[XFVCU] 1x07 Prism

by Deslea R. Judd, CindyET, Emily M, Eodrakken Quicksilver, Lara Means, and Maidenjedi

EPHEMERAL/GOSSAMER: *NO ARCHIVE* (already done).

This story is part of the XFVCU Virtual Series. See past episodes at http://xfvcu.deslea.com, and watch for next week's episode, Fort Sumter by Lara Means. Reyes is reunited with her old mentor to investigate a series of murders going back forty years - but with roots even older than that.

Prism
XFVCU Episode 1x07
An XFVCU Team Collaboration
Copyright 2003

DISCLAIMER: Characters not ours.
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep our names, headers, and footers. RATING: PG13.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Set eighteen months after The Truth. CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Post-series, casefile, XFVCU. SUMMARY: A killer with a penchant for games poses a challenge to the entire team - and a crisis for one of their number.
VIRTUAL SERIES SITE: http://xfvcu.deslea.com AUTHOR SITES: See the notes at the end. FEEDBACK: xfvcu@deslea.com

NOTE: This story is a collaborative effort by Deslea, CindyET, Emily M, Eodrakken Quicksilver, Lara Means, and Maidenjedi. The "Prism" of the title is twofold - the different view of the perpetrator by each agent, and the different view of the agents by the authors. Writing credits are listed in full at the end.

[1]

Her name was Yolanda.

He will think of her at odd moments throughout his life. Sometimes he will see himself as her victim, held tight in her embrace as she draws his life away. Sometimes he will be her cohort, watching as she takes one life after another, basking in horrified delight and imagining that one day she will derive from it the union she craves. Sometimes he will be her lover, sinking into her, filling her with his seed and wishing it would take root inside her and make her human once more.

Sometimes they will be what they really were - adversaries, locked so deep in each others' heads it was as though he was inside her. Those times, he will think of her that last day, and he will know that it was the only thing to be done, but he will never accept that it was right. It was wrong, and he will log it with a thousand other wrongs and never forget that it was wrong.

It is a miserable excuse for integrity. He knows this. But when she reaches out to him from within the recesses of his faltering mind in the final moments of his life, he will be glad that he held fast to it anyway. He will thank her for strengthening his resolve.

And then he will take her hand, and he will meld with her once more.

[2]

Somewhere, a cellphone was ringing.

"It's not mine," Diana mumbled.

Jeffrey groaned. "It's five a.m.," he protested. "Who the fuck wants me at this hour?" He pulled himself up out of bed and picked up his jacket off the floor. The ring grew louder as he got it out of his pocket. "Yeah," he said, stumbling back into bed and pulling the covers around him.

"It's Brad. Where are you?"

"Diana's," he said. "She says she hates you."

Follmer made a sound of amusement. "We've got a case. Body found up in Baltimore in the water. Want me to swing by and pick you up?"

"Thanks," Jeffrey said, pleasantly surprised. They were on easier terms these days, but still, they tended to keep their boundaries up, even now. "That would be good."

"I'll be there in twenty minutes." He hung up.

Diana was already up, pulling on her dressing gown. "I'll make coffee," she said.

"Oh, Diana, go back to sleep," he said, knowing it was useless.

"I'm awake now. May as well get moving."

He made a gesture of defeat. "Thank you," he said, and he showered and dressed as quickly as he could.

By the time he emerged, she was dressed, the kitchen smelled appealingly of coffee, and she was typing on the computer, smiling in the light of the screen. "Alex says hi," she said over her shoulder.

"Just Alex?" he said, gulping his drink down.

"They had a late night. Some kind of political dinner. And Marita's not a morning person - especially now."

"That VA fundraiser. Yeah." He nodded, taking his cup back to the kitchen. "What's on the agenda for you two today?"

"UFO sightings in Alabama. Almost certainly a false report - we've been there before."

"Hack work, then."

"Pretty much. We're taking it easy, heading out on a nine o'clock flight."

"Think of me while I'm slumming it in Baltimore," he said as headlights shone in through the windows. "There's my ride."

"Will do," she said, kissing him when he leaned down on his way past.

He let himself out.

[3]

"So. What is it, and why is it ours?"

"Similarity to a case we had a couple of years ago," Follmer said, keeping his eyes on the road. "A man drove his car over a drawbridge into the Potomac. Witnesses say there was a woman with him. She wasn't found, but when they fished him out, there was bruising on his ankle. As though he'd been pulled down."

"Do we have an ID?" Jeffrey wondered.

"Going by the licence plates, guy's name is Andrew Gawler. He works for the Environmental Protection Agency. He's been in the news a bit lately, speaking out about clean water."

"Where's the connection?"

He looked at his partner, askance, but then the lines of his face eased out. "Sorry, Jeffrey. I forgot. This one came down the pipe while you were...away." He cleared his throat. "It's a carbon copy of a case a couple of years ago. Guy named Carl Wormus, also an EPA guy, also with a bee in his bonnet about water purity, murdered in identical circumstances."

"We didn't catch the killer?"

"Not in any formal sense. But according to Monica, it was Shannon McMahon. She admitted to it pretty openly. Something about averting contamination of the water supply. I'm not clear on all of the specifics - I wasn't in on the operation until just after that - but she's emailing us the report."

Jeffrey frowned. "Shannon's gone respectable these days, though, hasn't she? She was court-martialled for breaching her security clearance if I remember rightly."

Follmer nodded. "They backed down and gave her an honourable discharge, I think. But we know she gave information to Knowle Rohrer about the Buchanan case. She's not above suspicion."

"But something this blatant-"

"Oh, I know. I don't think it was Shannon. I think someone's gone out of their way to create an X File." He pulled in to a gas station. "I need to fill up. Want anything?"

Jeffrey shook his head. "Thanks."

Follmer took his time paying, and stocked up on candy while he was there. Despite his refusal, Jeffrey had a sweet tooth, and Brad was trying very hard to get along with him. Fighting simply took too much time away from the job, and these days, they needed all the time they could get.

"So are we going to have any problems with the local P.D.?" Jeffrey asked when he got back in the car.

"Doesn't look like it. The diver who fished out the body also worked the Wormus case. He was the one who suggested it might be one for us. The local precinct is swamped, and they were happy for an excuse to palm it off."

Jeffrey shot him a look. "It's too easy."

Follmer gave a single nod, but he didn't reply.

[4]

"Medically, it's an open and shut case," the coroner said, peering up at the crane that worked even now on pulling the dead man's car from the Potomac. "Hardly worth getting out of bed for."

"Someone could have mentioned that," Jeffrey muttered.

"Has an autopsy been performed?" Follmer wondered, suppressing a grin.

"Nope. Accident happened at two-thirty. By the time I got here, the decision had already been made to call the feds. He's halfway to Quantico by now. But I can tell you right now, it's not rocket science. He went in the drink, someone held him down by the ankle, and he drowned." He shrugged. "Going by the pattern of the bruising, I'd say your suspect is a very strong woman, or possibly a man with very small hands. That tallies with the witnesses - they say there was a woman riding with him."

"Surely the perpetrator would have drowned in normal circumstances, too, though," said Follmer. He wanted the coroner to suggest a hybrid perpetrator before he did. That would go down better with Jeffrey.

The coroner held up his hands. "I stay out of that creepy shit. As far as I'm concerned, your perp was a scuba diver. If that makes me a fool, it also makes me one who can sleep at night."

Jeffrey was smirking.

Follmer gritted his teeth. "Well. Thank you."

"No problem. I'm going back to bed. Detective Portia over there will tell you anything else you need to know."

"Very smooth, Brad," Jeffrey said as an aside as the coroner departed.

Follmer shrugged. "Just covering all the bases."

"It could be a scuba diver, you know."

"Yeah, she pulled a tank out of her pocket and put it on while the guy wasn't looking. Come on."

Jeffrey shrugged, mimicking him. "Just covering all the bases."

He ground his teeth again, but said nothing.

[5]

"We were lucky," Detective Portia said, leading them to the wreckage of the car. "Usually there's virtually nothing useable at a water scene. Hair and fibre is lost or contaminated, fingerprints washed away. But this time...we got lucky."

"There's a surprise," said Jeffrey, with a sidelong look at his partner.

Portia was oblivious to the sarcasm. "It was. We got an earring. It was caught on the upholstery."

"A distinctive design, by any chance?"

"Quite. A garnet set into silver. The sort of thing you'd pick up at a flea market. Thirty bucks at a guess."

Follmer nodded in recognition. Monica used to buy things like that. "Can we see it?"

Portia nodded. "Right this way."

[6]

"Your name is Shannon McMahon, you're thirty-eight years old, and you're formerly a Master Sergeant in the USMC, honourably discharged last year, is that correct?"

The dark-haired woman before them sat back, crossing her arms. "Honourable only in name. I'm pretty disreputable in enlisted circles these days. They don't take too kindly to breaking ranks." She shrugged a little. "What's this about?"

