I based this story (loosely) on an original movie script I planned to write called The Maze. It was psychological adventure drama where a bunch of people were run through a maze filled with tests set up by a visionary serial killer who was streaming the footage on the internet for money. I never did write it, but I borrowed some of the ideas for the story.

Title - "The Games We Play"
Author - Wintersong
E-Mail address - xf_wintersong
Rating - R
Category - SA
Spoilers - First Person Shooter
Keywords - none

PURity Category: Minor Characters

Summary - Mulder and Scully participate in an FBI
wargame that raises interesting questions about
what game is being played...and the identities
of the players.

Disclaimer: They belong to CC and 1013.

Note: This story was written for the PURity
Summer Season Challenge. It takes place after
First Person Shooter but before Requiem.

*************************************

It was the FBI's newest toy...and everybody
wanted to play.

It started out as the bastard stepchild of an HRT
desire for their own Hogan's Alley training
facility. Appropriations took one look at the
projected budget and rightly choked. There was
absolutely no way, they said, that that much
money would be spent on a unit that had a bare
100 agents, no matter how specialized. Grumbling
at the prospect of sharing their playground, HRT
nevertheless went back to the drawing board and
redrew the plans, this time including facilities
for SWAT and other fast -response training. The
FBI National Academy program was proving to be
such a success that the HRT designers decided
that the same philosophy could be re-utilized.
Quantico would provide the training facilities,
the FBI would get a chance to get local law
enforcement used to dealing with the new and
improved federal response teams (the mandate of
those teams being ever expanded to the
jurisdiction and ego-pinching dismay of city and
state police departments everywhere) and HRT
would get it's multi-million dollar swingset.

It almost worked.

About the same time HRT was gleefully designing
multi-leveled warehouses, hidden bunkers and
underground tunnels, Quantico was getting serious
requests for expanded seats in their National
Academy program. Additional classes meant a need
for additional accommodations and cafeteria
allocations and the accountants were still
reluctant to authorize the construction of
facilities that needed to be built to full-time
standards, but would likely only be filled to
half capacity for the first few years. The
possible expansion of available training programs
- training programs that the FBI might actually
be able to charge for, made every cost recovery
instinct sit up and sing. Even better, no one had
any doubts that the federal government was going
to be getting more involved with SWAT-like
activities through CIRG and the FBI's expanding
international mandate against terrorism, drugs
and hostage negotiation.

Then someone read the HRT proposal.

And had an idea.

A wonderfully, horrible, awful idea. What if -
they said- in grim awful, tones, we advertise?
We build something so big, so unique, that no one
except the federal government could afford to
build it. HRT is the best? Then let's prove it.
Let's build a training facility designed not just
to train better soldiers, let's show the locals
just how good our agents are. Let there be
absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind, that when
HRT takes over jurisdiction, that they deserve to
be there. And how better to do that, then set the
locals against the feds? And make them lose.

Of course, that was not exactly how they put it
on paper..

Officially, local law enforcement would be run
through the program to show them just how
difficult it was, just how good HRT agents really
were and then, after the hormone buzz wore off,
they'd be given classroom training in how best to
coordinate local and federal resources in an
emergency situation. Ultimately, it was proposed,
HRT would become the universal fast response
standard.

It was a recruiter's wet dream.

So what about the money? It was going to cost
big. Really big. And budgets were being reduced
left, right and center. How were they going to
justify something the size of a small theme park?

Somebody called the CIA and asked one simple
question.

How would you like free rein to mind-fuck the
FBI?

They crossed the water before breakfast.

Before anyone could sign on the dotted line, the
NSA landed three helicopters and one pissed off
director who demanded to know why he was being
cut out of the fun. NCIS wanted any information
that might come out regarding psychological
stress testing of agents in the field while the
CO for the Navy CRT at Catalano just wanted to
know if he could help. Within four hours, the
DEA, ATF, DOT and LAPD had all called wanting to
reserve space in the program. The USMS reserved
judgement.

Needless to say, HRT was more than a little put
out with all the fingers being dipped into the
pie...but they got their money.

