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Chermera by Mary Ruth Keller

Chapter VIII – Fall Out

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Tyrgleipnir, Northumbria
Sunday, July 19, 1998
1:03 pm

Alex Krycek struggled against Walter Skinner's hold. "Hey, let me go! This was all their idea!" He tried kicking at the loam, but, the former Marine had him in a hammerlock.

"I doubt that." The bald Director flicked his eyes toward the dark-haired agent, who was hovering over his supine partner. "Talk to me, Mulder!"

But the tall man heard nothing except Scully's rattling gasps, saw nothing but the blood on the right side of her chest, and, incredibly, her green-blue eyes locked on his gaze. "Scully?"

"Mulder, listen to me. Mulder?"

Tearing off his FBI jacket to ball it up, he pressed the black canvas against the spreading red. "Okay. It'll be okay."

"Mulder!"

He focused on her face. "Scully?"

She grasped his right wrist with her left hand. "This isn't fatal." She coughed. "Keep the compression in place. Push down hard. It won't hurt any worse than it already does." As he complied, her lips set in a firm line, since the pain had morphed her words of encouragement into shouting lies.

Nichols bent over them both. "Mulder? Scully?"

They twisted to look up at him.

The ASAC was grasping both his knees to keep himself upright. "We can have you to a hospital in Newcastle in twenty minutes, a half an hour, tops. Ap Gwinn is getting the airspace cleared to the trauma center there."

Behind them, they could hear the rotors spinning up.

Mulder checked back over his shoulder. "Sir?"

Skinner set his jaw firmly. "He's not going anywhere. Look to your partner, Agent Mulder."

He squeezed the jacket into a smaller ball, before bending close to his partner's ear. "Scully, you're panting, but I can barely hear you breathing."

Her grip on his wrist tightened. "Pneumothorax. My right lung has collapsed." The alto was breathy and raspy. "It sounds worse than it is. Mulder, Krycek's gun is in my pocket. You need to take it out and hang onto it before I go into surgery."

He looked up helplessly, finally catching Rosen's eye.

She knelt beside them both. "Okay, what do you two need?"

He gestured with his head toward the bulge in his partner's jeans pocket. "That's Krycek's gun. We need it for evidence. Make sure you don't lose it, Rosen."

The brunette astronomer slid the weapon out to tuck it in her waistband. "I won't. I know how important it is. But, we need to move Scully to the helicopter." She twisted to look up at her former partner, standing over them all, then at the others gathering around.

Stickle was hovering in the middle of the lawn, looking pale and lost. Feeling at loose ends, Terry Phillips, waiting a few feet away, was watching Pendrell in the pilot's seat of the helicopter.

Nichols waved them over. "Agent Stickle, Agent Phillips. Go into the house and see if you can find something we can move Scully on."

Suddenly focused, the blond Agent grabbed the nearest Quaestor by the arm. "Help me with this."

Phillips, her jaw firm, was sprinting toward the back entrance.

The grey-cowled man looked to the Suebi, who was swaying on his feet, his hands still on his face, blocking his view of the horror he had unleashed, so the Quaestor turned to several of the others. "Search for a board, or even a light tabletop. Hurry! This is for the Riata!" They scrambled back over the lawn.

The Pict and the blond Quaestor emerged from behind the side of the building, their faces registering only curiosity as to the source of the explosions they had heard. But, their composure fell away to shock at the scene in front of them. The man with the lion cane headed toward his supine Riata, only to be waylaid by Rosen, who quickly briefed him on the situation. A single nod of a white head, then he turned to approach the Suebi. After a short conversation, the Pict directed the blond Quaestor toward the house. When the younger man emerged with the others, they were carrying a stretcher, stored at Tyrgleipnir between village rugby tournaments, toward the woman on the ground. As the pathologist was rushed toward the helicopter, the Pict again approached the Suebi, now clutching his knees in a huddle on the grass. The man with the lion cane rested a hand on his Brother's shoulder, as the rotors spun up, then the Riata, her Atrebates, Agent Arthur Pendrell, and Professor Andrea Rosen were borne into the sky.

-o-0-o-

142 Curie Avenue
University City
San Diego, CA
Sunday, 4:37 am

Sandra Miller bent over the sleeping Jerry Donato, who was stretched out on her sofa. "Hey. It's okay." She pressed down on his shoulder as the black-haired man, eyes still closed, was feeling around for his weapon. "Really. We're okay."

He swung his feet, still in their black socks, to the floor. "What? Sandie?"

She settled beside him. "You don't need to check the windows and doors again, Jerry, I just heard from Andrea Rosen. They're on a case in the UK, which is why I couldn't reach Fox when I landed."

He blinked at her several times. "No more information than that? Nothing about the British Embassy in DC?" He fumbled for the remote. "We saw Director Skinner and Agent Mulder outside, but not Agent Scully. There has to be a connection." As the screen flared into brightness, the CNN logo swirled, but the 'Breaking News' was about a fire on a cruise ship. "Shoot, they've moved on."

Sandra picked Salazar up off the floor to cuddle his vibrating body. "That's what twenty-four hour news is all about: flit, flit, flit. They did manage to focus on it for five days, but nothing new was being released. Next it'll be some celebrity divorce, just watch." Tuggles trotted past the screen, then circled several times, the fan tail waving in the blue light. "I'll feed them. It's the only way we can get some peace and quiet, now." The British Shorthair still in her arms, she rose.

He followed along behind her. "Sandie, I'm sorry." The black-haired detective watched as Salazar pushed off her chest to leap into the kitchen ahead of her. Both felines settled to wait, blinking while they bobbed expectantly.

Having scraped breakfast onto one plate, she was piling food onto the other, but stopped, fork in mid-air, to look over at him. "Whatever for, Jerry?"

He rubbed the back of his neck as he leaned against the counter. "Ah. I was worried. I overreacted when your brother called."

She sent him a lop-sided grin as the white plates lowered to the floor. "Don't fret, Jer." She brushed his shoulder with hers as she began rinsing out the container. "I've been positively spoiled these past three weeks. You've been here when you weren't on duty. Mom and Max and Fox were so attentive. Mom just watched me work." She smiled gently. "Max was so happy to trot out the Fluid Dynamics he had learned in Vienna over dinner. Fox was my goofy brother again, finally."

The thick-chested detective pushed her loose curls back off her face, then over her shoulder. "Some people deserve it, Sandie."

The can rattled as it and its lid dropped into the recycling bin. She stepped close to him. "Jerry." She landed a passing kiss on his nose before squeezing dishwashing soap into the sink, a faint lavender scent rising as it hit the hot water. "You don't have to sleep on the sofa like a watchful knight. Head upstairs for a few more hours, if you want. The sheets on the guest bed were washed before I left for Santorini."

He reached toward her elbow, then dropped his hand to his side. "Ah, I should go home and get showered and changed. It's roll call at seven, and you have to get to campus to work on your papers." He watched her finish washing utensils and dishes in silence, then found himself lifting a red checked towel off a hook to apply to the standing crockery.

When the plates and fork were tucked away, she took the cloth from his fingers to dry her hands, then dropped it on the counter. "Jerry." She was studying his face carefully. "I wanted to give you this, but there was too much going on when I landed." She slipped diffidently to his side. "Close your eyes."

He held his breath as he complied. The brush of her lips on his was tentative, then firm and warm. He wrapped his arms around her cinch waist as hers encased his thick shoulders. He had not expected this now, but pulled her tightly against him nonetheless.

"Yeow!" The insistent pronouncement from the floor set them both laughing as they leaned against each other for a few more moments.

Still smiling, Jerry released Sandra. "Kids. Gotta love'em." He grasped her cheek briefly, then turned to head to the sofa. "See you tonight, Professor." He was wiggling into his leather shoes as she walked to the door to grasp the latch.

-o-0-o-

Royal Victoria Infirmary
Great North Trauma and Emergency Center
Newcastle-on-Tyne, UK
Sunday, 1:29 pm

Fox Mulder staggered into the waiting area with Andrea Rosen striding purposefully on his heels.

A nurse in green scrubs looked up at their arrival. "Gurney!" She crossed the room to the agents. "Sir, where are you injured?"

He glanced down his shirt, red on white, before shaking his head. "I'm okay. It's my partner, Dana Scully. She was just brought in with a gunshot wound to the chest. You need to know her condition."

The tiny woman smiled gently at him. "Oh, yes, you're the American FBI agents who just landed. We've been expecting you. We have her in surgery now, so, have a seat. I'll be there to take her information shortly." She turned to trot back to the nursing station.

He was reaching into his back pocket for his wallet. "You'll need this."

She looked over her shoulder at him. "You shan't have to worry about your card, this is the UK. I just need to know if she's on any medications. She was conscious and communicative when she was brought into surgery, so they know in OR, but it will be required to tailor the rest of her treatments. Have a seat, both of you."

The brunette astronomer watched her walking briskly away. "They've been expecting us?"

He sagged into a nearby chair. "The guy with the lion cane is the MP for Inverness, and a couple of other places I don't remember right now." He sighed. "Yeah, Strathspey, that was one of them. He grabbed his cell phone on the way out of their chamber, so he's probably the one who made the connection." At her wrinkled forehead, he sent her a lop-sided grin. "He's House of Commons, Scottish Nationalist Party, Rosen. Three hours is a long flight with two men old enough to be my Dad. Once the pair of them found out I went to Oxford, suddenly I wasn't such a hopelessly ignorant American, and they started chattering to me as if we were all old school chums."

As she settled beside him, she crossed her black-clad legs at the ankles. "That's the one who acted like he knew Scully, right?"

Mulder was rubbing his eyes with his finger and thumb, attempting to project a confidence he didn't necessarily feel. "Yeah, and she knew him, too, somehow. The Doctor and I will need to have a little chat when she's up and around. There's a lot more to this organization than we understand."

As the nurse approached, clipboard in hand, Rosen took out her cell phone. "I'm calling Nic, Mulder. We need to get you out of that shirt." At his startled glance, she gestured with her head to two women waiting several rows across from them. "They keep stealing looks over here, checking that red on you, and looking back to the nurse's station."

With a snort, he slid the typewritten list Scully had made up in Atlantis from his wallet, then unfolded the triangle into a thin strip.

-o-0-o-

Royal Victoria Infirmary
Great North Trauma and Emergency Center
Newcastle-on-Tyne, UK
Sunday, 4:53 pm

Phil Nichols entered the waiting area at the same time as the double glass doors rolled open. He watched as the surgeon and Mulder crossed the space, meeting in the center.

The grey-haired doctor was slipping off his cap. "You're the agents from the Bureau?"

"How is she?" Practically nose to nose with a man almost as slender as himself, Mulder had his fists on his hips. "When can I see her?"

The physician cocked a still-dark eyebrow. "I forget how pushy we Americans can be. She's out of the woods. We'll need to leave the tube in place while the lung repairs itself and we monitor the internal damage from the gunshot wound, but it's not nearly as bad as some I've worked on. The bullet missed her scapula and her spinal column, but grazed two of her ribs. It cracked one, but not the other. Since neither shattered, we didn't have the amount of internal bleeding that can happen. As for when you can see her, she's in recovery right now. When we're sure she's stable, she'll be moved to a regular room."

Mulder was shaking his head. "She's my partner. That's-"

"Fine, Chief. That's fine." The balding Montanan took hold of Mulder's arm. "She's in good hands."

The hazel flicked from one man's face to the other. "No. I need-"

The surgeon sighed. "Okay, my brother-in-law is Bureau, so I know how you guys operate. Only, just for a few minutes. I'll take you in and bring you out, but, that's it. No more."

"Mulder - " Rosen stopped at a sharp backward glare.

The glass parting ahead of them, the dark-haired agent walked side by side with the surgeon. "You're American? Doctor?"

"George Harris, the father, not the son." The grey-haired man eyed the tall agent as his lips quirked. "From Los Angeles. My wife and I moved here about three years ago for her engineering professorship. It's easier doing emergency work here. Better hours, a lot more support, and many fewer cases. This is the first gunshot wound I've seen since we had an accidental weapons discharge flown down from the Hebrides a couple of years ago." They fell into silence as they walked, only the sounds of their footsteps ringing in the brightly-lit corridor. Harris stopped by a glass wall with a view into a recovery room. "She's here. The orderlies have her settled and in good order."

Mulder propped one hand on the steel frame as he checked inside. His partner was still under an oxygen mask, tubes running out of her chest, monitors hooked to her forehead, chest, and fingertip, gauze wrapping her scalp. An IV was pumping fluids into her left arm. Minus the mocking figure in his nightmare, this was exactly the scene that had awakened him in terror in the night to send him stumbling out of his apartment to her. He whispered her name once.

Holding out a face mask and latex gloves, Harris touched the dark-haired man's shoulder. "Here. Put these on and come with me as I check her vitals." He was fastening his own mask in place as the agent wiggled the sheaths on his fingers. "Tell me, why was she so dehydrated?"

"She'd been taken hostage, flown across the Atlantic, and confined for the past four days. She'd tried several escapes, which probably didn't sit well with her captors." The tall agent looked over somberly. "The gunshot happened while we were apprehending a suspect."

The grey-haired man eyed him. "We, as in both of you? Her injuries and physical condition, outside of the gunshot, would have debilitated many people."

Mulder shrugged. "Yeah. Most of our team from the States was there as well. But when she gets her back up, it's best to just roll with it." He sent the surgeon a grim smile.

Harris chuckled as he stepped through the entry. "Sounds like she comes by that red hair honestly."

"She does." The dark-haired agent lapsed into silence, since he had passed into the room. He had wrapped both his hands around her left palm, before noticing the traces reading out on the screen by his face. "Why are you monitoring her brainwaves? She didn't have brain damage, did she? She had suffered a slight concussion a few months ago. If that-"

Without looking up from his check of the incision with the tubes, Harris shook his head. "It's just a precaution, with all that trauma to her face and skull. She was very alert when she was brought in, asking a lot of questions and giving directions. She told us about the injury from the Courthouse explosion. I didn't recognize her as the FBI Agent the media were discussing at the time. But, she was able to list the medication dosages she takes exactly, so there likely wasn't further injury."

Mulder found himself smiling behind the mask. "She's a pathologist. She probably told you that at least three times before you put her out. She had been giving me EMT instructions throughout the helo ride here." One long finger ran down her battered jawline. "Looks like we're even in the rib count, right, Doctor?" The tenor was barely voiced.

Now, Harris glanced over before he chuckled. "Oh, you mean your partner, not myself." He straightened. "I'm done. We should go, Agent?"

"Mulder." The hazel was still fixed on her face, but both hands were enclosing her fingers again. "Yeah. She. The Doctor."

"As many lives as?"

"Seems like it, so far." He sighed.

"We should let her rest, Agent Mulder."

"Yeah, sure." He was running his thumb along the prickly lines on her brows, trying to smooth them down. They even shaved those off?

"Agent Mulder?"

At the tap on his wrist, the dark-haired man looked up. "Yeah?"

"That means you need to let go."

"Okay." Reluctantly, he straightened her fingers on the sheets before stepping back.

Harris held out his arm. "Not a problem. I know what it's like to have a fierce woman in one's life." More than that, he would not presume. They walked out side-by-side. "Agent Mulder, it'll be a few hours." As his name was called over the intercom, he patted the tall man's shoulder. "I don't have to tell you the way."

-o-0-o-

Walter Skinner was pacing when Mulder returned to the waiting area. As he emerged, the bald Director crossed to stand in front of him. "What is her condition?" He had no idea how his agent had finagled a trip past the operating theatre doors, but, after so many years, was no longer surprised by it.

The dark-haired man crossed his arms, the mask and gloves dangling from his fingers. "She's in recovery right now, Sir. She's not yet awakened, but the Doctor says she'll make it."

The Assistant Director put his hands on his hips, pushing his black FBI jacket behind them. "Ap Gwinn has arranged for Agents Pendrell, Phillips, Stickle, and myself to take the Embassy Gulfstream back to the States. We have Marshals standing by to accompany Krycek to federal prison to await a preliminary hearing. Doctor Rosen gave me his gun. Do you still have the slug from your Father?"

Mulder extracted the plastic-encased bullet from his wallet to drop it in the waiting palm. It seemed like an age since his partner had handed it off to him in West Tisbury. "He'll serve time for one of his murders, anyway. What we do for Agent Scully's sister, I don't know. The bullet was removed and discarded during her emergency surgery, according to Mrs. Scully."

The bald man offered a silent huff. "One is sufficient, Agent. The threat of life in prison loosens many tongues, and the Smoker has let him hang out there long enough." Once the evidence was secured, Skinner gritted his teeth. "Now, I'm giving you an order, Mulder. Nichols and Rosen are staying behind to back you two up. ASAC Nichols has a hotel room. I'm requiring that you let him drive you there for a shower and several hours rest. Is that clear?"

The balding Montanan took the younger man by the elbow. "Come on, Chief. Ros will let us know if there's any change, or when she's moved to the private room. You've been running on stale coffee and adrenaline fumes since you landed at Dulles."

Rosen made shooing motions toward the door. "I'd alerted Cynthia so she's aware of all the travel schedules. I also took it upon myself to check in with Sandra, Mulder, while we waited outside Tyrgleipnir for you to get back from Cambridge. No details, just that you and Scully had been called overseas suddenly on a case, and that you were fine, which relieved her mind. She'd been trying to contact you for several days, at X-Files East, your apartment, and your cell."

He checked the phone he took from his pocket numbly, quickly scrolling through the messages and missed calls. "She's okay, right?"

Nichols was tugging on his arm. "You can ring her as we drive, Chief, how's that?"

-o-0-o-

over the Atlantic
Sunday, 11:36 pm

"We're still on British soil! This airplane is in the custody of the Foreign Office. I want asylum, and I want it now!" Krycek was twisting on the leather seat, his wrists cuffed separately to the supports for the padded arms.

Walter Skinner set his face in a mask. The dark-haired man had been shouting since they had climbed on-board, but, with nearly eight hours left in the flight, he could no longer stand the noise. "Krycek!" He stalked to the back of the plane. "Enough! You know the pilot is American, and the Bureau took over the rental on the ground. Your claim has no standing here. Be quiet. You're on US soil, surrounded by US citizens. You will be charged with the attempted murder of one American citizen. You admitted to murdering another, and being an accessory to a third, all unprompted, and all in front of witnesses."