Follmer leaned forward. "Miss McMahon, two years ago you disclosed to Agent Doggett that you killed Carl Wormus." Her easy expression faltered, but she merely waited for him to continue, and he didn't press her. She'd been careful not to admit to the crime before witnesses, and there was no forensic evidence. That was a case they'd had to forfeit even after she resurfaced. "I am not going to ask you to comment on that incident at this time. However, are you aware that an identical murder took place overnight?"

"Identical in what sense?" Shannon wondered.

"Same place, same M.O., same victim profile. Can you account for your whereabouts last night?"

"I was a speaker at a fundraising dinner for medical relief for test subjects in Washington. It went late. Several hundred people can vouch for me until eleven p.m. Even a couple of your own people, in fact - the Kryceks were there. Marita was a speaker as well."

Follmer glanced at Jeffrey, wondering whether they or Diana had mentioned the event. Jeffrey gave a slight nod. "What about after that, Miss McMahon?"

"A group of us sat up in the bar, drinking. Gulf vets, mostly. It was your standard war stories bull session - how we worked hard and fucked hard and don't we have balls of steel. All that crap. At least a dozen people could vouch for me until five this morning."

"Can you provide their names?"

Shannon nodded. She rummaged on her desk for a notepad, found one, and began to write, consulting her PDA from time to time. "So am I a suspect?" she wondered. She didn't seem particularly concerned about the idea.

Follmer glanced at Jeffrey. Gave a single nod.

Jeffrey took the lead. "Assuming your alibi checks out, no, you're not. Our thought is more that someone is trying to create a case matching yours - possibly with a view to framing or discrediting you. Do you have any enemies?"

Shannon laughed. "Agent Spender, I'm a test survivor who advocates for veterans victimised by our government. I have about two hundred million enemies in this country alone. You of all people should know that."

Jeffrey flushed, and the nerves in his cheek made his last, residual scarring flicker, but he went on regardless. "Anyone specific?"

She shrugged. "No-one springs to mind. Anyone active in the test survivor community would have known about the dinner, and that rules out just about everyone. If the objective was to frame me, they didn't do their staff work."

Follmer frowned. It occurred to him that it might be a job from within - a clumsy, easily disproven attempt to frame Shannon that might then be blamed on her enemies to discredit them. "Who would we talk to for more information about the dinner? Who organised it?"

"Lots of people, but you could start with my aide. She's my eyes and ears. Her name is Yolanda Wainwright." Shannon glanced down at her watch. "You can use this office to speak to her if you wish, but I need to leave you. I have a meeting upstairs."

Both the partners nodded and rose. "Thank you," said Follmer. "Before you go, can I just ask if this is familiar to you at all?" He pulled the evidence bag with the earring from his pocket and handed it to her.

Shannon's eyelids flickered.

"Not at all. Sorry."

Follmer shrugged. "It's not a problem," he said easily. "Could you have this aide of yours sent in to talk to us?"

"Of course," said Shannon. Her face was bland. Inscrutable. She looked from one to the other one last time, and then she left them.

[7]

"What do you think?"

Follmer looked down at the earring. "She knows where this came from. Beyond that, it's hard to know. I can't help thinking, if she was part of this she'd be smarter about it."

Jeffrey nodded. "So what are we looking for here?"

"Either someone very stupid, or very smart, depending on what they were trying to achieve."

"Either way, it has to be someone who knows what Shannon did to that guy two years ago."

"Right."

They were interrupted by the door opening behind them. "Agents Follmer and Spender?"

They turned. The voice belonged to a woman, standing patiently in the doorway. Dark hair, not as solid as Shannon. Younger - maybe ten years younger.

"Ms Wainwright?" Follmer said.

"That's right. Miss McMahon said you wanted to see me. Sit," she added. They complied, and she did the same, coming around Shannon's desk to sit at the seat her employer had vacated. "What's this about?"

"How long have you worked for Miss McMahon?" Jeffrey asked, bypassing the question completely.

"Twelve years, on and off. She was my commanding officer in the first Gulf War," she said. "I got a medical discharge last year, after the news broke, and I needed a job. Shannon had just started working for Veterans' Affairs, and she gave me one."

"You're a test subject?" Jeffrey said kindly.

Yolanda nodded.

"What sort?" Follmer said roughly. He didn't like to do it, but Jeffrey didn't leave him much choice. Damn the way he lost his edge with them. It happened every goddamn time.

He'd expected coldness from Yolanda, maybe defensive anger, but she looked at him with sudden warmth. Almost as though she approved. It puzzled him.

"I'm a supersoldier," she said. "Version 2.0, Shannon calls it. The Gulf War model. That was what prompted her to tell Marita to start with, you know. She found out what they were going to do in the fall of 1990, and she talked until she found someone who would listen. Marita started digging, told your deputy director, and the rest, as they say, is history."

Ignoring Jeffrey's look of warning, he said, "Ms Wainwright, do you have pierced ears?"

She laughed. "Agent Follmer, that's a trick question with our kind. Piercings heal up, you see." She smoothed back her hair, baring an unblemished earlobe for emphasis. "But I have been known to pierce them for special occasions."

"Such as the fundraiser?"

She inclined her head.

"Agent Follmer," Jeffrey cut in, "can I see you outside for a second?"

Follmer stifled a sigh, and nodded. "Can we use the outer office for a moment, Ms Wainwright?"

Yolanda was transparently amused. "Go ahead."

"Way to kill a perfectly good interrogation, Jeffrey," he hissed when they got outside.

"We shouldn't even be interrogating her! I saw how you went after her when you heard about her medical discharge. You're only after her because she's a test subject."

"Yes, I am. You know why? Because only a test subject could have done this one. Not to mention the fact that she almost certainly knows about Wormus." He made an exasperated sound. "You know, sooner or later, you're going to have to start seeing these people as suspects, or one of them's going to get the drop on you."

Jeffrey opened his mouth, clearly ready with an indignant reply, but they were interrupted by Yolanda. She opened the door to Shannon's office and cleared her throat.

"You do know that enhanced hearing is part of the package with us, right?"

Both partners shifted uncomfortably. Follmer coughed.

"Well. If that's all, gentlemen, I need to get on with things. We've got a stack of photographs through from last night and I need to sort out the best ones for release to the media." She passed between them and went to her desk. "Here's one with your people," she said, picking one up and holding it out. "Have it as a souvenir."

Jeffrey took it, nonplussed, and Follmer looked over his shoulder. Marita and Alex were there, standing back on the left, Marita's free hand perched on the top of her belly as she sipped orange juice from her glass. Alex was smiling at her. In a huddle near them, Shannon, Yolanda, and two men were talking. Follmer vaguely recognised one of the men as a senator, but it was not this that drew his attention. It was Yolanda, in sharp focus on the extreme right. Her dark hair was drawn back, and she was wearing those silver-and-garnet earrings.

"Ms Wainwright," he said, pointing to the earrings in the picture by way of explanation to Jeffrey. "I'd like you to accompany Agent Spender and myself to Baltimore Field Office for questioning."

If she was disturbed by this, she didn't show it. A smile played around the corners of her mouth. "Am I under arrest?"

Follmer glanced at Jeffrey. They didn't have enough, and they both knew it. "Not at this time."

"Then no, I don't think I will." She rose from her desk. "But I'll tell you what, Agent Follmer. Why don't you come for a walk with me? You can ask what you want to ask, and maybe I'll answer. Meanwhile, Agent Spender here can go and pump all my colleagues for information about my movements and research my background and whatever else he needs to do while you keep me occupied."

Not for the first time that day, Follmer had a nagging feeling that he and Jeffrey had been played from start to finish.

"Why not?" he said, more confidently than he felt. "Agent Spender?"

"Whatever you want," said Jeffrey, looking from him to Yolanda in apparent confusion. He could see the connection he seemed to have made with Yolanda, Follmer could tell, and it bugged him because he was outside it.

Not that Follmer understood it any better himself.

"Then it's settled," said Yolanda. She nodded to the door, and started walking. "Agent Follmer?"

He followed her.

[8]

"Why did you do it?"

Yolanda laughed. "I gave you more credit than that, Agent Follmer." She looked younger, laughing there in the morning sun, and it occurred to him that she must have looked like this when she was changed. She was, what, seventeen back then? He tried to imagine it - tried to imagine going off to war in the first place at that age - and he couldn't.

"Oh, I know you wanted to give us an X File. You knew about Wormus, but you admire Shannon and you didn't want to implicate her, so you handed us a carbon copy on a night when she had a cast-iron alibi." He frowned. "But that doesn't explain why you did it. Why you wanted us. The motive beneath the motive."

"That's poetic. More poetic than I'd expect from a man like you." She sighed with seemingly genuine regret. "I can't answer that one, Agent Follmer. If I did, it would defeat the purpose."