Three years later the facility finally opened.
Six months into the program, they realized that
they had a gold-mine on their hands. Data poured
in, unbelievable and totally unexpected results
blew previous expectations out of the water. By
the end of the first trial run, new studies were
being hashed out and the embryonic structure for
training programs designed to brutally expose the
weaknesses in the individual, the partnership and
the team were being laid out. The CIA was
ecstatic, law enforcement beta testers-local,
city and state - were in a state of psychological
shock and the military was making grabbing
noises. The FBI just grinned and booked out the
next six month segment of the program while the
bean-counters stared in disbelief as cost-
recovery began to look more like ( gasp!)-
profit.

The FBI, the website and the official letterhead
called it the National HRT Psychological Testing
and Training Program.

Survivors just called it The Maze.

*************************************

I searched through the gathered pairs of agents
and tried to locate the four teams which belonged
to me. Above the sounds of eighty people shifting
and anxious to get started, I could hear the
amplified voice of SAC Tony Garnes as he went
through the final pep talk.

"...have no place in this exercise. I don't care
if your dog died, your wife left you or your kids
were just picked up for shoplifting. In there,
you have one concern , one goal, one purpose.
Your partner. In there, your partner is all you
got...and vice versa. "

The team from Cleveland were standing by the
closed doors to the main entrance. Both agents
were twitching, rising up on their toes, ready
for action and desperate to strut their stuff.
Both Willis and Holden were assigned to computer
crimes and I had a sneaking suspicion that this
was the closest thing to field work this pair of
agents had ever seen. Neither had a law
enforcement background although Willis's file
noted that she was an avid rock climber. It would
be interesting to see how they reacted to this
live action video game.

"...once this is over, you will have no more
illusions. Not about yourself or about your
partner. We are going to twist you, and then we
are going to do our best to break you. And when
it is all over, we're going to show you how to
put the pieces back together again. Hopefully in
a way that will keep you from getting yourself or
your partner killed. Make no mistake ladies and
gentlemen. We have your files, we have your
psyche evals and we have total access to every
single item in your personal jackets. And we are
going to use it all."

My second team was standing off to the side, both
agents carefully rooting through their packs and
double-checking their weapons. The actions
themselves were commendable, but their body
language was...problematic. SACs had specifically
been asked for the best teams fitting the program
criteria for this study. If this team had been
working together for the minimum three years
demanded, then they had better hope that they
never got a field assignment. I was getting
absolutely no sense of any synchronicity in their
movements - not even the standard like/dislike
and basic acknowledgement of identity that most
humans gave off as a matter of course. Oh well.
Whatever it was would come out in the course of
events.

It was my job to make sure of it.

"...not about blame. Nor are there always right
and wrong ways of doing things. But you cannot
operate in ignorance. If you are going to react,
do so in the full knowledge that you, as a team
and as part of a team, are choosing to act in
this way because this is the way you work best.
Many of you will have taken on certain roles and
attitudes because this is the way you started and
this is the way it has always worked for you. But
people change, and some of you may have grown
beyond these roles and may be trapped within
them."

My third team was waiting patiently, listening
carefully to the SAC and glancing at each other
every once in a while to catch the other's
reaction. Marshal was ex-SFPD and Sanchez was an
ex-Marine. The memo had specifically requested
that the SACs recommend their best. With these
two, I was actually confident that we had gotten
it. Despite the heavy weighting of pairs with
military or law enforcement background, I did not
have to be a profiler to see that barely half of
these teams were as confident in their
partnerships as they would need to be. It was
too early to tell if it was because of the
baseline criteria or if it was because of the
nature of the program itself.

Some of the SACs were beginning to avoid
sending working teams they wanted back in one
piece.

"...over the next three days, you and we are
going to find out exactly who and what you are
and if that is where you should be. I kid you not
people, this is going to be a painful process. We
are going to find every bruise, every insecurity
and every fear and we are going to poke it, prod
it and jab it with a knife. We are going to rip
it out, hold it up to public scrutiny and then we
are going to stomp on it. "

Where the hell was my fourth set of agents? A
second visual sweep failed to turn up any faces
matching the ones in the file folders I was
holding. Growling under my breath I thumbed my
throat mic and ear-piece combination to an open
link.

"Farrow to Command"

"Command here. What can I do for ya Jamie?"

"You can tell me where my Delta team is."

I winced as the voice on the other end of the
link snorted.

"Lost them already have you?"

