Actions

Work Header

Bureau, The

Work Text:

 

The Bureau by HTH

11 Nov 97
DISCLAIMERS: All things X-Files belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and 20th Century Fox. All things Twin Peaks belong to David Lynch, Lynch/Frost Productions, and Spelling Entertainment. (Yeah, that's right, Aaron. Twin Peaks -- all of the cheesecake, none of the stupidity...MetaSpelling.)
WARNINGS: Contains m/m sexual activity (Mulder/Other) This will probably mean a lot more to you if you watched Twin Peaks, but suffice it to say that the series ended with our hero, Dale Cooper, the unwilling host for a demon-like spirit named Bob. My assumption is that those in the know (Harry Truman and Major Briggs, presumably, with the channeling of Sarah Palmer) recognized the problem and drove Bob out before Bob could do his thing, which is forcing his possessees to kill their loved ones. With me so far? As our story begins, Cooper is, um, recuperating (I saw that one coming and *still* couldn't stop it) from his ordeal, and Mulder is on his own, thanks to the events of "Memento Mori," with which this story is roughly contemporary. Still there? Let's go....
OK to archive to MSSS/MKRA and to Gossamer


The Bureau
by HTH

     "Diane.... It is 9:56 a.m. While I remain under close supervision by the hospital staff...." His voice trailed away as Dale Cooper watched the nurses at their station through the bulletproof glass window that separated his guarded room from the rest of the wing. Belatedly, he remembered his tape recorder. "Under -- under supervision, I --" With effort, Dale reasserted control over his own voice. Briskly, he continued. "This morning I got out of bed, shaved, and dressed without assistance, and have been attempting to enjoy a fine view of the courtyard from my window before today's upcoming investigation of my case. There is a fountain, but I regret that I am unable to identify the mythological figure at its center."

     Abruptly, he snapped off the recorder. Babbling already, and the investigation hadn't yet begun. *At this rate,* he told himself sternly, *you will never convince the investigating agent that the -- influence on your mind is gone. The taint on your soul.*

     Dale's hand shook as he slowly eased down the Record button again. *The monster inside....* "Diane." His throat was dry. "It is 10:00 a.m. precisely. As my state of mind is still considered highly unstable, I am only being served lukewarm coffee. Strangely, I find that it feels like what I deserve." The tape recorder hit the bed with a dull thump.

     Outside the north window, he could hear voices conferring, his name, but Dale did not turn his chair toward the door until he heard it open. There was a distant voice in his head, as if from years before. *It's simple, Coop. An FBI agent gets shot, an FBI agent investigates.* Dale smiled. Albert's caustic, venomous good sense would be easier to bear right now than some stranger's bland, maddeningly correct tolerance.

     And after all, how could this young man possibly know, even begin to fathom the madness that seeped through Twin Peaks, Washington, like a ground fog -- let alone why, after all the pain and so much evil, Cooper was still in love with the haunted, wounded little town? This agent would ask all the appropriate questions. Cooper would give the wildly inappropriate, unbelievable answers that the Bureau had learned to forgive him for. <Wyndham, Ghostwood, the Queen of Hearts, Project Blue Book, Bob, the fire, the Fire.... Would you like to play with fire, Agent? Annie Annie Annie> Nothing false would pass between them, and nothing very true, either. Just official Bureau business, and they would all try to believe out of courtesy, because everybody liked Agent Cooper. And in end they would fail to believe, because in the end, they wanted to fail.

     The younger agent flashed his badge briefly, and Cooper sat up straighter. He'd worn his FBI jacket for this interview; that much respect, at least, he owed the Bureau that was even now preparing to cut him loose, a mad and damaged agent.

     *I don't blame you, though. You look like a nice boy. How could I blame you for not wanting to believe in Twin Peaks? There have been days when I wished I didn't.*

     "Special Agent Fox Mulder, from the Bureau."

     He was not quite what Dale had been expecting. What had he been expecting? Dale frowned to himself. Oh, someone old and jaded and officious, someone with cool, impassive eyes who would ask all the requisite questions and not one too many, who would file an empty and tedious report that wouldn't give Gordon Cole the excuse he needed to open an investigation. Someone who could pronounce Dale safely delusional and recommend his safe and silent retirement, then go out for lunch and forget it all.

     Certainly not someone with this strange, cagey energy around him, someone who stared directly at Dale with eyes both soft with amazement and bright with interest. He didn't look at all like the bureaucrat without a spark of imagination or spirituality that Dale had dreaded; his loose overcoat was rumpled, his tie a rarely-sighted shade of green, and he was running his fingers through soft brown hair already mussed. There was even the hint of a wry but sincere smile hovering around his lips.

     "Mulder, Mulder." Dale shook his head slightly. "I feel like I should know you."

     "No, sir. I would be sure to remember meeting you. You know, I've sort of followed your career--"

     He only vaguely heard the young man talking. "The name, I do know it. Mulder." Dale realized that he was simply tasting the name now, almost playing with it. It was a pliant name, easy to speak, without the brittle, uncompassionate sound of Cooper. He let it sift into his mind, waiting for an association to wash up. As usual, it did. He opened his eyes and tested it out. "Spooky Mulder."

     "Oh, *God.*" He rolled his eyes, and there was the smile that Dale had suspected lurked just under the surface. Surprisingly, Dale felt a small twist at the sight of it. *Beautiful smile. He must not have been with the Bureau long.* "I probably can't get away with denying that one. You see, I started out in abnormal psych, and I studied all your theories on intuitive reasoning and the power of the subconscious. Between intuiting the emotions of spree killers and -- well, the X-Files." He shrugged a bit. "Anyway, the X-Files are my life, and you were so influential in the Bureau, adjusting them to extreme possibilities, that I've always considered you -- well, a precursor, anyway. Almost a mentor. And now you *are* an X-File."

     Dale nodded. He did remember now, remembered Gordon and Albert discussing the new X-Files project, and the name Mulder. It had been some years ago, hadn't it? And.... As always, after a brief period of quiet, Dale's subconscious supplied him with what he needed. "And you work with Dana Scully from Forensics, Albert's friend. Yes."

     "Yes," he repeated, those too-expressive eyes slipping off toward the machinery by Cooper's bed. He nodded, three short nods.

     A tired smile surprised Dale himself. "So, Agent Mulder, how long have you been in love with your partner?"

     Agent Mulder looked back at him. His eyebrows were raised, but he seemed more curious than confounded. "It's nice to see that you live up to your reputation, Agent Cooper."

     "Simple body language," he explained modestly.

