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Thank You For Not Smoking

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Thank You For Not Smoking by HTH

SUMMARY: Mulder has his Smoking Man, but what about Scully? We've come a long way, baby.... NC-17, Scully/f, X-Files/Pretender crossover.
DISCLAIMERS: Dana Scully, Fox Mulder, Walter Skinner, and Alex Krycek are creations of Chris Carter, and *The X-Files* is produced and owned by 1013 Productions in association with Fox Studios. Miss Parker, Sydney, Broots, and Jarrod are creations of Steven Long Mitchell and Craig Van Sickle, and *The Pretender* is produced and owned by MTM Productions in association with NBC Studios. No copyright infringement is intended, as this is a not-for-profit work of fanfiction. *Whew...*
CAVEAT: In spite of the rather silly title, which just sprang into my mind and set up camp there, this is a fairly angsty piece containing mild bondage and dominance, and heavy Mulder/Scully tension, as well as Scully using naughty language and generally behaving unprofessionally, not to mention Mulder telling bad jokes and generally behaving insensitively. It also contains Mulder/Scully phone conversations, because I wrote it, and they seem to happen in all my stories -- too much "War of the Coprophages" in my formative years, I think. Time-wise, it takes place shortly after "Bad Blood" and before "Patient X." It *is* part of the same reality as the rest of my slash. Your enjoyment of the story will doubtless increase if you're familiar with The Pretender, but I think even non-viewers will be able to follow it easily.
DEDICATION: To the Gillian Anderson Estrogen Brigade and the Order of the Blessed Saint Scully the Enigmatic, for not being afraid to stand up for the Second Lead....

Thank You For Not Smoking
by HTH

"Wh- Hmph? H-hello?" Scully reversed the cordless phone so that she was speaking into the correct end. Rolling over, she tipped back her alarm clock so that she could read the display. Six thirty-six in the morning. Must be Mulder.

"Scully! I knew you'd be worried, so I called to let you know that my red-eye landed sweet and soft in Mexico City. I'm A-OK, I've got my luggage, and I'm in an Aztec mood. I'm good to go. You going into the office?"

Scully flung one arm over her face, resisting the urge to say, *No, I worry when *I* fly, Mulder; you flying is not a problem for me.* "Of course. It's Wednesday." My God, there was light coming in the window. The sun apparently did *not* rise at 6:59, immediately before her alarm went off.

"You sound like shit, Scully."

The sound of her neck creaking as she sat up in bed bothered her a bit more than the frog in her throat. *Thirty-four, Dana. The body's beginning to think labor rights, hazard pay, benefits. Next come the slow-downs, then the strikes.* "A little head cold, I think."

"True story -- an X-File from the pre-Scully era. A man from Pasadena calls me and says he answered his front door, and what does he find but -- no shit -- a six-foot cockroach, which proceeds to beat the living fuck out of this poor bastard and scuttles off."

"Sell it to someone else, Mulder."

"True story! He drags himself inside and calls an ambulance. Of course, he's telling me all this days later, and this is before you, so I get the name of his attending physician in Pasadena, and just as a jumping-off point, I ask him, you know, What did they say in the ER when you told them what happened? Guy says, Oh, they didn't seem that concerned. Just said there was a bad bug going around."

Scully sighed. Fox Mulder, the lunatic angel of shaggy dog stories. "Mulder, I have to get ready for work."

"I thought you were going to take some time off?"

"I'm taking Friday. Today is Wednesday. They said *you* were experiencing stress episodes, not me." Scully knew she sounded smug, but -- hmm, well, they'd discussed phone calls before seven a.m. before; Mulder was a morning, noon, and night person, but she needed the occasional eight hours.

"Oh, gimme a break, Scully! You *know* they were vam--"

"Mulder, I'm getting ready for work now."

"Are you still...upset? Over that thing we -- we talked about during the holidays?"

*Slow down, Mulder; I don't take these conversational corners like I used to. Hmph. From the six-foot cockroach to the six-foot rat.* "We agreed we wouldn't discuss it anymore." Scully padded into the bathroom, turned on a light, and immediately regretted the necessity. Someday, she was going to master the skill of applying makeup in the dark, and she would never need to face her first-thing-in-the-morning reflection in the bathroom mirror again. Scully turned on the tap and dangled her fingers under the water, waiting for it to warm. "And I'm not upset. It's just early."

"You know it's over. It was a mistake, and it won't happen again."

"It never should have *happened* at all," she rapped out, and regretted that, too. This was exactly why she hadn't wanted him to bring it up; Scully was in no way impartial, and yet she didn't want to be pushed into passing judgement on what was, after all, Mulder's personal life. Alex Krycek possessed by unknown lifeforms was business, X-Files business, Agent Scully's business. Alex Krycek naked in Mulder's apartment was *Mulder's* business. No one paid her to have an opinion on that.

Although she did have an opinion. But that was neither here nor there. Why couldn't he just *shut up* about it, anyway? Why bring it up now, when she was sleepy and vulnerable and hadn't even brushed her hair yet?

He had taken offense; she could hear the injury in his voice. "I didn't have to tell you about it, you know."

*Oh, then why the *hell* did you?* "I have to go."

"Whatever. See you Monday."

"See you Monday."

With one ruthless twist, Scully pulled her hair away from her face and secured it with a cheap plastic clip. In high school, this and a coat of mascara would have seemed sufficient preparation to go almost anywhere. She might even have worn this t-shirt, an oversized Les Miz shirt with the waif peeling and flaking off the front. In those days, she'd required less costuming. A less elaborate screen against the world.

You couldn't compare, though. In those days, she'd been simply herself, all of her selves -- brainy, jaded, sexy, naive, secretive, anything and everything she could imagine, sometimes in the same day.

She had played soccer, been captain of the debate team, driven her father to apoplexy each time her speeding tickets nudged up their insurance rates. Made out with a cheerleader named Hayley at the junior prom, read every book on anatomy in the library, smoked behind the Fine Arts Annex with disaffected drama club students. Gone to confession every week. Refused to trade in her glasses for contact lenses. Dyed her hair brown once. Written terrible poetry. Swiped the X-acto knife that her brothers used for their model airplanes and used it to carve a fine network of hatches on the pale skin of her inner arm. Wanted to be a surgeon.

A hundred years ago. Now it took more effort to be herself. Cleanser, facial scrub, moisturizer, two kinds of foundation. Professional, elegant, composed. Year by year, she had shaved away one Dana Scully after another, paring down to essentials. First to go was the poetry, then the cigarettes, and eventually soccer and speeding tickets and confession. No longer naive. No longer jaded. No longer sexy. Got the contact lenses. Ditched neurosurgery for forensic pathology. Grew up.

*This is you, Dana Scully. Stripped down and sold for parts.*

She had been ambitious once. When that was taken from her, when her career had been derailed and turned into a heap of twisted, smoking metal in a Hoover building sub-basement, she had discovered that the work thrilled her for its own sake. That she was a natural investigator.

She had been a romantic once, a nice Catholic girl saving her heart, if not exactly her virginity, for the right Catholic boy, the love of her life. When that was scalded away, when she had fallen hard for a manic-depressive parapsychologist with a skewered sense of humor and a Christ complex...and realized that she could never love him, any more than she could ever love anyone who wasn't him.... Well. She'd learned a lot about herself there. She'd learned that friendship was a sweeter, more sacred pleasure to her than anything she'd fantasized for herself back in her romantic days.

Once, she had been self-satisfied, felt that she, Dana Scully, was wiser and more noble than most people, unselfish, skillful, and brave. Only when she faced death and became resigned to her own fated end, did Scully realize that her life had been an empty tangle of beginnings without endings, questions without answers. It made her humble. Smaller, but more real.

The heteroglossia of self from her past was gone, honed into one tight, lithe personality: Scully. Affirmed, defined, sacrificed to every morning in front of this bathroom mirror. Rebuilt from the essentials up, with the clockwork craftsmanship of eyebrow pencil and lipliner, concealer and blush.

Scully opened the drawer under her sink and examined the tools laid out as neatly as scalpels. Such time and patience, morning after morning, duplicating herself. Preventing herself from straying into unfamiliar, unsanctioned alternatives, from looking at the world through extreme eyes.

To hell with it.

She had a surgeon's hands and a detective's eye for pattern and design. She brought the plum of her eyeshadow further up on the inside corners. smudged it beneath her lower lashes -- cat's eyes, bruised eyes, strange eyes. All right, so it was a small thrill, hardly a rebellion at all. But it fed a hunger that was beginning to be so much a part of Scully that she could barely feel it at all.

Not one, but three layers of dark eyeliner; Scully feathered it out beyond her eyes a bit, the subtle hint of a Cleopatra curlicue. She chose a lipstick she never wore, a bloodtide color, and as Scully smiled very slightly at her reflection, she saw something predatory and unpredictable in her own familiar features. Her hand jerked, reaching for a tissue to wipe off the lipstick, and only sheer will quieted it.

When would she have this chance again? A quiet day of paperwork in the office, no field assignments, no *Mulder*("Ooh-la-la, Scull-ee! *Dig* that Queen of the Damned look.") A boring, wasted, businesslike day. But Scully could feel her pulse, heavy in her veins, and she felt sleek and stark and hungry -- aware of her hunger. How many times, in the hospital, had she regretted the sterility of her life, wished she had more time to crack her own existence between her teeth, taste its salt and grain? *Ante up, Scully. If you're going to regret something on your next deathbed, at least have something new to regret.*


She played Ella Fitzgerald all the way to the office, sat at Mulder's desk, left her shoes on the carpet. Cross-legged in his chair, humming out of tune, going over months' worth of data sent down from other departments and then marooned on Mulder's Island. Penciling the case they addressed, putting them aside to be filed -- tedious work, but she enjoyed the tedious every once in a while. Mulder treated follow-up work like wolfsbane; once a case was over, he couldn't drop it fast enough, always jittery until the next big lead came along. Sometimes she forced him to come in on a Saturday with her and clean out the backlog; casual clothes, cartoons on Mulder's portable black-and-white, a box of Fig Newtons and a six-pack of Brisk to split between them. This time, however, Scully preferred to do it herself.

Someone knocked on her office door, but entered before she could respond. Well, there wasn't much you could say to the Assistant Director if he felt like breezing right in, but she gave Skinner a narrow look. "Where's your partner?"

*Hm, *good morning* to you, too, sir. Speaking of stress episodes....* "I believe you required him to take his vacation time. Sir."

Skinner frowned. "I did. Goddammit. Bring her in, let's go," he added over his shoulder, and half the FBI tracked into the office that Scully had, only moments ago, been enjoying in rare privacy.

Fine, really only four people in all. Two wore FBI badges; she recognized the younger black agent as Garvey from the Child-Abduction and Serial Killers Unit down at Quantico, and a third man was West Virginia highway patrol. There was a freshly-closed wound underneath his eye, still swollen, and he was pushing a woman in front of him, a woman in handcuffs. She seemed to be limping, until Scully noticed that she was wearing expensive boots -- leather, like everything else she wore -- and the high heel had broken off one, unbalancing her severely.

"Who's this?"

"Beats the hell out of us," Agent Garvey admitted, tossing a document pouch onto Mulder's desk. "Bitch won't give us anything."

