope that they would.

"I recommend leaving it another night. Your concussion is much better, but your dilation is still slow. And I don't thing you should submerge with us today."

Full of her trademark optimism, Largo's reply was chipper, "That's okay, I'll keep in touch from shore by radio."

Milliseconds later, she brought a hand to her temple and winced in pain.

Alarmed, Scully asked, "Largo, are you all right?"

Largo said nothing, but tears leaked out the corners of her closed eyelids.

Scully put a hand to Largo's neck, but her pulse was steady and regular, perhaps just a bit fast. Largo's face eventually relaxed and she took a deep breath.

"What happened?" Scully demanded.

She shook her head and blinked at Scully. "Another damn headache. It's like a spike of pain one minute, gone the next. Like a Slurpee headache--you know, when you drink it too fast. It was better last night, and by this morning I thought they'd stopped. I was feeling fine until I came in."

Mulder snorted from his spot across the desk, but covered his mouth with the back of a hand. Unable to help himself, he had to say, "Oh? Were you *feeling fine* this morning?"

She turned and caught him glowering, "Yes, I was, and I think it's safe to say I was feeling better than you were."

He lost his playful look as hers grew. Before he could retort, their banter was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. Mulder answered it to hear Skinner's tense, surly voice.

"So, Agent Mulder, who did you piss off in Clearwater, Maryland?"

Mulder frowned into the phone, "Excuse me, sir?"

"I just got the call. The Lake Benson case has officially been reassigned."

"What?" Mulder asked in a tone mixed with surprise and indignation, "Sir, I don't understand. This is a classic X-File. I don't see why it would be reassigned to another department--"

Skinner cut him off, "It's not going to another department within the Bureau, Mulder. It has been reclassified as a military matter. I believe the US Army is looking into it now."

"The Army? What is their interest, sir?" The tension in his voice was rising, though he strove to keep it level.

"Shane Beard is a National Guardsman."

"So?"

Skinner didn't like Mulder's tone, so he met it head on, "*So* they've decided to pull rank on this one. The US military is investigating this case, Agent Mulder. Dr. Wilson from the University of Maryland has been notified, he will not be at the lake, and neither will the three of you."

"But sir--"

"Go home, Agent Mulder," Skinner advised, "and forget about this case."

"I...I'll do that sir," he replied, intending to do no such thing.

Looking up into his partners' anxious faces, he said, "We've been taken off the Lake Benson investigation. It has become a military affair."

They all chewed on that for a moment, each with their own thoughts on why it had been reassigned. Mulder looked at his watch. 10:20 am. Perfect. He stood and grabbed his leather jacket from its hook. Throwing it on over his white t-shirt, he turned to the women.

"Let's go."

"Where?" Scully asked.

"To find some answers," he replied, holding Scully's light jacket out for her to enter.

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

Lone Gunmen HQ
11:15 am

Byers and Langley cautiously answered the door. Frohike, gratefully, was nowhere to be seen.

"Good to see you again, Mulder," Langley said, shutting the door behind the trio, "and you've brought us company."

"Yeah," Mulder replied with a hint of indigence, "I'd make introductions, but I guess you've already met."

Byers stepped up and shook hands with Mulder, Scully, then Largo. "Agent Largo, what happened to you?" He asked with genuine concern. shrugged, playing it off "You know the story. Zigged when I should have zagged. It's nice to see you again Byers, Langley." She included him with a nod.

The bespeckled blond man beamed at the young Indian woman, "Hey Agent Largo. Did you receive last month's issue?"

"Yeah," she said, shaking her head and smiling, "it came just like you said, in a plain brown wrapper. My roommate thought I was subscribing to one of those 'unmentionable' magazines."

"We've got to protect our readers from unwanted eyes. Our clients appreciate our discretion."

"By the way," Byers said, picking up where Langley left off, "we're going to run an article on AIM and the Wounded Knee conspiracy perpetuated by our government next month, can we use you for a source?"

"Wounded Knee conspiracy?" Mulder repeated, his face pinched, Who's friends were these guys anyway? They all seemed a bit *too* enamored with Megan Largo.

She ignored him and answered, "Use 'anonymous source' or 'informed second-party' or whatever. Just don't say I work for the government." She grinned at him. "Have to cover my ass, you know."

Langley was just thinking about how much he'd like to cover her ass, busted nose and all, but managed to turn his thoughts away and back to his newest toy.

"Hey Mulder, want to do me a favor?"

The agent turned to him, not liking the hopeful note in Langely's voice. Knowing these guys, 'a favor' usually entailed something that bordered on illegality.

He watched as Langley went to a counter and picked up a small white tube. It resembled a vial of smelling salts.

"What's this?" He asked the pair of paranoids.

"A little something one of our friends devised. It measures air quality and tests composition. He claims you can get an exact printout of every single compound in the air you breathe."

Mulder held the small tube and turned it over in his hand. "What's your interest in it?"

Byers picked up where Langley had left off, "Our friend used to work for the EPA. He's very involved in the study of air composition. He's heard of a covert agenda by various governmental organizations to test the effects of certain mixes of air on the general population. They introduce a new compound into the air people are breathing, then sit back and see what happens."

Mulder shook his head, "Nice guys. So your friend wants to test his new gadget?"

"Yep," Langley answered. "He's asked us to test it for him, distribute these and get sample readings. The device is in an experimental stage, so he wants to get readings from all over the city, just to see if the thing works. If you're game, we'd like you to take it home with you. Just leave it around the house for a few days so we can get test readings."

Mulder stuck the tube in his pocket. "No problem, always willing to help out for the sake of a good cause."

The guys were about to thank him when the outside buzzer rang and a deep voice came through the speaker.

"Vanilla," it rasped.

Byers pressed the door release and in a few seconds Frohike entered the room. He immediately opened his arms and gave Mulder a mini-bear hug.

Caught off-guard, Mulder was slow to reciprocate. Frohike squeezed him hard around the middle for several seconds.

Finally breaking the hold, he nearly moaned, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

"For what?" Mulder asked him.

"The tapes! The tapes! I got them on Wednesday!"

"And he's done little else but watch them since." Byers said, shaking his head, "He's even subjected us to them here at the office."

Mulder had almost forgotten. It had been so long since he'd watched anything from his extensive porn collection that he decided to box the whole thing up and send it to Frohike. Since he'd returned from Oregon, watching them just hadn't been the same. Dana Scully had a lot to do with that, and although their relationship had yet to become physical, he had little desire to watch the surgically-enhanced, machine tanned bodies moaning and undulating on the screen. Listening to and watching the empty sex depicted on the tapes somehow cheapened the growing sensation of real love he now felt for Scully. So off the tapes went, FedExed to Frohike, who was busting with joy over his recent acquisition.

The little gnome made his way down the line. "Ah, and the lovely Agent Scully."

She stuck her hand out, pre-empting the hug she knew he wanted to give. Leering lewdly, he took it and kissed her knuckles as a knight to his lady.

She rolled her eyes. "Can I have my hand back please, sir?"

"Certainly fair maid, your wish is my command."

"You don't want to make that promise, Frohike."

The others snickered as he moved on.

"Hiya Stretch," he kidded gleefully, looking up at Largo's bruised face. "Ouch, took a crack on the old schnauz, huh? So what does the other guy look like?"

She looked him right in the eye and in an even, steady voice replied, "Like John Wayne Bobbitt."

The color drained from the little troll's face and his smile faded. He gulped.

The rest of the room burst out in laughter, and Largo's eyes crinkled up into mere slits as she grinned at him. "Gotcha, Frohike."

Langley elbowed Mulder and said to him, "See why we like her?"

"Yeah." Mulder said dryly. "Actually, guys, we came here to see if you have any information on Lake Benson, it's just outside of Clearwater, Maryland."

"Lake Benson, huh?" Langley said, ruminating. "That sounds familiar, let's see what we have." He went to a filing cabinet and searched through it.

Byers said, "If I remember correctly, Clearwater, Maryland has a large missing persons population for a small town."

"You're right." Langley called from the far side of the room. He was thumbing through a file and pulled a computer disk out of it. He handed the disk to Frohike, who popped it into his hard drive and opened up the files.

"This," Langley continued, "is from the Clearwater Herald, 1952. A ten-year-old boy was reported missing by his parents in July of that year. He said he was going swimming at the lake with some friends and never returned. The friends said he never joined up with them, and his body was never found."

Frohike scrolled down the page. "Here's another from 1955, this time a pair of teenagers. Went to the Prom and never came home."

Mulder put a hand to his chin. "Possibly out for a skinny-dip at the lake?"

Langley shrugged, "Who knows? No one saw them after about 10:00 that night."

They continued to search the back issues of the Herald, finding a missing persons story every couple of years. In the 50's and 60's, the paper did a big spread on each case, but by the 70's and thereafter, the missing person or persons were relegated to back pages and given only two paragraphs or so.

Mulder immediately thought, <Government/Military cover-up.>

Scully thought, <Bio-hazardous material dumped by large-scale manufacturer, subsequent cover-up.>

Largo thought, <What the hell is going on out there?>

"I talked to Chief John Royce yesterday, Scully," Mulder said, "and he told me this was an isolated incident. Hey Frohike, can you get to Clearwater PD's records?"

"Sure thing, give me three minutes."

It only took the hairy goblin two-and-a-half. Mulder peered over his shoulder as they went through the files, searching for records of the missing people.

There was nothing; no files, no records, no evidence that the missing people ever existed in Clearwater.

Largo came up behind Mulder to ask a question, "So if this is an elaborate conspiracy, or military cover-up, or whatever, how did the case even reach our office? How did it come across Wa--Skinner's desk?"

Mulder still focused on the screen as he replied, "I don't know. It sure didn't come through Royce's office." He turned to Scully, "What about the M.E.?"

"A man named Harold Rivas. I had an extensive conversation with him during my three hour stay there, and he mentioned the fact that he'd only been in Clearwater for three months."

Mulder smirked, "I'd lay odds that he's been removed from his position by now. I'll bet Harold Rivas is thawing out human popsicles in Greenland by now."

"I think you're jumping to conclusions, Mulder," Scully said, "I'll give Dr. Rivas a call right now if that will satisfy you."

Mulder's eyes flashed at her, a hint of anger in them. "I can't believe you, Scully! Have you even been listening to this conversation? There is obviously a cover-up in progress. People have been periodically abducted from Lake Benson for the last five decades!"

Scully lashed back at him, her fury equal to his, "You have zero proof that these people were 'abducted', Mulder. I think it's much more plausible to believe that some local manufacturer is dumping their waste products into the water, which is causing these deaths. It's very possible that those responsible for the dumping were also the same people who ran the tests on the water and said everything was fine. Yes, it is strange that the records are incomplete, possibly they have been classified by the military during their investigation into this incident. Yes, I believe a cover-up has been in effect--by the company responsible. And I believe the military is quietly taking care of the problem. I don't like it, but it happens."

"And they've let it go on for 50 years before finally stepping in to do something about it? Jesus, I can't believe I'm hearing this!"

Her eyes blazed cold fire at him, "Perhaps its only recently been brought to light! Maybe that's why it came across our desk! Because they forgot to pay off the new ME and he reported the strange deaths to the Bureau as he is supposed to. Use your head for a minute, Mulder!"

They were nose-to-nose now, Mulder's dark eyes boring down into Scully's unwavering blue ones.

"Those people were abducted by something, Scully! Anyone who can't see that--anyone who can construct such an elaborate story to fit this fucked-up scenario has severe tunnel-vision! Look at the hand in front of your face, Scully! Jesus Christ! If this isn't a case of alien abduction backed by the US Government and its covert military personnel, then I don't know what is!!!"

Scully was silent as she stared him down. Finally, she spoke in a quiet, even tone, "I was wondering how long it would take you to get around to that."

She stepped aside and crossed to the far side of the room. She stewed there as Mulder went the opposite way, pacing the floor as he ran a hand through his already-tousled hair. Scully glared at his back with defiant eyes, and in the center of the room Largo, who had been passively watching the exchange, winced slightly from another lightning bolt headache. She tried not to let the pain show on her already-sore face, but wasn't having much success.

The Lone Gunmen stood, dispersed throughout the room. Frohike leaned on the desk, Byers on a table by the door. Langley watched the federal agents from a spot near the window. They exchanged puzzled glances. None understood the odd flash of temper between Mulder and Scully, nor why Agent Largo was trying so hard to hide the fact she was in some kind of serious pain.

Momentarily Largo recovered. Mulder and Scully were still working through their anger. She noted the stares of the Gunmen and deftly diverted their attention from her senior partners.

"So, uh, you guys are expert hackers, right?" she asked, her green eyes once-again sparkling.

Defensively, Frohike answered, "Of course we are."

"So how good are you?"

The nasty little billy-goat rolled his eyes and stated, "A demonstration is in order. Something--" he rubbed his chubby hands together as he sat at the terminal, "something personal."

Having no clue what she was in for, Largo rolled a chair up and sat next to the little bugger. She darted a sidelong glance behind her, checking on her partners, then turned back to the troll at the terminal. Byers and Langley stood behind them.

His fingers erupted into short bursts of typing, interrupted only by occasional clicks of the mouse. She watched miscellaneous screens fly by, few recognizable. Finally, one stayed on-screen for longer than four seconds. It was a DMV screen for the state of Minnesota.

Frohike shot her a wicked grin. "Shall we see if you've updated your driver's license yet, Agent Megan *Winona* Largo. What kind of name is that, anyway?"

"It's Dakota, it means 'first-born daughter.' My brother's middle name is Caske (Chas-KAY), which means 'first-born son.' In case you care, it's almost unheard of to have a Winona and a Caske, because if you have a son for your first born, then your daughter would be Hapan, 'second-born daughter'. But since we were twins delivered by Cesarean, we're Caske and Winona."

"How interesting," he said drolly, "I'll be sure to remember that next time I'm at a Dakota birthing ritual."

"O-o-h, biting sarcasm. That's such a turn-on, Trollsie."

He gave it up and turned back to his true love, the screen. He typed her name into the system. Up popped an old picture of Megan W. Largo. It listed her driving record, her insurance company, her vital stats, and the one ticket she'd received for reckless driving on a frozen lake in January of 1988. Frohike pointed to this and shook his head in disapproval.

"They let these kind of people work for the government?" he said rhetorically, trying to pay her back for the 'Trollsie' comment.

She shrugged and raised her palms. "Wild youth. A friend dared me, said I couldn't pull a triple-360 on the lake, so I spent an hour trying. Almost sideswiped the cop, that's why he gave me the ticket."

Frohike sneered at her and said, "A dare, huh? Was it a triple dog dare?"

"Of course."

Mulder appeared to be over his snit. He approached the small group. "A frozen lake, Largo? You mean the entire lake freezes enough to drive a car on?"

She turned to him, "Happens every year, Mulder. Haven't you ever seen 'Grumpy Old Men'? You should, Frohike makes a cameo."

He elbowed her playfully in the arm, "Do not!" Then he looked up and back over his shoulder at Mulder, "So, you come here for that tape?"

Mulder narrowed his eyes, a gesture of warning. He shook his head imperceptibly.

"What tape?" Largo asked, her expression open and innocent. She had watched the exchange between the two, and knew something was up.

Frohike looked to Mulder, allowing the tall, dark agent to field the question. Mulder, knowing the best lies contained some part of the truth, composed his answer.

"Just an old interview tape I ran across from a case. I wanted the guys to clean it up for me."

"What case was if from? Who did the interview?"

A nagging pain settled between Mulder's eyes, a tiny headache that grew as he realized he had miscalculated Megan Largo's natural curiosity. He'd misplayed his hand, and Largo, who somehow could spot a lie at 50 paces, saw the holes in his story like fruit in a Jell-O mold.

Still, he tried to dig himself out of his pit, "It's from an old case in another division."

Scully had now come back, joining them at the terminal. "What's going on here, Mulder?"

Largo answered, "He's got an old interview tape here that he doesn't want us to see."

Scully gave him a questioning look, "Why not?"

The pain behind his eyes spread. His whole head ached now that they were both here, surrounding him. He felt like a rabbit caught in a trap; each of his attempts to free himself only locked the metal jaws tighter round his leg.

He spread his hands and tried to look completely innocent, "I don't think you'll be interested, that's all."

The Gunmen simply watched this new exchange. Frohike felt bad for letting the cat out of the bag and getting Mulder in dutch with the females. Byers and Langley looked at them as though they were lab mice in a maze. Byers stroked his beard, Langley pushed up his horn-rimmed glasses. They whispered conspiratorially as the agents continued their 'discussion.'

Scully leveled Mulder with ice-cold, peppermint eyes, "Are you getting ready for another *solo journey* Mulder? You always use these guys when you don't want me to know what you're up to. You planning on ditching me--us--again?"

"No, Scully, no. That's not it at all." Mulder replied quickly, shaking his head. He brought a hand to the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes. It was a gesture of weary defeat. "Fine, watch the tape. You've busted me."

He turned to Largo, actually laying a hand on her shoulder, "Largo, I'm going to apologize in advance. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done this without your permission."

Her bruised and swollen face wrinkled slightly. Mulder *never* apologized, especially not to her. "What are you talking about, Mulder?"

He looked at Frohike, "Pop in the tape."

"Mulder?" Largo said, still confused.

A sad feeling of self-disappointment washed over him, "S-h-h" was all he said. He nodded toward the screen, indicating that she should watch.

Frohike stuck a tape in the VCR and hit play. The screen lit up, dim at first, then brightening as the set warmed.

Megan Largo's jaw dropped as she saw her figure and heard her own voice on the videotape.

"*You don't know a cantaloupe from a fucking rutabega.*"

"*Tsk-tsk. Such foul language from such a pretty woman, it's kind of a turn-off, Agent.*"

Slowly, as if on a rusty spring, she turned her head back to Mulder. Her face was drawn but her green eyes danced with anger, something Mulder had never seen from her in real life, but only on the cheap videotape.

She stood and walked up to him. They were nose-to-nose, him looking down just slightly at her. Largo stared hard into his hooded hazel eyes. Soft, so that only he could hear, came her words.

"You're such a fucking prick."

She stepped to the right and passed him. She exited the room, apparently headed back out to the street. Scully immediately went to follow.

"Scully, wait." Mulder called, "Let her cool down. I think you should see this."

She was torn once again. Why did they always have to do this to her? Why did she always end up in the middle, between two of her favorite people? Why couldn't they all just get along?

Hesitating, vacillating between the door and the screen, Scully bit her lower lip.

"Come on, Scully." Mulder prompted, and her ingrained loyalties kicked in. She stood beside him as events unfolded.

The Gunmen were able to improve both the sound quality and the color of the tape, giving Mulder and Scully a clear look at Megan Largo's eyes, which gradually, ever so slowly, evolved from a light sea-green to a dark chocolate brown.

This was no surprise to Scully, who had witnessed this curious effect before--very recently, in fact. What upset her, however, was the short sentence spoken by Richard Ciatti during their long, painful staredown.

"Hey there, Scout..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER TEN
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER ELEVEN: "Freedom"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scully watched the eight minutes of crucial footage twice before stomping out of the room to search for Meg Largo. The men behind her rewound the tape again, apparently planning to view it over and over.

Largo was nowhere to be found. Scully walked up and down the hallways of each floor of the building, then went outside, thinking perhaps Largo was in the car. Nothing. She looked up the street, then back down it. As she turned to glance across the street, she saw a man sitting on the open stoop leading to a small branch of the public library.

He was somewhere in his late 30's with long blond hair tied back in a ponytail, and a matching beard and mustache. He wore a red bandanna and old, comfortable clothes covered by a green army jacket. In his hands was a battered black guitar. His case sat in front of him, and as Scully approached she saw a few bills and coins lining it. He played a hard-driving, fast beat and sang, in a pleasant baritone, a song unfamiliar to Scully.

At his feet, two steps below, sat Megan Largo, looking up at him with rapt attention as she tapped the rhythm out with her foot.

Scully watched from a distance, out of Largo's line of sight. She knew the moment she spotted the man that this was where her young partner would be. The song ended and Largo said something about how much she liked it.

"So, little sister, do you play?" The man asked, a gentle smile on his weathered face.

She saw Largo's shoulders shrug modestly, admitting that she knew a few tunes.

The man held the instrument out to her, and after only a little coaxing, she accepted it. She moved up to the stair where he sat and plunked down right beside him.

Scully could now hear her better, "I can't sing very well today, because of this." She gestured to her face, "But this is one of my favorite songs--and it fits my mood."

Largo plucked a few strings, then settled into a chord pattern. She played it over a couple of times, a slow melody that nagged at Scully as familiar. The voice, still beautiful and smooth though much more nasalized, began to flow along with the music:

"Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train
And I's feeling nearly as faded as my jeans.
Bobby thumbed a diesel down just before it rained,
It rode us all the way to New Orleans."

Scully felt familiar hands on her shoulders. She tensed, angry for a moment, remembering what an asshole he'd been lately. But then, she hadn't been a peach either. She decided to let go of her anger. She leaned back into him just a touch.

He whispered in her ear, "I'm sorry."

She turned her head to speak, "I know, Mulder. I'm sorry too, I didn't mean to yell at you."

"She has a beautiful voice," Mulder said, indicating Largo with a nod of his head.

"S-h-h-h." Scully said, bringing her hands up to Mulder's, "Listen."

"Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing don't mean nothing honey, if it ain't free.
And feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues,
You know feeling good was good enough for me,
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee"

She continued to sing, eyes closed, and Mulder and Scully swayed slightly along with the music. They turned off their minds and simply let themselves feel.

"One day up near Salinas, Lord, I let him slip away,
He's looking for that home and I hope he finds it,
But I'd trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday
To be holding Bobby's body next to mine.

Oh freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,
Nothing, that's all that Bobby left me, yeah..."

She picked it up for the bridge, her voice strong and carrying along the streets of the city. A small crowd had gathered around the pair, allowing Mulder and Scully to get closer without being seen.

The song ended and there was a smattering of applause. Largo put her head down and shook it as if declining the praise.

"You're good, sis," the shaggy-haired man said, grinning at her marred face, "You know anything else?"

"Yeah, but this is your stoop, and my friends will probably be along to collect me any minute."

One boisterous young man who had stopped to listen to her called out, "Encore! Encore! Give us another!"

There was laughter among the strangers on the street, and the blond man said, "It may be my stoop, but this is your show, kid."

Largo gave him a small smile that didn't really reach her eyes, "No, I don't think I have another in me."

She quietly thanked the onlookers, then handed the man his guitar back. Most of the crowd broke up, carrying on with their Saturday morning business. Largo was so involved in the man and the memory of the music she didn't notice her last two spectators.

The man leaned over, bumping her just a bit with his shoulder, a sign of friendly affection. "So, my lovely little morning muse, what happened to you?"

<Outside, or inside?> Largo wanted to ask, but she said, "I broke my nose."

"But that's not what's got you down, is it?"

She looked up at him with sad eyes and shook her head.

"You're missing someone, right?" the man asked, adjusting the strings so as not to make her nervous with eye-contact.

In a small voice, she said, "My father. He's been dead for over ten years, but I miss him a lot lately."

The man lit a cigarette before continuing his adjustments, "Young sprout like you already lost your father?"

"I'm 26."

"You're a sprout," the man repeated, then said, "A good man, was he?"

Largo nodded, her words came haltingly. She rarely spoke of these things. "I've had some trouble lately. Things are happening to me, things I can't control. I know it's not true, but I feel like if he were here--it wouldn't be so bad."

The man still looked down, but was listening to his muse intently. "Tell me something about him. Something that made him special to you."

Largo thought for a moment, looking up the street, away from where Mulder and Scully stood below her and to the left.

"He used to call me Scout. That was his nickname for me."

"So how'd you get your name, Scout?"

She had never told this story before, but on this morning it rolled easily off her tongue. "I used to live on an Indian Reservation. The summer after my mother died, when I was nine, I took to spying on our neighbors. They were two men, Elder Redbird and his son. Back then, I didn't know the son's name, but this crazy old drunk lady who sat on the porch of my grandfather's store everyday, I asked her who he was and she cackled and said the boy's name was Boo Radley, that's who he was.

"One day my father, Patrick, caught me in the big oak tree outside the house with his binoculars. He pulled me out of there and made me explain myself. So I told him I wanted to catch a peek at Boo Radley. Old Patrick let out a big laugh, a huge sound for such a slight man.