I could overhear a set of voices saying something
about a bet. I groaned as I considered what the
next three days were going to be like if it was
starting already. Hell, the kitty was already up
about fifty bucks just because the elusive pair
had actually shown up this morning. Apparently,
there had been some doubt on that issue. At the
rate the bets were filling the dry-erase board on
the command center wall, my Delta team just might
be responsible for the biggest cash kitty in the
history of the FBI.

Wonderful.

"According to the blinking green dots, they
should be somewhere in your vicinity. You want
sound?'

What the hell. "Might as well."

My ear-piece crackled and the sudden faint echo
of the noise behind me not only confirmed that
they were somewhere close, but that they were
also wearing their FBI approved project fatigues.
The ones with the transmitters built into the
buttons. So, if they had gone so far as to come
out dressed to play, where the hell were they?

"...notice anything odd about the class mix,
Scully?"

"You mean other than the fact we are all male-
female pairs? No Mulder, not at all."

There was a decided pause before Mulder spoke.

"What?"

"You don't find all of this annoying?"

"Not really."

"You don't find it insulting that they've rounded
us all up like some sort of exhibit at the zoo?"

"Nope. You want to know why?"

"I'm afraid to ask."

" Because while all those shrinks are out there
looking for the men from Mars and the women from
Venus, the FBI agents are going to kick their
collective asses."

I finally spotted them. A tall dark haired man
and a short red-headed woman standing over by the
billboard map of the multi-leveled game complex.
My eyes had passed over them at least twice
without noticing them and I was at a loss as to
explain why. Both looked surprising natural in
their fatigues although nothing about them
screamed military. Agent Mulder was fixated on
the billboard with unnatural intensity while
Agent Scully stared up at him with amusement and
a casual tilt to her head that should have looked
awkward and did not.

Comfortable, I thought suddenly. That's the word
I was looking for. They looked poised, alert and
absolutely comfortable. Where had I seen that
combination of factors before?

The agents behind me started shifting as
backpacks were shouldered and the game director
started calling out starting orders. Thirty-nine
teams of agents started lining up before one of
four doors. My Delta team made forty. Each pair
would be given fifteen minutes to clear the doors
and get moving before the next team would be sent
in behind them. Each agent was equipped with a
semi-automatic paint pistol and two extra clips.
Each ammo clip carried ten rounds of splatter
paint pellets and once inside the game zone,
everyone except your partner was the enemy.

"How badly do you want to put the boots to their
bell curve, Scully?"

I could see the teeth flash from fifty feet away.

"Funky poaching, Mulder?"

"We're even dressed in black."

I closed my eyes and sighed.

I had no idea what they were talking about, but I
suspected it meant it was going to be a long
three days.

*********************************************

Mulder may have had a photographic memory, but he
usually did not bother to do maps. Too much
detail. If he did not notice it, he could not
remember it. It was one of the reasons he still
studied crime scene photos long after they had
been engraved into his gray matter. Scully also
had a sneaky suspicion that the process of
comparing the actual photo to his memory was part
of the way he evaluated details. In any case, he
still had to look at the map in his head and that
took just as long as reading a regular paper
copy. He had long since told her that any benefit
they might gain was far outweighed by the weird
flashbacks he got when driving.

Which was why she usually did the navigating.

Just because he normally did not memorize them,
however, did not mean that he could not. The
compound was twenty acres of interconnected
buildings and tunnels. Many of the buildings
extended as far as six levels underground and the
many possible routes had been designed to give
the HRT the maximum amount of flexibility when
choosing the skill being trained and the level of
difficulty being assigned. For this exercise,
four suggested routes of varying lengths and
difficulty had been assigned based on the agenda
of the exercise and the type of equipment that
the participants would be carrying. Agents had
the leeway to choose which route they wanted to
take based on their own skills and competitive
spirit.

But they were suggested routes only , and as
anyone could have told the game organizers,
Mulder did not always take suggestion well. Since
the agents were only given partial maps of the
game zone - the parts covered by their suggested
routes - wandering out of bounds usually only
occurred by accident, not design. Scully had
taken one look at her partner's narrow-eyed
contemplation of the complex map and left her
game supplied map in her backpack. Wherever they
were going, it was not on the map. While everyone
else was using the time waiting in line to make
last minute battle plans, she stretched out on a
nearby picnic table and took a nap.