The dark-haired man tried to throw himself at the Assistant Director, but only succeeded in bruising his wrists in his fury. "These witnesses! I have a right to hear their statements! Where are they?"

A long, frustrated sigh escaped the bald man. "You will hear them where you are entitled to hear them: from your attorney, Krycek. Not now. You know this." He leaned over until his bared teeth were a fraction of an inch from the younger man's nose. "Now, be quiet."

"Or what, Skinner, you'll throw me out of the plane?"

A snort, then, shaking his head, the bespectacled Director walked away. His gaze fell on the entwined hands of Arthur Pendrell and Terry Phillips, seated side-by-side about mid-way up the short aisle. He found himself missing Sharon, so sent them a nod as he passed.

Pendrell wrapped an arm around his spouse. "You going to be okay with all this, Ter?"

She leaned into his embrace. "Yes. Not exactly what I expecting for our first case, but then, I guess I should get used to it." She rested her head on his shoulder. "Will Dana be okay? There was so much blood, more than I'm used to coming out of a living person."

He found himself unable to refrain from hugging her tightly. "Director Skinner made certain she was out of danger before we left. She has a long road to recovery, but, she's in good hands." He lifted her chin with his knuckle. "She'll be okay, hum?"

Terry nodded. "Okay. I'll be glad to be home, finally. Who would have thought we'd be crossing half the planet in a little over a month."

He smiled as she settled. "Yeah. Not like just working in a lab."

In the front of the plane, Bill Stickle was chewing his lower lip. "Director Skinner?"

The bald man shifted in his seat, then eyed him. "Yes, Agent Stickle?"

"What happens now?"

Skinner's dark brows drew together. "We take Krycek back and start assembling our case against him. Agents Mulder and Scully, ASAC Nichols, and Professor Rosen will be in the UK for at least a month, so we'll attend the legal side of the proceedings while they're away." He leaned toward the younger man. "You did well, Stickle. Your father would be proud of how you handled yourself on your first case, so put your mind at ease. You'll make a fine Agent." He settled back, hoping this reassurance was sufficient for the situation.

Stickle ran a hand through his blond curls. "Thank you, Sir. I'm relieved to hear you say that. I wish Dad were still here so I could discuss it with him."

The bespectacled director gazed out the window. "It's good you think so, Agent Stickle. Your father was a mentor to me, back in the day. He had his own quirks, but he was an honorable man, and was as fine an officer as I've worked with over the years."

A flash of a grin crossed the younger man's features. "Dad had quirks? He was also so stone-cold G-man at home. Always so Eliot Ness."

The older man's eyes lightened. "Let me tell you some stories, Stickle. It will help pass the time."

-o-0-o-

Royal Victoria Infirmary
Great North Trauma and Emergency Center
Newcastle-on-Tyne, UK
Monday, July 20, 1998
7:17 pm

Dana Scully took a deep breath. For the first time in days, she no longer felt cold, but she could hear an annoying beeping. She lay still, attempting to work out just how long she had been confined, before she remembered: attempting to flee, fighting with Krycek, Mulder arriving with SUV's and a helicopter, gasping for air. She heard the woop, woop, woop of helicopter blades, saw the dark, anxious face of her partner gazing down at her, his hands pressed against her chest, his hoarse tenor attempting to soothe them both, being in an operating room, debating with, someone. Then, this. She opened her eyes to check around her. The beeping was her heartbeat, strong and regular, jabbing spikes upward on traces, an IV bag suspended on her left. There was still a tube in her chest, which her clinician's mind found unsurprising, given the pneumothorax.

She tried lifting her right hand, but it pulled the muscles in her chest around sutures, so she let it drop. When she attempted to move her left, she felt warmth wrapping her palm, heard a body shifting. Mulder. "Hey." The hand moved up, grasping her shoulder, then sliding behind her neck, leaving the thumb free to trace her cheekbone. "Mulder?"

He was wearing a grin, but his eyes were deeply troubled. "I'm here, Scully."

She focused on his jaw. "You had a chance to shave?"

He nodded as he lifted his fingers to his chin. "Those two tyrants we trained wouldn't hear otherwise. They fed me and made me sleep. In a bed." He smiled softly.

She clucked, then rocked her head from side to side on the pillows. "No raises for them this year." She reached up to wrap her fingers around his palm, but winced. The flexing shifted the IV needle, so she dropped her hand to the sheets. "Where's Krycek?"

He leaned back, adjusting his seat until he could grasp her arm, Roman-style. "In the hoosegow. Skinner flew him back there, with Pendrell, Phillips, and Stickle. There's a preliminary hearing in a couple of weeks, which we may or may not make."

She smiled gently down at him, then sobered. "Mulder, we need to talk."

He leaned forward to resume rubbing her cheek with his thumb. "When you're better, Scully."

She shook her head. "No. Now while we have the time."

Both dark eyebrows arched as he settled back. "Okay. What's on your mind?"

She rotated her wrist to clutch the arm lying under hers at the elbow. "First, thank you, Mulder. Thank you for not giving up. After that first day, when I heard them saying that someone was coming, I knew it had to be you."

His face reddened as he blinked rapidly several times. "Give up, Scully? On you? Never. You should know that by now." He bent forward. "What else?"

She tried sitting up, but fell back on the pillows. "Second, whatever the Forty want from me, they can get it by coming to us at X-Files East, like any other organization would. I'm an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, not their dal Riata, whatever that means. I think they have resources we can't pass up, but, it's on our terms, not theirs." She shook the arm under hers. "Okay?"

He opened his mouth, but said nothing.

"Mulder?"

The hazel cleared, then his lips began twitching. "So, I'm not your Atrebates, your Sam Gamgee, following you to Mount Doom, bringing you Lembas in bed, fixing you tater and coney stew?"

"Back before anyone could possibly have known about potatoes in England?"

They both burst out laughing.

She could see his eyes were dancing. "How many times did you read Rings, anyway? I've lost count over the years."

He let out a final bark. "Just once, but I enjoyed them too much to read them again. I wonder if they'll ever try to make movies out of those books."

One cheek quirked. "Besides Ralph Bakshi? They'll never be as good, but, then, they never are." She started coughing. "Sorry. Can't get too silly just yet."

"Third?"

"Third, I think we need to-"

"Scully? Mulder?" Nichols's gravel floated in from the hall. "There's a problem out at Tyrgleipnir and the other two estates where you were held."

She tried pushing herself upright again, but her partner was there, using the controls to raise the head end of the bed.

"What's going on?" Mulder rested a protective hand on her left shoulder.

The older man chewed his mustache for a moment. "There were fires at all three, last night. No one can locate the Suebi, or the man who was his chief servant for thirty odd years, Frijdolf. The people who were involved in your initiation have all gone to ground, so the Yard wants to send someone to interview you, Scully. You're their only witness."

She nodded. "Okay. I'll try to offer what help I can, but, there wasn't much I saw. When do they want to do this?"

The balding Montanan sighed. "Now that you're awake, they're not going to want to wait. Do you feel up to this, or, should I try to hold them off for a day or so?"

"Give us a day." The dark-haired agent frowned.

She shook her head. "Mulder, they may lose clues, or-"

His reply was initially a growl. "Scully, you've got tubes in your chest, thanks to that old man falling prey to Krycek's machinations."

She held herself rigid. "He deserves justice, just like anyone else. Besides, if we don't help them, they'll just extradite Krycek for his testimony, and *he* needs to never leave the country again. Mulder, you *know* this."

He bent over her, nose to nose, the hazel boring into her gaze, until his shoulders sagged. "One hour. They get one hour. Then, you go back to getting well, Scully. That's all it makes any sense to agree to, at least for the next few days."

A few coughs shook out of her. "Okay, but, Mulder, if they need you, don't - "

"Go anywhere," Nichols finished. "Ros and I can do the legwork, Scully. With three Shadow governments on our backs, you don't get left alone anymore. No one does, East or West."

The tall agent turned to grin at the older man before gazing down at her again. "See, Scully, we did train them right."

-o-0-o-

Royal Victoria Infirmary
Great North Trauma and Emergency Center
Newcastle-on-Tyne, UK
Tuesday, July 21, 1998
8:51 am

Dana Scully smiled at the hand tightly grasping her palm. "Mulder, I may need that back someday." Her partner had been bending over her as she had awakened, the light streaming in through the windows of the regular hospital room she had been moved into a few hours earlier. She knew, from his comments, that they were on a short hallway off the main corridor, where the other three rooms were empty. Just as well for any occupying patients, with all the traipsing in and out of law enforcement officials that was bound to take place. A white recliner had been waiting by her bedside, which she suspected Rosen or Nichols had arranged. After the nurse had left, he had wrapped her shoulders in one of the extra blankets, then settled in gratefully himself.

He smirked. "We'll see what we can exchange for it that is of equal worth, Doctor." Sobering, he adjusted the thin cover over her knees as he straightened. "Are you sure you're up to this?"

She nodded. "It's almost like we're working a case, and that helps keep my mind off of, well, everything else."

The hazel soft and sad, he was bending over her again. "Scully, I'm here, when you want to talk about it, for as long as you need."

Her arm now free of the IV, she reached up to cup his rough cheek. "Thanks. I'll hold you to that, not now, but when things calm down, and more importantly, slow down."

I hope you do. You'll need to, partner. "And when will that be?" He settled back with a snort as they heard voices ringing down the tiled hall, but before their visitors arrived, he twisted the blanket closed around her shoulders and neck.

"Doctor Scully?" The Inspector had warm, honey-colored skin, thick straight black hair over deep, intelligent brown eyes. "I'm Rajesh Emani." He extended his right hand, nodding as she returned the grasp with her left. "My apologies for this happening on your first visit to the UK."

She sent him a quiet smile. "I'd much rather have been strolling the British Museum, Inspector, but I may be here a while, so, we shall see." She glanced over at her partner, who was reaching across her.

The Inspector gripped his palm. "You're Agent Mulder?"

"Yeah. We're partners at the Bureau." He settled on the edge of the recliner, his fingers curled as they rested against her arm.

The Inspector flipped open his notepad. "Bad business, this. Professor Rhys-Jones had a distinguished career as a horticulturalist before his retirement. His extensive greenhouses of exotic medicinal species were at a different location, so were spared, but, the three estates that were lost contained many unique historical documents and records." He turned over a page. "The most important materials were at Fenleyding, where you were held first, Agent Scully."

She shifted slightly. "I'm very sorry to hear that, Inspector. I'm afraid I saw little of the interior of that residence. I don't remember smelling gas or anything that might have been an accelerant. Are there no clues to his disappearance?"

Emani shook his head. "The staff who normally work at the homes were told, by someone claiming to be Rhys-Jones, not to come in for the times you were at each. There were reports of figures in grey hoods and robes, but they appeared to always keep their faces covered."

She frowned. "There were three who didn't: an older woman, short, about 40 pounds overweight, grey hair, a tall woman with grey hair and glasses, about 30 pounds underweight, and a man with a grey mustache, also short and overweight. None had distinguishing marks, or, as I should say properly, all may have been in disguise or theatrical make-up."

"But, you could work with a sketch artist?"

She nodded. "I could. You have had no sightings of Professor Rhys-Jones?"

Mulder tapped her arm with his index finger. "Scully, it's his case, not ours. He gets to ask the questions this go-round."

The three found themselves chuckling softly with each other.

"You two are quite used to be on my side of the interrogation, I gather." The Inspector capped his pen. "But, to answer your question, no, we haven't. We have the airports and dockyards on full alert, but, he may be being kept in hiding inside the UK. We're combing the area around Tyrgleipnir, looking for anyplace he may be concealed. We're treating this as a missing persons case, for now." He closed the pad. "I'll send that sketch artist this afternoon?"

She extended her hand again. "I'll be here."

He shook it carefully. "I'm sure you will. My best for a speedy recovery, Agent Scully." The Inspector nodded to the tall man over their clasp. "I know the way, Agent Mulder."

Once they were alone, the dark-haired man regarded his partner solemnly. "Scully, there *is* something we need to discuss, something I don't understand."

The darkness in his gaze had her sliding her palm over the blankets to rest on his extended fingers. "What is it, Mulder?"

He enclosed her hand between both of his. "You knew the Pict and the Suebi, without being introduced. Can you explain that to me?" Given where she was and what had happened to his partner, he kept his tones as soft and gentle as he could.

Her forehead wrinkled. "I really can't, Mulder. With Mister ap Gwinn, his Welsh descent was obvious from his name and his Pendragon, so Cymru sprang to my mind almost immediately. There wasn't anything specific that said 'Highland Scots' or 'Anglo-German' on the other two. But, I've met so many different people moving around with my family growing up, it may be some barely remembered symbol that's triggering an insight. I can't say for sure." She bit her lip, thinking of all the times he had chastised her for not considering extreme possibilities. "The names were just there. I wish I could give you the clues that registered in my mind, but, I can't." She rubbed the backs of his fingers with her thumb. "I didn't recognize Christina Knox's identity, nor did you, Mulder, when we were on Santorini or in Africa. There must have been some event that triggered all this." She cocked her head, trying to lighten his sober gaze. "We'll just add another folder to the X-Files, right?"

He shook his head. "Scully, I understand you're trying to be dispassionate about all of this, and I respect that." He studied their entwined fingers for a few moments. "More than that, I need it, and, our work requires it." He bent close to her ear. " But sometimes, you need to search, too. You did that, as we were working through the trials. You were speaking to yourself in your dreams. This may be something similar."

She tilted her head. "Mulder, are you saying you think I really am this Riata of theirs?"

They were sliding back into their comfortable roles, so he huffed slightly at her. "You don't know your ancestry, because, like me and a lot of other Americans, we're all mutts. But I could believe there was a Boudicca in your past." He sent her a broad grin. "Not too far back, either, Britomart."

She smiled back, then her gaze fell on his crinkled forehead. "Mulder, if I am the Riata, then you are my Atrebates, my Mervyn Bunter, my Sam Gamgee, and, no matter how many times you pretend to salute sharply and say, 'Yes, Ma'am!,' I just don't see that staying true for more than thirty seconds."

He waggled his eyebrows. "Yeah. Well, it's just the start of a theory."

She eyed him teasingly. "That needs a lot more supporting evidence before we begin to consider it. Until then, you're just an omniscient genius, and I'm just a G-woman." She looked down at her chest. "With extra tubes and ventilation."

"Agent Mulder, Doctor Scully?" Ap Gwinn was standing in the doorway. "May I speak with you both?" At their nods, he padded into the room, smiling his approval as Mulder refused to relinquish his partner's fingers. "What did the Inspector ask you?"

The agents exchanged a glance before she replied, "Whether I could work with a sketch artist to provide identification on the three whose faces were exposed."

The Cymru's red curls bobbed. "They are not part of the Ekklesia. The Tribuno must have brought them in from the outside, which is a violation of all our procedures. The Fellowship takes care of its own." He sank onto the foot of the bed. "You understand that, Riata."

She shook her head. "I'm not - "

Ap Gwinn held up both hands. "No, you're not, as least not yet." His gaze focused on Mulder, then back on her. "You should both be fully aware of what it being asked of you before you decide your next course of action." He began pacing. "Should you choose to walk away, there would be no rancor, no retaliation. Especially after the travesty perpetrated upon you by that vengeful man." He leaned against the wall, then sighed. "We would have to seek another." He smiled gently at their joined fingers. "Two others. We were all so excited to be able to bring in an American Sister, and another American Atrebates-Brother. We had become too insular, too bound to the past, for our survival."

Mulder rose to walk over to the red-haired man. "But, my father, Marshal Tapping, they were both part of your organization, were they not?" He grasped the Cymru's right hand, turning it over to check the wrist. "You don't have a tattoo?"

Ap Gwinn stared over, astonishment written on his features. "What do you mean? Tattoo?"

Scully attempted to straighten in the bed, but fell back after a wince. "Both Mulder's father and Marshal Tapping had a rising sun symbol tattooed on their wrists, where Agent Mulder was checking. We took that to be a symbol of your society. Was it not?"

The red-haired man looked from one to the other. "Perhaps this was something each chose to do, but we have no requirement of such. The Fellowship only speaks of itself with itself. The close protection we take of our existence is what has let us survive for so long. The ex-Tribuno will have no qualms about exposing us if it will benefit himself in the slightest. That was obvious from the first, and why he was rejected by the members for any significant office. We must prepare for that eventuality."

"No, Cymru, we must save Suebi."

Both men started, then focused on the woman in the bed as they returned to it.

She looked at ap Gwinn, who was standing on her right. "He is still alive." She shifted to face Mulder, at her left. "If they have him, they will try to make him tell them what he knows, either through coercion or through medication. So, we have some time."

The dark-haired man was nodding his assent.

Ap Gwinn grasped her shoulder. "I must accept that you are right, Sister. How shall we find him?"

She gestured toward the end of the bed. "Tell us about this Frijdolf."

The red-haired man settled by her feet. "He came into the service of the Suebi 35 years ago. He was a surprise to us all, as the Tribuno was. But, the Suebi said he had many uses, and we accepted that. You see-" He licked his lips as he met both their gazes in turn. "-these organizations you two hunt, who had enslaved your Father, Atrebates, they were known to the Suebi. He tracked them assiduously. I suspect he was using Frijdolf as a double agent, inside their organizations, but for him as well."

Mulder rose. "So, you know they took my sister?"

The Cymru shook his head. "We knew their actions in aggregate, not in specific. We are very few, and there are many evils we watch, many factions that will ruthlessly inflict harm to keep their power. We attempt to collect enough evidence to expose them as the opportunity presents itself." He shifted closer to the head of the bed. "You, Riata, and-" He looked up at Mulder. "-you, Atrebates, are providing that opportunity through your excellent investigations and full disclosures. We will offer any assistance you request. It is yours merely if you ask."

"But, we would have to come inside, wouldn't we?" Scully's query was offered flatly.