"He asked me if I'd heard the rumors about Elder Redbird's son. I said I had. People said he was witco, er, crazy, and he used to bit little children and beat up on white people cause he couldn't stand the sight of 'em. That's why he was shut up in the house and Elder Redbird, a reclusive man himself, never let him out.

"Well, my brother and I are half-white, and he thought Boo would bite us AND beat us all to hell cause he was probably so crazy he couldn't tell we were kinda dark.

"I told my brother he was a sissy boy--my favorite put-down for him back then--and said I was gonna get a look at Boo that summer if it was the last thing I did."

"And did you?" the man asked, now caught up in the story as well as the melodic tones of the storyteller.

She laughed with real joy at the memories she was so deep in. "Old Patrick marched me right over to the Redbirds. Elder Redbird invited me in and introduced me to his son Marcus. Marcus was in his mid-twenties, tall and heavyset, but his face was too broad and his eyes were too far apart and kind of crossed. Marcus had FAS, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He never went to school and was very sensitive to the sunlight because as a kid he'd accidentally stuck a fork in his eye. He needed constant care, and was a little shy, that's why he never went out. That's why none of the kids had ever seen him, and why the rumors flew."

"So with the mystery of Boo Radley solved, what did you do?"

"I played with Marcus that summer. It was the Star Wars era, and my brother and I had a few of the figures. Marcus and I played with them in his house sometimes, and when I had to leave for school I told Michael, my brother, that I lost the figures. But I left them for Marcus. He was sad when I told him I had to leave, so I wanted him to have the figures."

"So, is that when Patrick started calling you Scout? After that summer?"

"Yep. Old Patrick said I was his little Scout peeping in windows to catch a glimpse of Boo Radley. It's a dumb story, but it's mine."

"It's not dumb. It's a very special story. Thank you for sharing it with me." The musician lit another cigarette, then looked over at Mulder and Scully, who gave him a nod and a smile.

"Well, Scout," he said to her, "it looks like your friends are here."

Largo scanned the street, then found her partners out of the corner of her eye. They approached.

"Have you been here long?" she asked them.

Scully could not speak, else she'd lose control and cry. She nodded though, and fought the tremor in her chin.

"Long enough," Mulder said, his voice soft and supportive.

"Guess I should be more careful about airing my dirty laundry on the streets of DC."

"Largo," Mulder said, coming up to sit by her, "I'm sorry about what I did."

"I don't care about that anymore, Mulder. I don't care about any of it. At this point, I've got all the freedom I could possibly want."

"You mean you have nothing left to lose? I don't think that's true." He put a hand on her back, surprising her with rare physical contact. "You have your job, a job you're very good at and which you seem to love. You have us, two friends battling the same wars you are. You have your brother, so far away and yet I hear you talk to him on the phone and it's like there's no space between you. And then there's Jo," he lowered his voice, "who loves you very much. I can see it every time you are together." He laid a finger on the shiny silver band on Largo's right thumb. "I know what this means, Largo. And yes, you have freedom--but nothing left to lose? No--you have far too much to lose."

Largo's face grew hot as he spoke and her eyes burned. She couldn't understand this need to cry so much, but she wasn't the only one. Tears were in Scully's eyes as well, so she let her own fall, wishing she could tell her partners the other half of her difficulties.

She knew that was professional suicide though, so she said nothing about the flashbacks which were tearing her apart, which she now thought were tied to the dreams and the headaches as well. Largo knew she was treading on shaky ground, so she threw Mulder a bone to keep him satisfied...and distracted.

"So, Mulder, did Scully tell you about our adventures yesterday?"

"No, why?"

She looked over at Scully, who wiped her eyes and sniffed, "I didn't tell him about it."

Largo said, "I think it's a good story for the car."

Mulder and Scully stood, preparing to leave. Largo turned back to the musician, who had moved away to give the trio privacy.

"Thank you, sir."

He smiled, "I should be thanking you, Scout. You're a boon for my business." He pointed down to his open, felt-lined guitar case. Bills and coins covered the entire bottom and pooled in the corners. Some were larger than ones.

Largo leaned over and kissed the scruffy man on the cheek before standing. She reached into her pocket and added two twenties to the contents of the case.

The man looked up at her, startled, "What you doing there, kid?"

"Call it a thank you from Patrick. Catch you later, brother."

She winked at the musician and walked away, leaving him smiling on his stoop.

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

Largo shut the door on the rear passenger side before calling up to the front seat. "So, Mulder, have you figured out why I'm so damned good at getting suspects to confess yet? Or are you still working on it?"

He pulled out into traffic, "Oh, I think I've got a pretty good idea, but maybe Scully should tell me her story."

"No," Scully said, looking out the window, "I want to hear your hypothesis first."

"Well," he said, addressing her, but including them both, "I believe out partner, Megan Winona Largo, has what is generally termed a psychic ability. I believe that she can, to a certain degree, read the minds of her subjects. However, this is not an exact skill, and takes considerable work. It seems that the conditions surrounding our partner have to be just right; she has to 'get the vibe' so to speak.

"Granted, she is naturally intuitive, but I believe that when looking into a person's eyes, our young partner can match her eye color to theirs, and through that link a psychic bond if formed. This phenomenon is rare, but has been documented in the Americas, Greenland, and among Canada's native population as well. Dr. Karl Kerlitz called it Psycho-Ocular Pigmentosa in 1948 when he observed the phenomenon in a Sioux medicine man in Minnesota. I can't remember the name of the man off-hand, but I bet if I looked it up..."

From the back seat, Largo finished his sentence, "It would be my grandfather, Joseph Little Bear."

Largo saw the gleam in Mulder's eyes as she glanced up at the rear-view mirror. For the first time in a week, the man didn't look like he wanted to tear her face off. She was glad she'd made him so happy, but nervous at what this new knowledge would mean to their partnership in terms of change.

After a few minutes of ruminating on his new-found knowledge, Mulder glanced briefly over at Scully, catching her eye for a second before bringing his eyes back to the road. "So tell us your story, Scully."

Scully's face was hesitant, reluctant, as though she were unsure of what to say. Uncertainty was rare for her, and Mulder picked up on it. She'd been acting so...differently lately. Was it just a female thing? Or was there something truly wrong with her? Her emotions seemed to be running high, almost as high as his quick temper.

Finally, she said, "I don't know what to say about yesterday; I don't understand it myself. You both know that I don't believe in the concept of psychic energy or mediumism. Still, I have no rational explanation for what happened between Largo and myself yesterday."

Largo leaned forward to gently say, "Tell him what happened as best you can. Tell him what you saw."

Scully twisted around to face her, "Are you sure you want me to?"

Knowing Mulder could hear, and wanting him to, she said, "Yes. I'm trying hard to put my trust in him, and after watching that tape and hearing my stupid little childhood reminiscence, the whole thing will make a lot more sense after you tell him."

And so Scully told Mulder about the eye examination she gave Largo yesterday morning; about the way their eyes met, and how Largo's turned blue. She told him about the 'dream' she had, the 'vision', and of Largo showing her the photograph of Patrick Largo. She omitted Largo's short breakdown and the way Largo had pretty much passed out on her lap.

At the end of the tale, Mulder asked, "And is that what happened with Ciatti as well? Did he 'see into' you instead of you 'seeing into' him?"

Largo nodded, "I still got information from both experiences, but it's extremely rare that people can see into me without me letting them. It seems that my control is slipping, which is what worries me very much right now."

Scully let the conversation flow over her. <Fine,> she thought, <they can sit here and debate imaginary psychic powers all day, but I need a nap.>

She stifled a yawn with the back of her hand and rested her head against the window. She'd slept better last night than she had in awhile, but the process of catching up on sleep made her crave even more of it.

Mulder and Largo didn't notice, but continued their conversation.

"So what do you think is making your control slip?"

Largo knew exactly what was making it slip, but couldn't tell her partner that she was being ripped apart by violent hallucinations, headaches, and persistent nightmares that prevented her from getting any rest. She couldn't tell him that her stress level was off the scale right now and that every time she closed her eyes she was afraid to open them again, afraid of what she would see.

She could neither close her eyes, nor keep them open--and this was a difficult predicament. She tried to compose a believable answer for Mulder.

"I think it has to do with the headaches and the dreams. My only theory is that perhaps my concentration in slipping because of them. Ciatti looked into me during one of my bad headaches, when I was having trouble just keeping the contact I need. With Scully--I don't know. I didn't try to do that with her. I wasn't trying to take information out of her mind. It was a reflex, something involuntary. I think the concussion and everything weakened me."

Scully was half-asleep, completely exhausted, but a sudden thought entered her mind, making her bolt upright and say, "You said you got information from me. What was it?" She figured this would be the test. She still held the opinion that what had happened had a perfectly reasonable explanation, she had probably seen Patrick Largo's picture before, and had probably read about Megan finding her father's body in a report somewhere...hadn't she?

In a quiet, calm voice, Largo said, "Once I realized what was happening, I didn't try to get anything, Scully. I promise you that. I didn't delve into your mind, but I did get some surface material, as I call it, things that just float randomly around."

"Like what?"

"Like that you're going to take your car in for an oil change on Tuesday, and that your mother's birthday is in two weeks. I'm glad I know that," she said as an aside, "now I can get her a little something. Just stuff like that."

"What else?" Scully said firmly.

"Scully--" Largo's tone was reluctant.

"Tell me what else. Mulder can hear it, go ahead."

"Okay, " Largo said a bit reluctantly, "You've been upset lately, and you don't understand much of your behavior. The left side of your brain is being dominated by the right, the more emotional side. You've been stressed out, and you smoked three cigarettes on the way to my house yesterday, then tried to cover the smell with perfume so Jolyn wouldn't notice. You didn't worry about me, though, you knew I wouldn't be able to smell much anyway."

Scully and Mulder said nothing, so she continued.

"I know that you are not usually a smoker, Scully, but in times of stress you sometimes revert to the habit you picked up as a teenager. In fact, I know about the first time you had a cigarette. You were 14, I believe, and you snuck one from you mother's purse. It was an act of rebellion, which--"

"Okay," Scully interrupted, "enough." Actually, Largo's knowledge of this event creeped her out. Although far less dramatic, it was too much like the story Luther Lee Boggs had told her from the holding cell in prison. She said the same thing to Largo that she had said to Boggs three years ago.

"That could be a scene from any kid's life."

"But it's not, Scully, it's from yours. Do you want me to describe the porch you sat on, the creaky step beneath your right foot? The color and texture of your mother's handbag, or the dining room table it had been sitting on? Just as you know what color my parka was and the pattern of tile in our kitchen, I know every detail you remember about that event."

Scully shook her head, "I don't know. I don't understand this. Everything is so strange right now. I need--I mean I want to--oh, I don't even know anything right now."

Largo touched her shoulder, squeezing it briefly, "It's okay, Scully. I didn't mean to upset you, or embarrass you."

Scully looked out the window, "Well, it's a bad habit, something I don't normally do. In fact, I can't even begin to explain to you why I have an overwhelming urge for a cigarette right now, even as we speak."

"I understand," Largo replied, "I still get the itch for one every now and then, too."

Mulder was surprised, "You used to smoke too, Largo?"

She chuckled from the backseat, "Yeah, back when I was a kid. Same as Scully, kind of a rebellion thing. That was part of the reason I got kicked out of Russia, that and my infatuation with The Doors. I quit in college. My boyfriend told me no more, or else we were quits. That did it for me. I was young and in love."

Mulder almost had to pull the car over, "Boyfriend?"

Another chuckle, "I'm just full of surprises, aren't I, Mulder?"

"You certainly are."

"But let's change the subject," Largo said, "I don't want to start another fight, but what do you guys want to do about Lake Benson?"

Scully said, "Drop it."

Simultaneously, Mulder said, "Check it out."

Largo tittered nervously from the backseat, "I didn't have to be psychic to have guessed you two would say that."

Mulder and Scully exchanged dirty looks.

Scully said, "It looks like you're the deciding vote, Largo."

"You mean *I* get a say? O-o-h, the pressure." She put a hand to her chin, as though really debating the issue. In reality, she'd known what she wanted to do the minute the Gunmen had finished their lecture.

But now she was torn. Scully, her friend, her rational, responsible partner, wanted to do the wise, sane thing and leave well enough alone. Mulder, on the other hand, believed in Reticulans and their presence on Earth. She, however, had the curiosity of a cat, but didn't seem to believe in the old adage, because she indulged her curiosity whenever possible. She had known she would say this if given the opportunity, and now she had been given it.

"I think tomorrow would be the perfect day to see just how the military's investigation is going. Unofficially, of course. I mean, hey, tourists come to Lake Benson all the time, don't they?"

Mulder hissed, "Y-e-s-s-s!"

Scully voice held a warning note, "Largo--"

She tried to lighten the thick atmosphere inside the car, "Hey, it'll just be a daytrip, right?"

Mulder smiled, "Well, I can say one thing about it."

"What's that?" Scully asked him blandly.

"If there is something at the bottom of Lake Benson that's causing the disappearances, odds are that it's not a deer's ass."

The sound of Largo's young, easy laughter filled the car.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER ELEVEN
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER TWELVE: "Undone"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2:13 p.m.

They had dropped Largo off at her place, agreeing to meet at the office at one o'clock the next day to do a little research and discuss strategy. Then Mulder took Scully home.

He walked her to her door. "I know you're upset with me, Scully, and you have every reason to be. I'm sorry I was such a jerk earlier, and I'm sorry I said those things to you in their office."

She unlocked the front door and they went in, "I said some pretty terrible things too, and I apologize, but Mulder, I honestly don't think this is smart, what we're planning on doing tomorrow. We've all been a little on edge with each other, impulsive and brash. Largo already looks like a victim in a slasher film. She's not thinking straight right now either. I think we should *re-think* our plans."

"What are our plans, Scully?" Mulder asked with an open face.

"Oh, I imagine you're working on some scheme involving nightfall, dark clothing, and greasepaint on our faces."

Mulder tried to hide his smirk, but couldn't, "You know me all too well, Scully."

"I'm agreeing to this reluctantly. Remember that, Mulder. And if this little excursion turns life-threatening, I'm pulling the plug and heading out. I'll drag you two dipshits out with me, if I have to. Don't you think I can't."

"I know you can, Scully," He said with a smile. "But actually, I'm really surprised you're agreeing to this."

"Me too, but I thought about what you said. The part about me constructing an elaborate theory to fit the facts they've given us. In one way, you're right--I'm being far too naive about this whole situation. Something is happening to people in and around Lake Benson, and it's our job to make sure it stops. If I let the issue drop, we may never know if the problem has really been solved."

"So you agree that there's a military cover-up in progress?"

She hesitated for a split second, then nodded, "They're hiding something out there, and I want to find out what it is."

"But you know it's not a UFO?"

"I have no proof documenting the existence of an unidentified flying object at the bottom of Lake Benson."

Mulder smiled and came up close to her, "You know, Scully, you make the words 'unidentified flying object' sound so-o-o-o damned sexy."

She gave him a weary little smile, "Oh I do, do I?"

He leaned in close, kissing her lightly before replying, "Nobody says it better."

Scully snuck her hands under his arms and squeezed him around the middle, "Well I'm glad I feed your little UFO fetish, Mulder, but to tell you the truth, I think we need to talk."

"About?"

She looked up into his eyes, "About what's happening between us."

Mulder's face fell, and he passively allowed her to lead him to the living room couch. She gracefully plunked herself down and sat cross-legged, facing him.

"Mulder," she asked, "what's wrong with us?"

He looked down at his hands, which were playing with the zipper of his leather jacket. He stilled them and forced himself to meet her eyes.

"I don't know, Scully." He said in a quiet voice.

"Do you think this is a mistake, our getting involved?"

"No," he said immediately, "no, Scully--I don't think so. In fact, I've never been surer of anything. Whatever has been happening, whatever has been coming between us, I think it has more to do with work than...you know, with us personally. All of our fights, I mean our disagreements, have been over work-related issues. In fact, it seems like the longer we're out of the office, the better we get along."

Scully closed her eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath. She smiled softly, "I was hoping you'd say something like that."

"Do you feel differently, Scully?"

Her look was again one of uncertainty, "I don't know what I'm feeling, Mulder. I know that makes no sense to you, and it makes no better sense to me. I've always been completely in control of my mind, my body, my emotions. But lately I've felt this...dissonance. I felt it even before the experience with Largo yesterday. I don't know why I've been snapping at you, or bawling every other minute, but I want you to know that I have strong feelings for you, Mulder. And I want us to work through the problems we're having in the office so that our personal relationship isn't skewed by them."

He reached out and took her hands in his, "Let's make a pact then."

Her eyebrow lifted skeptically, "A pact?"

"Yes, a pact. A very simple one, I believe. We think before we open our mouths."

She smiled, "Employ the Thumper-rule?"

"Huh?"

"If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

Mulder smiled warmly, "Exactly."

"It's a deal." She said, and gave him a kiss to seal the pact.

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

DAY SEVEN
Sunday, Oct. 26, 1997
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Basement Office
12:30 p.m.

Mulder unlocked the office door and pushed it open, allowing Scully to enter. They set their backpacks on their respective desks. Mulder handed Scully a small stack of papers, everything he'd compiled Friday on his research expedition.

He frowned as he pulled a small white tube out of his pocket, then suddenly remembered what it was. He had forgotten about the 'air meter' Langley had given him. He figured one place was as good as another and tossed the vial-like meter into a small dish full of paper clips.

As Scully scanned the papers, she said, "You're right, Mulder. Something big is going on out there. These indicate a placid, idyllic lakeside town where nothing much happens. Completely opposite of what 'our friends' told us yesterday."

She was careful not to mention the names of the Gunmen in the office. It hadn't been swept for bugs in over two weeks. Inwardly realizing that Mulder's paranoia was beginning to rub off on her, she ran a hand through her hair and sat down heavily in her chair.

"What's wrong, Scully?"

She shook her head, frustrated, "I'm just so sick of the games, Mulder." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Here we are, sitting in our office, and we aren't even certain that we can speak freely in here. Our own organization, our own government, seems to be working against us. I feel like the Greek figure of Sisyphus, who pushes a giant boulder up a steep hill, working and grunting and sweating until he can see the end in sight. He's sure that one more push and he'll finally reach his goal, he'll finally send the boulder crashing down the other side of the mountain. But then it overwhelms him and the rock goes tumbling back to the bottom and he must start all over again. That's us, Mulder. That's us to a tee."

Mulder stepped behind her and laid his strong hands on her shoulders, easing a little of the tension out of them. "One day we'll make it, Scully. We can't give up. One day it'll all come crashing down, and the truth will finally be known."

She turned her head to smile up at him, "I hope so, Mulder. I really hope so."

"Am I interrupting a cozy scene?"

They jumped a little, startled by the voice in the doorway. Neither had heard Meg Largo's silent approach.

Recovering from her start, Scully said, "Jesus, Largo. Give me a heart attack why don't you?"

"Sorry," Largo apologized as she stepped into the room, "I was in stealth mode. Practicing for later today. I didn't mean to scare you."

The three agents were all dressed as if they were on their way to a burglars' convention. The almost exactly matched in their loose black pants and shirts. Largo distinguished herself by sporting a forest green baseball cap with a black bill, and held another in her hand which she dropped on Scully's desk as she passed.

"Here you go, Doc. You've got a great head of hair, but it kind of stands out under a spotlight."

"Largo," she protested, "this isn't some Commando-type mission, you know."

Largo shot them a wry smile, "Then tell me Mulder didn't bring his little jar of greasepaint for your faces."

Scully had no answer for that. She knew full well that the jar was sitting in Mulder's pack. <I can't believe I'm doing this> she thought as she slowly expelled a deep breath.

They huddled around Mulder's desk for the next two hours, talking in hushed tones, planning their strategy as they stared down at the topographical map of the Clearwater area Mulder had somehow procured.

The trio took a short break around four o'clock and Largo went directly to the ladies' room, where she had secretly stashed a bottle of Advil earlier in the week. Her headaches were back with a vengeance, and as the afternoon progressed she felt worse and worse. She studied her face in the mirror after downing four of the brown pills, staring hard at the black bruises beneath her eyes. The swelling in her nose had considerably abated, but it was still very sensitive. She shouldn't be doing this, she had realized that as early as last night. But now, she was even more sure of it. The headaches were a warning. Yesterday and on into this morning she hadn't had any flashbacks, but that didn't mean they were gone for good.

Was she putting her partners, as well as herself, in danger? A nagging self-doubt began to creep around in the corners of her mind, and the words to an old Weezer song kept playing through her head, over and over, like a broken record:

"If you want to destory my sweater,
Pull this thread as I walk away.
Watch me unravel, I'll soon be naked,
Lying on the floor, lying on the floor.
I've come undone."

It played through her throbbing head with annoying redundancy, and she thought she might just scream if she couldn't get it out.

Just then, Scully pushed the door open and peeked in, interrupting her thoughts. "Ready to get back at it, kid?"

"Sure," she replied, smiling at the small woman dressed uncharacteristically in black. Largo crossed the small room and followed Scully out, praying that she was doing the right thing.

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

"What took you so goddamned long?" Mulder asked harshly as he turned from the map on his desk.

"Let's not start today, okay Mulder?" Largo replied as she went to stand across the desk from him.

The younger woman's chastisement further irritated him. He took a deep breath through his locked jaw and tried to forget about it. He turned back to the map and touched a spot with his finger.

"All the diving was done from here, the south dock. I'm guessing that's where we need to focus our energies."

Scully gave him a warning look, "Are you planning to dive, Mulder?"

Reluctantly, knowing it would upset her, yet unable to lie at this point, he nodded.

She felt a stone settle on her chest. How could he be so cavalier about his own mortality? Didn't he realize, didn't he know what his 'death' had done to her? She couldn't lose him again, couldn't lose him for good this time. There was no possible way she could go through the things she'd been through last summer all over again.

Her blue eyes were moist as she looked up at him, "Mulder, I've already given one eulogy for you. Don't make me have to do it again."

Her words should have softened him, but instead only made him seethe. "Christ, Scully! Are we going back to the 'death wish' thing? I wish you'd fucking drop it! We need to find out what's down there, and since the sub idea is out, this is the only way!"

"It's not the only way!" She shouted back at him, stepping up close, "There's got to be another! Let's find out what they're hiding, Mulder, but not by jumping in the water. Let's find out who's doing the hiding." She turned to Largo, standing off to her left, "Isn't that right, Largo? Investigate the investigators."

Largo swallowed, but a lump of bile stuck in her throat. She'd been watching the exchange between her partners with awe as their faces began to drip and run. Nasty violet ooze was running down Mulder's face and onto his black turtleneck. Scully's hair was once again a horrifying neon green and her lips dripped thick, bubbly red blood.

She blinked, but the image remained. Willing her skyrocketing pulse rate to drop and her heart to fall out of her throat and back into her chest, Largo strove to remain calm, as though nothing was wrong. It was all in her mind; her rapidly disintegrating mind.

"Right, Largo?" Scully repeated, her eyes sparkling rubies that danced brightly in the sockets.

"Yeah," Largo said weakly, then cleared her throat, trying for a stronger tone. "That's right. No diving, Mulder. Far too dangerous."

Mulder, preferring to take out his anger on Largo rather than Scully, quickly turned and got right into her face until they were virtually nose to nose. He didn't have the height advantage over the dark woman that he had over Scully, so he made up for it by intimidating her with his closeness.

Largo shuddered at the sight of his black pinhole eyes and melting face. His proximity didn't intimidate her, but his pussy, oozy purple face certainly did. She wanted to scream and run from the room, but stood her ground and forced her body to stop trembling.

"I DIDN'T ASK FOR YOUR OPINION!!!" Mulder screamed, mere inches from her face. She felt his breath on her cheek, and saw it as fiery flames licking out at her skin, as though emitted from the mouth of a dragon. "YOU HAVE NO SAY IN THIS ANYWAY! THIS IS OUR DECISION AND I'LL HAVE YOU STAY OUT OF IT!"

She stepped back and turned away from him, no longer able to stand what she saw. Another spike of pain sent her reeling toward the corner, but her partners, caught up in their heated argument, didn't even notice.

"GODDAMNIT, MULDER!" Scully screeched back at him, "WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU?"

Mulder spun back to her and opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came out. He saw the tears streaming down her face and stopped, as though frozen. What *was* wrong with him? He didn't know.