"Until I see my lawyer, I'm not even giving you the correct time." She had a low, throaty voice, but rich with the burgundy tones of a cultured upbringing. Old money.

The patrolman shoved her into a chair, and the woman spared him one glance -- dismissive, yet somehow threatening at the same time, a look that clearly said, *I'll get to you later.* She tossed sleek, dark hair back from her face and favored the whole room evenly with a white-hot look of tightly-leashed hostility. "Says her name is Parker," Garvey continued. "We're trying to reach her lawyer now."

"I don't understand. Why are you bringing this person to me?"

Skinner ignored her question completely. "Can you get your partner on the phone?"

"I think so. What--"

"Just tell him I'm pulling some strings to put this in his jurisdiction. I'm running on credit and my sunny smile with CASKU, and he damn well better get his ass back to Washington and look into this."

"Is she a serial killer, sir?" Scully flattened her voice out, hoping that Skinner would catch a goddamn clue and explain this.

He looked puzzled, but at least he seemed to be looking directly at her for once. *I guess I am on the list, when there's no Mulder nearby to fixate on.* "What? No."

"Not yet," the woman said, arching a look at the highway patrolman that unsettled him visibly. Scully couldn't quite fault him for that.

"Get him back here. McGrath, Garvey, let's pursue this from my office; Parker will be fine in custody here for the time being."

"Wh--? *Sir...*"

"She's an X-File as of now. Officer Volk, just turn over the arrest reports and feel free to go on home. Thank you for your help."

Feeling dazed, Scully took the report. He leaned closer as he handed it over and said, "Keep your eyes on her. She's a fighter."

Scully made one last try as Skinner opened the office door, about to vanish, along with his retinue, as suddenly as he had appeared. "She was arrested on what charges?"

"She's a suspect in three kidnappings. Do you look... different?"

On second thought, Scully was just as happy that they were all leaving. "I'll make that call. I'm sure everything is in the arrest report."

Slowly, watching her unexpected guest warily, Scully reached for the phone, picked an outside line, and dialed Mulder; thank Christ for satellite technology. Parker was simply observing, her expression granite. She extended one long leg, her leather jumpsuit creaking loudly, then crossed the other leg with it at the ankles. She looked indecently comfortable, for someone with her hands cuffed behind her back.

After so many rings that Scully was about to give up, she got an answer. "Mulder."

"Yeah, it's me. I'm holding a prisoner that Skinner's just had reassigned to the X-Files. He has requested your personal attention. Here."

"Skinner said that? He's the one who told me to go away! Take my vacation time, he said, someplace warm, someplace with no relationship to work. Not Roswell, he said. Leave the country, he said."

She was annoyed at Skinner; Scully knew that, but it was so much more rewarding to be annoyed at Mulder. "I'm afraid I can't speak to that. But I'm stuck here with a woman who appears to be from a lost episode of *The Avengers,* and I'm not dealing with this by myself. The Assistant Director said quite specifically that she's in *your* jurisdiction now, so I suggest that you get on a plane."



"*The Avengers*?" Parker repeated, arching an eyebrow at her as Scully hung up the phone with a little too much enthusiasm.

Scully picked up the arrest report, began to scan down it. "Unless you prefer *Batman.* Maybe it's my line of work, but I don't see many catsuits on a day-to-day basis." Picked up for trespassing in a --trainyard. Outside of Perkey, West Virginia. The name prickled along Scully's scalp, and she frowned intensely at the report. What had Skinner seen? What was the X-File here? "You want to tell me what you were doing in a boxcar in Perkey, West Virginia?"

"When Sydney gets here, you two can both talk until you choke on your own tongues." She lolled her head from one side to the other, loosening her neck. She seemed almost bored, and Scully had the urge to apologize for Mulder's absence. How inane.

Something about this woman, though, seemed to demand an apology. She was too rangy, too athletic to be kept chained up, and God knew how long she'd been in those cuffs -- sorry, sorry. She sizzled with aristocratic outrage; how dare law enforcement fail to treat her with due deference? Sorry. Being arrested was an inconvenience, a detour, and she had business to take care of. Sorry, we'll find your lawyer, we'll get Mulder here as soon as possible, sorry we can't expedite this a little. *I'm sorry,* Scully had the urge to say, *that the world has no love for any of us, that people deceive and betray and die, that they hurt us, that they leave us. It's not my fault. I'm sorry.*

Strange. Strange reaction, but this woman was a nuclear warhead of diamond, deadly pain, beneath her brazenly insincere serenity. She was...disconcertingly Mulder-like, when Mulder was at his absolute lowest, a gun that could go off at any moment, a walking murder-suicide in the making. She even had his beauty -- lank, physical, mummified in Paris-runway clothes and an empty, inscrutable expression, with eyes like raw and bleeding wounds, and a mouth--

Enough of that. Mulder's mouth was a *verboten* topic in the orderly salon of Scully's mind, and this woman's mouth-- Well, it hadn't been about this woman; she'd been thinking of Mulder.

Her lipstick was a mod, silvered shade of ice-lilac. For an instant, Scully saw the artful overlay of color, the Gothic bloodstain on her own mouth smeared across that pale watercolor....

Scully turned away. This was unacceptable. She was Dana Scully. She was not Mulder, and she did not fuck felons. Mulder did, Mulder had-- it did not *matter.* That was Mulder, and she had nothing to do with it, and it had nothing to do with this Parker woman. Goddamn him. Goddamn him, anyway. *Where's your partner? Can you get your partner on the phone?* Oh, yes, *sir.* Shall I reserve you two a room, while I'm making calls? While I'm his fucking receptionist for the day? *Scully! I knew you'd be worried--* I'm not *worried,* Mulder. Leave me *alone.*

*I need to tell you. You deserve to know.*

Fuck you, fuck you, I don't *deserve* this.

*...The way I feel about him -- it goes back -- I don't know how long. Since before I knew about your, the, um, your medical, ah...*

Go to hell.

*...slept with him...*

Go to hell, Mulder, you *traitor.* *Hate* you....

She was crushing the arrest report in her fingers, seeing nothing but red. Three kidnappings -- where was that in the report, why couldn't she find it? Not *here.* Just trespassing. Mother of God, Skinner, help me *out* here. What did you see? I'm only human. Not *Mulder,* after all.

The voice behind her was a surprise because unexpected, a shock because it caught and fractured, failing to live up to its former glossy arrogance. "Mulder?"

Scully whirled, eyes wide. "What did you say?"

"Agent Mulder...."

"No, I...what do you want?"

Parker licked her lip once, then bit at it, as if to negate whatever gentleness she might have shown, even toward herself -- perhaps especially toward herself. *Don't analyze, Scully. That's not your job.* "My bag." She nodded toward the document pouch on the desk; Scully had actually forgotten about it. "I have cigarettes in it."

Aha. Being held in custody by the FBI wasn't getting to her; the break in her control had been the addict's unease. "You said -- Mulder. Why?"

"Aren't you Fox Mulder?"

What an astounding thought. "Me? *No.* No, I'm-- Agent Scully."

She looked irritated at her own mistake, or maybe at Scully for refusing to conform. "I assumed this was your office. The sign says--"

"I know what the sign says. It *is* my office." Something else she could blame Skinner for. To hell with the desk; six years in the same office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations couldn't tack a brass plate to the door? Fox Mulder, Special Agent.

Fox. A relatively androgynous name. It was reasonable that she would assume.... It made Scully think of that Pam Grier movie, what was it? *Foxy Brown.* You'd have to be the right kind of woman, to pull off a name like Fox. Tall, with Spanish eyes, wavy hair, a Julia Roberts sort of smile. You'd have to have unshakeable cool, be more Pam Grier and less...Dana Scully. To make *Fox* work on a woman.

"My cigarettes?" Arrogant again, imperious.

"I'm sorry. I'm afraid you can't smoke in the Hoover building." Shouldn't that be obvious, in 1998? You couldn't smoke in McDonald's anymore, let alone a federal facility.

"Serial killing begins to look good."

Scully was more amazed than offended. "Is that a *threat*?"

"Do you find it threatening?"


"Well, then."

The document pouch was leather as well; it looked hand-tooled, with a silver buckle as its clasp. Scully picked it up gently, enjoying the texture. It was monogrammed with an *MP.* "What does *M* stand for?" She hadn't really meant to get into a conversation here, was odd, sitting in dead silence with a complete stranger.

"*Miss,*" she said coldly.

Unwittingly, *Miss* Parker had punched a big, flashing red button in Dana Scully's psyche. A moment ago, Scully couldn't have cared less what her name was. Now it was something being concealed, deliberately concealed from her specifically, and Scully knew that *MP* would drive her slowly insane until something else even more mysterious came along. God *damn* it. "Madeleine," Scully grumbled under her breath as she opened the pouch. "Miriam. Monica. Meredith. Meredith, that's nice. Not a Melanie, not a Molly, not a Margaret. Marie. No. Maya." She happened to glance toward Miss Parker, who was eyeing her suspiciously. Scully gave her a bland, innocent smile. *M* for Michelle, *M* for Moira. Meredith was still a pretty name. *M* for Emma Peel.... Scully steeled, trying to force the obsessive throb of names out of her head. Stop stop *Marta Miranda* stop. *Stop.*

Three file folders inside the bag. Joanna Carroll -- Michael Eisenbath -- Jasen Morisaki. Scully flipped them each open in turn; now *this* was more interesting than Miss Parker's name. Medical records. IQ and aptitude test scores. Report cards. Medical records on family members. Joanna Carroll, born 1989. Michael Eisenbath, 1985. Jasen Morisaki, 1991. Scully picked up the phone and placed a call to CASKU to have them fax over whatever missing persons reports they had on those three names -- to AD Skinner's office. It would give her an excuse to go up there and take one more stab at getting information from Skinner. For the first time that day, she really wished Mulder were here; *he'd* have no trouble getting the AD to part with his information. Scully wouldn't be surprised if Skinner confessed to the Jack the Ripper killings, if he thought it would advance Mulder's career. *Ah, ah. Catty, Scully. Very catty. You should be *thrilled* that Mulder's found a friend. Or whatever.*

Prudently, she went back to the files before this line of thought could take on a life of its own. An IQ of 260? "Jasen Morisaki is a bright boy." Eisenbath -- 290. Carroll -- 275. "These are all bright children."

"I've never met them."

"Then why were you carrying files on them?"

She seemed about to deflect the question with another remark about her lawyer, but then she paused. "It was a set-up. I'm just not sure who was being set up."

"Can you explain that?"

"Can I have a cigarette?"

The pack was indeed right here in the bag, along with a lighter and four rolled-up fifty-dollar bills. "You can wait. It's not good for you anyway."

"Who are you, my doctor?"

"Well, not yours, per se," Scully answered mildly. Miss Parker rolled her eyes.

There was something surreal about going back to work as though nothing unusual had happened this morning, but...she had started this back paperwork, and Scully hated leaving a task half-finished. Given an hour or two, Skinner would surely be finished with the CASKU people; she could go upstairs and make another bid for his attention. By then maybe this AWOL lawyer Sydney would surface, and the case could move forward a square or two.