     The younger agent was back to staring at the machines, now turned off, that had monitored Cooper's physical recovery from his ordeal. "Since a place like this," he said quietly. His mouth quirked in another of those smiles, not quite as innocent as Dale had originally believed. "You expect gunshots and explosions and possessions. Well, we do. Well...I do. But some stupid fucking illness. Cancer, how pedestrian. One minute I'm taking a statement for the Files about talking misogynistic tattoos, and the next, good old-fashioned chemotherapy." With a start, he seemed to become aware of his surroundings. "I'm sorry, Agent Cooper, I don't know how I got sidetracked."

     "It was my fault." *They let you believe they've prepared you for everything, don't they, Agent Mulder? And then one day you realize that you're the least-prepared person you know, when it comes to being helpless. To letting go.* <Lost them -- Maddie, Leland, Josie, Ben. Didn't save them. Even Audrey. Maddie, Leland, Josie, Ben, Audrey, Laura....>

     "It was the fear, you know. You'll probably write a hundred pages of information by the time you're finished, but I'll tell you what's important, right here at the beginning. Fear is the weakness; it's what makes a place inside you that only your worst nightmares can fill up. And they do. I was weak, I was afraid. But how can you love a woman and not be afraid when something you don't understand anymore wants her dead or hurt? What kind of man isn't afraid? Are we all just prey for the evil in the woods, Agent Mulder?"

     He sat down on the bedside. "I don't really...answer questions." A different smile, older, flickered around that full-lipped mouth. "I used to think I wanted to grow up and answer questions. But I don't, you know? I never really...get the answer to anything. I just keep writing."

     Dale searched his mutable eyes, feeling flushed and eager at what he saw there: Mulder wanted to talk, he wanted to listen. Could he possibly know how much Cooper needed to be heard? "So it's not as fulfilling as you expected it to be, is that what you're saying?"

     Mulder gave that due consideration. "My expectations have changed. I've gotten to enjoy the early stages more, with all those possibilities stretching out in front of you. We all change our goals as we go along, I guess. Scully forgets, and I dwell on the question. We do what we have to do to delay the moment when the answer is supposed to come along, and doesn't." He opened his notebook. "So, start with the circumstances of Leland Palmer's death...."

                  * *
*

     Three days later, the hospital room was a changed place -- *thanks to Agent Mulder,* Cooper reflected, smiling faintly into his coffee. Nothing seemed to faze the young agent -- not spirits of evil in Washington state, and certainly not the tentative objections of the hospital staff. With a negligent flash of his badge and a crooked smile, Mulder seemed able to take any liberty he wanted. There was hot, fresh coffee every day now, and doughnuts, and Cooper's map of Tibet was taped firmly over the nurses' station window for privacy. "I really don't think the surveillance is necessary," he'd explained wryly. "I am from the FBI. I know how to push the button if we have trouble."

     If there was anything Agent Cooper regretted about the last three days, it was that there'd been so little time to listen to Mulder speak. He had an amazing voice, gentle and almost toneless, so even that every subtle pause and inflection came across with silver-screen vividness. Agent Mulder could convey everything and anything with a tilt of one eyebrow and a tiny stress on a single word. The precision, the control, it enthralled Dale. There was a beauty to his easy, lulling voice. But then, beauty was not something Agent Mulder seemed likely to run out of soon.

     Of all the changes to his decor, Dale's favorite was unquestionably the long-limbed man sprawled out along his bed with lanky grace. Mulder's adherence to Bureau procedure was unimpeachable, but he wasn't the type to make himself uncomfortable in the process; Dale, on the other hand, liked the psychological boost of sitting in his chair, at least appearing as though it were business as usual in the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Not that he couldn't appreciate Mulder's rumpled disorder on an aesthetic if not a professional level. Far from it.

     Mulder threw out a hand and felt blindly along the nightstand until he found a doughnut. "Where is Annie now?"

     "Back in the convent, temporarily. She was in the hospital after -- I --attacked her -- but only for a few days. Sheriff Truman sent her a letter explaining everything, and Norma told him.... Norma thinks that after a little rest, Annie will probably be in touch with me again. This has all been especially stressful."

     "And you blame yourself."

     Cooper couldn't help smiling. "Well, Agent Mulder, I did try to strangle her. I've been with the Violent Crimes division for almost fifteen years, and I'm familiar with the legal ramifications of the act."

     Mulder shrugged and began to skim the chocolate off the top of the doughnut with his thumb. "You know, I had a case recently involving a man named Modell; we called him the Pusher. Anyway, it's a long story, but I almost shot my partner. She was very supportive. I'm sure Annie will--"

     "Will what? Understand? That remains to be seen. I'm not sure yet that I understand." He smiled gently, to lessen the sting of his words. "You are the latest in a string of Bureau psychologists to warn me about my tendency to feel responsible for events outside of my control."

     "You know, I noticed that about you. I guess we can smell our own."

     "It was Wyndham Earle that gave Bob his chance to manifest in Twin Peaks a second time. Wyndham was *my* partner once; I should have seen him for what he was--"

     "Oh, stop. This is going to turn competitive."

     "And what about Caroline? Wyndham would never have wanted her dead if he hadn't known how she and I felt about each other. She was bright, beautiful...she had her whole life...."

     "And what about Laura Palmer?" Mulder deadpanned. "If you'd been called in to investigate her murder a few days earlier, maybe you could have prevented it."

     Cooper chuckled. "Now you're making fun of me. The point is that when I arrived in Twin Peaks, they were all so ready to trust me, and I couldn't stop it all from happening over again."

     "Agent Cooper, I know. I really do."

     He sighed. "I should have been a DEA agent. Then I might have been able to target the cocaine trafficking, and the Palmer situation might have come to light much earlier than it really did."

     "Oh, Christ! You *are* trying to prevent the murder of a girl you never meant, aren't you?"

     "She *dreamed* about me!" Dale protested. "Before she died; it was in her diary. There's a link there somewhere."

     "The DEA, I swear. Why don't you just join the cast of *Baywatch Nights*?"

     Cooper gave him a reproving looks. "I happen to know some fine agents in the DEA. Actually, one of them reminds me a great deal of you."

     "Yeah, what's his name?"

     "Denise."

     "Thanks."

     "No, no. She's a man."

     Mulder rolled his eyes. "Don't help." Cooper laughed delightedly; not in his wildest dreams had he expected to feel this at ease this soon. Agent Cooper stood up and reached for his coat. "It's been a long day, Cooper; why don't we call it a night? I'm going to Twin Peaks on Monday to talk with some people there. Anything you need?"

     *More of you. You listened to me, Agent Mulder. You believed. Now I only want more.* He stood to face Mulder, meeting his eyes squarely. *Don't be cowardly. After all the harm you've caused the people who cared about you, the least you can do is offer something pleasant to someone who tried to be your friend in spite of it.* Dale reached out and ran the lapel of Mulder's trenchcoat between his fingers. "I want you to come back and visit me tomorrow. Off the record." Mulder nodded, unable to break away.

