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the men, the myths, the monotones

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Ryan isn't surprised to see the FBI guy on the doorstep; he knows to be ready for people to come sniffing around, fibbies, spooks, whoever. He didn't expect the guy to be wearing such a nice coat, though. Ryan's fingers itch to test the thickness of the wool.

"So," Agent Mulder says, "there's been six teenagers now who've gone missing in the Vegas area in the last few months, and all of them were seen having coffee with you or your friends earlier this fall. Anything you can tell me about that?"

Despite the accusatory thrust of the question, Mulder's tone stays evenly level. Ryan likes that, too. "Sorry," he says. "I travel a lot - haven't been around here that much to stay on top of the local news."

"But you remember meeting Xochitl Hernandez at Starbucks on September 26?"

"Maybe?" Ryan says. He tugs at his scarf to loosen it around his neck, and carefully notes how Mulder's eyes track his fingers. Okay, then. "I get recognized there pretty often - fans, y'know. I mean, I might have signed an autograph for this kid, or something. I wouldn't really remember it."

Mulder watches him for a moment and then says, "Looks like you just got some new tattoos, Mr. Ross. Would you mind letting me see them whole?"

Ryan grins. "Sure, if you want." He unwinds the scarf, ignoring the blank look on Mulder's face, then unbuttons his vest and tugs his T-shirt over his head.

"What's the significance of this design to you?"

"It's about finding more meaning in the questions than in the answers," Ryan says over his shoulder.

Mulder pauses, and Ryan hears him take a step nearer, feels a huff of breath on his back. "What are the right questions to be asking, then?"

Ryan turns around and sets a hand on the cloth of Mulder's shirt at his side, just above his belt. "Don't you guys usually work with partners?"

A longer silence, during which Mulder doesn't object to Ryan's hand sliding farther down. There are whole systems of fine creases around the corners of Mulder's eyes, just like the ones that are starting to appear around Pete's. Finally Mulder clears his throat. "Would you have more to say if my partner were here?"

Ryan smiles, tilts his eyes up and his knees down and opens his mouth wide. There's a terrible lost look on Mulder's face. The panels of the dark coat close over Ryan's shoulders.

"This is where you can reach me," Mulder says later, setting a card on the side table. Ryan doesn't turn his head to look at it, though what he can see from the corner of his eye doesn't seem to include the FBI logo. "Call me if... if you remember anything else."

"Sure," Ryan says.

He sees Mulder out the front door and then heads down the hallway to the stairs, thrusting his arms back into his vest without bothering with the shirt.

"Okay," he says, closing the bedroom door behind him, "it's taken care of. Let's keep going."