DISCLAIMER: We all know I don't own them … I'm just thieving scum who runs off with them from time to time. The talented and tolerant Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, FOX, and others have the honor of owning these characters. Thank you for letting me play in your universe <g>.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I know it's been entirely too long since I did anything with this series. I do plan to finish it, just have no promises on when. I know this story is still a bit rough around the edges, but I've hit a point where I just can't do any more tinkering with it. Hope you all enjoy. As always, if you have comments to make, I'd love to hear them … either on-list or off.
SPECIAL THANKS: I owe Thunder major thanks for the beta. All remaining flaws are my fault, not hers. Thanks, my friend, for kicking my ass when necessary and telling me when something just doesn't work <g>. I also want to thank chaos for her support and help with some of the little details. Thanks, hon.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SERIES: Third story in the 'Degrees of …' series.

Degrees of Doubt
By ocean gazer


Monica Reyes' apartment

October 12, 7:52 pm EDT

"It's happened again. Call me."

Monica Reyes stared at her answering machine in confusion as she listened to the flat, monotone voice. She could actually feel the beginnings of a headache pounding through her skull at those few words. While her partner was definitely one to get right to the point in a conversation – giving a whole new meaning to the definition of terse – he didn't usually do cryptic. That, apparently, was her specialty. And considering that they'd just closed a big case and hadn't yet had another X-File dropped in their laps, she had no idea what he was referring to.

Granted, there were quite a few loose ends and open cases floating around in their files. Events that were marked to some degree by the 'not so normal' didn't tend to wrap themselves up in nice, neat packages. But John Doggett's simple statement did absolutely nothing to tell her which of those loose ends she should prepare to focus on.

She didn't move for a long moment, frowning as she focused her energy outward, reaching instinctively and without conscious thought for any flash of feeling from her partner. Anger. Confusion. Disbelief.

She shook her head briefly, retracting the mental finger she'd sent out towards the man. Usually, picking up on the emotions around her didn't even require effort … they were just there … she just felt them. But since John wasn't here and his voice hadn't communicated much of anything, she exerted a little effort. It was a talent she hid as much as possible, knowing that people didn't understand it, and wouldn't appreciate it even if they did.

She wasn't really psychic, not in the way people thought of it. Unlike the depiction of psychics in television and movies, she couldn't read minds or see the future. If someone pulled a playing card out of a deck and asked her which one it were, she would have no idea at all and would have to guess. She was just unusually empathic and sensitive to things that other people couldn't quite feel or see. And John Doggett was not someone she wanted to try explaining that to. She was just glad she'd found a friend in Dana Scully. The other woman didn't always believe in things like this, but at least she was open to possibilities.

Resolutely shoving her meandering thoughts aside, she picked up the phone, dialing her partner's number from memory. As soon as she managed a, "Hi John, it's Monica," his voice cut her off abruptly.

"Where the hell have you been?"

Well aware that his anger had nothing to do with her, she managed to keep her voice steady and calm, despite his accusatory tone. "Dana and I were having dinner."

He interrupted, showing off his best petulant side. "Suppose I should have guessed that. You two spend an awful lot of time eating."

She couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at that, even though she knew he couldn't pick up on her facial expressions over the phone. Despite being aware that he was off-kilter from whatever had "happened again," she couldn't help but think he was being unusually obnoxious. For heaven's sake, it wasn't like she'd run off to Tulsa or Timbuktu without letting him know. She kept her tone even, however, knowing that feeding off his feelings would be counter-productive for both of them. Patiently, she explained, "We're friends who happen to have similar tastes in food and who also enjoy adult, in-depth conversations with people who can talk about a variety of subjects."

Pausing for a moment, she allowed a slight hint of rebuke to creep into her tone. "If there's some sort of emergency, John, why didn't you call my cell phone? I had it with me and it was on."

There was a long pause at that and Monica let the silence hold sway, waiting for him to take the lead in the conversation. When he started speaking slowly, she could see – in her mind's eye – the sheepish look on his face. "Well, it's not really an emergency. And … well … I sorta deleted some of the info I've got stored on my cell phone … your number included." She heard the faint note of defensiveness in his tone. "You know how I hate some of these new fangled gadgets … more trouble than they're worth."

She murmured something suitably soothing and he went on with his explanation. "Anyhow, the only number I had for you was your home number. I could have called the Bureau and asked … but …"

Monica easily heard the unspoken remainder of that sentence – that it would have made him feel like an idiot if he'd had to explain this turn of events to anyone other than her. She smiled briefly, projecting as much reassurance as she could, even though as oblivious as he tended to be, she didn't figure he'd pick up on the vibe. "It's ok, John. Stuff like that happens all the time. It's why I've learned to write everything down on paper as a backup."

He didn't respond, but she hadn't really expected him to. Her words were intended to break through his defensiveness, not to move the conversation along. After a moment, feeling like some of his misplaced irritation had drained away, she opted to get down to business. "So what were you talking about in your message? What's happened?"

Thankfully, now that they'd gotten through the initial awkwardness, she heard the familiar no-nonsense tone in his voice. "You remember that guy in New Jersey last year? The one who killed ten people in ten weeks and then basically dropped off the face of the planet? The one who would disappear while the cops were chasing him, then reappear somewhere nearby to taunt them before disappearing again?" Even though she knew he couldn't see her reaction – and wasn't waiting for one anyhow – she nodded. It wasn't the type of case you'd forget. "Well, he's surfaced again. Basically told the cops this time that he's not gonna stop until we figure out how to catch him. Said he wanted to see if the X-Filers were up to the task … and specifically mentioned you, Scully, and me. Even though it wasn't ever our case … it's pretty much been dumped in our lap now."

She took a very deep breath, and then released it slowly. Her response was short and to the point, though she had little doubt that the vague sarcasm in her tone gave the simple word more than one meaning. "Wonderful."

X-Files office, basement of the J. Edgar Hoover building

October 13, 11:30 am EDT

"So how exactly did I get into this? Last time I checked, I was teaching at Quantico, not out chasing ghosts."

Monica heard the sardonically exasperated note in Dana Scully's voice and winced in sympathy. Scully wasn't really a part of the X-Files anymore, and she completely understood why the other woman would be wary of being identified by name as still being a part of it. Especially since the name of Fox Mulder was suspiciously absent from the list.

She started to reach out a sympathetic hand towards the woman standing across from her. But in a split second, she decided Dana's current mood wasn't one that would welcome the touch, and she dropped her hand away. To cover the gesture, she picked up a binder clip from Doggett's desk and began playing with it. She saw Scully's gaze follow the motion – and the ever-so-slight raising of an auburn eyebrow told her the other woman had not only noticed the action, but knew the original intent behind it.

Monica bit back a sudden grin. One of the things she most appreciated about Dana was her combination of intelligence and observational skills. She often felt as though Scully understood her far better than anyone else, simply because she noticed more little details than most people ever did. But that wasn't entirely the answer either. In some ways, the other woman just seemed to have some uncanny insight into what made her tick and accepted her as she was. Which was downright weird, when she stopped to really think about it: a Catholic, by-the-book person understanding a semi-new-age, follow-my-hunches sort of person. Thankfully, she wasn't someone who spent too much time thinking about these sorts of things, preferring instead to just accept that they were.

She heard Scully clear her throat and abruptly realized she'd been lost in her own mental meanderings. Shaking her head to clear it, she moved slightly away from Scully, still playing with the binder clip.

"I really have no idea why you were included as part of the X-Files when Mulder wasn't. For that matter, I can't figure out why the suspect singled out the X-Files in the first place. Yes, John and I looked over the case file for the police and helped work up a series of possible motives. But the local detectives were the ones working the case and trying to track down the suspect." She shook her head again, in confusion this time. "It never was our case at all, even though it's the kind of thing that usually would wind up on our desks eventually."

She had her back turned to the other woman, sorting through the papers on her desk, and she heard the slight creak of wood as Scully took a seat. Despite the tendrils of annoyance that had threaded through Dana's earlier questions, Monica could tell she was far more intrigued and curious than she was irritated.

Finding what she was looking for, she handed it wordlessly to Scully and perched on the edge of the desk. She studied the other woman as she studied the files, seeing the way Dana's eyes widened slightly as she read the summaries of the police department's interaction with the taunting killer.

Waiting until the other woman set the papers down in her lap, she offered her own summation. "So we're chasing someone who kills a person, waits around for the cops to pursue him, ducks out of sight for a moment, disappears into thin air, then reappears in a nearby location to verbally taunt the confused officers, and then disappears completely. Until the next killing, that is."

She watched Dana cock her head to the side and could almost hear the sarcastic aside running through the other woman's head. It was a trait she'd adopted after Mulder left. But Monica knew she wouldn't voice it aloud, not always willing to let other people see how deeply she'd been influenced and affected by her former partner. And indeed, as she expected, when Scully spoke, her tone was serious and focused in on the problem at hand.

"Do the police have the slightest idea who the suspect is? It seems that they've gotten a good look at him in each of the incidents; do they have a positive ID?"

Monica offered a soft sigh as a response. "Unfortunately, no. They've canvassed neighborhoods, but no one has recognized the man. And they've run the composite sketch through various databases, but there hasn't been a match."

This time, not too surprisingly, Dana's vaguely sarcastic comment was actually voiced aloud. "Ironic that in the 'Information Age' someone can be so completely invisible and unknown. It's like chasing a phantom."

Monica felt her lips lifting in a smile: partly because of the irony, and partly because she valued the sense that the other woman was wiling to let her guard down around her. She knew how private a person Dana was, and it humbled her more than she could express to feel the woman opening up to her. She knew in part it was just the chemistry of friendship at work – that indescribable something that just clicks sometimes between two people. But Reyes was aware that that wasn't the whole story – a large part of it was because Dana trusted her to not take advantage of her less guarded state. And she was more than intuitive enough to realize that even Scully wasn't completely aware of just how much she'd opened up to her.

There were incredible depths of feeling hidden beneath Dana Scully's composed and rational exterior, and Monica Reyes was definitely attracted to her complexity of personality – not to mention her outer beauty. But she pushed the attraction away, not because she was ashamed of it, but because she was well aware that due to religion and an innate conservatism, the chances the other woman could ever share the attraction were practically non-existent. Especially since she was still sorting out her feelings for Mulder.

Focusing again on the actual conversation they were having, she offered her own dry statement. "It looks like you're back on the ghost buster's squad."

She was rewarded with an abrupt, but distinctly amused, chuckle. "Some days, I swear you're channeling Mulder."

Monica clearly saw the affection in Dana's eyes and felt her smile widen. "Well, you know, we have to keep up the reputation of the X-Files. John plays his role as skeptic with such seriousness that I feel it's my duty to off-set that as much as possible." If she'd been talking to anyone other than Scully, she'd have hastened to add the footnote that she did take her work seriously and didn't just have her head off in the clouds of odd theories and supernatural phenomena. But she trusted the other woman to know that already … and it was something of a relief to not have to continually explain herself.

She wasn't terribly surprised when Scully laughed again and then shifted flawlessly back into work mode. Some people likely would have seen it as an abrupt shift; Monica recognized it as a trait inherent in a task-oriented personality. She herself had some tendencies that way, though very few people perceived them as such.

"Do we have any clue at all as to what his motives are? And do we have any more … thorough reports?"

Watching Scully, she saw the other woman pick up the papers she'd set in her lap, reading, "He disappeared, detectives searched the alleyway, he appeared behind them, said some rude things, then disappeared again."

Monica – studying Dana intently – saw the way the woman's nose crinkled up in mild disapproval. And she clearly heard the note of exasperation when she complained, "That's really not very helpful at all."

She nodded in commiseration. While it could, at times, be overwhelming to try and deal with too much information, she, like Scully, tended to prefer too much to too little. Instinctively, she inserted a soothing note into her tone. "I know. It doesn't even give us any place to start figuring out how he disappeared … or why he bothers to reappear. As for motives, we came up with some a year ago, but they don't seem relevant now."

Pausing for a moment, she gauged the other woman's reaction to her words, pleased to see that the irritation was fading slightly. "Actually, we should have some more helpful information here shortly. That's what John's doing at the moment – he's been over badgering the police department for the full set of detective's notes and all relevant case files. Since they're about to turn the investigation over to us anyhow, they shouldn't be too hard to get. In fact, I expect him back any minute now."

Right on cue, the office door opened and John Doggett staggered in, preoccupied with the large cardboard box he was balancing. Reyes watched him for a moment and then shifted her gaze back to Scully. The other woman had her eyes fixed on Doggett and the box, and Monica bit back a smile as she heard the woman mutter, "I wish I knew how she did that."

X-Files office

October 13, 7:22 pm EDT

Monica stood and stretched, feeling her cramped muscles protest the motion. She looked over to where John and Dana were still laboriously pouring over the papers in front of them. Half-empty paper coffee cups lay scattered around, their contents long since gone cold. Glancing at the clock, she wasn't too surprised to see that it was already after seven, and her stomach rumbled as though confirming it. They'd spent the past several hours – except for the occasional caffeine break – lost in reports and eyewitness testimony, searching for any clue at all that would give them a place to start looking for their mysterious man.

As if sensing her movements, Dana's head swung up and Monica saw a grimace on her friend's face. Her own neck ached in sympathy; she'd heard the sharp crack of the other woman's neck as she'd looked up.

Monica moved closer to Dana's chair, looking over to see John still completely absorbed in whatever he was reading, a frown tugging at his features. Recognizing the look and knowing that nothing short of direct physical contact or a bomb going off would get his attention, she didn't bother to keep her voice low as she addressed her friend. "Do you need to go get William?"

She stepped back as Scully stood, stretching her muscles after sitting so long. "No," the other woman responded, "my mom has him tonight." She could feel the tension radiating from her friend as she continued speaking. "Mom's off to visit my brother, Bill, in a couple days and she's wanting to keep William until then and take him with her. While we haven't exactly settled it, I told her she could keep him until I decided for sure." There was a measured pause and she patted Dana's shoulder briefly and lightly in a show of support. "The timing is good, I suppose, since it would allow me to really concentrate on helping with this case. She usually stays for a week or two when she visits."