He snapped his mouth shut and quickly walked out of the office, unable to face her any longer.

Scully collapsed into her chair and laid her head on the desk. She cried into her arms in huge, heart-wrenching gasps and sobs. Largo stood propped against the wall in one corner. She held her eyes closed for a few seconds. When she opened them, both the headache and the hallucination were gone.

She took a moment to collect herself, then realized Scully was bawling at her desk. She quietly approached and laid a gentle hand on her back, trying to soothe her distraught partner. Scully quickly rose and turned into Largo's arms, burying her face in Largo's shoulder as the tears continued to flow.

Largo shushed her and rubbed her back. "It's going to be all right, Scully," she whispered, hoping desperately that her words were true. "I won't let him do anything stupid, I promise."

"He wants to die," came Scully's choked voice, muffled by Largo's shirt.

"No, Scully, no," Largo replied in a low, soothing voice, "He just doesn't realize what he has to live for."

Scully sniffled once against her shirt and raised her head. Largo wiped a tear from Scully's reddened face and smiled softly at her.

"He has you, Scully," Largo whispered close to her partner's ear. "He has you."

Scully's face scrunched up and she clung once more to Largo's lean frame. Slowly, her sobs subsided, and soon she was over her outburst.

"Thank you, Largo," she said softly, her head still under Largo's chin.

"It's okay. Maybe we're normal women after all, Scully."

Scully gave a choked laugh, and went to the restroom to clean herself up. On the way, she spotted a large green bug in the tile hallway, and kicked at it with her shoe. She looked around to see where it went, but couldn't find it. It was gone. She frowned and continued her trek to the ladies' room, sniffling a little on her way.

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

5:20 p.m.

Scully and Largo waited in the office for fifteen minutes, again hunched over the table discussing possible measures and countermeasures.

They weren't surprised to hear soft footfalls in the hall and Mulder's voice from the doorway, "Can we just pretend that never happened?"

The women exchanged a glance, as if making a show of deciding. Then they both gave him an easy smile.

"Sure Mulder," Scully said, "But you've got to promise us one thing."

"I know, I know," he replied wearily, "no diving."

"Exactly."

Largo gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder, then left the room, allowing them a moment of privacy. As she walked down the hall another blast of pain shot into her head, ripping it apart like thin papyrus. She bolted into the bathroom and just made it to the toilet before the contents of her stomach came up. Panting, she flushed the toilet and watched the mess swirl down. The water was dark plum, as if she'd thrown up a stomach full of cheap Purple Passion, a favorite of teenage future alcoholics she knew on the reservation. Was it really that color, or was this yet another flashback?

Largo sat down heavily next to the bowl. She wiped perspiration from her forehead and upper lip. Glancing up at the lights, she saw that they were a swirling mixture of orange and yellow, and thick ooze was beginning to drip down the walls once again. She had her answer. Largo shut her eyes and moaned in misery as bright stars flashed before her closed lids.

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

7:25 p.m.

Mulder and Scully ate sandwiches in the car as they drove to Clearwater. Largo left hers untouched in its wrapper. The thought of food made her stomach heave and churn. Plus, Mulder had been on the verge of yelling at her again just before they left the office, which only added to the jitters in her stomach.

She'd had two more powerful flashbacks in the car already, and they were only a half-hour out of DC. In addition, the headaches were almost constant now, and she'd gulped another four Advil before they'd left.

Largo closed her eyes and tried to get a grip on herself as they drove to Clearwater, Maryland.

*****

Scully ate her sandwich, knowing she needed the energy source, but not really wanting it. Her head had been pounding for a couple of hours now. It was a tension headache that wouldn't go away despite her attempts at relaxation. Plus, she could have sworn she'd seen a bright yellow cockroach on the office floor just before they left. But Mulder had been looking at the same patch of tile and hadn't said anything about the albino roach. When she'd looked back at the spot, the psychedelic bug was nowhere to be seen.

They'd never had a pest problem in the basement before, but hadn't Largo said something about a big bug with wings earlier in the week? Scully couldn't remember her exact words, but knew the incident had caused yet another fight between Largo and Mulder.

She finished her makeshift dinner and sat back against the headrest, trying to let the tension drain from her body. God, she was tense! She felt strung out, like she had the worst PMS of her life. That was hardly possible, though, she'd just finished her cycle last week.

She closed her eyes and tried to think happy thoughts: Christmas trees, the family room at her mother's house, a warm fire and a cup of hot chocolate, Mulder's arms around her. That last thought brought a small smile to her face and she drifted into a light doze.

*****

Mulder ate as he drove, downing two roast beef sandwiches in record time. He was starving, he knew the pent-up frustration he'd been bottling was making his blood-pressure rise and his metabolism soar.

Christ, why did he have to be such an asshole? He'd known working with two women might be a little tricky, but these two weren't ordinary women. Largo was as easy-going as they came, and Scully was usually solid as a rock. Hell, she was easily ten times more emotionally stable than he was.

So why was Largo jumping at shadows and dreaming of her dead father while Scully bawled her eyes out at every raised voice? What the hell was going on? And why was he, usually pretty easy-going himself, snarling and snapping at the two of them like a pissed-off badger?

Mulder blinked at the darkening road in front of him. He had his lights on and was eagerly awaiting the end of dusk and the onset of full night. Suddenly, Mulder's head began to ache and the road turned read in front of him. It was as though he was viewing it through a crimson filter. He shook his head and blinked rapidly. It was gone. Everything was fine, perfectly normal.

He frowned in confusion as he sped along the nearly deserted county road. He'd been anxious to leave the Hoover Building even though they couldn't risk exploration until close to ten. Things hadn't been going well at the office, though, and he thought maybe a change of scenery would do them all some good.

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

10:41 p.m.

They left the car in a small clearing off the highway that was a good two miles from Lake Benson. Silently, they strapped on their backpacks and prepared to move. Scully donned the green and black hat Largo had borrowed her and. Largo stifled a laugh at their cat-burglarish appearances, but quickly clammed up as Mulder came up behind her, ready to move out.

In single file, with Mulder in the lead and Largo bringing up the rear, they began their trek to the lake. Scully's senses were finely honed, her ears pricking up at the slightest rustle, the smallest snap of a twig. She listened for voices, for vehicles, for any noises in the distance.

The only thing she noticed now, however, was not the presence of sound, but its absence. Behind her there was virtual silence. She had to turn periodically to verify that Largo was still behind her.

About a half-mile from the lake's shore they ran into a cyclone fence topped with razor wire.

"Unusual trespassing precautions for a small-town lake," Mulder whispered over his shoulder as he knelt by the fence, "Those out of season fisherman must give them quite a headache."

Scully pulled out a small baton with a thick rubber handle and carefully poked the fence. It held no electrical charge. Mulder was about to pull out the wirecutters when Largo laid a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see her jerk her head at a tall elm thirty yards up. He nodded, getting the idea, and they made their way over to it.

Largo nimbly scaled the tree, shimmied out on a branch, and dropped neatly down on the other side of the fence. Mulder and Scully followed suit, and they were once more on their way.

They stopped in the woods outside the north shore of the lake, opposite the dock the divers had entered from. Mulder produced a pair of infrared binoculars from his pack and handed them to Largo, who scaled a sturdy-looking tree. She climbed as high as she could, not nervous until a shotgun blast of pain ripped through her forehead. She lost her grip on a branch and felt a moment of panic, sure she was going down. At the last moment, she found another branch and grabbed it tight, regaining her equilibrium. She waited the headache out, grateful she was too high for her partners to see her. Largo continued to climb.

Peering over the smaller brush and out across the lake, she spotted two large tents with a few armed soldiers milling around them.

<Mulder was right,> she thought, <this isn't a routine 'investigation.' Since when are armed sentries posted near a missing persons abduction site?>

She was about to descend when she heard a sharp click and a deep male voice far below.

"Hold it right there. You are trespassing in a US Military Quarantine Zone. Turn slowly and raise your hands."

High in the tree, Largo froze, a heavy stone settling in her chest. Mulder and Scully were busted.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER TWELVE
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: "Down By The Water"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

11:31 p.m.

The sentry marched Mulder and Scully around the perimeter of the lake, close to the dense woodlands that surrounded it, and toward the tents near the south dock. He stood behind them, his rifle over one shoulder, but alert and ready for any sudden movement.

Mulder talked to the young guard almost non-stop, "We're sorry. We didn't see the signs. We're just camping here, you know. Is it illegal to camp now? I don't understand what the problem is?"

"The problem, sir," the guard answered, "is that you knowingly penetrated a Quarantine Area. You will need to be held for examination."

"Examination or interrogation? Any why the Quarantine? What's so dangerous out here? Toxic waste? What?"

The guard didn't reply, but simply marched them on.

Mulder chanced a glance at the woman beside him. She did not look happy. They marched on for another couple of hundred feet.

Suddenly Mulder heard a small thump. Without moving his head, he scanned the area in front of him. Another thump, but this time he saw a medium-sized stone land fifteen feet in front of them. He caught Scully's eye. She had seen it too. They walked on, now charged and prepared.

"A-r-r-h," the guard suddenly grunted. They turned to see him unshouldering his rifle and turning to the woods.

Another stone flew out of the darkness and struck him squarely in the chest with a force that threw him staggering backwards.

The captured agent sprinted into the cover of the woods. Scully tried desperately to keep up with Mulder's long strides, but quickly fell behind. She stumbled on an unseen root and fell. Quickly popping up, she began to run blindly, hoping she was following his path.

When she was over 100 yards into the woods she stopped, backed against a tree, and regained her breath, knowing the sound would give her away to the sentry.

She glanced around, searching for Mulder or Largo, but they were nowhere to be seen or heard. Reaching to the small of her back for her weapon, she cautiously began making her way in a direction she hoped was south, toward the tents just off the shore.

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

11:38 p.m.

Mulder zig-zagged through the woods, upset that he and Scully had been separated. He was far into the brush before he stopped to get his bearings.

He hadn't heard steps behind him since Scully's disappearance from his trail, and knew he had lost the guard. For a split second, he admired their easy escape. Largo earned another tally on the 'not a spy' list for that one. In fact, he'd give her two.

Abruptly, Mulder's left arm was yanked hard, pulling him down from behind. A thin yet strong arm went around his shoulders, pinning them down, and a warm hand covered his mouth.

Largo's distinct voice was in his ear, "S-h-h, Mulder, it's me."

She released him.

He turned and whispered with relief, "Jesus, Largo, you scared the hell out of me."

"Sorry, I didn't want you to shoot me."

"You seen Scully?"

She shook her head, a movement he could barely see in the darkness of the night, "She fell," Largo said, "but got away. She ran to the southeast, I think."

"She'll head to the tents." Mulder said with certainty.

"We can cut her off if we get to the lakeside."

He nodded and let her lead the way. She seemed to know where she was headed, while he had lost track of his location during his escape.

Within five minutes they were in sight of the lake and less than a quarter-mile from the camp.

Largo held up a hand, stopping him. She cocked her head to one side, "You hear that?"

Mulder listened. At first he heard nothing but the gently lapping of the lake against the shore a mere forty yards away from them. Then he picked it up. A deep rumbling sound, very faint, almost imperceptible.

Largo took a quick look around, then knelt and placed her palm on the ground. Mulder sensed her intense concentration and kept silent. She was phenomenal in the woods, a natural tracker.

In the dim moonlight, he thought he saw her twitch and wince for a moment. Then she stood. Her eyes were shiny, but her voice was even and steady as she whispered to him.

"Drilling or something; there's a vibration in the ground. I would guess they're digging for something."

<Or,> Mulder thought, <something's getting ready to re-surface.>

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

11:46 p.m.

Scully was lost. She'd changed directions once or twice during her run through the woods, and now had absolutely no idea where she was. She tried to maintain a steady course, one that would take her to the south shore. Dense conifers blocked much of her view of the night sky, so the stars were no help. As silently as possible, she made her way from tree to tree, praying that she'd catch a glimpse of one of her partners.

In the distance, she heard a faint thrumming sound, like a very low tuning fork. Uncertain of what to do, she decided to follow the sound as best she could.

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

11:52 p.m.

The hum was growing louder, it was unable to miss now. Mulder still didn't feel the vibration Largo had reported, but he felt all the hairs on his body begin to stand on end. Something was about to happen.

He reached out, grabbed Largo's arm, and began to jog toward the lake. She followed instinctively, allowing him to lead her by the hand.

Suddenly the pain in her head was intense, almost mind-shattering. Her ears rang as she blindly propelled her feet to keep up with Mulder. A wool blanket descended over her eyes and all she saw was red. Still she allowed herself to be led, unwilling to stop Mulder and surrender to the rocket to pain going off in her brain. Something was about to happen, despite the splitting ache in her head she could feel the unnerving sensation in her bones and on her skin.

A high-pitched squeal spread over the area, reminding Mulder of an air-raid siren gone berserk. It grew louder and the pitch grew higher until it completely engulfed them. He dropped Largo's hand and covered his ears to stop the growing pain as the pitch continued to rise. Largo did the same, He looked over at her to see pure agony on her face.

She fell to her knees and leaned against a tree for support. Mulder knelt beside her and uncovered an ear to pull her closer to him. She was trembling, and her nose was bleeding profusely.

"Largo!" He screamed to be heard over the noise.

She open tear-filled eyes to concentrate on his mouth.

"We've got to get to the shore!"

She nodded. He pulled her to her feet. They both now felt the vibration beneath their feet, subtly increasing by the second. The high-pitched tone faded, leaving them with a dull, throbbing ring in their ears as they ran to the lake shore.

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

11:56 p.m.

The noise was gone, and Scully allowed herself to breathe once more. It had set her teeth on edge and threatened to split her eardrums. She opened her eyes and moved out, very anxious to meet up with her partners again. Things were getting strange out here, it wasn't a good place to be alone.

She moved ahead and willed the ringing in her ears to end. As it did, she stopped to listen. Nothing. She inched ahead, still moving from tree to tree.

Abruptly, she stopped with a puzzled frown. She could swear there was a tremor beneath her feet. She put a hand to the ground and felt the eerie vibration.

<What the hell?> She wondered as she continued to move among the trees.

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

11:57 p.m.

Largo wiped her eyes carefully with the back of a hand. The headache was gone, and her vision seemed to have returned to normal as well. She reached out into the darkness, found Mulder's hand, and pulled it a little, stopping him.

"Mulder," she said, close to his ear, "the water."

He heard it now too. A churning sound, like bubble-jets shooting air into a whirlpool bath. He clutched her hand tight and pulled her along behind him, desperate to get to the shore.

It was rough-going in the darkness. He collided with two trees in the dim light before Largo ran ahead of him to lead. He followed her cat-like quick movements past trees and bushes he never even saw until they were safely past. Within seconds they were in a small clearing with two picnic tables outlined in the moonlight. There was a break in the trees and a glimmer of light off the water. They sprinted headlong toward it.

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

11:58 p.m.

The vibration, the tremor, grew. Scully thought maybe there was deep-ground drilling going on nearby or perhaps it was the result of a small, extremely rare earthquake. She heard the lapping of water in the distance and a low rumbling that sounded almost like a pot of water boiling over a stove.

She followed the sound, knowing that she was close to something

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

11:59 p.m.

Mulder and Largo broke out onto the shore and frantically searched for the source of the churning.

He pointed out over the lake, not far from the south dock, now visible under a small overhanging lamp post. It was perhaps a hundred yards from where they stood. Water roiled and bubbled on the lake's surface and a luminescence lit the water from below.

The water churned and churned, growing in intensity with every passing second. Mulder stared at his incredulously, excited beyond words. He didn't even notice Largo's cry of pain as she once again fell to her knees, cradling her head in her hands. She struggled to keep the blast of pain under control, to contain it within her body, but the pain overcame her and brought instant tears.

As it eased she glanced up at Mulder. His face was lit up in a bright white light as he stared raptly across the lake. She followed his gaze as a rush of hot wind blew over them, making them shield their faces from the dust and flying debris.

Largo peeked through her arms to see a bright white spot hovering in the air. She could hardly believe what she was seeing. Was it another hallucination, or was it what she could swear it was? Was it a UFO?

In the wink of an eye, it flashed across the sky and disappeared, leaving an unearthly silence in its wake.

"YES! YES! OH YES!" Mulder screamed from her side.

He threw his arms up at the night sky as he hooted and howled in jubilee. Then he turned to Largo, dropped down to his knees beside her and took hold of her shoulder, shaking them a little.

She had never seen him so exultant.

"DID YOU SEE THAT?" He yelled into her startled face, still streaked with blood from the eruption of her nose. "THAT WAS A GODDAM UFO! A FLYING SAUCER! PROOF OF EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL LIFE! DID YOU SEE THAT, LARGO?"

"I--I--"

There was a rustling in the bushes behind them. They turned, drawing their weapons.

"It's me," came a familiar voice, "Mulder, what happened?"

He finally lowered his voice as he turned excitedly to her, "You should have seen it, Scully! It was beautiful! It hovered there above the lake, then winked out, took off faster than anything I've ever seen, right Largo?"

They turned to Megan Largo, who was still looking up at the night sky with something like awe. She slowly nodded, then turned her head to face them.

"I saw it too, Scully," she croaked, barely able to believe it. If Mulder saw it as well, then it was no hallucination. It was real. She got to her feet and approached her partners, the dumb look of astonishment still on her face.

"I--" she began, but was cut off by a trampling of feet quickly approaching.

Before they could make a break, they heard the familiar clicks of hammers being pulled, and a voice called out to them.

"Stop right there, folks. You are under arrest by order of the United States Army. Put your hands above your heads and turn around."

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

Opening reluctant eyes, Scully's head lolled as she tried to focus on her surroundings. Nothing was clear. It was all a blur. Was she back in The Place? No, there were no doctors, only men in dark clothing here. Far away, she heard a male voice.

"...and He said to be careful with them."

Another man's voice answered the first, "Isn't it easier to eliminate them? Make them disappear like the rest?"

"Yeah, but He said it would raise too many questions. They're high profile, I guess. Hey, she's coming around, take care of her quick. And remember, be careful, they're already full of some pretty strange stuff."

She felt a dull, muted prick in her arm. Her head rolled toward it, but she couldn't focus. Her eyes were heavy again. She let them close. They didn't open again for 13 hours.

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

DAY EIGHT
Monday, Oct. 26, 1997
Outside of Clearwater, MD
2:18 p.m.

Meg Largo felt cool, dry particles beneath her cheek. She moved her head, but they ground against each other and slid roughly over the surface of her face.

She moaned weakly, feeling more hung over than she had since graduation night at the Academy. She sniffed and smelled vomit nearby, probably her own. Using every ounce of strength and resolve, she sat up, only to instantly vomit once more.

When she was finished she felt better, but still extremely groggy. Was this a dream? Everything around her had taken on an air of surrealism. She forced her eyes to search her surroundings and saw that she'd been sleeping in roadside gravel. She looked up to see Mulder's blue Ford mere feet from her, the rear door open, supposedly from where she'd exited earlier.

Largo saw a red mass of hair move inside the car. The door slowly opened and Dana Scully pulled herself out. She rubbed her eyes for a good long time before registering Largo's presence.

"Largo, what's going on? Where are we?"

They both looked around at the surrounding trees before Largo's unsure reply, "Camping?"

On shaky feet, Scully approached the puddle of bile, "Are you sick?" She asked.

Uncertainty on her face, Largo replied, "I guess so. I threw up twice, I think, but I only remember the second time. Do you know why we're here, Scully? Where we are?"

Mulder's voice startled them both. He was propped up against the roof of the car, "According to this map in the car, we're in Clearwater, Maryland, and those bastards have done it again."

"Done what?" Largo asked with evident confusion.

He answered with dejection plain in his voice, "They took away our memories. We did something, saw something, but now it's gone."

"Mulder--" Scully began.

He shook his head as he cut her off, "Not now, Scully. I don't have the energy to argue. Come on, let's go home. Whatever we were looking for, it'll be gone now. There's not going to be anything left for us to see."

Scully and Largo reluctantly got back into the car. They drove the ninety minutes back to Washington in virtual silence.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER THIRTEEN
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: "Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

3:20 p.m.

They dropped an extremely weary Meg Largo off at her apartment. Before Mulder could pull back out onto the road he emitted a huge, jaw popping yawn.

Scully herself was exhausted as well, and had dozed fitfully on the way back to DC, a luxury Mulder hadn't been afforded.

"Mulder," she said, "we need to crash. Let's go to your place."

Too tired to even make a lewd comment, Mulder merely nodded and put his full concentration into driving the two miles to his apartment.

Scully leaned heavily on his arm as they rode up the elevator, then stumbled along beside him as he led her down the hallway.

As he fumbled with his keys, she said, "Mulder, I feel like I have a massive hangover."

"It's the drugs," he explained gently, pulling her to his chest and unlocking the door. She looked as though she could barely stand, and he wasn't in much better shape. "We need to sleep them off."

Mulder led her through the doorway and helped her out of her black jacket before removing his own. She leaned into him, her eyes refusing to stay open as he led her down the short hallway and into the bedroom.

"Mulder," she mumbled, barely articulate, "I didn't know you had a bedroom."

He chuckled weakly, "Don't use it much, but it's better for you than the couch."

He sat her on the bed and unlaced her shoes. She was already beginning to drift off, and didn't want to move under the covers, so he pulled an old heavy quilt from the closet and laid it over her. Mulder kissed her forehead and gazed down at her sleeping form for a moment, then stood to go to the couch.

At the door, he heard a voice behind him murmur his name.

"Mulder--"

"Yes?"

"Stay here."

"Are you sure, Scully?"

"Um-hum."

He crawled under the quilt and spooned her body inside his own. They were asleep within seconds.

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

Largo unlocked the front door, using all her remaining strength to push it open. Her eyes were mere slits through which she could barely see. She knew she had powerful drugs in her system, and knew her brain was hopelessly addled, but she forced herself into a semblance of sobriety as Jolyn rushed into the hall.

She saw the relief on Jolyn's harried face and knew she was in for it. She had no energy, though, nothing left to defend herself with. To her weary surprise, Jo didn't launch into a tirade about being worried sick. The blonde simply walked up and embraced Largo tightly, squeezing her tired bones hard. Largo let Jo support her, leaning heavily into the soft, strong arms.

In her ear, Jo whispered, "Thank God you're okay."

Meg tried to speak, but nothing came out. She knew she was beginning to sway unsteadily, so she broke away from Jo to stumble into the living room. She collapsed on the couch, much to Jo's surprise, and closed her eyes.

Jolyn frowned down in confusion at Meg, who was dirty and obviously bone-tired. She pulled Largo back up and led her to the bedroom.

"What happened, Meg? Where were you? What's wrong with you, are you hurt?"

Largo tried twice to form complete sentences, but all that came out was, "Woods...in a car...drugs too. Can't remember. Gotta hole in 'a brain. Can't..." she trailed off as she swayed precariously.

Jo righted her, then sat next to her, allowing Meg to lean until her forehead sat in the crook of Jolyn's neck. Jo had no idea what was going on here, but drugs were very obviously involved. She unlaced Meg's hiking boots and removed them, then stripped Meg's dirty black pants and shirt off, replacing them with boxers and a button-up pajama top. Largo dozed the entire time, but when Jolyn tried to rise from the bed, Largo made a little noise and blindly reached to pull her back down.

"Please don't go, Jolyn," she managed to say.

"Okay," Jo acquiesced, holding Largo close and stroking her hair. She just now realized there were flakes of dried blood under Meg's chin and in her hairline, as though it had been wiped carelessly from her face.

"I saw something, Jo," Meg mumbled against her neck.

"What did you see?"

"I--I don't know," she said before slipping into unconsciousness, "but...it was beautiful."

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

Fox Mulder's Apartment
10:15 p.m.

Mulder heard a faraway noise, familiar, yet cloudy within the thick fog of deep sleep. He ignored it, opting to burrow closer into the softness beneath him. The noise persisted, unwilling to let him sleep, and he forced himself to acknowledge it.

Suddenly he knew what it was: his cellphone. It sat inside the backpack at the foot of his bed. He opened reluctant eyes to see the darkness of night surrounding him. Finally, he found the small phone and mumbled into the receiver.

"Mulder? Is that you?"

"It's me." He rubbed his eyes as he tried to place the voice. Not Scully. Not her mother. Not his mother. Not Meg Largo.