     Slowly, Dale raised his hand, brushed it softly along the angled line of Mulder's cheekbone. He slid the other arm inside Mulder's coat, and Dale's eyes slipped half-closed as he sorted out the layers in his mind: cool cotton of the white shirt, heat of his flushed skin beneath, the hard ribs expanding and contracting. He drew his hand along Mulder's ribcage, bringing it to rest below his heart, near enough that Dale thought he could feel its vibrations. "Bring me a tie. I promise not to hang myself with it; I just feel so sloppy. And some suntan oil."

     "Okay." It probably didn't even occur to Mulder to question the request. This was a man who saw far stranger things before lunch than Dale could think up all day, and he might well be the only man who could make that kind of claim.

     To Dale's surprise, Mulder bent close and touched his lips briefly to Cooper's. "See you tomorrow," he said, his voice husky and halting. Dale only smiled at him, and Agent Mulder left without another word or look.

     Dale's dreams were scattered and confused that night, full of operating rooms, owls, footage from the Kennedy assassination, and Mulder's slender body twined around his, trembling as Dale's hand glided down his back. He awoke at three and laid awake until dawn, lost in a litany of the dead once more, of people dead in Twin Peaks when Special Agent Dale Cooper, Federal Bureau of Investigations, should have been watching them.

     The mood between them the next day was just as it usually was: businesslike. Despite their friendliness, each Agent carried a constant time schedule in his head, and this Sunday afternoon had an objective just like the previous days. Just a somewhat different objective.

     Mulder laid back on the bed as he did every day, but this time Dale rolled down to the bed with him, his hands roaming up Mulder's narrow chest. He kissed Mulder, duplicating Mulder's kiss of yesterday as exactly as he could. He slowly unfastened the first button on Mulder's shirt. "I definitely get the impression that you've done this before," Mulder said hoarsely.

     "Yes. Albert--" How much he'd been about to explain about his admittedly complicated relationship with Albert Rosenthal Dale wasn't sure; he was effectively distracted by the warm and living pulse beneath Mulder's jawline, by its texture under his fingertips. The second and third buttons were now freed as well, and Cooper's fingers skimmed the fine skin of his throat and chest. "Agent Mulder," he murmured into his ear, feeling the body along his shiver, "I don't think you realize what a comfort your presence has been to me. Thank you."

     "You're welcome."

     "And I have something awkward to admit."

     "Jesus. Okay, shoot."

     "I've forgotten your name."

     Mulder blinked in confusion. "Since ten seconds ago?"

     "No, your first name. This never happens to me; it's quite embarrassing. I would say that I haven't been feeling myself lately, but under the circumstances, that could be construed as a truly bad joke."

     "Mulder's okay," he mumbled, his lips vibrating against Dale's.

     "I think it sounds so formal...."

     "It's what everyone calls me."

     "I thought everyone called you Spooky?" Dale said innocently.

     He laughed and put an arm around Cooper's neck. "At your peril, Dale."

     The older agent was sure he could feel his own bones melting. He kissed Mulder deeply, a searching kiss, and when he was done, he had what he was looking for. "If you really want to...?" Dale nodded. "It's Fox."

     "Fox. Fox." He was caught off guard, surprised into silence, as Fox Mulder tumbled him onto his back, nibbling up his neck.

     His tongue wandered along Dale's ear, an eyelid, the jaw, traced the shape of Dale's lips. Dale's hand brushed up Fox's back as he removed the younger man's shirt, and the skin there seemed unnaturally warm to the touch. Suddenly Mulder stopped, raising up on his elbows over Dale and trying vainly to shake the hair out of his eyes. "Why are we doing this?"

     "You want answers?" The sadness in his voice was a surprise even to Dale.

     "A guy can dream," he said laconically.

     Fingers slithering into Fox's hair, Dale pulled his head down for a long kiss. "I don't know," he finally admitted. "You know all my secrets now. No one else does. I suppose that means something to me."

     "Not even Annie?"

     With the lightest touch he could manage, Dale let the tips of his fingers skate slowly down the sharp angle of his cheekbone. Fox tensed, pressing closer without even noticing. "You do have a lot of questions, don't you? No, not even Annie. So why are *you* doing this, Fox Mulder?"

     He shook his head, and for a brief moment he looked shockingly young. Dale hugged him briefly, as Fox's head dropped to his shoulder to break their eye contact. "The usual reasons, I guess."

     "Is there such a thing?"

     "Now I'm sorry I ever brought it up. Can we just get back to the sex?"

     Delicately, he took Fox's chin in his fingers, made him look at Dale again. "It's all right if you're thinking about her. It really is."

     "No," Mulder said, with a vehemence that caught Dale unprepared. "I'm not. I never do -- not like that. There's a point of no return, even when it's all in your head. I have to...have some kind of...boundary. Some way to keep the Scully that exists and the one that never did separate."

     "It must be difficult."

     Drawing a ragged breath, Mulder closed his eyes and kissed him again. "I just want to let go."

WARNINGS: This contains reasonably explicit scenes of m/m sex. Use your best judgement.

Part 2

     There was a fine line, Agent Cooper quickly learned, between allowing Fox Mulder to *let go* and completing the recovery process in a timely and prudent manner. Fox's hands were too tight on his bruised ribs, and a careless jab from the ball of his hand made Cooper's body hurt in some undefined way. He closed his eyes, narrowing his world to the lips on his throat, the smooth glide of Armani over hard muscles as Fox's leg burrowed between Cooper's.

     "I want to help you," he heard Fox mutter, surprisingly intelligible for a man whose tongue was drawing crosses over Dale's nipples. "With the Twin Peaks case...." He touched a spot along Dale's spine that made him cry out --to God, perhaps, or even to Annie. To anyone who had been even briefly concerned for Dale Cooper. *I only want redemption. I only want to prove that when the human body is invoked, the human soul has remarkable powers of recuperation.*

     Fox kissed him roughly, a kiss that was clumsy only because it was rushed. "Does it upset you, hearing about Twin Peaks?" Dale whimpered, his fingers raking down his lover's lightly stubbled cheek. "I know. Some names carry so much weight. They come back like a knee to the groin. Places where everything changed...."

     *Let go, Fox Mulder. How many names are there for you? And what drives you to make love to your pain when you should be making love to me?* "And your Twin Peaks?" It was abrupt, but Dale's voice was ratcheting unharmoniously through him now, while Fox's hands stroked up his thighs.

     "Tunguska." He let it out on a sigh, one more secret revealed, one more unnameable named. "Insane. Lost all control -- God, didn't know if I was coming or going. She got me through it, she was magic, like a lighthouse. I had to make it back for her. So -- Jesus, Jesus God -- what about *him*?"