Ap Gwinn regarded them both solemnly. "If you so wish. Then we can lift the chalk banner on your seat. The bonds we choose are the strongest, not the ones forced on us. It was wrong to consider any approach other than persuasion. I have ridden the currents of time with Brother Aborigine and Brother Pict, so I have seen it. Now, we in the Ekklesia have all seen, and we all know. You are as you were gifted to be." He reached for Scully's hand, but only rested his fingers flat on hers. "Whether we are able to lift the chalk banner, whether you assume your high seat, you will do as the Riata would do. It is your nature, Sister. You seek justice for all, the greatest and the least; you can do no other."

The dark-haired agent crossed his arms. "Don't lie to us. My Father hid himself from you, even in death, staging two funerals to keep his mortal remains out of your grasp."

After rising to walk around the bed, ap Gwinn stopped in front of Mulder. "Atrebates, cease to fear for him. He resides in an honored place, with all of us who are no longer visible. You passed him in the Suola, on the Wall of Memory. Also understand, there is much your Father hid from us as well. We could see the darkness in him, but, unlike the Tribuno, he was devoted to the Slav and loyal to his office. He walked beside her, and through her, us. That is all we dare ask of each other, and those who stand with us against the Darkness." He turned to leave. "Now, I must go. You two must return to your life outside. Your work is vital, more than either of you know, and more than either can do alone. We have much to discuss among the Fellowship. Anything we can learn of the Suebi or his Frijdolf will be passed on to you." He held out a card, a bronze sun with forty wavy rays in the upper right corner. "Please, if you need me, this is my personal cellular phone. Call me at any time, for any reason." He slipped out the door as the tall agent tucked the card in his wallet.

Resting both fists on the blankets, Mulder bent over his partner. "What are you doing, Scully?"

She looked up at him. "Trying to find Professor Rhys-Jones, Mulder, before he is killed. I have no intention of lifting any chalk banner, but they may help us. I told you, back when Deep Throat was alive-" She paused as she grasped his wrist. "-that you were the only one I trusted. That remains true, even if there are others in the Bureau who can be relied upon."

He held her gaze for a significant moment, then dropped his eyes to the blankets before releasing a long breath, but found he could not reply, just whisper her name.

She twisted, coughed once, then reached for the elevation controls. "You brought the laptop?"

Grateful for the anchor her reason provided, he lifted the Dell from beside the recliner, then settled it, open, on her blanketed legs. "I thought you might want to take a look at this, so, here it is, all charged up." He attached the power cord to a converter, then a wall outlet. After waggling a network cable happily, there were two clicks as it was set in place. "I finagled an account and password from the night nurse, just for us: victoria, all lower case, and, 01tyne, also all lower case."

She tapped in the information. "That worked." Her cheek creased. "See, your manly charms haven't wasted away completely, partner."

He shuffled happily. "You only say that because you don't know what I had to promise. To *him*." Frowning and chewing his lip, he resumed pacing at the foot of the bed. "I need to think for a bit, Scully." Propping his leg on the recliner, he unstrapped the revolver from his ankle holster to place it by her left hand. "I'm not leaving the hospital grounds, but, we never did find your weapon at the Embassy, so use this if you have to defend yourself. You sent me your left-handed qualifying scores when you were getting recertified on your weapon, so I pity anyone who walks in on you unannounced. We'll get a replacement for yours when we're back in the States."

She tucked her chin. "Let me know when it's you, Mulder, I wouldn't want to shoot you again."

"Sheah." He sent her a lop-sided grin as he stepped through the doorway. "That bed's not big enough, even for two friendly people."

-o-0-o-

Royal Victoria Infirmary
Great North Trauma and Emergency Center
Newcastle-on-Tyne, UK
Tuesday, 10:24 am

Dana Scully leaned back against the pillows. Good thing this hospital has Internet connectivity. She brought up the official brochure for tourists to the residence where she was first held. How had Mulder pronounced it, as they had compared mental notes on the past few days, while she had been tied down by the tubes, unable to move, and he too exhausted, even to sleep? Fenleyding. She opened the pdf, zooming in to the gardens. There. She had read the description several times, letting the words play in her mind. Fenleyding, Fenrir's binding. A long row of wormwood tracked the north side of a sinuous path, variety Fenleyding. Someone in the Suebi's past must have been an herbalist, to have created their own cultivar of artemesia, setting him on his life's profession.

At the end of the lane was a crossed-off circle, labeled, 'Abandoned mine, do not enter.' That made sense. There were coal lenses throughout the region, so for an estate to have had its own fuel source would, at one time, have been exceedingly useful. But the acrid tang of the wormword hung in her olfactory senses, pulling other remembrances along with it. Smells have the strongest associations with memory. Words floated back into her mind, distorted, distant. 'Good thing she never thought of going in there. We would never have been able to get her out.' She let out a long breath. What if that had been the only refuge the Suebi could find, as the house had been broken into, before the fire began raging? She needed to discuss this with her partner. Cradling the hand unit with her left shoulder, she tapped in his number. "Mulder?"

"Yeah, Scully, you okay?"

She took a breath to explain her theory, but stopped. She could see the tips of two black shoes just protruding past the opening. She dropped the phone to grab the revolver, leveling it at the entrance as she flipped off the safety with her thumb. "I have a weapon. I want you to step into the light very slowly, hands in the air."

"Scully!" The roar was audible, even with the hand unit dangling close to the floor.

The short figure of the 'Professor' appeared. "Don't shoot me. I was just hired to play a part."

Her eyes flared. "Fine. Then who hired you? What did he look like? Stay there!" The man was shifting as far away from the doorway as he could. "Don't move!"

"Get down, Scully!" Her partner was pounding down the hallway. "She has a weapon!"

The diminutive agent threw herself onto the floor, just as two shots sent drywall shards flying. She scrambled to aim at the opening, where the 'Teacher' had been standing. "I have a weapon! Show yourself! Now!" She found herself coughing from the dust, red flecks spattering the tile. "Mulder! There's one here, inside the doorway!"

"I have her, Scully! You! On the ground, now!"

The tall woman complied.

"Stay there!" The dark-haired agent kicked the weapon away from her fingers to the far side of the hall. "Scully? You okay?"

She rolled to her knees to aim the revolver at the short man. "I'm good, Mulder. Is she cuffed?"

The tall agent had his SIG in the 'Teacher''s back, one cuff on her left wrist, the other on the support for the handrail running at waist height along the wall. "She's secured." He stepped into Scully's room.

"Don't shoot me, please." The little man was shaking. "She hired me. She never told me anything."

Heedless of the loose, open-backed, too-short hospital gown, the diminutive agent was walking slowly toward him, the revolver level, in her left-handed grip, with the grey mustache, her bare feet moving in an uneven tread. "If you were just playing a role you were assigned, then why did you enjoy hitting me with that cane so much?"

Mulder stared at her for a moment. We'll talk about this sooner than later, Scully. A feint by the 'Professor' in his partner's direction focused him. "Don't move!" He placed the muzzle of his SIG on the man's neck. "Get back down. Hands over your head, where we can see them. Legs spread." He looked over at his partner. "It's okay, Scully, just call for the orderlies, then Nichols. These two have a lot of questions to answer."

She returned to the bed to reach for the assistance button, but, the green light was dark. Her legs were shaking, now, so she folded onto the mattress. "Mulder, I'm trying Nichols." She held the hand unit to her ear. "It's dead. Toss me your cell phone." She pushed herself up on her feet.

"Hah!" The 'Professor' was snarling as the tall agent's fingers went still by his pocket. "You're not the only two who are good with technology." He pointed at the toggle in Scully's hand. "We disabled the intercoms on this floor."

"And, we can unlock Bureau cuffs." The 'Teacher' was standing in the doorway, her handgun leveled at Mulder's head. "Put down your weapons, Agent Scully, Agent Mulder."

The tall man set his SIG on the floor.

The diminutive pathologist held the revolver up, then set it on the rolling table, before her clinician's anger took over. "Someone could die, thanks to you."

The little actor pulled out his own SIG. "That's the general idea. Too bad the old man's service revolver was left in its case for so long. Alex could have put it to some good use if you hadn't wrestled it away from him, Scully. And, yes, I enjoyed caning you. Women like you, who don't know their place, you deserve it, and more."

Mulder, his jaw jutted, had his hands in the air. "So, how does this end, people?"

The 'Teacher' advanced on him. "With you two dying in each other's arms, of course." She wagged the tip of the Remington, forcing Mulder to back up beside his partner. "Like Franz Ferdinand and Sophia. How tragic." Her voice switched to a nasal sing-song. "When was that, wicked little girl?"

The pathologist shook her head. "We're not playing a game here anymore."

Mulder looked over his shoulder at Scully, who canted her eyes toward the weapon on the rolling tray. He sent her a fraction of a dip of his head.

The 'Professor' stood, shoulder to shoulder with the 'Teacher.' "No, we're not."

"Now, Scully," Mulder hissed through clenched teeth.

She dove for the revolver, then her partner threw the rolling tray at the two, who jumped out of the way. The 'Teacher''s long legs tangled with the 'Professor''s short ones, collapsing them to the floor as they struggled. "Both of you! Stay on the ground!" She was shivering, but kept her weapon aimed at them.

The tall agent kicked the guns away. "You okay, Scully?"

She nodded. A cough sent blood onto the tiles.

Mulder gritted his teeth, but managed to dial Nichols's cell phone. "We need you two in here, now. Bring the Yard. We have two of our suspects." He terminated the call, then stood by his partner. "I'd cuff them together, but, I don't think that will help." He spared her a glance as he walked over to collect their guns, resting against the far wall. "You really okay?"

She shrugged, but said nothing, just leveling her aim at the 'Teacher.'

To Mulder, it seemed an eternity of waiting, watching the man and the woman on the floor, looking for any motion or feint toward their weapons lying on the now-righted rolling table. His partner's ragged breathing as she wavered beside him was the only repeating counter in the eerily quiet wing of the hospital. At least I can hear it. Finally, at the end of the long corridor, the stairwell door clicked open, followed by Nichols's gravelly comment, "They're here, on this hall."

"Okay. Ready your weapons." Emani was obviously speaking to several compatriots. "Let's go."

Nichols, Rosen, Emani, and four Inspectors moved through the doorway, aiming their guns at the two on the floor as they entered.

Mulder pointed at the 'Teacher.' "Watch that one, she can work out of the cuffs."

After the two, an Inspector on each arm, were led away, Emani turned to the partners. "These are two of your known captors, Agent Scully?"

She nodded, then dropped the gun in her partner's hands. "It's just the older woman you have to get. They were working with Krycek. They admitted it."

The tall agent holstered both his weapons. "If you know their identities, we can tie them back to him, track some of his movements." He glanced down at his partner, waiting for her upturned face to offer her affirmation. She had been focused and active throughout the confrontation, but, now, they would see the toll her instincts were taking on her battered frame. "Scully, talk to me."

Her hand reaching to push downward on the thin hospital gown, she took a long breath. "I think Professor Rhys-Jones has concealed himself in an abandoned mine on the grounds of Fenleyding. I remember a brief discussion on it when I was recaptured." She met his downward gaze. "That was why I called you, Mulder, to discuss where to go with my recovered memory, before I saw the leather toes of the 'Professor''s black shoes through the doorway."

He sent her a lop-sided grin. "I thought the Professor always wore blue sneakers, Mary-Ann."

Both checks creased, before a fit of coughing overtook her, leaving her doubled over where she stood. She pulled herself rigid with difficulty before she looked up at her partner. "Sorry. Mulder, I thought this was healing up."

The tall agent carefully wrapped an arm around her back to guide her toward the head of the bed, casting about in his mind for a comment that would keep her focused. "You may be right, Scully. He explained in the helo that Fenleyding was his favorite estate. He would have played on the grounds as a child and should know it better than anyone else."

"Yes." It was all she could manage before she started coughing again, red appearing on the white of the shoulder of her partner's shirt.

He held her upright, both of them perched on the edge of the mattress.

Rosen was in the doorway. "I'm going off to find a nurse, Nic. I don't like this."

The ASAC sent her an affirming nod. "There are other patients who need attending, too, Ros."

But the elevator doors were opening, worried staff spilling out. The brunette astronomer waved to Doctor Harris. "Please, it's Agent Scully."

The grey-haired man spun into the room, then stopped at the sight of the motionless woman in Mulder's arms, her gauze-wrapped head limp against his chest. "Gurney!" At the looks of horror on the faces of the four officers, he tried a small joke for reassurance. "I think Doctor Scully will have me redoing some of my best handiwork."

Feeling desperately helpless, the tall agent simply tightened his grip on his partner.

Chattering wheels called the surgeon's attention to the door. "In here!"

The pallet coming to a stop beside him, Mulder slid his arm under Scully's knees to lift her onto the mattress, releasing her slowly as the orderlies began applying compression to the chest wound. When the men began moving her out of the room, the tall agent, his face darkening, fell in step behind them.

Harris grasped Mulder's shoulder as he passed. "We'll take it from here." The gentle command, full of compassion, stopped the dark-haired man's relentless motion.

Once the elevator doors had rolled closed behind the doctor and two orderlies, Mulder reached into his pocket to extract ap Gwinn's card. After all three had joined him in the corridor, he held it toward Rosen, who was standing between Emani and Nichols. "Call this number. If Rhys-Jones is hiding in the mine, a friendly voice may help you talk him out."

Nichols gripped Mulder's elbow. "Chief, one of us can stay with you."

The hazel eyes sent out depthless gratitude, but he shook his head. "I'll wait here. Scully will be fine." He crossed his arms. "She has to be. You two have to go get Rhys-Jones before it's too late." After a glance into the now-unoccupied room, the bed canted at an angle, the table pushed against the wall, he headed toward the waiting area outside surgery.

-o-0-o-

Dark Apartment
Washington, DC
Tuesday, 9:41 am

The old spy swiveled the rocker at the key in the lock. There was but one other person who had access to this space, but it was not the building manager. He had paid good money, many years ago, so that would be the case.

Frijdolf, still in his dark blue uniform, was standing in the open entry. "There you are, you old Devil. You haven't aged a day."

The Smoker slid to his feet, then waved at the recliner. "You told me to be here, so I waited. A beer, or have you been spoiled by decades of British ale?"

The slight man lowered himself into the cushions. "This is the same one I bought you? Who knew Mephistopheles was sentimental."

Age-spotted hands set up a folding chair. "Why waste money if it still works?" After he sat, he crossed his arms. "So, what news from beyond the Pond?"

Frijdolf leaned forward. "That weasel Krycek was unable to finish the job."

"I expected no other from that self-promoting, spoiled child." He reached for the red and white packet, but dropped it. "So, is Dana Scully the Riata now, her loyalties forever divided between them and the Bureau? Or has she been removed from play permanently?"

The man in the recliner sighed. "I could not tell. There will be no glorious ceremony of initiation, but, she is ensconced in the trauma unit in Newcastle, Bill's boy standing guard over her like Ajax over Patroclus. Whether she lives, only the surgeon's skills will determine. Rhys-Jones was deeply disturbed by the events at Tyrgleipnir, so I took him home to Fenleyding."

"All went there as we have planned?"

"Yes. That silly little woman you found for me staged a break-in, so he wanted to hide. I helped him to a place of safety."

"One so secure he will never be found again?"

"Yes. I followed your methods precisely, so no ties can be established back to us. Time and exposure will do its work, and the fires will erase his evidence. Then, the surveillance of us and the Europeans will cease. The rest of his Fellowship does not know how he monitors their enemies, so their stream of knowledge will be choked off."

"Ah. What of the Europeans?"

"They are in close communication with the Japanese. James Andrews has been their conduit."

"Yes." Now, the cellophane rattled. "It is as Amanda has discerned."

"I see. You have had some luck with your former associates, then?"

A click, then there was an orange glow. "With three of her, we could regain our former status, my friend." A sigh, then rings of blue smoke appeared. "But, she is only one. And she is often distracted by her ever-attentive consort. He, too, will have his uses, so he cannot simply have an accident."

"One more matter."

"Yes?"

"Krycek has turned the MJ tape over to the Forty. If it were to be used as an attraction to bring Dana Scully into their fold, then much damage would ensue."

More blue swirls billowed. "Less than you think. The documents contained on it pertain mostly to the US operations, less to the Europeans or the Japanese. With the precipitate actions of my young colleagues, nearly all of that information on us is obsolete, meaningless."

"But, not all of it."

"Of course not. That old Indian encoded much for us, but, as you say, not all of it, so even the evidence of the Bureau's recordings from his memories is incomplete. A few of us are still alive, and for Caroline's son to learn the full extent of our actions would stoke the fires of his heart. As of now, he has all he thinks he desires: his sister, knowledge of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence working its way though World culture, our apparent exposure, status in the Bureau, more members of his flock. The Truth, as our old friend liked to call it, is finally 'out there' for all to see. His work appears to consist of putting us away, we, the Japanese, and the Europeans. Then he can return to his monsters and mutants."

"But the tape would tell him there is still more to be exposed."

"It would. We were able to extract it before he understood any of it before. While Doctor Scully had diligently read far more of the contents than he, her knowledge of us is less extensive, so there were fewer connections she could have made, even with her encyclopedic study of the Bureau's X-Files. If she were to join the Forty, and if Rhys-Jones lives, there is much he could tell her that would spur her to action as well."

Frijdolf nodded. "Then, it would be better the tape should disappear, once more."

"Indeed. It should be made so."

"What of Krycek? He is in the possession of the FBI as we speak."

A snap of yellowed fingers rang in the bare room. "What of him? Let him rot. He is the Bureau's burden now, not ours, as the Assistant Director will soon learn. Should it appear as if he is about to tell the Department of Justice something useful, we have ways of preventing that, even as he rests behind bars. So, my friend, shall we share a meal before you go?"

"Ah. That would be most pleasant."

"Then let me take care of a few matters of the flesh, and we can be on our way. Old Ebbitt? They should be open now."

"Hah! Haven't been there in years. Just the thing. My stomach thinks it is well past lunch."

"Then I'll be just a moment." The old spy detoured into his bedroom to reach into the bottom drawer of his dresser for a leather case. Trust no one, as our old friend would advise. "Won't be a minute!"

But there was no answer as he noiselessly slid bullets into the chambers.

When he stepped into his living room again, the leather seat was empty, the door hung open. You know me too well, old friend. We shall not see each other again. He returned to the bedroom to unload the Smith and Wesson. Finished, he walked back to his living room, picked up his briefcase set by the door, shrugged into his jacket, then locked the apartment after he stepped out. To work, then.