"This is Jolyn Parker." Well, that answered that question. "I'm glad I got a hold of you. I tried Scully's house and her cellphone, but there was no answer."

He yawned loudly, then said, "Scully's here. I guess her phone isn't though."

"Mulder, Megan came home around 3:30 this afternoon, totally exhausted. She could barely even talk to me before passing out. I think she's in some kind of drug-induced sleep, and has been for the past seven hours. She *never* sleeps for seven hours. Mulder, What's going on? Where were you three? Why is Meg bloody and dirty and full of drugs?"

Mulder closed his eyes and tried hard to comprehend her string of words. "Um, Jolyn, you're going to have to slow down. I'm not sure what you're saying, exactly."

Jolyn, nervous and scared, was starting to get the impression that Mulder wasn't in much better shape than Meg was. "Okay, Mulder, you can start by telling me where you guys have been."

"According to a map in our car, we were in Clearwater, Maryland. We were investigating a case out there, but I can hardly remember anything about it now. We saw something out there, Jolyn," he paused, unsure of whether he should tell her the truth, then decided she would hear it form Largo later anyway, "I think they kinda brainwashed us."

Jolyn's low, husky voice was incredulous, "Kinda brainwashed you? What are you talking about?"

"I can't remember anything, Jolyn, and I don't think Scully or Largo will be able to when they wake up either. She's got to sleep off the drugs, Jolyn. Let her rest. Hopefully, we'll all be better in the morning."

"Wait a minute," Jo said with a hint of irritation. "Let me get this straight. You're just going to go back to sleep until the poison works its way out of your system, then go to work in the morning like it's no big deal? Who are these people you investigate, Mulder? Who are these people who brainwash FBI agents and run covert projects in small towns? Who are you guys missing around with?"

Mulder made a weak, half-hearted chuckling sound into the phone. It was all he could muster at the moment. "If I knew that..." he let the sentence trail off, then said, "I can't talk anymore, Jolyn. I can barely keep my eyes open. Let her sleep, I think she'll be okay. If she's not up by morning, call me."

"Okay...take care of yourself, Mulder. You said Scully was there with you, right?"

"Yeah."

"Is she okay?"

"She's snoring right now."

Jolyn was worried, and even though he was dying to fall back to sleep, he could hear it in her voice. "Take care of her, Mulder."

The corners of his mouth turned up in the darkness, "I will, you take care of yours, too."

"Will do. Bye Mulder."

She rang off and he pushed the end button. He got up to use the restroom, changed out of his dirty black outfit and into a t-shirt and sweatpants. He re-curled himself up against Scully's side, wrapping an arm across her stomach.

The movement roused her to semi-consciousness. She sighed and rolled toward him, burying her face in his chest and throwing an arm around his waist. He kissed the top of her head and smiled happily into the darkness. He had never felt so comfortable in all his life as he felt now, with Dana Scully asleep in his arms.

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

DAY NINE
Monday, Oct. 27, 1997
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Basement Office
9:10 am

Mulder unlocked the office, entered, threw his briefcase on his desk, and sat down heavily in his chair. He was still a little weary from the powerful drugs that had been coursing through his system, but he made himself get ready and come in as soon as Scully left his apartment this morning. He had things to do in the office this morning.

Although no one would see it, no one would care, no one would ever ask for it, he began to type up a report on the investigation into Lake Benson.

It took him only twenty minutes to document everything he knew, or could remember, about the events of the weekend. Most of it consisted of what he remembered of the lecture given to them by the Lone Gunmen, which was very vague in his mind. Most of Saturday, and almost all of Sunday was a blur. In his mind, he had a clear picture of Skinner's phone call, driving to the office of the Lone Gunmen, getting really mad at Scully (but why he was mad, he could not say), and of Largo playing a guitar and singing on a stoop. He remembered coming into the office on Sunday morning with a map, which must have been the map in the car. There was a hazy memory of a fight with Largo, a clear vision of eating a sandwich while driving, and a flash of running through dark woods. The rest was gone. He was tired, he was frustrated, he was angry. He had no idea who he was angry at, which only further irritated him.

That was the state he was in when Meg Largo walked in the door at 9:45 with a tray full of coffee in her hand.

"Good Morning, Mulder," she said in her odd, lilting way. "Need a pick me up?" She pulled a cup out of the tray and set it on his desk.

"Thanks," he muttered wearily as he reached for it.

Taking a cautious sip, he found it strong and delicious. His favorite, a vanilla latte. How did Largo know?

Then, like a bolt of lightening, a powerful memory came back. Largo on the videotape, her eyes melting from striking green to chocolate brown. The conversation in the car. Joseph Little Bear. Psycho-Ocular Pigmentosa.

His angst and frustration level dropped about ten notches as he sipped the coffee and watched Largo walk around the office, taking off her black trench coat, setting her things on her desk, sifting through her mail.

His new partner was a walking X-File. He smiled to himself at the implications. Largo was living proof of telekinesis; of psychic power; of mind reading. Of course, even she admitted that her 'skill' was limited and sometimes rather sporadic. Still, he found himself growing very excited, and had a hundred questions on the tip of his tongue.

He felt better about the presence of Megan Largo than he ever had, and was, for the first time, anxious about the prospect of working with her.

"How did you know I like vanilla lattes, Largo? Did you pluck it from my mind?"

She came over and sat behind Scully's desk, smiling and meeting his little challenge, "As a matter of fact I did. It was wedged in between thoughts of the hot centerfold in this month's issue of *Celebrity Skin* and who you want to win the Super Bowl." She put her feet up on the desk and grinned at him, "Actually, Scully told me."

"Oh really," he said with a smirk, "and when did this all-important 'Mulder's favorite coffee' discussion take place?"

"Right after the 'boxers or briefs' discussion."

He choked on his coffee and turned scarlet as she coughed to clear his windpipe. Largo laughed out loud at his reaction, lacing her fingers behind her head.

"It took place this morning. She called to check on me and I asked. She should be here any minute."

On cue, Dana Scully walked through the door, immaculate in a dark brown suit over a white silk shirt. Largo stood to give her access to her desk. Scully greeted them both, accepting the cup of coffee Largo put in her hand and draining half of it in one gulp.

"I needed that," she said with a tired sigh. "I slept for over fourteen hours yesterday and still feel like a zombie."

Her partners commiserated, each telling the story of how exhausted they still were this morning. Scully had forced herself to leave Mulder's a little after seven in order to shower and change at her house. He'd been concerned about her driving home while still so tired, but was unable to stop her. Both her partners knew that when Dana Scully made a decision, there was no use even arguing.

Then Largo brought her chair over and the three agents discussed what they remembered of the weekend, desperately trying to put the pieces together. After twenty minutes they finally gave up, deciding the effort wasn't getting them anywhere. Finally, they put their mutual memories into an informal report and Scully typed it up, then printed a copy and put it into the file along with Mulder's notes from earlier. The case at Lake Benson was effectively closed with no resolution.

A little after eleven, Scully rummaged through a drawer and found a bottle of Advil. It was almost empty. She'd been downing the little brown pills like a fiend, as had her partners. She now shook three of them into her hand and swallowed them dry. She felt awful, and the growing headache didn't help matters. Tired and frustrated with the events of the weekend, she sat back and closed her eyes.

Unlike Mulder, this was her first experience with brainwashing, and it made her feel intimately violated. The fact that she'd been rendered helpless while mind had been invaded and rewired shook her to the core. She wanted to scream and she wanted to cry. However, she did neither, and simply pushed her feelings aside by using her acquired ability to clinically detach herself.

As the day wore on, however, it became harder and harder to do.

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

11:25 am

Largo sat at her desk and tried desperately to center herself. She'd been feeling out-of-whack all morning. she had finally woken a little after five this morning, and her movement had been quickly detected by Jolyn, who'd been tense and worried all throughout the night. They drank coffee in the kitchen as Largo tried to explain and make herself coherent for the coming day.

Now, though, at the office, she felt herself slipping back into a state of unreality. Her head was pounding, as it had all last week. Had it hurt Sunday as well? She very vaguely remembered meeting Mulder and Scully here on Sunday. They'd been dressed in black, and she thought she remembered throwing up rather violently that morning. But then, maybe she was confusing Sunday with yesterday, when she'd vomited upon waking out in Maryland.

What had they been doing in Maryland anyway? None of them were quite sure. Nor did they know why they'd been dressed in black, or why she'd had blood trickling from her nose and dried in her hairline.

She touched her nose now, then winced. Yes, it was still painful. She pulled a drawer open to search for Advil. She popped a handful in her mouth and drained them with a swig from a freshly unsealed bottle of water.

As she swallowed, a brilliant flare of pain shot across her head, making it spin wildly. She felt nauseous, but remained in her chair and willed the bile back down her throat. Largo clamped her eyes shut to aid the effort, but when she opened them the room took on a green tone. The dark walls were evil emerald and Mulder's UFO poster a hazy tangerine. It's letters dripped scarlet as though written in fresh blood.

She clapped a hand over her mouth to keep a startled cry from escaping, but didn't evade Scully's careful gaze.

"What's wrong, Largo?" the redhead asked.

Largo spun around to her, once again seeing black pits where startling blue eyes should be. This time, however, Scully's hair was the color of algae and her lipstick melted down her pink face.

Scully saw the fear and horror on Largo's face and watched the tall, agile woman fly out of the room and stagger through the doorway. She followed, seeing Largo's lean figure flee into the restroom. As she approached, she heard retching noises. Her heart went out to Largo, who apparently hadn't purged all the drugs from her system. Then she grew worried, wondering if the drugs she'd been given in Maryland were having dangerous effects on her LSD-poisoned partner.

She opened the door and went inside, finding largo slumped over in the first stall, her head propped on a hand, but her face reddened and her chest heaving. Scully knelt and put a hand on her back.

"Are you going to be okay?"

Bitter laughter escaped Meg Largo's throat as she tilted her head back, letting it fall hard against the wooden frame of the bathroom stall. "Sure Scully, I'll be fine. Just tell me when the pink elephants stop marching."

At Scully's incredulous look, Largo shook her head deliriously and another spray of unhappy laughter escaped her lips. "I'm fine. I guess I'm still a little hung over, that's all. I feel like part of the lunatic fringe today." She opened her green eyes to see that Scully's face, thankfully, returned to normal. "Help me up, will you?"

Scully stood and reached down to help Largo to her feet. They stepped out of the stall and Scully brushed the dust from Largo's tan pants and straightened her forest green blazer.

"Maybe you need to go back home, Largo. I think you need another day to recover."

Largo rinsed her mouth at the sink, then turned back to her small, concerned partner. She thought about it for a minute, weighing her sense of disorientation, her splitting headache, and her nose, now throbbing even more with the force of vomiting. She took in the worried look on Scully's face and came to a conclusion.

"I'll leave early, but not yet. I actually think I'm feeling better now. Maybe that did it for me, getting sick like that. Maybe I needed to purge it out of my system. I want to stay, though. For weeks I've been meaning to reorganize the old photo files. There's about five thousand pictures you two have thrown in a cabinet. Organizing and labeling them will save me a ton of hours when you guys call for research."

Scully lifted her eyebrow in disapproval, "You can organize pictures tomorrow, you know."

Largo shrugged, "I want to get started today. I swear, I feel about ten times better now." That was not really true, but Largo didn't want to go home and hallucinate alone in her apartment. "I just need to do some boring, mindless work right now to get myself to forget about the fact that we were drugged." Her face grew extremely serious as she said, "I think you know how much that bothers me."

Actually, Scully hadn't thought of how all of this was affecting Largo. If it was difficult to deal with herself, she couldn't even imagine Largo's reaction, considering she'd nearly been killed before because she'd been force-fed drugs.

She put a reassuring hand on Largo's arm, and Largo covered it with her own, a friendly gesture to show that she was okay. Scully felt the cool silver of Largo's ring and smiled up at her.

"How is Jolyn?"

"Not happy about what happened, that's for sure. She's worried, but..." she shrugged, indicating that there was nothing Jolyn could do about this situation.

In truth, Jolyn was going nuts, or 'bitchcakes'--as Largo was in the habit of calling it when Jo got all upset. Largo knew she had to ease up, for Jo's sake as well as her own. With her growing level of paranoia, she was beginning to fear that Jo would leave her, opting for a less-stressful environment and a less-stressful companion. Love carries a person far, but being involved with a person in law enforcement was extremely hard, and recently Meg had begun to look very closely at how everything was affecting Jo. What she saw when viewing events from Jo's perspective scared her to death, and yet she could do nothing about it right now.

"I really wish you'd just go home," Scully reiterated, but Largo shook her head.

"I'll be out of her by 3:30, but I can't leave yet. I have a meeting with Skinner at two, a short debrief on Ciatti, then I'll take off, I promise."

"Okay," Scully reluctantly agreed, "but not a minute after."

"Whatever you say, Doc," Largo replied with a confidant smile that quelled a few of Scully's fears.

They left the restroom and re-entered the office, where Mulder was sifting through Scully's top drawer in search of the bottle of Advil. He found it and popped four of the pills in his mouth.

Scully watched him in mild fascination. The small brown pills were becoming more valuable than gold in this office.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER FOURTEEN
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CHAPTER FIFTEEN: "Purple Haze"
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Mulder scanned through various Internet sites that he claimed led to tips on cases while Scully read through an autopsy file she'd been asked for an opinion on. Largo sat at her desk on the back wall pouring through a mountain of photographs. She sorted them into piles, asking an occasional question of her partners about one. She made careful cross-reference notations on the back of them and separated them into various stacks. It was a long and tedious job, yet a fascinating one. There were autopsy photos, crime scene shots, mugs and deserted landscapes. There were pictures of grave desecrations and the leavings of Satanic rituals. Many of the photos showed Scully in the midst of performing an autopsy on...something. More than a few of the crime scene shots had Mulder in them as well. The drawer she'd found them in was a catch-all for extra pictures that hadn't made their way to the basement before a case was closed, and had subsequently been dumped into a bottom drawer and forgotten.

Largo, however, found many of them helpful when doing research for new cases. She often had to familiarize herself with strange happenings she'd never before heard of at a moment's notice, and the photos gave her an image of what she was dealing with. However, they were nearly useless since it took and hour to sift through the thousands of pictures to find the eight or ten she was looking for.

At twelve-thirty, Scully offered to grab lunch from the cafeteria and left Mulder and Largo alone.

Largo held up another shot for him to look at, "Mulder?"

He took off his glasses and looked up, only to smirk at the picture and give a bitter little laugh, "Well, if it isn't old Sally Kendrick."

Largo turned the photo back around, "This is Sally Kendrick? From the Litchfield Project? Eve Seven, right?"

He was a little astonished by her excellent memory, "That's the one. The little girls poisoned her with digitalis."

Largo shook her head as she stared down at the photograph, "The Creations rising up to destroy the Creator. I guess that's what you get for trying to clone yourself. Anyway, thanks," she said, turning back to her desk.

"Can I ask you a question or two, Largo?"

"Sure," she said, blinking rapidly in an effort to stop the eyes of Sally Kendrick from following her. She told herself again and again that it wasn't real, that pictures don't blink, don't follow you with their eyes, don't throw back their heads and laugh at you. She pulled her eyes away from the photo and looked back at Fox Mulder, hoping his face was in its usual state, not dripping with blood or melting like candle wax. Luckily, it was normal, and she let out a deep breath.

He wheeled his chair over to her desk to speak quietly, "Have you always been able to read people's minds, or did some event in you life bring it on?"

She chewed on her lip for a moment before answering, trying to concentrate on the questions and not the pain in her head, "I've been able to do it since I was a child, but I never thought anything of it. I could often tell when a friend or schoolmate was lying to me, I could tell when teachers or my parents didn't want to tell me the whole truth about things. When I was about ten, I found that I could look deep into a person. I did it with my father, and he was the first person to see my eyes change. I hadn't been aware of it before. It scared the hell out of him, but my mother didn't even bat an eye. She took me to my grandfather and we had a long talk."

"I see."

"It's not that simple, Mulder. This thing that I can do is far from exact. The conditions have to be just right. Sometimes, yes, I can tell what people are thinking. In particular, I can tell when they are lying to me. With most people, I can spot dishonesty a mile away. They give off a certain vibe, and many times I can see a lie even without changing the color of my eyes."

"For other stuff, deeper stuff, like with Ciatti; do you have to change them for that?"

She nodded.

"And what happens afterwards? Do they remember what happened between you? Do they know what you did? Do they always try to attack you?"

"With hostile subjects, yes, they often try to attack me, but I don't think they know why. They don't remember my eyes changing because, well, they just don't. They know something happened, and they're aware they just told me things they would normally never tell a soul, but they don't seem to know why. At least, that's what I gather. In the aftermath of a session, none of them have ever said anything about my eyes or mind reading."

He thought about that for a second, "So with Scully, what happened there?"

"You mean, why does she remember? With Scully, I had a reflex reaction, therefore, she saw the whole thing. In contrast to that, there's Ciatti, who I worked on for over four hours before slowly, carefully attempting it. If you asked Ciatti today what happened, he wouldn't be able to tell you about my eyes, but if I'd had a reflex, like with Scully, he would have known too. I have to do it just right. Do you see? I don't explain this very often, it is a very private thing, something I want kept secret, so I'm not sure I'm doing an adequate job explaining it."

Mulder nodded thoughtfully, "Yes, I think I understand."

The pair had been so involved in their conversation they hadn't noticed Scully's return, "I think I understand it too," she said quietly as she passed out sandwiches. She laid Largo's two turkey sandwiches down on the desk with reassurances that she'd picked them randomly from different parts of the cooler.

"Thanks Scully," Largo replied with a smile as she unwrapped one and took a bite.

Scully pulled her chair over and listened to Largo talk about her strange ability. The devout skeptic was surprised at how willing she was to accept this whole scenario. It was, after all, entirely possible that there was another explanation for her vision of Patrick Largo's dying body. However, she couldn't, for the life of her, think of what it could be. And as more time passes, she found herself seeing Largo's own explanation as the only possible one. She couldn't say exactly why she believed it, she only knew that she felt very strongly about it. The exchange with Largo had been a terrifying, yet extremely intimate thing. Since that morning, she had felt much closer to Meg Largo, as if they now shared even more of a bond than before.

They finished their lunch and returned to their desks to resume tedious office duties. Largo looked down at her watch. It was a quarter of two, time to head upstairs to her meeting with the Assistant Director. Looking down once more at the small mountain of photographs on her desk, she say some had slid to the edge and threatened to take a header into the trashcan. She quickly righted them, loosing only one to the dusty floor beside the garbage can in the corner. She bent to pick up the face-down photo and turned it over.

She blinked down at the photograph, trying to discover if this was only another hallucination. She'd been having them all morning, but the sight of this disturbed her far more than any of the others she'd had to date. As she stared at the picture in her hand, she realized this was no trick of the mind, it was real.

Sweat began to bead up on her forehead and the ground tilted beneath her feet. She squeezed her eyes shut, warding off another headache, then opened them to see the snapshot once again.

The photo showed two young, rather handsome men in standard dark suits that were a trademark of the FBI. They stood close and were both smiling just a little, as though posing for a candid taken by a crime scene photographer. In Largo's estimation, it was a friendly picture, but one that chilled her to the bone. She wiped cold sweat from her forehead.

Largo looked up over the top of the photo to see Mulder sitting quietly at his desk, reading an abduction magazine and eating sunflower seeds. She swallowed hard, and felt a droplet of sweat roll down the middle of her back.

Looking back at the picture, she stared at a younger Fox Mulder. His hair was slightly different, though his tie was still awful. However, she hadn't been analyzing Mulder in the photo. Once she'd registered his presence, she concentrated only on the young man standing next to him. Although it had been years since she'd seen the man, she recognized him instantly.

In the photo, he was smiling innocently...as though he'd never walked into a house in suburban St. Paul and shot Patrick Largo in the head.

Panic and fear tore through Megan Largo's body as she stared down at a flimsy photo of the man who killed her father.

In her mind, she heard the words replay perfectly, <Hey there, Scout. Be a good little half-breed and don't make me shoot you.>

She noticed neither Mulder nor Scully staring at her as the photograph fluttered to the floor. Tension and anger filled her, and her eyes floated from the space in front of her and met Mulder's. She knew only one thing at the moment: Fox Mulder was not who he pretended to be.

Now, his voice rang out from across the silent room as he looked at her with confusion in his eyes. "What's wrong with you, Largo?"

<Like he doesn't know,> Largo thought with bitter sarcasm, <That's right, Mulder. Pretend you're confused. Pretend you're not drinking buddies with the man who ruined my life.>

As quick as the fastest gunslinger, Largo reached for the silver-plated Sig Sauer at the small of her back and had it in her hand. Mulder stood and reached for his own gun, but she was far too fast for him, and had the element of surprise on her side.

"Uh-uh, Mulder, don't touch it."

Scully's eyes widened and her jaw dropped as Largo trained her gun on Mulder. The young woman stepped back to keep them both in her sights.

"Largo?" She said weakly, uncomprehending the situation.

"Stand up, Scully," Largo ordered with authority. "Place your gun on the desk and step to the wall. I don't know what side you're on, so I have to assume it's his. Mulder, you stay right where you are, you bastard."

The saliva dried up in Mulder's mouth. What the hell was going on here? Just when he'd decided Megan Largo was the best thing to happen to his work since Scully came along...had this been her plan the entire time? To wait until he trusted her, then shoot him like a dog in his own office?

No. One look at Largo's face told him she was out-of-control, flying by he seat of her pants. Something had flipped her out. Something she had seen in that picture she'd stared to intently at.

He knew her finger was a half-inch from blowing a hole in him, and he doubted she'd be aiming to wound, so he slowly raised his hands and did as he was instructed.

He ventured a question, "What's this all about, Largo?"

She barked a harsh laugh, her green eyes never wavering from his own, "As if you don't know! I say the two of you together, all buddy-buddy and having a good old time."

He tried to lean over his desk to see the photo at her feet. He thought he recognized the outline of himself in it, but could not make out who the other man in the picture was. He had no idea what was going on here, nor how to diffuse the situation, but his anger was rising with every passing second.

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

A bead of sweat ran down her temple, and she felt the ground tilt precariously once more. She struggled to keep herself steady as the room darkened and took on a violet hue; she saw the room, literally, through a purple haze. Mulder's face was a black hole, but still she kept her gun trained on his outline.

Suddenly, there was a high-pitched trilling sound that filled the tense room. It emanated the cellphone sitting on Mulder's desk. She looked down at it briefly, but made no move.

Three pairs of eyes darted from one to the other, sizing up the situation. Scully stood, horrified and confused in the corner. She had no idea what this was about, but something had spooked Meg Largo. Should she try to talk to the frazzled and frightened young woman in the center of the room? Should she run to Mulder, shield him and hope Largo would come to her senses?

But what had Largo seen? Who was it in the photograph with Mulder? A half-dozen equally frightening scenarios played over in her mind. Mulder with the Smoking Man, with X, with other vile men they'd encountered and knew to be part of the Consortium.

She heard Largo's voice call out to her, even and carefully measured, "Scully, walk to the desk and turn the phone off. Answer it, and he's a dead man."

Terrified by Largo's menacing tone, she willed her shaking body into motion, walked to the desk, and hit the 'POWER' button on the cellphone.

"Good," Largo told her, the green eyes never leaving Mulder's form, "Now back to the wall."

Scully did as she was told.

Mulder stood stock-still three feet behind his desk. "Are you going to tell me why you're going to kill me now, Largo? Why didn't you do it sooner? Why didn't you take me out back in Bend, or at my apartment? Why wait two months to fulfill your orders?"

Confusion momentarily crossed Largo's dark face, but was quickly replaced by pure white hate. "I don't have any orders! You're the one under orders. Or are you the one who gave the orders?"

"You've been working for our cigarette smoking friend all along, haven't you, Largo?"

"Bullshit!" Largo yelled over the desk, her gun wavering just slightly, "You're the one who works with him! Just like you worked with this guy," she nodded down at the photo, "Like you worked with the man who killed my father!"

Mulder's voice was incredulous, "What the hell are you talking about?"

Her vision cleared and Mulder once again became an ordinary man. She was becoming more used to the hallucinatory state, and wasn't letting the bizarre sights bother her anymore. It was like living in a fun house, but she was getting used to it. What was more difficult was the spinning of the world beneath her feet and the roaring pain that was beginning to engulf her entire body.