Agents were free to choose their own route as
long as they passed through at least five of
forty possible game zones. Each game zone
represented an exercise or psychological test the
agents would be required to undergo. Each test
was carefully scripted and agents would receive
in-depth analysis of their performance after the
game. What the agents were not told, was that
their handlers had a range of exercises built
around each target weakness and could chose which
exercise to hit them with based on their
psychological profiles and the results of
previous exercises.

Agent teams could be eliminated from the game in
one of two ways. After twelve hours, they could
be shot by another agent pair or they could be
taken out by various types of hostiles played by
staff members. The latter was usually only found
during military style training exercises. With
the exception of CIRG personnel, the FBI was more
concerned with the psychological performance of
its agents during the scripted exercises, not
the physical.

Agents were under twenty-four hour surveillance
by VCU profilers and CIA psychological warfare
specialists. The compound itself was covered by
various forms of hidden audio and video pick-ups
with the game zones being inundated with
everything from infrared to night vision
equipment. Every aspect of the agents'
communication be it verbal or nonverbal was
taped and tagged for analysis. If the agents had
any hidden weaknesses, the Command center would
find them.

The final stage of the game was a complex problem
solving exercise that supposedly depended on the
agents having learned something about
communication , cooperation and trust for the
exercise to be resolved successfully.

Ironically, there seemed to be no middle of the
road with many of the partnerships. In the
crucible that was the Maze, either they
strengthened, or they shattered. Bureaucratically,
senior management and OPR were beginning to
wonder if the results were worth the pain.
The CIA and the FBI profilers just shrugged.

Better in the Maze than in the field.

*********************************

I made it back to the Command Center before the
first of my four teams were sent through the
doors. My two assistants were busy observing body
language and making notes for further study and
possible application in the field exercises.
Lieutenant (JG) Kathy Kramer, a psychological
warfare specialist from the US army on loan to
the CIA specifically for Project Pygmalion, was
tapping a pen thoughtfully against her lip as she
frowned . I stepped up behind her and peered over
her shoulder at the monitor.

Delta team.

Gosh. What a surprise.

Lt. Kramer twisted her head and met my eyes. She
pointed the end of her pen at a sleeping Scully.

"According to her file, that should be extremely
out of character."

I contemplated the sleeping agent for a long
moment, then cocked an eyebrow at Kramer.

"Military experience?"

She hesitated. According to the files of both
agents they had been scooped up by the FBI
directly out of their respective university
programs. Extremely unusual and someone had
pulled more than one string to do it. It had been
fairly obvious that the VCU had been doing some
hard-core recruiting. It was also obvious that
both agents had been dodging some fairly
dedicated attempts to patriate them into the BSU
fold. Or repatriate in Mulder's case.

Those files had been easy to access.

What was not quite so obvious was what exactly
they had been doing when they were not chasing
serial killers. Officially, they investigated
reports of UFO's and paranormal phenomena. I had
been unable to access much more than the official
case report summaries, but Kramer had speculated
that maybe it was something like the old Project
Bluebook. That opinion had made sense right up
until she accessed their medical records.

Someone really needed to teach these two how to
duck.

Both Kramer and I had begun to suspect that this
so-called X-Files department was just a front.
Whatever these two were, they were clearly more
than paper pushers. After running into the third
tight-lipped, high security block in a row, I had
speculated rather sarcastically, that maybe
werewolves existed after all. I mean, why else
all the red tape? Kramer had just snorted. Her
theory, which made a hell of a lot more sense ,
was that the two were undercover operators of
some kind. Their field agent status gave them the
perfect alibi and ability to drop out of sight at
a moment's notice.

Unfortunately, the first CIA operative we
suggested it to nearly killed himself laughing.

"Spooky Mulder and Doc Ice? You've got to be
kidding. Those two go missing for more than three
days and we've got fifty websites screaming that
we offed them. Then the FBI gets one hundred and
one more requests for their travel records
through the freedom of information act. Their
photos show up more often on the fringe sites
than Elvis sightings. Believe me, if their
reports say they were in Montana, you can be sure
that some MUFON nut got a photo of them. Hell,
that's where we get half our confirmation on what
they are up to. Have you seen the clearance
levels that get slapped on their after action
reports?"

Which really begged the question as to why the
CIA was keeping tabs on these two agents in the
first place. But it also shot our favorite theory
all to hell and back. So we were back to square
one.