-o-0-o-

Royal Victoria Infirmary
Great North Trauma and Emergency Center
Newcastle-on-Tyne, UK
Wednesday, July 22, 1998
6:53 am

"Well, at least we have good news to pass on to them." Rosen eyed her former partner as they trotted down the hall, side-by-side. She glanced down at the four small coffees in the paper tray, pleased to see that little of the dark liquid had sloshed out of the slits in the lids.

Nichols held up a brown paper sack. "A treat for breakfast for those two. Scully's had no solid food since she was spirited out of the Embassy, so far as I can tell."

Rosen nodded. "Mulder probably only had just what you got him to eat at the hotel." They exchanged rueful grins, knowing the agents as well as they had both come to over the years.

They turned into the room. Dana Scully was asleep, supine, a carefully-placed blanket swaddling her shoulders, but she was free of IV's and drainage tubes. Her left arm was stretched out along her hip. Her partner had nestled the recliner against the rails of the hospital bed, where he was on his side, his fingers through the slats to rest, open limply, on the extended wrist.

"I hate to wake them, Nic." The brunette astronomer, one hand grasping the pillow by the gauze-wrapped head, was bending over the diminutive agent. "You know they're both exhausted."

Nichols sighed. "Yeah, but, you know them, Ros. They'll want to know as soon as possible." He shook a muscled shoulder gently. "Hey, Chief."

The fingers instinctively tightened around his partner's arm before his eyes opened. He coughed once, then pushed himself upright, where he swayed groggily. "What's going on?" He patted the small fingers. "Doctor, rise and shine. The kids are home from college." He rubbed his face with both palms.

Her eyes still closed, she smiled gently. "Mulder, I was dreaming about scones, and now, I smell them. You promised me you were going to sleep through the night, G-man." She met Rosen's hazel gaze. "You look like you have good news." She turned her head to the left. "Morning, Nichols."

He held up the sack. "We have more than that, so let's get you two settled." He was extracting four paper plates to hand to his former partner.

Rosen lined up the plates in a row on the rolling table, then Nichols placed a scone on each. The coffees were still in the tray, but Rosen tapped the cup closest to the diminutive agent. "Cream only, Scully." She held one out for Mulder. "Lots of sugar, just the way you like it."

Her right arm still taped against her ribs, Scully's left hand hovered over the round blueberry scone before breaking a corner off the triangular lemon pastry. After chewing and swallowing, her eyes slid shut momentarily. "Thank you, both of you. I never thought anything could taste so good."

Mulder settled in the recliner, his eyes dancing as she ate another bite. He had a mouthful of the blueberry, so said nothing, content to watch his partner enjoying herself, her green-blue eyes sparkling, her breaths coming easily. The hours he had spent by her side, listening to machines beeping as she lay motionless, tubes running into and out of her, would continue to harry him in his sleep, he knew.

Rosen chuckled. "We've been walking past these every morning, Agent Scully."

His scone finished, Mulder took several gulps of the coffee, then looked up. "Thanks, both of you. So, you found Rhys-Jones?"

Nichols huffed through his mustache. "Right where Agent Scully thought he would be, Chief. He was unharmed, if a bit dehydrated. There was no sign of Frijdolf."

"I'm sure the Smoker knows right where he is." Scully took a quick sip of the still-hot coffee.

"Probably." The brunette astronomer nodded to the woman on the bed. "Rhys-Jones told ap Gwinn Frijdolf had helped him hide, then ran off himself."

Nichols patted his mustache with a brown paper napkin. "We had to let the Inspectors and the locals take over. Until we can tie these events to something back in the US - "

"We have no jurisdiction." The tall agent let out a huff as he crossed his arms.

"We can't even hold the 'Professor' and the 'Teacher.'" Rosen paused as her index finger rubbed against the side of her thumb. "They claim they *are* local actors, hired to play a part by Krycek, that he made certain they were isolated from any details about Scully's background. They said he just told them it was improv."

Three snorts answered her, before Mulder smiled mirthlessly. "Then their performance here was all part of an acting job? BAFTA's all around, I say, if it was. There's more to these two than they're willing to admit. We need to keep after them, somehow. Your 'Professor' has a mental problem I'd like to correct him on." He glowered at the spot where the 'actor' had lain the previous morning. "A problem too many men have, even after all the Curies, the Meirs, and the O'Connors."

Scully huffed in agreement. "So, any word on the 'Matron'?"

The astronomer shook her head. "No. They claim not to know her, but, we had little time to interrogate them before they were taken away. Ap Gwinn was quite insistent we get back to you two."

The diminutive agent took a sip of the coffee. "She may actually have been involved in the plot. I'd like to show ap Gwinn and Rhys-Jones her sketch."

Mulder turned to her. "What makes you say that, Scully?"

She straightened, reminding herself to take deep breaths. "Although it was obvious she had never done anything like what was done to me before, it seemed like she knew what was going to happen before it did, part of the time. That's the best way I can describe the sense I had of her. The other two did seem like they had been kept partially in the dark, that they were making it up as they went along, as were the Quaestores."

Rosen's dark eyebrows elevated. "Oh, you mean the men in the grey robes?"

She nodded. "They thought this was an initiation-"

"One you completed, Scully, when you relieved Krycek of his weapon." Mulder was regarding his partner soberly.

The balding Montanan chewed his mustache for a moment. "So, is that good or bad? Are you in the Forty, or not, Scully?"

She drew another deep breath. "We keep coming back to that." Her forehead wrinkled. "No. Being in the Forty would divide my loyalties between the Bureau and them. While there would be benefits, not the least access to their archives, we will have those anyway, if we're diplomatic. We need the alliance, but we have to carefully marshal our resources. Besides, I know where I belong. I'm a pathologist in the FBI, joint section head of X-Files East with this odd-ball Oxford-graduate psychologist and profiler I find sitting in the office adjacent to mine every morning, ready to spout some cockamamie idea right as I walk in the door."

"But I make you hot coffee first," Mulder protested with a delighted wink. "Besides, you're not the only one they want. You didn't have to stroll through a madding crowd in your Dad's robe, Doctor."

She cocked her head at him. "True. Then, this is a decision we need to make together, isn't it?"

"It is, and we have." The dark-haired agent patted his partner's arm.

"That's how good teams work." The balding Montanan grinned at each of them.

The partners exchanged light-hearted glances, before the pathologist turned to the ASAC. "The Forty can come to us, Nichols. Ap Gwinn has already told us they work in opposition to the Shadows, in their own way."

"So, the enemy of my enemy is my friend." The brunette astronomer began rubbing her finger over loose skin by her thumbnail.

"The more the merrier, Ros." Nichols sent his former partner a quick grin. "We need a counterbalance like them on the West Coast. The Japanese groups appear to be more active than the Europeans."

"We don't know that, Nic." After setting the empty paper cup on the rolling tray, the triathlete crossed her arms. "Sandra gave us the barest glimpse inside the Osaka operations, but, until we understand more about the Europeans, we can't disentangle their involvements in public affairs."

Scully shifted upright again. "There's no equivalent to the European Union in the Far East, which provides coordinated economic-" She looked over at her partner.

Mulder had emitted his whooping shout. "Guys, even if we finish cataloging all the things we don't know, we will still have a problem with jurisdiction."

Nichols started laughing outright, a loud cough-bark that settled the focus of the three others on him. "Like that's ever stopped you, Chief."

Scully and Rosen eyed Mulder expectantly before the diminutive agent shook her head. "I'm not going to be one of the Forty, and I refuse to play by bureaucratic rules."

The brunette astronomer turned to her former partner. "I think we seen the first successful personality swap, Nic. What say you?"

Nichols stepped out of the room, staggering back with two metal folding chairs. "Time to do this right, Ros." He handed one to his former partner, then the pair settled beside Scully's bed.

The triathlete took several sips from her paper cup, before turning to the tall agent. "Okay, guys, so, seriously, what are we planning on doing with the Europeans?"

Mulder drained the last of his coffee. "When the Doctor gets rested up, that'll be our job, with Pendrell, Phillips, and Stickle. You two need to return to the West Coast."

"What?" Nichols was on his feet. "Chief, I understand we need to be going after Osaka, especially with what they did, but Scully's not in any shape to travel, and-"

"I can be mobile and ready for work in a few days, Nichols." She tried to sit up, but Mulder's long hand was on her shoulder, keeping her still.

Rosen was shaking her head vehemently. "Scully, you took a bullet to the chest, and you just had your second trip to the operating table yesterday. You have to rest and get better. You also need someone on the outside to do the legwork. That's non-negotiable. We're staying." After exchanging a glance with her former partner, each crossed their arms for emphasis.

"They're right, Scully." The tall agent smirked at the memory. "No haring off on motorbikes to rummage around in sunken boxcars, not for a good long time." The fingers wrapped around the back of her neck. "You need to recuperate. But, we're not alone here. All you need to do is speak with ap Gwinn - " He stopped, since she was shaking her gauze-wrapped head.

"No, Mulder, we need to keep them out of Bureau affairs as long as possible. They may be our allies, but how much can we afford to let them know?"

He rested his crossed arms on the bed rail. "We let them have copies of my Father's documents, in exchange for Rhys-Jones's data on the Shadows."

"That's an eminently sensible agreement, Atrebates." Ap Gwinn was standing in the doorway. He crossed into the room, exchanging nods with the astronomer and the ASAC. "You are all welcome to remain. When the Riata is able to travel-" He held up both hands to forestall the objections he knew his choice of title would provoke. "-you can all come to Llangollen and House Derwbryn. I have opened the grounds to visitors from all over the world, or else I would not be able to maintain my family home. I have internet access throughout, and an organic garden and small restaurant. I have a wing that could be all of yours in privacy, with a hospital bed if you still need one, Riata. I have something else." He reached into his jacket pocket, extracting a digital tape to place on the rolling table. "I assume you both know what this is?"

Mulder and Scully exchanged a glance at the phrase, last spoken during a fraught exchange in Apartment 42, before she leaned forward. "Krycek left that with you?"

The Cymru nodded. "It would have been placed in Suebi's archives, but he had brought it to the Suola and stored it in the Ekklesia safe, with a paper transcription, as it turns out, for the best. I have drives that can read it or I can just bring along the transcript next time."

Mulder held the tape, turning it over to rub the metal base with his thumb. "Not all of this will still be meaningful, but, we can check Albert's memories."

Scully extended her palm, enclosing her fingers around his when he placed the cassette in her supine hand. "We'll need to bring Albert out for a week or so, if he can still travel, or locate another code talker to work with, to check the transcript against the tape contents."

Rosen found her feet, then bent over the mattress. "Guys, I've been trying to find a spare moment to tell you this, but, the Gunmen called us. They've worked out a tracking system to break the Japanese communications, but they want to give you two the details in person." She smirked at Scully. "Frohike was explicit about the 'in person' part."

Nichols chuckled. "Mister ap Gwinn, I think you'll discover you've opened the door a little too wide for your own sanity."

The red-haired man waved a hand. "I've perused their newspaper." His gaze landed on Scully's bruised face. "All a part of checking up on you, Riata. Their methods may be odd, but their motives are impeccably noble. The house can easily accommodate two dozen for an extended stay, and it's just been myself and the staff rattling around the corridors for far too long."

The ASAC stood beside the Cymru. "You wouldn't happen to have a ghost or two about the place, would you?"

Ap Gwinn smiled broadly. "Only some distant relatives from the wars with England's fourth Henry. But none of you are of British descent, so they'll just pass through now and again."

Mulder bent over his partner. "See, Scully, not such a bad plan, is it?"

Her forehead wrinkled, but she said nothing.

-o-0-o-

House Derwbryn
Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales
Friday, July 24, 1998
9:27 am

Dafydd ap Morgan ap Gwinn settled on Dana Scully's right at the breakfast table. He was just out of the light from the tall windows that fell onto the embroidered linens and the crimson lilies in planters behind the mahogany chairs, each back carved with three nodding ostrich feathers. The four agents had arrived the previous night, once the slight woman beside him had deemed herself fit to travel. Rosen and Nichols had finished their meals an hour ago, then stepped out for a walk, the astronomer's restless energy needing an outlet, the ASAC enjoying having a little free time on his hands. Now, perhaps, the Cymru could work on convincing her to take her rightful place in the Suola. He slid a tomato and onion omelet onto a plate, long red dragons curled around the lip of the white china. The bright yellow from the yolks of eggs he had collected this morning partially obscured the green ring marking the perimeter of the well. "Were you comfortable last night, Riata?" He ignored the scowl of the tall agent on her left at his use of her rightfully-earned appellation, but smiled as the protective lean toward her shoulder. The dark-haired man, never far from the diminutive pathologist's side, was earning *his* title with every hour they spent inside his walls.

She sent her partner a tip of her chin before turning to offer ap Gwinn a slight smile. "Yes, I am. It's always good to check out of a hospital and sleep in a normal bed." She was cutting her eggs carefully with the fork in her left hand. "You mentioned last night when we arrived that this is the third house to be called Derwbryn?"

The red curls waved. "That we have records for. Any documents prior to the first were destroyed by the fire during Henry the Fourth of England's siege."

After chewing and swallowing, she tapped the plate with her fork. "Are there any medieval foundations still visible?"

Ap Gwinn shook his head. "No, each house was larger than the last. There's an interior wall in the basement that may be original at the footer, but, this rebuild in the Nineteenth Century, then my Father's modernization in the Fifties, removed much that was historical, sadly. The carriage house has stones, with graffiti and inscriptions, from the Medieval structure throughout, so that's what we show the tourists." He lifted a round of a bakestone from between the upright ribs of the white Portmeirion server, a currant falling to the tablecloth before he could transfer the pic to his plate. "What can we do to make you and your people more comfortable while you wait for your friends from America to arrive to work with you?"

Now, she favored him with a full-wattage smile. "We'd like to take over your study, if that would be alright. We have some documents we need to work our way through and we know you have much to look to, with this being the height of tourist season. In a few days, when I have my stamina back, I'd love a tour of your grounds. It's so green, and the view from my window is amazing."

The tall agent reached for her wrist. "Scully, you need to take it easy, too. You're just three days past your last surgery."

She gently grasped, then released, his outstretched fingers. "You're right, Sam, as always."

The partners exchanged a glance, knowing she was just as bad a patient as he when they had a case to pursue. They had downloaded a scanned copy of Marshal Tapping's document the previous evening that they were both eager to start reviewing. Further, there was an uncomfortable, but necessary, duty waiting, in that he would need to take a deposition from her about the events of her Initiation for the case against Krycek. Then, they would be working their way through the emotional damage the course her kidnapping had taken would inevitably expose in both of them. But, not all in one afternoon. The slump of her shoulders told him as much. He leaned close to her face. "Yes, Master Frodo."

-o-0-o-

House Derwbryn
Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales
Friday, 2:21 pm

"Mulder, would you pass me my notebook, please?"

He checked around the cluttered worktable, shifting documents and sheaves of paper, before pointing to the spiral-bound pages closest to him. "This?"

She held out her left hand. "Thanks." Scully flipped over a couple of pages, then began painfully scribbling numbers off the screen of her laptop.

Her partner crossed his arms on the printed copy of Marshal Tapping's document. "What do you think you have, Scully?"

She stifled a yawn. "The MJ documents don't give many locations, but there are comments here about specimens being lost due to mold." After a few clicks, she brought up a digital version of Tapping's foldout map. "I'd say it might have been any of the sites in the Pacific Northwest, but there are three on Lake Chelan. One is just outside Stehekin, set on a long pier out on the water. That sounds like a - " She rubbed her face, then propped her cheek on her fist. "Oh."

The tall agent circled the oak surface to drop a long hand on her left shoulder. "Scully, it's okay. We can knock off if you need a break."

She shook her head. "No, I need to - "

His fingers were rubbing gentle circles in the back of her neck, just below the gauze wrapping her scalp. "Rest. Scully, you need to rest. Rosen and Nichols have kicked themselves free for a bit. We can, too, for as long as you need."

She stared blearily at the chaise lounge under the windows, its ivory padding setting off the turned walnut rails and feet. "That looks comfortable. It's even left-handed, so I could keep the weight off my right shoulder." She pushed herself to her feet. "Maybe I can close my eyes for a few minutes, then get back to work." She canted her face hesitantly up at his downward softening gaze. "That wouldn't hold us up too long, would it, Mulder?"

He shook his head, then, his arm curled around her waist, guided her over to it. "It won't hold us up at all, Scully." The hazel was regarding her gently.

She sank gratefully onto the velvet, then heeled off her black walking shoes. "This is so lovely." Her left hand stroked the fabric. "Dafydd takes such good care of this amazing place." She shifted the bolster off to the end table, then reclined against the angled side. "I should be sleeping upright." The words were verbal thought, not speech. "The rib hurts less like this." Suddenly aware of her partner's presence, she blinked up at him. "Mulder? You look tired. I'll be okay here, if you'd like to turn in yourself." Her eyes were drifting shut.

His face darkened and cleared, her quiet statements leaving him somber, yet comforted. She was healing, but relying on his help, as they both knew she still needed the time. He bent over her. "You cold in here?"

Her fingers extended toward his chin, but fell away without making contact, then, she muttered something he couldn't quite understand as she stretched her legs out on the deep cushion.

He straightened. "I'll take that as a yes." He stroked the length of her arm, straight on the velvet, from shoulder to fingertips. "I'll be back in a few." As he pushed the oak door open, he stopped short. Dafydd ap Gwinn had his hand up to knock, so the agent coughed once to cover his surprise. "Hey. Sorry. I didn't know you were there."

The red-haired man caught a glimpse of Scully on the chaise. "Is the Riata alright? Do you need anything? I can have the nurse-"

Mulder held up his palm. "She's fine. She just wore out." He checked behind him, then closed the door, holding the knob turned so he could engage the latch silently. "I knew she would, considering all she's been through." He began moving toward his room. "I'm just going to get her a blanket so she can sleep for a few hours, that and some water for her antibiotics." He bit his lip momentarily. "I may be able to get her to take a couple of painkillers." He looked over at their host. "She tries to minimize her use of them, but, as she likes to remind me when I'm on the receiving end, ribs are a special case. Especially with her lung." He shook his head.