Monica picked up on all the unspoken thoughts underlying the calmly spoken words – the guilt, the feeling of being pulled in two different directions between motherhood and her career, the annoyance of feeling like her family was judging her harshly for how she was raising her son alone. She wished to high heaven that there was something she could do or say to make things easier for Dana, but there wasn't. Not at the moment. So she settled for a soft, "At least you know he's in good hands." While it qualified as an empty platitude, she did sense a momentary lightening of Scully's hidden dark mood.

Leaving the woman to continue stretching, she went over to her partner, placing a soft hand on his shoulder at the same time that she asked gently, "Ready to take a break and get something to eat?" She wasn't too surprised when, despite the touch, he jumped anyhow, having been utterly absorbed in his work.

"Jesus, Monica. Don't do that. You about gave me a heart attack."

She stifled a smile as she watched him blink rapidly, eyes strained from too many hours reading. Deliberately, she moved back to stand near Dana, knowing John would now take his turn stretching. She turned to face the other woman and they both spoke at once. "Find anything useful?"

An amused glance arced between them, while John – who had his eyes focused on the floor, thus missing the exchange – answered. "I haven't picked up on anything that offered a clue to just what the hell this guy is up to."

"Neither have I," chorused the women.

Monica smiled at Dana, finding the synchronization highly amusing. But the other woman's attention had drifted back to the piles of paper littering the two desks, a frown on her face. The redhead spoke softly. "I think we ought to call it a night. I'm getting to the point where I'm too tired to make sense of this anymore."

She watched the way the woman's clear eyes swung over to rest on her, as if seeking some kind of support. Allowing her lips to curl up in a half smile, she echoed the sentiment. "I don't know about anyone else, but I think I need a hearty dinner and a good night's sleep before I try tackling these papers again." She paused, and then reluctantly said the words she suspected both the other people in the room were thinking. "Once we take over and are out in the field investigating, he'll probably strike again and we'll be able to get a first-hand feel for what exactly we're up against."

Looking to Dana, she gauged the other woman's response to the blunt assessment. She saw Scully's lips open in a barely audible sigh. "As much as I hate to say it, I'm afraid we're going to have to see this phenomenon in person before we can figure out how the suspect is disappearing. Unless anyone already has a theory?"

Monica knew full well that while Dana was looking at John as she spoke, the question was actually directed at her. She hadn't spent much time in the company of Fox Mulder, but she knew enough about the man to know that he often had a complete theory worked out in his head before they even started investigating. And Scully seemed sometimes to have come to rely on that and wanted her to pick up that particular trait. Unfortunately, while Reyes had her moments of intuitive leaps, she wasn't all that good at theorizing. And there was nothing in her vast mental encyclopedia of folklore and mythology that was ringing a bell in regards to the case.

She shook her head, her tone softened with an edge of regret. "I don't have any theories right now. I thought maybe I'd go home and do some research … look at mythological references and see if there's anything special related to invisibility that might apply to this case."

Doggett's snort echoed through the room, telling her exactly what he thought of that idea: not that she hadn't already guessed what his reaction would be. She valued her partner's experience and investigative skills immensely, but there were times when she wished he wasn't so hopelessly mundane.

She was glad, however, that he didn't give actual voice to his feelings, saying only, "My only thought was that this guy might know of some secret passageways or something. He's been disappearing into the same two alleyways after the killings … so maybe there's some kind of secret tunnel, and when he comes out the other end, that's when he reappears."

Catching his expectant look, Monica nodded encouragingly at him. She had a nagging hunch there was something inherently wrong with his theory, but she opted to be supportive of it anyhow. Exploring his idea more fully certainly wouldn't hurt anything, and she wanted to keep her mind open to all possibilities.

Apparently, her nod was all the confirmation he needed; he offered a weary half-smile. "Think I'm gonna stick around here for a while. Try to condense all the notes into a more detailed summary of this guy's MO."

Now Scully spoke, an uncertain note in her voice. "Do you want Monica and I to stick around and help you?"

Monica dovetailed on that. "Or maybe we could bring you something to eat."

It wasn't too surprising when he shook his head. "Naw … I'll just head down to the cafeteria … get some fresh coffee." She saw the way his nose crinkled in disgust at the sight of a nearby cup. "I'll just grab a sandwich while I'm down there. Thanks, though."

Scully began gathering the offending coffee cups and Reyes moved quickly to help her. Within moments, the office stopped resembling the aftermath of a caffeinated tornado and actually gained some semblance of order. She glanced up and caught John watching them, an amused glint in his eyes. "This is why I like working with women," he deadpanned, "they always clean up after me."

Monica wasn't terribly surprised when Dana shot him a withering glare.

Nor was she surprised when he hastily stood up and made his way to the door under the force of said glare. "Just a joke, Agent Scully," he explained quickly, his hands upheld in a 'don't shoot me' gesture. His hand on the doorknob, he added needlessly, "I'll be back in a couple minutes … just gotta get some food and coffee. See you tomorrow? We could go check out the crime scenes together."

Monica glanced over at Dana, noting the wry set of her eyebrow. When the other woman spoke, her words were sharp, though Reyes could see that it was mostly an act. Thankfully John wasn't quite that clued in. "You can pick me up at nine and then we'll pick up Monica. And Agent Doggett? You're bringing coffee and breakfast."

She compressed her lips to keep from smiling as John agreed hastily and then made a strategic retreat. Her eyes followed him as he practically ran down the hallway, intent on escaping Scully's wrath. The moment he was out of earshot, she heard Dana chuckling and she joined in. "That wasn't very nice," she protested half-heartedly.

Dana's smile widened into one of her rare full grins. "Oh, he deserved that after his crack about women. Besides, he owes you for making fun of your plan to research invisibility. After all, you didn't make fun of his secret tunnel idea."

Monica felt her eyes widen in surprise. Despite the earlier reminder about the woman's observational skills, she hadn't really expected Dana to pick up on John's reaction to mythology. Or to notice her restraint when it came to his idea.

She realized Scully must have picked up on her reaction when the other woman explained further, "A secret tunnel sounds just as implausible as invisibility. In fact, you could make a convincing argument that secret passageways are actually one of the most clichéd plot devices in fantasy novels."

Well, that hadn't been at all what Monica was expecting. The more sides of Dana Scully she saw, the more she became aware of just how complex a personality lay buried under the outer layer of cool, unruffled professionalism. And the more she became aware of it, the more it intrigued her.

The statement left her at a bit of a loss as to how to respond; apparently Dana could see that. She felt the lightest of touches on her shoulder and then heard a familiar practical tone in the other woman's voice. "Well, I don't know about you, but I'm starving. Are you in the mood for Italian?"

Monica managed a nod. Wordlessly they grabbed their coats and personal items, and headed out the door. She nearly locked it before abruptly remembering that her partner was coming back to the office. Walking quickly down the hallway, she caught up with Dana – just as the elevator doors opened – and she smiled at the fondly amused look on Scully's face. It was clear that, once again, the other woman was impressed with her uncanny sense of timing.

It wasn't until the door slid shut and they were speeding towards the main floor of the building that Monica realized her friend had taken for granted that they would have dinner together. She couldn't quite decide if it meant anything other than just habit.

Monica Reyes' apartment building

October 14, 9:02am EDT

Monica stepped out of her apartment building, opting to wait outside for her partner and Dana to show up. She winced ever so slightly as an abnormally bright ray of sunshine hit her eyes. Surely it wasn't natural for the sun to be quite that radiant, was it?

Before she could take more than six steps away from the door, or even contemplate going back inside to retrieve her sunglasses, John Doggett's car slid to an undignified stop next to the curb. He bounded out quickly, and was annoyingly cheerful as he waved and called out a greeting. Monica bit back a groan, even as she cursed morning people, but managed to come up with what she hoped was a vaguely appropriate verbal greeting. Actually, it wasn't so much that she hated morning people, as she'd learned quite well how to operate in those early hours herself; it was just the people who insisted that everyone else be as sunshiny as they were who really got on her nerves. And John definitely had a knack for needling her about her more nocturnal preferences.

She heard the passenger door shut and within moments, Dana was standing beside her. "Here," the other woman said softly, handing her a tall and well-insulated cup. Monica took it gratefully; even more gratified to notice the trademark green lettering that certified it was expensive Starbucks coffee rather than John's usual god-awful diesel substitute.

"How?" she murmured indistinctly, even as she brought the cup to her mouth for a cautious sip. Then she sighed in pleasure, realizing that the beverage was at the perfect drinking temperature and she wouldn't have to wait for her fix. Swallowing a generous mouthful, she could almost feel the caffeine start to course through her veins.

If it were possible for Dana Scully to smirk, she was doing it now; Monica could hear the note of self-satisfaction in her friend's voice. "I told Agent Doggett he'd only be off the hook if he bought us real coffee and scones."

The part of Reyes' mind that was still groggy found it interesting that the other woman seemed to understand even her one word, slightly slurred, non-specific questions. From experience, she knew that most people would have needed her to elaborate on her question. She tucked that thought away for future consideration, focusing in on Dana's continued explanation.

"He didn't even complain about how outrageous the prices were for something he could have brewed at home. I think he was afraid I'm make him buy lunch too if he skimped on breakfast."

Monica nearly choked on a mouthful of mocha at that, but her need for caffeine outweighed that reaction, allowing her to swallow. She could hear John's protest at the words, but his voice was cheerful enough and he was whistling as he walked away from them to root around in the trunk of his car.

Her eyes followed his form, so she was surprised to feel a light touch on her arm. She looked down at Dana, seeing the woman's hand drop back down to her side. The redhead's voice was soft enough that no one but Monica could hear it. "Are you ok? You look a little … ragged."

There was real concern in those clear eyes and Monica felt instantly warmed by it. Obliquely, she used her free hand to gesture towards the coffee cup, joking feebly, "Nothing this won't cure." She saw the unconvinced look and the raised eyebrow and added softly, "Thanks, but I'll be ok. I'm just really tired."

She glanced up briefly, seeing that John was still completely fascinated by the contents of his trunk. Given the volume of papers she could see him sifting through, it looked like he'd brought half the office files with him and was looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

Reaching out, she lightly touched Dana's forearm, letting her fingers caress slightly before dropping her hand away. "I know what you're thinking, but I wasn't up late researching. I just couldn't sleep. Had some very … haunting … dreams. I can't remember for the life of me what they were about. I can't even recall the images. But they were definitely … disturbing."

A sympathetic quarter smile touched the other woman's lips and she felt Dana's fingers close around her own in an affectionate squeeze. "If you want to talk about anything later, just let me know."

Reyes smiled down at her friend, touched by the gesture. She wasn't terribly surprised when the conversation, such as it was, ended there, since John had uttered a triumphant exclamation. Looking up, she saw he had a manila envelope clutched tight in one hand and was turning to face them. Without another word, Scully – businesslike once more – walked over to the man, reaching out for the papers he held.

But even though Dana didn't glance back in Monica's direction, she could tell the other woman's attention was still on her. The concern was almost palpable.

Monica smiled.

Alleyway #1, industrial Newark, New Jersey

October 14, 11:51am EDT

Monica stood silently, watching John and Dana as they studied the dead-end alleyway in which the trio was standing. Her eyes kept darting back and forth between them and the brick walls on either side of the narrow lane, feeling like there was something she was supposed to be seeing. It frustrated her to no end – the nagging feeling that she was missing something really obvious and important. She knew she tended to take too much responsibility on her own shoulders – more than once in her life she'd been called arrogant for taking responsibility for events and actions clearly out of her control. But dammit, this was different. It was her responsibility to notice what was wrong with the current picture. It was her job.

She blinked those thoughts away, refocusing on the two people standing nearby. Scully was standing resolutely in one spot as if there were a giant "X" rooting her there. The woman had a diagram of some sort in her hand and was frowning at it as though it had personally offended her. If the circumstances had been different, Monica would have laughed aloud at the sight.

John was walking away from Dana, and he ducked behind a rusting dumpster. His voice echoed dimly past the obstacle. "So, this is where he disappeared and the nearest cop was where you're standing, Agent Scully." Monica measured the distance with her eyes; it looked as though the suspect had only been about fifteen feet in front of his pursuers. That puzzled her for a moment. Surely the police could have caught up to him before he had time to turn invisible … or use a secret passageway … or whatever means he'd used to escape capture.

Scant seconds after she'd mentally asked the question, Scully answered it. "So the officer was here when the suspect ducked out of sight. According to this report, all the officers took cover, following their usual procedure, and then approached the dumpster with extreme caution."

Monica watched as Dana moved quickly towards the rough brick wall on one side of the alleyway. She cringed a moment later as the woman turned to her and commented dryly, "We could use some help here in replaying the scenario."

It was a well-deserved rebuke, and Reyes felt her cheeks grow hot with embarrassment. Her first instinct was to offer an apology, but she bit back the words, knowing neither Scully nor her partner would appreciate an "I'm sorry." In lieu of speaking, she moved quickly to where Dana stood.

The other woman didn't bother to acknowledge her presence, instead consulting with the paper in her hand. "Ok, so the officers were here for about a minute – talking to the suspect and encouraging him to surrender. They didn't get a response and they started moving cautiously towards his hiding place."

Monica fell in step as Dana began inching forward. This was, of course, why they hadn't managed to catch him – they'd had to move slowly for fear he'd open fire. She was annoyed with herself for even needing the reminder in the first place and she gave herself a little mental shake. Gods and Goddesses, she was woolgathering … she needed to focus.

When they finally reached the edge of the dumpster, they moved around its bulk and around to the side where John had ducked out of sight. Not surprisingly, they found themselves looking down at him. He gave the women a little half smile and said in his best deadpan tone, "Just pretend I'm not really here."

Monica rolled her eyes, sensing – rather than seeing – that Dana was doing the same. Now that she was a bit more awake, his good humor was only vaguely annoying. She glanced at the redhead, who was pointedly ignoring both of them, her eyes focused on the brick wall.

"So where in the world did he go?" Scully murmured.

Monica offered a hand to John and he used it to pull himself out of his squatting position. "I have no idea, " he exhaled. "I still think maybe there's some kind of secret passageway into this building. But it sounds like the PD has already examined the wall inch by inch and came up empty."

Reyes let her eyes wander up the side of the building. "There's not even a fire escape ladder up there," she offered, annoyance in her tone. "Isn't it required by law?"