Which meant that I was not asking if Agent Scully
had military experience. I was asking if her
actions made any sense from a military or combat
operational sense. I had seen HRT agents do the
same thing under different circumstances. Once
they all knew what was supposed to happen and it
was just a matter of "hurry up and wait". But I
had never seen one of them snoozing at the
beginning of the game. Not this game.

Basically, she was ceding all control of the
strategy and planning to her partner. And with
it, all responsibility. Technically Mulder was
the senior agent, but Kramer was right. Based on
their files, I would have expected her to take a
more active role. Or maybe it was not the files
so much as the looks and comments I had gotten
while doing my research. However, the case file
summaries were clearly stamped with Mulder's bias
and it was obviously his beliefs driving the non-
assigned investigations. Maybe she *was* little
more than a follower after all. A valuable
follower mind, but not the Pygmalion model I had
been hoping to find. I was honest enough to admit
that I was disappointed. From a couple of the
comments about her I had expected someone more
aggressive. A little less stereotypically
feminine and a little more...something extra.

Face it, I told myself ruefully, you have been
looking for the dynamic duo all morning.

It's not their fault the rumors got out of hand.

So I was just a bit unprepared for what happened
next.

Agent Mulder woke his partner with a gentle hand
on her shoulder. He grinned at her and she
squinted, groaned once, and yawned. Then they
both shouldered their packs. Kramer, BSU profiler
Agent Mike Siles, and I watched them with
professional care, but no real expectation of
surprise. They lined up in front of their door
and waited patiently for the staff member
guarding the entrance to give them the go-ahead.

We had been given a little advanced warning, I
realized later.

Mulder's eyes drifted to his partner, "I'm in the
zone, Scully"

Kramer's eyebrows shot up when Scully snorted,
"Just don't get our hands chopped off and
I'll be happy."

"Oh yea of little faith."

"Show me the money, G-man."

But that was *all* the warning they gave. The
staffer clicked his stopwatch and gestured for go
and both agents sauntered through the door...and
then they were gone.

Agents Siles jerked upright in his chair with a
single,"What the hell?". Kramer cursed and I
found myself a little less disappointed.

Without a word, Mulder had sprung into a ground
eating lope, his partner an easy two steps
behind. Mulder showed no hesitation as he took
turn after turn...and neither did his partner.
Despite the fact that I knew for a fact that she
had no clue where they were going, she pounded
along behind Mulder as if she had no doubts about
their destination and how to get there.

Which answered our earlier question about
operational field experience in a backhanded sort
of way.

These definitely were not pencil pushers.

Siles muttered swear words in English, Swahili
and Russian as he furiously tapped commands into
his system, bringing several unanticipated camera
systems on-line. Within ten minutes it was
obvious that the agents were not using the map
and five minutes after that they left the FBI
game grid and ventured into HRT territory.

Notwithstanding the annoyance and extra work this
was going to generate, I found myself grinning. I
was getting even less disappointed by the minute.
By taking the route that they had, they had cut
several hours off their transit times. Despite
the fact that they had been one of the last teams
to go, they had not only caught up to, they had
passed the first teams through the door.

Maybe we were going to see a few fireworks
after all.

All five of the game zones were pre-assigned and
mandatory. Which meant that they could not avoid
their fellow agent teams forever. By getting
ahead of their teammates however, Mulder and
Scully had neatly avoided at least one ambush
that had already almost claimed one agent pair.
Of course, the agents in question never realized
that our staffers had foiled the attempt on
purpose.

It would not do to have the agents killed off too
quickly.

Riley's Bravo team got points for the effort,
though.

Then my Delta team was go for Game Zone One.

The stated objective was simple. Go in one door
and leave by the other. Everyone but your
partner is considered hostile. Easy.

Oh Yeah.

Right.

The room was enormous. Four hundred feet by four
hundred feet, the room had a total floor area of
four acres and unbeknownst to the game players
before they stepped into it, it was three floors
high. It was a maze in miniature. An endless
series of office style hallways and steel core
doors. It was also the first test of the
partnership in separation. The doors were
computer controlled and the controller sitting in
the Command Center not only had the ability to
shut doors, he could move sections of walls,
opening some hallways and closing others. And if
the partners did not move far enough apart to be
separated by a suddenly closing door, there was a
team of Marines standing by to make sure that it
happened.

And sometimes the Marines were used just to make
life interesting.