     "Tell me his name." Was he really leading Special Agent Spooky Mulder through a therapy session in a hospital bed, both of them half-undressed, with blood and grief coursing through them? Their erections rubbed together, separated by Mulder's pants and Cooper's boxer shorts.

     Fox laughed, crazy exhilaration, and called it over Dale's shoulder, into the pillow, as though he'd never said it out loud before. "Alex!" Cooper's hand gripped his ass, forcing their hips together, and Fox groaned in mingled relief and desire. "Alex, Alex Krycek. I'm out of my mind. I hate him. He was my partner. He's an animal. I want him. His name is -- Alex." His eyes closed, and for one rare moment, he laid softly and painlessly in Dale's arms, and Dale in his, reflecting sadly on how very wrong he'd been about Agent Mulder. He had taken the jokes, the loopy grin and the garish ties for the truth about him. Foolish mistake. Dale ran a hand through Mulder's thick hair. The need beat slowly and heavily through him now, like cathedral bells, like a forced march. "He's wild and beautiful. I think he might have died in Tunguska. I don't trust him. But he's in me. He's *mine.* Oh, Alex...."

     *Not a therapy session. An exorcism.* Some demons were less... literal than Agent Cooper's, but they drove their possessions with as little remorse. Dale knew there were more names that sucked the breath from Agent Mulder and cracked his long, lovely bones.

     And one by one, they each came out. Fox and Dale wrapped each other in arms and legs, eagerly exploring the symmetry of their bodies and spirits. For every Samantha Mulder, there was a Laura Palmer who could have, should have been saved, if only it hadn't been impossible. For every Wyndham Earle there was a Cigarette Smoking Man, for whose crimes there would never be any revenge, let alone any satisfaction. When they finally wrapped each other in tongues and throats as well, Dale sucked him down deeply, taking in Mulder's smooth, slender cock as if re-absorbing something that already belonged to him. Fox's delicate fingers and agile tongue were driving out everything but the tenderness Cooper had come to feel for the younger man in the past few days, rising up in him like a tidal wave. His orgasm, when it came, was both shocking and soothing, like being ducked suddenly under cool water, and Dale couldn't help laughing aloud. *Fire walk with me.... I had no idea I needed this so badly. It was still burning in me, until today.*

     Craning his head around, Cooper could see Fox's arms thrown carelessly over his head, his head thrown to the side and back. He was still fully erect, but he seemed peaceful, arching slightly to rub against Cooper. Dale left a string of moist kisses along the inside of his thigh.

     Mulder grabbed the phone in half a ring. "Room 815."

     The voice was tinny and distant, the words indistinct. "Are you checking up on me?" Mulder said, amused. "Look, I'm not there to tell Skinner to take a flying leap. You'll have to do it for me, okay?"

     Slowly, Dale began to turn himself around, hoping to hear more of the conversation's far side. As if it had taken Mulder's divided attention as a chance to sneak off unnoticed, Mulder's hand strayed out casually and closed around Dale's soft, slick penis. "Fox," he chided, the words pleasantly surprised out of him.

     "Mulder? Who is that?" He could hear the woman's voice clearly now. He could almost see her personnel file written across Fox's unfocused eyes and flickering grin.

      "Well, whose room did you call?" he asked reasonably. "It's Agent Cooper."

     "He calls you *Fox*?" She couldn't have sounded more shocked if she had heard a male voice call out *Lord and Master.*

     "Yeah, I guess." He shifted a little, cradling Dale's testicles in his palm, gently stimulating him to another growing erection. From his new angle, Mulder could see into the open shopping bag he'd brought, as per Dale's instructions. As he gazed at it, his eyes lit with sudden understanding. Dale smiled; he knew the enigmatic sunblock had probably been nagging at the back of Mulder's mind all day.

     "*I* don't call you Fox!" Indignant, wounded. Dale felt sorry for her, a woman who believed that she had always done her best by a valued partner. He knew enough about Agent Scully to know that she was decent, humane, the kind of person to be hard-struck if Mulder couldn't keep up his defenses forever, if he crumbled on her watch.

     Fox frowned, but his eyes weren't angry at all. Tender, improbably tender, with a gallows humor that Dale dreaded and loved at once. "Scully, we don't do *everything* together."

     "I don't know what you mean." This, anyway, did not seem to shock her. She was probably well-used to the experience.

     Fox cradled the phone on his shoulder, settling back into the bed as his free hand drew patterns on Dale's hip. "Look, don't be Joan of Arc this week, okay? You have doctors' appointments."

     "I thought we agreed to put this aside for work-related--"

     "We *agreed* I wouldn't treat you like an invalid." Briefly, he was distracted, watching Cooper lean over his body, and over the edge of the bed, to reach for the shopping bag. Gathering his wits, he continued. "In no way was I ever so stoned that I agreed to look the other way while you dicked around with your treatments. Just...stay plugged into reality, okay, Scully?"

     Dale lost the thread of the conversation as he filled his hand with suntan oil, savoring the slick texture and the way it spread out and dripped off his wrist, then sliding it between the cheeks of Mulder's ass. If he wanted to play while on the telephone, Dale could oblige him. The younger agent thrashed and closed his eyes tightly even as he spread his legs apart.

     After that, Fox managed to wrap the conversation quickly, and Dale pressed experimentally against the opening of his ass as he hung up the phone. "I *wondered* about that," he admitted.

     "I don't doubt that you did. I thought it might be easier for you to buy than a commercial lubricant."

     "Thanks," he said vaguely. Fox's body was tight, but he kept crying out his willingness, urging Dale on in a hoarse voice. He was so tight that it was real work to thrust in and out of him; Dale settled for working his hips in a circular motion, and soon the other man's hips were moving in the same rhythm. *This time is for you, Fox Mulder. Just for you.*

     With lazy slowness, Dale ran his tongue up Mulder's ear, and Mulder's long legs braced more tightly alongside his body. "Fox," he whispered dreamily. "Just you...."

     His fingers pushed awkwardly against Cooper's mouth, trying to block out the sound. "Don't call me that. Nobody calls me Fox...." Cooper rocked against him, feeling his self-control unwind. Mulder let out a little cry of pain and held tightly to Dale's shoulderblades. "God! Say it again... please, Dale!"

     "Fox."

     "Faster...."

     "Fox -- *let go.*"

     His head was thrown back, his every muscle corded like a suspension bridge. "I...can't. Just fuck me."

     Cooper couldn't believe how vivid a sensation his fingers in thick, soft hair could be while he was screwing this demented young angel with all his strength. "Stop hoarding it. *Let go!*"

     "Tunguska!" he cried out wildly.

     "Oh, Fox. Yes." He rewarded the quivering lips with a kiss.

     Gasps, with more than a hint of a sob in them. "I'm so sorry, Sam...."