Ap Gwinn fell in step beside him. "You do your office honor, Atrebates."

"Atre... No." The dark-haired man released a snort. "We're just FBI agents, Sir. My partner took a bullet in the line of duty." He staggered to a halt. "She."

The Cymru stepped in front of him. "Perhaps you need to rest as well."

Mulder punched his fist against his open palm. "It should have been me. She had done enough. She-" He met the green eyes. "It should have been me. Had I gone for the gun, not Krycek, it would have been me. She's been through enough. I would gladly-"

Now, ap Gwinn grasped his muscled shoulder. "I asked you, back in Washington, to think of her, not yourself. You should stop. You've both been through enough, Atre-"

The dark-haired agent glared. "No. We are who we are." He straightened. "I'm going to get my partner a blanket so she can sleep, and a pitcher of water for when she wakes up." He spun on his heel, then pulled himself up short. "Oh, excuse me, Sir." An older man, dressed in high-waisted plaid trousers, a morning coat over a cravat tucked into a vest, was leaning on a cane with a dragon's head as he stood in front of the agent. Mulder wondered, for a moment, if this was a costumed, role-playing tourist, or even a hired guide to House Derwbryn, until he noted the sun with forty wavy rays clipping the cravat in place. The gentleman continued to block their path. His grey head nodded to ap Gwinn, then a gloved hand mounted a pair of Oxford spectacles on a slender nose. The lenses began bobbing as the dark-haired agent was favored with a broad smile.

Ap Gwinn chuckled. "So, you can see Ieuan?"

Mulder was swaying on his feet. "Ieuan?"

"My ancestor. The first member of the Forty from our family. He only shows up when there are other Brothers or Sisters in the house."

The dark-haired agent rubbed his eyes. "Oh?" The figure that seemed so real was now gone. "I'm more tired than I thought. Maybe two blankets."

The Cymru patted his shoulder again. "I suspect he's gone to check in on the Riata. You go get those blankets, and I'll bring the water. We'll see what she makes of him, hum?"

Genuinely amused, Mulder nodded. "My partner doesn't believe in ghosts, Sir. This should be fun."

-o-0-o-

House Derwbryn
Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales
Friday, 7:03 pm

"Nic, they need to eat something." The brunette astronomer was loading two plates with poached fillets of weir-raised Dee salmon, sauteed asparagus, minted peas, and herbed pearled barley with onions. "They can't work all the time."

The balding Montanan huffed through his mustache. "Yeah, I'll get that brown bread and some of the herbed butter. Putting on pound or two would help them both. Scully's always been a little thing, and she lost a lot of weight between her ordeal and recovery. The Chief, well, he's a string bean. That and some chilled water should set them up nicely for tonight."

The former partners walked side-by-side to the study. Nichols knocked, but, at the silence, exchanged a frown with the triathlete.

"Guys!" She leaned against the door. "Open up!"

There was no sound from inside, so the ASAC turned the knob. Dana Scully was still flat on her back on the chaise, under a woolen blanket, thick with brown and black fibers, covering her from her chin to past her sock-clad feet. Her walking shoes had remained where they fell when she heeled them off in her exhaustion, on the oak floorboards by the open end of the lounge. One arm, only, was exposed. It dropped straight to the floor, where the hand rested, supine, the fingers all cocked at odd angles, on a muscled shoulder. Fox Mulder was sprawled, face down, on the oval red Afghan carpet, tightly gripping a white bolster to prop his head up slightly, another thick woolen cover twisted from between his legs up over his spine to partly cover his face.

"He can't be comfortable like that." The gravel was hoarse with sympathy. He knelt beside the lean form, then reached for the agent's back. "Hey, Chief."

The long limbs stretched, then the dark-haired man pushed himself up on his elbows. "Hey." He pulled himself up until he was sitting, straight-legged, his spine against the chaise. "What time is it?" He was twisting to tuck his partner's arm back under the coverlet as he spoke.

"Dinner-time, Mulder." Rosen held up the two plates.

With a lop-sided grin, he wiggled the side of an index finger against the tip of his partner's nose. "Room service, G-woman. Up and at'em."

She shifted, then blinked herself awake. "Oh, no." She pulled herself into a wobbly slump with a grunt. "I slept too long." She checked out the window over the chaise. "It's getting dark. We have too much to do." She tried swinging her feet to the floor, but pulled them back up to the cushions when her toes contacted the tall agent's tight abdomen. "Sorry, Mulder."

He was sliding the wool back over her legs as he scanned her drawn face. "For what?"

"Ow." She attempted a stretch, but the still-healing injuries had protested the sudden movements as she looked up. "Nichols? Rosen? You're back?"

"Scully, it's okay. We brought food." The balding Montanan slid off the linen tucked over the bread, letting the warm scent of sage and leeks waft toward them. "Take your time getting yourselves up. We'll just set dinner and your water on the worktable here, so you two can eat when you're ready."

Rosen glanced at her former partner. "There's a delightful apple tart for dessert when you're done, and some homemade cinnamon ice cream. Nic and I waited so we could share it with you. We'll be back in about a half an hour. That way it won't melt while we're discussing what you two have uncovered." They began setting out the plates, silverware, and glasses.

Scully slid shakily to her feet. "Mulder? You spent the afternoon on the floor? That armchair looked quite comfortable."

He was standing and stretching. "It was occupied by an ap Gwinn, Doctor."

"Oh?" She was eyeing her shoes, but decided they were too much trouble in this warm, comfortable room. "Dafydd was here? Why didn't you wake me?"

He met her gaze. He considered explaining the ap Gwinn was Ieuan, who had bent, smiling and nodding, into her sleeping face as her partner's long fingers tucked the blanket gently over and around her. Ieuan had reached out, attempting to stroke her gauze-wrapped forehead, but the agent had waved the translucent hand away. The specter had straightened, then patted the dark-haired man on the shoulder, which left his arm tingling slightly. Finally, the former Cymru had taken the chair as Mulder had stretched out on the Afghan rug. But, the grey under her eyes told him she was up to hearing none of that, nor was he himself prepared for the ensuing heated discussion, so he settled for the gentlest of tweaks. "Besides, Sam always stays close to Master Frodo." His eyebrows canted gleefully at her subdued, yet laser-focused glare.

-o-0-o-

Wilton Residence
La Jolla, CA
Saturday, July 25, 1998
4:12 pm

Sandra Miller shoved her transplanting spade into the soil with both hands. Judy was no gardener; she herself had been too busy with papers, then the trip to Santorini, to attend these beds. No time like the present. She hated Bermuda grass. The long runners had almost defeated her own herb gardens, especially around the perennials, whose roots she hated to disturb. To kill them utterly would mean ripping up most of Judy's yard, which would mean hiring professionals. That the blonde professor would never agree to, since she was down to her salary only, which had to cover all her living expenses while socking something away for retirement, little by little. So, best to just try to finish getting this bed clear, perhaps put out some weed block, with deep edging.

"Sandie?" The slight woman was standing behind her.

Sandra twisted, shading her face with her canvas-gloved hand. "Judy, what's up?"

The blonde professor plopped onto the grass with an oof, then offered a hesitant smile. "We haven't had a chance to talk about Santorini, and you've been out here all day working for me."

The chestnut-haired woman shifted to sit beside her friend. "Did you mean the Minoan sites, or my family?" She pulled off the gloves to drop them on the ground beside her.

Judy wrapped her arms around her knees. "Both, actually."

Sandra sent her a lop-sided grin. "Akrotiri was amazing, and I've been to Pompeii. So very different. But, it's a little sad that so many of the frescoes are gone. Since I was seeing it with Fox, who had been there before, he had us very directed as we walked through, almost as if the place made him uncomfortable." She rubbed her forehead under the straw hat. "He apologized as he told me on the drive home that Dana had been injured there, which is why he was so upset. I'll have to talk to her more about it."

"So, your family? How did that go?" The blonde professor held out a tall glass of water. "Filtered, but from the tap, just the way you prefer."

Sandra took several long sips. "Oh, it's hard to say. We got along really, really well, all of us."

"That's good, isn't it?"

"I hope so. It was our first family gathering, though. What happens in the long run, we shall see. We were on our best behavior, all of us, I was buried in my papers, and I feel like I'm just catching up. Fox was out there with them for several months, he said, while they were all searching for me."

The slight woman patted her friend's arm. "Sandie, don't be so gloomy, just because you and James fell out doesn't mean it's going to happen with your birth family."

Sandra brushed dirt off her knees before she clutched them, trying to push away the bad memories of the troubles with her adoptive brother. "I really don't want it to. Perhaps that's why I was so hard on Fox, initially. They share many common traits: their intelligence, their odd-ball interests, with James having a law degree, while Fox is in the Bureau."

"But Fox isn't like James. He has all those agents around him, Dana, and the group out here. James could never work with anyone, which is why he could never make partner, anywhere."

Sandra sighed. "I know. Fox was a loner for a long, long time, too, he said. But, he does seem more, centered, I guess is how to describe it. Anyway-" She shifted back onto her knees. "-I'm almost done here. Sorry things got so out of hand. I'd say you should hire someone, but I know how expenses can pile up."

Judy nodded. "I'm considering putting one or two of the bedrooms up for students, just to help with the money situation." She glanced at Sandra quickly. "Oh, I'm not in any financial trouble; Tom saw to that. It's just, I'd like to keep putting more money away, just in case."

"That's probably smart. Just make sure it's not students in your department."

The blonde professor nodded. "No conflicts of interest. By the way-" She paused as she checked the brunette's face. "-is Jerry still staying with you?"

Sandra chuckled. "No. When I was flying back, Fox called him, and whatever those two said to each other, he got all Prince Valiantish over. Something to do with Dana and the British Embassy. But, they're okay, according to Andrea Rosen. I'll check with her and Agent Nichols when they get back from the UK. They won't be able to tell me about the case, unless they need my help." She sobered. "I'm afraid I kissed him, Judy."

The blonde cocked her head. "You're afraid? Why? He absolutely adores you, you know."

The hazel disappeared twice. "Oh, I know. We do have a good time, whenever we're together. He'd move in in a heartbeat, if I asked. But, what I don't know about is me. He was there at Tom's death, and I don't want that to be our only connection. Besides, I don't know that I want any kind of steady male presence that's more than a simple friendship right now, with finding my family and all, which he seems comfortable with, too. But, he's such a decent human being though, smart and funny." She smiled gently. "With how much he treasures his time with Maria, we could easily make a long-term connection. It's so odd he became a detective. He could have been so much more." She leaned back on both hands. "I know this is schoolgirl and all, but, what do you think, Judy?"

The slight woman sighed. "Sandra, I don't know what to tell you. I don't have much sense about men, anymore. There was Tom, and what we had was so good, I don't know if I'll feel like looking around again, anytime soon. There's my work, and my Mom getting older." She patted her friend's arm. "You'll follow your intuition, and it'll turn out alright, Sandie, I know that. You always do, and it always does."

The chestnut-haired woman picked up the trowel. "I hope so. Let me finish this off, and maybe we can get some dinner."

Judy pulled herself to her feet before she picked up the glass. "Okay, although I'll make you shower first, Sandie, you're all black streaks." She smiled at her friend before she stepped away.

-o-0-o-

House Derwbryn
Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales
Wednesday, July 29, 1998
5:27 am

"Don't look now, Scully, but your secret admirer is watching you." Mulder, delighting in her barely suppressed eye-roll, smirked at his partner, who was tucked beside him on the oak bench. She was recovering, each day, her strength and stamina returning.

The evening of their arrival, she had quietly asked him to join her out on this east-facing spot the following morning, when she had leaned heavily on his arm as they walked. Today, she had been pacing by the front door, waiting for him, eager to take in the view of the rolling green hills and the town of Llangollen, laid out along the River Dee. The unbroken overcast of the previous days had lifted. The light of the rising sun would set the fair-weather cumulus and cirrus clouds aflame, turn blue the mists hanging in the wrinkles of valleys, while its heat would lift haze to shroud the peak-hugging glens. The gates of the sheep pens had just opened, freeing the black, tan, and white ungulates to scatter to their favorite pastures. The frequency of whistles, barks, and shouted commands increased as their human and canine keepers attempted to guide them along.

Her chin jutted forward. "Mulder, I am *not* looking. You think you've seen someone every morning at sunrise in the same window, but only at sunrise. You think it's a ghost because it looks like that portrait of Ieuan ap Gwillym ap Gwinn, the first ap Gwinn member of the Forty. But, I can only conclude it's a trick of the light in that particular location. The glass is original to the house, one of the few left, according to Dafydd, so no telling what irregularities are in the panes."

Now, it was his turn to growl lightly. The Cymru had been spending far too much time in his partner's company, courting her diligently on behalf of the Forty, tempting her with the records of their history, both here in the UK, and abroad. She was being carefully non-committal, genuinely interested, but firm in her decision to remain just a G-woman, as she assured him regularly during this quiet hour before breakfast and the arrival of tourists. But he was worried that the added strain was slowing her recovery, despite the on-site nurse and visiting physical therapist.

She checked his face, hoping her next question would pull him out of his glowering darkness. "Mulder, when, exactly, are the Gunmen arriving?"

He twisted to look down on her upturned smile. "They're taking the train from Cardiff, so it'll be late morning, early afternoon. Byers has planned a bit more complicated trip than they need to take, but you know him and trains." He bent over her. "Besides, they're on their paranoiac's pilgrimage."

Her left cheek creased. "Ah. Portmeirion?"

He tossed her a quick grin in response. "Where else? Byers and Fro had to sit Langly down and explain, firmly, that no one was allowed to spend the night in Number Six's cottage because it's now a gift shop, so, no, there was no point in getting here a day earlier. I expect they'll arrive laden with boxes of Village-phenalia."

The spot on the left side of her forehead where curly red hairs were beginning to emerge arched. "I wonder how many 'Be seeing you's they'll work into conversations over the next few days."

He huffed softly in light-hearted agreement. As his gaze fell on the ivory knit cap she was wearing over the gauze, he noticed the little strands of red peeking out around the edges were beginning to curl. He grew somber. "You sure you're up for this?"

She nodded. "It's taken me too long to get back on my feet, Mulder. We have to start disentangling the connections among the Shadows, before we lose the path along the threads we have." She tugged at the loose polo shirt and sweater, bright red against her khakis and black sneakers. "I can wear regular clothes again, so I don't have to worry about being embarrassed when they get here." She patted his muscled upper arm. "Thanks for your patience. I don't mean to hold the investigation back."

He shook his head. "You're not. We've worked through most of Tapping's document. We wouldn't have had the time to do the cross-referencing with the X-Files, the D'Amato notebooks, and the evidence from the Saunders trial if we were back in the States, without Nichols and Rosen, all while putting together the case against Krycek. Besides, it's giving you the chance to really get well, Scully, which is all that matters."

They turned at the voices emanating from the doorway behind them.

"See, Cary, best view in the place." Rosen had her arm around her life partner as they walked. The brunette astronomer nodded to the two on the bench before heading down the drive.

The diminutive agent's green-blue gaze followed the spouses until they disappeared along a bend in the path. "Good of you to pay for Cary's tickets, Mulder. They only have Rosen's salary to live on."

"I did no such thing, Scully." They exchanged tiny grins, then, he grunted as she pushed herself to her feet. "You cold?" He brushed her elbow with his thumb.

"Not really. Just a little stiff." Her eyes returned to the spot where the two women had disappeared. "Rosen wants to hike Offa's Dike for a part of its length. That'd be fun."

He rose. "When you're a little bit more recovered, we'll do that." He pointed toward the entrance. "So, ready for some breakfast?"

"Certes." She was squinting at the banks of upper windows as she turned. "See, no ghostly members of the Forty, watching me."

"Sheah, he's been up all night, Scully. Time for him to turn in."

She curled her fingers around his arm as they walked. "Howard Graves never turned in." Her cheek creased in anticipation of the explosion she knew was coming.

"Ah, so now, five years later, you'll admit to him?" He bent over her as he held the door. "I *have* had an effect on you." They walked in silence to the breakfast room, where Nichols had already piled his plate with an omelet, smoked herring, orange slices, and buttered toast.

-o-0-o-

House Derwbryn
Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales
Wednesday, 12:54 pm

"So, this is it?" Scully was rotating the black tablet in her hand.

"Sure is, Doc." The long-haired Gunman tugged at his t-shirt, stretching the image of a penny-farthing bicycle as he did so.

"We had to custom order several chips from Japan." Frohike adjusted his wire-rims.

"Which probably tripped surveillance on you three." Nichols turned to Byers.

"Nah." The bearded Gunman powered up his laptop. "We've been monitoring communications in and out of the Osaka Collective, and there's been no mention of us." He looked over at the diminutive agent. "They are, however, deeply concerned about what you decide, Agent Scully."

She handed the unit back to Langly. "Why? The Forty have been focused on the Europeans, not the Far East. Dafydd confirmed that with the rest of the Fellowship at their meeting yesterday."

Frohike crossed his arms. "The owner of this grand estate, Dearest Doctor?"

"Sheah, the very same, Fro." Mulder shook his head at the round-faced Gunman. "You three polished off his lunch just a few minutes ago, so be a little bit polite to your host."

"Okay," Scully interrupted quickly. "What else have the Japanese been interested in?"

Byers turned his laptop around. "This is the latest transcript through the device. They're attempting to hack into the records of the U.S. Marshal's office in San Diego. They want to know what Tapping saw before he died. They're after the video footage we had to send to Pierce. It seems they haven't been receiving any intel from the American organization about Tapping, so they're trying other avenues."

Mulder blew out a long breath. "Nichols, I hate to say this, but - "

"I should head back, Chief. Pierce could tolerate me, while you just sent him up a tree. What do you want me to tell him?"

"As little as possible." Scully lifted her gaze to catch her partner's raised eyebrow. "I don't trust him, at all. He's a decorated officer, but, he's been nothing but antagonistic with the other law enforcement agencies in the area. That's not usual for a Marshal."

Her partner bent over her shoulder. "As if he's being blackmailed?"

"Whoa!" The round-faced Gunman held up a gloved hand. "That's a leap, even for you two. We've never uncovered any questions on the loyalty of the Marshal's Service."