She heard Dana's voice floating towards her as she continued studying the rows of cracked windows several stories above. "It is, but this whole block is full of abandoned, condemned buildings, which makes enforcing the law is a bit of a moot point. One of the reports states that the city isn't going to bother installing fire escapes on buildings that aren't being used and that are slated for demolition in a couple of months."

Monica smiled in spite of herself as her partner's ever practical voice broke in. "Besides which, even if there had been a fire escape, how the hell would the guy have gotten onto it without someone down here noticing?"

Ah, now there was a really good point. She decided to add her own overly obvious statement to his, even at the risk of sounding foolish. They might as well mention and eliminate as many flawed ideas as possible. It might even give one of them a sudden burst of inspiration in the course of discounting these somewhat silly theories. "Guess that also rules out the idea that he climbed up into the dumpster, since someone would have noticed him opening the top of it."

"What about hiding underneath it?" At the slightly muffled sound of Dana's voice, Monica pulled her gaze down to find the other woman on hands and knees, peering under the green metal box. It was one of the rare dumpsters that actually sat up on wheels with a fair bit of clearance underneath.

She dropped down to the ground beside Dana, close enough that their elbows were touching. She wrinkled her nose in disgust as the charming smell of rotten food hit her nose. Peering quizzically at the space, she said measuringly, "It would have been a tight fit, but it's possible. It would have been hard for them to see if he was under here, unless they were down on the ground like this." She wasn't convinced it was the answer, since something seemed off to her about it. But there was no harm in at least speculating about it.

Moments later, John's face was next to hers as he took his turn examining the space. "The only thing is," he said carefully, "it would have been hard for him to get out from under here and pop up somewhere else without being noticed." He pushed up to his knees, waiting until the women did the same, before continuing. "They had officers guarding the alley, so even if he'd scooted under here, he would have had to go past the cops to get to his next location."

Monica didn't even have to look at Dana's face to know there was a faint scowl there; the other woman's emotions were transparent … to her anyway.

"Mulder and I did work on a case once where the suspect could easily have fit under here, inched his way into a drainpipe or something equally small, and then popped up somewhere else. His name was Eugene Tooms … and he managed to get into both my apartment and Mulder's through the air vents." Scully's voice was calm, but Monica could see the faint tension in her muscles at the memory.

She hadn't read all the old X-Files, so the case Dana was referring to didn't ring a bell in her head. Sparing a glance at John, she saw his brow furrowed in thought. "Wasn't that the guy who was a genetic mutant and ate people's livers … popped up every 40 years?"

"Thirty years," Dana amended. "And yes, that's the one."

Despite the horror of the mere idea, Monica couldn't help but laugh. "Well, I think we can rule him out as a suspect. I mean none of the victims had their livers eaten." She paused for a beat, and then added, "Though we should probably keep the idea of a genetic mutant in mind. Maybe there are others out there with similar abilities."

She wasn't too surprised when Scully shook her head and disagreed. "I don't know that we really need to keep this as an option. Unless there's a secret passageway, there's nothing for a similar mutated human to escape into. There's no manhole or drainpipe here … nothing that he could squeeze into. As Agent Doggett pointed out, even if he was underneath at some point, he still would have to get past the officers without being seen." There was a long pause before Dana continued. "The only thing he could have done was wormed his way into the dumpster through a crack. And even if he'd managed that and was hiding inside, he'd still have to come out and get past the police officers eventually."

"Not to mention," Monica broke in, suddenly aware of the minor fact that they'd all overlooked, "it seems to me that one of the reports said they explicitly checked both inside and underneath and didn't find him."

She heard Dana's mild groan as the other woman levered herself into a standing position. She knew Scully had complained yesterday about straining a muscle in her back. Getting to her feet quickly, Monica placed a gentle hand on the other woman's shoulder. "Still hurting?" she asked quietly, getting a nod in response.

There wasn't time for more than that as John regained his feet and regarded both of them with a raised eyebrow, a trait he seemed to have adopted from Scully. "Well, this has been a really productive trip," he announced with a faint air of irritation.

Monica noted the way he seemed unaware of her hand on Dana's shoulder … or else he was just so used to them being friends as well as colleagues that these mild signs of affection no longer fazed him.

Starting to walk out of the alleyway, John called over his shoulder in his best game-show host impersonation, "Let's go see what we find behind door number two."

Monica glanced down at Dana, smiling slightly as the woman succinctly summed up her own feelings. "Oh joy – another field trip."

Alleyway #2, industrial Newark, New Jersey

October 14, 12.31pm EDT

"Well, this totally bites."

Monica blinked rapidly when she heard those words and then shared an incredulous glance with Dana. She could see that the other woman also could not believe her ears. It wasn't like John to use slang, especially slang that could be considered modern. She shook her head slightly, not terribly surprised when Scully rolled her eyes heavenward as if reading her mind and adding her own two cents. The other woman wasn't even remotely psychic, but Reyes had gotten used to the fact that Dana seemed to be unusually in synch with her.

Dragging her attention back to her partner, Monica saw him lash out with the side of his foot, kicking an errant rock. When he spoke, she could hear the annoyance laced through his tone. "There's nothing here …this is even more of a wash than the last one." He waved his hand obliquely around the second alleyway and Reyes let her eyes follow the motion.

She took in the neat concrete blocks of the walls lining both sides of the alley. Unlike the other location, the buildings here were not accessible from the alley … well, not unless you were someone who could scale smooth, fifteen foot high, concrete walls that were topped with a thick roll of barbed wire. It was a prospect that seemed unlikely unless they were chasing Spiderman. Given that the police reports hadn't mentioned a red and blue costume with webbing, she figured they could rule that out as an option.

She wrenched her eyes back down from their perusal, noting that Dana had a frown firmly planted on her face as she examined the neat, metallic green dumpster. Leaving John to pace around and play soccer with his rock, she walked over to join Scully. She peered over her friend's shoulder, vaguely aware that the other woman didn't even flinch at her sudden presence. It was yet another sign of how close they'd gotten, since Monica knew the other woman was highly protective of her personal space.

Keeping her voice soft, well aware of how close she was to Dana's ear, she asked, "Find anything interesting?"

It didn't surprise her when she received a single, emphatic shake of the head in response. One of the many things she appreciated about Dana Scully was her economy of words. Monica hadn't met too many people who could communicate so fluently and eloquently with just facial expressions and body language. It was artistic and elegant, and she admired that.

She let her eyes wander over the contours of the dumpster, still hovering behind Dana. The metal box sat firmly on the ground and padlocks at evenly spaced intervals kept the lid tightly in place. Unlike some larger models, this one had no side access door.

A surge of irritation at the impossible scene flooded through Reyes and she closed her eyes for a brief moment to chase away the negative feelings. Not because she was trying to be a Pollyanna, thinking only thoughts of sweetness and light, but because she was well aware that allowing her mind to be clouded with negative energy would hamper her ability to think clearly. She took a deep breath, concentrating on the fullness of her lungs, concentrating on her feelings of annoyance. She held the breath for as long as she could, and then released it, concentrating on blowing her irritation out along with the air.

Opening her eyes, she found that Dana had turned and was watching her intently. One of the woman's eyebrows quirked up and Monica saw a faint half-smile on her face. Scully spoke in a voice that didn't carry past her ear. "It is really frustrating, isn't it?"

She felt her eyes widen in surprise. Given how conventional her friend was, she hadn't really expected the other woman to so accurately know what she'd been doing. It was yet another one of the paradoxes that was Dana Scully.

Taking note of the expectant look on Dana's face, she managed a nod to answer the question. Frustrating was definitely a good word for it. She smiled as Scully patted her briefly on the arm, and then both women turned as if with one accord. They found John squatting in front of one section of the wall, running his fingers over it inch by inch. Even as her eyes focused in on him, Monica heard him give an exasperated snort and saw him spring to his feet in one fluid motion.

"Nothing," he announced in disgust. "I still think there's some passageway of sorts in the other alleyway, but this one's clean."

Monica started to say something in response, but then shut her mouth abruptly, swinging her head to the side and looking up. She could have sworn she'd seen something out of the corner of her eye … some flash of movement. Though she could almost literally feel Dana's questioning gaze fixed on her, she ignored it, eyes scanning the top of the wall and the building beyond it.

"What is it, Monica?"

John's voice sounded impatient to her ears and she answered absently, wanting to assuage some of the impatience, even though she still wasn't sure what she was looking for. "I thought I saw something." As her eyes continued scanning, she felt her heart beating a little faster with the possibility that someone – or something – was there and watching them. Logically, she knew it was quite unlikely it could be the suspect, particularly since she couldn't see anyone. But knowing that didn't stop the adrenaline from coursing through her veins. Clearly, her head and her heart weren't in agreement on the matter.

A moment later, she saw Scully's arm flash into her line of vision, her pointer finger extended upwards, and heard the woman's quick and breathless, "There!"

Finally having something to guide her vision, Reyes was able to focus in and catch the nearly imperceptible movement of wings. She felt herself deflate as she saw a pigeon fly off a slight ledge on the exterior of the building. The bird's grey plumage had blended in so completely with the non-descript building façade that it seemed an amazing feat for Dana to have noticed it.

Monica dropped her eyes back to her companions. "Sorry," she said sheepishly, even as she felt the nagging sense that there was something important about what she'd seen.

As she looked from one face to the other, she saw John shrug, his expression bland. "It's ok … it's the most interesting thing we've seen today," he said in what she recognized as his comforting tone. Truthfully, it didn't sound too much different than his worried tone, his condescending tone, or his pleased-as-punch tone, but she'd very quickly learned to distinguish the subtle differences between them. For all that her partner didn't try to make a secret of what he was feeling, he tended to operate out of logic rather than emotions, which made him difficult to read sometimes. Well, unless he was angry, annoyed, outraged, or determined. Those emotions practically radiated off the man.

She heard Dana sigh in defeat and wasn't too surprised when the other woman summed up all their feelings in one concise statement. Scully had a knack for that sort of thing. "It looks like maybe we are chasing a ghost. I don't know about anyone else, but I have seen nothing – either here, or in the other alleyway – that has given me any ideas."

Monica's heart ached briefly when Dana sighed again, deeply. She could feel her friend's sudden longing for Mulder … her longing for his uncanny ability to come up with strange, but strangely accurate, theories based on the most vague and tenuous of clues. While she knew Scully had often rejected the man's theories as being too speculative, she also knew just how much their opposite approaches had complemented each other.

Reyes couldn't help but sympathize with the other woman's longing. Given that Dana's strength was facts and research, and that John's was legwork and persistence, she was left to try and fill in for Mulder as best she could. All too often, the perceived role left Monica feeling at a real disadvantage, since theorizing had never been her strong suit.

There was an annoyed snort from John at the last words spoken – no doubt prompted by the ghost reference. She wrenched her eyes away from Dana to study him as he said, "There's got to be a clue here somewhere, but I'll be damned if I can find anything." His nose wrinkled in irritation and Monica wasn't surprised when he added abruptly, "Let's get the hell out of here … there's nothing here. Looks like it's back to poring over paperwork."

She saw him turn on his heel – without waiting for a response from either of them – before blazing a trail back to the car. Monica watched him for a moment, and then exchanged a glance with Dana, seeing the faint pall of fatigue cross the other woman's face. She wasn't too surprised that it was there – given that the woman was trying to juggle a career with single parenthood – but she was annoyed with herself for not doing more to take some of the burden from her friend's shoulders. Still, there were limits to what kind of help Scully would actually accept from other people. Knowing that there was really nothing else she could do for her friend at the moment, she offered what she hoped was an encouraging smile, and placed her hand gently on the small of Dana's back, propelling the woman forward.

As she walked behind Dana, moving out of the empty alleyway, she heard a faint, brief noise – so soft and elusive she couldn't tell if she was just imagining things.

It sounded almost like laughter.

X-Files office, basement of the J. Edgar Hoover building

October 14, 5:23pm EDT

"Invisibility? Of all the lamebrain, implausible, and ridiculous ideas you've ever come up with, this takes the cake. Life isn't like some silly comic book where people have special powers, Monica." A disgusted snort punctuated the words. "Invisibility …"

Monica took a very deep breath and mentally counted to ten – first in English, then in Spanish, and then, for good measure in German (which took a little while, since she'd forgotten what little of the language she'd learned). She'd expected John to find the theory silly; she was even braced for him to laugh outright and tell her that not everything was related to the paranormal. But she hadn't in any way been prepared for his tone to be so venomous. Clearly he was bothered by something other than just her unorthodox theory.

Unable to keep her anger out of her tone, she countered, "I didn't say it was a comic book … and I'm not entirely sure I believe the idea myself. But it's something I think we should consider … that maybe the suspect is somehow able to turn invisible. It's not like we've got a whole lot of ideas as to how he's disappearing."

She paused there, not wanting to totally ridicule his secret tunnel idea, and trying hard not to give herself over to the more negative emotions. Anger and frustration were useful in their rightful place, but this wasn't it. If they were to catch the murderer and bring him to justice, they needed to have clear heads and work as a team, not be sniping at each other. She spoke slowly, wanting to say her piece, but wary of getting her words and ideas picked apart again. "I can't shake the feeling that we were being watched in that second alleyway … and I would swear I heard laughter when we went to leave."

She watched as John pushed away from his desk in one swift motion, his hands slicing the air. "What was watching us was a bird, Monica – a filthy, stinking pigeon. And I didn't hear anything … not a thing."

Monica shrank back in her chair, rubbing a hand tiredly through her hair as she watched her partner pace, the negativity rolling off him in waves. She hated things like this, she really did. It wasn't that she was incapable of standing up for herself and what she believed in. It was just that she hated conflict and confrontation: she always had.

She didn't miss the sharp glare John send her way before he turned to appeal to the other occupant of the room. "Help me out here, Agent Scully," he said bitingly. "I mean – you saw the damn bird … and you know as well as I do that there was no one else around. And you didn't hear the laughter either … did you?"

Monica held her breath as the ball bounced clearly into Scully's court – not quite sure what would happen next. She trusted her friend's comments to not be as cutting as her partner's, but she also knew Dana was skeptical of the whole notion and wasn't the type to sugarcoat things like that.