They all jumped at the trilling of another phone. This time it was Scully's It was in her jacket pocket, sitting on the back of her chair just in front of Largo. It rang ten times before anyone dared to move.

"Christ!" Largo spat, and slowly moved toward the chair.

The ringing was killing her ears and made the throbbing in her head even more painful. It was hard to keep the gun trained on Mulder with the pain that was coursing through every nerve in her body. She reached the jacket and lowered her eyes for only a moment to find the phone. Mulder took his chance. He sprang for his gun. Largo brought hers back up and cocked it, but in her weakened state, she was too late. They were at a stand-off.

"Drop it!" Mulder shouted.

"You drop it!" Largo screamed back. "Drop your gun, Mulder, or you'll go home with a hole in your head."

Neither relented. The ringing stopped, and the two federal agents stood across the desks, a mere fifteen feet apart with their guns trained on each other. Largo inched backwards, increasing the distance to include Scully in her field of vision once more. She had no idea who she could trust. Her world had suddenly been turned upside-down.

Mulder carefully measured his words, "I don't know who's in that picture, Largo, but I didn't kill your father."

"I know that, you piece of shit, but your buddy did. It wasn't just him acting alone, was it? Someone took him out, didn't they. You don't even need to answer, I know they did. Now you're here to finish the job on my family, rub out the witness before I finger your pal, but it's not going to work, Mulder. If I die today, you die with me."

Scully listened to the exchange, now more confused than ever. Someone in this office was going to die today, of that she was growing more and more sure. And either way it was going to be someone she cared about. She felt uncharisterically helpless, uncertain, a mess. The room was beginning to darken around her, and all of a sudden she saw everything in shades of bright red, as though she were in a darkroom. Her head hurt badly and she became disoriented, feeling the earth spin beneath her feet. She closed her eyes and covered them with her hands to will away the sickening feeling.

"I'm not trying to kill you, Largo!" Mulder said, trying to reason with her though his heart was trip hammering in his chest. It was unbelievably warm in here and he was filled with red rage. Still, he tried to cap the anger and (despite his words) the desire to beat Largo to a bloody pulp with his bare hands. "Show me the picture and I'll explain it."

Largo barked bitter laughter, "I bend to the ground and I'm dead. I'm not and idiot, Mulder. You want to see it, you pick it up."

Given Largo's agitated state, he was about to do no such thing.

The pair jumped once more as Largo's phone now rang. It sat in the pocket of her blazer, but her aim never wavered from the center of Mulder's face.

"Answer your phone, Largo," Mulder said. The noise was hurting his head. The pain behind his eyes had grown and now he felt oddly unsteady, as though he were getting light-headed. He knew this was a bad time to get sick, and willed his queasy stomach to settle.

"And let you kill me?" Largo said in answer to his statement, "I'm not falling for that."

"Then we have a stand-off, and I'm not giving in."

"Neither am I."

Exasperated, Mulder said, "I'm not trying to kill you, Largo!"

Her heart was pounding far too fast. She felt blood pumping hard in her head, felt in her ears and racing through her body. Thankfully, her phone stopped ringing.

"Then drop your weapon, Mulder."

He shook his head, "Only if you drop yours. We need to talk about this, Largo. Obviously you think I've done something I haven't."

"Bullshit!" Largo spat, then cried out as a bolt of pain shot through her skull, more powerful and intense than anything she'd ever felt before.

 Tears streamed down her face, but she kept her unsteady gun trained on Mulder, knowing that surrendering to the pain meant surrendering her life.

"Largo, you're in pain," Mulder pleaded. "Stop this and let me help you."

Through clenched teeth, she said, "Nice try, but no dice. I drop the gun and you shoot me in the head."

Now the phone in the office rang, making Largo cry out again. Her eyes were mere slits, but stayed on Mulder, as did the barrel of her gun. Scully was still standing in the corner, unable to aid either of them, and of no immediate threat to either.

Neither agent moved, but the noise grated in both their sensitive ears. Largo considered shooting the phone, but knew that would give Mulder a clear shot at her.

Her head was being ripped apart. She felt as though it had been split by an axe. Her knees weakened as the answering machine began to play through its message.

Mulder inched closer to the edge of the desk as she battled, needing to find a way to disarm her. His anger had ebbed as she saw the agony on her young face. Largo was sick...and dangerous. She needed help, but he still kept the gun on her, believing it the only way to keep her from firing on both he and Scully.

They distantly heard three beeps, then a tinny, familiar voice came through the speaker and filled the room. "Mulder, this is your friend." It was the unmistakable voice of Frohike on the other end, "We tried to get the three of you on your cellphones, but there was no answer. Wherever you dropped that air filter, you need to stay away from there. The air is pure shit. It's full of hormone enhancers, psychogenic drugs and, get this, LSD. Listen to me, Mulder, whatever you do, keep Agent Largo away from that place where you put the filter. The mix will make you feel like shit, but it'll turn her dangerously psychotic. That's all. Destroy this tape after hearing it." Click.

Mulder had heard the words and understood them immediately, but apparently Largo was too far gone. She fell to her knees, still trying valiantly to keep the gun on him, then screamed in pain and brought her hands to the sides of her head. The gun slipped from her hand and fell with a clatter to the ground. He saw her eyelids flutter, and seconds later, she slumped to the floor. Her whole body begin to twitch, then spasm.

She was having a seizure.

He tossed his gun on the desk and ran to her side, flipping her over onto her back and turning her head to one side. She was jerking wildly and her eyes still fluttered, but the pupils had rolled far back into her head.

"Scully!" He screamed, breaking through her haze and driving her into action.

She flew to Largo's side, only now realizing that the colors of the office around her had returned to normal. She saw Largo's eyes and her body rhythmically twitching; Scully instantly realized her partner was having a clonic event, or grand mal seizure.

She looked up at Mulder and began to bark orders in his direction, "Call Emergency Services now. Then come back and elevate her feet. I've got her for now."

Scully bent over Largo and held her head, fighting the spasms that brought the back of her skull in contact with the concrete floor. She made sure Largo's airway was clear, but could do little more for her.

Mulder hung up the phone and ran back to her side. She told him to elevate Largo's feet, and he struggled through her spasms to do so, holding them tight against his chest.

Eventually, the seizure wound down and her eyelids ceased to flutter. Largo groaned loudly and squeezed her eyes tightly shut.

"S-h-h-h," Scully whispered, lifting the hair from her sweaty face and stroking it soothingly. "It's okay, Largo, it's all over."

Suddenly, Largo's eyes flew open and searched the room frantically. She tried to sit up, and became extremely agitated when Mulder and Scully tried to restrain her. A deep growl escaped her throat, and no amount of soothing consolation from Scully eased the tension that ran through her body. She kicked at Mulder wildly and struggled to free herself from Scully's grip. Mulder jumped on top of her to pin her arms down, and she gradually ran out of energy.

As her body lost it's strength, Mulder loosened his grip and looked up at Scully, "We need to get out of here."

She nodded, and they lifted the nearly unconscious Largo, whose nose was dripping blood, and carried her out into the hallway. Scully grabbed a small towel on their way out and held it to Largo's nose as they set her down. They propped her up against the wall on account of the bloody nose, and Scully checked her pulse, finding is racing, but steady.

A crew from Emergency Services faced into the hallway and Scully relinquished her hold on her young partner to allow the paramedics to check her out. She shouted instructions to them, though, telling them what had happened and that she needed an oxygen feed as soon as possible. The unconscious Largo was lifted and set onto a stretcher, her face tilted to the side to keep the blood from her nose from choking her.

Scully turned to Mulder with tear-filled eyes. She buried her head in his chest and threw her arms around him as the crew worked, quickly checking her blood pressure and adjusting the straps that held her down.

Mulder held her tight, careful not to appear as anything more than a friend offering support.

"I was so scared, Mulder. I thought she was going to kill you."

He looked down at her upturned face, "So did I."

The crew announced they would be taking her to Trinity hospital, and Scully looked up at Mulder.

He nodded, "Go with her."

Her eyes were soft and grateful, "Thanks. Meet me there as soon as you can."

He gave her another brief squeeze and watched her walk down the hall, holing Largo's limp hand and talking rapidly to the EMT's. He turned back to the office, reluctant to enter now that he knew the dangers.

How dare they. What made them think they could defile such a place? The office had meant something very special to Mulder. It was his base, his center. He was here much more than he was anywhere else, and the dark room was something of a shrine to him. A shrine to the X-Files. How dare they fuck with it.

Slowly, he walked into the office. He picked up his gun, then walked up to Largo's and picked it up as well. He put them both in his pocket, then pocketed his cellphone as well. His ears were beginning to ring a little, and his face felt hot. He realized he was holding his breath, and exhaled loudly. He ran back out of the office to breath again, then berated himself for being so foolish. One more breath wasn't going to kill him, but still, he felt tainted by the poison, the unseen enemy that had been making him act like a perfect asshole for over a week now.

He walked back inside and scanned the floor. The small, 4 X 6 rectangle still lay behind Scully's desk, and he bent to pick it up. It was a rare photo, for he rarely smiled at a crime scene. Come to think of it, he rarely smiled. But for some reason, when the photographer who had taken this picture had said 'cheese,' he and his one-time partner, Alex Krycek, had smiled and posed for the camera.

<Krycek killed Patrick Largo,> Mulder realized with bitter irony. He and Largo had stood there for over ten minutes, guns lethally pointed and cocked at one another, ready to shoot each over a man who had killed both their fathers.

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END OF CHAPTER FIFTEEN
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CHAPTER SIXTEEN: "Limbo"
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Trinity Hospital
Room 317
4:15 p.m.

Mulder knocked on the door to the private room where he'd been told Meg Largo was in. A low, strained voice told him to come in, and he cautiously peeked into the room. Largo lay asleep in the bed, a white tube between her lips and leading down her throat, pumping oxygen into her lungs. Her torso was encased in a large oxygen tent as well, and her bed was elevated so that she sat halfway up. On the near side of the tent, sitting in a chair and holding her hand, was Jolyn Parker. Scully sat in another chair in the far corner of the room. A thin hospital blanket was draped over her and she appeared to be deeply sleeping.

He approached Jolyn and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. She looked up at him with red-rimmed eyes and smiled weakly, then turned back to Largo's unconscious form.

"Scully told me what happened," Jolyn said quietly. "I'm glad no one was hurt. I'm glad you weren't hurt."

Mulder squeezed her shoulder, then found another chair and pulled it up next to her. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the old photograph.

Handing it to the teary woman beside him, he said, "This was the photo that upset Meg. It pushed her over the edge. She claimed that this was the man who shot her father, Patrick Largo."

Jolyn blinked, startled, "How does Megan know what he looks like, they never found the man who killed her dad."

His brow furrowed. He thought of Scully and the story of her vision, the one she'd had when locking eyes with Largo. He knew Largo had been there when Patrick died. Could it be that she'd never told Jolyn about the event? He supposed it could. Why would Largo tell her girlfriend about a tragic event that happened over ten years ago? Maybe she didn't want to think about it, or didn't want to upset her friend. Now, however, the whole story was bound to come out, and Largo would have to be honest with Jolyn...that was, if she ever regained consciousness.

"Jolyn," he began, "Megan was there when her dad was shot, or I should say, seconds after he was shot. She saw the man who did the shooting, and she saw her father die."

Though he only saw Jolyn Parker's profile, Mulder recognized the anguish on her face. A tear slipped from her eye and ran down her face. He moved forward and put a hand on her arm, pulling her close. She leaned into his shoulder and cried hard. He wrapped his arms around her and whispered soothing words.

"I never thought I was sheltered, never thought I had it easy until I met Meg," Jolyn said between shaky breaths. "Her life has been so strange, so sad. Just when I think we've got a handle on everything that has happened to her, something else comes up."

Mulder rocked her gently as he spoke, "She's a fighter, Jolyn. I found that out during the first case we worked together. She's stubborn and she's a fighter. She'll come out of this and be back on her feet in no time."

Jolyn sniffed once more, then lifted her head and pulled away to look him in the face. "Scully said her blood work is a mess. She's full of everything imaginable, and she's already predisposed. The LSD is what's really hurting her. The doctors are inducing coma for now. They said it's better for her that way, for her to be asleep until the poison is out of her system. They said if she was awake she'd be in for a bad time."

"How long had she been...sick?"

Jo swallowed herd, "Since last week. When she came home from Richmond and that guy broke her nose...she told me about it then. She said she had started to see things, hallucinations. I knew she'd been having terrible, violent nightmares, but she wouldn't even talk about them." Jolyn looked into Mulder's eyes, "She thought maybe it would pass, that this was just an episode. She didn't want to tell the two of you. She was afraid they'd tell her she had to leave the Bureau for good. If there's one thing Meg loves, it's her job, and she didn't want to lose it."

Mulder glanced down at Jolyn's hand, it's fingers entwined with the unconscious Megan Largo's. He saw the shine of the silver rings the women wore and gestured at them.

"There's two things Largo loves, Jolyn. She loves you. And this is what best for her now. She needs time to heal herself inside, and she can't do it with this stuff in her body."

The distress was clear in Jo's voice, "I don't know what's best. It's still possible she'll wake up and need to be kept in a rubber room for the rest of her life." Jo's chin began to tremble once more, and Mulder pulled her close again.

The door opened and Walter Skinner walked in. The pair looked up at him, but his eyes were on only one person, Megan Largo. He approached the bed, took off his trench coat, and sat down on it.

He looked over at Jolyn Parker, "What happened to her?"

Jo and Mulder filled him in, Mulder telling him the tale of the basement office, and Jolyn giving him an update on her medical condition. When they had finished, the Assistant Director of the FBI exhaled loudly. He looked back at the dark woman beneath the oxygen tent.

Mulder saw the shine in his boss's eyes and excused himself, leaving them alone.

They both stared at the slow rise and fall of Largo's chest as they spoke.

"Jolyn," Skinner said haltingly, "I want to apologize for the way I've treated you in the last six months."

"You treated me like I didn't exist, Walt. In doing that, you treated Meg like she didn't exist."

He thought about that for a moment. "You're right, and I'm truly sorry. I guess I didn't learn the lesson after all."

Jolyn turned her gaze to him, not understanding his words.

He explained, "Once Meg told me there was a lesson I had to learn. That lesson was to let her go. I needed to give her freedom, and I thought I had done that...but I didn't, not really. Now, it might be too late."

"Don't say that, Walt. Just learn the lesson."

He moved off the bed and into the chair Mulder had vacated. Jolyn released Largo's hand and hugged him. He returned her embrace, stroking her hair as a tear escaped his eye and ran down his face.

Walter Skinner was afraid. Afraid he'd lose the most important person in his lonely life. Afraid that if Meg even woke, she would be permanently psychotic. Afraid her incredible mind had been damaged beyond repair. Afraid he'd never be able to make amends and let her know how much he loved her.

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

Wednesday, Oct. 29, 1997
Dana Scully's Apartment
10:30 am

Agents Mulder and Scully had been given paid vacation time while their office was inspected and the hidden canisters of mood-altering chemicals were removed. Skinner told them to take at least a week to recover from their ordeal.

Mulder knocked on the door to Scully's apartment and she promptly let him in. They'd been exhausted again by nightfall of the previous day, and had slept like logs last night. Both agreed to discuss this current predicament first thing in the morning.

Scully shut the door behind her partner, then flew into his arms. He held her close as she clung to him.

When she reluctantly pulled away, she said, "Now I know why I felt like I had the worst case of PMS in history."

"And I know why I was being such a jerk."

"I knew it wasn't us," she said with a small, sad smile, "I knew something was wrong, but I had no idea what it was. At first, I thought we were arguing so much because, subconsciously, we didn't think we should be getting together. But in my heart I knew that wasn't it."

He returned her smile, "I knew that too. Nothing feels so right as you and me, Scully."

He bent down and laid a small kiss on her red lips. It made her hungry for more, and soon they held each other tight as they reacquainted themselves with each other.

Needing air, Scully broke away and laid her head on his chest. They went into the living room and sat on the couch to discuss the situation.

"So why did Largo think you were involved in her father's death?"

Mulder reached into the pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out the picture of he and Krycek. "My guess is that Krycek killed Patrick Largo. She saw the picture, us both smiling and looking like the best of pals, and flipped out. She was in a paranoid state to begin with, seeing the picture pushed her over the edge."

Scully fingered the photo, her heart tearing once more, "She said she saw him, saw the guy who killed him. I didn't see that part in my experience, though." She looked up at Mulder with sad blue eyes, "He's taken so much from us, Mulder. Your father, Melissa...and Patrick Largo too. She was very close to him, did you know that?"

He nodded. He had a feeling. "How do you know that, Scully?"

She closed her eyes and leaned into him. He held her once again as she remembered the feelings, the emotions that had passed through her when she 'was' Largo.

"I just know, Mulder."

He rubbed her back and kissed the top of her head. He felt her trembling in his arms. He'd rarely known Scully to tremble, and knew that this incident had shaken her very hard.

"Who poisoned us, Mulder?"

"I'll give you three guesses, and the first two don't count."

"Cancer Man."

He smiled grimly into the ring of red fire surrounding her head, "Give the lady a prize."

"Why? We don't touch Them anymore. We stay out of Their business. I thought They only got mad when we looked for aliens and stuck our noses in Their affairs. Was it Lake Benson?"

"Apparently, They've decided we're still dangerous. This has been going on since before Lake Benson. I think They're just now realizing how big a mistake They made when They allowed Largo to be your partner."

"And now look at her," Scully said sadly. "She's in a coma at Trinity. They knew how dangerous it was to subject her to that stuff, yet They did it without a second thought. They're evil, Mulder. They tried to turn us against each other."

"It almost worked. Thank God we have three guardian angels."

Unexpected laughter sprang from Scully's throat, "If those three are guardian angels, I'm checking out the brochure for the other place."

Mulder chuckled along with her. The release of laughter after so many days of frustration and anger was cathartic, good for the both of them, but each sobered when the seriousness of their partner's condition came back to them.

"Let's go to the hospital, Mulder." Scully said, rising and pulling him up with her.

"They're not going to wake her yet, Scully. You know that."

Scully's face grew grave, and her next words were slow and carefully chosen. "She still needs us, Mulder. When I was in my coma, I could feel your presence. I could feel my mom and Melissa too. I felt their love and sometimes, I swear I could hear their words. Yours too. She needs all the help she can get right now, Mulder."

He stood, putting a hand to her cheek. He bent and kissed her chastely on the lips, then helped her into her coat and they headed out the door and to the hospital.

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

Trinity Hospital
Room 317
11:45 am

They walked into the room. Nothing had changed since the day before. Largo still sat unconscious in the tent. The heart monitor still beat out a dull, steady rhythm, and Jolyn still sat in the chair holding Largo's hand. She wore the same clothes she had on the day before, and it was clear she hadn't left since Largo's admittance.

Scully came up and knelt at her side, "How is she, Jolyn?"

Jo's eyes remained on Largo as she answered, "She's doing well. She squeezed my hand about an hour ago. The doctor said it was just a reflex, but I don't think so. I think she's telling me she's okay, and she's coming back."

Scully smiled softly at her, "Have you been here all night?"

"Of course," Jo replied indignantly, as though appalled by the very thought she would have left. "I canceled my classes today, and Coltraine said he could cover for me the rest of the week."

"That's good, Jolyn. Tell me, have you eaten anything today?"

Jolyn finally pulled her eyes off of Largo's sleeping form, "I don't think so, but I'm not hungry."

Scully put a hand on her shoulder, "Jolyn, you need to take a break. Go home and get some rest."

"I nodded off for a couple of hours last night. I don't need to rest. I need to be here with Meg."

Scully looked briefly up at Mulder. The blonde woman had dark circles beneath her eyes and worried lines had made their way to her forehead.

"We can watch Meg while you're gone. You need to eat something, Jolyn. Go home and take a hot shower. It'll make you feel better. Meg would want you to do that, don't you think?"

Jolyn looked back at the unconscious woman encased in clear plastic and smiled at her. "Yes, Meg would want me to eat. She never listens when I tell her I want her to eat, or rest, or take care of herself, but she always looks out for me, she's always concerned about me and how I feel and what I want. She plays me songs when I'm sad or in a bad mood, and she gives me that million-dollar smile just when I need it most." Jolyn's smile slowly faded and her face grew grim. "She doesn't give two cents about herself, but she always wants to look after me."

"You're tired, Jolyn," Scully said. "You need just a little time away from this room. We'll take good care of Meg and she'll be waiting for you when you get back."

Jolyn still hesitated, not wanting to leave the side of her most loved one.

"And we need to talk to her, Jo. We need to talk, just the three of us."

The women looked at each other for a long moment, and Mulder could swear some type of silent communication was going on between them. Finally, Jolyn stood and found her purse. After a few more assurances that they'd take good care of Largo, she left the room.

Mulder pulled a chair up and sat next to Scully, who had taken Jolyn's seat. She reached over and took his hand, intertwining the fingers of his right hand with her left. With her other hand, she reached for Meg Largo's. She laid Largo's hand out flat for a second, admiring her partner's long fingers that once glided gracefully over piano keys. She covered the back of Largo's hand with her smaller, fairer one, then laced her fingers between Largo's and squeezed.

They watched the slow rise and fall of Largo's chest beneath her hospital gown and the many blankets Jolyn had covered her with. The respirator still sat between her teeth, filling her lungs with good air and helping to purify her body. Her nose was still swollen, but looked much better than it had last week. Soon, they estimated, it would return to its normal size and shape.

To Mulder's surprise, Scully spoke directly to the unconscious woman. "Hello Largo, it's me, Scully. It's so strange to see you like this, sitting her sleeping. Usually, when I see you, you're a bundle of energy. You're always moving around, tapping something, measuring out a beat on the top of your desk or bouncing your knee to a tune you hear in your head." Scully smiled at her, "It used to drive me crazy when we first worked together. I remember the day we got our first assignment. You were so worked up, so excited. I thought you were going to explode. But then I got sick, remember that? I called you and you helped me out. Now it's time for us to help you out. Mulder and I are both going to help you out."

She looked at Mulder, who had paled just a bit, "It's okay, Mulder. You can talk to her," she said, squeezing his hand, "Tell her about Krycek, that's the place to start. Let her know she can trust you again."

"But Scully, she's in a coma. I'll have to say it all over again when she wakes up." <If she wakes up,> he thought, then pushed the thought aside.

"Tell her," Scully prodded.

He turned his gaze back to Largo and haltingly, tentatively began to speak, "Un, hi Largo. It's Mulder. I know you think I'm a bad guy because of what you saw in that picture, but you have to let me explain."

He couldn't believe he was doing this, but he took a deep breath and continued, "That man, Alex Krycek, was my partner for about six weeks. It was during a time when they'd closed the X-Files and reassigned Scully. You never knew about him because all the cases I worked on with Krycek were pulled, stolen from our office along with the UFO-related cases. I guess they missed this picture, though. You see, Krycek turned out to be a turncoat. I don't know it at the time, but he had a hand in Scully's abduction and ...well...he killed my father too, Largo. You and I have something in common. In fact, we all do, because rumor has it Krycek was there when Scully's sister Melissa was killed, too."

He squeezed Scully's hand and gave her a sympathetic smile, "I had nothing to do with your father's death, and to tell you the truth, I with I'd had the honor of meeting him. He sounds like he was a fine man, and I'm sorry you lost him. I want us to work through this, Largo, because I think the three of us make a good team. I want to work with you more, Largo. We need you to be strong, to fight this thing and get back on your feet. We still have things to do, Largo, all three of us. I thought that Scully and I were the best team in the Bureau. I didn't think it was possible for our division to get any better, but it did, Largo. You make us even stronger than we were before, and we want you back. That's all I have to say, and I hope you can hear me in there, because I don't think I'll be able to make that speech again without crying."

Scully rested her head on his shoulder, then smiled up at him. "We're here for you, Largo," she said to the dark woman in the tent. "We miss you and we want you to fix yourself inside so you can come back to us. Take care of yourself, kid. Don't let the bad dreams get you down. You have people who love you waiting out here. Please, come back to us whole."

They sat with Largo, talking to her and telling her the story of their office 'fumigation,' then moving on to happier topics. They shared memories, old jokes, and Scully asked Largo if she remembered the trip to Wolftail, West Virginia to see the infamous deer's ass on Frank Jennings' wall. They chuckled over that as they listened to the heart monitor and heard the persistent wheeze of the oxygen being pumped into the tube that ran down Largo's throat.