"We've probed suspicions of everywhere else, including the State Department." Langly pushed his hair back off his face.

Byers cut him an odd glance. "We can check into that, but, there's more involved with the Japanese you guys need to know about."

Mulder held out both hands. "So, enlighten us."

Byers pulled up a map of the Hawaiian Islands on the screen. "We've seen suspicious activities connected with Osaka on the Big Island, Lanai, Oahu, and Kauai. You remember the condos on Santorini that were half occupied, but hugely profitable?" He waited through a pair of nods. "That same pattern is repeating itself there. Luxury condos, built, but rarely rented, still rolling in the bucks."

Langly leaned forward to tap a key. A blow-up of the Kona coast of the Big Island appeared. "Prime real estate, just sitting vacant. There's been no chatter on the encrypted communications about this, as if they didn't know."

Rosen crossed her legs at the ankles. "Or, it's so common a part of their interactions that they don't think it's worth mentioning."

Nichols turned to his former partner. "As if it's how they all operate. We should check their other properties, once we get some information on them, around the Far East." He bumped her arm with his elbow. "Looks like you and Cary won't get that hike in before we head back, Ros."

She sighed. "Just as well, Nic. Cary's knee is starting to bother her. She may have to have surgery, unfortunately. Too much bending to take care of her Mom."

"That's too bad." The ASAC shook his head sympathetically. "She's been having a great time here."

Scully reached for her laptop. "I've downloaded the Dine-encoded files from the MJ tape, so we can present them to Albert." Her forehead wrinkled. "I don't know why Director Skinner had such problems. I made multiple print-outs for study back in the basement office after the Thinker met with Mulder, and I've been making multiple copies on CD now to distribute to X-Files West as well."

Rosen slid to her feet to stand beside the diminutive agent. "They're not getting garbled?"

Scully loaded a silver disk into the laptop. After a few moments, the Dine appeared. "So far as I can tell, it's the same from file to file. I've printed out a page or two just to check. See?" She held the paper by the screen. As she scrolled through, they both read.

Rosen straightened from her crouch over the pathologist's shoulder. "Looks the same to me, Scully."

"Okay." Mulder held up both hands. "We need to put together a plan to divide and conquer." He pointed to the Gunmen. "You guys, keep on the surveillance of the Japanese. The Internet here is super, according to the Doctor, so you three can keep on working."

Byers chuckled. "In swankier digs then we're used to, Mulder."

The tall agent turned to the ASAC. "Nichols, we'll get you on your way back to San Diego with Rosen and Cary. Scully and I will stay here to meet with Albert and his son when they arrive." He turned to his partner. "You up to that, Scully?"

She was beginning to feel slightly smothered by his intense concern for her well-being. "I've had about as much pampering as I should allow myself, Mulder. We have work to do. I never liked having to let go of the paper copies in New Mexico." However, with the raw pain accompanying any deep breath only now beginning to lose its edge, that conversation would wait until they were back in DC. She reached for his shoulder to silently offer her gratitude.

He eyed her sadly. "If you hadn't, you would have been dead. You know it."

-o-0-o-

United States Penitentiary, Allenwood
Gregg Township, Pennsylvania
Friday, July 31, 1998
11:03 am

Walter Skinner steeled his face as the door opened. Alex Krycek, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, chains, and double cuffs, was being led in slowly by two U.S. Marshals. Once he was locked to a bar on the end of the table, the Marshals stepped back. Skinner looked to his left. It was odd that Terry Phillips had asked to accompany them, but he assumed it was to gain experience to expand her professional portfolio. On his right, Bill Stickle sat quietly, opening and closing his notepad.

The bald Director glowered at the dark-haired man. "Alright, Krycek. You asked to see us, today, when your preliminary hearing is next Monday. Are you here to discuss the deal?"

Krycek glared back. "I'm not saying anything without my lawyer present."

Stickle cleared his throat. "That would be Charles William Whittington the Third from the firm of Houlihan, Jackson, Shepherd, and Whittington?"

Krycek emitted a snort, before he glanced at Terry Phillips, then he drew back in shock. "What did I ever do to you, lady?"

Her face was twisted, nearly unrecognizable, with rage. "You hurt a fellow federal officer, all in the name of power and revenge. You, a trained agent." She leaned over the table. "What gave you the right?" She pounded the table with her fist. "Tell me!"

Krycek turned to Skinner. "What? Did Mulder have a sex change? Who is this?"

"This is Special Agent Theresa Phillips, PhD, as you well know. Answer her question." The bald Director's jaw jutted. He had had enough of the younger man's misogyny toward his female agents.

"Not without my lawyer." He tried to cross his arms, but the cuffs prevented it, so he settled for another snort and glare.

"Then we'll sit here until he does." The former Marine gritted his teeth.

The door opened, then a tall, distinguished grey-haired man stepped through. "Ah, I see we are all assembled." He placed a hand on Krycek's shoulder. "I trust you have been discreet?"

The dark-haired man rolled his eyes. "Of course I've been discreet! What else could I be?" He rattled his chains for emphasis.

There was a momentary clench of Whittington's jaw, then all was tranquility. "Very well." He offered his hand to the three agents in turn, before placing his briefcase on the wood as he was settling into his chair. "With the preliminaries out of the way, let us begin." He flipped open a notebook inscribed with the firm's name in gold letters. "So, why did you call my client in today?"

The silky-smooth baritone having set his nerves on edge, Skinner turned. "It was your client who called this meeting, Mister Whittington."

Krycek leaned over the table. "I have information. I want to trade it to stay out of prison."

"What information would that be, Krycek?" The brunette agent's face was twisted into a snarl.

The dark-haired man pushed his hair off his face with his right hand, the left dangling by the chain, then snorted. "Hey, Phillips, back off. I don't answer to threats. What gives you the right, anyway?"

She clenched her fists. "I work in the X-Files East section. Dana Scully is my boss. You tortured her."

Krycek shook his head before leaning toward Skinner. "Look, I don't need the attack dog routine. I want to tell what I know in exchange for my freedom."

The bald Director glared back. "So, Krycek, what do you have? The MJ tape is with Mulder and Scully. Albert Hosteen is translating it right now. In case you didn't notice in your jaunts through the criminal underworld, Mulder and Scully have put the entirety of the X-Files in the public domain, as well as the D'Amato papers on the origins of the Shadow governments. There are trial records laying out more details. I don't think there is much you have to offer, you rabid weasel."

"That will be enough, Director Skinner. We are here to discuss a plea deal on potential murder charges for the death of William Mulder." Whittington placed a palm on Krycek's shoulder.

Stickle shifted in his chair, but said nothing.

The bespectacled man shook his head. "Krycek, I don't think you understand. We have your Bureau-issued weapon, taken directly from your possession by Dana Scully. We have the slug taken from William Mulder. We have a verified match between the two. You're going away for a very, very long time. Good thing for you Massachusetts no longer has a death penalty."

Whittington held up his hand, palm toward the Bureau officers. "Now, you have no proof that Alex was the one who fired the gun, do you?"

Skinner snorted. "We lifted three different sets of fingerprints off the handle: Professor Andrea Rosen's, Doctor and Agent Dana Scully's, and Alex Krycek's. The sets from Scully and Rosen were recent, easily verified, and just one each. Scully had touched the trigger; Rosen had not. Krycek's prints were all over the handle, muzzle, and trigger, some clear, some smudged from repeated application, so the weapon had not been wiped. None other were found. Scully's and Rosen's whereabouts at the time of William Mulder's deaths have been verified. Neither were in West Tisbury at the time. Alex Krycek used his personal credit card to purchase gas in Chilmark two hours before the murder. No ferries left the island between that purchase and William Mulder's death. So, where does that leave your client, Mister Whittington?"

The grey-haired attorney chuckled. "Right where we were a few moments ago. You still have no proof Alex fired the shot that killed William Mulder, just circumstance. You know what I can do with that, Mister Skinner, don't you? If you put my client on trial, I will have him tell everything he knows on the stand, from the witness box. Everything. Are you sure you want that to happen, Director?"

Phillips and Stickle both looked at Skinner, who was shaking his head. "That won't help. I won't be subjected to judicial blackmail, Mister Whittington." He rose. "We'll see you in court." He looked down at the agents on his side of the table. "We're finished here. Let's go."

As they were leaving, Phillips leaned over the top. "You monster. You cut off her hair! What gave you the right? You tortured one of the finest agents in the Bureau!"

Krycek snarled. "Really? That's what you think of Mulder's squealing little whore? Or have you already stolen him away?" He held up his fists. "Get out of my face, you bitch!"

"You're going to rot in hell for the rest of your life, you lying, thieving, backstabbing Judas!" She spun, then stalked out the door without another word.

-o-0-o-

House Derwbryn
Llangollen, Denbighshire, Wales
Friday, August 7, 1998
11:21 am

Albert Hosteen laid down his pen. "That is all. If that White Man is still as clever as he was when I knew him, he would do well to be afraid. His secrets are in here, as there are of many others."

"Who are now dead, Albert." Scully eyed him soberly. "But, there was enough in there on the Europeans to give us a start."

The white-haired Dine was staring out the floor to ceiling windows. "Such green land. Why would anyone ever want to leave?"

Dafydd ap Gwinn smiled from his perch in the corner, his gaze still on Scully. "It was not always thus. The coal did much damage to beautiful Cymru, the English before that-"

"And the Vikings before that." Mulder offered a small grin to Albert. "You son has been walking for miles and miles. We've barely seen him."

"Indeed. We have ancestors here, from a woman in our past, so he is searching for where they lived. I hope he finds what we are seeking." Albert eyed the dark-haired agent. "You have found your truth, then, FBI man?"

Mulder knew he could contribute next to nothing to the technical aspects of decryption and documentation. Instead, he had been leaning against the fireplace, watching his partner typing and reading, relieved she had been moving without pain for the past day or so, amused each time she pushed her lengthening auburn curls back under her knit cap to keep them off her forehead. "For some things. For others, these documents just revive questions we thought we had answered."

"We wouldn't want all the answers, Mulder, or else we would have no reason to keep looking." The partners exchanged a glance.

"But you, FBI Woman, you are still seeking your truth."

She sighed. "I am. But, it isn't here." She tapped the papers in front of her. "This verified some of my memories, but not all of them. I'm concerned about putting this information on the Web, Mulder."

He settled beside her. "Because there are living persons mentioned in it?"

She shook her head. "No, they have a right to know. But, what's here on the Europeans, that should be held back, or else they will just terminate the operations mentioned here and we won't have anything to follow." She lifted a page. "Look, here in the Orkneys, for instance."

Albert smiled as he nodded to someone behind her.

Mulder smirked. "Scully, it's your admirer. Ieuan's back."

She favored him with a quick eye-roll. "Mulder, I don't have admirers." She tapped the papers. "I think- What?" She swiveled in her chair. "Oh."

"Yes, you do, Riata." Ap Gwinn offered the silent form a wave.

"Now that spirit is at peace." Albert nodded. "He is going."

Mulder leaned into her gaze. "What did you see, Scully?"

Her forehead wrinkled. "There was something shimmering behind me. It must have been the light from the window interacting with airborne particulates."

"Must have been," the tall agent agreed amiably.

Frohike stepped into the room. "Guys, there's been a lot of traffic back and forth across the Pacific. The Osaka group is preparing some kind of shipment, but they're not giving out details on what and when."

Scully typed several commands on the laptop, then a separate X Window popped up on the screen. "Then, give me an encrypted file, and I'll pass it on in an e-mail to Nichols."

Frohike waved a gloved hand. "Already done, Agent Scully. I just wanted to let you guys know."

Ap Gwinn released a long sigh. "I'll miss this, Riata."

She turned to look up at him. "Oh, we'll be back. You've been a delightful host, Cymru, but there is much we still need to follow up on."

He was standing over her. "You must come to the Suola, you and the Atrebates. You have returned Brother Suebi to us, and we need to offer you our gratitude." He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.

She glanced at her partner, then shook her head. "That will have to be in the future, Cymru. Right now, there is work we need to do back in the States."

The door opened, then, a few moments later, a black-haired man stepped in. "I have found records, but that is all. I have no sense of her, in any of the places I have walked."

Albert nodded. "That is enough. We will leave this green land and take what we have learned home."

"After lunch," ap Gwinn protested. "We will make your travel plans after lunch."

-o-0-o-

Suola di Atene
Cambridge England, UK
Sunday, August 9, 1998
7:02 pm

"We are many, we are one!" The Pict raised his cane in triumph.

"We are many, we are one!" Thirty-eight voices returned.

Leaning on his lion, the Pict turned to the Brother on the other side of the dais. "Brother Cymru, how goes it with the Riata? Will she be joining us?"

Ap Gwinn bowed deeply, issued the incantation, then sighed. "She is with us in spirit, Brother Pict."

"But not in the flesh. Not visible." His green eyes closed. "She is always with us, in the Spirit."

"Shall we remove the chalk banner?" The Slav remained in her seat adjacent to the Riata's.

"We shall, Sister." The Suebi smiled at her suggestion. "She survived the initiation of Gradus Absoluta. She saved me. She will be with us in the flesh." He rose, then bowed to the men on the dais. "Come, Brothers. Let us make her high seat ready." He stood behind the tall back, as the Cymru descended to wait by the front. Between them, they lifted the long white strip of satin draped from the floor in the back to in the front, folded it, then linked arms in a Roman handshake.

"It is good we were not called to lay this on your seat, Brother. You bring much to the Fellowship."

The Suebi bowed his long head. "Now we have hope."

The Cymru carried the banner up the stairs before sliding it into the Pict's waiting hands. The older man placed a gentle kiss on the fabric, then the gleaming white disappeared behind a black granite lid, inscribed with a circle and forty wavy rays. The Pict closed the lid. "The Riata has returned to us!"

"We are many, we are one!" The incantation echoed resoundingly off the paneled walls.

The Danaan rose. "Until our Sister joins us, there is much work we need to do." He held up a sheet, folded in thirds. "I have a request from Kilkee in Munster, for help rebuilding a sea-wall. Does the Ekklesia choose to offer their assistance? It is but a pittance."

"We shall." Thirty-eight voices were united in their reply.

-o-0-o-

Apartment 42
Arlington, VA
Sunday, 5:31 pm

Fox Mulder dumped the contents of his second load of laundry on his bed as he sighed. He was unpacked, his clothes were done, but there were fifteen long hours before he could reasonably head in to work. He'd sleep five of those, if he was lucky, while the rest of the time would be spent desultorily considering which part of the MJ documents he would discuss with his partner when she arrived. He had internally debated calling her, several times, while he had idly watched his laundry spin in the basement of his apartment building, but, each time, had decided against it. She needed her rest, but would never ask for it, especially after how she and Albert had spent the flight across the Atlantic reviewing the contents of the tape. He had watched over her shoulder, as more unbelievable, frankly execrable, facts had appeared on her laptop screen. The leper colonies were the least of it.

He checked his watch. Not quite fifteen hours. He stared at the tangle of socks, then reached slowly into the pile, before he jumped back. The phone. Finally. He tugged the black unit out of his jeans pocket, checked the number, then grinned. "Mulder."

"Mulder, it's me."

He collapsed on the bed, bouncing most of the laundry onto the carpet. "Hey, me. What's up, Scully?"

"Ah, I was thinking about the specific countries in the European organization once I got unpacked. As crazy as it sounds, in sticky DC August, I'm still cold, Mulder, so I picked up the ingredients for a salad and lentil soup. The greens at House Derwbryn were just so delicious. Anyway, as I was drawing up diagrams of potential interactions, I accidentally made too much. Do you feel like a vegan dinner tonight? I'm sorry, I didn't put anything much in it. Or, have you already eaten?"

He chuckled. "My manliness will survive even if I don't rip apart raw steaks with my bare hands every night, Doctor." He sat upright. "You need anything else?"

"Not really. Some bread."

He was grinning broadly. "Yeah, sure. Whole wheat olive?"

"Of course. And, some balsamic vinegar. I don't have enough for a good dressing. I was planning on picking up some on the way back from Dulles last month."

He let out as high a warble as he could manage. "See, now you've got me singing soprano, Doctor."

She suppressed a chuckle. "No Royal David's Citying for you, G-man."

He huffed. "Sheah. That's why I went to *Oxford*. The *other* university."

"You shan't let me forget it either, Mulder. Anyway, when you're here, you can look over my scribbles and see how much you can improve on them."

He left his bedroom without a backward glance. "So, what did you find so fascinating in your antiquarian researches into the Venetian Republic?"

A pause, then a lilt crept into the alto. "Over dinner, Mulder. We'll debate la Serenissima over beans and greens and stout brown bread. If we start this discussion over the phone, I'll end up dropping mine in the soup. Besides, I'm looking forward to discussing this face to face."

As am I. "Great, Scully. Thanks." He was stuffing his keys in his pocket as he walked toward the door. Not fifteen hours, after all.

-o-0-o-

X-Files East Offices
FBI Washington Field Office
Washington, DC
Monday, August 10, 1998
7:04 am

Dana Scully looked up from her keyboard at the tapping of Cynthia's heels on the tile. "Cyndie?"

Her brown hair in a ponytail, she stepped into the doorway between their offices. "Agent Scully? Are you okay now?"

The auburn-haired agent rose. "Yes, Cynthia, I am. The rib will take a bit more time to heal, but it's not holding me back." She held out her arms, smiling when the brunette settled gently against her. "See, doesn't hurt a bit."

Cynthia giggled. "That's good, Agent Scully. I was so worried."

"What?" The lilting tenor came from the doorway. "This is free hugs day and no one told me?" He trotted over to wrap his arms around the younger woman momentarily. "Good to see you, Cyndie."

She looked up at him with a broad grin. "Agent Mulder. You're such a card."

He stepped away. "Don't see how you stood the quiet around here, Ma'am."

She smiled at them both. "But, not anymore." She padded back to her front desk.

He turned to his partner. "So, what do we tell Skinner?"

"I'd rather think it was more what I needed to tell you, Agents." Walter Skinner was in the doorway, his hands on his hips. "Krycek is up to his usual tricks. When you have a moment, Mulder, Scully?"