He frowned. "I don't understand."

"No, I know you don't," she said reflectively. "But you will."

"How?" he demanded. "You handed us this, Yolanda. On some level, you must want us to solve it. So throw me a bone here."

Yolanda was smiling. "Tell you what. Let me make you a proposition."

"It's a bit early in the day."

"Very funny." She went on, "You get your team to question me. Each one of them, one on one. If you can figure out why I did it, I'll give you a confession. Signed, sealed and delivered."

"You've got to be kidding."

She shook her head. "It's no joke. I'm interested to see what you come up with. Seriously."

Follmer shielded his eyes against the sun. "Do you have any idea how overworked we are? I can't send for them all for something like this. What guarantee do we have that you'll live up to this bargain of yours?"

"My word. As a Marine." Her expression was suddenly grave.

He thought about it. If nothing else, it was a unique opportunity to do some fact-finding about supersoldiers from the source. To separate the fact from the mythology. Deep down, he knew perfectly well that most of the agents would jump at the opportunity. Scully and Doggett might quibble about it, but their partners would bring them around.

"All right," he said at last. "You've got yourself a deal."

[9]

Krycek met her in a churchyard on the high ground of the city, where Baltimore started to turn into Baltimore County. It was historic, this place; people of interest were buried here. But today it was too grey for tourists - heavy warm smog, and humidity threatening to become rain. On sunny days the churchyard was historic; today it was just old. The noise of cars gliding back and forth on the cracked road was a muffled white roar, but there were no people, no one to hear them.

As he walked up, she was standing with her coat held around her, peering down at a set of graves. She would have looked absorbed, but he could somehow tell that she was paying close attention to his approach.

"A mother and her son," she said. "His wife is on the other side. Do you think he loved his mother more?" She sounded bemused.

"I thought we were here for an interrogation," he said, "not a eulogy."

She looked up at him evenly. "First, turn that thing off."

Krycek flinched. "What?"

"I can hear the tape recorder in your pocket," she continued patiently. "It makes a high-pitched humming noise, and I can hear it. It was almost covered up by the sound of the myoelectric mechanisms of your arm -" she gestured to it "- but not quite."

Krycek looked at her for a moment. Then without a word, he took the little recorder from his pocket, held it up, and clicked it off.

"Cheaters never prosper, Agent Krycek." A smile played about her lips, and she turned to stroll further up the hill.

He followed her. They walked carefully around the little stone church, using the square stepping stones in the slick, muddy grass.

"So what's the game here?" he asked. "You're playing Spender and Follmer for fools, I can see that much." They paused in front of a set of stone tombs. "Playing Roadrunner to the authorities' Coyote. Paint a yellow dotted line, and watch us run our faces smack against the wall." He placed his palm flat against the incised letters on the front of one of the tombs, and leaned against it a bit.

"I'm not toying with Agent Follmer," she said.

Krycek raised an eyebrow at her.

The corner of her mouth twisted. "I intend to keep my word to him," she amended. "Divining my motive will earn you my confession."

He shrugged. "But what difference would it make if I tried to question you? You're the one who set up this game, and you're holding all the cards. I question you, I don't question you - you've already got it in your head whether you're going to sign that confession or not, and if it's part of the plan that you tell me why you killed Andrew Gawler, then you'll tell me."

He observed her reaction carefully. She squinted into the sky with an unreadable expression and tucked a strand of black hair behind her ear. "That's an awfully defeatist attitude. It must do tremendous things for your case clearance rate." She leaned her shoulder against the corner of the church. "You're here - you obviously intend to question me. And why wouldn't you? Aren't you curious about me?"

"Of course," he said.

The wet wind blew some of her hair into her face. She jerked her head to flick it aside. "Then why not ask?"

"Because I think you're going to lie to me."

She laughed. "Sometimes we tell lies so often that we start to see them everywhere. Don't you find that to be true, Agent Krycek?"

His eyes narrowed. "You want to make this about me?"

She shrugged carelessly, pushing off the church wall and walking out among the cracked and weathered gravestones. "Why not? If you won't play my game, I'll just have to change the rules." She glanced at him over her shoulder to see if he was following. He was. "I wonder about you too, you know."

He breathed a short laugh. "So do a lot of people."

"I suppose that's true enough. But here's what I want to know." She stopped and turned to him. "When you look at me, do you see a beautiful woman? Or a beautiful machine?"

They stood there in the wet grass between the tombstones for a minute, looking at each other. The wind blew her hair across her face again; this time she didn't brush it away.

"I see both," he said.

She nodded. "That makes sense. You're an expert at seeing both sides, aren't you? And you know the line between a man and a monster-" she broke off. "They made me what I am. And they made you too. That's what they do: manufacture killers. Maybe they just haven't seen enough horror movies - they don't realise that the monster always turns on its creator."

He didn't let himself feel her words. "Did you ever actually read 'Frankenstein,' in school?" he asked casually. "What the monster really wanted was a mate."

She closed her mouth tightly.

"What do you want?" he asked. "You want to be arrested? Convicted? You want that? Do you realise -" he stood closer to her, and lowered his voice, though there was no one to hear. "Do you realise that prison isn't the worst thing that can happen to you?"

She paused. A flicker of some feeling passed across her face. "Follmer doesn't know that."

"No," Krycek said. The mist was starting to condense into rain again. "But there are people who do."

[10]

Diana sat in her car outside the diner, chewing a mint and trying to determine just how to go about this. The woman waiting for her inside was a piece of work, and what she'd gone through certainly hit home. Considering what Jeffrey had endured in the conspirators' abortive bid to make him what this woman had become, Diana was not without sympathy for her, but it was muted by antipathy and unease.

It wasn't that she was a killer. Diana worked side by side with killers. She considered one of them her closest friend. She trusted him with her back every day.

But in a way, that was exactly the problem. Watching Alex, all these years - watching him struggle with what he'd done and what he'd become - she couldn't find it within her to sympathise with this woman. Her cavalier attitude, her callous murder of a man simply to get their attention - it appalled her. It made a mockery of the integrity Alex had strived for when all around him seemed hell-bent on taking it away.

Diana crossed her arms, frowning. Whatever her feelings, she was going to have put on her game face and handle this like any other case. Any other suspect. Fastidiously, she checked her hair in the visor mirror, touched up her lipstick. Game face, she thought again. This is business.

She'd worn a pair of slacks, and refrained from wearing a jacket. She wanted to create an image that Yolanda could trust, something more feminine than what she might have come up against thus far. Diana was practical; she realised that it hardly mattered, because a suspect will either talk or she won't. Clothes certainly wouldn't swing the situation. But it couldn't hurt.

Looking in the window as she walked to the door, and seeing Yolanda dressed nearly identical to herself, Diana had a sinking feeling. Here was a woman who knew how to play the game, who would fall for no subtle diplomatic gestures. It'd been a long time since Diana had done this on her own, and she was questioning whether she could play the heavy.

Yolanda didn't look up when Diana took the seat across from her. She was reading a newspaper, and picked up a mug to take a sip of coffee. She immediately made a face.

She looked up then, and a Mona Lisa smile graced her face as she locked gazes with Diana.

"I never put in enough sugar." Her smile widened slightly as she reached for another white packet. "You're Agent Fowley, I presume."

Diana nodded, returning the smile. "And you're Yolanda Wainwright."

A waitress came up to the table, smacking her gum loudly. "What will you have?"

Diana didn't take her eyes off Yolanda, who did likewise. "Coffee would be fine."

"Decaf?" The waitress' voice was far away and echoed reflexively in Diana's ear.

"Regular's fine."

The waitress walked off, and Diana folded her hands on the table in front of her. The formica top was sticky and grains of sugar littered it in places.

Yolanda tapped her newspaper. "I see I've yet to make the front page."

"I didn't think you did it for the attention." Diana heard the edge in her voice and dug her nails into the backs of her hands.

Yolanda's gaze flickered down, and she looked at Diana again, not smiling at all this time. "I did it for the attention I got. Not all of us can afford to make up stories and hide in plain sight. Not all of us can claim miracles."

Diana didn't let her irritation show this time. Yolanda might not have been trying to bait her with that slight about Jeffrey. But she'd known so much about Alex, known the buttons to push and how far and when. It made Diana wary, and that was making her lose her usual cool.

The waitress came back, still popping her gum, and set a hot mug down in front of Diana. She didn't bother with sugar, and took a deliberately long sip, burning her tongue.

"What is this about, Yolanda? You want sympathy?"

"I want you, all of you, to pay closer attention. There's more at stake than you might have guessed."

Diana thought of the scar on Jeffrey's cheek, of the halfhidden accusations on the editorial page of the Post and the blatant ones on tabloids that made him swallow hard and clench his jaw. "I doubt that very much, Yolanda."

"Agent Fowley," she said it deliberately, demanding some proper use of titles, a little less familiarity. "I'm not unaware of what your colleagues have endured. But it isn't over. And you still haven't asked the right questions."