She could feel Miss Parker watching her work. Scully tried not to let it get to her; what else was the woman going to look at, after all? There was a muted thump thump thump jsut on the edge of Scully's hearing -- Miss Parker's intact heel picking out an irregular but repetitive pattern on the carpet, like a trick metronome. Work lasted about fifteen minutes, until Scully's sanity broke cleanly in half. Her head shot up, fixing Miss Parker with a firing-squad look. "What the hell is your name?"

Miss Parker smiled for the first time -- more ironic than amused, but definitely a smile. She let her dark eyes widen, tipped her head down and to the side, shifted in her seat to set off her body, a long, unraveled ribbon of leather and sinewy muscle, dropped carelessly after the Christmas presents had all been unwrapped. "What would you like it to be?" she sing-songed, her voice just one grade off from its former throatiness, round with breath.

In spite of herself, Scully grinned. Well, Catwoman had a sense of humor, anyway. She looked bored as hell, very much like a cat who, accustomed to mousing for herself, has suddenly been put on a strict diet of Nine Lives. Scully could sympathize; she'd been on Nine Lives all her life, and that wasn't really a picnic either. Especially when everyone else assumed she was...*domesticated.* What was with Skinner, anyway? Mulder was on vacation; why did he have to come back? Why was this so fantastic a case that Scully couldn't check into it on her own? Sure, she probably couldn't come up with Mulder's working theory. But Mulder's original working theory was very rarely right. Coming at it from a different angle, it wasn't so impossible that Scully could have an insight of her own, was it? Or did they all really think she was that...pedestrian a thinker? So well-fed and tame and complacent that she needed *Mulder* to be the brilliant one, the creative one. Well, she'd let it go on long enough; delegated so much of the creative work to Mulder, simply because it was expected, that now Scully was *bored,* too. She was bored, and she worked in the X-Files; something was definitely amiss with that scenario.

*Okay, *Miss* Parker. You want to play? I can play.*

Slowly, knowing that slowness would hold her attention better, Scully stood up and moved around the desk to perch on the corner nearest Miss Parker. "I don't know." She picked up the unopened box of cigarettes and pounded them against the heel of her hand. Scully did not look at them, but it was all too obvious that Miss Parker was looking. "Meredith is a good name. What about Melody? Morgan? You look like a Monica." She opened the pack and, unhurried, drew out one cigarette. She set it between her first two fingers, shifting them back and forth slightly so that the end of the cigarette tapped against her thumb, lightly and quickly.

With the air of a woman making a tremendous concession with as much grace as she could possibly manage, Miss Parker said, "All right. You can have one too."

"Thank you. But I don't smoke."

Miss Parker raised an eyebrow. "You handle them very well. Is it a natural aptitude? Or maybe you're just good with phallic symbols. No.... No, I don't think that's it."

Her first instinct was denial -- *I don't know what you mean.* But she did know. She just didn't know why.... Was Miss Parker (odd how naturally that name adhered to this woman) -- reading something off of Scully, picking up on -- on some half-conscious...? *Scully, listen to yourself. You don't set off *anyone's* gaydar, never have. You lived with Clarice for a *year,* and everyone knew she was gay; they still made all the wrong assumptions about you.*

"Well," she began, "I -- did. Smoke. But I quit years ago." Mostly quit. Except when she was at the very end of her rope, exhausted and scared, and everyone in her life, the good guys and the bad, was scrutinizing her, watching for the tiniest tic, one hairline fracture in her strength, control, reason, judgement, sobriety -- her *Scullyness,* Mulder called it, as if she held the patent on moderation. In this office, she supposed she did. On those days, when she could feel herself bottoming out, Scully would buy cigarettes at the nearest convenience store and drive somewhere outside of town, somewhere she could park and smoke the whole pack, one after another, letting her chains burn to ash and be discarded.

It sounded really good right now, actually. She hadn't had a cigarette in ages -- not since that debacle in New Hampshire, when Mulder had been such an absolute bitch to live with, and hellbent on laying a sexual veneer over everything he did, *sniffing* her, for God's sake, then getting half-blitzed in the middle of a case and tongue-fucking with that bleach-blonde detective. Not that it wasn't Mulder's right to -- with whomever -- well, not *whomever* -- she'd been so *irritating,* not Alex Krycek, but definitely not good enough for Mulder -- but drinking was inappropriate -- *sniffing Scully* was inappropriate -- blaming it all retroactively on Jupiter aligning with Mars or *whatever* was just insulting.

Before she realized it, Scully was lighting the cigarette.

"Okay. What do you want to know? I'm a Capricorn. I like sushi, Patti Smith, and *Buffy the Vampire Slayer.* I've never been abducted by aliens, and I wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up." There was something mocking in the narrative, but Scully couldn't tell if Miss Parker was bantering with her, or punishing herself for this display of neediness. Under the circumstances, though, Scully decided to table the name issue.

"Why do you mention aliens?"

"Are you sure this is your office? You have had a chance to look around, right?"

Point taken. Scully exhaled another thin line of smoke; no drug could ever carry with it this reckless taste for Scully. Tobacco was the ultimate in mindless brutality, more addictive than cocaine, with no rewarding side-effects, no mind-altering properties. It didn't do a damn thing for you, but God help you if you didn't have it. There was nothing in the world less logical, which explained Scully's fascination with it. Alcohol might actually dull the pain, hallucinogens might give her something new to think about, sleeping pills would make some sense. Only a pack of cigarettes was truly, dangerously, deliciously futile. And, Scully thought with rare philosophy, like irrational behavior, smoking was universally deplored, and pervasively practiced.

"I ask because I think you were brought here...for some reason associated with alien abductions. My partner studies them, and there's a -- connection here. To that trainyard in Perkey. I don't know what it all means, but I thought you might."

"If those children were abducted, Agent Scully, I assure you it wasn't by aliens."

"By whom?" She was almost moved to pity Miss Parker, who was still fixed with animal focus on Scully smoking her cigarette. "You said this was a set-up."

"The police were tipped to my location. might have been someone else they were expecting."

Scully tipped over the brass nameplate on Mulder's desk and used the back of it for an ashtray. "Where did you get those files?"

"An...acquaintance sent them to me. Don't bother to ask me his name. He goes by Jarrod. At least, I thought they came from Jarrod. Now I'm not so sure. This may have been false information, meant to lead me into this. may have been leaked to Jarrod, to trap him. It would be so *Jarrod* to screw someone's plan totally by accident, because he gave away his tips."

"You think you're being framed for kidnapping? There's no real evidence linking you to--"

"Not yet," Miss Parker said darkly. "And if this was a trap for Jarrod, then the whole thing's blown to hell by now. But if it was about me all along...then you'll get your evidence. They'll make sure of that."

Wonderful. A conspiracy theory. "They?"

"*They,*" Miss Parker said with finality. "Margot."

"We call them -- Margot?"

"We call *me* Margot. That's my name."

She seemed extremely mellow about this revelation, for someone who had refused to answer the question so many times. "Really?"

"As far as you know."

Scully tapped off another edge of ash. "I prefer Meredith."

"And I preferred Fox. Life is cruel."

"Now, now," Scully said dryly. "We learned in my cancer support group that viewing yourself as a victim is self-defeating."

"Yeah? Well, my doctor says that ignoring the fact that your ulcer has started to bleed is fucking stupid. Which is a metaphor, as far as I'm concerned." She paused. "You have cancer?"

"It's in remission." Miss Parker nodded. For one disorienting moment, they could have been old college friends, meeting for coffee to catch up on the last decade or so. Scully put out the last of the cigarette, and suddenly there was nothing friendly about the look Miss Parker was giving her. "You have an ulcer?"

"I prefer to think of it as a pet. It feeds itself, which is nice."

Scully heard herself chuckling. She liked this woman's... unpredictability, liked it that she wasn't following any social script. It was hard to imagine anyone else lounging handcuffed in the FBI headquarters, giving off this particular mishmash of hostility, flirtation, humor, and shrewdness. Miss Parker -- Margot? Scully doubted it somehow -- was an utterly renegade personality, from catsuit to conspiracy to the pet ulcer and the *Miss* that Scully was beginning to believe *was* her given name. Scully lit another cigarette, took a drag on it, and held it in her fingers. "Come on."

Miss Parker sprang up, and vainly tried to look blase as she staggered over to the desk on her one high heel. It was a strangely intimate act, holding the cigarette delicately as Miss Parker put her lips around it, pulling the carcinogens down into her body with her eyes closed in feral pleasure. When her dark eyes flickered reluctantly open and she drew away, giving in to the oxygen addiction much more grudgingly than she had to the nicotine, Scully found herself unwilling to break their eye contact. What amazing eyes -- what a rare person they indicated. Brutal, vulnerable, a cynic, a seeker, the vain and selfish stepsister from a fairytale crossbred with Mary Magdelene on the day between the crucifixion and the resurrection. A soul inclined to large vices and immortal loyalties, petty cruelties and mute generosity. She was like an elaborate Russian novel, the kind that kept Scully awake nights, glued to it in breathless suspense even on the fourth reading. Scully was dying to know what happened next....

It began as a kiss in the hollow of Scully's collarbone, and became a bite, low on her throat. Scully hissed, but not in pain. She let her head drop back, and Miss Parker moved with lips and tongue up the bared throat; Scully took one last smoke and put out the cigarette. "*Bitch.* That was *mine.*"

"No smoking in the Hoover building." It was a risk, but it paid off. Miss Parker bit her again, just below her earlobe, and though it was hard enough to hurt, even to distract Scully a bit, it was followed by the slow glide of a tongue up the edge of her ear. Scully braced her hands behind her on the desk, the pleasure slowly reshaping her into a taut bow of awareness.

Conscience knocked incessantly behind Scully's eyelids. *Can you say, *unethical*? If anyone were to see this -- you wouldn't have this career, or any other career -- and anyway, you don't *know* this woman -- you don't know that she isn't a kidnapper, or worse -- you *do* know that she's a prisoner in your custody -- this isn't you, Dana, you don't do this.*

She wondered...God, she didn't want to, did *not* want to go here...but she couldn't help wondering, was this how Mulder had felt? Cut loose from reality, from law and truth and knowledge, arrowing upward into some sky-bright wilderness where nothing was certain except that this person, this dark and faithless, *beautiful* person, made him -- made her -- feel -- new.

*...I can't explain it, Scully. It's how I feel -- with him -- I can't explain it, it defies.... Would you just *listen*? I'm trying to tell you something....*

*No. No, I won't listen. I don't want to hear it, Mulder. Mulder -- stop. I said *be still,* Mulder. This is over. We're finished with this....*

*...Why won't you...*

*Because it's not right!*

*Don't you think I know that? It's all different. When he's there. There are no rules....*

*There are rules. If you choose to ignore them, it doesn't mean that there are no rules.*

But maybe, Scully thought, as she laid hesitant hands on Miss Parker's arms, let them slide down the butter-soft leather of her sleeves, maybe Mulder had a point. Not that there were *no* rules, but...that sometimes this was a rule. Change, after all, was the underlying scientific principle of the universe. And this was changing her. This was...quantum.

Their bodies collided lightly, Miss Parker's breasts pressed beneath Scully's as she chewed on the back of Scully's neck. Scully's fingers sank into her arms, just above the elbow. "Not..." Scully pulled in her breath hard, felt her torso scrape along Miss Parker's, the shirt beneath Scully's suit jacket riding up off her stomach. "Not here. Too dangerous."