"No, I can't say that I heard anything," Dana began slowly. Monica got the distinct impression that the other woman was choosing her words with care. "But that doesn't mean I think we should dismiss the idea out of hand. At least not until we have a more plausible or rational theory."

The statement took a burden off Monica's shoulders that she hadn't even been aware she was carrying. But before she could either process that or mutter a quick "thank you," a loud snort filled the air.

"Oh, come on!" It didn't take intuition to read John's feelings about that. "You know as well as I do that people don't turn invisible … not in real life, anyway."

Had the tension in the air not been so palpable, or the argument not centered on her, Monica might have smiled at Dana's raised eyebrow and challenging tone. "I also know perfectly well that the mere idea of creating a super-solider is utterly implausible and ridiculous with our current level of genetic and medical knowledge … and I know that rationally, there is no such thing as alien abduction … and that even if there were, the idea of cross-species experimentation would be genetically impossible. But contrary to plausibility, both of those things are real. You've seen them with your own eyes, just as I have. Why is it then so silly to just consider the idea, the mere possibility, that our suspect can turn himself invisible?"

Monica watched, holding her breath, as Dana pushed out of her chair and walked closer to John. She had to admit that it felt incredibly good to have someone on her side. It meant more to her than she could easily express in words. She'd gotten so used to walking a path alone during her life – even her friends had considered her odd and a misfit. She'd always been too alternative and non-conformist to easily fit in with the average folks next door; but she'd always been too square and eager to please to fit in with the alternatypes. From long experience, she'd gotten used to being the odd one out, but she was pleasantly surprised at how good it felt to not be standing alone.

She shook herself away from her mental meanderings as she heard the very real anger in her partner's tone. He had his hands fisted at his sides and Monica somehow knew that he was releasing a couple months of pent-up frustrations as he faced off with Dana. "Why the hell do you always do that?" he demanded, and Reyes winced at the sharp edge in his voice. "Why the hell do you always have to encourage her to be as outrageous as humanly possible?"

He broke off and Monica could feel both his frustrated anger and Scully's fierce, equally angry, protectiveness. She was half-surprised at the intensity of her friend's feelings – at the sense of how deeply Dana cared for her – but she had no time to ponder just what that meant, since John's words were tumbling out of his mouth at breakneck speed.

"I'm glad the two of you are friends, but I sometimes wonder if that's clouded your judgment, Agent Scully. You used to be more skeptical … you used to actually think about things and examine them with the utmost rationality and logic. When we didn't agree on something, you used to give me good reasons for what you were thinking … for what you believed. Now …" Monica watched his hand fling wide in an all-encompassing gesture, even as she knew she was the target of the sweeping motion. "Now … all she has to do is say something suitably weird and outrageous and you're fawning all over her like she's the reincarnation of Mulder or something."

Monica actually winced and cringed away from the aura of anger flaring around Dana. The force of the woman's emotions made them visible to Reyes as a dull, red glow. Her friend's voice was dangerously quiet. "Why don't you just come right out and say it, Agent Doggett? It bothers you that I don't just automatically take your side … that I've finally seen enough and been through enough in this job to give implausible ideas a chance to be proved or disproved. My friendship with Agent Reyes does not affect, in any way, our working relationship. And it has nothing to do with my willingness to listen to her ideas … and has nothing to do with Agent Mulder."

Reyes wanted to say something, wanted to insert herself into this conversation about her, wanted to find a way to defuse the situation before it imploded. But she couldn't; she sat frozen in place. The tension and animosity was hammering away at her, and would have been enough to hold her still and silent even if she didn't have such antipathy for conflict in the first place. She could only watch, her head pounding with the negative vibes, feeling helpless and vaguely ashamed to be the cause of the argument. Watching, she saw John pound his fist down on the desk, could literally feel in her own hand the rasp of pain from the force of the blow.

"Dammit, Scully. Don't lie to me, not about this, not after what we've been through together. It has everything to do with Mulder. You miss him; you want him back; and Monica's just the closest you've come to finding someone like him."

She saw his annoyed gaze wash over her before he turned back to his face off with Dana. "It would be one thing if you actually believed all her weird theories. I don't have a problem with that. But for the past few months I've been watching you just eat up every odd theory she comes up with … no matter how unscientific or illogical … while I'm the odd man out because I question them. When I ask questions, you act like I'm just being negative or picking on Monica, and I'm tired of it. If you're just humoring her because you miss Mulder and miss his 'head in the clouds' approach, then there's something seriously wrong here. I've worked for years to build a reputation as a hard, reliable worker … and I want to be able to do my job and not be the laughing stock of the whole damn Bureau just because you and Monica want to uphold Spooky Mulder's legacy."

Reyes bit the inside of her lip at John's words and blinked back tears – not so much because they hurt her, but because she could feel how deeply they hurt Dana. And the awareness of that pain goaded her, pushing her out of her previous paralysis.

"Stop it! Just stop it!" Monica knew she sounded almost childish, but she couldn't find it in herself to care about how she was coming across. She held out her hands in appeal. "We don't need to be fighting about this … not about me. It's not worth it … I … my ideas … aren't worth this hostility." Ok, so that wasn't the most conciliatory speech she'd ever made, and she'd made more than her share in her lifetime. But she was feeling torn in two by the negativity in the room and it pressed down on her heart, making it hard to think carefully about her words.

She swung her gaze away from John – whose face was set in hard, unyielding lines – to look at Dana. The other woman took a step towards her, an apology written in those clear, complex eyes. The intensity of that look took Monica's breath away and she once again froze in place as she watched Scully's attention shift to Doggett. And despite all that had just happened, she was once again vaguely surprised at the quiet anger radiating through the woman's voice.

"For Monica's sake, Agent Doggett, I'm not going to stay here and keep arguing with you. But I want to be very clear on one thing. You're wrong about me. Contrary to what you so clearly believe, my willingness to listen to Monica has nothing at all to do with Mulder. Yes, I miss him. And yes, I miss his ability to come up with ideas and theories, wrong though he could often be. But I've grown as a person, Agent Doggett, and have finally seen enough implausible things that I am unwilling to dismiss possibilities out of hand. My own son has abilities that I cannot even begin to understand. And that, if nothing else in the past nine years, is why I'm willing to listen to what Monica has to say. She has insights into things that you and I cannot see." She saw Dana's glance flicker back to her at those words and felt her breath catch in her throat at the naked emotion in the woman's eyes … emotion she couldn't quite name.

And there was no time to ponder it, as Dana turned her gaze back to John and her expression softened for a moment. "Maybe I have been ignoring your contributions to the X-Files, and I am sorry about that. I know that sometimes I don't pay enough attention to your thoughts and ideas. There are times when you automatically resist any idea Monica comes up with … and that's when I tend to automatically take her side, to give her ideas a chance to be heard. Clearly we both have some patterns we need to break out of."

Monica held her breath during the brief pause in Dana's words, watching the woman's face settle into determined lines as she continued speaking. "I know that you're skeptical, Agent Doggett, and I think that's certainly very healthy. If you simply didn't agree with this theory, that would be one thing. There is room on the X-Files for healthy debate and disagreement. Lord knows Mulder and I disagreed on things almost as often as we agreed. But the way in which you ridicule your partner for the ideas she has … the way in which you scoff at me when I disagree with your ideas … that's not acceptable in my book. Especially when you are so clearly wrong in many of your conclusions."

And with that, the woman gathered up her coat and purse, and abruptly stalked out of the room.

Monica felt her head pounding with another rush of adrenaline and she couldn't stop staring at the recently slammed door. She wanted almost desperately to go after Dana … to talk to her … to support her. But she knew that any overtures right now – even from her – would not be appreciated. Not right now. Knowing the woman as she did, she knew that she needed space to let her anger die down and regain her usual control. Hard as it was to stay in the office, feeling totally helpless, Monica knew she needed to do just that. She respected Dana enough to give her the space she needed.

A low whistle from John pulled her attention back to the very immediate. She felt her eyes widen in surprise as she recognized the look on his face. He was definitely feeling shock – and there was a definite look of chagrin in his eyes. Monica knew full well that his earlier frustration was genuine – that he honestly felt at times as though he were the only one of the three firmly anchored in reality. But as she watched him, she could tell that he hadn't meant in any way to hurt Scully like that. Yes, he'd pushed her, but he'd expected that she'd see the truth of his words and end up backing him. Seeing the emotions crossing his face, she could see that he clearly hadn't considered the possibility that he'd been wrong in some of his assumptions.

Suddenly uncomfortable at how thoroughly she'd picked up on John's mental landscape, she tore her eyes away from him, one hand going up to try and massage some of the tension out of her neck.

She heard a note of shame in his voice as he said quietly, "Guess I screwed up."

All she could do was nod.

Monica Reyes apartment, Washington DC

October 14, 9:35 pm, EDT

Monica sighed softly as she heard an insistent knock at her door. Moving slowly, she shrugged out from under the afghan and managed to sit up on the couch. The motion reminded her of why she'd been lying down in the first place; she'd taken enough Advil to sink a ship and yet the headache she'd developed during the earlier argument just kept pounding away inside her skull. It really was very tempting to ignore the incessant knocking and just lie back down, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Especially since she had a hunch about just who was hanging around outside her door.

Shuffling her way over to the door, she slid back the locks and then threw open the heavy, wooden door. Since she hadn't bothered to look through the peephole, she couldn't restrain her surprise as she exclaimed, "Dana! Please … come in."

As she relocked the door, she turned slightly to watch as the woman set a paper bag down on the floor and slipped out of her coat, hanging the garment neatly on the coat rack. Monica saw the look of indecision as Dana turned to face her. "I'm sorry … I didn't mean to surprise you like that. I should have called first."

She took a couple steps forward, placing her hand lightly on Scully's shoulder. "No … don't be sorry. Really." The nearly inaudible sigh of relief that escaped Dana's mouth made her smile. "It's true that I wasn't expecting you … I figured you'd need more time to yourself … to process what happened earlier. I actually thought it was John knocking on my door. But I'm not sorry that you're here." She paused for a moment, not quite sure how to put things into words. Finally she settled for a quiet, "Are you okay?"

When Dana didn't answer, instead moving to pick up the paper bag and head into the kitchen, she felt a momentary sense of alarm. Then, as quickly as it'd hit, it subsided – as she realized that if her friend weren't okay, she wouldn't be out traipsing around at this time of night. Shaking her head cautiously to not make the continual pounding worse, she laughed quietly at herself. Clearly the painkillers, while not doing a thing to help her headache, were affecting her brain cells.

Monica attempted to gather her wits about her as she followed along Dana's path. When she reached the breakfast bar, she noted that Scully was making herself right at home, unloading items from the bag and rifling through drawers. Under normal circumstances, she would have moved to help the other woman; instead, she settled herself on a bar stool and just watched the process. For some reason, knowing that her friend felt comfortable enough to just take over the kitchen really touched her deeply. She also could tell that the other woman needed that … needed to be able to do something with her hands as a way of staying in control of herself.

In a flash of insight, she knew that while Dana had opened up to her in a way she hadn't opened up to many people before, the woman still wasn't able to let go of her self-control and be vulnerable. She wanted to help her friend with that … wanted to make her feel safe enough that she could let go and lean on another person. But Monica also knew that safety wasn't something you could force on another person, and she had faith that when the time was right, Dana would be able to trust her with that.

It was a far deeper flash of intuition than she was remotely comfortable dealing with at that moment in time, especially with the continued pounding of her head. So she just sat and watched silently as Dana opened various plastic containers full of Thai food, and then started dishing up two platefuls. She was suddenly reminded of the fact that she hadn't eaten since lunch – a fact that her stomach confirmed by rumbling loudly. Feeling a flush of embarrassment at the sound, she glanced over and saw a concerned look on Scully's face.

The other woman slid her a full plate of food, handed her a pair of chopsticks, and said, "I had a feeling that you were too upset to have eaten anything."

The initial response that shot through Monica's mind – a vaguely dry "When did you turn into an empath?" – couldn't quite be voiced aloud, since she'd taken a bite of a salad roll and was busy chewing. Part of her realized that tearing into her food like that could be considered rude, but she was too suddenly, ravenously hungry to worry about it. And besides, she knew her friend would understand; while they were still learning things about each other and getting used to each other, they had definitely hit a level of comfort where some of the ingrained manners taught by parents just weren't quite necessary anymore.

When she swallowed, she managed a quiet, "Thanks for bringing dinner. You're right … I just wasn't quite in the mood to think about food. Once I got home, after spending probably an hour trying to talk things through with John, I was too busy trying to get rid of my headache to really think about eating."

"Are you feeling any better?"

She let her eyes linger on Scully's face, seeing the concern, the care, the worry. Part of her wanted to lie, wanted to say she was fine and ease at least some of the concern from her friend's face. But she couldn't lie – not to Dana. "Not really. I've taken a bunch of Advil, but it doesn't seem to be helping."

She paused for a moment, fully intending to make a light comment about how they just didn't make drugs the way they used to, when she heard Dana clear her throat.

"Would it help to know that Agent Doggett and I have worked things out?"

The other woman's voice was quiet, yet to Monica's shocked ears, it sounded thunderclap loud. She sat perfectly motionless, salad roll still in hand and halfway to her mouth, with only her eyelids moving as she blinked rapidly. It wasn't that she had expected the two of them to stay mad forever – just that she hadn't expected them to make up quite so soon.

As if reading her thoughts, her friend continued, "I was surprised by it myself. I had no intention of talking to him about it right away, since not only did he manage to insult me, he also managed to insult you … not to mention made Mulder's work and legacy seem like something of a joke. But he called me up and apologized … and we talked about what had happened and cleared up some misconceptions." There was a measured pause, during which Monica just sat staring, her mind not yet processing what she was hearing.

She had figured out that a large part of why Dana had reacted as angrily as she had was because of her, but she still couldn't quite figure out whether there was something going on under the surface for the other woman other than just a general protectiveness.