"Are you in danger?"

Yolanda swallowed some of her coffee, grimacing again and trying to pull her lips into a smirk. "When haven't I been? For that matter, when haven't you?"

"It's been a long time," Diana sighed and put her hands in her lap. She had the feeling that she knew this woman better than she wanted to. "Why did you do it, Miss Wainwright?" She tried to make the concession clear.

Yolanda looked out the window. "You'll find out, Agent Fowley. In the meantime, go home and make him feel loved. He needs it, because that scar on his cheek isn't the only one he escaped with."

She didn't look at Diana as she dropped a five-dollar bill on the table and left the diner. Her long dark hair swung slightly, and Diana imagined what her neck might look like underneath it.

She turned the newspaper around so she could see what Yolanda had been reading.

It was the editorial section of the Post. There was no reference to Jeffrey, but a caricature of a Marine, being guarded by a troop of grays on one side, and doctors on the other.

Diana went home and called Jeffrey, and let him know he was loved.

[11]

"I hope you don't mind me coming here," Jeffrey called, peering at the framed pictures on Yolanda's wall. He could trace the years with the patches on her arm.

Yolanda came out of the kitchen into the lounge. "Agent Spender, I'm your prime suspect in a first-degree murder case. I'm hardly in a position to object to you coming to question me." She handed him his coffee and paused at his side.

"I thought you might feel more comfortable at home." He pointed to one photograph, the oldest. "That one of you and Shannon McMahon - was that in the Gulf?"

She nodded. "Basra. It's very important to you that I feel comfortable. Why is that?"

Jeffrey shrugged. "Your kind, as you put it yesterday, haven't had the best experiences with law enforcement."

She snorted. "My kind are not served by preferential treatment, either."

He was taken aback. "Who says it's preferential?"

"Agent Spender, I read the transcripts of your testimony to the Congressional inquiry, and Agent Mulder's as well. You were a hard-ass back then. I'm assuming you still are, otherwise you wouldn't have a job. But not with us. Wouldn't you call that preferential?"

Jeffrey frowned, drinking from his mug to mask his confusion. This was a discussion he'd had many times with Brad, of course, but it was the first time he'd encountered it in a fellow test subject. She seemed to have some objection to his solicitude, and he hadn't the faintest idea of what it could be.

"It isn't preferential to tailor your responses to the individual," he said at last. "Not if you tailor them for everyone."

"And you just happen to tailor them for us on the basis that we're misunderstood nice guys. That's certainly what Shannon's PR machine would have you think," she said, nodding at the most recent picture, of herself and Shannon in civilian clothing. "Let me let you in on a little secret, Agent Spender. Not everyone they did this to was a good person. There are plenty of assholes who went to war. And there are plenty of people who weren't assholes when they went off to war who sure made up for it when they got home."

He wasn't quite sure how to respond to that. "What do you think of Shannon?" he asked abruptly.

The question seemed to jar her. "I - I admire her," she said at last.

"Why?"

She glanced at him sidelong. Wary. "She was the first," she said after a moment. "She and Knowle. I had her there to guide me after it happened. She didn't have anyone. I don't know how she did it."

"Must have been nice to have her there." Too late, he realised that the warmth suffusing his voice was a mistake.

She made a sound of disgust. "Jesus. I can't believe they let you out without a guardian. You wouldn't last five minutes in the NIS." She turned on her heel, calling over her shoulder, "Come with me, young Jeffrey. Let's talk."

He had the discomforting image of a dog trotting at its master's heels when he followed.

"Just for a minute," she said, passing through her front door onto the porch, "let's suppose that you were going to do some investigating during your sojourn through Yolanda Wainwright's early life." He felt his face grow hot with humiliation. "Why do you think I did it?"

"I think it was a cry for help." He leaned against the wall, aware too late of splinters from the wood cladding, but determined not to give up any more ground with her by showing discomfort.

She seemed unimpressed. "Really."

"I think you're grasping desperately for anything that might help you figure it all out. You did it to Shannon, and now you're doing it to us."

"I think you're projecting," she said over the top of her mug, leaning back against the railing. "I think you do it to us. Probably to your girlfriend Agent Fowley there, as well."

He didn't rise to the bait. "Why else would you have started this ridiculous charade?" he demanded, as though she hadn't spoken. He thought he saw a flare of approval in her eyes. "Why else would you have handed it to us on a platter?"

"What if you're wrong?" she snapped. "What if all this is just for kicks? What if I'm a fucking psychopath and I do it again and again and again?"

"Are you?" he wondered.

She held him levelly with her gaze. "You tell me."

[12]

"I just don't know."

Follmer didn't think he'd ever heard Diana betray doubt before. She exuded confidence and poise, and Yolanda had rattled her. He had no idea why.

"There was a lot of double-talk," she went on at last. "A lot of stock lines about us missing something important, about it not being over - as though she had political motives. But I don't think that's what's really going on here."

Krycek shook his head, sitting down on the arm of the couch beside her. "Neither do I. She speaks of being made into a monster, but it's personal. It's about her, not about them."

"She said I was asking the wrong questions," Diana said, "but I don't know what she wanted me to ask." She shook her head. "I got the feeling I wasn't really who she wanted to talk to."

"Going through the motions?" Follmer wondered.

"A little. As though she already knew she wasn't going to get what she wanted from me."

Follmer frowned. "But what does she want?"

Jeffrey spoke for the first time. "I don't think she knows. I don't think this is a test we have to pass, where she knows the answer and we have to guess. I think she's waiting for one of us to say the right thing, and she'll know it when she hears it."

Krycek sat forward. "Follmer, do you really think she's going to give you that confession?" He seemed genuinely curious.

Follmer shrugged. "The odds are against it. But I think she has a sense of fair play. Stranger things have happened."

Krycek's tone was careful. Measured. "Have you considered what you'll do if she does?"

"Oh, it'll be a political football when we charge her, but that goes with the territory."

Krycek opened his mouth, glanced at Diana, then shut it again. He said mildly, "I suppose."

Follmer filed away that look in his mind, and he asked Jeffrey about it later, but Jeffrey was as mystified as he.

[13]

Doggett tugged once, twice at his suit collar before giving in and pulling down his tie to undo the top button of his over-starched shirt collar. The air was heavy with humidity, and uncomfortably warm even in the shadow cast by the abandoned factory building in the late afternoon sun. He leaned back against the hood of his car, thinking too late that his pants were going to get filthy.

He saw her in silhouette at first. The sun was at her back, making him squint and casting an eerie glow around her. He relaxed a little as she stepped into the shadow and her features became clearer. The hard soles of her heels echoed against the buildings in the mostly deserted industrial park.

"Agent Doggett." She stood next to him, close enough that he had to crane his neck to look her in the eye.

"Ms Wainwright. I don't like games."

She laughed. Her laugh was light and pretty and seemed incongruous with the person he believed her to be. "A game perhaps, but there is a tantalising reward at the end. A signed confession must appeal to a cop such as yourself. And surely you enjoy the art of a good interrogation."

He shrugged. "This ain't exactly the sort of interrogation I'm used to."

She simply smiled and leaned back against the hood as well.

"You know," Doggett said, "I never got what they were thinking with you guys. It seems like a damn stupid thing to do in my opinion."

She looked at him, genuinely curious. "What's that?"

"Creating something that can't be killed. Anything with that much power is bound to be a hell of a lot more trouble than it's worth."

She nodded. "Desire - for anything, money or power or sex - it clouds judgement."

"Yeah, that's true," Doggett said. "So what clouded your judgement? You strike me as the sort of person who'd be after power."

She raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think my judgement was clouded?" she asked.

Doggett said nothing and looked out across the deserted parking lot. He wondered how sure they were that no one was listening. Krycek had told him about the experience with the recording device, so he supposed her hearing would tip them off to any eavesdroppers, but the idea was still there in his mind.

"You were a Marine," Yolanda said abruptly.

Doggett looked up at her apparent non-sequitur. "Yeah," he said.

"Does it occur to you that you could have been me?"

Doggett flinched. He rested his hands against the car hood. The metal was cool against his palms. "Sometimes." But just on days ending in 'y', he thought.

"I think you think about it more than 'sometimes,'" she said.

"I think we're talking about you and not me," Doggett said. How had he ended up on the defensive?

She nodded in apparent agreement, but asked "Do you believe in aliens, Agent Doggett?"

He frowned, annoyed with himself for allowing her to get control of the conversation and lead the topic away from herself. "It's kind of hard not to these days."

"I mean, do you believe that the aliens are the ones who created us?"

He shook his head. "No, I don't."

"Neither do I."

Doggett felt his eyes widen. "No?"

"No, I believe that the government used alien DNA, but I don't believe that they had any hand in what happened to me and the others," she said.

"There aren't many people who think that way any more."