"Unlock me." She snapped the chain on her handcuffs with a loud chink.

"Pam Grier wouldn't," Scully mumbled.


Scully met her eyes, and a small smile arched her lips. "I"


AD Walter Skinner was thumbing through paperwork as she talked, but he continued to shoot Scully looks over the top of his glasses -- looks that straddled the fence between suspicion and simple puzzlement. "Are you sure about this, Agent Scully?"

Scully reclined slightly in her chair, projecting nothing but quiet, conscious calm. "Sir, we can't be certain of anything yet. But Miss Parker very clearly believes that her life is in danger, that she has ties to some sort of conspiracy involving the abduction of children they believe to have extraordinary mental faculties. If she can help us identify...." Scully closed her eyes. She had seen Mulder handle this man a hundred times; she did not have Mulder's... advantages, but she had his savvy. Putting her hand to her hair in a half-hearted gesture, Scully opened her eyes and gave him a softly-focused, wistful look, the look that Mulder always used to drive home an argument. *No one but *you* can help us, sir. You will, won't you, sir?* She leaned in, setting her fingers to the edge of his desk. "Sir, I know we've all been down this road before. But this woman is not Alex Krycek, and Blevins won't be responsible for this -- we will. You and I and Agent Mulder." *Mulder Mulder Mulder. Abracadabra.* "But we need to move on this, before they know we have her."

"Do you agree that her life is in danger?"

"I think that unless she remains in our custody, they can reach her. The last thing I want is another Cardinale."

Skinner heaved a sigh, a familiar *I expect to regret this* sigh, and returned to his paperwork. "You want to move her again."

"Neither you nor I believe that Section Chief Blevins was the only spy they have in this office, sir."

"All right. Where do you plan to hold her?"

Business accomplished, it was time for one sharp needle of revenge. *This is for the plate on the door. Sir.* "I've considered that. I think it's best that Miss Parker and I go to Crystal City, sir. Your home."

His head snapped up so quickly that Scully expected it to bob zanily like a sprung jack-in-the-box. "*What?*"

"The most paranoid man I know chose it as a temporary hiding place for the most wanted man I know. Frankly, sir, that's recommendation enough for me." Skinner was turning an interesting roseate color; Scully could hardly wait to hear him explain how that case was different from this one.

"Agent Scully," he finally said, "my home is not a holding cell for felons."

"Miss Parker is hardly a felon, sir. She was arrested for trespassing, and the evidence for her connection to these kidnappings has to be stretched even to be considered circumstantial. Fingerprinting has turned up no criminal record. We don't know anything that would suggest her involvement with contract killings or espionage."

His mouth twitched slightly as he accepted her points scored. "It seems unprofessional."

"I no longer trust the professionals. Only you and Mulder." *Mulder Mulder Mulder.* "I trust your committment to finding these men, and I suggest this only because I appreciate how important it is to you to handle a potential source like this *personally.*"

Skinner turned such an odd color so quickly that Scully was momentarily concerned that she'd given him a stroke. "Whatever you're implying--"

"Implying? I'm not sure what you mean, sir."

"Get her out of here." It was as much a growl as speech. "Make sure she stays cuffed; I don't trust her. Call Mulder and tell him to meet us there as soon as he lands." Skinner pitched a keyring at her, and Scully caught it in one hand. "I'll be there by six."

"Thank you, sir."


Scully buckled her prisoner into the passenger seat. "What did you tell Ward?" Her voice glinted and spun like a flipping coin; right now she was bright, alert, but what goes up must come down, and Scully knew this could all come falling to the earth without warning. There was a grisly inevitability, in fact, to the idea that this charged state of conspiratorial simpatico would never last. Or maybe it was just Scully's cynicism talking.

"That you were going to give us a statement about your conspiracy."

Short, almost inaudible laughter took Miss Parker in its teeth and worried at her for a moment. "You believe that?"

"I'm sure you can tell us something. You've already told me--"

"I didn't tell you shit. Do you think we're having some sort of... cops-and-robbers slumber party here? You'd like an affadavit out of me in a game of Truth or Dare?"

Scully took a slow breath, reminded herself to be calm. "I consider you a potential witness."


"Even if they framed you for kidnapping?"

She stared out the passenger window. "I'll handle it on my own. I've played this game with Raines before, and I've always handled it."


Miss Parker glanced over at her, frowning. "You have a nice ass, and I like the redheaded thing, but you're beginning to fucking annoy me anyway. I may not be the Centre's favorite child right now, but I *am* still Centre. We handle our problems internally."

"*Sorry.*" After a moment, it wasn't enough. "Someone brought in the FBI to handle you," she reminded Miss Parker.

Her irritation faded more quickly than Scully anticipated, and she quirked something humorless, and related to a smile. "They would have had to. The Centre wouldn't dare push me beyond another T-board, not openly. You know what would really upset me? If I find out that someone tried to turn the FBI loose on Jarrod. Jarrod is *my* assignment."

"What's a T-board?"

"Torture board." Miss Parker's tone discouraged Scully from even speculating about that one.

At a stoplight, as Scully was wondering what exactly had happened in the office, and what had changed since then, her cell rang. "Scully."

"A-agent Scully?" It was a man's voice, one she didn't recognize. "I was given this number -- an Agent -- ah, Director.... Mr. Skinner. I'm looking for Miss Parker?"

*Are you or aren't you?* Scully wanted to ask, but he sounded confused enough as it was. "Who is this?"

"Can I talk to her? Can you tell her it's Broots?"

Was that a name, or something intended to describe the situation, some peculiar shadow-government slang for "urgent" or "top secret"? "Broots?"

Miss Parker sat forward. "Give me the phone." Traffic being as light as it was in the middle of the morning, Scully felt confident driving with one hand; with the other, she held the phone for Miss Parker. "Have you found Sydney? ... That's the *wrong* answer, Broots. ... You could tell me he was on a pilgrimage to Tibet and I wouldn't cut you any *slack* on this. I have been fucking well *arrested.* You *find* him. Cut you some *slack.* If I have to cut you anything, Broots, I promise you that it will scar. ... You *find him.* ... Yeah, either that or you'd better start planting some evidence yourself, because you don't ever want me to get out of jail.... Not yet. Not at all, if I have a chance to work with Sydney on this. ... You've already *tried.* Now start doing it." She leaned away, and when Scully pulled back the cell she could hear a dialtone.

"You must be a joy to work with."

"Broots is such a tragically small little person."

"Is he your secretary?"

Miss Parker shrugged. "No, he's some computer genius. We pay him good money to find things, but of course now he can't even find Sydney, who's usually all too present for anything that makes me look ridiculous. Poor Sydney. He'll absolutely cry when he finds out I was detained by a rent-a-cop in Pussy, West Virginia and he wasn't on the scene to smirk."

"Who's Jarrod?"

"I don't know."

Scully had expected any snide, snappish, or defensive answer to that question -- anything but *I don't know.* "What do you mean, you don't know?"

The look Miss Parker gave her was unusually devoid of venom; she had become suddenly all business, the consummate company woman. "I mean, I don't know. I know what he looks like. But *who* he is.... He's whoever and whatever he wants to be. You plan your little investigation, if it keeps you busy and happy. But forget Jarrod. You'll only find him if he wants to be found."

Ever since she had joined the FBI, Scully had met scores, maybe hundreds, of men and women who could adopt this kind of remote, mechanistic facade as easily as they put on their dark suits in the morning. It was a defense against horrors that no sane person would willingly seek out, a studious, cultivated insanity to be used and discarded as required. But somehow on Miss Parker, the look was more foreign than familiar to Scully. It wasn't a wall -- she could feel that. Her glistening, provocative glibness, the black words she fired off like semi-automatic rounds, *that* was her facade. This was Miss Parker, and Scully was amazed to realize what a dark, noiseless emptyness she contained. Pain and desire alike were the stone and crystal of a vast cavern, deserted except for business, obligation, the ceaseless, passionless trading of facts and favors.

How often had Scully wanted that for herself? She'd had a recurring nightmare, at Quantico, about autopsying herself -- making a tidy Y-incision, splitting herself open, prying out the insides. And it had been strangely welcome. *Exhibit A, Scully. This is what you wanted to be when you grew up -- yourself, only less so. How does it look, now that you're well on your way?*

"My name is Dana," she said, unsure why it seemed important.



"This isn't your apartment," Miss Parker announced as Scully uncuffed one of her wrists and tethered her to the refrigerator handle with it.

"You don't think I can afford it?"

"No -- how would I know what you can afford? It's much too male. You strike me as the throw-pillows and spice-racks type."

Scully smiled slightly. "I suppose you prefer naugahyde and ceremonial Klingon weaponry."

"Oh, a *Star Trek* fan."

"Mulder's influence. But I must say I've never seen *Buffy the Vampire Slayer,* so obviously you have a lot to teach me about quality television."

Once more, the pendulum seemed to have swung. Miss Parker's eyes were glittering in wolfish pleasure. "Let me guess. You watch...*Ally McBeal.*"

"Occasionally. I don't think my career would go very far if I wore skirts like hers, however."

After a puzzled moment, Miss Parker shrugged that away. "You never know. You must already have some personal privileges -- you know, perks of the job?"

"Perks? *My* job? Which perk would that be? Would that be getting run off the road by black government sedans? Putting up with the whole VCU's asinine remarks about my partner's intelligence and/or his ass? I know, I know. The *perk* would be having my dog eaten by an alligator, or perhaps being drugged by vampires and dumped in a graveyard."

"So everyone in your office hangs out in the boss' apartment and goes through his cupboards?"

She was going through the cupboards, wasn't she? "I was...looking for coffee. You think this place is--?"

"Just a hunch."

"Well, you're right. But I don't hang out here. Actually, I've never been here before. But it is one of the places Mulder and I picked out as rendezvous points in case of emergency. I have no coffee. I have Lipton."

"Christ. What kind of faggot do you work for?"

Scully twitched a smile. "I'm not familiar with the taxonomy."

"Really? You seem like kind of a fag hag. Snappy dresser, mildly funky, in a serious-professional kind of way, but you don't look like the type who wants the hassle of drool on your lapels. You're gorgeous, so women all hate you, and straight men are right out. Of course, that means that you're so happy when any woman will even have lunch with you that you're willing to give the bisexuality thing a go, and if a good-looking man who's seen the inside of a gym and wears matching socks smiles at you without a cheap proposition in the first five minutes, it's the answer to your prayers. Too bad he's gay. It was kind of a cutting-edge, touching story in the early eighties, but it's 1998, and you're a type. Don't you hate that?"

"Duck," Scully said tersely, and threw the freezer door open without waiting to see whether or not Miss Parker obeyed. Miss Parker chuckled. "Speaking of misdiagnoses. I always pictured Skinner as a Rocky Road man."

"What's he got? Cookies'n'cream?"


"How low the mighty have fallen."


"Whatever." Her voice was distant, uninterested. Even Scully, accustomed to Mulder's mood swings, was amazed at the way Miss Parker could bait her with one breath and forget her by the next. She turned to look at her, and graduated to a new level of amazement. Miss Parker was concentrating on touching Skinner's hanging light fixture with her toe; Scully was a limber person, but her muscles ached in empathy with the leg that Miss Parker had extended upward at an improbable angle, stretched out to brush the wooden arms of the fixture with her pointed toes. It was rather a beautiful sight to behold, like watching a panther at play, and it took Scully the length of a few deep breaths to realize why her hand was going numb and remove it from the ice cube pan. "You must have made at least a token effort toward that ballerina goal."