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

Friday, Oct. 31, 1997
Dana Scully's Apartment
8:00 am

Scully bounced out of bed as soon as she slapped the bar on her alarm clock, her stomach fluttering with nervous excitement. She felt refreshed and energetic, definitely back to her old self, yet a little apprehensive at what this day would hold. She turned on the radio before stepping in the shower and listened to the refined strains of a song she'd heard Largo play at least a dozen times over the course of the six months they'd worked together. It was called 'Believe,' and was sung by Lenny Kravitz, who she knew to be Largo's favorite artist.

It was a slow, soulful song, but one filled with inspiration and hope. It seemed a perfect song for Megan Largo, and was just right for a morning like this. Scully sang along with the words as she stood under the warm water:

"I am you and you are me.
Why's that such a mystery?
If you want it, you got to believe.
Who are we?
We're who we are,
Riding on this great big star.
We've got to stand up if we're going to be free.
If you want it you got it
You just got to believe,
Believe in yourself..."
  

Clean and ready for the day, she stepped out of the shower and threw on her robe. The phone rang, and she picked it up, expecting to hear Mulder's monotone, but instead was greeted by her mother's voice.

"Hi Mom, what's up?"

"I'm just calling to see how things are going, hon."

Scully smiled into her end of the phone, "Not bad. They stopped inducing coma yesterday, and they're expecting her to wake up sometime this morning. Her blood work looks good, and we're all staying positive."

"Do you want me to go down there with you?"

"Mulder's picking me up at quarter to nine, but they don't expect her to wake until late morning. I'll give you a call to let you know how it goes."

"Please do, Dana. She's been in my prayers, you know."

"Mine too, Mom. Thanks for everything."

She hung up and got ready for her trip to the hospital. All at once, though, it came down on her.

What if Largo wasn't okay? What if she didn't wake up? Or worse, what if she had psychotic hallucinations? Would Largo even want to live that way? She didn't think so.

Scully didn't even let herself think about brain damage for recurring epileptic attacks. A shiver ran through her body, and she forced herself away from such thoughts.

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

Trinity Hospital
Room 317
10:40 am

It had been three minutes since she moved her head, and the four visitors, or spectators, as Mulder had put it, were anxiously awaiting another sign of movement.

The oxygen tent was gone, and the respirator had been replaced by a nose tube that sat beneath her nostrils. The heart monitor still beat out a rhythm, but its pace had slowly increased with each passing hour. All eyes had turned to Dr. Dana Scully, who predicted that their young patient should be waking soon.

She twitched again, then rolled her head back to the other side of the pillow. Jolyn, Skinner, and Scully crept closer to the bed, but Mulder stepped away, into the corner of the room and out of her immediate line of sight.

All throughout the last few days he'd been worried about Largo's reaction upon seeing him. He didn't believe for a second that she'd heard his little speech on Wednesday morning, and now he stayed away, wanting to gauge her state-of-mind before letting her see him.

Her eyelids fluttered, and Scully stepped into the hallway to notify the nurse. Although she had been officially listed as Largo's physician, Scully had been deferring to the staff at Trinity because of her own health problems and her very limited experience with victims of hallucinogenic poisoning. Once Largo was out of the coma, she'd re-evaluate the situation and decide whether to take over...or whether to refer her to a mental health specialist.

Dr. Sanderson, a graying man in his mid-forties, came into the room and sat beside Largo. He lifted each of her eyelids and shined his penlight in them. He looked at her monitors and made a few notations on her chart, then turned to the group.

"She should be coming around very soon. Dr. Scully, I'll leave her in your hands. Let me know if you need me, and remember the panic button is right here." He pointed to a small switch on the wall.

Scully swallowed hard, praying she wouldn't need the panic button that would call in a rescue team. "Thank you, Dr. Sanderson. I'm sure we'll be just fine."

Sanderson left, and they watched as Largo's eyelids fluttered once again before she pulled her eyes open with what looked like tremendous effort.

She blinked lazily a few times, staring at the square box of the mounted television set near the ceiling. It was hazy, and only after several seconds did her vision clear and focus.

Her throat was painfully dry and sore, and she tried unsuccessfully to swallow. Suddenly, she realized she was not alone, and turned her head slightly, staring at Jolyn Parker's face for a long time before the image of her friend became clear. She smiled at Jolyn and felt Jo's grip on her hand. She tried to squeeze back, but ended up putting only a small amount of pressure on Jo's damp hand. She tried to speak, but nothing even came close to coming out.

Scully quickly poured a glass of water, popped a straw in the top, and handed it to Jolyn, who held it while Largo took small sips, her eyes focusing on her other visitors.

"Hi Jo," she croaked weakly, her voice barely above a whisper, but with a soft smile playing on her face, "Walt, Scully...what are you guys all doing here?"

Skinner snorted a little at her question, but Scully was the one to speak, "Do you know where we are, Largo?"

"Well, there's a t.v. bolted to the ceiling, and I think I have tubes going up my nose, so I guess I'm in the hospital." She glanced down at her left hand, which had an I.V. line taped to it, "Yep, I'm definitely in the hospital."

"Well," Scully explained with a wide smile, "we're here to make sure you're okay."

A dark cloud passed over Largo's face as she began to remember the events of Tuesday morning. She squeezed Jolyn's hand, but turned her worried eyes in Scully's direction.

"Where's Mulder? I didn't shoot him, did I?"

Feeling it was safe to emerge, Mulder approached the bed, "I'm here, Largo. You didn't shoot me."

"H-m-m," she hummed with a tired, puckish grin. "No such luck, huh?"

He smiled and reached out to pat her free left hand. She grabbed his and held it loosely.

"I'm sorry, Mulder. I should have trusted you. I should have known you're not the kind of man who could do something like that. I see now that you weren't in cahoots with that man Krycek."

Mulder blinked, startled by her words, "How did you know his name was krycek? I thought you never knew his name."

"You told me, Mulder. I had a dream while I was taking my nap. I was in a grove covered in thick snow. I sat cross-legged on a bare rock and was covered only in a thick blanket. I was not cold there, though, and you came to talk to me in the grove. You and Scully both came." She paused for more water before continuing. "You told me a man named Krycek killed Patrick, that he'd killed your father too, and had a hand in Melissa's death as well." She turned sad eyes on Scully. "But you, Scully, you told me to stay in the grove and fix myself before coming back. You said you missed me, but you could wait until I was whole. I remember being very glad that you had come to visit me there."

Scully patted her knee through the blanket, then went to inform the nurses of Largo's condition.

The green-eyed patient looked over at Walter Skinner. "You visited me there too. You were sad because of things between us, but you promised me we would start anew when I came back. I'm anxious to start anew, Walt."

"Me too, Meg."

She freed her hands and opened her arms to him. He carefully embraced his god-daughter and kissed her cheek softly.

"I love you, Meg. Don't let this happen again, though, or I'll have to kill you myself."

She grinned wearily at him, "I've heard that one before. I'm sorry I stressed you out, boss."

He cupped her cheek in his palm for a moment, then stood to give her some space.

Largo turned her head in Jolyn's direction, lifted her friend's hand, and kissed the back of it. "You visited me many times, Jo. Sometimes, I thought you were going to come sit on the rock with me. I felt that you wanted to. You wanted to forget the world outside and stay with me, but it hurt me to see you feeling that way. The grove was a safe place for me, but it was not right for you to stay there."

Tears fell from Jolyn's eyes, and Largo wiped them away with her thumb. She laid her hand on Jo's cheek, "I missed you, Jolyn."

"I missed you too, Meg. I missed you so much."

Dr. Sanderson came into the room, disturbing their moment. He had three anxious med students in tow and wanted to examine his patient. Largo's visitors left while the doctors looked at her, and came back fifteen minutes later to find her struggling to keep her eyes open.

"Jo," she said as the foursome filed back into the room. "What day is it?"

Jolyn smiled at her, "It's Friday, Meg. Halloween day."

"Wow," Largo croaked, her eyes losing their battle to stay open, "I didn't know my nap was that long."

Jo sat next to her on the bed and lifted the hair back off her face, "You should rest now, Meg."

Largo's voice was beginning to slur as she said, "Been sleeping for three days."

Mulder, Scully, and Skinner said their good-byes, promising to return in the afternoon. Skinner kissed her on the forehead, and they left.

Trying valiantly to stay awake, Largo shifted in the bed and shook her hand. She struggled to focus her eyes on Jolyn, and when she thought she had a clear picture leaned forward to embrace her harried and teary lover. Jo held her carefully, but tightly.

"Oh Meg, I thought I'd lost you."

"Don't you know by now, Jo? I'm like a bad penny, I just keep turning up."

Jo kissed her cheek, "Thank God."

Largo leaned heavily, her head now resting against Jo's shoulder. Jo ran her hands over Largo's back, dismayed by the knowledge that Meg had lost even more weight. She'd have to fix that when they got home.

After a few minutes, she realized Meg had fallen asleep. She held tight to the tall, thin body in her arms, though, silently giving a prayer of thanks to those above.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER SIXTEEN
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: "A Family Affair"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Nona Emilia's Italian Restaurant
12:50 p.m.

Mulder took Scully to lunch in a dimly-lit Italian restaurant. It was far from his usual fare of fast food and Chinese take-out, but he wanted to take her someplace nice on this bright, memorable day, and he knew she loved Italian food.

They held hands under the table as they waited for their meals to arrive, and once they did took turns sharing bites with each other. Scully lifted a forkful of mastacolli and placed it on Mulder's tongue. She watched his full, sensuous lower lip come down on the tines of the utensil and slide down the end, then chew it with a little smirk and a gleam in his deep-set eyes. She took a quick drink of ice water to lower her rising temperature and tried to concentrate on her meal instead of Mulder's mouth.

They talked distractedly about Largo, Skinner, and nothing in particular. He told her all about his old roommate at Oxford, a Cockney lad on scholarship who taught him the finer points of swallowing a pint of beer in one drink. Scully chuckled and told him about her lone experience with a beer bong back at the University of Maryland. To make a long story short, much of it ended up coming out her nose and she tasted beer in her throat for three days.

When they left, Scully suggested they take a walk. The day was bright and sunny, though the air was crisp and clean, and she linked her arm in his as they strolled along the Mall beside the Reflection Pool. Excited tourists and busy people in dark suits and cellular phones bustled past them as they leisurely walked in the direction of Capitol Hill.

"So what happens now?" she asked, looking up at his dark, handsome face.

"Well, if Largo makes a full recovery, I don't see why she can't come back to work."

He glanced down at her face and saw a rare, full-wattage smile on her beautiful face. His heart trip hammered in his chest at the sight of it, and it took every ounce of restraint he possessed not to stop and kiss her right there in the middle of the Mall.

"Thank you, Mulder."

"Don't thank me, she's a hell of an agent. She's earned her spot on the roster, now she deserves a shot at starting. I'm not going to press charges against her, if that's what you were worried about."

A little sheepishly, she replied, "Well, I wasn't sure. You've resented her since the day you met her, and you've been so angry lately, especially at her. I thought you might consider this the perfect opportunity to rid yourself of her."

Mulder stopped and turned to face her. He looked straight into her blue-green eyes. She sensed he was going to say something very serious and deep.

"How could I do that? It goes completely against precedent. After all, *you* actually did shoot me, and I didn't press charges then, did I?"

A slow smile spread over her face as his words sunk in. She punched him playfully in the arm as she laughed out loud. The sound of her happy laughter sent him into a fit of his own, and they stood there, in front of the Capitol of the United States Congress and laughed until tears streamed down their faces.

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

Trinity Hospital
Room 317
3:55 p.m.

Mulder knocked softly on the open door before they tentatively entered. They expected to see Jolyn's familiar form at Largo's bedside, but she was conspicuously absent.

The agents peeked in and saw a solidly-built man of medium height sitting on the edge of Largo's bed. He, like Largo, was Native American, with skin a shade or two lighter than hers and midnight black hair that was much longer. It was tied into a ponytail at the back of his neck and hung a quarter of the way down his back. He held Largo's hand in both of his and spoke rapidly to her in a foreign language.

Largo answered in kind, then laughed with pure mirth. She looked up, only now noticing her partners' presence. She grinned happily at them and switched to English.

"Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, this is my brother, Michael Largo."

The young man rose and shook hands with the agents. He had a round face and a large nose characteristic of the Dakota people. His dark brown eyes were warm and shiny as he spoke to them, assuring each that he was very glad to meet them.

Scully marveled at how different the brother and sister looked. Michael, although fairer-skinned, was the epitome of an Indian, and dressed the part with blue jeans and a red flannel shirt. From his neck hung a small bundle on a leather throng, and his worn cowboy boots clicked against the linoleum when he walked.

Megan, on the other hand, was dark-complected, yet her features resembled her Irish father's, right down to her green eyes, small nose, and hair that, although mostly black, was naturally highlighted by dark auburn streaks. Meg Largo also wore conservative dress pants and dark blazers when she didn't show up in a tailored suit at work, and even at home she wore plain jeans and t-shirts. It was hard to equate her with the 'res Indian' that her brother appeared to be.

Mulder and Scully took seats by Largo's side, and sat contentedly listening to the brother and sister talk in their odd, curious way.

"How is MaryPat?" Largo asked.

Both her partners knew all about Mary Patricia Largo, who was Meg's five-year-old niece. Largo described her as precocious as hell and a little spitfire. Both Mulder and Scully figured the youngster's nature probably resembled her aunt's at that age.

"She's very excited right now," Michael told her, "and, as usual, is full of a million questions. Karen and I found out last week that MaryPat is going to be a big sister."

The look on Largo's face was filled with pure joy as she embraced her brother and congratulated him at length.

Not wanting to leave her partners out of the conversation, she turned it in a new direction. "Mulder here," she said to her brother, "is fascinated by my little trick." They all knew what she was referring to, and Michael nodded at her with a small smile on his face. "I'm sure he has about a hundred questions he'd like to ask us both."

Michael turned from his sister and met Mulder's gaze, "What do you want to know?"

"What was it like when you were kids? Can she read your thoughts? Know how you're feeling? Oh, and can you read her mind, too? You're twins, but do you have the same skill she does?"

Michael interrupted his stream of questions with a laugh. "It'll take me all day just to make it through half of those. Listen, I just arrived this morning, and I've been here with Meg since I got here. I'm starving. Why don't you come down to the cafeteria with me and I'll tell you all about her." He smiled at his sister and ruffled her hair a little, "Behind her back, of course."

"Hey, that's not fair," Largo protested, but grinned as the two men left the room.

As their footsteps receded, Scully came closer to the bed. Largo patted the spot beside her that Michael had just vacated, and Scully sat next to her. Largo held out her hand, and Scully slipped hers inside.

"It must be nice seeing your brother again."

Largo smiled sadly, "I just wish it were under different circumstances, but it is great to see him. We don't see each other enough, and I miss him constantly."

"I'm so glad you're okay, Largo. You had us all very worried."

Largo's face grew serious, "I'm sorry, Scully. I didn't mean to worry you, and I'm sorry about my dramatics in the office."

"You were sick, Meg. We all understand. I think I got a taste of what you've been going through, too. I was starting to hallucinate as well."

"Really?"

The elder agent nodded, "Yes, that was the reason Mulder was so charged up and why I was blubbering like a cow all week and you were...well, I think we both know what was happening to you."

Largo closed her eyes, "I freaked out. I'd been seeing things for days. I couldn't sleep. My dreams were horrific, and in them something terrible was always happening to you or Jo or someone else I care for. My head felt like it was literally about to burst, it was especially bad on that last day." She took a deep breath before continuing, "I should have told you, but I was afraid I'd be put on leave again. I was afraid they would make me leave the Bureau for good."

Scully was silent for a moment, then said, "But by refusing to step back you almost killed yourself, Largo. In the ER...they didn't think you were going to make it. According to Dr. Sanderson, you were this close to a heart attack, and they immediately put you on blood thinners to avoid stroke as well. Part of your head pain was the result of small blood clots, mini-strokes. There were other factors involved in the headaches too, but the truth is that they almost killed you. You seizured in the office, which was a major trauma to your already struggling body, and you seizured again on the table. I was scared to death. You put yourself through so much, Largo, when you could have turned and leaned on us."

Looking down to study their linked hands, Largo said, "I can't lean on you, Scully. I can't let you see any weakness in me, because part of my job is gaining your complete confidence."

"Largo, I understand what you're saying, but this...this is different. This is your health, your life. You pushed yourself to the brink of sanity, and the brink of mortality with no safety net. I'm begging you to let me be your safety net. I want us to make a promise to each other."

"What do you mean?"

Scully lifted Largo's hand and held it between both of her smaller ones, "I mean you and I need to communicate with each other. No more 'I'm fines' when we're not. Whatever happens, we deal with it together. No Bureau, no regulations, none of that. Just you and me. If we're honest with each other, it makes our partnership that much stronger."

Largo chewed on her lip, contemplating Scully's words. "Okay, Scully. I'll start right now. I'm afraid I'm through with the Bureau. I'm afraid that Mulder will have me up on charges of attempted murder, and that I'm going to spend at least the next ten years in either a women's correctional facility or a padded cell. Is that honest enough?"

"That was brutally honest, Largo, and I appreciate it. I was worried about that too, but Mulder's not pressing charges."

Largo lifted her eyebrows, utterly surprised, "Why not?"

Scully chuckled at her amazement, "It seems that after two long months of bitterly resenting the hell out of you, he's finally come around. He told me earlier today that he sees no reason why you shouldn't come back to work after you've recovered."

Largo exhaled loudly and darted her eyes about the room, still taking the news in. She then grinned at her petite partner and Scully saw tears standing out in her wild green eyes. They spilled over and began to run down her dark-olive face.

"What if I have flashbacks?" Largo asked hoarsely.

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Largo wiped the tears from her face and leaned forward, hugging Scully with all the force she could muster, which wasn't much, but enough to let Scully know how grateful she was.

When she finally pulled away, Largo said, "Whatever happened to that man Krycek?"

Scully told her about their history with Alex Krycek, beginning when Mulder and he were assigned as partners and ending with the story of Mulder's ordeal in Tunguska.

"We haven't seen or heard anything about him in over nine months. Actually, that's not true. A rumor once circulated that he'd lost an arm in Russia, but we can't substantiate it. As far as we know, he's still there."

"I hope his dismemberment was slow and painful."

Tears shone in Scully's eyes as well as she thought of her sister, then of Patrick Largo's bleeding body. "So do I, Largo. So do I."

They sat, not speaking and lost in their own thoughts, for a long time.

Finally, Scully broke the silence, "So, when are they springing you from this joint?"

Largo glanced down at the I.V. still in her arm, keeping her hydrated and filling her body with much-needed nourishment. "You're still my doc, Doc. I guess it's your call."

"How are you feeling?"

"Not bad, especially for someone who thought the walls were bleeding orange spiders a few days ago. I haven't tried to get up yet, and they said I probably shouldn't try for a day or so. The nurse told me I'd throw up before I made it to the door.

"Would you rather recover at home?"

"Of course. I hate hospitals, they make me feel like I'm dying instead of living. Besides, the food is awful. I really hate Jell-O."

Scully thought for a moment, figuring out a way to work this. "I'll talk to Dr. Sanderson. It you'll let me borrow your guest room for a few days, I think I can get you released into my care."

"I couldn't ask you to be my personal nursemaid, Scully," she grinned at her partner, and Scully saw the old, familiar gleam in Largo's eyes, "I think Mulder would miss you too much."

Scully shook her head as she smiled at her young partner. Yep, Largo was on her way back all right. If she was well enough to make sexual innuendoes, she couldn't be all that sick.

"Mulder will make do."

"He wants me to do my little trick with him, you know."

This time Scully made the innuendo, "Depends on which 'little trick' you're talking about."

Largo laughed, "He wants a demonstration of my 'psychic abilities' as he calls them."

"Well?" Scully asked with a raise of one eyebrow.

Largo's smile was soft, "I think he's earned it. After all, he did let me hold him at gunpoint...and he's letting me stay in the division, which is the greatest gift he could give. It means he's willing to trust me, willing to share his work with me. I know that's not an easy thing for him to do."

"No, it's not," Scully agreed. "And do you know what?"

"What?"

"You two have made me happier than I've been in a long time."

There was no way for Largo to answer that, so she leaned forward and hugged Scully again, showing her partner everything she could not put into words.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN-A: "Reunion"
NOTE: THIS CHAPTER HAS BEEN RATED ** R **
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(SIX DAYS LATER)
Thursday, Nov. 6, 1997
Meg Largo's Apartment
7:05 p.m.

"Are you sure you don't want anything to eat?" Jolyn asked, "I could make some soup real quick?"

Largo rolled her eyes and made a frustrated little growling noise. "No, Jolyn. I'm not hungry. I ate two hours ago, and two hours before that, and two hours before that. I swear, if you keep feeding me like this I'm going to look like Jabba The Hut."

"Okay," Jo relented, but with a worried tone. "You're just so thin, Meg. All you eat is soup and crackers. You're never going to gain a pound on just that."

Largo had already tired of this conversation. They'd been having it for three days, ever since she'd been taken off the I.V. feed and Michael had left to go back to Redwood Falls. Scully had been a frequent visitor in the last week, and had even stayed over the first two nights in the guest bedroom.

Today, Scully had given her permission to get out of bed and move around freely. Largo had been eternally grateful for that. She'd been restricted to the bed since she'd come home on Monday morning, and was only allowed out to use the restroom and bathe. It was a necessary evil, though, since too much motion made her nauseous, and she'd even dry heaved after her first few trips to the bathroom.

Now, however, she felt much better. She was still cautious about too much movement, but hadn't been sick in days and hadn't seen anything 'unusual' since Sunday. The headaches were getting much better, and could be handled with a small amount of codeine (force-fed by Scully or Jolyn, of course).

But she *had* been going stir crazy cooped up in bed, though. She'd gone through a stack of books, including old favorites like 'Atlas Shrugged', 'Catcher In The Rye', and 'Breakfast At Tiffany's.' When Scully had commented on the diversity in her choice of literature, Largo just shrugged and said, "I like to consider myself a well-rounded person."

Scully had smiled and shook her head at her young partner, who was about as well-rounded as they came. Largo enjoyed having Scully about, and had been flattered that her partner would spend these days seeing to her recovery. She also had to admire Scully's ever evolving open-mind. Not many straight women would volunteer to baby-sit a bisexual invalid who was living with a woman. But Scully didn't even bat an eyelash.

Of course, it wasn't as though she and Jolyn would ever display any type of affection in front of Dana Scully. For all outward appearances, they looked as though they were good friends and nothing more. And although Jolyn had slept with her during Scully's stay, it was mainly to help soothe her when the nightmares came. She still wasn't sleeping very soundly. She'd doze for an hour or two, then wake with a start, sometimes screaming, and always in a cold sweat. It disturbed everyone in the house, including Scully and Mike, but together they all helped to calm her and reassure her that she hadn't actually shot Fox Mulder.

Jolyn now came to sit by her on the couch, and Largo took her hand immediately. People had been in and out in an almost constant stream in the past few days. Though Largo had only lived in DC for six months, her friendly, engaging personality made her new friends everywhere she went. Those who knew her fairly well stopped by, forcing 'the regulars' (who were Scully, Mulder, Mike, and Skinner) to pretend Jo was simply a roommate, and whose living quarters were the guest bedroom.

Now, finally, they were alone.

"Jo," Largo said softly, smiling and looking into Jolyn's clear blue eyes. "I haven't kissed you in over a week."

Jo returned her smile and ran her thumb over the back of Largo's hand. "You've been sick, Meg. You needed time to heal. I didn't want to push you into anything you weren't physically or psychologically ready for.

Largo's voice lowered an octave, "I'm ready now."

"Are you sure?"

She nodded, slowly leaning in to press her lips to Jolyn's. They were as soft and as enticing as she remembered them, and Largo spent a long time reacquainting herself with them before wrapping her arms around her companion and opening her mouth. When she did, however, Jo immediately reciprocated, and sparks flew between them as their tongues met once more.

Largo's pace was hungry, yet slow, and Jo relinquished control to her, knowing the young agent needed it. Feeling herself melt into the sensations she had missed in the last ten days, Jolyn sighed heavily into Meg's mouth as a tide began to flow in her center.