"But you do. And I do. We aren't so different, you see."

He stopped himself from rolling his eyes. "We share the same theory and a job - a former job in my case. That doesn't make us the same. I don't list murder as one of my hobbies. I like to take my anger out on punching bags instead of people. You get angry?"

"Sometimes."

"Angry at the people who did this to you?"

"Would you be?"

"Hell yes. I'd be pissed off."

"Well then," she said quietly. He realised that she hadn't really answered her question, but he doubted she would either.

"So do you kill people when you're angry?" Doggett asked.

She laughed.

"Right," Doggett said. "It's never that easy, is it?"

[14]

Baltimore was not entirely unlike New Orleans, Monica thought as she made her way along the brick walkway down to the inner harbour. A city with a lot of history, a sense of worldly dilapidation. People had lived here a long time, not thinking about what they were doing. Layers and layers of people and smog and trash, all packed together. Rowhouses and landfills, and sardine-tight graveyards in the middle of city blocks.

Yolanda was sitting on a bench near the aquarium, a building that stood pressed up against the edge of the water. It was near the landing where the water taxis stopped, and the skeletal old trawler tethered there indefinitely, decaying under the unseasonable holiday lights strung across its masts. The afternoon was fading, and tourists trickled out of the aquarium in threes and fours, dragging cameras and backpacks and children. There was a knot of commuters on the landing under the bus stop sign, looking irritable and thin.

Yolanda was watching them all with the intensity of a wide-eyed child in front of the dolphin tank.

"Miss Wainwright?" Monica said quietly from behind her.

She barely turned at first, but then seemed to shake herself from a reverie, and got up. "We'll need to talk where there aren't people," she said in an oddly subdued tone, and started walking towards the abandoned shipyards.

Monica followed, and they walked until the brick became sinking gravel under their feet. They walked until the inner harbour was just a glow of light.

"I'm not sure why you asked for this," Monica said cautiously, trying to feel the suspect out. "And to be perfectly honest, I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to do."

"All you have to do is figure out why I kill."

"Don't you know?"

Yolanda said nothing.

"If you don't, then I can't really find out by asking you, I guess."

Yolanda still said nothing. They walked.

"You've killed others," Monica said.

Yolanda smiled. "What makes you say that?"

"Because you said 'tell me why I kill', not 'why I killed.' So you've killed before. You make a habit of it."

"I've killed many times," Yolanda said neutrally, stepping over a ground-down curb. "I was a Marine. It's part of the job description."

"But after the Gulf," Monica said. "Since then, you've killed more people. Civilians, like Andrew Gawler. He wasn't the first."

Yolanda shook her head, and shrugged. "Everybody dies."

"You don't," Monica said.

"No," Yolanda answered with a secret smile, and something in her eyes that Monica couldn't help seeing as pain.

They passed the skeleton of a warehouse, surrounded with parked cars and covered with elaborate graffiti. There were some kids on the upper level, setting up sound equipment. Their conversation drifted down in blurts and snatches on the breeze. When it was dark, this would be where the kids would come to dance all night and do ecstasy, and drink endless cans of Seven-Up to keep from passing out.

Yolanda paused in her tracks, sidled up closer to the row of still cars, and continued walking. Monica glanced behind them, looking for the reason. A full minute passed before she heard the growl of an over-tweaked engine, and then saw a battered red pickup truck carrying some equally battered teenaged boys.

"Hey ladies!" shrieked one as they roared past.

Once they were gone, Yolanda smiled again. "They wouldn't, if they knew what I was."

Monica had no answer for that. "Is it hard to deal with the heightened senses?" she asked instead, as they kept walking. "It must have been a long time since you've experienced total silence."

Yolanda seemed to hesitate, but nodded.

"A lot of the time it must seem like people are shouting. Would it be better if I lowered my voice?" Monica asked, doing so.

For a moment, a war of emotions played out over Yolanda's face - rage, delight, and grief. She settled on a stony look. "It isn't necessary," she said in a strained voice. "I'm used to the volume."

"You're used to people not considering your feelings," Monica said. "I think that's sad. Hardly anything is necessary. It's the unnecessary things that make life worth living...or even bearable."

Yolanda tossed her hair out of her face. "Should I expect others to accommodate me? Should I enjoy special treatment? As a citizen, I already enjoy equal protection under the law." There was an undercurrent of bitter sarcasm there. "If I demand additional rights, it can be seen as seeking undeserved favour."

Monica cocked her head. "I didn't say anything about the law. I don't think the common courtesy of speaking softly to someone with sensitive hearing is going to turn supersoldiers into an upper class immune to prosecution."

"It singles us out as different," Yolanda snapped.

"You are different," Monica returned gently. "But you're still human."

They must have walked all the way around somehow, because they found themselves on the edge of the harbour again. There were water taxis were slowly puttering their way across, their clusters of yellow lights like pinpoint constellations. The water was deep brown and darkening with the coming evening, scattered with floating debris and swelling like oil.

The water - the last thing that Andrew Gawler ever saw.

[15]

Follmer glanced sidelong at Yolanda. She was sitting in the passenger seat, looking placidly out the window. Content to sit and be silent. Her expression was serene.

The drive down to Washington was Mulder's idea. He wanted Yolanda off her home turf, at a maximum of inconvenience to herself. "Let's see what she does," he'd said. But so far Yolanda didn't seem to be biting. She hadn't commented when he arrived at her house half an hour late, and she hadn't complained when he bypassed I-95 for the turnpike.

"I need gas," he said, pulling into a rest stop. "Want anything?"

"Is that a trick question, Brad?" she asked with that calm smile of hers.

"You proposed this game, not me," he said. "It's just a question."

The smile faltered. "Sorry," she said, glancing away. "Soda."

"Okay."

He thought about it, frowning, while he filled up. Her guard was up, but that was to be expected. She'd been questioned five times in two days. That didn't necessarily amount to a chink in the armour.

More disconcerting than that was the shift in himself. He was conscious of growing sympathy for her, and it worried him. He knew his own weaknesses, and like most men, he counted beautiful young women among them. Had she tried to use it to her advantage, he'd have shut down like a trap.

But she hadn't - that was the bizarre thing about it. She fought against type - far from demure compliance, she was overtly calculating. She abhorred the idea of herself as a victim - that much was clear from her interview with Reyes. That probably accounted for her choosing him as her opposite number rather than Jeffrey. It was exactly that fact that made him wonder if his sympathies were not so misplaced.

He was a killer himself - a fact he had spent two years making peace with - and he worked with at least one other every day. Diana believed that was different, Krycek was different, but was it really? If he could excuse himself for his own brush with darkness, if he could excuse Krycek for being a tool of a system that nearly destroyed him, why not Yolanda?

But that was a progression that he wasn't willing to see to its logical end. Because every perp had a reason. That wasn't the same as being held accountable. It wasn't justice. Yolanda may have been denied justice for the violations committed upon her, but that did not absolve her for the violations she had committed on others, any more than it absolved him or Krycek. He and Krycek knew that, regardless of rulings of the courts. He wasn't so sure that was true of Yolanda.

Sighing deeply, he allowed himself one last look at her through the back window, and then he went in to pay.

[16]

Mulder led Yolanda to a set of low bleachers overlooking F Street's outdoor basketball court. This was a favourite spot of his; he used to spend lunch hours here, back in his earliest days with the Bureau. Sometimes he'd join a game. More often than not he just watched, letting his subconscious work out the details of a case, while the ball bounced against the pavement, lulling him with its comforting thunk, thunk, thunk.

Today a group of teenagers was playing three-on-three, and a lanky kid on the Skins' team was dominating the game, hogging the ball, roughhousing. Curses came from the Shirts when he ploughed past them to slam-dunk the ball.

Mulder motioned Yolanda to sit, then settled on the bench beside her.

"You don't dress like the other agents," she said, referring to his jeans and sneakers.

"I'm lobbying for Casual Wednesdays."

"Today is Tuesday."

"Well, you know what they say about the early bird."

He withdrew a bag of sunflower seeds from his coat pocket and offered them to her.

"No thank you." She waved him off. Her gaze wandered to the opposite end of the bleachers where a young couple was locked in an embrace, tongues embedded deeply into each other's mouths.

Across the court, an elderly man leaned against the chain link fence and tossed French fries to pigeons. One of the birds was missing a foot. Despite its deformity, it hobbled after the food with as much determination as the lanky ballplayer, who was once again skirting past the Shirts to sink a shot. It occurred to Mulder that if Yolanda were to lose a limb, she could grow it back, more easily than Leonard Betts could regenerate a head. It also occurred to him that she could snap his neck with one hand, if she were so inclined.

He glanced at her hands, which she held loosely in her lap. She had smooth, flawless skin. Long, delicately tapered fingers. No polish.

"Basketball is a great game...maybe the best game." He slipped a seed between his teeth and savoured its salty taste. "The perfect combination of physical skill, teamwork and fast action. You ever play?"