"Twenty years."

"Twenty *years*?"

"Started lessons when I was four. My father barely talked me into college; I was ready to run off and start my career. After I graduated, I danced for a year with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Then I quit."

"Were you injured?"

"No more so than every dancer, no."

"Then why--"

"I quit. I went into business."

"And look where that got you."

"Shackled to a major appliance in a Virginia condo as sexual prey for a federal agent."

Scully's eyebrows shot up. "Somehow I can't picture you as prey. I think you just enjoy making a production of everything."

"I might be in a more sunny mood after another cigarette or three."

"I somehow doubt that," Scully muttered. *Thank God.* Scully doubted she'd be half so attracted to this woman if she weren't so poisonous. It was a game, and Scully understood the rules instinctively. Miss Parker would never waste three words on someone she didn't find interesting. She wouldn't play with Scully -- flirt with her, specifically -- if they weren't connecting on some level. And that hadn't happened to Scully for a long time.

She was toying with the ice cubes again; one was half-melted in the warm cradle of her palm, the size and shape of a chocolate Easter egg. Scully took it like a specimen between two fingers and touched it to Miss Parker's earlobe. "What the fuck?" Miss Parker said, but in a messy, fumbling way, not as though it were a question she wanted to ask, but more of a stock phrase that came immediately to mind when she wanted to say something but had nothing to say. She sketched down Miss Parker's long neck with the ice, loops that started out abstract but quickly became a weird vertical kind of cursive writing, a stream-of-consciousness essay written in shining water down Miss Parker's skin. *xfiles dana perkey hot foxy mexico love emily doctor crystal meredith* Down her neck, across the hard, ridged texture of her collarbone, the slope of her breasts. Scully had never been good at abstract. She let the thin thumbnail of ice, almost melted away to nothing, drop down the front of Miss Parker's catsuit, between her breasts. Miss Parker's hips jerked slightly, and she murmurred, "Bitch," in a voice that was casually affectionate. Sastisfied, Scully visualized the ice melting to a thin brook of cold water that traced down her abdomen and her pelvis, winding lazily to become lost in the marshlands between her legs, where the water was steamy and hidden. The scientist in Scully was unable to shake the knowledge that such a small amount of ice would not reduce to enough water to reach all the way to Miss Parker's cunt.

That was the kind of thinking that made most people consider Scully something of a professional killjoy. Mulder was so much more interesting. Speculative, creative, eccentric; even people who thought he was insane found Mulder *interesting.* He was damned interesting that he put Scully in the shade, just by being there.

*Scully. Scully. He's not here. He's not here, is he? And as far as Miss Parker's concerned, he's irrelevant. You're the only one forcing yourself to make these constant comparisons....*

She stepped away, and after a moment of silence, followed Miss Parker's eyes down to where her fingers were wrapped around Miss Parker's forearm, just above the ring of steel. "I want everything to be clear between us," Scully began, in the blankly soothing voice she had learned to use at work, half in imitation of Mulder and half in defense against him, "in terms of--"

"I'm hungry. Are we going to eat that ice cream or not?"


*Pay attention to me.*

*You started this.*

*I should have taken my day off.*

"I'm actually not hungry yet. But you'll be the first to know." Scully stalked out of the kitchen in search of a bathroom.

She found one at the top of the stairs and closed the door, more for psychological than physical privacy. Skinner's bathroom, like the rest of Skinner's apartment, had the spartan elegance of a luxury hotel, well-stocked but devoid of anything truly personal or revealing. She wondered if Mulder had ever been here, aside from the one time.

*With Krycek. Scully, what are you doing here -- honestly? This isn't you. You can recreate the scene, practically perfect in every detail -- the prisoner, the condo, the information, even the attraction -- and it won't make you understand what happened to Mulder. And it won't bring the two of you closer, and it won't make any of that Mulder magic rub off on you.*

Scully cast aside her jacket, then crossed her arms over her body to pull off the shell underneath. Caught by the sight of her own reflection, Scully ran light, examining fingers over her ribs and stomach. She was so much thinner than she had been six years ago. Hard living, she was tempted to say, but that wasn't the whole story. Though her work was admittedly arduous, and though fear and bottled rage had made her train hard ever since Duane Barry, the bulk of the weight loss had been over the last year. The illness or the chemo or something else entirely had robbed Scully of the appetite her family used to tease her about; even the things that used to be her weaknesses -- barbeque, fajitas, fudge, lobster -- left her cold now, and she existed mainly on ramen noodles and graham crackers, with only the occasional delivery pizza to up her calorie intake. She was usually hungry, but somehow the idea of eating was worse. Scully had been unaware, until now, how plainly it showed in her body; it was a private disorder, something she had even underplayed while talking to her doctor. Maybe, like the autopsy nightmare, she enjoyed it on a mysterious level, a Catholic inclination toward mortification of the flesh, or the resurfaced pain of a bookish, pudgy thirteen-year-old with a willow-thin and universally-loved older sister.

She finished stripping down and turned on the shower. The first thing she did was wash her face. Stupid, juvenile conceit, to think that a trick with makeup could change anything. Could change who you were. Scully. Just Scully. When did she stop being Dana? Yes, obviously she'd adopted the prep-school form of address for Mulder's sake, to put them on an even keel, the level field of strong partnership. If he was Mulder, she had to be Scully. But even in her own thoughts? Had she changed that much to suit Mulder? No. Something else had happened.

*Don't call me Fox. *Miss* Parker. Scully.* She wondered what exactly the Fox, the Dana, the elusive M-name meant to each owner, what the three of them pushed away when they tore their names in half and disowned the part that had been carefully, lovingly chosen for them individually, retaining only that which was determined by society and custom.

*Three severely unbalanced people. We truly are.*

She dried off with the still-damp blue towel on the towel rack. It had a heavy, warm smell to it -- Skinner's. Scully couldn't help but feel a little guilty; this was a definite invasion of her boss' privacy, using his shower, his soap, his towels. As if all of this wasn't an invasion of his privacy to begin with; too late now. Wrapping herself in the towel, she crossed the hall and found Walter Skinner's bedroom.

There was more here that was personal than in the rest of the apartment. Skinner's stereo, and his CD collection -- eclectic, but charmingly unfashionable all through -- some old Patsy Cline, Neil Diamond, The Mamas & the Papas, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Reba McEntire, Bonnie Raitt, They Might Be Giants. They Might Be Giants? She smelled one of Mulder's infamous Christmas shopping fugues. His bookshelf, fully stocked with Civil War nonfiction and what looked to be everything Stephen King had ever written, with a little Tom Clancy on the side. Scully stopped herself from noticing any further details. This was obviously the heart of what personal life he had; there was trespassing, and then there was trespassing. (Trespassing. Ha. Get it? Perkey, West Virginia. Crystal City. There was something wonderfully literary here, some grand metaphor. Scully had never liked metaphors.)

Scully found a navy blue FBI t-shirt in a drawer and put it on; though she did genuinely regret the invasion, she had no intention of putting her crisp black suit back on, not yet. If this were Mulder's place, she'd borrow a pair of boxers, too (after all, she did mostly buy them to begin with; the first time she'd had to stay overnight at Mulder's, she realized that his expensive tastes in fashion did not run to underwear. Maybe it was none of her business, but she'd found that it bothered her to work alongside him knowing he was wearing ragged Hanes that he probably bought in the 1980s. So she stocked him up on tasteful underwear, and renewed the gift every year or so. It said something about Mulder that he seemed to regard that as perfectly normal; Scully didn't know what, but she was grateful for it.) Mulder was Mulder, however, and even if she was making free with Skinner's personal effects today, that was much too far.

She knew the number for her own local Papa John's, and she dialed it from Skinner's bedside phone and let them transfer her call to the branch nearest this condo. Scully ordered pepperoni, on the vague assumption that everyone liked pepperoni, but the choice of crusts stumped her. Scully wanted to laugh at her own consternation; she wondered if Mulder and Skinner had ordered pizza for Alex Krycek -- if they had all sat around debating the merits of thin versus original crust. She decided on thin.


A knee-jerk paranoiac reaction to the pizza guy made Scully throw a five-dollar tip at him and practically shove him out the door -- maybe it was the fact that her last pizza had been full of tranquilizers and delivered by a vampire, or maybe just the possibility that he would venture far enough in to notice the woman handcuffed to the refrigerator in the next room and notify the police.

The woman. The woman had to be dealt with; Scully couldn't hide upstairs forever, listening to "Sweet Home Alabama" and thumbing through *Carrie.* So far, Scully preferred the movie.

The refrigerator handle at least afforded her some vertical mobility; Miss Parker was seated cross-legged on the floor, her arm raised in a languid, almost Grecian crescent by the demands of the short handcuff chain. She did not look at Scully as she entered, nor did she particularly look away.

By Miss Parker's free hand, as carefully as if she were dressing an altar, Scully laid out the open pizza box, with Miss Parker's cigarettes and lighter in the lid. While Miss Parker hesitated between sustenance and nicotine, Scully went to the sink to tear off a few paper towels. She heard the lighter behind her and smiled slightly. If you could trust anything in this world, it was the passion with which people adhered to their irrationalities.

Scully sat on the floor, knee-to-knee with her captive, and reached for a piece of pizza. "You changed," Miss Parker commented.

"Well, since I'm taking a de facto day off...."

"While we wait for your elusive partner."

"And your elusive lawyer."

She made a complex gesture in the air with her cigarette before tapping out the ashes into the pizza box. "Sydney's not actually my lawyer. But he's the only person" She said the word grudgingly, as though it were a bad habit she had made a tenuous peace with. "What the fuck is it that you do, anyway? Why is it so crucial that I be transfered to you? Do I look like I need a doctor?"

"You weren't transfered to me." Scully wondered if she really sounded as bitter as she thought she did. "You were transfered to Mulder. And he's not a doctor; he just collects conspiracy theories. Skinner thought you might have one to share."

"You do, too. Think that."

Scully shrugged. "I just work here."

"So that's what your partner does? He's paranoid professionally? Here, finish this for me; I'm starving."

Scully took the cigarette from her. "Yes. He's paranoid professionally. He's a -- an expert on UFO and abduction lore. We're the FBI's parapsychology arm. Such as it is."

"All both of you. How priceless. What are you, the faith healer?"

"The skeptic." Scully blew a thin stream of smoke up at the ceiling. Occasionally, she could see the humor in the whole situation. Not often, but occasionally. "It's on my business cards. I do parties, too. People hire me out to debunk the magician."

"All that and you get to carry a gun, too."

"It's good work. Pepperoni okay?"

"Little fucking late now, isn't it? If you're not going to ask before you order it, why bother at all?" Miss Parker paused to suck the tomato sauce off her fingers. Scully was enchanted by the sight.

Funny -- she'd brought Miss Parker here on some half-conscious attempt to get inside Mulder's head, and now...she was completely on her own, and the power was heady and electric. Mulder had made his choices alone, because he'd known they were his choices, not Scully's. Maybe for once in her life Scully could tell herself that she had the right to choose something for herself and really believe it. Not her father's choice, or Mulder's, or Skinner's, or Duane Barry's, or even God's. Only hers. God, how she had craved that for the past year -- privacy, freedom. Space.