     "You're beautiful."

     He thrashed, caught in a trap, and well aware he would have to rip loose the parts that could never leave with him. Dreading it, but losing his fear in unfamiliar pleasure. "Cancer -- man," he said, venom and failure mixed on his tongue. "Black cancer. Cancer...."

     *People go on.* Cooper didn't know if he was speaking silently or to Fox. *You just -- poison it, freeze it, irradiate it, cut it out....*

     His fingers clenched into the muscles of Dale's arms. "Alex!" The longing, the guilt, made Cooper shudder. Then, unexpectedly, he said it again, this time as sweetly and protectively as an Ave Maria. "Alex." He was smiling.

     Dale kissed him fiercely. "So brave, Fox. So strong."

     He began to thrust back, lost to reason. "The -- goddamn -- fucking --" He gasped.

     "Go on." Dale stroked his hair back. They were both so close.

     "Faster...more. Please!"

     "Fox."

     "*Fucking* FBI!" He laughed wildly, the knots unraveling, the mazes within mazes that made up Fox's mind suddenly seen now from above. Perfect in complexity, yet perfectly navigable. It was making him giddy with relief, and anger. "*I want my answers! I want my fucking answers!*"

     "Fox. Your eyes are so beautiful."

     "Kiss me."

     "Fox...."

     "Dale!"

     "Yes!"

     "Dale...." He arched. He laughed breathlessly. He was weeping. Coming. "D--D--"

     "*Yes....*"

     "D--" He broke, and cried out. "No! *Can't -- let go --* Don't make me...."

     "*Yes! Do it!*"

     "DANA!"

     It took all his breath, everything in him ripped away on a tide of orgasm and unlocked grief. Mulder crumpled, his body plastered to Dale's by sweat and semen, looking like someone had abandoned it. They held each other like survivors of a holocaust. For almost an hour.

     Finally, Mulder said the only thing left to be said. "When do you want to leave for Twin Peaks?"

Part 3

Mulder carefully peeled back the plastic tab and waited for the steam to escape before taking a sip of his coffee. "Well?" Cooper said eagerly. "What do you think?"

     "Pretty good." What he *really* thought was that these three men were staring at him much too intently. Who really cared about the damn coffee, anyway?

     The one who'd been introduced as Big Ed shook his head sadly. He was the one who'd driven all the way into town from the abandoned building in the forest that was serving as their center of operations, just to get coffee, and Mulder smiled a weak apology at him. Ed was obviously not having a good week anyway; the large man looked red eyed and sallow, his feet dragging as he walked, but his temperament remained gentle and thoughtful, and Mulder hated to add to his problems.

     "Are you a coffee drinker, Agent Mulder?" Sheriff Truman asked, as though inquiring about his health.

     "Not especially." Dale nodded and exchanged another of those meaningful looks with the Sheriff. Mulder couldn't help but think the two of them communicated just like he did with Scully. Funny, that a tall, curly-haired man on crutches could remind him of his partner. *Mulder, sometimes you see her in the storm front maps on the weather channel. Let's be serious.*

     Mulder glanced around him at the empty wooden shelves. "Where are we?"

     "It used to be a bookstore. That's why we call ourselves the Bookhouse Boys; we come here when we need to meet. When something tries to come out of the forest," Truman added darkly.

     *Transdimensional border patrol. Nice to know someone's on the job.* He jumped a little when Cooper's hand came to rest on his shoulder. "Are you sure you're all right, Agent Mulder?"

     He nodded. Actually, he'd been great during the drive up -- terrific, actually. It was moderately insane, when you stopped to think about it: cruising the blue highways of Washington state with his arm around a man he was investigating for a host of charges including attempted murder, talking about Quantico and Buddhism and the Three Stooges and a hundred other things, feeling that the future stretched ahead like the highway. Feeling invincible.

     And now here he was, back in the shadows, ready to take on monsters yet again, and all he could think was, *Would Scully believe Dale's story?* One case on his own, and Mulder already missed her so fiercely that it made him twitch with the need to drive thought away by doing something strenuous.

     Instead, he opened the folder on his lap and rifled through the reports. "Has everyone who encountered Bob reported the same smell in the air?"

     "Burned gasoline," Truman confirmed.

     He hadn't thought of the alien oil smelling like burned gasoline, but it wasn't too far off the mark, and once the first person had identified it that way, the power of suggestion could explain the consistency; none of these people had been questioned in strict secrecy. It was possible. A traitorous voice inside him whispered, *With you, anything's possible if no one's around to say it's not.*

     Big Ed opened the door and watched the scenery for a moment. "You know, if we're driving out to Glastonbury tonight, I think we should go now. The storm last night probably brought all kinds of junk down in the road, and if we go before it's dark, we can clear it off. Safer."

     It sounded reasonable enough to Mulder, but Cooper shook his head reluctantly. "I think we should wait a little longer."

     "For Agent Rosenthal?" Harry said skeptically.

     "He's a doctor; we could need him."

     Now that kind of logic Mulder could get behind. *You always need the doctor. Just in case something goes wrong. Even if it doesn't.* "Why don't you and the Sheriff go on ahead and clear the road, and we'll follow you if he's not here by dark."

     They listened to Ed and Harry leave in the Jeep, and Mulder turned to Cooper. "So -- parcheesi?"

     He smiled tiredly. "You have every intention of going to the Black Lodge too, don't you?"

     "Am I that transparent?"

     But neither of them were really in the mood for banter. Mulder could see the dread and resignation in Cooper's eyes, and he moved closer to the bar stool where the older Agent sat and ran his fingers through Cooper's short hair. Cooper touched his wrist lightly. "I take it that you're not...bothered by yesterday."

     "Bothered? No. You weren't expecting some kind of messy sexual orientation crisis on your hands, were you?"

     "The thought occurred. You-- forgive me if I'm wrong, but I had the impression you were...."

     "A virgin?" Mulder offered.

     Cooper shrugged. "Whatever that means these days."

     "I've known for years that I find men attractive. I always figured the chance would come along sooner or later." That was close enough to true; he'd had opportunities before this, of course, but only on a case, when there was too little time and too much Scully, or in Washington, which always felt like a death trap waiting to close. In Washington, he trusted no one. Here, the circumstances were right -- and the man.

     Ah, the man. Mulder let his hand fall down Dale Cooper's narrow chest and got one of those brilliantly unselfconscious smiles from Dale. He grinned back, and kissed behind Dale's ear. God, just the smell of skin and breath was an erotic shock to Mulder, who'd had too many sterile orgasms in the past -- damn, three years? He draped himself over Cooper, sucking hungrily on the back of his neck and worrying at his hair, trying to lose his fingers in the short strands.