"Yes, but I didn't particularly enjoy it."

"No? What games do you enjoy?" He bit down on the seed, crunching it loudly. "Besides mind games."

"You think I'm playing mind games?"

"I'm the sixth agent to question you - at your request. Yes, I think you're playing mind games."

"You're wrong, Agent Mulder. I'm offering the FBI a chance to earn my confession. It's not my fault you're all too inept to ascertain my motives."

"Maybe your motive is simply to stop."

"Stop what?"

"Killing."

She dismissed him with a frown.

"Come on, Yolanda. The truth is you wanted to get caught," he said softly, masking his impatience. "You knew the FBI would make a connection between Gawler and Wormus. You counted on it." No doubt she expected to walk away from her crime, too, like Shannon McMahon. The Hybrid Protection Bill would help her.

On the court, tempers began to flare as the score neared 21. The young lovers seemed oblivious to the players' name-calling; the woman giggled when her boyfriend grabbed her breast and squeezed.

"Do you have a wife, Agent Mulder?" Yolanda asked, though she could hardly have been ignorant of Scully and William. Her gaze was fixed on the couple. "Children? A happy home to go to at the end of the day?"

He had no intention of telling this self-proclaimed killer anything about his family. "Aren't we here to discuss you?"

She continued to watch the lovers. The young man hauled the woman into his lap without breaking their kiss. "When I was little, I imagined I'd grow up to have a family...a doting husband, two or three cute kids, a dog that would fetch the paper. I suppose it's what every girl thinks she wants at one time or another."

"You're a long way from a split level and a white picket fence."

"True," she said without apparent rancour. "But sometimes I wonder..."

"Wonder what?"

She shook her head. "Immortality can be lonely, did you know that?"

"Murdering people tends to shrink your social circle."

"I didn't choose to be what I am."

"But you're okay with using it to your advantage."

"You know nothing about me."

"Isn't that why we're here?" He spit an empty hull onto the pavement and immediately replaced it with another seed. Across the court, the footless pigeon lunged for a fry, only to be chased off by the other birds.

She seemed not to notice the pigeons or the ballgame. Her focus remained on the lovers. "During the War, my squad was hit by friendly fire. A depleted uranium shell pierced our Bradley and detonated." She spoke without emotion. "We should have died."

"What happened?"

"We were torn up, badly burned. My arms were black, the flesh cooked, the fabric of my uniform was fused to my skin." Her tongue swept across her lower lip. "Rescue arrived; the medics looked horrified. When they tried to pull me from the wreckage, the skin came off my hands like a pair of gloves."

Mulder's throat tightened as he tried to imagine what it must have been like. "But...but you healed."

She held out her hands and studied them for a moment. "This isn't me," she said at last, giving Mulder his answers.

Becoming a supersoldier had severed Yolanda Wainwright's connection to her past. It forced her to abandon any hope of a normal life. In essence, it killed her.

She suddenly laughed, surprising him. "On the upside, I'll always be beautiful."

"But never human."

Her smile quickly faded. "You want to know why I killed Andrew?"

"I already know."

Her eyes widened and he thought he saw relief in them.

"Then tell me."

"Killing is an intimate act. You use it to bond with humans, to experience the mortality that was taken from you."

For her, being a participant in another person's death was like mating, he guessed. She killed because the act provided an emotional union, impossible for her to achieve in any other way. As insane as it sounded, killing made her feel alive, human, normal...as close to her original self as she could get.

The basketball bounced out of play and she caught it. Standing, she lobbed it at the hoop forty feet away. It passed through the net without touching the rim. The teenagers gaped. The lanky kid hooted with appreciation, which caused the lovers to break their kiss and the pigeons to scatter...all except the deformed bird. It grabbed a fry and gobbled it down.

"Interesting theory, Agent Mulder," Yolanda said.

"Interesting enough to earn a signed confession?"

"Interesting enough to make me think you may not be as inept as your colleagues."

[17]

Fell's Point. An historic neighbourhood, spared from destruction by fire and by progress. This little section of Baltimore's Inner Harbour had weight, significance. A Place in Human History.

But that wasn't why Scully chose it for her meeting with Yolanda Wainwright.

She stopped as she neared the waterfront and took a deep breath, relishing the clean, salty sea air. She missed this. It reminded her of her childhood. Of Ahab.

She wondered what her father would've thought of all this. Above all else, William Scully believed in order, rules. Today's world would sadden him, she thought. The lack of order, of things a person could count on. She'd taken Them at their word that the supersoldiers' abilities had been reversed. Everyone had. But they'd been lied to.

No, a person couldn't count on much these days.

Scully spotted the dark-haired woman walking along the Waterfront Promenade. She was reading the names carved into the bricks, seemingly fascinated. Scully approached her.

"Yolanda Wainwright?"

The woman looked up at her and smiled. "And you're Agent Scully."

"Are you psychic as well as a supersoldier?"

Yolanda shrugged. "You're the last one." She turned her attention back to the bricks. "There are names on almost all of these bricks. Why?"

"They donated money to complete construction of the Promenade. Carving their names into the bricks was a way to honour them."

Yolanda smiled, a bit wistful. "That's nice." Then she focused completely on Scully. "I would've thought Agent Mulder would tell you everything you'd want to know. So why are you here?"

"Mulder had his questions. I have mine."

"You're interested in the science of it all," Yolanda said, nodding. "How I came to be. What it's like, being a supersoldier." She began to walk along the Promenade, and Scully followed. "You don't know Shannon all that well so you can't ask her, and your other encounters with our kind have been...violent. So you thought you'd use our interview to fill in the gaps in your knowledge."

"That's part of it," Scully agreed reluctantly.

"Well, I hate to disappoint you, Agent Scully, but I really don't know much about how I was changed. I don't remember much of that time." Yolanda seemed to retreat inside herself momentarily - but it was only momentary. "As for what it's like...the physical power is intoxicating. You get accustomed to using it, to being stronger than everyone else."

"That's why it was so hard for you. Pretending to be normal." Scully saw the younger woman falter, and pressed on. "Repressing that need, that desire to be stronger, it's why you had to kill, isn't it?"

Yolanda stopped and turned to her, smiling again. "Are you trying to discern motive, Agent Scully? You're too late, Agent Mulder already did that."

"Not at all. I'm just trying to figure out how far from human you really are."

The smile left Yolanda's face as quickly as it had appeared.

"What was done to you," Scully continued, "was insidious. What was done to all of us was monstrous. But none of us had to lose our humanity in the process." Yolanda's eyes narrowed, and Scully knew she was treading on dangerous ground. "You've said that you admire Shannon McMahon. In a way, so do I. Without her, we wouldn't have been able to stop Them. And even though she's a supersoldier, even though she may be, technically, no longer human...she's certainly not inhuman."

With that, Scully turned and walked away. She could feel her heart pounding harder with each step, knowing how vulnerable she was with her back to the supersoldier. After a few steps, she stopped at the sound of Yolanda's voice.

"I could kill you in two seconds. You know that."

"Exactly my point."

Scully walked on, without a look back.

[18]

"It's all about sex."

Follmer blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

Mulder stretched out at Doggett's desk - his old desk. "She was seventeen when she was changed. She was a conscientious girl, probably a virgin. Killing was the first intimacy she knew. And now it's all mixed up together."

He closed his eyes. "Jesus." He sighed. "So what, she kills instead of mating?"

Mulder shrugged. "She probably does both. But I think for her the real bonding is in the kill. I doubt she's let anyone she cared for stay alive long enough to find out that there was another way."

"Giving them the thing she wants most," he murmured. He couldn't quite keep the pity from his voice.

Scully shifted her weight, crossing her arms. "You're not seriously feeling sorry for this woman. Plenty of our soldiers went through exactly the same thing, and they aren't running around killing people."

"Of course I'm not," he said. The assurance sounded hollow to his own ears.

"Good," Scully said. "Save your pity for those of us who didn't use what they did as an excuse to sell our souls."

He tried to see it her way. He even agreed with her intellectually. But Mulder's roughly-written transcripts were spread out on his desk before him, and he tried to imagine it - tried to imagine this monstrous girl watching her comrades dying around her, spared the indignity and the horror she had become. Imagined her longing to die and longing to love and not being able to do either.

He felt sick.

"I'm sorry, I have to go," he said abruptly, picking up his briefcase, and he got to his feet and left them.

[19]

He knew she was there even before he let himself into his apartment.

He had never been a believer in the paranormal, and despite his assignment to XFVCU, to a large extent he still was not. But he knew perpetrators. He knew what it was to hunt them and be hunted by them. He knew the dance, the dark intimacy of the chase. It was a different kind of paranormal - not the spooky shit he dealt with now, but a heightened instinct, a heightened sense of connection. It was primal. It was thirst and lust and fear and want and need.