It felt good. It fleshed her out, fed her, and suddenly she was a creature of appetites again. She *wanted* -- wanted the pizza, and fudge, and the sooty taste of Miss Parker's mouth. Wanted everything --or at least too many things, all in a wild jumble, to sort out at once. It was, possibly, enough for the moment. It was a lot to get used to.

"I have to tell you why I brought you here. I was trying to hurt someone, I think, someone who isn't even here. Because he had an affair that -- that hurt me very much, and you remind me of -- of the man.... It's a long story. A ridiculous story, and actually, I'm not even sure it had anything to do with...anything. I have no idea. But what I've been doing, all day today, is not me. It's not who I am. All I really want is your help, because if your Centre is affiliated with the men who abducted me and caused my daughter's death, then I have to know that. Please. We may not be friends, but I want you to consider helping me, because I think there's a part of you that wants to very much. Just...consider it."

Scully chose to exit the kitchen on that line, half out of calculation and half just because she didn't want to know it yet if she was wasting her breath. She sat down on Skinner's couch and used Sunday's paper to catch the ashes she flicked off the end of her cigarette. It was the right decision, the best decision. Mulder was the one who let his desires run away with him in tow, and she was not Mulder, and it was her decision. *Mine, mine, mine.* She had the hunger now, and that was what she had really wanted all along, all her life. Not the satisfaction, particularly. Just the desire.


Treading carefully, as though through a pile of sleeping snakes, she returned to the doorway of the kitchen. "Yes?" Scully said quietly.

"I have a question, something I've been thinking about a long time, but I didn't know who to ask." She was firing off words like shrapnel now, the hostility impersonal, splattering everything indiscriminately. "Look at you -- you're an FBI agent, you obviously work with a dangerous lot, swim with the sharks, all that. So if you care so much, if you care about the whole damn world and you put yourself out there to save everybody, I just have to ask, *why?* Why have a child? It's so treacherous -- anyone could turn on you and you'd never see it coming --never have a chance to protect yourself. Is it just biology, just genetics? Of all people, why do you do it?"

*I had no choice,* Scully began to say. But she realized the lie concealed in that truth, and she stopped. "I've always wanted children. Yes, it may be biology, in part. We're equipped with a drive to continue the species. You never wanted children?"

Her head jerked, denial and recoil. "Never. Never. I think it ought to be a *crime.*"

Scully took a deep breath, obscurely certain that she was standing on the edge of Miss Parker's emotional precipice, her own personal Skyland Mountain. "I can't tell you why I wanted a family, before. But I can tell you why I wanted Emily with me, once I had her. If you want to hear the story." Miss Parker shrugged, her shackled hand balled into a tight fist, and Scully sat down on the floor and put out her cigarette, while Miss Parker lit one for herself.

"Several years ago, my older sister Melissa was shot and killed. The shooter was there for me; I guess in the dark we must look alike, though I certainly can't see much resemblance. But because of the circumstances, I felt very responsible. Melissa was...a rare, wonderful person. Even as a teenager she was, I don't know, *wise.* Very spiritual, very generous. Mulder used to call her a fluffy crystal bunny, but even he couldn't help liking her. I used to get annoyed with her, because she was always trying to sell me on some new pseudoscience, touch therapy or reiki or whatever, but I have to admit, she did have all the instincts, the soul, of a healer, maybe more than I do. She was a vast source of love. She loved everyone, and instead of tiring her out, it seemed to energize her. It was very hard for me, thinking--feeling that I was responsible for taking all that out of the world. I thought Emily was my best chance to restore what I had taken -- if not Missy, then all that...amazing Missy warmth and care."

"Did it work?" Miss Parker chewed and spat out her words in the half-mocking tone of one who knew the answer.

*Did it work?* Scully posed the question to herself, with clean, laboratory objectivity. "I learned a lot. In part, I learned that Melissa and I had different purposes in the world. Giving that much of myself was -- hard for me. I felt infringed upon." Scully smiled thinly. "I'm better designed for taking care of the whole planet and really extremely limited number of people."

"I hate you, you know." Her tone was conversational, a trivia voice. "Nothing personal. Sydney says I have a lot of misdirected guilt, but I think he's full of shit. He's a quack, a sadist in a good suit who raised Jarrod as a lab animal and now wants to be a father figure after the fact. I really do hate everyone but me. I happen to think I deserve better than this miserable fucking reality."

Scully raised an eyebrow. "Life is a bitch, and then you die?"

"I'm not afraid to die. But I can tell you what won't happen to me: I won't be a hero, then leave a child behind when my idealism gets me eliminated."

She moved slowly, honey-slow, knowing that Miss Parker would never submit to impulsive affection. Scully's hand touched her face, slid back into her hair. "You and I. You and I both. They can carve it on our tombstones: *At least she never set her sights very high.*"

"I can think of worse epitaphs."

"Can you?"

A voice like a collision -- the cry of overtaxed brakes, the macabre origami of disfigured metal, the aria of shattering glass and bones. "*Beloved wife and mother.*"

She kissed Miss Parker as though Scully was in herself the entire cast and crew of a death -- the EMT on the scene, the priest bestowing extreme unction, the medical examiner making a Y-incision, cracking her open.... Not to remove. To hold the pain jointly, contained in the slick, pulsing hollow of their coupled mouths.

Miss Parker did taste like ash, like soot. She tasted like saliva, meat, breath. Scully's eyes were sealed shut as she devoured this mouth, her fingers dug deeply into Miss Parker's hair and holding her in.

*Melissa had been all grace and charity. Wide, heart-brimming eyes and a slight, fine body -- like Snow White with the poison in her comb and her food -- like Rapunzel among the thorns. Selfless, kind, giving. Dana watched her pick over her food and refuse it and she knew, just knew, that the saints had all been this way, too. Full of love, with thin, neglected, suffering, beautiful bodies.*

*Saints, princesses, martyrs, angels, heroines. They gave, like Missy. They denied themselves. They were not like Dana, and even God could not understand or abide her constant hungers, the cravings for food, for knowledge, for orgasms, for fame, for revenge, for cigarettes, for high speeds, for immortality. Not of the soul. Of her ravenous, needy, messy, female body.*

Some emotional ripcord had been pulled, and Scully was rushing in two directions, dropping through space even as the air currents caught her mind and billowed it, lifting her as she unfurled. Thought was out of the question, and as soon as Scully gave up on it, she realized how many memories her body had preserved, hidden discreetly away through the years until she should need them again. She unzipped Miss Parker's broken boot and cast it aside, setting her lips to the arch of the foot within. Her stockings were silk, of course. This was not a nylon woman. Miss Parker made a strangled sound, and her toes popped softly as they curled and uncurled.

*Slowly, day by day, shaving off one self after another. Jettisoning her habits, hungers -- allowing only what was required. Food could stay, because food was medicinal; sex and fame, luxuries. Without purpose, because life could be sustained without them. Revenge, speed, dangerous. Liabilities. Two names were excessive, when one would serve, could stand for one tight, lithe, *necessary* person, powerful in her self-denial. Scully.*

She nibbled in the hollow behind Miss Parker's anklebone, and foot and ankle turned and dipped with a dancer's urgent poetry. "Stand up," she mumbled, rubbing her face against Miss Parker's leather; she loved it, just as she loved Mulder's black leather jacket, because it was leather -- organic, arrogant, pleasant to the touch even as it forced its wearer to live skin-to-skin with the proof of another animal's death.

Shaky from more than just the lopsided engineering of one bare foot and one high heel, Miss Parker stood. "Get this off me," she ordered, rattling the handcuff chain.

Instead, Scully turned her captive by the shoulders and unzipped her jumpsuit at the back. Her skin looked surprisingly fragile; Scully had almost expected Miss Parker to be made of something less...mortal, dissectable, vulnerable. *Breathe, Dana, come on. It hasn't been that long....* Except that it had. And she had always loved the sight of a woman's bare back, especially today; Miss Parker's back was pale and lovely, nestled in a V of opened leather, fringed by the dark hair that seemed looser and more touchable now. Scully put her fingers between Miss Parker's shoulderblades; it seemed to Scully, medically, that the spine was the true centerpiece of the body, the axis. She could remember Melissa trying to teach her to meditate, saying that the key was a straight spine, because kundalini power moved like a snake up the spine. Yeah, Dana had said, that and every electrochemical-- Dana. Don't be difficult on purpose. Sorry. Snake power, sit up straight, okay.

Missy would have laughed, but Scully could almost feel her fingers drawing something up Miss Parker's spine. Power, serpentine, slithering, primitive. She put her lips on Miss Parker's neck, found it flushed and hot, and her silent laugh of pleasure drew hair against her nose and mouth, suffocating her. Scully shook free, and water droplets from her own hair splattered Miss Parker's bare shoulder.

Scully's hand roamed down the gathering wrinkles of Miss Parker's sleeve, and came to rest on the steel bracelet on her wrist, her fingers curling around it as one pinky brushed the veins on the back of Miss Parker's hand. Her other arm draped over Miss Parker's shoulder. "I want you," Scully murmurred. She had no doubt that Miss Parker already knew this, but it needed to be said. When had she -- had she *ever* actually said that to anyone? Not that Scully could immediately recall.

"I will not betray the Centre for sex."

She hid a smile against Miss Parker's cantering pulse. "Relax."

"Relax," Miss Parker repeated, and frowned. She tried again. "Relax. What do you find relaxing about this? You're the one who's fucked on the highest level if anyone were to find--"

"That's right. And if I'm relaxed, you should be, too." Not that Scully was entirely relaxed. She was exerting long years of discipline to control an impulse to fidget, to twitch, rocked by the chemical reaction of fear mixing with desire. She was not concerned with being caught; Scully would have wagered her life savings -- was wagering her career -- that Skinner would see nothing so cataclysmic about the Parker case that he would feel compelled to leave the office early. But it had been a very long time since her sex life had consisted of anything but idle fantasies about her best friend, the occasional Saturday morning Internet porn wallow, and erotic dreams involving some combination of the cast of *Friends.* This was different. This was real.

"What the fuck ever. Get me out of these goddamn handcuffs."

Scully smiled, thinking of her earlier refusal to do so. Wanting to be someone else, again. *Very tenth grade, Dana. Very tenth grade. Don't choose, don't decide. Just do what you want to do.* She wanted to free Miss Parker from the handcuffs, and did.

Miss Parker rotated her wrist, testing it, and Scully caught her arm and kissed the reddened mark on her wrist. Miss Parker's hand remained curved like talons; there was a certain vulnerability to the sensation of Scully laying her soft lips against the bone and stress of that hand. *She's a fighter....* "What did you do to Officer Volk?"

"Tried to put my heel through his eye. Missed. Ruined my shoe."

There was a certain vulnerability, come to think of it, to doing this at all. There were no rules now, Mother of God, Mulder had been right. She was sprung from the trap of humanity; Scully no longer perceived herself as flesh and organs, but like clear and sparkling champagne, like feathers, like incense. Such undefended substances, easily spilled, torn, snuffed by a woman with this strength in her hands, this rage in her heart. Scully placed a slow kiss in Miss Parker's palm, but when her fingers moved to close and hold her chin, Scully slipped easily away. Like light, like smoke and champagne, she was impossible to grip and hold. She was bright and alive and though she might give herself, she was never to be kept.