She had learned within about five minutes of meeting Dana Scully that the redhead was someone who ended up protecting the people she cared about – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. She had learned within ten minutes of meeting her, however, that very seldom was the other woman prone to be passionate about those tendencies, instead having perfected a calm, rational, "need to know" approach to interacting with others. In fact, as Monica thought about it, she'd never seen Dana get so worked up about anyone other than William, Mulder, and her. It was comforting in a way that they'd grown that close in such a relatively short time frame. But she kept picking up on vibes that she couldn't quite put a name to, and it left her feeling unsettled and uncertain.

Seemingly unaware of her mental meanderings, Dana continued softly, "I doubt it's going to be the last time we clash or have serious disagreements, but at least we're both more clear about where the other is coming from. I do understand that Agent Doggett feels in over his head much of the time, since he's never been comfortable with the kind of things that are part and parcel of the X-Files. And though he's opened his mind to possibilities a lot faster than I ever did, I think he feels sometimes as though you and I treat him as being somewhat superfluous because he is the most skeptical of the three of us. I realized some things in talking to him that I hadn't quite put together in the time that we were partners, and I think that's going to help us work together more effectively. And I did manage to get my point across … that my friendship with you has no more to do with my openness to possibilities than does Mulder's legacy. If anything, what really opened my eyes was the birth of William."

There was another pause, during which Monica felt as though she really needed to say something, but Dana's mouth opened again before she could find words. "I do hope you realize, Monica, that I take your ideas and feelings seriously. Not because of Mulder … not even because of my sister … but because I trust that you really are in tune with things of which most people are unaware. I hope you never feel as though I'm simply humoring you because … because of Mulder or my sister … because I miss them."

The naked emotion in those last words managed to help Monica shake off the last of her shock. Before she even realized that she'd moved, she set down the salad roll on her plate, moved forward on her stool, and covered Dana's hand with her own. The instinct to reassure took over and she said gently, "I do know that … have known that for quite a while. Still, it helps to hear it again. And it means a lot to me that you do listen to me and take me seriously."

She squeezed the hand under her own and was rewarded by seeing a smile curl Dana's lips. Still, she kept talking, feeling the need to steer the conversation back to more stable emotional ground. While Monica Reyes believed very strongly in the power of being vulnerable and open, she also knew there was a time and a place where that was appropriate … and this wasn't it. Scully hadn't quite hit that level of comfort in their friendship, and while she herself was more prone to just letting her emotions run free, she wasn't up to doing it at that moment in time.

"So things really are ok for you … for John?"

She knew it was a relatively lame sentence, in light of what had just been said moments before. But it served to insert a slightly lighter note into the conversation … time for each of them to regain their equilibrium a bit.

She watched as Dana shrugged and pulled her hand away to pick up her own chopsticks. "Yes, I think we managed to work out what we needed to. Which is why I'm actually running so late in getting over here … I got caught up in the phone call with him and didn't keep an eye on the clock."

Monica could feel her eyes widen in surprise at the statement. Obviously, Dana had intended to come over with dinner, as evidenced by her eventual arrival. But the notion that her friend had actually intended to come over earlier, while she'd imagined the other woman needed time alone, did manage to surprise her. It wasn't the first time that she'd been struck by the irony that all the empathy in the world still couldn't predict people's motives or innermost reactions; she rather doubted it would be the last.

She heard a chuckle and then felt the lightest touch of Dana's fingers against the back of her hand. "Don't look so surprised, Monica. You aren't the only one who can pick up on other people's emotions."

She smiled at that, knowing it was the expected reaction. As Dana pulled her hand back, once again picking up the chopsticks, she followed suit, realizing once again just how hungry she was. Scully added quietly, "I could see how the conflict was getting to you, and I wanted to come over and make sure you were really ok."

Studying her friend, she could see just the faintest touch of a blush gracing Dana's cheekbones. Knowing that the mushiness of the conversation had moved far out of the woman's comfort zone, Monica opted to simply say, "Thanks … I appreciate the thoughtfulness." Then, wanting to say more, but knowing the moment had passed, she deliberately changed the subject.

"I don't know about you, but I'm starved."

Near Alleyway #1, industrial Newark, New Jersey

October 15, 3:12pm EDT

Monica glanced down at her watch for the third time in as many minutes and tried to stifle the urge to yawn. First, she'd had a rather late night eating dinner and just chit chatting with Dana. While they had steered clear of any more emotionally laden topics, just the act of conversation itself had taken time and energy. The fact that nearly 24 hours after it had begun, she still had traces of a headache hadn't helped her energy levels. And then there had been the early morning meeting in the X-Files office, where the three of them had basically said their apologies and had mapped out the next steps they were going to take in trying to solve the case. While that had been a good meeting and she felt as though a load had been lifted from her by seeing John and Dana interacting without tension, it still had come entirely too early after a late night.

She fought the urge to check the time again, idly wondering if she could slip away for a moment and hit a coffee shop. Unfortunately, she already knew the answer would be "no." John had decided that since they didn't have a good working theory as to how the suspect was eluding the police, the X-Files team needed to be out on the streets with the cops. While she and Dana had both voiced that idea before, somehow it didn't seem so appealing now. The mere notion of standing around and waiting for a killer to kill again so that they could see what he was doing just went against everything she believed in. Yet she accepted that they had little choice in the matter. Even if her theory was correct – and she wasn't even sure she believed it herself – it didn't give them any idea how to prevent the man from killing again. It just gave them a hope of figuring out how to catch him after the fact.

She glanced over at the police officer walking beside her, and noted that he seemed nearly as bored as she did. Having heard the conversation between John and the Newark police chief, she knew that the officers assigned to walk the streets with them were not overly enthused about the prospect. Not because they didn't want to catch the murderer, but because they didn't want to spend hours on end wandering the same streets over and over in hopes of getting lucky. Of course, the irony was that the X-Files team didn't want to do that either … they just accepted that they had precious few other options.

The hope was that one of the two person teams patrolling the area would stumble across the man and then signal the others … so they could corner him in the alleyway and hopefully box him in. Dana's idea, which the cops had snickered at but not openly derided, was that if they all stood next to each other and surrounded his hiding space, he wouldn't be able to get past them – visible or not. After all, as she'd heard Dana explain to John during the car ride back to Jersey, even if the guy could turn invisible, chances were good that he was still solid. There was a significant risk factor to the plan, and Monica could see why they hadn't bothered to run it by Skinner first, knowing that he would override the plan on the spot. Luckily, the police force seemed more interested in getting the menace off the streets than in worrying about personal risk. Of course, the fact that they didn't for a minute believe the guy was invisible helped matters.

Now she did check the time again and was unaccountably relieved to see that a whole two minutes had passed since she last looked at her watch. They'd been out on the streets for four hours at this point … and only planned to stay out until the sun went down. She idly wondered if Dana and John were as bored as she was. She'd been around long enough to know that half of detective work was sitting around waiting and watching, so it wasn't that she was unfamiliar with the concept. It was just that her time on the X-Files had thoroughly spoiled her in terms of being able to do something more active.

As if the mere thought were a catalyst, she heard the squawk of a police radio and a frantic voice yelling, "We've sighted the suspect … we're in pursuit … heading west on Bond … towards the alley."

Without a word, she and Officer Johnson broke into a run. She let him take the lead, not because she couldn't keep up, but because she had no idea where the hell they were going.

Her mind seemed to kick into overdrive with the burst of speed, and she realized that this was it … this was where they saw the phenomenon for themselves. As her feet pounded the pavement, skidding around a corner, she felt fear rushing through her at the knowledge that they were going to be confronting a murderer. Even after all the years she'd worked at the bureau, she still had that same sense of fear every time she dealt with murder. While it sometimes haunted her, gave her bloody nightmares, she hoped she never lost that sense of fear … hoped she never took her job and her responsibilities for granted and as just part of a routine day.

Heart pounding in her chest from the exertion, she sent up a quick prayer. Please, keep us safe.

She'd learned long ago not to be too specific in what she asked for … it was the whole axiom of "Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it."

Rounding yet another corner, she glanced down the street and saw a non-descript man duck into the alleyway they'd explored just the day before. Close behind him were John and Officer Lorenz, and as she and her police partner drew closer, Dana and Officer Nelson came into sight. She put on another burst of speed, trying to close the gap between herself and everyone else, knowing that they all had to be there for their plan to have any hope of succeeding.

She skidded to a halt when she reached the mouth of the alley, almost mowing John down in the process. He put out a hand to keep her from falling and she nodded her thanks. She watched as the officers nodded to each other and then gestured to her, Dana, and John to get into a line with them. Despite the fact that they were all breathing heavily from the exertion of running, there was no time to stop and catch their breath.

She had been placed closest to one of the alley walls, with Dana next to her. Nelson flanked Dana, then John was next in line, and Lorenz and Johnson were closest to the opposite wall. John and Dana had both been against the idea, realizing that when the line closed around the dumpster, the two officers would be first in the suspect's line of fire. But Monica hadn't offered an argument, realizing that the men wanted to be there, wanted to have the first chance at getting their hands on the suspect. After all, it was their city that was being ravaged by the man … they had the most at stake in catching him.

Without a word, the six people started to move forward. They weren't exactly elbow-to-elbow, since there was no way that they could be that close and cover the entire width of the alley. But they were close enough that as long as they stayed in position, there was no way that the man could slip between two of them without being noticed. He wasn't a fat man, but from the glimpse she'd had of him, he had the big burly build of a weightlifter.

Monica could feel her heart pounding in her chest and the adrenaline pumping through her veins. She realized that she'd drawn her gun without even being aware of it. The line moved cautiously forward, and she could hear Dana's ragged breathing next to her, feel the mix of fear and determination radiating off of her friend. Then, she shook off the feelings, concentrating on the immediacy of putting one foot in front of the other.

As they drew closer to the dumpster, she could feel her nerves stretched taut … so taut that when she saw a rat skitter out from underneath it, she had her gun pointed at it before she even realized what she was seeing. Then, a flash of motion caught her eye and she had the gun aimed upwards at a bird. Gods and goddesses, she needed to focus … needed to not be distracted.

She saw Scully aim a sharp look in her direction and she took a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart. There were people counting on her to help them … to keep them as safe as possible. She couldn't let them down, couldn't let Dana down. That thought served to give her back her mental control, allowed her to shove aside the worst of the heart pounding fear.

They'd reached the edge of the dumpster and stopped for a moment. Monica knew that they were all listening to try and catch any hint of what the suspect was doing. All she could hear was the rough breath of the people around her. It was almost eerily quiet.

She glanced down the line, seeing the hand gestures being made by Lorenz, seeing John nod in agreement. He looked at her and she nodded back. The plan was for her to move around the edge of the dumpster so that they could all reposition themselves. In short, they were going to take a horizontal line and make it a diagonal one, so that they could surround the metal box and trap the suspect. This was the riskiest part of the whole thing … moving out into the open where they could easily be seen by someone hiding behind the dumpster.

She edged forward cautiously, moving to the right so that she practically ran into Dana, who then moved to her right. The motion had a ripple effect on the line – and with each step that Monica took, the line moved that much farther over. It was definitely nerve-wracking, especially when the two officers at the opposite end hit a point where they were visible to where the suspect had disappeared. At that moment, when they edged into view, she could see their guns drawn, and she braced herself to hear a shot or an exclamation. Instead, it remained silent except for the harsh breathing of her companions. She looked over to the two exposed men and saw them shaking their heads and gesturing with their chins. Following the plan, the line moved forward, closing around the space, until even Monica could peer around the edge of the dumpster.

There was no one there.

She saw a movement out of the corner of her eye and looked to see Johnson and Lorenz on the other end moving into the little circle formed by her, Dana, Nelson, and John. The four of them had the area from the dumpster edge to the back wall completely lined off; the suspect couldn't get through them without being noticed. So the other officers moved into the apparently empty space, going inch by inch to see if they would run into an invisible, but solid, presence. Monica still had her gun up and ready, as did everyone else, but some of the adrenaline had drained from her body. She had a sinking feeling that, as in past cases, they would find that the suspect was somewhere behind them, watching them and smirking.

Finally, the officers had covered every possible inch of space, without so much as a single bump or thump. "Well this was a damn waste of time," Lorenz muttered, re-holstering his weapon.

Monica heard Dana's almost inaudible sigh, but there was no trace of concession in her tone when she admonished, "At least we've ruled out the possibility that the suspect has been slipping past your officers unseen. That in itself is useful information."

"It is?" she heard Nelson ask. "How exactly does that help us?"

Monica could feel Dana's annoyance at the question, but knew that the other woman was not going to give into it, knowing that the men were raising valid questions. What they had tried just now was completely outside the usual procedures, and the fact that it had failed to catch the suspect made the officers justifiably suspicious of their ideas. She started to open her mouth, trying to find a way of answering the question, and smiled inside when she noticed John doing the same thing. Given yesterday's argument, she was relieved by the sense that he was willing to stick up for Scully, even though he himself thought the idea was nuts.

Thankfully, or perhaps not so thankfully, neither of them had a chance to say anything. They heard a mocking voice behind them, and the six of them turned as one to see the suspect standing in the entrance of the alleyway, waving at them. "Better luck next time. You're smart, X-Filers, but not as smart as you think you are."

Then the man took off at a run, and Monica saw the three officers, John, and Scully take off after him. She started to follow them, then thought better of it. If they hadn't managed to corner him here, in this dead-end alley, she knew there was no way they could catch up with him before he ducked out of sight and disappeared again. It went against all the training she'd ever had, but she just had a feeling the chase was futile.

Instead, she squatted down, running her fingers over the metal of the dumpster, then leaned down to the ground, methodically sliding her hand over the concrete. While she knew it was a long shot, she wanted to see if she could feel something with her fingers that wasn't immediately visible to her eyes. Even an earring or a strand of hair would give them something to work with. She pored over the area, inch by inch, looking for any sign that a man had recently been there.

Standing upright again, she glanced around the alley again, feeling as though she'd seen what she needed to see in order to figure things out, but having no idea what it was. She'd been there before at more than one time in her life … where she knew she had the answer locked away in her brain … where she'd seen or felt something that would tell her what she needed to know … but where she couldn't access the information to save her life. Sometimes, the harder she tried to find the answers, the more elusive they became.

She closed her eyes, trying to replay the previous events in her mind's eye. But the thud of boots on pavement pulled her back into the here and now with a vengeance. She opened her eyes and saw one of the cops coming back into the alley with John and Dana.