He didn't really know why he'd never let himself settle into this place. Now, locking the door behind him, he was glad he hadn't. Somewhere within himself, he knew what was to come, and it was right in a way he couldn't quite grasp that it should happen in just another room, a waystation to be abandoned when it was done.

"You needed an adversary," he said, not even bothering to turn on the light.

She was sitting on his dining table, cross-legged like a child. Hair falling around her shoulders. Eyes gleaming in the dark.

"You needed to make someone understand," he said, putting down his bag and his coat on the table beside her. "Not an advocate or a counsellor or a mentor or a friend. Someone who could judge you or hate you or turn on you. You wanted someone like that to understand it. Because then maybe you could understand it yourself."

She looked up at him. Eyes even brighter. "Yes," she whispered.

"You want it to stop," he said, holding her gaze with his own. He couldn't look away. "But you don't know any other way. You're outside, and you don't know...you don't know how to get back in."

Her lips trembled. "Yes."

They stood there, gazes locked on each other in the dark.

She reached for him. Touched her fingers to the pulse point in his throat. "Do you know what it's like for me to feel your blood like this, Brad? To know that it's precious, and that it carries something unique and finite that will never exist again once it dies? Do you know -" her breath hitched a little "- do you know what I would give to be precious like that?"

He wanted to say she was precious, it didn't have to be that way, but it wouldn't come. He groped for the right things to feel and say and all he could touch was her own loneliness and helplessness and loss. So far in her head it was like being inside her.

"No. I don't know," he whispered finally.

She tightened her hold on his neck.

He waited. Unable to bring himself to stop her. Held fast in a grip of fascinated dread. He could feel the instincts rise up in her. Warring for precedence. The craving for blood. For understanding. To be inside. A host of things coursed through him, hunger and pity and sadness all mixed together, and he didn't know whether they came from her or from him. He waited for her to slash his throat. She leaned in and kissed him instead.

He parted his lips for her before duty or common sense could stop him. Part of his mind clamoured for him to stop, but it was muted and remote. She was much softer and nearer and beautiful and broken and he wanted to - meld -

"This doesn't change anything," he whispered against her, and it didn't, but god help him, he wanted her.

"No," she agreed.

"I'm still going to-"

"I wouldn't expect anything else."

His hand found her neck, the ridges that marked her as inhuman, and he faltered.

She watched him. Waiting. Eyes grave.

He cradled her there, and he kissed her, and then he had her.

[20]

She was gone when he woke.

The sun was high in the sky. His body ached. He shielded his eyes against the light and looked at his alarm clock on the bedside table.

There was a sheaf of papers at his side.

[21]

"I got it."

Follmer's voice echoed down the hall, into the office ahead of him. Jeffrey turned as his partner rounded the corner, a sheaf of papers held high in his hand.

"The confession," he said, in response to the quizzical looks of Doggett and Krycek. They exchanged looks in a rare moment of accord.

Follmer's grimly satisfied expression faltered. "What?"

Jeffrey looked at Diana. She was up the far end, near the basin, making coffee in that godawful smiling alien mug. She was watching him. She could see the expectation in her face, and he didn't want it. He didn't want to handle it, he didn't want to explain it, he didn't want to help him through it. It wasn't his fucking problem.

Krycek moved. Just a fraction, towards Diana. Reyes was moving, too - leaning towards Doggett a little more. Unconsciously gravitating towards their partners in preparation for the coming storm.

That's what it's all about, he thought. He still didn't want it, but it was part of the job.

Shit.

"We can't use it, Brad," he said at last. "We can't charge her."

Follmer stared at him as though he'd lost his mind. "What are you talking about?" he demanded. "It's - it's perfectly legal - it's-"

"It's not the legality of the confession," Krycek said. "It's the logistics. Don't you get it yet? It's the big secret - the glue that's holding everything together right now."

Follmer looked like a kid who'd just found out he was the butt of all the other kids' jokes. "What secret? I don't understand."

"We can't hold her," Jeffrey said. "We have no way of restraining these people. The only thing we have keeping them in check right now is that they're as scared and confused as we are."

Reyes was watching Follmer. "That's not going to keep for long."

Diana shook her head. "No, it won't. But they can't know yet. We're unprepared." She turned to Follmer. "Imagine what would happen, Brad. Imagine if she killed her way out, or broke through the walls. It would be plastered all over the news. And then we'd have anarchy."

Jeffrey nodded. "And the ones that didn't revolt on their own would be driven to it by the persecution of the people around them. This is a bomb waiting to go off, Brad, don't you see that?"

Follmer's face was growing increasingly red. Suffused with anger. He burst out, "I swear to Christ, you people have been selling out for too long. The whole lot of you. You're saying we should just let her walk when we have enough to get her? Are you insane?"

Krycek's jaw was hard. Diana saw it too - she moved to his side and took his arm. He shook it off. "It's not selling out, Brad," he sneered, "it's the battle you lose to win the war. How fucking dare you question how we did our jobs when you got to watch it from the safety of the sidelines?"

Reyes stepped forward, placing herself between the men. "Look, that's not the issue. The issue is this case. And Brad, in ordinary circumstances I'd agree with you, but what are we supposed to do with her? What is the point of testing it when we know we're going to lose?"

Follmer let out a sound of disgust. "I can't believe you, of all people, would say that to me, Monica. How is the law ever going to come to terms with punishing these people if we don't charge them?"

"What's it to you, Follmer?" Doggett wondered. "This can't be the first killer you've had to let go." Reyes shot him a look of warning, and Jeffrey wondered what that was about, but his ponderings were cut short by Follmer's reply.

"This is different. It's different because it's institutional. I've lost perps, and I've made mistakes, but I've never said as an agent of the FBI that it's okay to let a killer walk when we've got enough to convict. And I never will."

"No one's saying it's okay," Jeffrey said. "We're just saying we have no choice."

"We do have a fucking choice! We can charge them and let them be judged. We can try to find solutions. Our job here is supposed to be to handle the fallout, but I seem to be the only one here who's willing to do any handling. The rest of you have already given up!"

Doggett's face was hard with anger. "That's easy for you to say, Follmer, you haven't had one of these things try to tear your body apart with its bare hands. You haven't seen a pile of blood and metal in a bucket get up and start walking. You're so far out of your depth you don't even know it. You have no idea what you're dealing with here."

Follmer turned to Jeffrey. "What about you, Jeffrey? Are you just going to sit there? Are you going to prove every shitty thing the New York Times said about you last year by letting this happen?"

Jeffrey felt his hands tighten into fists and his face grow red, but he didn't answer. Diana did, going to Follmer, touching his arm. "Brad, that isn't fair. It's not that simple-"

"No, save it. Just take your diplomacy and your tact and your reasonable voice and save it. Not everything can be solved that way, Diana." He pulled away. "I'm charging her. And none of you can stop me." He stormed out, slamming the door behind him in a perfect fever of fury.

They all stood there, staring at each other for a moment, but then Krycek moved. It was a fast movement, uncontrolled. Expression dark. He picked up the phone.

"What are you doing?" Diana said.

"I'm stopping him."

Diana went to him, speaking in Arabic. Arguing with him, Jeffrey thought. She didn't want the others to see her questioning his judgement.

Her effort at presenting a united front was wasted. He all but roared at her, "It can't be allowed!" He pulled away from her, saying into the phone, "Marita Krycek. It's urgent."

Diana drew away, sighing. Krycek could be heard, talking in Russian in a low voice behind her. Jeffrey rose and went to her.

"That wasn't called for," he said, frowning at Krycek across the room.

Diana dismissed this. "It wasn't personal. Don't worry about it. I'm not."

"But still, he shouldn't have-" and then he broke off, understanding his mistake when the animation left her face. Diana's partnership with Krycek was sacrosanct. They'd been friends before he even met her.

"You worry about your partner, Jeffrey," she said coldly. "Let me worry about mine."

[22]

Yolanda was sitting on her porch when he got there. She looked like she was waiting for a bus.

Unbelievably, she was smiling.

"I wondered when you'd get here," she said, getting to her feet. "Thought maybe you'd had second thoughts."

"I told you it didn't change anything."

"And you didn't disappoint." She came down the steps. "You solved the case, Agent Follmer. Congratulations." She moved past him, towards the passenger side of the car.

He grabbed her arm. "Was it worth it?" he rasped, pulling her close, searching her eyes with his own.

They stood there. Gazes fixed. Caught in a single breath, a single heartbeat.

Her face grew tender. She was suddenly, unexpectedly solemn.

"Yes," she said. "Yes, it was."

His mouth tasted bitter. His satisfaction was muted by other things - softer, sadder things. He knew what needed to be done, and he would do it, but how he wished-

"I'm glad," he said at last.

She pulled her arm away. Stepped back. Separating herself from him. That smile rose up once more.

"Then let's go."