     Dale came off the stool and gently dropped Mulder to his back on the wooden floor, working their groins against each other while Mulder pressed kisses all over his throat and neck in the same rhythm. He was making mindless noises, laughing at himself -- not because he was finally breaking FBI policy to fraternize with another agent on the job and it wasn't even the agent he always figured it would be, which was funny enough in itself, but because he'd been too dumb to do this sooner.

     Kissing Dale was like a drug; he didn't have to think, there were pretty colors dancing across his eyelids, he could probably follow the lyrics to every Pink Floyd song ever written. He thrust his tongue up hard into Cooper's mouth.

     It jolted him when Dale pushed his hands down against the floor, holding them there with a firm though intimate touch, palm to palm. "Relax," he breathed, nuzzling at Mulder's lips. It wasn't enough, not nearly.

     "Don't *want* to relax," he gritted out.

     Dale was loosening Mulder's tie, letting it skim through his fingers in a decidedly suggestive way. Mulder groaned and pushed up, but Dale just laid a hand on his hip and pushed down. "Why can't you just enjoy it? Why are you always racing ahead?"

     "Why don't you just stop talking and *fuck* me, *hard*?" Dale frowned, and if his weight hadn't been on Mulder's legs, Mulder might have tried to give himself the swift kick in the ass he deserved. *Good shootin', Tex. Just because somebody finds you attractive does not necessarily mean he wants to shake hands with your inner pervert. How are you going to top this one, you fuck? Give Skinner a cock ring for Christmas? Ask Scully if she'll let you pierce her nipple for her, now that her personal journey of self-discovery has branched off to include body modification? The hits just keep on coming when you're dumber than shit, don't they, Mulder?* His eyes were pressed shut, as if by blinding himself he could slip out of Cooper's sight.

     Cooper shifted above him. "This might be a bad idea."

     "No," he groaned. "Shit, I'm sorry, Dale. You're just trying to be nice to me, and -- you know, I have *no* people skills left. None. I can interact with fish and photocopies and that's it. I am to psychology as Ross Perot is to modeling. By the time I'm forty, I'm going to be that crazy uncle who comes to every family event and--"

     Laughing, Cooper put his fingers in Mulder's mouth to shut him up. Mulder knew a second chance when one smacked him around, and he began to suck as meaningfully as he could. It seemed to work, since Dale was using his other hand to unzip Mulder's pants.

     For his own part, Mulder tried to be obliging. It wasn't that he had anything against relaxing, it was just that Dale's touch was electrifying. It was so new, so different from the white-out anti-thought that was his security when he jerked himself of to the soundtrack of strangers' voices. He'd surrendered, and not just to Dale. He'd fucked with Krycek's hot green eyes in his head, and come with Scully's name in his mouth. He was sick of going through life tranked out. Mulder was ready to fly without the net.

     When Dale unexpectedly took Mulder completely into his mouth and then slowly pulled away, it was more like being propelled into the stratosphere. Mulder yipped in an undignified manner as the cool air hit his wet and hardening cock. It was all Mulder could do to observe common courtesy and not grab hold of Cooper's ears.

     Cooper pulled his fingers fully out of Mulder's mouth and rested them against Mulder's ass. His tongue was flickering up and down Mulder's erection. Mulder pulled his legs up and apart until the pants around his legs caught tight. "I'm ready," he said through clenched teeth, the polite version of *What in the holy hell are you waiting for?*

     Two fingers eased inside him, and Dale's tongue was lapping briskly at the underside of his head as Dale's fingers searched systematically. When they found what they were looking for, Mulder's hips came up off the floor. Screw flying; this was what a head-on collision would feel like if his brain were a hood ornament.

     The pleasure quickly absorbed him, until Mulder's consciousness only existed as a flicker of sensation scrambling crazily between the erogenous zones that Dale was carefully stimulating. When orgasm hit him, Mulder suddenly understood why people talked about orgasms "hitting" people. It felt like two fists slamming into the small of his back, the pressure driving breath and noise and semen out of him all at once.

     A noise outside made Mulder prop himself up on his elbows. Much as he hated to make Cooper stop licking him slowly clean, he said, "Did you hear that?"

     "What?"

     "Car. On the gravel."

     By the time the door opened, Mulder was more or less reassembled. He looked like a drunk, untucked and rumpled with his tie half tied, but at least he didn't look like the lead character in some tacky True Confession called "Cabin Fever" or "Woody in the Woods" or something like that.

     If he'd stopped to think about it, Mulder would've been expecting Harry or Ed. He'd forgotten all about the tardy Agent Rosenthal, but this tall, dark-haired man with the grim expression on his face must be the same. He looked the both over with laser-beam eyes that made Mulder feel like he might as well have stayed naked. He said nothing.

     The last thing Mulder had expected was that Cooper would walk up to this somewhat forbidding man and lock his arms around his neck, pressing his mouth to Agent Rosenthal's shoulder. In response, the Agent put a hand rather awkwardly on Dale's back. "Upped your dosage, did they, Coop?" His voice was a slicing edge of jagged cynicism, and it made Mulder recoil instinctively. It was impossible to reconcile with the distant sadness that he was watching settle into Agent Rosenthal's dark eyes.

     "I was afraid you wouldn't make it."

     "One of the beautiful things about autopsies is that the customer almost never complains. It streamlines the process considerably. How's your health?"

     "I'm all right." Cooper pulled him closer, tilted his head to kiss him, and for a moment it looked as though Rosenthal would let him. At the last moment he turned his head away, and Mulder could imagine why. His face grew immediately warm, and it didn't help that the doctor was now staring fixedly, angrily, over Dale's shoulder and directly at him.

     He moved Cooper aside carefully. "Has anyone ever told you that you look like a refugee from some concentration camp for the fashion overprivileged?"

     Mulder coughed slightly. "Not in those exact words."

     It was obvious he couldn't look to Cooper for help; the man was grinning like an idiot, for all the world as though he were totally unaware of the tension seething in the room. "Albert, this is the Special Agent investigating--"

     "Oh, *FBI.* And to think, before you came we had two federal agents and two local officers. I was hoping we could play bridge." This man could obviously say *Do you have the time?* and flay the skin off his victim's bones with that voice.

     "I'm Agent Mulder," he said firmly. He could at least speak like a professional.

     "Oh, Spooky. Right. Well, you're in good hands, Coop. They sent *Agent Mulder* to vouch for your sanity. Which is kind of like having Michael Jackson as your adoption caseworker, don't you think?"

     Blithely, Dale went right on talking. "Big Ed and Sheriff Truman went on ahead to clear the road. Now, Albert, please don't pick a fight with the Sheriff. He's a good friend, and I really think he's getting to like you. I know--"

     Suddenly, a noisy, red, mindless rage exploded inside Mulder, and he wasn't entirely sure why. He just knew that he hated pretty much everybody at the moment, and he knew that hanging around was the worst thing he could do. He stalked for the door, and threw it open, striking out down the rough dirt road that led deeper into Ghostwood forest. He thought he heard Cooper call out his name behind him, but he ignored it.