"He got away," John explained almost needlessly. "Where were you?"

She shrugged in response, not sure how to answer that in a way that wouldn't piss him off. Unexpectedly, Officer Johnson came to her rescue. "Hey man, she's read the reports. Once this guy gets past us, there's no way to box him in and no way to figure out just where he is. No sense wasting her breath running after someone she ain't gonna catch."

Not surprisingly, she could hear the sarcasm in John's tone as he countered with, "So you're saying we were stupid for giving chase?"

The other man shrugged. "No, not stupid … we're supposed to chase the criminals, even when there's no chance of catching them. But there's no reason to think that six people had a better chance of getting him than five people … so why not leave one person to look for more clues?"

She couldn't resist the opening he'd given her, especially since his no-nonsense tone seemed to have taken the edge off John's annoyance. And even though she knew his annoyance was with the whole situation, not with her, she couldn't help but feel relieved that it had lessened. "I did think it was a good idea to check out the area where the suspect disappeared. I still don't have any idea where he went, but there's no trace of him here … no scrap of cloth, no strands of hair, nothing."

Seeing the shocked and impressed look on her partner's face, she stifled a laugh. Apparently, he figured she had just been standing there with her head in the clouds. She glanced over to see the tiniest trace of a smirk on Dana's face, though she doubted anyone else would have picked up on that subtle nuance of expression.

And indeed, when the other woman spoke, her tones were business-like and coolly professional. "Since there's nothing more we can do here today, I'd suggest that we head back to DC and take a little break from things. The man's pattern thus far is that he kills every third day, and there's no reason to think he will deviate from that pattern."

John dovetailed on that statement. "I think maybe we should go back to the drawing board and try to come up with a better plan for catching this guy. We saw today that boxing him in didn't do squat … I think maybe it's time to reconsider our options."

Monica nodded her agreement, and wasn't surprised when Johnson followed suit. "Yeah, I think you're right. Look, when you guys come back here and have another plan in mind, give us a shout and let us know what it is. Meanwhile, we'll just keep doing what we've been doing and hope we get lucky."

He started to walk off and John followed him, presumably discussing the details of further collaboration. Monica sighed softly, feeling her earlier tiredness sweeping over her in waves. She wasn't too surprised when Dana stepped closer and put a hand on her forearm. "You ok?"

It was the simplest of questions, but it warmed Monica. Her friend's concern really meant a great deal to her. It had been so long since anyone gave a damn how she was doing. "Yeah, I'm ok … just tired … and I can't shake the feeling that I saw something today that's the missing piece of the puzzle … I just can't remember it." She sighed again in frustration.

She could hear the note of reassurance threaded through Dana's response. "Well, maybe after a decent meal and a good night's sleep, it will come to you. Somehow, I think we all need a break from thinking about this consciously."

The only response she could come up with was a nod. There really was nothing to say.

X-Files office, basement of the J. Edgar Hoover building

October 16, 9.17am EDT

"Sorry I'm late," Monica announced breathlessly, shutting the office door behind her. She shrugged out of her coat as quickly as possible, draping it over a nearby chair, before turning to look at the two people waiting for her. Dana looked a touch annoyed, which didn't surprise her in the least, given the other woman's overly punctual tendencies. John just nodded at her, the look on his face reminiscent of the cat that swallowed the canary. A vague sense of disquiet settled over her when she saw his expression, even though she had a feeling she knew why he looked so smug.

"Is everything alright?" She could hear the war of concern and pique in Dana's voice and wondered briefly if it was a combination her friend had perfected over the years she'd spent dealing with Mulder. Quickly, she shook the thought aside, not really wanting to compare herself to the departed man – not because she didn't respect his legacy, but because she didn't want to think that Dana saw them in that similar a light.

"Yeah, everything is fine … just was up a little longer than I'd planned. I really am sorry that I wasn't here on time." A quick glance at the clock showed her it wasn't quite as late as she'd feared, but she was more than aware of Dana's annoyance and was trying to placate her. Not that she, perhaps, needed to – but it was her default mode.

She could hear a faint smirk in John's voice, though she could also tell he was trying to hide it. "Well, did you come up with any ideas last night … y'know, after seeing this guy in action?"

Yep, he definitely had that whole "cat and canary" thing going on … and she had a pretty good idea why. She'd pretty much already come up with the same flaw in her own theory that she thought he had picked up on. Still, she decided to let him take the lead in bringing up the subject – partly out of habit, and partly as a way of showing him that she wasn't holding any hard feelings about the day before. Or about him picking apart her theories. She knew that sometimes those non-verbal reminders were a lot more potent than the verbal ones.

She put on her best neutral voice and said mildly, "I did spend some time thinking about the case, but it sounds as though you've got some insight into what's happening."

While it wasn't exactly the most subtle invitation ever offered, John wasn't exactly the most subtle man around. Sparing a quick glance at Dana, she could see the gleam of amusement in the greenish-blue eyes. Oh yeah, the other woman definitely had picked up on the undercurrents. Monica had to bite her lip to hide a smile; while she did know and appreciate the other woman's observational skills, she tended to forget about the dry humor that often showed up alongside it.

Letting her eyes wander back to John, she could see that the undercurrents had been – expectedly – lost on the man. Instead, he looked even more pleased with himself, though she could feel that he wasn't trying to be mean or insensitive to her feelings. "Like I was just telling Agent Scully, I was thinking about the case last night … trying to figure out how the guy could have gotten past all of us, even if he was able to turn invisible. I mean, I know the theory itself made some kind of sense, given what was in the police reports and all. But when I sat down and really thought about everything, especially after what we saw yesterday, I ended up with some serious questions about it."

Monica could sense that her partner paused there for her benefit – because he was trying hard not to hurt her … or Dana for that matter. While she could have jumped in then and there and finished his sentence for him, she knew it would be best for his ego if he were the one to voice the doubts. So she nodded at him to continue, glancing once again at Dana to see what the other woman's reaction was. She saw the woman's eyes flick over to her and saw the tiny nod that told her that Scully knew full well not only what she was doing with the conversation, but agreed with the approach as well. She was so impressed with the gesture that she almost wasn't able to pay attention to said conversation.

"See, Monica, I have to wonder what the hell the guy is doing with his clothes and weapon. Even if he can turn himself invisible, those would still be … well … visible. We've all searched the alleys and not even found a trace of fabric … and if he did turn invisible, what the hell did he do with that stuff?" There was a brief pause, but she could tell it was out of genuine puzzlement this time, not out of any effort to be sensitive to her. "I mean, I really don't understand it – not at all. Even if you're right about this guy, his clothes can't just disappear into thin air."

Monica nodded in agreement, since she'd come to the same conclusion herself. And now that he'd voiced it aloud, she felt ok about confirming it. "You've got a really good point, John. You're right, it doesn't make much sense."

She didn't even have to glance at Dana to see the subtle smirk on the other woman's face, and know that it was there due to the smug look on John's face. Really, while the man might not be sensitive to picking up on non-verbal conversation, he did a quite good job contributing to it.

With a conciliatory shrug, she continued, "I pretty much started wondering the same thing – what did he do with his clothes and weapon. I'm really wondering whether we all missed some kind of secret compartment in the bricks, since there's no other way for him to have gotten the weapon past us without notice."

By the vaguely triumphant look on John's face, she realized he hadn't understood the specificity of her last sentence. By the vaguely contemplative look on Dana's, she realized she had.

Without preamble, Scully asked, "Are you thinking about some kind of camouflage?"

Monica shook her head, even as she watched John mentally trying to add two and two together to come up with something like four. "No; the background shades and tones of each alleyway are very distinct … too distinct. We could allow for the possibility that a genetic mutation would offer a degree of shifting skin tones, but I have a hard time imagining that enough control would exist to shift from brick red to concrete grey."

She wasn't surprised when Dana shook her head, as though the other woman had already come up with a reason to be dubious about her own suggestion. "Not to mention the fact that while I didn't get that good a look at the suspect's clothing, I am fairly certain that he was not wearing colors that remotely matched the walls. It would have to be fairly exact shading, and the glimpse of color that I saw didn't come close."

"Whoa … wait a minute." Monica almost smiled as John abruptly re-entered the conversation, having finally completed his mental math equation. "I hate to be the wet blanket here, but there is no way the guy's clothes could have blended into the walls. He was wearing brown and grey … looked almost like leather."

She couldn't help staring at her partner in astonishment when he popped up with that statement. She'd never pegged John as having enough fashion sense to pay attention to those kinds of details. From the answering look on his face, her thoughts were completely transparent. "What? You think I haven't learned to look at what a suspect is wearing? Those kinds of details can make or break a cop's case."

Feeling suitably rebuked by his comments, she offered a quick apology. "Sorry … you're right." She paused for a moment, to let the thought sink in, and then continued, "I'm pretty sure there's something going on here that we haven't yet considered as a possibility." She glanced at both the other occupants of the room, gauging their reactions. Seeing the curious look on John's face and the expectant look on Dana's, Monica felt emboldened to continue.

"What if the man is some kind of shapeshifter?"

She hadn't been sure what kind of reaction to expect to that suggestion, so she wasn't exactly sure whether the utter lack of verbal response was a good thing or a bad thing. Not really wanting to see the look in either pair of eyes, she glanced over at the far wall and added hastily, "Even though it doesn't explain what he's doing with the weapon, it would explain the rest of it. He's not ducking out of sight in order to turn invisible, since he wouldn't need to hide in order to do that. He's ducking out of sight so that we don't see him change. And he's not doing anything with the clothes … he's still wearing them … they shift with him."

Now she did risk looking at her companions. Dana was back to wearing her contemplative look; John was shaking his head. Though the fact that he hadn't come right out and said anything about the idea being stupid did give her a sense of hope that he would at least consider the possibility.

Oddly, he was the first to speak. "I have to admit that this idea sounds just as silly to me as the other one." The lack of inflection in his tone was strangely reassuring to Monica. "I can't imagine how this would work … and I'm not sure how I feel about going from one outlandish theory to another one. But I do think you're right in saying that there's some kind of secret place where he's stashing the gun, or the clothes, or both. There has to be something that we've missed."

She nodded at him, knowing that it would be best for him to just concentrate on the tangible right now. Whether she was right or not, there was nothing much he could do with the information she'd just given him. Not that she could do much with it either, other than hit the library newspaper archives and see if they'd run any "mysterious sightings" stories that might relate to this case.

Realizing that Dana still hadn't said a word, she turned to the other woman. The clear eyes swung up to meet hers and she could see that there was definite intrigue and curiosity in the gaze. She could also see that an idea was forming.

"Where did you get the idea of a shapeshifter? Were you looking through some of the old X-Files?"

And leave it to the other woman to go that direction with the question, rather than offering up her own thoughts. Though Monica wanted to hear what Dana had to say, especially if there was a previous case dealing with the phenomenon, she also knew that this was part of the woman's thought process – gathering information by listening to people think out loud. She also had just enough of a glimpse into her friend's mind to know that it was something that had been lacking in her time with Mulder; Scully was often given bits and pieces of information, but not enough to really help her understand some of what she'd been dealing with. And Reyes knew that her friend felt a sense of relief at not having to deal with that any longer.

Shaking off her mental meanderings, she turned her thoughts back to the question hanging in the air. "It happened when I was thinking about the flaws in the invisibility theory. It just hit me that he didn't have nearly enough time to duck out of sight, get out of his clothes, hide the clothes and the gun, turn invisible, and then get out of the area before the police could corner him. So I started wondering whether there was a shortcut to the process, and focused in on the clothing issue … and then was reminded of the mythology of shapeshifters."

She paused for breath and wasn't too surprised when John popped up with an observation – a fairly obvious one for anyone who had made a habit of watching bad movies on late night television. "I always thought that werewolves changed at a certain moon phase or whatever, which doesn't apply in this case. And don't they usually have to go back into the woods and try to find the spot where they left their clothes?"

Since she was trying hard not to irritate her partner, since she knew the case in general was really annoying him, she managed to keep from laughing. As she responded, she didn't dare look at Dana. "Well, if you're looking specifically at werewolves, those things tend to be mainstays of the legends, which really wouldn't fit this case."

She'd planned to continue, but was interrupted by Dana. "The legends are just a way of talking about people with lycanthropy. If a person is convinced strongly enough that he really is a wolf, then he will leave evidence behind to further that belief. Though we did have one case that left me … wondering …"

Monica was expecting more, but Dana broke off there. By the look on the woman's face, it was clear whatever had happened was something she wanted to forget. Clearing her throat, Monica caught John's eye and continued her explanation. "Beyond the werewolf mythology, there is the more generalized notion of a shapeshifter … where the form can change at will and the shapeshifter has a set of animal skins that they throw over themselves … the skin of whatever animal it is that they shift into."

She'd planned to go on, but Dana interrupted again, her tone reflective. "And if, as Agent Doggett said, the suspect was wearing leather, then that would tie in with the idea of animal skins. Assuming this theory does have merit, then that would resolve the issue of what had been done with the clothing. For the sake of argument, we'd also have to assume that the man was able to find a place to tan the hides and make clothing out of the skins of whatever animal he's shifting into. That's not exactly a common art in an urban setting, and might give us an avenue of investigation."

Monica looked over to see that John was listening, but didn't seem to be all that interested in the vague notions they were tossing around. She noted that his head was cocked to the side, indicating that some level of his attention was on them, but he was busy sketching some kind of diagram on a stray piece of paper. Which wasn't too unusual, when she stopped to think about it: he was a man of action and only had so much patience for the nebulous and undefined – X-File or not. Though she suspected he was paying far more attention to the conversation than his posture and actions would indicate.

She turned her attention back to Dana. "True. It would at least explain that piece of things. And … well … do you remember yesterday … when I told you I thought I had seen something important and just couldn't remember what it was?" There was a decisive, confirming nod. "Well, when we were going around the dumpster, I saw a rat. I had my gun trained on it before I even realized what I'd seen. Then I saw a bird flying off. And as absurd as this may sound, I have to wonder if that's how the suspect is escaping. If it is … then the only thing I can suggest is that he's a shapeshifter."