With the advantage of surprise, Scully pulled Miss Parker's arm behind her back, holding it bent and pinned between their bodies. "I am not," Scully murmurred, her voice deceptively demure, "someone who will use you or harm you. And I will not be used. However powerful you think you are."

Miss Parker was as still as a mannequin, and though the muscles in her forearm moved subtly, flexing to fight Scully away, she did not. She dipped her head slightly, her fingers curling in, and then carefully spreading, flat and open. "Funny. I didn't figure you for a closet dominatrix."

"I'm not."

"Then let go of me."


Slowly, she shook her head. "I don't...what is this? You're hurt-- Fuck you! Let me go!" But she did not move.

"This is your game, Margot. But you can't follow through with it, can you? I think you're much emptier than you want me to believe. I think the anger is just a smokescreen." She'd known that in the car, but Scully had wanted to test her theory. Now she was sure. She released Miss Parker's wrist, and Miss Parker pulled her arm away slowly, as though afraid that any sudden movements would make Scully notice that she was escaping. "No games, and no tricks. Don't give me anything that even you can't believe."

Miss Parker looked back at Scully over her shoulder, and her dark eyes were both respectful and somehow saddened. "I should have pegged you for a control freak."

Lightly, Scully touched her waist and smiled at her, a mirrored reflection of that respect and that regret. "Probably. I'm very flexible about many things, but not about the truth. Upstairs."

Miss Parker's gait, with one shoe gone, was a long-striding, self-possessed stagger. Broken and lopsided, she radiated ability, poise. She was about as handicapped as a dragon with a broken nail. Unzipped and disheveled suited Miss Parker, Scully decided as she climbed the stairs behind her prisoner. The juxtaposition of bareness and inaccessability.

At the side of Walter Skinner's bed (a large bed for one man, even one large man, Scully's investigative mind noticed; was it the bed he used to share with his wife -- did he have company here often, even with his brutal schedule -- was it just a personal indulgence -- did he sleep restlessly?), Scully put a hand on Miss Parker's shoulder and finished lowering the zipper to her waist.

"This is your boss' apartment?"


"He has a picture of you by his bed."

Scully looked around her at the framed photo Miss Parker was reaching for. "Oh. That's not a picture of *me.* That's a picture of Mulder." Her and Mulder, in point of fact. At the office Christmas party -- 1995? Or '96. God, how the years blurred together. Scully took the picture from Miss Paker's hand.

It was a decent shot. Nice. Scully on a folding office chair, looking bemused at her coffee cup. Mulder with a casual hand low on the back of her neck, his lack of a jacket emphasizing the length and sweep of his build, clean lines running from ribs to waist to hip down his leg. He was grinning at God knew what, something outside the frame of the shot.

Not 1995. That winter had been bad for them; she remembered how they'd squared off that fall, polarized by the discovery of Dr. Ishimaru. They'd fought about the stigmatic boy, fought about the cockroaches, fought about *everything* in New Hampshire. It had been a grey, rainy winter, and though she didn't quite remember Christmas, she was sure they wouldn't have looked so easy together.

1996. She did remember now. Mulder had just been given OPC's absolution for John Lee Roache, when none of them thought he'd be able to survive that one. The party had been in mid-December, just before Betts. She'd waited until the 28th to see a doctor, waited until after the holiday. That week or so, between Mulder's OPC reviews and her first nosebleed...they'd been happy that week. As happy as they'd ever been together. How fleeting those moments were, their work being what it was. And someone had caught it on film -- Scully playing with the idea of a smile, Mulder looking as though he'd just been given the Nobel prize instead of having kept his job only by the skin of his teeth.

Scully laid it carefully back on the nightstand. "Christmas party, '96."

"So that's Fox Mulder."

"The same," she said tersely.

Miss Parker stared at it a minute more and sniffed. "That's a nose you could mine coal with."

"I guess it's not his nose that interests Skinner."

"Are they screwing?"

"Not...that I know of." Funny response, that. She knew damn well they weren't; if Mulder was bold enough to tell her about Alex Krycek, he wouldn't hesitate to tell her that. Maybe it was a kind of mercy, an impulse to soften the *no,* even if Skinner wasn't here to hear it. *Poor Skinner. Always the right song in the wrong key. His agent about to fall into his bed, but the wrong agent. The right agent here in the middle of the night -- except with someone else in tow.* That had been November of '96 -- not long before this photo was taken. Who would know, looking at Mulder's picture? Even Scully, knowing what she knew now, could not see Krycek in Mulder's face, however hard she searched. *I know, I know, Mulder. It's not my place to see it, or understand it. Only to love you, with or without it. I'm trying, Mulder.*

Her arm closed around Miss Parker's shoulders from behind, Scully's lips on her neck. Here, right here, so solid, a living human who intrigued and aroused her. Someone who would shortly be gone. With neither future nor past, their relationship could be as perfect and necessary and temporary as food to the hungry -- or a cigarette to the addict, agasint the rules, self-destructive...temporary, necessary, perfect. She rolled with Miss Parker onto the bed.

The act of stripping away the leather from Miss Parker's warm, sweat-moist body felt like curling her fingers under a top layer of skin and ripping it back. Maybe it was because, whether she should or not, she had Clarice on the brain, the only other woman Scully had ever made love to. Through that first case, the Buffalo Bill case, Clarice had taught Scully everything she knew about looking at a body skinned, devoured, mutilated, used and never letting it show in her eyes. Steel on the job, coming home raw and horrified, to scream and sob and break their dishes against the wall and fuck Scully with desperate, pleading carnality. Clarice -- how could she not remember now? How had it been so long since she'd thought of her first love?

*Whose photo will you turn and stare at in the dark, Dana Scully? You float like a feather through everyone's life, and even your memories of them go up in smoke. Jack, Clarice -- you thought you loved them, until you just...moved on.* At least Skinner had that much. One picture of one dream that he kept for himself.

Though her hands fluttered over the flesh of Miss Parker's breasts and nipples, Scully's mouth sought deeper, sought the slickened, hot place between them, and the bone underneath. Human bone, so easily broken, all that kept us standing, moving, alive, ourselves. In cultures across the earth and through time, bone had been ornament, weapon, tool, relic. Miss Parker's back arched, and she parted her legs, lifting her hips up against Scully's.

Scully knelt up, her thighs pressing Miss Parker's legs apart further, the tailored fabric of her slacks slipping minutely against Miss Parker's satin underwear. "Take off your shirt," Miss Parker ordered breathlessly.

She pondered that a moment before saying, "Thank you for the advice, but I'm fine." More deliberately now than before, Scully took one of her nipples, rubbed it between her thumb and forefinger gently. Miss Parker threw her head to the side, but Scully slid a hand into her hair, turning her face back towards Scully. She didn't mind if Miss Parker wanted to keep her eyes closed, but she liked the tension in that lovely, patrician face, the quivering of her mouth, the twitch of her stony jaw. She had a tiny nervous tic, twitching her nose quickly before taking a deep breath. Scully kissed her nose, mostly to see what would happen. Miss Parker made an inarticulate noise, part roar and part bark, all annoyance. Scully chuckled, the noise swirling somewhere in her chest, behind her own breastbone.

As she bent to lick Miss Parker's nipple, the woman ground hard against Scully's thighs, and the broiling desire in Scully sent out a gout of flame, straight up from her clit and into her stomach. She bit at the nipple, and Miss Parker cried out, one hand clutching Scully's t-shirt near her waist. Her legs were trembling, and Scully soothed her thigh with one hand, silk and garter and skin. A finger buried underneath the garter's elastic and rested there a moment. Miss Parker opened her eyes. "Waiting for something?"

"Savoring. This part is good, don't you think? Wanting?"

"Getting's better."

Like wine, like water, like desire, Scully ran and flowed down the bed, and gently bit the flesh of Miss Parker's stomach where there were no bones, only tissue and nutrients and motion, dozens of organs moving things this way and that, into the woman who might or might not have been named Margot Parker, or out of her. The sacrament of medicine, the mystery of sustenance. Beneath her open mouth, Miss Parker's body pulsed and tensed and hungered and aged, turning like graceful, hot, visceral clockwork. It fired Scully's mind as well as her own body; though she had no more than a nascent, tentative appreciation for Miss Parker as a person, she was hopelessly, eternally in love with her as a human, as an example of the species. So perfectly designed, operating lyrically, efficiently -- strong, flexible, fragile, textured, commanding and commanded by the hidden hallows of her brain. Scully worshipped her way lower, recalled to the almost religious ecstasy she'd first found in those anat & phys textbooks years ago. *How fine a thing. How precious we are, what works of genius....*

Her tongue traced the edge of Miss Parker's bare skin, at the waistband of her panties. The look of amazement in Miss Parker's eyes seemed almost religious in nature, too, rapturous and doubting at the same time. But to dance for twenty years, surely you would have to have a fascination and familiarity with the body just like any true physician. Miss Parker had been in the profession of mastering her own body by craft and will, just as Scully was in the profession of mastering others'.

Mastering Miss Parker was amusingly simple. Each flick of Scully's tongue as it pricked and tested its way under the narrow, silky black cloth made her twitch, sent a slow ripple down her body like a sound wave.

She, too, was hard to hold, Scully noted, but in a different way. For a chain-smoker, Miss Parker was distinctly unsmokelike. She surged with serpent-power gone out of control, not a lazy boa or python, but a striking rattler or copperhead. A fighter, a fanged thing, struggling against the hard kiss of Scully's mouth, in full, fiery rebellion against the pleasure that Scully could taste, salty between her lips, the heat that threatened to melt Scully's now-cautious tongue. Scully wrapped her arms around Miss Parker's hips, trying to hold her still, as she would with someone too panicked and in pain to allow necessary medical treatment. Scully kissed deeper, letting her mouth speak words as random and meaningless as those she had earlier written on Miss Parker's skin. *Sorry believe yes true body brain you want you want you*

"Yes," Miss Parker said, and though her body was in chaos, her voice was preternaturally calm. Scully closed her mouth, focusing on Miss Parker's clit, capturing it and sucking gently -- gently enough that Miss Parker's orgasm was not a further explosion of violence, but a true release. Only her throat worked in ceaseless motion, trying and failing to produce a sound, or trying and succeeding to suppress one. Either way, by the time her climax faded, Miss Parker laid silent and passive on the bed.

Scully sat up, wiping her mouth on the back of her arm, sucking the rest off her lips. It had been so long since she'd brought anyone, male or female, to orgasm that way that Scully had forgotten how tiring it was. She felt heavy, lazy, her desire run to low tide, a not-unpleasant throb between her legs. It was in this state, enjoying her lassissitude and still riding the slow river of her arousal, that Scully usually fell asleep in her own home, before the strange, electrocution energy of a climax. She kissed Miss Parker, pleased to not that Miss Parker seemed tired herself, and slow to respond.

But it was a bad time, the worst time, to drift off. Reluctantly, Scully sat up. She needed to move around, try the Neapolitan, call Mulder. She had a life to live, after all.