Slowly, Largo pulled away, allowing Jolyn a much needed breath. "Thank you for everything, Jolyn. I know how difficult all of this has been for you, and I'm sorry I've put you through so much."

Jo touched her forehead to Largo's and closed her eyes, "This has been difficult, I can't deny that, but only because I thought I was going to lose you, Meg. When Scully called me that day and told me what had happened...Meg, they didn't think you were going to make it. Your heart was nearly bursting in your chest and they said you had blood clots in your brain. Scully said you'd had a seizure...and I thought you would be gone before I even made it to the hospital."

Largo swallowed hard. She felt a single tear begin to run down her face. "I'm sorry, Jolyn. I know my judgment is sometimes...lacking, and this incident seemed to impair it even further. I can't make you any promises, but I can tell you that I'll try not to do this to you again. I love you, Jolyn, I never want to see you hurting like this."

"I know that, Meg. I know you'd never hurt me, I can see it everyday. You just need to see that what hurts you hurts me as well. Just as you don't want me to hurt, I want that same thing for you. It's such a simple concept, yet one you don't seem to have grasped yet."

Despite the seriousness of their conversation, Largo began to chuckle, her shoulder shaking as Jo's words replayed in her mind. Jolyn joined her, and soon they were laughing aloud at Megan Largo, musical prodigy and young genius, and her inexplicable inability to see the forest through the trees.

As their laughing fit ended, Largo once more captured Jolyn's sensual lips between her own. Their tongues stroked each other, now with a harder, more frantic rhythm. Both moaned and suddenly felt the need that had been repressed for ten days return with overwhelming intensity. Hands explored, Largo's finding a warm breast while Jo's dipped below the waistband of Meg's pajamas. There was nothing underneath them.

"Taking liberties during your convalescence, huh, Meg?"

Largo grinned and broke the kiss, but remained only centimeters away from Jo's face. "Despite your protests, Jolyn," she said, leaning forward to lick the skin just below Jo's ear, "I know how hot it makes you when I don't wear them."

Jo's body visible trembled and she moaned aloud, "Oh God, Meg, What are you doing to me?"

Largo licked again, then sucked at Jo's earlobe for a split-second, "I'm seducing you."

Jo sprayed uneasy laughter, her temperature rising to precarious heights. "But I'm a sure thing, Meg,"

In her ear, Jo felt Largo's breath as she spoke, "I just want to make sure I still have it."

Closing her eyes, Jo let Largo kiss and nip lightly at her neck, tilting slightly to give her better access. Within seconds, she felt herself melting into the cushions of the couch. Her voice was low and throaty, but she managed to speak.

"You've definitely still got it, Meg."

Reluctantly, Largo pulled back and took Jolyn's hand. Together, they stood and made their way to the bedroom.

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

Fox Mulder's Apartment
7:30 p.m.

Mulder had been ecstatic when Scully accepted his invitation to dinner. Understandably, they'd both spent a lot of time at Megan Largo's in the past four days, but Scully, as her physician (and a very dedicated one at that) had given almost all of her waking hours to her only living patient.

Tonight, however, he'd convinced her to let him take her to dinner. "Someplace nice," he'd said, wanting to see what she would wear for such an occasion.

In actuality, he had absolutely no intention of even leaving the apartment with her. He'd called Scully's favorite bistro and ordered dinner in. Luckily, it had arrived fifteen minutes ago. He'd already donned his tuxedo and had just lit the candles on the table he'd set up in the living room.

He let out an anxious breath and went to the stereo, sifting through a handful of CD's Largo had picked out just for this occasion. Yesterday, during one of what they called their 'bonding sessions,' they'd devised this little scheme. He'd tentatively laid out the groundwork for it and she'd filled in the details for him, rubbing her hands together excitedly and grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

"Chicks dig this kind of stuff," she assured him, "even FBI chicks like Scully and myself. She'll flip when she sees you in a tux, too. I'll bet you fill one out quite nicely."

This was the weirdest thing about his relationship with Meg Largo. She loved talking about sports, cars, she'd even tell dirty jokes, and she was so easy to talk to. It was like talking to another guy. They even both had girlfriends, but then she would spring a statement like that on him; give him the old eye and say that he probably looked hot in a tux. It was a little weird, but came in extremely handy when he needed advice on a situation like this.

At 7:35, there was a knock at the door, and he heard his favorite voice call out from the other side.

"Mulder?"

He threw open the case of the top CD and popped it into the machine, then frantically scanned the room to make sure everything was perfect. He blew out a long breath and ran a hand through his tousled hair, then went to the front door.

She was absolutely beautiful. She wore a simple, black, off-the-shoulder cocktail dress. Her gorgeous strawberry-blonde hair was lifted up on top of her head in wavy curls. She was...drop dead gorgeous.

Blinking at the sight of his tuxedo, she arched an eyebrow and said, "Where are we going, Mulder, the Inaugural Ball?"

"Of course not, Scully, it's November," he replied, trying to be suave as hell. "I thought, perhaps, we'd eat in tonight."

A little Mona-Lisa smile crossed Scully's lips as she stepped inside, now hearing soft jazz begin to play in the background. She allowed him to take her wrap and purse, then walked into the living room. She saw the table, the candles, the single red rose on top of one plate.

Mulder came up and put a hand on the small of her back. She turned to face him. "All this for me?"

He smiled down at her and kissed her cheek, "For us."

Mulder pulled out her chair and she sat, a smile playing across her red lips as she fingered the rose. She brought it to her nose and inhaled deeply, getting as much of the scent as she could.

She watched him leave the room and go to the kitchen, only to return with two small plates of Caesar salad on a serving tray.

"For the lady," he said, placing a plate in front of her.

She took a quick peek over each shoulder, then raised an eyebrow and touched her chest with a joking question in her eyes.

He smirked as he set his own salad plate down, then returned to the kitchen. She heard the twist of metal grinding into cork and then a dull pop as he opened a bottle of wine.

He re-entered and poured, then sat across from her, "So, what do you think?"

"Mulder, it's wonderful. The music, the mood, the meal, everything is perfect...including the man."

He smiled sheepishly into his plate for a moment, then back to her. Shadows danced gloriously over her face in the candlelight, making her even more radiant and beautiful. He watched her spread her napkin and take a small forkful of salad.

He loved to watch her eat. He had ever since their first days as partners. It wasn't known to his conscious mind then, but he loved watching Scully's jaw move delicately up and down, her lips gliding over each other. It was so sensual, so feminine...so damned sexy.

Scully took a sip of her wine. She was watching him watch her. Only now did he take her cue and begin to eat, giving her a turn to look him over as he bent to look at his plate.

He looked incredible in his tuxedo, its gray tie and cumberbund only improving the effect. And the nervous excitement she'd seen on his face when he opened the door. It was the look he wore when they just found a piece of vital information while out on a case. The same one he wore when they had just put all the pieces together. She remembered the first time she'd seen that look. They were standing in a cemetery (of all places) during an Oregon rainstorm, and he'd told her who he thought was responsible for the abduction and murder of four teenagers.

She'd laughed uproariously, partly because of the outrageousness of the situation, and partly because of that look. If she hadn't laughed, she'd have had to think about how goddamned sexy that look was, and she wasn't nearly ready to do that back then.

When they finished their salads, Mulder brought out two more plates. He sat one down in front of her, and she instantly detected the divine smell of marinated chicken breast. It lay in a bed of rice with asparagus on the side. Her favorite meal from Antolini's.

"I can't believe you, Mulder," she said, "this is great."

"Well, dig in then," he replied, "because you have to eat all your dinner if you want dessert."

"What's for dessert?"

He smirked, "Be a good girl and you'll see."

She chuckled to herself at that, but followed his instructions and began to eat. It was, as always, delicious. Occasionally, they spoke as they ate, but for the most part they simply stared across the table at each other. When they had finished and were in the midst of another glass of wine, Scully ventured a question.

"I love this music, Mulder. Who is it?"

Uh-oh. He had absolutely no idea who the sweet saxophonist on the disc was. Whoever it was, though, played a mean instrument. This was definitely mood music, and seemed to be working like a charm.

"Well?" Scully prompted with another arch of a pencil-thin brow.

Mulder scratched the back of his neck as she tried to inconspicuously find the CD case without her noticing, However, not much escaped the hard-nosed agent's detection.

With a wry, yet forgiving smile, she said, "I thought so. It looks to me like you had an accomplice, and I'd say she's tall, dark, and talks funny."

He stood and went to the stereo. "You caught me, Scully. She helped me out a little, and I have to admit, the rose and the tux were her ideas."

She pushed her chair back and joined him, putting her hands on his waist and pulling him closer to her. "They were great ideas, but I'm sure the concept was yours."

She could smell his cologne, it was, as always, Old Spice, a scent she loved because it was so Mulder. They both looked down at the CD case he held in his hand.

"Candy Dulfur," he read, "'Sax Appeal.'"

Scully tilted her head up, "Perfect," she said, and pulled him down to her lips.

She ran her hand along the side of his face as he touched his lips to hers. She opened her mouth to admit his tongue and felt his arms go around her waist. Closer and closer they became as their tongues battled for dominance. They ended up calling a truce and met in the middle, stroking each other slowly and deliberately.

Scully sighed, and Mulder ran a hand down to her bottom. He squeezed it gently, eliciting a small moan. She kneaded his neck with one hand and brought the other to his chest, feeling the beat of his heart under her fingertips.

He released her mouth to move up to her ear, taking in the divine scent of her perfume as he did so. "Dance with me, Scully," he said, raising a hand to cover hers.

She smiled at him as he bent to kiss her once more; a brief, passing kiss. They began to move to the music. She followed his lead with perfect precision, as though they had been born to move together. She laid her head against his chest and closed her eyes, relishing the feeling of another human next to her. She hadn't realized how much she'd been missing close personal contact until she'd begun to see Mulder in this new way. And yet, personal contact had never felt just like this. When she was next to Mulder she felt so good, so right. She knew it was where she was meant to be.

They danced for a long time before the music stopped, but when it did, Mulder looked down at the beautiful woman in his arms and said, "Are you ready for dessert?"

She nodded and gave him a new little smile, one he'd never seen before.

He started to go to the kitchen, but she held onto his hand. He looked back with a question in his eyes, but the smile remained on her face.

"I want you for dessert, Mulder."

His eyes widened in pleasant excitement and he came back to her arms, letting her pull him down for another kiss. Her mouth was warm and wanting, and he let her have her way with him. She delved deep into his mouth, traced the line of his teeth, and nibbled gently on his rich, full lower lip. Mulder was in heaven, and let himself float on the waves of heady sensations she induced in him. She made him drunk on her beauty, her mystique, her charm, and her Scully-ness.

She loved the way he put himself into her hands. He had relinquished control and entrusted it to her. She devoured his mouth, his tongue, his luscious lips, then moved down to lay kisses along his jawline. He had shaved before her visit, she knew by the softness of his cheek as she ran her lips over it and made her way to his ear. He let out a soft growl when she suckled the lobe, then moaned when she shoved her hot tongue into his ear.

He could stand no more, and began to take over. His hands roamed her sides, one finally settling on her breast and the other on her ass. The soft fabric of her dress slid luxuriously over his fingers. He wanted it gone. Her bare, exposed neck was so inviting, and he kissed his way down it as he ran his thumb over her nipple, teasing it into a taut nub.

An electric current ran through her body as his mouth and fingers worked on her body. She began to melt into his arms, and tilted her head to one side, giving him better access to her sensitive neck and shoulder. She ran her hands down the back of his suit trousers and grabbed two healthy handfuls of his backside, making him jump a little and chuckle against her neck.

"Careful, Agent Scully, you don't know what that does to me."

Her voice was low with desire, "I think it does exactly what I want it to do, Mulder."

"Scully, tell me if I'm being too forward, but I'm dying to know what's underneath that dress."

She lifted his face back to hers and laid another kiss on his lips, "Don't be so old-fashioned, Mulder. Take a look."

His arms went around her and to the zipper in the back, but she stepped back, a playful smile on her face.

"But only if I get to see what's under the monkey suit."

Mulder smiled at her, spun quickly to hit the 'Play' button on the stereo once more, and took off his suit jacket. The soft sounds of the sax played over again as Scully stepped into his arms. She twisted them around in order to turn the volume of the music up and hit a button that would run the disc over and over.

At his questioning glance, she said, "Just in case," then grabbed his hand and a candle from the table. She led him down the short hallway and to his bedroom.

"Gee," he said, "and I thought males were supposed to be the dominant species, but you FBI chicks sure know how to take the lead."

"O-o-h, Mulder," she replied close to his ear, "I love it when you call me chick."

The sound of her voice in his ear caused a stirring in his groin. He'd shown considerable control so far, but now, here in the seldom-used bedroom, he felt that control slip about twenty notches.

Neither turned on the lights, but she set the long taper candle in its holder on the dresser, effectively lighting the room in soft flickers. The shadows that played off their faces drew the couple even closer, each feeling the effects of this romantic ambiance.

Scully pulled on Mulder's bow tie, then loosened three buttons. She laid a long, soft kiss in the hollow of his throat and felt his reaction against her stomach. She smiled against his skin, pleased that she aroused him so.

He reached around and slowly unzipped her dress, bending to kiss her as he moved lower. She worked on the buttons of his shirt, and he unclasped his cuffs to allow it to be removed. They lifted his undershirt as well before he slid the black dress down her arms and off her shoulders.

She was all he had ever imagined and more. Of course she was...she was his. His Scully. His partner. His woman. And he was her man, of this he was quite certain.

Her strapless bra was white satin, as were her panties. He removed her shoes and she stepped out of her hose, then went to work on his pants. He kicked off his shoes as she slipped the trousers down his legs and off, removing his socks as well.

Scully's eyes took in the bulge in his gray boxer-briefs, but quickly returned to his eyes. He embraced her once again, capturing her sweet red mouth as he rid her of her satin bra. When her breasts were free, he cupped them, loving the way they fit perfectly into his palms.

She moaned at his touch, and he felt her trembling as he kissed her. He led her to the bed and threw back sheets to allow her entry. She pulled him down with her and they lay side-by-side, mouths locked and hands deep in the other's soft hair.

Mulder broke the kiss to remove her panties, and when he was done she gently, carefully pulled his shorts off and tossed them into the corner.

"I don't have a maid, you know," he teased as he licked behind her ear.

"I can put them back on you, if you'd like."

"No, no," he said quickly, "that won't be necessary."

"Besides, it's not every day women throw your unmentionables around this room, is it?"

He laughed and kissed her again, briefly meeting her tongue before saying, "Definitely not."

She reached for him, and he knelt above her, kissing her mouth, her neck, her shoulders, then closing his mouth on one breast, making her gasp and arch her back. His chest was against her flat, beautiful stomach, and he could feel the excitement growing within her.

"Oh Mulder," she said lazily, her eyes closed and her head tilted back, "that feels s-o-o-o good."

<You ain't felt nothing yet,> he thought, and trailed his tongue down her stomach, leaving a wet trail that ended at the top of a small patch of dark auburn hair. He spread her legs and bent them at the knees, holding onto them as he bent down and gently kissed her.

She cried out at the nearly-forgotten sensation. It was like no other, and she considered it the most intimate of gestures. The knowledge that she was sharing it with Mulder nearly sent her over the brink right there.

He moved down and entered her with his tongue, feeling her warm softness. Oh, she was so ready, but he wanted this first. He wanted to smell her and taste her and make sure she screamed before he did. As for himself, he was more ready than he'd ever been in his life, and knew that once he was inside her he wouldn't last long.

He heard her pant and moan above him, felt her hips lift, felt her involuntarily press her wet self up and into his face.

"Mulder! Oh Mulder!" she called, her fists clutching at the sheets and her head thrown back in passion. "Oh God, Mulder. I'm going to come..."

That was exactly what he wanted, and a few seconds later he heard her long cry of release and felt the shaking of her small body.

When it subsided he crawled back up into her arms and hugged her tight. His head lay on the red curls atop hers, but she pulled him down and claimed his mouth, tasting herself on his lips and in his mouth. He would never have guessed Dana Scully for a taster, but apparently she was one, which made his heart expand even more.

When she had finished she met his eyes, "Mulder, that was amazing." She re-captured his mouth once more, then straddled him. Gently, she grasped him and guided him to her entrance.

"It's been a long time for me, Mulder. I'm going to have to do this slowly."

"That's okay," he croaked, barely able to even speak, "It's been a long time for me, too. Although I'm the frequent victim of a self-inflicted orgasm, I haven't shared them with anyone else lately."

Suddenly a thought entered his mind and he tried to shrink back from her.

"Scully, I...I don't have any protection."

She moved up and sat on his chest, lowering her face to his, "It's all right, Mulder. I'm ...well, there's no risk of pregnancy, and considering we've both only been the victims of 'self-inflicted orgasms' as you so elegantly put it, I don't think we're running much of a public-health risk."

He smiled and jostled her on top of his chest, feeling her wetness and enjoying it. His erection, meanwhile, was growing painful. "I love it when you talk public-health, Scully. Look at how much it turns me on."

She glanced back at his erection and scooted backwards, slowly lowering herself onto him. Both groaned at the sensation.

When he was all the way in, she began to move, slowly at first, then with more speed and rhythm. He met her stroke for stroke, and tried to hang on as long as possible, but it was so very difficult.

Scully's voice rang out above the dim music, "Let go, Mulder. This is yours, let go."

"No," he panted, "you too."

Realizing he was going to stick by his resolve, she grabbed his hand and brought it between them as she rocked up and down on top of him. He held his thumb to her and let her motion rub her against it. Before they knew it she was calling his name and squeezing him like a glove. It sent him over the edge and he spilled into her with a force he never knew existed, his body aching and trembling as the power coursed through his veins, charging him and depleting him simultaneously.

He let out his own hoarse cry of pleasure in time with hers. When it at last ended, she collapsed on top of him and rubbed her face against the hair on his chest. He didn't think she had any intention of moving, so he simply let her lay there and recover, running a hand lightly over her back as her small chest heaved against his own.

Suddenly, he felt her chest rumble a little, and realized she was laughing softly.

"What's so funny?"

"Well," she replied, her breath still a little short, "it's just that that was so much better than any self-inflicted orgasm I've ever had. I think we should do it more often."

He laughed with her, the both of them happier than they'd been in a long, long time. She scooted up further, laying her head just under his chin. He wrapped his arms around her and lay back, enjoying her presence in his arms.

They dozed peacefully, contentedly, happily, and when they rolled together in the middle of the night, they made love once more, and once again the following morning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER EIGHTEEN -- R Version
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN-A: "Reunion"
NOTE: THIS CHAPTER HAS BEEN RATED ** NC-17 **
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(SIX DAYS LATER)
Thursday, Nov. 6, 1997
Meg Largo's Apartment
7:05 p.m.

"Are you sure you don't want anything to eat?" Jolyn asked, "I could make some soup real quick?"

Largo rolled her eyes and made a frustrated little growling noise. "No, Jolyn. I'm not hungry. I ate two hours ago, and two hours before that, and two hours before that. I swear, if you keep feeding me like this I'm going to look like Jabba The Hut."

"Okay," Jo relented, but with a worried tone. "You're just so thin, Meg. All you eat is soup and crackers. You're never going to gain a pound on just that."

Largo had already tired of this conversation. They'd been having it for three days, ever since she'd been taken off the I.V. feed and Michael had left to go back to Redwood Falls. Scully had been a frequent visitor in the last week, and had even stayed over the first two nights in the guest bedroom.

Today, Scully had given her permission to get out of bed and move around freely. Largo had been eternally grateful for that. She'd been restricted to the bed since she'd come home on Monday morning, and was only allowed out to use the restroom and bathe. It was a necessary evil, though, since too much motion made her nauseous, and she'd even dry heaved after her first few trips to the bathroom.

Now, however, she felt much better. She was still cautious about too much movement, but hadn't been sick in days and hadn't seen anything 'unusual' since Sunday. The headaches were getting much better, and could be handled with a small amount of codeine (force-fed by Scully or Jolyn, of course).

But she *had* been going stir crazy cooped up in bed, though. She'd gone through a stack of books, including old favorites like 'Atlas Shrugged', 'Catcher In The Rye', and 'Breakfast At Tiffany's.' When Scully had commented on the diversity in her choice of literature, Largo just shrugged and said, "I like to consider myself a well-rounded person."

Scully had smiled and shook her head at her young partner, who was about as well-rounded as they came. Largo enjoyed having Scully about, and had been flattered that her partner would spend these days seeing to her recovery. She also had to admire Scully's ever evolving open-mind. Not many straight women would volunteer to baby-sit a bisexual invalid who was living with a woman. But Scully didn't even bat an eyelash.

Of course, it wasn't as though she and Jolyn would ever display any type of affection in front of Dana Scully. For all outward appearances, they looked as though they were good friends and nothing more. And although Jolyn had slept with her during Scully's stay, it was mainly to help soothe her when the nightmares came. She still wasn't sleeping very soundly. She'd doze for an hour or two, then wake with a start, sometimes screaming, and always in a cold sweat. It disturbed everyone in the house, including Scully and Mike, but together they all helped to calm her and reassure her that she hadn't actually shot Fox Mulder.

Jolyn now came to sit by her on the couch, and Largo took her hand immediately. People had been in and out in an almost constant stream in the past few days. Though Largo had only lived in DC for six months, her friendly, engaging personality made her new friends everywhere she went. Those who knew her fairly well stopped by, forcing 'the regulars' (who were Scully, Mulder, Mike, and Skinner) to pretend Jo was simply a roommate, and whose living quarters were the guest bedroom.

Now, finally, they were alone.

"Jo," Largo said softly, smiling and looking into Jolyn's clear blue eyes. "I haven't kissed you in over a week."

Jo returned her smile and ran her thumb over the back of Largo's hand. "You've been sick, Meg. You needed time to heal. I didn't want to push you into anything you weren't physically or psychologically ready for.

Largo's voice lowered an octave, "I'm ready now."

"Are you sure?"

She nodded, slowly leaning in to press her lips to Jolyn's. They were as soft and as enticing as she remembered them, and Largo spent a long time reacquainting herself with them before wrapping her arms around her companion and opening her mouth. When she did, however, Jo immediately reciprocated, and sparks flew between them as their tongues met once more.

Largo's pace was hungry, yet slow, and Jo relinquished control to her, knowing the young agent needed it. Feeling herself melt into the sensations she had missed in the last ten days, Jolyn sighed heavily into Meg's mouth as a tide began to flow in her center.

Slowly, Largo pulled away, allowing Jolyn a much needed breath. "Thank you for everything, Jolyn. I know how difficult all of this has been for you, and I'm sorry I've put you through so much."

Jo touched her forehead to Largo's and closed her eyes, "This has been difficult, I can't deny that, but only because I thought I was going to lose you, Meg. When Scully called me that day and told me what had happened...Meg, they didn't think you were going to make it. Your heart was nearly bursting in your chest and they said you had blood clots in your brain. Scully said you'd had a seizure...and I thought you would be gone before I even made it to the hospital."

Largo swallowed hard. She felt a single tear begin to run down her face. "I'm sorry, Jolyn. I know my judgment is sometimes...lacking, and this incident seemed to impair it even further. I can't make you any promises, but I can tell you that I'll try not to do this to you again. I love you, Jolyn, I never want to see you hurting like this."

"I know that, Meg. I know you'd never hurt me, I can see it everyday. You just need to see that what hurts you hurts me as well. Just as you don't want me to hurt, I want that same thing for you. It's such a simple concept, yet one you don't seem to have grasped yet."

Despite the seriousness of their conversation, Largo began to chuckle, her shoulder shaking as Jo's words replayed in her mind. Jolyn joined her, and soon they were laughing aloud at Megan Largo, musical prodigy and young genius, and her inexplicable inability to see the forest through the trees.

As their laughing fit ended, Largo once more captured Jolyn's sensual lips between her own. Their tongues stroked each other, now with a harder, more frantic rhythm. Hands explored, Largo's finding a large, warm breast while Jo's dipped below the waistband of Meg's pajamas to cup and knead her firm ass. Both moaned and suddenly felt the need that had been repressed for ten days return with overwhelming intensity.

Together, they stood and made their way to the bedroom. Once there, Jo sat Meg on the edge of the bed and deftly unbuttoned her top, only to find her gloriously naked beneath it. Jolyn removed the shirt and ran her nails over already-hardened nipples. She smiled against Largo's mouth.