     The light was dim, but the sun was still completely visible above the horizon. Mulder couldn't have been walking for more than five or ten minutes when he heard someone running up behind him. He stood still, letting Dale catch up. "Agent Mulder." He laid a warm hand on Mulder's arm. "What's wrong?"

     "What's *wrong*?" Mulder turned, shaking the hand off angrily. "You really are crazy, aren't you? Is he your lover?" Cooper nodded. "Well, then what the fuck were you thinking? Do you think he doesn't know what we were doing? It's not like you didn't know he was on his way!"

     "Are you jealous?" Cooper sounded like he didn't quite believe it was possible, but courtesy required him to ask.

     Frustrated, Mulder shoved his hands in his pockets. "I don't think I'm who you should be worried about. It looks like you've got a lot more to lose with Albert Rosenthal."

     "Don't worry about Albert. He understands. We're both field agents; we don't see each other very often. He knows we have our own lives to live in the meantime."

     Ah, an understanding. Mulder hated to argue with Cooper over the emotions of someone he didn't even know, but he'd seen the look in Albert's eyes. "I think he's in love with you," Mulder said quietly, recalling the mercurial mix of anger and worry and tender sadness the doctor had displayed as he held Cooper.

     Dale smiled briefly. "I should hope so."

     "*You son of a bitch!*" Mulder roared, grabbing Cooper by the shoulders with all his strength. "You crazy fucking idiot! *What's wrong with you?*"

     "Fox, you're hurting me."

     "Good! Don't call me Fox!"

     Cooper was holding tightly to one of Mulder's forearms. "I don't understand you. You weren't like this when I told you how I felt about Annie."

     "You and Annie have problems; I *understand* that. You'll work them out, or you won't. I don't give a shit. But that man *loves* you, he followed you out here, and you treat him like this? And you don't have any intention of working anything out. Oh, you're a busy guy, and Albert understands, hey, he loves you, why wouldn't he understand?" Mulder knew he was babbling, and his eyes were burning with tears he was not at all prepared to shed here and now.

     "Now listen to me, Mulder. Listen. I do love Albert. I do. And I love Annie, and I loved Carolyn. Maybe in a way I even love Harry, and maybe in a way I love you. There's nothing wrong with that. Don't you see? Love is the point of everything. Rationing it out, so much for every person, to be spent in one place only -- don't you see that it defeats the whole purpose of being alive? It impoverishes us for no reason."

     He sank exhausted against Dale's body. Sure, he was still angry, but he was too tired to stand on principle. "If...somebody I loved felt about me the way Rosenthal obviously feels about you...I wouldn't just let them wander away."

     Cooper was rubbing his back soothingly. "I've been thinking a lot about this lately. Getting ready to go back to the Lodge. Do you remember when I asked you how a person could avoid being afraid when they were in love?" Mulder nodded. "I've been thinking. The problem is that we see love as a fixed point, almost as an object that can be damaged or taken away. It isn't, though. It surrounds us, generated by all the people we love, the ones who are gone, the ones we haven't met yet. Love is unassailable, because it is everywhere. That's what protects us. That's why we can't possibly be afraid."

     "I'm sorry. I shouldn't interfere in your personal life."

     "No, it's all right. In fact, you have a point. Maybe you're not the person with whom I need to be discussing this."

     Mulder pulled away, patting Dale's shoulder. "Why don't you go back and get Albert. I'll just..walk a little longer and think."

     "All right. Just stay on the road, and we'll pick you up as we come by." Mulder nodded.

     It was all very well and good, he thought, picking at the moss on a tree as Cooper disappeared from sight, to believe that love is everywhere. Frankly, Mulder didn't think he was as evolved as Dale was. Love still seemed pretty goddamn vulnerable to him.

     Lost in a vaguely accusatory sea of self-pity, Mulder didn't immediately notice the ground fog. But soon it was behaving in ways that fog really shouldn't, rippling like a blanket being shaken, and Mulder could hear a strange, toneless humming, like music too distant to be identifiable. Mulder's hand sank automatically to his holstered weapon.

     "Ghostwood," a voice said, softly, but quite audibly. Mulder pulled the gun, and there was a chuckle.

     "Who's there?"

     "Ghostwood...."

     "Federal agent! Stay where you are?"

     But the voice continued, surrounding him so that he couldn't identify a location. "Fox. Fox Fox Fox."

     "Dale?" Even as he said it, he knew how stupid it was. But it was nightfall, and he was alone in the woods. Mulder readjusted his clammy grip on the gun, thinking, *Scully's going to have your balls on her mantle if you get fucked up while she's in the hospital.*

     And then the mist was gone, or at least it became a clear, if slightly distorting haze. Mulder rubbed his sleeve over his eyes, but the world remained slightly out of focus, like photos taken on cheap film. A man stepped in front of him, and Mulder jerked his gun up sharply. "Stop!"

     He was a grizzled, bearded man in his middle fifties. He raised one hand; the other sleeve hung empty at his side. "Fox Mulder," he said kindly, even paternally, "go home."

     "No, thanks. I'm a federal agent investigating--"

     "I know who you are."

     "Who are *you*?"

     "My name is Mike."

     Somehow, Mulder knew that any further questions about his identity would be pointless. So he asked what was really on his mind. "What happened to your arm?"

     "I sent it away."

     "Sent it away," he repeated, feeling extraordinarily stupid.

     Mike shrugged. "It was unfriendly."

     "*Unfriendly?*" Oh, now this was beyond stupid. *Think, Mulder, you fuck-up.*

     "It had the mark."

     Mulder surprised himself with a shudder. The mark -- the gulag. He shuddered, remembering how close he'd come to the same fate. "The...smallpox mark? I mean--"

      "The mark of fire."

     He lowered his gun. Suddenly, he felt as alone and childishly lost in the woods as he'd ever felt. Mulder could believe there was no one left alive but him and Mike, and it put him in a talkative mood. "You know, they call the aliens...the fire in the sky."

     "Do you want to play with fire, Agent Mulder?" the strange man mocked. Then he repeated it in a different voice, compassionate and understanding. "Do you want to play with fire?"

     "I can't seem to help it. I've been doing it all my life."

     Mike began to chant, his voice rhythmic and eerie. "Through the darkness of future past, the Magician longs to see -- one chance out between two worlds, Fire Walk With Me."

     He was stepping back blindly, shaking his head to deny the words. Something about them was ominous, threatening. "Stop it. I don't understand."

     "No. You must not go to the Lodge, Agent Mulder. It is not for you. You will not find your answers there."