They exchanged a glance before following him around to his desk. Once they were settled, the diminutive pathologist leaned forward. "What is he up to now, Sir?"

The bald Director flipped open a file. "First, Agent Scully, let me say how grateful I am to see you up on your feet. Leaving one of my best agents flat on her back on the other side of the Atlantic is not how I like to run my operations."

After sending a quick smile to her partner, she offered her superior a single nod. "I was in good hands, Sir, not that I'd recommend the experience to anyone else. But, thank you for your concern."

He sighed. "Perhaps you'll want to take a few more days, after I tell you what that weasel has cooked up now." He slid a folder across the desk.

Picking it up, she turned over the pages, then passed it to her partner.

After reading the contents, Mulder slapped the papers back on the desktop with a growl. "Suing the Bureau? Suing Agent Scully for physical mistreatment? Is he serious?"

Skinner leaned forward. "Unfortunately, yes. The judge at the preliminary took one look at our evidence and shipped Krycek back to prison without recourse to bond. This was his attorney's brilliant come-back." He shook his head. "Charles William-"

"Whittington the Third." The agents finished for him.

"We've had dealings with him before, Sir." Mulder rolled his eyes.

"As have I." The Director spoke without moving his jaw. "He's the ambulance chaser of choice for our friends on the dark side."

"Yes." The diminutive agent nodded. "We've gathered that. As for the lawsuit, I'm a Civil Servant - "

"But you can still be sued as an individual, Scully," Mulder shook his head. "That case has already been settled, not in our favor. We'll have to head to the Hoover Building this afternoon to talk to Legal. You're not facing this on your own." He leaned toward her from his seat. "Trust me on that."

Skinner opened another folder. "As for Krycek's trial, Whittington threatened to expose me as a former operative to the Smoker as a distraction for the jury, and to discredit the Bureau in their eyes. I'd like to derail that possibility today." He crossed his hands on the papers. "These are my recollections that we used to train Schiffeln. I want you to add them to your web-sites, Agents. All of them. Nip this in the bud for me."

The dark-haired section head turned. "Sir? Are you sure? This will have an impact on your life, professionally and personally. Are you ready for that?"

The bespectacled Director nodded. "I've discussed this with Sharon, Senator Matheson, Director Freeh, and the Attorney General, in that order. They've all said they'll back any decision I make." He pushed the folder over to them. "This is it."

Scully picked it up. "Okay. Then we'll get this to the Gunmen to add along with Marshal Tapping's document. We're taking them the portions of the MJ documents that pertain to the American organization as well. It's mostly of historical interest now, but, it needs to get out there, too."

Mulder arched his shoulders. "We're holding back the information on the Japanese and European organizations until we can put those portions to investigative use. It'll give us a head start in certain areas we didn't have before."

The auburn-haired pathologist glanced at her partner. "We're handling Mulder's Father's diaries the same way. We know they didn't know what was in them until we turned them over. But, we're keeping all sections on the Forty back. The Ekklesia has agreed to help us bring the Europeans to justice. This will keep them safely hidden so they can continue their work from their end."

Skinner eyed her carefully. "Agent Scully, I need to ask - "

She sighed, then tucked her chin. "I'm an agent and pathologist in the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Sir, nothing more. Not the Riata. Not the woman on the high seat." She studied her hands for a moment. "This wasn't something they asked of us. This was something we offered. We need allies. If the Senate turns over in the upcoming election, we'll need their help, more than ever. You know the Smoker has cultivated members of Congress in the other party, and they will be perfectly happy to deny Senator Matheson's requests for funds for us. That's how it works in DC." She looked up at him. "We need to continue to move forward, Sir, not let all the good efforts by so many, some of whom are no longer with us, be buried with no results."

The Director turned to the tall man sprawled beside her. "Agent Mulder? Do you agree with this?"

He straightened. "I do, Sir. It was hard making those contacts on the Hill so I could pursue the X-Files, connections that were almost lost." He nodded his thanks to Walter Skinner, who inclined his head once in return. After a pause, the partners exchanged a glance before the dark-haired agent finished for them both. "But, if we're careful and pay attention, we can advance the work. We can continue to expose the misuse of taxpayer funds for undemocratic ends. We're supposed to protect and defend the Constitution and the American people. We're just being intelligent about it, here."

Dark eyes narrowed behind round lenses. "Do you trust them?"

"No, Sir." The response from the partners was simultaneous.

Scully straightened in her chair. "But, for now, the Forty want what we want. As long as that is true, we will work cooperatively with them. If that ceases to be so, we will add the de-encrypted records of Mulder's father on them to the web-page. It's our insurance, Sir."

The metal creaked as the bald Director leaned back. "Then, you have my support. I'll schedule a meeting on your return from Legal with Senator Matheson, so he will be aware of your plans. Thank you, both." He handed the papers on the lawsuit to Scully, then opened another folder as they left, Mulder walking a polite half-step behind her.

Once the partners were around the corner, Walter Skinner quietly contemplated the entryway they had used to exit. Not all Mondays are bad days. This will work.

-o-0-o-

Apartment 42
Arlington, VA
Monday, 8:17 pm

Fox Mulder dropped his running shoe on the futon at the knock on the door. "Coming!" There was no response, which immediately had him seeking the location of his SIG. There, next to the answering machine. He slid his weapon free, then padded to the hall. A peek through the spyhole had him lowering the gun. His partner was without, still in the pale green shell and charcoal suit she had worn to work, but she had swapped out the flat black pumps for her equally dark walking shoes. To his surprise, she was pacing, chewing her lip, not standing rigid in front of the bronze numbers as she usually would. He unlocked the door. "Hey, Scully, what's up?"

She was almost at the far end of the short hall as she turned. Eyeing his faded Bureau t-shirt and tight-fitting shorts, she took a step back. "Oh, my apologies, Mulder, I'll let you get to your run." She started toward the elevator.

But he grasped her arm as she passed him. "No, not a problem. I got one in this morning, and I was a little bored, so I thought I'd work off some of those beans and greens and stout brown bread someone made me eat last night."

She sent him a small grin, which told him whatever had her spinning outside his entry couldn't be dire. "Thank you. It was nice to sleep in my own bed, even if it's getting too soft for me."

He tugged at her jacket sleeve. "Scully, come in."

She let herself be guided through the opening. "I'll not keep you for long, in case you change your mind. I just needed to give you an update and get some advice."

That brought him to a halt, but not turning to face her. She needs my advice? "Hey, grab whatever's non-toxic in the fridge and I'll be right there." He raced to the bedroom to quickly throw a pair of jeans over the black latex shorts. When he returned, she was poised primly on the edge of one of the mission chairs, a water bottle balanced on her palm. Whatever you want to say to me, Scully, you look like you've thought about it so much you've memorized it already. He flopped into the other. "So, go." He tugged at her sleeve again.

She rotated the plastic, a ring of condensation collecting in her hand, then looked over at him. "Mulder, first, I'm here looking for the advice of a friend who understands the situation. I don't want this to obstruct or derail our work in any way. But, I don't know whom to consult other than you."

He shifted. No, it's serious. "I'm listening." He held out both hands. "Please."

She set the bottle on one of the tiles of the coffee table. "I received two phone calls tonight, one right after the other." She settled back an inch or two. "Caroline called." She allowed herself a gentle smile. "You Mother is just the soul of graciousness, Mulder. She thanked me for my help with Sandra, getting you two together, and to Santorini."

He nodded, but said nothing.

"Then, she apologized for not filling me in on the situation with your Father's final resting place." She rubbed both hands together. "I told her, and I meant this sincerely, that she had nothing to apologize for. You, she, and your Father had entered into a confidential agreement. She kept that confidence, which was the honorable thing to do." She reached for his dangling fingers. "So did you, until it became part of an investigation, when there can be no secrets between us."

He returned the clasp, then propped his chin in his palm. "Agreed, Scully. Why do I have the feeling there's another shoe?"

She sighed as she slid her hand back into her lap. "Your sister is Caroline's daughter, in every way. But, she's used to life in a relatively sane world, which isn't ours." They exchanged small grins. "Once she learned we were in the UK she took it upon herself, with only kindness in her heart, to alert my family that we were overseas, simply as a precaution."

"Ah." Leaning forward, he rested his elbows on his knees. "That probably didn't sit well with the Paterfamilias, did it?"

She shook her head. "Fortunately, it was my Mom who answered the phone, so kept it quiet. It was Mom who called me right after Caroline. She had left several messages on my answering machine from her cell while we were away but I hadn't yet returned them. She was babysitting while Bill and Liz were out grocery shopping, so she could speak without interruption."

He settled against the thin cushion, throwing out his arm to touch the back of her seat. "How much did you tell her?"

She shook her left hand, sending what few drops remained onto the wool Navajo rug. "Only the barest minimum required. We were investigating some information we had recently uncovered, data that took us overseas. Not anything about your Father, the Forty, or Gradus Absoluta, and nothing about my stay in the hospital, or why. She liked hearing about House Derwbryn, though. I knew she would."

"Then, you did right, Scully." He touched her arm. "So, why did you need my advice?"

She settled back, then rubbed her eyes. "I need to warn Sandra about my brothers, and I need to be careful." She looked over at him again. "You, Caroline, Max, and she are just at the beginning of becoming a real family, and I don't want my problems to interfere with that in any way." She clasped her hands together, interlacing the fingers, before dropping her gaze to her knuckles. "It upset her so when we told her the truth about the Smoker. I need to pick my words carefully so that won't happen again." She sent him a tentative half-smile. "Human interactions are such a mine field. You've spent time with her, Mulder. How should I go about this?"

He chewed his lip for a moment, then queried Socratically, "How would you tell me?"

She arched her shoulders. "I'd lay out the facts dispassionately, but not embellish, waiting for you to ask me questions so we could hash it out between us. Then, I'd try to summarize what we needed to know. If Sandra and I were discussing some research, or participating in an investigation together, I'd do the same."

He patted her shoulder. "Then, try that. We can give her a call now, if that would help." He bent forward. "Would you like to place this call from the Gunmen's so it's encrypted?

She shook her short auburn curls. "No, there's nothing we'll be discussing that we need to keep concealed, but, the Guys don't need to hear my problems either. We take up enough of their time and energy with our X-Files investigations."

He snorted. "Besides, Bill might pop a gasket when he pulled open his front door at the sight of a short, bespectacled knight in chain mail, challenging him to a duel with a sword at his throat." He grasped his own neck with both hands, then let out a few choking gasps in mockery. At her delighted smile, he rose to retrieve his cordless landline phone, which he rested beside the clear plastic. "Although, knowing Sandie, once she heard about your troubles, Scully, I'd half expect *her* to fly to the East Coast and give him a good sock in the jaw." He reached for the water bottle. Unopened, as I expected. "I've thought about that myself, but, it would only make matters worse. She could get away with it."

She reached for his arm. "Thank you. If you don't mind?"

He passed the black unit to her before settling back in the chair.

The diminutive agent leaned forward. "What's her number again?"

He pointed. "Number four, Scully. I dropped the Miami house number because Mom and Max haven't used it in a year and a half."

A single tap. "This is her cell phone?" She put the unit on broadcast.

"Yeah. I probably won't call her at her - Hey, Sandie!"

"Fox? Is that you? Are you and Dana okay?"

He grinned. "Yeah, we are. Scully's here, too. We needed to speak with you about something." The hazel canted toward his partner.

Scully clasped her hands together again. "Sandra, first of all, thank you for calling my family to let them know I was out of the country. That was very kind of you, and something I don't always remember to do."

A growl-chuckle issued from the standing unit. "Not a problem, Dana. I take it you'd rather keep your professional life separate from your family life? Is this some Bureau protocol I've stepped on?"

The auburn curls bobbed up and down. "Yes, and no. Sometimes our cases take us from one end of the country to the other on a few minutes notice, and it's hard even for us to keep track." She and her partner exchanged smirks. "As far as the Bureau goes, as long as it doesn't compromise operations, they don't issue any particular guidance. They train us to use our independent judgment."

"But not always in the cases of the X-Files, Sandra." Mulder twisted on the seat. "Usually, the less the Bureau political types are aware of what we do, the better off we are."

"Okay, I'll remember that." A slight cough emanated from the speaker. "Now, other shoe?"

Scully canted her green-blue eyes quickly toward her partner, who was wiggling with glee at his sister's choice of phrase. "Here it is. There's a situation in my personal life you need to be aware of. The whys and the wherefores aren't important; in fact, I don't quite understand how this all developed myself, but, my brothers aren't very happy with me right now."

A snort rattled out of the tiny speaker. "Dana, I don't mean to belittle your concerns, but, that's crazy. They should be proud and thrilled to have someone as accomplished as you for a sister. I know I would be. But, okay, sorry to interrupt. Go on."

When her partner pushed on her shoulder, the diminutive agent glanced over, just catching the smirk on his 'Told you so!' face. "No, no, Sandra, that's alright. I appreciate the support."

"They're Navy, aren't they?"

"Yes, both of them are, just as my Father was."

"Yeah." Sandra drew out the word into three syllables. "We get enough of those types around the area with the Naval bases. They're all for family, family, as long as it's a specific and very limited definition of one." She snorted. "Let me guess, they think it's wrong you're single, devoted to your work, not even dating or especially concerned."

The dark-haired agent crossed his arms. "We'll have to catch you up, Sandie. They don't get that women are people first, with brains and character and heart." He couldn't help but send a broad grin to his partner, who was still staring at her hands, her face coloring. "They'd rather specific classes of humanity stay in the boxes they've created in their own minds. We have those types in the Bureau."

A sigh emerged noisily from the phone. "Yeah, women are all just supposed to be walking fetus factories, according to them. We get the right-wing religious spouting 'Family Values' out here, too. So, Dana, how do you want me to handle this?"

Scully sent her gratitude to her partner with a glance, then faced the phone. "Caroline knows how this work goes, Sandra, and how crazy our lives can become at times, so you can discuss this with her, quite freely. My mother understands a little bit of what we do, but, I keep the more unpleasant details from her. My brothers-" She paused to shake her head. "-I only speak with them when it's unavoidable."

"And you'd like me to do the same? I can handle that." They heard the sound of a mockingbird in the background. "Salazar, don't!"

The auburn-haired woman smiled, broadly and genuinely. "You're working out in your lovely garden right now, aren't you?"

"Yeah, I am. I was thinking of trying some vegetables next year, just to see how they would go. Our seasons are different from back east, so maybe I could do some warmer-weather vegetables in the fall and winter. That might be fun." Another sigh issued from the speaker. "But, Dana, back to your concerns. Leave your brothers to their own devices, but your Mom may need an ear?"

Scully began with bob of forehead-hugging auburn curls. "Just keep things light with her. She's under enough strain as it is because she's staying with my older brother. She spent time with Caroline and Max overseas last year and earlier this year, so she knows the world is a bit bigger place than my brothers understand it is."

"Yeah, I get it." There was a pause. "Um, guys?"

The partners exchanged a glance before Mulder replied, "Yeah, Sandra?"

They heard a breath, released through clenched teeth. "One thing you need to know about my past." There was a longer pause. "I have an adoptive brother you need to watch out for."

Scully leaned toward the speaker. "What do you mean?"

"Uh, not as in the sense of look out to take care of, but look out to avoid." Another long pause had the partners both frowning. "Don't get me wrong. He's brilliant. He was first in his class in Harvard Law. He's a lot like you, Fox, but he kind-of, ah, went wrong, as much as I hate to admit that about him."

The auburn-haired pathologist checked the tall agent's face. It was clear and untroubled, so she spoke to his sister in San Diego instead. "Okay."

"But he never had anyone like you to work with, Dana, someone to help him focus, channel his talents and abilities. Even when he was kid, he was always off making up harebrained schemes or chasing crazy ideas. After our parents's deaths, he became detached from normal society."

Mulder's long fingers gently wrapped the slight palm resting on the flat arm of the mission chair beside his. "Yeah, I get that."

"He's never been able to settle or make a success of himself. I have to bail him out financially every few months when he runs through his friends from law school. Once he finds out about you, Fox, as well as how much Bill Mulder left each of us in trust, and he will, he'll assume that because you're connected to me, you're connected to him. He'll come begging. You need to not give him the time of day, or even a dime."

The slight digits tightened around the broad palm before she slid her hand away. "Brothers. What can you do with them? Should we alert Caroline and Max?"

"We should. He won't stop at the water's edge in his pursuit of cash."

"Okay, we will." Scully leaned forward to catch her partner's hazel gaze, speaking directly into his face. "But, remember, not all brothers are pains in the posteriors. Some of them are the best people you can ever know."

As his cheeks colored, the dark-haired man's eyes dropped to his knees.

They heard Sandra cough. "Agreed. Well, it's late back east. I should let you guys go?"

Mulder nodded. "Yeah, I think so. With us needing to head to the West Coast to investigate semi-regularly, I'm sure we'll see you soon. I call Mom and Max when they're up, Sandie."

The pathologist leaned toward the phone. "Indeed, Sandra, thanks for being so understanding. My brothers are good men and they love their families, but they have - "

"A different world view. Not a problem, at all. Bye."

The dark-haired agent placed the unit in its base before standing over her. "So, that help?"

His diminutive partner nodded. "It did." She rose to look back up at him. "Every time, except for that visit to her lab, I think how sane and centered your sister is, and I realize, in a way, Mulder, you've had it harder than she did."

They were walking to the door together. "Oh?" The tall agent looked over.

She stopped to blink up at him. "You always ask: why her, why not me? I think it was you, Mulder." She brushed her fingers over his elbow. "You were aware of her loss, while she wasn't. She got to make herself who she wanted to be, while you had so little to cling to, except a giant, unwanted burden that should be placed on no child. Those evil men left you and Caroline no room to maneuver."

He dropped a hand to her shoulder. "I've had enough, Scully, or, at least, I feel like that now." He held her gaze for a moment. "I thought our work was starting to wind down. But, after reading through the contents of the MJ tape..." He shook his head as he crossed his arms.

She sent him a dazzling smile. "You realized there's more to do than just mustering the Tooks and Proudfoots to send Old Sharkey packing?"

"Proudfeet!" His cheek morphed into a lop-sided grin. "Your schematics from yesterday evening got me thinking. There's more from the European sections of the tape I'd like to work through with you. You up for a late dinner, or are you good?"