She studied her friend; watched her absorb the information. Since she'd been struck earlier by the sense that the other woman was forming an idea, she just let the words hang in the air, to see what the other woman would do with them. She found it fascinating to watch the other woman think, to see more and more of the complexity that was Dana Scully.

Watching the other woman as intently as she was, she didn't miss the brief moment where Scully's brow wrinkled in worry. Without conscious thought, Monica extended her energy outward, looking for the source of the concern. With a start of surprise, she realized the emotion was about her. Reyes could see that Dana was worried about how she would react to whatever idea was floating around in her head. She made a mental note to talk to her friend about that at some point. While she was admittedly more sensitive to certain things than a lot of people, she also wasn't made out of glass … and she needed Dana to be able to just say what was on her mind without censoring it out of concern.

Though she had to admit that it was touching to have the continual reminder of how much her friend did care for her. Even if it was only platonically.

She glanced back at John, to find him still idly doodling, then heard Dana's voice and swung her attention back around to her friend. "I do think that the invisibility theory no longer is applicable here, given the time constraints and the logical flaws."

There was a slight pause and Monica could hear the note of reluctance in her friend's voice when she continued. "While the shapeshifter theory does seem a bit more suited to some of the evidence, it still also has a logical flaw in it, unless we can figure out where the weapon is being hidden. And while both these theories have given us something to work with in terms of trying to narrow down a way of catching the suspect, I think it's time to shift our focus a bit. Theories aren't getting us anywhere and the surveillance used in the case thus far hasn't helped capture the suspect."

When Dana glanced at her, seemingly looking for support or confirmation, Monica nodded encouragingly. She wasn't in the least bit bothered or surprised that her friend was suggesting a change in tactics. She just wanted to hear what the idea was.

"I think we need to find a way to get into the buildings adjacent to both alleyways and set up some video cameras that would cover the area where the suspect has been disappearing. If we keep the places under surveillance, then we can see what he's doing and build our case from that information."

Monica wasn't too surprised when John excitedly interrupted Dana's steady, methodical word flow. "That's a good idea. It would at least tell us where the man is hiding things and how the hell he's slipping past us."

Something about the idea bothered Reyes and she couldn't quite figure out what it was. Tentatively, she argued, "But what happens if we can't get a warrant? I mean, this isn't quite the same thing as setting up surveillance on a specific suspect … this is videotaping anyone who happens to be in either of the alleyways. It seems like it would be an invasion of privacy. Especially since it's not like we'd be catching an actual crime on tape."

It was a lame argument and she knew it as soon as the words were out of her mouth. There was just something that bothered her about the set-up, and she thought a large part of it was because she didn't like the idea that Dana was so willing to skirt standard procedure. While she herself had always operated on her hunches and was willing to throw away the book when necessary, she often did so in an effort to protect the people around her. In that way, she was definitely like Agent Mulder: she would do what needed to be done, and would let herself suffer the consequences to spare the people she cared about.

It was a vaguely discomfiting thought, since she knew full well that Dana didn't need her protection.

Before she could get too lost in her thoughts, John offered a comment that pulled her back into the here and now. "Let's say that you're right. What difference does it make if we don't have a warrant? The only reason to do this is to give us a chance to figure out what the guy is doing … how he's disappearing. Realistically, no one other than the three of us would have to know that we had video taped the man … and it would give us a way to at least find his weapon and clothes so that we have a shot at tracking him down through actual physical evidence. No one else would need to know how we figured out where he was stashing the stuff."

That was definitely a valid point, and one that she hadn't considered. And as she was considering it, Dana stepped close, put her hand on Monica's shoulder in a comforting gesture, and weighed in with, "I agree with Agent Doggett. Whether we have a warrant or not, we can use the information for our own purposes. I understand your concern about an invasion of privacy, given that we wouldn't be catching the man in the act of killing; we'd be taping him after the fact and without any actual evidence that he was the suspect. But this is also far different from going into someone's home without permission, or tapping an individual's phone … this is taping an area of public property for security purposes."

She was mulling that over as she heard John say, "Y'know, I just remembered that there's a judge over in New Jersey who owes me a huge favor. If we do need a warrant, I'm sure he'd issue one. And if we don't, then it's a moot point. I just don't see any other way of tracking down this guy."

Monica had a vague sense of unease, but shrugged it off. Her intuition had sidetracked her enough today. It was time to refocus on the tried and true methods of investigation. She simply nodded and said quietly, "I just hope it works."

She felt a loss of warmth on her shoulder and looked over to realize that Dana had just then moved away from her. The other woman gave her a serious half-smile and then turned her attention to John. "If you know someone who can help us, let's do that. I think in this case, the sooner we can get things set up, the better. Given the pattern we've established, we only have two days before he kills again."

Monica swung her gaze over to where John was nodding thoughtfully, though she could see a flicker of amusement in his eyes. "Don't need to worry on that score," he said. "This judge isn't known for his patience."

For some reason, the words made both women smile.

In alleyway #1, industrial Newark, New Jersey

October 17, 2:33pm EDT

Monica paced restlessly as she stood near the dumpster, waiting for Dana and John to rejoin her. Since she wasn't all that good at anything remotely mechanical – she still had to read the manual in order to even set her VCR clock – the two of them had gone into the building to set up the camera. That left her to stand here and look as photogenic as possible, since they were using her as their test subject in terms of angle and positioning. Which was all right, she supposed, but she was having an awfully hard time just standing around doing nothing.

In order to keep herself focused on what they were doing there in the first place, she forced herself to stop staring up at the relevant building, since it wasn't like she could see through the windows to catch a glimpse of her partners anyhow. Instead, she let her gaze slowly pan around the alleyway. Though they had already looked at the area in minute detail, she couldn't help but hope that someway, somehow, she would see a new clue or find something that they'd missed the first couple times through. While she'd come up with a theory she liked in terms of how the suspect was getting past them, she still was bothered by what he was doing with the weapon. And while she knew the answer would be recorded on the tape – either here or in the other alley – she didn't want to wait for it. Patience was one of her virtues under most circumstances, but not when she had an idea she wanted to test or a mental map she wanted to complete.

Drumming her fingers on her own chin, she kept glancing around, looking for something she wasn't sure she'd recognize. She couldn't figure out why – if the man was indeed a shapeshifter – he didn't just leave his weapon at the scene of each crime. Ok, so it would be expensive and risky to keep having to purchase weapons for each kill … but it was also incredibly risky to have to come back to retrieve the piece. Especially for someone the police couldn't even track down in any database or neighborhood canvas.

He had what seemed like a foolproof disguise and a foolproof escape … and yet the weapon issue put that in jeopardy. Not to mention the fact that he'd specifically taken to taunting the FBI for not being able to catch him. Why run the risk of stashing a weapon somewhere?

Maybe, subconsciously, he wanted to be caught.

That thought made Monica stand shock still for a moment, fitting the idea to her earlier assumptions. Then she forced herself to stop trying to analyze the situation so much; until they caught the man and understood his motives for what he was doing, no amount of analysis would tell her what she really needed to know.

She took a deep breath and held it for a moment, then released it. Closing her eyes, she took another breath, trying to empty her mind. She didn't quite manage that trick, since her earlier thought kept popping up. From past experience, she knew that if a thought kept repeating itself, it was something important, something that needed to be given attention.

She opened her mind, letting it follow the thought, the idea that he wanted to be caught. If she was right about his subconscious motive, then the weapon would be hidden, but obvious to anyone who really took the time to look.

Opening her eyes, she moved towards the dumpster, only vaguely wondering why it was taking John and Dana so long to set up the camera. Shoving that thought aside in order to concentrate better, she glanced at the wall. Thinking for a moment, she decided that wasn't the place to look. Trying to locate the exact location of a hidden switch would be way too time-consuming for the suspect, particularly in a stressful situation where his attention would be split between trying to hide the gun and trying to keep tabs on where his pursuers were.

She lay down on the concrete, careless of her clothes, turning so that she was on her side. Her head didn't quite fit under the dumpster, but she didn't think she'd need to see what she was doing. Pulling a latex glove from her pocket, she snapped it on her right hand and then reached under the metallic box, fingers moving to feel along the underside of it. While both the X-Files team and the cops had looked at the ground under the dumpster, she suddenly realized that none of them had actually looked at the box itself.

Her fingers slid inch by inch along the battered metal. Bump. Moving slowly, she traced the shape her fingers had run into. It certainly felt like a gun. She couldn't feel any tape or anything else that would hold it in place, but she had to pull hard to get the piece away from the dumpster. Pulling her arm out from underneath the box, still lying on her side, she looked at what she had in her hand. It was a gun all right, and when she turned it over to figure out how the hell it had remained attached, she saw three magnets stuck to it.

She almost laughed aloud at the sheer simplicity and counter-intuitiveness of it.

Now that she wasn't concentrating so hard, she could hear footsteps clumping on the concrete, and see a shadow looming over her. It was about time that John and Dana finished setting up the camera and came back to get her. With a faint flash of guilt for moving out of their sights and being such a poor test subject, she rolled to her back.

While the alley interior wasn't particularly bright, her angle of vision was such that she could see the top floor windows of one of the buildings, and the reflected sunlight on the cracked panes of glass was dazzling. Shielding her eyes with one hand, she held the gun triumphantly in the other. "Look what I found," she exclaimed.

The gun was taken out of her hand and she pushed herself to a sitting position, brushing herself off, relieved by the change in posture. She looked up, unable to contain a slight smirk as she imagined what the look on John's face would be when he saw what she'd found.

At the exact moment that she realized it wasn't John standing over her, she felt herself hauled up by her collar and slammed back against the dumpster so hard that it knocked the wind out of her.

Oh shit. It was the killer.

She gasped for breath and slammed out with one hand, self-defense training kicking in. But she was still winded and the man had the element of surprise on his side. She cried out when he blocked her blow and cracked the butt of the gun across her temple, sending her sprawling to the ground. Putting a hand to her head, she instinctively kicked out with both feet and heard a heavy thud as she managed to knock the man to the ground.

She pushed up on one hand, and then collapsed back to the ground, seeing stars from the blow to her head. She fought to stay conscious, holding on to the thought that she just had to hang on until John and Dana got there. Unless the killer had already found them, which would explain why it was taking them so damn long to get back to her.

She shoved aside the fear conjured up by the thought and tried to concentrate on stopping the man before he could escape. Lying awkwardly on the ground, her head still spinning, she reached for her holstered weapon, seeing out of the corner of her eye that he'd managed to get back to his feet. But before she could even get her gun out of the holster, she felt a burning pain explode in her right forearm.

Crying out in agony, she lay curled on her side, trying to gather her wits. Her survival instinct kicked in and she looked up to see the killer staring down at her, anger written across his features. For a long moment they were locked in the strange tableau: he stood snarling at her, as though he wasn't quite sure what to do next, while she fought the pain in both her head and her arm. Breathing hard against the pain, she looked down to see blood trickling down her arm and wrist, and a ragged hole where the bullet had penetrated her flesh.

She clasped her free hand over the wound, turning her arm gently to see that there was an exit hole. With the one tiny part of her mind that was still calm and functioning more or less rationally, she thanked all the gods in the pantheon that the injury wasn't as bad as it could have been. She realized it was an odd thought to have at that moment in time, given that she might not survive the next several minutes, but Monica was nothing if not unconventional.

And oddly, the optimism of the thought served to refocus her attention on how to get out of the situation. She used her free hand to lever herself into a sitting position, wincing at the way the movement made her head pound. But she knew that she couldn't defend herself lying down … and given how thoroughly the odds were stacked against her, she needed any advantage she could get, no matter how small.

Looking up again, she saw the sneer on the man's face as he towered over her. "What's a nice little girl like you doing out here all by yourself?" Aha … he didn't know about John and Dana, which meant that the odds of her survival had just gone up considerably. "Have a fight with your partners over your silly little invisibility theory? Did the boys in blue get fed up with your outlandish ideas and tell you to go fuck yourself? Tell you what … I can help you with that last part … hot little piece like you needs a good fuck now and then."

Monica cringed at the implication, not so much because she thought he would go that route, but because she knew it would make him feel less threatened by her if he thought she was afraid. For show, she cowered away from him, watching his face closely to see his reaction to her display of fear, extending her empathic feelers in his direction.

What she felt made her cower back for real, suddenly terrified.

She could feel that he was scared of her, a lot more scared than he was letting on – because she could see his secrets … she could be his undoing. But it was the emotions boiling under the surface that truly made her blood run cold. Whatever he was, the man-beast wasn't human: at least not anymore. He clearly could pass as human, could use language and human tools and skills. But there were no thoughts or feelings that even registered as human. He felt like nothing more than a wild animal.

Monica clutched her wounded arm tightly and shrank back from the man. She couldn't quite figure out why this terrified her so much – as a child, she'd had occasional empathic flashes from her pets and that had never frightened her. This did. When the man flashed his teeth at her and snarled, she felt the wildness of feeling radiating out from him. Just a swirling mass of need, of primal instincts: hunger, anger, violence, dominance, power, thirst, lust, survival. No thought … no empathy … no awareness of self or of others. At least not in his conscious mind, anyhow.

She backed away until her back hit the side of the dumpster and there was nowhere else to go. The man followed her, and as she looked up into his face, there was a momentary flash of anguish in his eyes. It lasted only a fraction of a second, before the animalistic rage took over again, but that was enough. She'd seen it.

Biting her lip, she did something she rarely ever did, something that she knew she would regret later since her energy reserves were much lower than normal, especially with being shot and the blow to her head. But she had to know. Shoving aside her fear, closing her eyes, she pushed outward with her mind, probed at the man's mind. She concentrated hard, swam through the sea of surface thoughts, probed the edges of the man's subconscious mind.

There were no words to explain what she was doing, no psychological or anatomical way to describe it. She just extended her mental finger into his mind, pushing aside the surface thoughts of the animal, trying to find the human buried underneath. With a sudden splash, like that of an unexpected wave, she broke through.

Please, dear God, help me.

Monica broke the connection, slumping back against the dumpster. Between the injuries and the expense of mental energy, she was suddenly exhausted. It was no little irony that now that she'd seen clearly that the man was trying to be caught, that he wanted to destroy the animal he'd become – regardless of the cost, she had no strength left to do anything about it. And when he reached down, his hand seeking her neck, she could barely break out of his grasp and roll away. The fear returned as he reached for her again, animal rage in his eyes.