"Yes, Jo," Largo said, her honey-sweet voice heavy with desire, "I'm very ready."

She pulled the sweatshirt over Jolyn's head, then the t-shirt, then unfastened her lover's satin bra, freeing full, beautiful breasts. She bent to take one into her mouth as she laid Jo back and unbuttoned the jeans Jo wore. Jo's hands worked to unfasten the silver clip at the base of her neck, and Largo felt her hair spill down onto Jo's skin.

Then Jo's hands were deep inside it, running through the black tresses as she held Largo's head to her breast and moaned in pleasure.

Largo pulled the jeans down, and they worked to get them off as she licked and nipped at Jo's breast, suckling the nipple hard before moving to the next one. Largo pulled Jo's panties down, and off they came as well.

Unable to wait any longer, she slid down Jo's stomach and was about to kiss her lover intimately, when Jo sat up and pulled away. But before Largo could voice her surprise Jo was at her hips, removing the pajama bottoms. There was nothing beneath them.

"Taking liberties during your convalescence, huh, Meg?"

Largo grinned and sat up, only centimeters away from Jo's face. "Despite your protests, Jolyn," she said, leaning forward to lick the skin just below Jo's ear, "I know how hot it makes you when I don't wear them."

Jo's body visible trembled and she moaned aloud, "Oh God, Meg, What are you doing to me?"

Largo licked again, then sucked at Jo's earlobe for a split-second, "I'm seducing you."

Jo sprayed uneasy laughter, her temperature precariously high. "I'm a sure thing, Meg,"

In her ear, Jo felt Meg's breath as she spoke, "But I want to make you so hot you come ten times for me tonight."

Jolyn thought she was going to come for the first time right then with Meg's rhythmic, distinctive, sweet voice in her ear. She already felt a fluttering in her center.

She knew she wasn't going to last under this assault and pulled Largo down to the mattress with her. With unspoken words, Largo knew what Jolyn wanted, and turned herself around so that they could please each other simultaneously. She felt Jo's mouth begin to work on her and sent her own tongue into her lover.

Meg Largo didn't have the stamina to make her lover scream ten times, but she gave it her best effort, and when they finally collapsed into each other's arms, both were satiated and very, very happy.

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

Fox Mulder's Apartment
7:30 p.m.

Mulder had been ecstatic when Scully accepted his invitation to dinner. Understandably, they'd both spent a lot of time at Megan Largo's in the past four days, but Scully, as her physician (and a very dedicated one at that) had given almost all of her waking hours to her only living patient.

Tonight, however, he'd convinced her to let him take her to dinner. "Someplace nice," he'd said, wanting to see what she would wear for such an occasion.

In actuality, he had absolutely no intention of even leaving the apartment with her. He'd called Scully's favorite bistro and ordered dinner in. Luckily, it had arrived fifteen minutes ago. He'd already donned his tuxedo and had just lit the candles on the table he'd set up in the living room.

He let out an anxious breath and went to the stereo, sifting through a handful of CD's Largo had picked out just for this occasion. Yesterday, during one of what they called their 'bonding sessions,' they'd devised this little scheme. He'd tentatively laid out the groundwork for it and she'd filled in the details for him, rubbing her hands together excitedly and grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

"Chicks dig this kind of stuff," she assured him, "even FBI chicks like Scully and myself. She'll flip when she sees you in a tux, too. I'll bet you fill one out quite nicely."

This was the weirdest thing about his relationship with Meg Largo. She loved talking about sports, cars, she'd even tell dirty jokes, and she was so easy to talk to. It was like talking to another guy. They even both had girlfriends, but then she would spring a statement like that on him; give him the old eye and say that he probably looked hot in a tux. It was a little weird, but came in extremely handy when he needed advice on a situation like this.

At 7:35, there was a knock at the door, and he heard his favorite voice call out from the other side.

"Mulder?"

He threw open the case of the top CD and popped it into the machine, then frantically scanned the room to make sure everything was perfect. He blew out a long breath and ran a hand through his tousled hair, then went to the front door.

She was absolutely beautiful. She wore a simple, black, off-the-shoulder cocktail dress. Her gorgeous strawberry-blonde hair was lifted up on top of her head in wavy curls. She was...drop dead gorgeous.

Blinking at the sight of his tuxedo, she arched an eyebrow and said, "Where are we going, Mulder, the Inaugural Ball?"

"Of course not, Scully, it's November," he replied, trying to be suave as hell. "I thought, perhaps, we'd eat in tonight."

A little Mona-Lisa smile crossed Scully's lips as she stepped inside, now hearing soft jazz begin to play in the background. She allowed him to take her wrap and purse, then walked into the living room. She saw the table, the candles, the single red rose on top of one plate.

Mulder came up and put a hand on the small of her back. She turned to face him. "All this for me?"

He smiled down at her and kissed her cheek, "For us."

Mulder pulled out her chair and she sat, a smile playing across her red lips as she fingered the rose. She brought it to her nose and inhaled deeply, getting as much of the scent as she could.

She watched him leave the room and go to the kitchen, only to return with two small plates of Caesar salad on a serving tray.

"For the lady," he said, placing a plate in front of her.

She took a quick peek over each shoulder, then raised an eyebrow and touched her chest with a joking question in her eyes.

He smirked as he set his own salad plate down, then returned to the kitchen. She heard the twist of metal grinding into cork and then a dull pop as he opened a bottle of wine.

He re-entered and poured, then sat across from her, "So, what do you think?"

"Mulder, it's wonderful. The music, the mood, the meal, everything is perfect...including the man."

He smiled sheepishly into his plate for a moment, then back to her. Shadows danced gloriously over her face in the candlelight, making her even more radiant and beautiful. He watched her spread her napkin and take a small forkful of salad.

He loved to watch her eat. He had ever since their first days as partners. It wasn't known to his conscious mind then, but he loved watching Scully's jaw move delicately up and down, her lips gliding over each other. It was so sensual, so feminine...so damned sexy.

Scully took a sip of her wine. She was watching him watch her. Only now did he take her cue and begin to eat, giving her a turn to look him over as he bent to look at his plate.

He looked incredible in his tuxedo, its gray tie and cumberbund only improving the effect. And the nervous excitement she'd seen on his face when he opened the door. It was the look he wore when they just found a piece of vital information while out on a case. The same one he wore when they had just put all the pieces together. She remembered the first time she'd seen that look. They were standing in a cemetery (of all places) during an Oregon rainstorm, and he'd told her who he thought was responsible for the abduction and murder of four teenagers.

She'd laughed uproariously, partly because of the outrageousness of the situation, and partly because of that look. If she hadn't laughed, she'd have had to think about how goddamned sexy that look was, and she wasn't nearly ready to do that back then.

When they finished their salads, Mulder brought out two more plates. He sat one down in front of her, and she instantly detected the divine smell of marinated chicken breast. It lay in a bed of rice with asparagus on the side. Her favorite meal from Antolini's.

"I can't believe you, Mulder," she said, "this is great."

"Well, dig in then," he replied, "because you have to eat all your dinner if you want dessert."

"What's for dessert?"

He smirked, "Be a good girl and you'll see."

She chuckled to herself at that, but followed his instructions and began to eat. It was, as always, delicious. Occasionally, they spoke as they ate, but for the most part they simply stared across the table at each other. When they had finished and were in the midst of another glass of wine, Scully ventured a question.

"I love this music, Mulder. Who is it?"

Uh-oh. He had absolutely no idea who the sweet saxophonist on the disc was. Whoever it was, though, played a mean instrument. This was definitely mood music, and seemed to be working like a charm.

"Well?" Scully prompted with another arch of a pencil-thin brow.

Mulder scratched the back of his neck as she tried to inconspicuously find the CD case without her noticing, However, not much escaped the hard-nosed agent's detection.

With a wry, yet forgiving smile, she said, "I thought so. It looks to me like you had an accomplice, and I'd say she's tall, dark, and talks funny."

He stood and went to the stereo. "You caught me, Scully. She helped me out a little, and I have to admit, the rose and the tux were her ideas."

She pushed her chair back and joined him, putting her hands on his waist and pulling him closer to her. "They were great ideas, but I'm sure the concept was yours."

She could smell his cologne, it was, as always, Old Spice, a scent she loved because it was so Mulder. They both looked down at the CD case he held in his hand.

"Candy Dulfur," he read, "'Sax Appeal.'"

Scully tilted her head up, "Perfect," she said, and pulled him down to her lips.

She ran her hand along the side of his face as he touched his lips to hers. She opened her mouth to admit his tongue and felt his arms go around her waist. Closer and closer they became as their tongues battled for dominance. They ended up calling a truce and met in the middle, stroking each other slowly and deliberately.

Scully sighed, and Mulder ran a hand down to her bottom. He squeezed it gently, eliciting a small moan. She kneaded his neck with one hand and brought the other to his chest, feeling the beat of his heart under her fingertips.

He released her mouth to move up to her ear, taking in the divine scent of her perfume as he did so. "Dance with me, Scully," he said, raising a hand to cover hers.

She smiled at him as he bent to kiss her once more; a brief, passing kiss. They began to move to the music. She followed his lead with perfect precision, as though they had been born to move together. She laid her head against his chest and closed her eyes, relishing the feeling of another human next to her. She hadn't realized how much she'd been missing close personal contact until she'd begun to see Mulder in this new way. And yet, personal contact had never felt just like this. When she was next to Mulder she felt so good, so right. She knew it was where she was meant to be.

They danced for a long time before the music stopped, but when it did, Mulder looked down at the beautiful woman in his arms and said, "Are you ready for dessert?"

She nodded and gave him a new little smile, one he'd never seen before.

He started to go to the kitchen, but she held onto his hand. He looked back with a question in his eyes, but the smile remained on her face.

"I want you for dessert, Mulder."

His eyes widened in pleasant excitement and he came back to her arms, letting her pull him down for another kiss. Her mouth was warm and wanting, and he let her have her way with him. She delved deep into his mouth, traced the line of his teeth, and nibbled gently on his rich, full lower lip. Mulder was in heaven, and let himself float on the waves of heady sensations she induced in him. She made him drunk on her beauty, her mystique, her charm, and her Scully-ness.

She loved the way he put himself into her hands. He had relinquished control and entrusted it to her. She devoured his mouth, his tongue, his luscious lips, then moved down to lay kisses along his jawline. He had shaved before her visit, she knew by the softness of his cheek as she ran her lips over it and made her way to his ear. He let out a soft growl when she suckled the lobe, then moaned when she shoved her hot tongue into his ear.

He could stand no more, and began to take over. His hands roamed her sides, one finally settling on her breast and the other on her ass. The soft fabric of her dress slid luxuriously over his fingers. He wanted it gone. Her bare, exposed neck was so inviting, and he kissed his way down it as he ran his thumb over her nipple, teasing it into a taut nub.

An electric current ran through her body as his mouth and fingers worked on her body. She began to melt into his arms, and tilted her head to one side, giving him better access to her sensitive neck and shoulder. She ran her hands down the back of his suit trousers and grabbed two healthy handfuls of his backside, making him jump a little and chuckle against her neck.

"Careful, Agent Scully, you don't know what that does to me."

Her voice was low with desire, "I think it does exactly what I want it to do, Mulder."

"Scully, tell me if I'm being too forward, but I'm dying to know what's underneath that dress."

She lifted his face back to hers and laid another kiss on his lips, "Don't be so old-fashioned, Mulder. Take a look."

His arms went around her and to the zipper in the back, but she stepped back, a playful smile on her face.

"But only if I get to see what's under the monkey suit."

Mulder smiled at her, spun quickly to hit the 'Play' button on the stereo once more, and took off his suit jacket. The soft sounds of the sax played over again as Scully stepped into his arms. She twisted them around in order to turn the volume of the music up and hit a button that would run the disc over and over.

At his questioning glance, she said, "Just in case," then grabbed his hand and a candle from the table. She led him down the short hallway and to his bedroom.

"Gee," he said, "and I thought males were supposed to be the dominant species, but you FBI chicks sure know how to take the lead."

"O-o-h, Mulder," she replied close to his ear, "I love it when you call me chick."

The sound of her voice in his ear caused a stirring in his groin. He'd shown considerable control so far, but now, here in the seldom-used bedroom, he felt that control slip about twenty notches.

Neither turned on the lights, but she set the long taper candle in its holder on the dresser, effectively lighting the room in soft flickers. The shadows that played off their faces drew the couple even closer, each feeling the effects of this romantic ambiance.

Scully pulled on Mulder's bow tie, then loosened three buttons. She laid a long, soft kiss in the hollow of his throat and felt his reaction against her stomach. She smiled against his skin, pleased that she aroused him so.

He reached around and slowly unzipped her dress, bending to kiss her as he moved lower. She worked on the buttons of his shirt, and he unclasped his cuffs to allow it to be removed. They lifted his undershirt as well before he slid the black dress down her arms and off her shoulders.

She was all he had ever imagined and more. Of course she was...she was his. His Scully. His partner. His woman. And he was her man, of this he was quite certain.

Her strapless bra was white satin, as were her panties. He removed her shoes and she stepped out of her hose, then went to work on his pants. He kicked off his shoes as she slipped the trousers down his legs and off, removing his socks as well.

Scully's eyes took in the bulge in his gray boxer-briefs, but quickly returned to his eyes. He embraced her once again, capturing her sweet red mouth as he rid her of her satin bra. When her breasts were free, he cupped them, loving the way they fit perfectly into his palms.

She moaned at his touch, and he felt her trembling as he kissed her. He led her to the bed and threw back sheets to allow her entry. She pulled him down with her and they lay side-by-side, mouths locked and hands deep in the other's soft hair.

Mulder broke the kiss to remove her panties, and when he was done she gently, carefully pulled his shorts off and tossed them into the corner.

"I don't have a maid, you know," he teased as he licked behind her ear.

"I can put them back on you, if you'd like."

"No, no," he said quickly. "That won't be necessary."

"Besides, it's not every day women throw your unmentionables around this room, is it?"

He laughed and kissed her again, briefly meeting her tongue before saying, "Definitely not."

She reached for him, and he knelt above her, kissing her mouth, her neck, her shoulders, then closing his mouth on one breast, making her gasp and arch her back. He licked at it hungrily, then suckled it, rolling his tongue across the hard nipple while his fingers toyed with the other one. His chest was against her flat, beautiful stomach, and he could feel the excitement growing within her.

"Oh Mulder," she said lazily, her eyes closed and her head tilted back, "that feels s-o-o-o good."

<You ain't felt nothing yet,> he thought, and trailed his tongue down her stomach, leaving a wet trail that ended at the top of a small patch of dark auburn hair. He spread her legs and bent them at the knees, holding onto them as he bent down and kissed her aching bundle of nerves.

She cried out at the nearly-forgotten sensation. It was like no other, and she considered it the most intimate of gestures. The knowledge that she was sharing it with Mulder nearly sent her over the brink right there.

He moved down and entered her with his tongue, drinking her sweet juices and feeling the warm softness. Oh, she was so ready, but he wanted this first. He wanted to smell her and taste her and make sure she screamed before he did. He was harder than he'd ever been in his life, and knew that once he was inside her he wouldn't last long.

He heard her pant and moan above him, felt her hips lift, felt her involuntarily press her wet self up and into his face. He returned to her clit, stroking it with the flat of his tongue and sucking it gently.

"Mulder! Oh Mulder!" she called, her fists clutching at the sheets and her head thrown back in passion. "Oh God, Mulder. I'm going to come..."

That was exactly what he wanted, and a few seconds later he heard her long cry of release and felt the climax shake her small body.

When it subsided he crawled back up into her arms and hugged her tight. His head lay on the red curls atop hers, but she pulled him down and claimed his mouth, tasting herself on his lips and in his mouth. He would never have guessed Dana Scully for a taster, but apparently she was one, which made his heart expand even more.

When she had finished she met his eyes, "Mulder, that was amazing...now it's my turn."

She pushed him onto his back and began to kiss her way down his chest, but he pulled her back up.

"Scully, if you so much as breathe on me we'll have a mess here."

She smiled, "I can take care of that, Mulder. I'm rather resourceful, you know."

"I'll bet you are, but I want to be inside you when I come for the first time."

Her smile grew wider as she moved back up. She re-captured his mouth once more, then straddled him. She gently grasped his throbbing erection and guided it to her entrance.

"It's been a long time for me, Mulder. I'm going to have to do this slowly."

"That's okay," he croaked, barely able to even speak, "It's been a long time for me, too. Although I'm the frequent victim of a self-inflicted orgasm, I haven't shared them with anyone else lately."

Suddenly a thought entered his mind and he tried to shrink back from her.

"Scully, I...I don't have any protection."

She moved up and sat on his chest, lowering her face to his, "It's all right, Mulder. I'm ...well, there's no risk of pregnancy, and considering we've both only been the victims of 'self-inflicted orgasms' as you so elegantly put it, I don't think we're running much of a public-health risk."

He smiled and jostled her on top of his chest, feeling her wetness and enjoying it. His erection, meanwhile, was growing painful. "I love it when you talk public-health, Scully. Look at how much it turns me on."

She glanced back at his erection and scooted backwards, slowly lowering herself onto him. Both groaned at the sensation.

When he was all the way in, she began to move, slowly at first, then with more speed and rhythm. He met her stroke for stroke, and tried to hang on as long as possible, but it was so very hard when she was so warm and soft and tight.

Scully's voice rang out above the dim music, "Let go, Mulder. This is yours, let go."

"No," he panted, "you too."

Realizing he was going to stick by his resolve, she grabbed his hand and brought it between them as she rocked up and down on top of him. He held his thumb to her and let her motion rub her against it. Before they knew it she was calling his name and squeezing him like a glove. It sent him over the edge and he spilled into her with a force he never knew existed, his body aching and trembling as a powerful orgasm coursed through his veins, charging him and depleting him simultaneously.

He let out his own hoarse cry of pleasure as his partner's grip continued to milk him. When their climax at last ended, she collapsed on top of him and rubbed her face against the hair on his chest. He was still inside her, and he didn't think she had any intention of moving, so he simply let her lay there and recover. He ran a hand lightly over her back as her small chest heaved against his own.

Suddenly, he felt her chest rumble a little, and realized she was laughing softly, careful not to expel him from her body.

"What's so funny?"

"Well," she replied, her breath still a little short, "it's just that that was so much better than any self-inflicted orgasm I've ever had. I think we should do it more often."

He laughed with her, the force of it causing them to lose contact with each other but, nonetheless, they were extremely happy. She scooted up further, laying her head just under his chin. He wrapped his arms around her and lay back, enjoying her presence in his arms.

They dozed peacefully, contentedly, happily, and when they rolled together in the middle of the night, they made love once more, and once again the following morning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
END OF CHAPTER EIGHTEEN -- NC-17 Version
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Epilogue: "Call Me In The Morning"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday, Nov. 7, 1997
Fox Mulder's Apartment
9:15 am

Always the gentleman, Mulder had offered her the first shower, and Scully accepted. They were going out for breakfast, each finding they had worked up an incredible appetite, and not just for each other.

She borrowed an old sweatshirt and some black nylon running pants that could be neatly rolled. Luckily, she'd found an old pair of tennis shoes she'd left over here one day while 'house-sitting' during one of his famous ditches, and laced then up over borrowed socks. She was even wearing his underwear, an old pair of boxer shorts. She got a little thrill and felt a shiver run down her back every time she thought about the fact that she was wearing them.

The phone in the front room rang and she froze. She didn't answer it, afraid would be someone from the Bureau, someone who'd raise an eyebrow over Dana Scully answering Fox Mulder's phone on a Friday morning during their 'vacation.'

She let in ring till the machine picked up and heard an unmistakable voice come through the speaker. "Mulder?" the voice asked hesitantly.

Scully loved the way Largo said his name, drawing out the first syllable and stressing the last. Of course, Largo said her own name in an odd, lilting way too. She smiled at her young partner's strange accent as she listened to her words.

"I'm just calling to see how last night went. Since you're not home I'm guessing you're out running to let out that pent-up sexual energy you didn't get to release. I'm very sorry, I could have sworn that plan was fool-proof. Call me when you get in, okay?"

What was this? Since when were Mulder and Largo playing phone tag? And when had they become so damned chummy? Sure, she'd wanted them to bond, but she never expected this.

On impulse, she picked up the phone before Largo hung up. "Hey kid, how are you doing?"

"Scully?" Largo said in a strangled, high-pitched voice. Then, in a more normal tone, said, "Uh, hi Scully, didn't mean to sound surprised. I just thought...well, never mind."

Scully laughed out loud at Largo's flummoxed reaction, which shocked the hell out of the young Indian woman.

"Wow, she said, "it must have been good. But then, what else would you expect from a man named Fox?"

Scully laughed again, then said, "So how are you doing, Largo?"

Largo clicked her tongue into the phone and Scully could almost see her frowning, "What? You're going to leave me in limbo? Come on, you've got to confirm or deny here, Scully."

"Okay, Largo. If you must know, Mulder and I spent a lovely evening together...and a lovely morning as well."

"I knew it! Yeah!" she cheered. "Congratulations. I'm so happy for you, and for Mulder too."

"Thanks Largo. I'm going to ask you this one more time, and you'd better answer me. How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine, Scully...and I'm not just saying that. I'm finding myself able to do more and more with each passing day."

Scully heard a slap on the other end of the line and a laughing protest from Largo. She figured she knew what 'more and more' meant.

"Well," she said, "I still want you to take it easy. We'll stop by in a few hours to visit and I'll check you out then. Today is Friday, right?"

Tentatively, Largo answered, "Yeah, so what?"

"So that means it's time for another shot."

"A-w-w, Scully," Largo whined.

Scully had to give her patient antibody boosters and anti-seizure medication every seventy-two hours for three weeks to make sure her weakened system didn't succumb to any type of bacterial infection. The syringes were large and the needles long and Scully had to give them to Largo in the butt.

"Let's just get it over with, then I won't have to hear you whine until Monday."

"Are you going back to work on Monday?" Largo asked, curious and with a hint of jealousy.

"We're planning on it. We have physicals scheduled for nine a.m. then a briefing on the new security measures they've installed in the building."

"Oh," Largo replied in a small voice.

"Everything is going to be okay, Largo. Don't you worry about it."

"I can't help but worry, Scully. They played on my worst fears, and I almost shot my partner as a result of Their games."

"We can only go on from her, Largo. We go on and we hope that someday we will have a hand in bringing them down."

Largo blew out a long breath, "I suppose you're right, and I'll get over this. I've done it before, so I have experience in these matters. You have a good day, Scully, and bring your boy-toy over later so we can talk about you behind your back."

"H-m-m," Scully replied thoughtfully. "And this talk would be before, or after I stick that needle in your butt?"

Largo laughed in her merry, sing-song way, "Ha-ha! Dana Scully makes a joke! I love it. See you later, Scully, and say 'hi' to Hercules for me."

Scully hung up the phone. She was still smiling at the instrument when she smelled Old Spice and felt Mulder's strong arms encircle her waist. He set his chin on her shoulder and kissed her cheek. She hummed happily, reaching up and behind her to touch the soft skin on the nape of his neck.

"Good morning, Scully," he said into her ear.

"M-m-m. Morning Mulder," she replied before turning in his arms.

He bent to kiss her, now feeling no rush, no sense of urgency. They had plenty of time now that they were together. They lingered on each other's lips before deepening the contact.

When they finally broke, Mulder looked into her startling blue-green eyes and said, "Agent Scully, I think I'm in love with you."

"I'm way ahead of you, Agent Mulder," she replied with a smile, "Because I *know* I'm in love with you."

He smiled and hugged her to his chest, her head fitting perfectly beneath his chin. Mulder touched his lips to the crown of her head, engulfing them in fiery softness.

For the first time in his angst-filled, guilt-ridden life, Fox Mulder was totally and completely at peace. He'd found his home, and its name was Dana Scully.

~~~~~~~~~~~
THE END
~~~~~~~~~~~

Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed this long, strange tale. Please let me know how you liked it. I'm at:

xfstew@yahoo.com

This was a pleasure to write, and hopefully a pleasure to read as well. I believe Mulder, Scully, and Largo will be back for a Trinity 5, but I'm making no guarantees on a time frame.

One more thing: to all those shippers out there who bugged me about the slow development of MSR in the Trinity stories...ARE YOU HAPPY NOW! ;-)

Thanks for reading, Stew.