     "But Agent Cooper--"

     "This land is Agent Cooper's home. He has only now discovered it -- in this life. He must pass the test in the Lodge. This is not your home."

     Forlornly, Mulder whispered, "I don't exactly...have a home."

     "And that is why you find no answers." Implacable, but not cruel. Mulder sighed. No rest for the wicked, in other words.

     "Do -- do you know...things?"

     Affectionately, Mike smiled at him. "Many things."

     "Will my friend die?" Mulder didn't generally consult fortune tellers, but it had been days since normal rules of conduct seemed to apply to his life.

     "I do not see her dead." Mulder gave him a confused look, and Mike tried to clarify, obviously groping for words. "She does not come to the White Lodge."

     "Is that -- where people go?"

     "One place among many. I do not see her in the Lodge. I see a woman, but not that one."

     A woman. Laura Palmer's name was on his tongue, but when Mulder opened his mouth a different name came out. "Samantha?"

     "She has been to the Lodge."

     "She's dead?" he asked weakly. Would it hurt, now, to know that, or be a relief?

     This was not his day to know. "Is Dale Cooper dead? He has been to the Lodge. Garland Briggs has been to the Lodge. Is Garland Briggs dead?"

     "In other words, you're not going to tell me." Well, that was just typical. Supernatural manifestations were close-mouthed ninety-nine times out of a hundred. "So this case is just one more goddamned dead end, is that what you're trying to say? Just a few more frequent flier miles and some decent coffee?"

     Mike sighed, and Mulder could just imagine him thinking, *Humans are dense ninety-nine times out of a hundred.* "When I was young, I chose to be marked with fire. Bob and I had many choices, and we chose fire. Then I sent my arm away, and it became a red dwarf who dances. I have looked into his eyes, and I have said to him, *You and I are two.* This will not be the story of your life, Agent Mulder."

     Okay. Sure.

     "You were claimed unwillingly, by fire and by the smoke of the fire. You have been marked. You will send nothing away. Your bloody left hand will come to you, and you will look into his eyes and say to him, *You and I are one.* Do you understand?"

     *Designed and directed by his red right hand. Sure I understand. Sumerian is like a second language to me.*

     "Fox Mulder. Here it begins. Here you have learned to dance, and here you first owned your own name. This has begun to make you ready."

     "Ready for...?"

     He smiled slyly. "For the next time you meet a man with one arm."

     "Will he be a dwarf?" Mulder asked, flippantly.

     Mike only smiled at him. The world began to tilt, as Mulder grew lightheaded. The image of the mountain man in front of him faded, lost clarity and definition, and the next thing Mulder knew, he was lying in the road, alone. Wincing, he sat up, brushing the dust off his coat as best he could.

     He could hear the car in the distance, and he stood up, leaning against a tree. To Mulder's surprise, the car stopped about fifty yards away. Its lights went out, and Mulder could hear the door open and close, could see the driver walk toward him. It was not Dale. It was Agent Rosenthal.

     "Are you coming?" the Agent asked him, impatiently. Then he sighed, and ran his fingers over his hair. "I...Coop wants me to apologize."

     Mulder waited. "Are you going to?"

     "I just did."

     "No, actually you didn't."

     For a moment Albert looked unsure, and then he shrugged. "Well, you have to understand, I never do. I'm actually very unlikeable. Cooper thinks it's a sign of a sensitive soul."

     "Is it?"

     "My, aren't you the friendly one. Are we having a moment?"

     For whatever twisted reason, Agent Rosenthal was beginning to grow on him. "I'm going to recommend that Cooper be dismissed with benefits from the FBI. Did you know he bought land up here?"

     "I heard him say he wanted to."

     "I'm going to recommend that as soon as he finishes his business here in Ghostwood, he settle down in Twin Peaks. I think he'd be happy here."

     Rosenthal made a face of mild distaste. "Sure. Kill him with home cooking and plaid. He'd love it. He could meet in the clubhouse every week with Officer Friendly and the other kids. He'd love it," he repeated, this time almost kindly.

     "Check up on him."

     "Are you coming or not?"

     Mulder's eyes moved to the car. He shrugged. "I don't think I'm needed, and I have a lot of work to do on these reports. I'm going to take my own car back to Seattle and leave Dale in Sheriff Truman's custody."

     Briefly, the two men shook hands. Mulder suspected he'd just received the Albert Rosenthal version of an apology.

     He stood on the side of the road as the car moved slowly past him. It paused alongside him, and the window rolled down. Cooper was leaning toward him with a questioning look. "Go on," Mulder said. "Let me know what happens. You have my cell number, right?" Dale nodded. "Are you nervous?" He shook his head, and Mulder believed him. Feeling a little embarrassed, he blew Agent Cooper a kiss.

     As the taillights of the car receded, Mulder sat down on a nearby log. What a fucking day. He rubbed the bridge of his nose vigorously and wondered if he'd picked that habit up from Skinner. The high-pitched burr of his cell phone startled him amidst the other woodsy sounds, and he fumbled for it. "Mulder."

     "It's me."

     He sat bolt upright. "Are you okay? Where are you? Are you at the hosp--"

     "I'm fine, Mulder. I'm spending the night in the hospital, but it's no big deal. I was just wondering how the case is going."

     "You are checking up on me, aren't you?"

     There was a little note of frustration in her voice. "Well... there's nothing to *do* here. What's happening up there?"

     "Not much."

     "Skinner showed me the notes you faxed in." The pause was meaningful, and Mulder smiled. "Go ahead and tell me what you make of it all," she said, resigned.

     "I think that Dale Cooper experienced an altered state of consciousness, related to his driving desire to find the man who abducted his lover and probably derived from his familiarity with Eastern mystical practices involving meditative states."

     Amazed, she said, "Really?"

     "No. I think there's a place called Glastonbury in Ghostwood that serves as a nexus point for contact with the spirit world. But I'm trying to make you feel included in the investigation. That's your theory, that first one."

     There was a soft noise, possibly a chuckle, and then a gentle sigh. "I'll make a note of it."

     "Hey, Scully?"

     "What is it, Mulder?"

     "Do you know any one-armed men? Possibly dwarves, or dancers?"

     She paused. "Just the one who killed Helen Kimball, though I don't think he was either a dwarf or a dancer."

     "Helen who?"

     "From *The Fugitive.*"

     "I don't think her name was Helen."

     "Of course it was."

     Finally, the tears that had come and gone all evening were beginning to spill, the first two slipping down his cheeks. "A spaghetti dinner says that Richard Kimball's wife wasn't named Helen."

     "You're on. What about Agent Cooper?"

     "A new Ferrari says that his name isn't Helen, either."

     She laughed. "Forget it. When are you coming home?"

     *When am I coming home?* "Soon. Real soon."

End.