"What the hell? Get away from her, you bastard!"

Monica had forgotten all about her missing partners, so the sound of John's voice echoing down the alleyway made her feel almost giddy with relief. Then the man snarled, and exhausted as she was, she couldn't help but cry out as he backhanded her, knocking her flat. She lay curled on her side, tensed, not sure what move he would make next.

And then, the air shimmered and the man shifted.

Even though she was expecting it, Monica was amazed at seeing the transformation. One minute, he was a perfectly normal man holding a gun; the next, he was a hair-covered rat with a gun lying next to him on the concrete. Absently, she wondered if the camera was recording the scene. Not that anyone would believe it to be anything other than CGI effects.

The rat skittered off, and in a panic she levered herself up with her good arm, trying to get enough air in her lungs to call out a warning. She took a deep breath and got as far as, "Look out …" when she heard a gunshot, the sound echoing around her.

When she didn't hear anything else for a long moment, she released the breath she was holding, then slumped back against the brick wall. Then she heard the soft thud of feet and wasn't surprised when Dana came into her line of sight. She saw the way the other woman's eyes widened when they landed on her, which wasn't too surprising since Monica suspected she looked as bad as she felt.

She just sat there as her friend walked over and squatted down in front of her. Waving her good arm vaguely towards the alley entrance, she asked quietly, "What happened?"

Monica wasn't too surprised when Dana didn't answer right away, instead looking her over and examining her various injuries. She hissed in pain when the other woman gently probed at the gunshot wound in her arm. Oh, that hurt. She closed her eyes for a moment, breathing through the pain, trying to ignore the insistent throbbing in her arm.

"We saw a rat run out from under the dumpster. John shot it … killed it." There was a long pause, during which Monica felt like she should open her eyes and join the conversation, but couldn't quite find the words. She was too busy ignoring Dana's fingers examining all her injuries in detail. "Did you know that when you kill a shapeshifter in animal form, it reverts back to human form?"

That calmly spoken statement snapped Monica's eyes open. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She just sat there, shock still, watching as Dana pulled away from her, staring at her intently. Then she saw a soft smile flicker to life in the woman's eyes. "You did a good job, Monica. If you hadn't told us your theory, the suspect would have been able to attack you and then slip past us … and he would have killed again. Don't ever stop sharing your ideas and your theories, no matter how Agent Doggett reacts to them. You're doing a lot of good in this world; don't ever forget that."

She couldn't help it; she blushed at the compliment, and at the reassurance threaded through her friend's tone. It still amazed her that Dana knew her so well … knew her insecurities, knew her weaknesses, knew her need for reassurance. Since her training days, she'd been told that those traits in her were bad, that she needed to try harder to change that basic part of her personality. No wonder it touched her so deeply that her friend managed to make her feel as though those things were actually assets.

With a smile, she looked up at her friend, seeing that the other woman was now standing up and offering her a hand. She took the proffered hand without question, letting the other woman pull her slowly to her feet. Once upright, she swayed for a moment, suddenly realizing just how light-headed she was. While she was fairly sure she didn't have a concussion, she could tell she was being affected by shock.

It didn't surprise her when Dana moved closer and slid a supporting arm around her waist. She let herself lean against her friend, slightly amazed at herself for allowing the gesture. Despite her basic trusting nature, she rarely let herself rely on anyone like this, being far too independent for that. It should have scared her to rely on someone like she did on Dana. Instead, it warmed her and felt comfortable, like she'd come home in a way.

She sighed softly and leaned against her friend. "He wanted to die," she managed in a ragged whisper, not even sure why she felt compelled to bring it up. "The man … I saw into his mind … he hated what he'd become and he couldn't break out of it … the animal had taken control. I … I've never felt anything like that … hope I never do again."

She was vaguely aware that she was shaking, and she felt her friend's arm tighten around her waist. "Shhh … it's ok … it's over." Not trusting her own voice, she nodded in response to Dana's soothing words. "Come on … you're in shock and you need medical attention."

She nodded again, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, letting Dana lead her around the dumpster. Within seconds, they were standing next to John, who was on his cell phone and motioned to them to wait a moment. Monica stared down at the dead body, feeling squeamish in a way that had nothing to do with the blood. She'd felt his mind … she'd felt the horror he'd created for himself when he allowed himself to be seduced by the animal within. The mere memory made her sick, and she was grateful that Dana's arm was around her to hold her up. Shaking her head, she looked away.

Hearing the dull snap of John's cell phone being shut, she forced her eyes to focus on him. She saw the lines of anger in his face as he took in her appearance. True to his nature, he didn't bother to do the whole sympathy routine, instead focusing in on the immediacy of what had happened. "All I've got to say is we're damn lucky this guy … whatever the hell he was … turned up as a dead human instead of a dead rat. This way, I was justified in using deadly force, since I'd seen him attacking you. The fact that he dropped his gun is problematic, but once he's tied to the murders that have been plaguing this city, the grand jury will agree that I had reason to suspect he was armed with something else when he came running towards us."

Monica felt as though her thoughts were coming through pea-thick fog. Oh yeah, she was definitely in shock. "What about what they'll see on the video tape? I mean, if someone gets their hands on that …"

She trailed off, unable to remember why that detail was so important, but she was watching Doggett and saw the scowl on his face. "Yeah, well, that's why we didn't get back to you sooner. Damn thing wouldn't work right. We finally found a window that had a decent view of the back of the alley, and then we couldn't get the damn camera to record. After maybe fifteen minutes, we decided to just head back to supply and requisition another one."

"So no evidence of what happened?" She could hear the hopeful note in her voice.

John merely snorted. "No evidence. Nothing caught on tape. Given what happened … with him shifting and all … I think that's probably for the best."

Monica nodded quietly. She agreed with him, but not for their sake – for the anonymous man's. It was best that no one else know what he'd endured. Even if it were his own fault, she wouldn't wish that fate on anyone. Not even her worst enemy.

Monica Reyes' apartment

October 20, 7:32pm EDT


Monica smiled up at Dana, reaching out with her left hand to take the offered cup of coffee. Lifting it to her nose, she inhaled deeply, drinking in the aroma of Vanilla Macadamia Nut Blend. Aware that the beverage was too hot to drink at present, she leaned over and set her mug down on the coffee table before settling back against the couch cushions.

"Thanks," she sighed happily, watching as the other woman set down her own cup of coffee and then sat down on the couch next to her. Looking at the side-by-side mugs, she couldn't restrain an impish grin at the contrast.

Dana was drinking out of a white mug with pale pink and lavender roses on it, her coffee liberally laced with cream and sugar. It was actually far daintier than most people would usually associate with the hard-nosed Agent Scully. Monica's mug was an earthy beige color with a blue peace dove on it, and her coffee had just a touch of sugar in it. Though she knew it was probably just randomness that caused her friend to pull out those two mugs, she couldn't help but wonder if there was some underlying symbolism there. Especially given that Reyes was something of a mug collector and had over twenty different designs in her cupboard.

Shaking her head to clear out those interesting, but irrelevant, thoughts, Monica looked down at her right forearm and the bulky but neat bandage covering it. She had been damned lucky that there was no major damage. There had been some loss of muscle tissue, but nothing that a few weeks of therapy couldn't fix. The doctor had threatened to make her wear a sling if she didn't just rest her arm and let it heal, so she'd been trying very hard to not overdo things.

She sighed softly, as the glance at the bandage reminded her anew of just what had happened in that alleyway. Feeling a soft touch on the back of her hand, she looked up into concerned eyes. It wasn't really a surprise that Dana was watching her intently, worry written across the lines of her face. "Do you want to talk about it?"

The gently spoken question warmed her. She reached out and stroked the back of Dana's hand, turning her thoughts over in her mind. They hadn't really talked about the case all that much, at least not on this level. Sure, they'd talked about the actual details of it, especially once they'd finally tracked down the man's identity. He'd once been a zoologist, but had been kicked out of the field after doing some unprofessional and unauthorized rounds of research using all manner of animals. John had speculated that the guy got entranced somehow with the idea of shapeshifting and was experimenting with it in his workplace, and that did seem to fit the evidence they'd managed to find after his death. Why he'd chosen rats, they had no way of knowing, except to speculate that they were the only animals he could easily get his hands on.

Still, they hadn't talked at all about the more personal aspects of the case. Not that John realized there were any, since he had no idea Monica had looked into the suspect's mind. In some ways, she was surprised that Dana had even brought it up, since the case itself wasn't nearly as traumatic as their last case … the one where she'd felt the little girl. In other ways, however, she wasn't really surprised by her friend's concern. Once Dana Scully opened herself up and let herself get close to someone, she didn't do it by halves.

Sorting out her thoughts, she looked back up at her friend, noting the concerned look in greenish-blue eyes. She kept her voice quiet, not really sure what she wanted to say. "I don't know what there is to talk about. Not really. I mean, it's not the kind of case that should leave anyone feeling haunted – we stopped a dangerous man from killing again. Pretty cut and dried."

She paused, not sure what else to say, and heard her friend's soft, "Except for the fact that you felt into that man's mind … that you made a personal connection with him. Even though you know as well as I do that the outcome of the case was poetic justice, that doesn't mean that it's any easier for you to deal with."

Monica couldn't help it; she laughed softly. "How do we keep ending up here? I mean, how does it keep happening that I'm emotional after a case is closed and you're here to pick up the pieces and listen to me?"

Seeing a slight frown hover over delicate features, she reached out again to stroke the back of her friend's hand. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I'm not complaining about it … and I really appreciate the fact that you are here for me. I really do." She broke off again, this time to keep herself from going too far and saying too much. She knew full well that the other woman was in no way ready to hear anything that hinted at her more-than-friends feelings.

"I know you do … I'm just honored that you let me be here for you. I know from experience how hard that can be." The comment was quiet and without much inflection, but Reyes didn't need the vocal cues. She could easily feel the sense of amazement in her friend's thoughts and once again got the curious sense that Dana wasn't entirely aware how much she had opened herself up to Monica.

And that realization, with the implicit responsibility it carried for Monica, served to steer her back on conversational course. She could not – would not – exploit her friend's vulnerability.

"I do feel safe with you, which is probably why I end up crying on your shoulder after some of our cases. Lucky you … I'm sure you've always dreamed of being a human Kleenex." She caught the faint smile on Dana's face at the dry humor laced through the last sentence – which was good since lightening the mood just a bit had been her goal.

She smiled as she heard Dana's suitably dry response. "Lucky me … you've figured out my childhood dream."

Rolling her eyes, she shared a chuckle with her friend before shifting back into a more serious mode. "As far as the case goes, I don't know that I really have a lot to talk about. Yes, it unnerved me immensely to feel his mind … to see how thoroughly he'd lost his humanity. I mean, it was still there, I did break through and see how much he hated what he'd become. But the waking part of his mind, the part that was in control, was just pulsing, wild, primal urges. It wasn't even like being around a pet cat or dog … where even though they are still animals and not human in any way, there is some kind of bond to their owners … there's an awareness of human feelings. I don't quite know how to put it into words."

She stopped, quite literally at a loss for words to describe what she'd felt, how it had made her feel. Involuntarily, she shuddered at the memory of his alien thoughts, at the memory of breaking through into his subconscious and hearing his plea for help.

Feeling Dana draping her arm over the back of the couch, she leaned back, resting her head on her friend's forearm. She closed her eyes, taking stock of herself. It was definitely an experience that would haunt her for a while, but nothing that would interrupt her sleep or break into her thoughts at inopportune times. Thinking about it, she realized that, as much as anything, it was the feeling of being helpless that had really gotten to her. Not just helpless in the sense of dealing with a man – with a mind – that she couldn't reason with … but in the sense of feeling utterly incapable of helping him.

She didn't realize she'd voiced her thoughts aloud until she heard the pensive, persuasive note in Dana's voice. "But you did help him, Monica. Maybe not directly – since John was the one who fired the shot that put him out of his misery – but by figuring out his secret. When you figured out what he was, you gave us the ability to end his pain. Don't discount your role in what happened … don't assume that you didn't do anything to help him." The next words were so quiet that Monica wasn't quite sure they were meant for her ears. "I think you do more than you ever realize to help the people around you."

The compliment made her cheeks grow hot with shy embarrassment, but she tried to cover up the reaction, not sure whether or not Dana had intended her to hear that last sentence. She leaned forward and used her good hand to pick up her mug. She lifted it to her lips and took a sip before saying, "Thanks. It does help a lot to hear you say that. I do believe that he would rather have died than continue living like that … and if I did anything to help with that, it makes me happy … ironic as it sounds."

She watched as her friend leaned forward, picking up her own coffee mug and taking a sip. And when she heard the somewhat dry note in Dana's voice, she figured the other woman felt comfortable with the knowledge that she would be ok. "Yeah, life definitely has its ironic moments. I've had moments where I've questioned my faith, wondering if there really was a God. But the irony of life is sometimes enough to convince me that not only is there a God, since it seems unlikely that randomly generated life would have enough of a pattern to make irony possible, but that God has a definite sense of humor."

Monica almost spit her coffee out at that statement. From what she'd seen, her friend was extremely serious about her religious convictions. The idea that Dana believed in a God with a sense of humor was a new twist – and she wondered if it was just a part of the innate complexity of her friend's mind, or whether it was a sign of how much the years on the X-Files had caused Scully to grow and change as a person.

She knew she wouldn't figure out the answer to that puzzle right at the moment. But she found herself hoping that their friendship would last long enough for her to be able to piece it together over the years.

Looking over at her friend, she saw a familiar raised eyebrow and saw a definite twinkle in those clear eyes. That Dana had a sense of humor wasn't a revelation; Monica had picked up on those undercurrents a long time ago. The revelation was in seeing just how comfortable her friend was in letting her see that trait, as Scully was very careful about keeping this side of herself under wraps in most areas of her life.

The only suitable response she could come up with was a mellow chuckle. She raised her mug, gesturing for Dana to do the same. "To the irony of life. And to friendship."

As their mugs clinked gently together, she smiled as she heard Dana repeat softly, "To friendship."

The End

Return to X-files Fiction

Return to Main Page