[23]

"Surely it's against Bureau policy for you to arrest a suspect on your own," Yolanda said, stretching out in the seat beside him. "Especially one of us."

Follmer shrugged. "There's so much about this case that's out of order - what's one thing more?"

"You're not afraid of me, then? Because I could end it for you, Brad, so easily. Just...put my hand on your thigh...push down on the accelerator...Shannon did that to someone once, Brad, did Doggett tell you that?"

"It must be nice to have someone to look up to," he quipped. His mouth was dry.

The damnable part of it was, he was afraid of her. He wasn't before, at her house, but now, things were as they had been. This was survival, and he understood that he was fair game. He found himself glancing around the deserted road. Looking for signs of life. When had suburbia in the daytime gotten this quiet? Why the fuck hadn't he sent a squad car for her?

But he knew why. He couldn't bring himself to send some clueless rent-a-cop to do the job, knowing what might befall him. Couldn't bring himself to dismiss her into the system like that, either. And he sensed that if she would let anyone bring her in, it would be him. The love they'd made in the dark made no difference in the light of day, but the respect she'd accorded him for meeting her challenge remained.

Yolanda was smiling. "I like you, Brad."

"I like you too," he said, quite truthfully, staring straight ahead at the road. Determined not to look at her hand, to see if she planned to follow through on her threat. He couldn't resist a look at her face, though. "But I'm still gonna take you in."

Her smile didn't falter. She was beautiful, sitting there, and it was easy to forget that she was a killer, born and bred. Easy to remember the softness and the brightness and forget the ridges on the back of her neck. In another life, he thought, it could have been love.

"I know you will," she said, voice warm with approval. "That was why I chose you, you know. I knew-" and then she broke off, looking at the road ahead with a gasp.

"What is it?" he said, peering. There was a black speck - no, a black car, turning the corner at the end of her street. "What is it?"

"No," she whispered, grabbing his arm. "No."

"Yolanda!" he yelled, trying to get his arm away from her. They swerved wildly over the road. He hit the brakes, pulling up with a screech on the wrong side of the road, one wheel on the pavement, inches from the world's ugliest mailbox. "What the fuck are you doing?"

If he'd expected anything, it wasn't this. It wasn't fear.

"You sold me out!" she railed. "How could you? How could you?"

"I didn't - what are you talk-" and that was when he heard the gravelly sound of cars pulling up in front of them. Car doors opening. He looked up, and he saw them, black fleet sedans. CIA plate prefixes.

"Step out of the car, Agent Follmer," a clipped British voice said from beside his window. He turned away from Yolanda and looked. An old man stood there. Refined. Austere. Manicured.

He looked around the car, assessing the situation. Six agents. All packing heat. A man watering his garden up the street looked at the scene unfolding before him, and calmly put down his hose and walked indoors. Suburban myopia, doesn't it just fucking fill your heart with national pride.

Yolanda was deadly white.

Follmer let out a sound of defeat, and he did as he was told.

He was grabbed and pushed to the car while they pulled Yolanda out the other side. She was shivering. All fight gone. She looked agonisingly at him, her expression a plea.

"What the hell is going on? Who are you?" Follmer demanded, looking over his shoulder at the Englishman. He was looking down at a hand-held computer, tracing lines with a stylus.

Yolanda screamed, and he looked back at her. She slumped in the other agents' grasp. That scream made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and his stomach twist and lurch. He watched her, helpless, fighting down the urge to try to pull away and go to her. The urge to protect.

"Just an international observer," the man said, and he looked over his shoulder again. "There are means of control, Agent Follmer. Just not ones we can justify to the legislature right now. You would do well to remember that."

"She's an American citizen!" he cried in outrage. "She's a fucking soldier! You can't do this to our soldiers!"

Amusement crept into the man's face, creasing the lines around his eyes with warmth. "Krycek said you had spirit." Before he had a chance to absorb the implications of this, he went on, "Not every soldier is on our side any more, Agent Follmer. Some of them are enemies from within. And some-" he cast a glance at Yolanda "- are just caught in the middle. A bit like you." He nodded to his agents, and they dragged the prone woman to the closest sedan. "Good day, Agent Follmer."

They left him there, and he watched them go, and then he slumped down against his car with his head in his hands, and he wept.

[24]

"You sold me out."

Follmer's voice was not so much angry or reproachful as deadly, deadly tired. It told Jeffrey all he needed to know, even before he turned around.

Krycek sighed, turning in his chair to face him as well. Follmer was standing there in the doorway, the lines of his face drawn and haggard, jacket held haphazardly over his shoulder.

"I didn't sell you out, Brad," he said. His voice was surprisingly gentle. "I sold her out. And you didn't give me a lot of choice."

"Did you know they had weapons?"

Krycek shook his head. "Not for certain. There have been rumours. Experimental weapons, implants, nanotechnology - it's hard to know what's real and what isn't. The way things are right now - a case like this could get some of this shit pushed through as law." He went on, "For what it's worth, I agree with you about finding solutions. But not like that. Not an official seal on violating the people they already violated."

Follmer slumped on the visitor lounge. "Do you know what they'll do to her?"

"No. I just told Marita to make some calls and find a way to stop it. I doubt she knows either. She'd have put the word out and let it spread. She's very resourceful," he added with a trace of pride.

Follmer made a sound that might have been agreement, or amusement, or disgust. Or maybe all three.

"You okay?" Jeffrey said, moving closer in his chair.

"I'll live," Follmer said. Then, abruptly, "Jesus Christ."

"It gets better," Krycek said. Short. Brusque, even. As though this was the very last thing he wanted to be discussing. Diana came over and laid an approving hand on his shoulder as she passed them, slipping unobtrusively into her chair. Apparently all was forgiven there.

"I don't want it to get better," Follmer spat. "I don't want to get used to this shit and take it in my stride. I don't want to be like-"

"Like us?" Krycek queried. There was no rancour in his voice.

Follmer looked away.

Diana broke the moment. "Alex, can you come with me up to Records?" she said softly. "We need to check some things. For the Hollister case."

Krycek's eyelids flickered. "Sure."

Jeffrey watched them go. Diana shot him a supportive smile as she left.

A note of weary amusement crept into Follmer's voice. "Diana's rattled. She's usually more subtle than that."

"They had a fight after you left. I've never seen them fight before."

"Damn, and I missed it."

They sat there a moment, looking at each other in silence.

"I'm sorry about Yolanda," Jeffrey said. "I know she...mattered. Somehow."

Follmer looked away. Clearly struggling for composure. "Yeah."

"That was impressive today," he said. He got up and went to the kitchenette. Looked down at the bench, clinking cups industriously. Not looking at him.

"What, going off half-cocked and getting myself accosted by men in black?"

"You stood up to us. Practically the whole team. And for something like that. What you said about institutional apathy - I didn't think you cared about stuff like that." He looked over his shoulder at him, still sitting there on the couch. "I didn't think you had the balls."

Follmer snorted laughter through his nose. "Well, it remains to be seen whether I have any left after today." He managed a weak smile. "But thanks."

Jeffrey mumbled, an awkward sound of acknowledgment, and they got back to work.

END

Author's Notes: The concept for this story was that each author would build towards the conclusion by writing the interviews Yolanda requested for their specific agents, working more or less blind. They knew where their own characters were coming from, and they knew why Yolanda did what she did, but with one exception, neither they nor I knew what would happen when their agents and Yolanda got together. So it was an experiment of sorts because these scenes determined how the case was resolved. (They might theoretically have changed the ending, as well, though ultimately that was not the case). It was a risk, but it worked out so well. It was a great project to work on, and I'm so honoured to have collaborated with these fabulous writers. Though their individual inputs in word count were small, they determined the path of the whole investigation, and that was a huge challenge for me, to take what they came up with and run with it. Without exception, they did a fabulous job. -- Deslea

Feedback for this story can be sent to xfvcu@deslea.com - it will be forwarded to all the writers. You might also like to join in the post-episode discussion here: http://xfvcu.deslea.com/forums/index.php?board=3

The writing credits are as follows:

CindyET: Scene 16 (Mulder)
cindyet@tdstelme.net
http://cindyet.philedom2k.com

Emily M: Scene 13 (Doggett)
lyasandra515@hotmail.com

Eodrakken Quicksilver: Scenes 9, 14 (Krycek, Reyes) eo@morosophy.com
http://www.morosophy.com/sun/

Lara Means: Scene 17 (Scully)
larameansxf@earthlink.net
http://larameansxf.tripod.com/

Maidenjedi: Scene 10 (Fowley)
texgoddess@yahoo.com
http://users.pdsys.org/~maidenjedi

Deslea R. Judd: Scenes 1-8, 11-12, 15, 18-24, final edit deslea@deslea.com
http://fiction.deslea.com


If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Deslea R. Judd, CindyET, Emily M, Eodrakken Quicksilver, Lara Means, and Maidenjedi