She tucked her chin. "Something light, so we can just talk. I have leftovers, if that would do."

"You just offered a committed bachelor free food, Doctor Scully. What do you think?" He smirked, then issued a theatrical sniff before heading toward his bedroom. "Let me put on something a little less salty." He disappeared behind the wall separating the two spaces.

She leaned against the cabinet by the door, waiting. When he emerged, in his jeans and an untucked tan polo shirt, she straightened. "So, you saw the encrypted E-mail from Nichols about the Osaka businesses in Honolulu before you left?"

He waited for her to exit, then locked the door. "Sure did. I think we need to head out to the Aloha State to investigate." They began walking comfortably, side-by-side, to the narrow elevator.

She pressed the inverted pyramid of a button. "At least we can have one actual X-Files case somewhere tropical." She turned to look up at him. "Just us, though? If the Gunmen's intercepts are right, we have several islands to investigate, and they're hundreds of miles apart. Pendrell and Phillips are more familiar with the Big Island than any of us, and they wouldn't mind at all going back out there."

He nodded. "Nichols has his own shop to run. Rosen splits her time between her measurements and working with him, so they both need to stay put. Director Skinner will need help with Krycek, because, well, it's Krycek." He threw up both hands in disgust. "Stickle and the Big Cheese worked together well while we were searching for you, so our Junior G-man gets to stay behind to assist with legal matters. He's the only true lawyer among us."

She arched one brow, the red hairs corkscrew-wild as they regrew, just as many of her auburn curls remained untamed. "Now, we need an accountant, and we'll be any old standard-issue Bureau group." They exchanged tiny smiles at the thought, then she sobered. "Okay, then, Cynthia. She's between classes, and we could use her help coordinating."

A chime from overhead, so he guided her through the opening, his hand on her back. "Yeah. She's been left behind to hold down the fort enough times. We'll set her up in a Bureau office with a desk on a lanai and she can be command central. I think she's ready for that."

"It would be good to show her how important she is to us." She sent him a one-sided grin. "I'm glad we're keeping it light. We have our Tuesday lunch tomorrow, the first one since the Mall, if you remember."

He chuckled as the doors closed. "Already have it scoped out, Doctor. Someplace I think you'll really like. On the water, lots of fins and scales. You just need to be ready to go at noon."

Green-blue met hazel. "You never stop surprising me, G-man." And, I hope you never do.

-o-Finis-o-

Chermera

=====o======================================================o=====

Author's note: Before I proceed, I would like to retire a long-unrecognized debt to Daniel Wood. His exceedingly gracious praise of my work in the on-line version of Cinescape on September 10, 2001 (yes, that September tenth) has been a reminder and a prompt to me as I worked on this novel.

Thanks to those of you who have made it this far. It's been many more years than I expected it would be before I returned to working with Scully and Mulder to expose the CSM and his evil deeds, but, here we are. The initial scenes of the sundry threads of this novel lay scattered in various locations across several hard drives and back-ups, waiting until I had the time and energy to return to them. Most of them made it through intact, with but minor additions, the opening in the Suola especially. I wrote them shortly after I finished Anath, assuming once I settled in to my new job, I would be able to pick them up and continue.

Life, however, intervened. I found myself working much longer hours at my new place of employment, sometimes for projects I found deeply challenging, and sometimes, just because budgets were tight, deadlines were too-near, and a great deal of work had to be done with the limited resources at hand. It's been fascinating helping, in my small way, to discover and catalog the surface of the planet Mercury, to sound the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, to model aerosols here in Earth's atmosphere, to develop (and patent!) techniques to monitor and track our rapidly-vanishing Arctic sea ice, and to plan hyperspectral imagers for monitoring changes in Earth's coastal regions, as well as to survey Jupiter's Galilean moon, Europa, for the first time. But, there has been little energy left over for anything else. Worse, my Mother fell and broke her hip shortly after I started my new job, which initiated over a decade of slow decline that consumed much of my sister's and my time and money to attend, until her eventual death several years ago.

I should note, however, the passage of time does bring some benefits. With the revival of Doctor Who (even with its insanely uneven quality and ADHD storylines), and Peter Jackson's movies (since no one reads long books anymore, or, at least, not until J. K. Rowling created new generations of bookworms – Thanks, J. K.!), I can indulge in Doctor Who and Lord of the Rings references and expect people to actually 'get' them.

So, what changed? Recent events in the wider world, for one. I'll elaborate more in E-mail for those who are interested, but, I'll let it go at that here. After a great deal of personal involvement in broader matters of national import, eventually, I had to stop staring into the abyss for a bit. I needed an refuge until the storm passed.

Now, it should also surprise no one who has read my stories that my tastes in entertainment run to science fiction. Over the years, once I walked away from the Files before the end of Season Seven and the true wretchedness began, I happily discovered Babylon 5, Stargate SG-1, and, for its first three seasons, Farscape. I had on-line and RL friends who cajoled me into the Buffyverse and Elementary, which have been different things altogether. Babylon, Stargate, and Buffy were fun, and their creators took care to develop their alternative realities sufficiently that I was engaged by their arcs and satisfied by their resolutions, B5 especially. Elementary, as well as being a surprisingly successful updating of Holmes and Watson - New York in the 21st Century really is the equivalent of London in the 19th - has recreated that intellectual partnership between two close friends I had thought was the bond between Scully and Mulder. Early in Season Three, Carter and Company decided, in pursuit of ratings rather than originality, that the intellects of the partners were cancers to be excised (why else would Scully's tumor have been placed where it was?), but that is another long discussion to be had off-line. Farscape burned too bright and too fast, basically blowing up at the end of the Third Season, sadly.

But, none of them caught my interest as did those first two seasons of the Files. What brought that all back to me was neither the 2008 movie, which I have no intention of seeing, nor the reboot of the series. Of that, I have only watched Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster, because, hey, it was Darin. The reboot brought back all the plot-lines and writers who had driven me, during the latter seasons, to watch the show with my hands over my face, cringing at how bad the stories had become. The Myth-arc began degenerating into an incomprehensible mess during the latter half of the Third Season, but that never stopped Carter from gleefully making it worse with each two-parter and season-ender/restart (according to Wikipedia, Scully basically ends the series insane – Really, Chris?). So there was no reason for me to re-engage with what had once been one of my favorite series of all time. Instead, it was the reruns of the originals on BBC America. I could watch those fun, odd little stories of Season One (Ghost in the Machine, Ice, Fallen Angel, Genderbender, Young at Heart, Darkness Falls), and the arc of Season Two, appreciating them, all over again. There were the episodes that addressed serious questions about the nature of reality, asked by two whip-smart agents with different approaches to their cases, played by two intelligent actors who looked impossibly young. This led me to rereading my stories, then, eventually, wanting to pick up and finish what I started.

But, there was still this larger cloud from the wider world to address, and a fine vehicle to do so, which brings me to that other series I reference in touches large and small throughout this story: The Prisoner. Now, those of you who have never seen McGoohan's masterpiece should clear a weekend to spend time with the 17 episodes involved – ignore the day-glow Sixties colors and the random appearances of antiquated technology, and pay attention to what the series is saying. You see, this is what television could be, and should be. It asks questions about authority, society, and the right of the individual to exist, all in a package that spans spy stories, science fiction, political intrigue, and even America's myth of the Western. I saw this series first when I was in college, and the questions it raised haunt me to this day. Further, the show was a trailblazer for television that few have followed. We would never have had Twin Peaks without Fall Out, nor would the Psy-corps of Babylon-5 been born without The Village. X-Files touches, only briefly, on some of the themes The Prisoner spotlights so intensely (Anasazi, cough, Anasazi), but not nearly as often as it should have. I suspect such is the case because the latter-season X-F creative team just didn't want to look that hard inside themselves, which serious wrestling with the themes of The Prisoner forces one to do.

There is no way to write a crossover between the two series; they're simply too different. However, the themes and arcs could be brought over, if modified to fit in an X-Files universe. Through those, I realized, I could address my disenchantment with the state of current affairs, which has affected all facets of our society. Everyone, certainly, has been put under stress, but especially women, which is why it is Scully who gets put through the wringer this time around. With all the changes our culture has seen, women, for all their talents, education, and labor, have still not broken the ultimate glass ceiling. There have been changes in the past few months for the better. But we are not, yet, at the place in our culture where women are accepted simply as human beings, capable of great things, who can go as far as their many different talents and interests allow. Women are still being straight-jacketed into one role, one fate, pressured to bend and shuffle to appease constricting powers and forces completely out of their control, for no reason other than they are not male.

So, here we are. I have no real time, outside of weekends, to write, but, I had made a promise to my readers, years ago: real myth, in a real arc, and we're still not finished. There is no point in telling the beginning and middle of a story, but not the end, where all the themes and plots come into final focus and fruition. We have met the incarnations of the first two faces of the Triple Goddess, hinted at in Twelfth Night, in the first two trilogies, while the third is just coming into view. I have had E-mails over the years, asking when I was really going to reunite Mulder with his sister, which I had always intended to do in this story, because, you see, Samantha is Persephone, one of the myths in my myth-arc. She has to return, or else we will never have spring.

Further, there are broader horizons, beyond the personal, for the partners to address. The question for Mulder at the end of Zurvan: What does a man do with the rest of his life once he thinks he has all his answers, remained. In life, as in science, one never has all the answers, just more questions; in this story, I was able to give him some, and from an unlikely source. Scully, too, has achieved some of that professional recognition she has always sought, which has just led to further complications for her in her life, professionally and personally. Their parallel and interconnected stories will continue to play out through the remaining two novels, now that they are no longer "the FBI's most unwanted."

Let me close with a few references, for those who are interested.

Scully's Cavalli-Sforza, still in print: "The History and Geography of Human Genes" by L. L. Cavalli-Sforza, P. Menozzi, and A. Piazza, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1994, ISBN 0-691-08750-4, 1086 pp. Of those pages, 526 are maps and color plates, so our Doctor is one very dedicated reader!

For a more recent view: "Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past" by David Reich, Pantheon Books, a division of Penguin Random House L.L.C., New York, New York, 2018, ISBN 9781101870327, 335 pp.

On the hero for scientists and mystics both: "Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition" by Frances A. Yates, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1964, paperback edition, 1991 ISBN 0-226-95007-7, 466 pp.

Or, for a more recent reference: "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey - The Voyage Continues, Episode 1: 'Standing Up in the Milky Way'" written by Ann Druyan and Steven Soter, directed by Brannon Braga, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, and produced by Livia Hanich and Steven Holtzman. Original air date: March 9, 2014. Available on Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Blu-ray Cat. # 2293207.

Scully's catalogue of the evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence from the shape-shifters's homeward-bound ship shares similarities with the characteristics of Oumuamua, minus the patterned EM signatures, of course. For some opposing views on this first object to be definitively identified as from outside the solar system, try:

Bialy, S., and A. Loeb, "Could Solar Radiation Pressure Explain 'Oumuamua's Peculiar Acceleration?", The Astrophysical Journal Letters, vol. 868, no. 1, 2018 November 12, (If interested, please send me a private message and I'll send you the link. The editing script strips these out.).

Katz, J. I. "Evidence against non-gravitational acceleration of 1I/2017 U1 'Oumuamua", Astrophys Space Sci (2019) 364:51, (If interested, please send me a private message and I'll send you the link. The editing script strips these out.).

I'll also send people to NASA's web-page: (If interested, please send me a private message and I'll send you the link. The editing script strips these out.) and the Wikipedia entry on Oumuamua: (If interested, please send me a private message and I'll send you the link. The editing script strips these out.). They are quite extensive, and survey the controversy dispassionately.

If Surfer Dud was capable of actually doing a little reading (and thinking), Oumuamua would have made for a perfect X-File, although, as someone who works in space exploration, I would agree with Scully on the issue. Scully's and Mulder's arguments would be epic.

Now, a few words on The Forty. I had always wanted to create a genuine secret society for Scully and Mulder to investigate over the course of the Sandra Ann Miller Trilogy, so I had seeded several hints throughout Zurvan and Anath of this part of the story to come. But, I didn't, initially, grasp how it would involve them personally. Once I did, though, many of my earlier threads wove into place, almost as I wrote. It also set up a longer skein I'll be following through the remaining novels.

There are many, many references on secret societies, some instructive, some not. Of interest for Chermera was: "The Origins of Freemasonry – Scotland's century 1590-1710" by David Stevenson, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1988, ISBN 0 521 39654 9 (paperback), 264 pp.

To meet the original Atrebates, Suebi, Helvetii, etc. I'll direct you to the latest (but fortunately, not the last) of the Landmark series: "The Landmark Julius Caesar: The Complete Words – Gallic War, Civil War, Alexandrian War, African War, and Spanish War", edited and translated by Kurt A. Raaflaub, Series Editor Robert B. Strassler, Pantheon Books, a division of Penguin Random House L.L.C., New York, New York, 2017, ISBN 978-0-307-37786-9, 785 pp. It is accompanied by many reference essays on-line (If interested, please send me a private message and I'll send you the link. The editing script strips these out.), for those who want to learn more about the various titles and laws The Forty use and refer to among themselves. Sadly, I could never work an excuse into the story for our Oxford-educated G-man to spout Julius's famous opening words, Gallia est omnia divisa in partes tres. But, I have two more novels to go!

For a sense of how the archipelago between France, Norway and Denmark, Iceland, and Greenland that we refer to as "Great Britain" or the United Kingdom could have built up such far-flung connections to the rest of the world, so that The Forty could consider themselves shepherds of the entirety of the human race, I'll offer these possibilities.

First, all islands are crossroads, so there is political, cultural, and genetic exchange that goes on anywhere there are isolated outcroppings of land in the ocean. For the genetic: "The Origins of the British – A Genetic Detective Story: The Surprising Roots of the English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh" by Stephen Oppenheimer, first published in the UK by Constable, an imprint of Constable & Robinson, Ltd, and in the US, by Carroll & Graf Publishers, an imprint of Avalon Publishing Group, Inc. New York, NY, 2006, ISBN-13: 978-0-78671-890-0, ISBN-10: 0-7867-1890-0, 556 pp.

Second, there were those astonishing centuries where, through the vagaries of history, these small islands made political and personal connections with most of the rest of the globe to dominate it: "The Isles: A History" by Norman Davies, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, ISBN 0-19-513442-7, 1999, 1264 pp. Among many, many other texts, of course.

The peoples of dal Riata, or Dalriada, depending on your preference, formed, so far as surviving histories record, one of the first "kingdoms" uniting major parts of Scotland with sections of Ireland, beginning in the Fifth Century, or, shortly after the departure of the Romans and the abandonment of Hadrian's Wall. Much reference material I wanted to consult was out of print, so I used:

"The Oxford Companion to Scottish History" edited by Michael Lynch, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2001, reprinted 2007, 2011, ISBN 978-0-19-969305-4, 758 pp.

"Scotland – A New History" by Michael Lynch, Pimlico Press, London, UK, 1991, with multiple reprints, ISBN 9780712698931, 528 pp.

To understand what it means to be a Daughter of the Enlightenment, I can think of no better set of texts than Jonathan I. Israel's epic odyssey from Descarte through to the U.S. Constitution:

"Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750" by Jonathan I. Israel, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2001 (hardback), 2002 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-19-925456-9 (paperback), 832 pp.

"Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670-1752" by Jonathan I. Israel, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2006 (hardback), 2008 (paperback), ISBN 978-0-19-954152-2 (paperback), 1007 pp.

"Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights, 1750-1790" by Jonathan I. Israel, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, 2011, ISBN 978-0-19-954820-0, 1082 pp.

Or, for the Cliff Notes version:

"A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy" by Jonathan Israel, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2010, ISBN 978-0-691-14200-5, 292 pp.

Lastly, some background on La Serenissima:

Scully's Norwich is the English-language history of the Republic that is sold in Venice's museum gift shops, so it must capture, to some extent, the way the Venetians, who can be reticent with outsiders, see themselves: "A History of Venice" by John Julius Norwich, Volume One (1977) and Volume Two (1981) published by Allen Lane, London, UK, US hardcover (1982) by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York, NY, Vintage Books Edition (paperback), published by Random House, New York, NY, 1989 (multiple reprintings), ISBN 0-679-72197-5 (paperback), 702 pp.

For later chapters in Venice's story:

"Daniele Manin and the Venetian Revolution of 1848-49" by Paul Ginsborg, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1979, ISBN 0 521 22077 7, 435 pp. Interesting fact: Manin is the only person honored by being entombed in a sarcophagus in the walls of St. Mark's Cathedral.

"Paradise of Cities: Venice in the Nineteenth Century" by John Julius Norwich, Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., USA, 2003, ISBN 0-385-50904-9, 360 pp.

For the art (mostly in black and white, sadly, so take a trip to see it in all its glory in place):

"Venice: Lion City – The Religion of Empire" by Barry Wills, Washington Square Press (paperback) a registered trademark of Simon and Schuster, Inc., New York, NY, 2001, ISBN 0-671-04764-7, 416 pp.

Finally, for those who will never have the opportunity to step inside the actual Consiglio dei Dieci in the Doge's Palace in Venice, try: (If interested, please send me a private message and I'll send you the link. The editing script strips these out.). There's a wonderful interactive projection that lets you scroll and zoom around all the walls and the ceiling. When I had the opportunity to visit in person, back in 2005, I was thrilled to see the representation of Hermes and Athena in Ponchino's "Mercury and Minerva" opposite Veronese's "Juno Showering Gifts on Venice" on the ceiling. It's one of the few places in Western Art where Hermes and Athena appear together without the other Olympians and I made a mental note to work it somehow into one of these stories.

I must say, picking up the the Kuxan Sum cycle again was like a long reunion with very old friends. The X-F universe has such possibilities for story-telling I have had a wonderful time, over the past 11-17 months, re-inhabiting it. The story-lines fell in place rather easily, although, putting a character for whom I have such great affection through the gauntlet of Once Upon a Time was more emotionally traumatic than I expected it to be. (It was originally supposed to take all seven days for Scully to defeat Krycek!) Mulder and Scully do get to Venice in the third novel, and on a case. I promise.

Be Seeing You!

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Begun: August 2018

Finished: December 2019

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