Miss Parker sat up as well and grabbed the t-shirt at Scully's shoulder with graceless fingers. "Hey."

Lovely fingers. Scully couldn't help running one of her own fingertips along the bone, from lowest to center knuckle. The grip on Scully's shirt loosened, and Scully could feel the air, the slant of the bed, disturbed by motion, and instinctively she raised her own arms to protect herself, to block away a touch or embrace.

The brief confusion of kinetics and confusion ended as quickly as it began. Like ivy up a trellis, Miss Parker's arms wove around Scully's, as limber and elegant as Scully's were stiffened and defensive. "You have a lot of problems, don't you?" Miss Parker seemed almost impressed by the idea.

Scully twisted her wrist, reaching back to cup a hand against the mussed back of Miss Parker's hair. "I don't often give it any thought, actually."

"Are you Catholic?"


"Or is this a non-sectarian, generic middle America guilt problem?" Each word, so close to Scully's ear, wore the shape and texture of Miss Parker's tongue -- violated Scully's privacy in the blunt, heavy, delicious way that her tongue violated Scully's mouth. She squirmed slightly, neither closer to nor farther away from Miss Parker. Suspended, hung between...the smoke and the smoker.

"God. My *God.*" She laughed shakily, drawing one arm in closer to her body, and Miss Parker's along with it. "Do you flirt like this with everyone?"

"Via religious stereotypes?"

"You know what I mean."

"Dana, I don't think *you* know what you mean. Are you really having ten conversations simultaneously all the time, or do you just sort of come across that way?"

"Yes. I find that it's easier to schedule in department meetings that way."

"Come back to the Centre with me. You can be my trophy wife."

"Your moll?" Scully raised an eyebrow, finding herself oddly charmed by the idea.

Miss Parker was almost manic in her splintered good cheer again. "I'll let you wear my handcuffs. You'd miss your work at first, but you'd grow to love bridge, and fundraisers for MS and the Humane Society. And there's no law that says I couldn't shoot someone occasionally for you to autopsy."

Her first giggle was more of a hiccup, but after a few false starts, Scully realized that she had not entirely left her ability to giggle behind in high school. "I think there may be."

"Oh, well, there are a lot of laws. I can't be expected to know every single one off the top of my head; that's why we have professionals like you." Amazingly, Scully found herself lolled comfortably against Miss Parker's shoulder, indolent and giggling in dying fits and chortles. Maybe she could compare notes with Mulder. *I find that the best part about taking unrepentant criminals to bed is their sick sense of humor -- don't you agree? No, Scully, I'd have to say definitely the hot sex. You would, Mulder.*

She was aware of the stretch and manuevering of each muscle as Scully eased down, lying across Miss Parker's lap. She was wild again, with nerves -- *could I possibly be doing this?* -- and with pride --*it's me she wants, for once it's about me* -- but before and above all other things, she was a scientist. She believed in what was real, and measured reality by experience. Experience becomes reality becomes belief becomes truth becomes truth becomes truth. The only rule. The only thing Scully honored anymore.

"You have a *tattoo*?" Miss Parker said as she worked the pants off Scully's hips. "I never would have dreamed."

"Hmmm. You think you know someone...."

Those strong fingers probed into Scully without hesitation and without weakness. Bone rode hard over bone, pressing the wet and sensitive flesh between the hard planes of Miss Parker's hand and Scully's pelvis. It was remorseless, romanceless, and Scully arched to it, craved it. She had so much hunger, fifteen years of denied and discarded wanting. She needed *getting,* like a transfusion, like food, knowledge, cigarettes, pleasure, attention. Immortality.

Alive. It settled into Scully, and at last what had only been information became experience. She was alive, and the cancer no longer devoured her. She had sunk so deeply into the idea of her own death that it was an exotic and wonderful thought -- *alive.* Experience became belief, and once she believed it, everything was different. Quantum, and incense and champagne. Scully rose into the casual touch of Miss Parker's thumb over her clitoris with a body finally in accordance with itself, no longer leashed and muzzled by the idea that it was invading and threatening itself. The sensation rose unobstructed through her abdomen and chest and into her skull, and nothing in Scully was to be resisted or denied any longer. That part of her life was over.

Experience became belief became truth. The orgasm that passed through her like a summer thunderstorm was real, and it banished the last of Scully's fear that she was choosing this for some strange and foreign reason, that it was not *her.* Nothing could have belonged to her any more than this. Nothing could be more *Scully* than the need and desire to lie in bed listening for once to the voice of her own body. Scully's eyes fluttered open, and she watched the eerie serenity of Miss Parker's lovely face. How appropriate, that it would be a dancer who brought out in Scully the art of being embodied. Of forgiving your body for ruling and endangering you, for making you both hungry and mortal.

Her hands were no gentler than ever, but Miss Parker put them against Scully's hair and smoothed it back from her forehead, a gesture that hovered in limbo between clinical and caring. Scully could smell her own juices on Miss Parker's hand. She returned the favor, pressing her fingers into Miss Parker's hair, and this time she did not raise her arms to prevent Miss Parker's nearness, but to fold over and around her and close her in against Scully's body. She was half-aware of Miss Parker's hands pushing her t-shirt up, stroking her breasts, and the touch was so good, so soothing, that at first she could think of nothing else, and then she could think of nothing at all.


Scully was too well-trained to do what she longed to do, which was to ignore the perky chirrup of her cell phone. She sat up, and was briefly disoriented. She felt warm and damp and untidy, and she was lying diagonally across a bed she did not recognize, but she knew that ring, would know it on her deathbed. Cell phone, which meant work, work or Mulder, and usually both. It was to be obeyed, always. Even on her deathbed. The image made her smile sleepily -- ninety-nine years old, frail and brittle, lifting the phone to her ear and uttering, "Scully," as her finally word.

She sat up, and focused on her suit jacket hanging over the doorknob, the source of the ring. Scully lurched out of bed and stumbled for it. "Scully."

"Took you long enough."

"This is a record for you, Mulder. Waking me up twice in one day."

"What are you doing sleeping on the job, anyway?"

In shock, Scully realized that she didn't exactly know. *Fuck.* Her prisoner-- But even as Scully wondered what her options would be if Miss Parker had escaped while she slept, other than ritual suicide, she saw the prisoner in question. She was sitting on the top step of Skinner's stairway, smoking. Scully leaned against the doorframe, marveling at her good fortune. On top of everything else, Miss Parker had changed from her leather to the only article of clothing Scully could think of that she would find equally appealing -- a man's white dress shirt, hanging unbuttoned off her shoulders, the hem skimming her thighs and the cuffs dragging low on her hand. "I'm -- I'm not really working. Just watching this woman until we can locate her lawyer. Where are you?" It was hard to tell from the curtained window in Skinner's room, but the light seemed uncomfortably heavy, as though many hours had passed while Scully slept. She could only trust that Miss Parker would have woken her up if it were nearing time for Skinner to return.

"I have a layover in Atlanta. I should land up there at 8:15. I'm sorry, Scully, but it was the best I could do on short notice."

"It's fine. Come to Crystal City -- we're at Skinner's."

"You're where?"

"I'll explain later." The clock read ten after four; how could she have slept so long? Scully crossed the hall into the bathroom and ran some water into the cup by Skinner's sink. "I've been thinking about what you said this morning."

"Hey, forget it. I'm paranoid schitzophrenic and you were half-asleep. Hell, I don't even remember what we talked about. Aztecs or something."

Scully smiled slightly into the mirror. So like Mulder, to take the lion's share of the blame and shunt it off to his much-maligned sanity, then go on undisturbed. "More Krycek than Aztecs."

There was a long silence. "Senator, I have no memory of that," he joked feebly.

"Mulder. You were right."

"About what I said?" Mulder said dubiously. "I actually don't remember saying anything noticeably right."

"About what you did."

She could almost hear his silent, poleaxed shock against the ambient noise of the Atlanta airport. Scully emerged from the bathroom; as her eyes settled in pleasure on Miss Parker, she felt what had been jealousy of Mulder -- of his charisma, of his divided affections, of the fact that he had found an emotional height in the midst of their chaos, insane though it was to find it in Alex Krycek, that Scully feared she might never find for herself -- transform into sympathy for him. Her temporary, necessary, perfect affair with a darkly ambiguous beauty had brought her this sleepy peace, the simple satisfaction of looking at her lover and being softly recalled to past pleasures. His affair had carried so much past, and from the very beginning it had been gored on the blade of its own future. "I just wish you'd found something that would...make things easier on you, not harder."

"Scully. Thanks." He sounded dazzled, almost drunk on the unexpectedness of this. "What -- what can I say? You're the queen of all things. I'll be there before nine."

"Okay. Skinner's."

"I'm on it."

Though she had meant to walk casually across the hall and back into the bedroom, Scully found herself ridiculously unable to do so. She stopped halfway and stared at Miss Parker, routine and businesslike white cotton draped against her rare, marble beauty. She wore it with the such aggressive confidence, her cool eyes daring Scully to treat her any differently than she would if Miss Parker were still wearing a catsuit and heels. "Nice of you to stay."

Miss Parker looked for a moment as though she'd been caught doing something she was somewhat ashamed of, but then she gave a defiant shrug with one shoulder. "This puts a few more pieces on the board, this FBI business. Should make things interesting."

"You're beautiful," Scully said, the words lurching out of her with awkward straightforwardness.

After a moment's thought about that, Miss Parker shook ashes onto Skinner's carpet and took another drag off her cigarette. "I want Chinese for dinner."

"You're also very demanding."

"It's because I'm worth it. Anyway, it's on the taxpayer, right? Just take it out of my taxes."

"Why am I suspicious that you don't pay taxes?"

"Of course I do. I think. You'd have to ask my accountant. I like Kung-Pao chicken."

"Let's start with the ice cream and work forward from there," Scully suggested from just inside the bedroom doorway. She picked up the copy of *Carrie* she had left on the nightstand, and as she returned it to its shelf, she noticed a Polaroid camera. The idea was too tempting.

Miss Parker was lighting a new cigarette just as Scully came out of the room. "Hey."

She looked up at Scully, and even after the flash went off, it was a moment before Miss Parker realized what had happened. "What the fuck is this?"

"Everyone needs one," Scully said cryptically as she descended the stairs.

In the kitchen, beside the refrigerator with the empty handcuffs hanging from its handle, Scully stopped and watched as the picture sharpened into focus. Dark and white, disheveled and sleek, vulnerable and unreachable, risky and necessary. Scully smiled. One picture of one dream, something to lie in bed and watch in the dark, thinking *this has always been no one's business but mine, whatever the rules may say.* Miss Parker was always meant to be temporary, but in some small way, this evidence of her made everything that had happened between them take on the sharp, sweet taste of permanence. It made Miss Parker's strange, wicked charm tangible, and though it was no substitute for Miss Parker herself, it wasn't really meant to be. It was what it was, and what Scully wanted: a piece of deviance that she would keep, that was real and not to be pared down or stripped away in the quest to become herself...only less so.

Scully heard Miss Parker's footsteps on the stairs. "So where's my ice cream?" she said from the doorway.

She laid the photograph down on the counter and opened the freezer. Neapolitan wasn't Scully's favorite, but at the moment she was too ravenously hungry to care. She could start with Neapolitan. And work forward from there.