Five minutes after Mulder and Scully stepped into
GZ-1, they were blindsided. Duct-taped hand and
foot, they were separated, blind-folded and
carried to different floors of the zone and
dumped. Neither stayed that way for long. Fingers
soon removed blindfolds and ripped the duct-tape
from mouths, teeth soon chewed the duct-tape from
wrists and freed hands soon freed feet. Then,
predictably, both started hollering for their
partner.

Actually, Mulder and Scully started yelling as
soon as their mouths were free, in both cases,
even before the blindfolds were off. Surprisingly
though, they both shut up as soon as they
realized they were not within shouting distance.
I had thought they might keep it up a bit longer
but I was not particularly disturbed when they
did not. Not yet anyway. It was 50/50 what the
agents would do at this point. Obviously, their
priority was finding their counterpart, but at
the same time, they knew there were hostiles in
the area. Yelling at the top of your lungs-while
a good way for your partner to locate you, is
also a good way to tell the bad guys where you
are.

Two hours later, both agents were lost, confused
and increasingly angry and flustered. Of course,
that's what they were supposed to be. More than
half the agents started out making maps. We
usually let them go on with that for about an
hour before we started moving walls around. It
was a general rule not to have any designated
staff "hostiles" within shooting or strangling
distance for about twenty minutes after the
agents were made aware of this fact.

It usually made for a hell of a show on the
camera footage though. Some of the temper
tantrums were...impressive.

In this case, Scully simply stared narrowly at
the wall which had rumbled into view and
destroyed the validity of her painstakingly drawn
map. Then she carefully placed both paper and
pencil back in her pack and continued to head in
the same direction she had been going. Mulder
gave his wall a petulant kick and flipped a bird
to the nearest camera but did pretty much the
same. Considering that the whole point was to
raise frustration levels to the breaking point,
this was a disappointingly calm response as far
as I was concerned. Everyone I had talked too had
mentioned the agents' devotion to each other, and
I had expected this exercise to trigger some
interesting emotional outbursts.

I did not expect to nearly get Mulder killed.

Well, maybe not killed. The walls were programmed
to stop if the sensors detected anything between
the rising wall and the roof. Things like hands
and fingers. But he could have broken his neck
easily enough.

The goal had been to push the frustration level.
Both agents had quickly made their way back down
to the first floor and steadfastly stayed there.
Logically, this made sense since this was
presumably where the exit was located and that
made the most logical rendezvous point. Since I
could not lure them into wandering fruitlessly on
the second and third floors, I decided to let the
agents get close enough to see each other and
then separate them.

The judicious use of hostile Marines got Mulder
moving in the right direction. With six of them
hot on his tail, he was just rounding the corner
of a long hallway when I dropped the wall at the
far end to reveal his partner. Predictably,
Mulder started racing toward her. Scully took up
position and started picking off his pursuers.
She had taken out two of them when I hit the
button that started the wall raising between
them.

The expressions of sheer fury which swept over
both agents' faces when they realized they had
been played and were about to be separated again
was frightening. Watching the tape later, I was
struck by the instinctive and absolute co-
ordination of purpose between the agents. At a
dead run, Mulder holstered his pistol, abandoning
the Marines behind him to his partner. The
Marines at this juncture were focused solely on
keeping him from rejoining Scully. A point, the
Marine sergeant said later, which was not lost on
her.

Considering that the next three KIA Marines went
down with paint pellets to the groin, I had to
agree.

The wall was almost four feet high and still
moving when Mulder hit it. Slapping hands to the
top, he launched himself up and over with a
tremendous heave of his shoulder muscles and with
all the built up inertia of 180lbs moving at full
speed down a 300 foot hallway. He shot over the
top of the wall, then tucked and rolled
awkwardly, the bulk of the pack throwing his
balance and direction off as he came to his feet.
Sheer momentum would have carried him right past
his partner except for the fact that she threw
herself into his path, left arm snagging his
right. Her counterweight pulled them into an
ungraceful spin and as they both held on tight,
they were slammed up against a nearby wall.

Obviously fearing that any separation would bring
down another wall, both agents had their weapons
in hand and scanning the hallways before they
completely recovered from the impact. Mulder had
his arm wrapped tightly around her waist and if
the death grip she had on his forearm was any
clue, Mulder would be wearing finger-sized bruises
for days.

Kramer and the Marines were impressed. Siles
muttered something about taking games way too
seriously. Considering his job on this project
was to promote exactly that, I had to wonder if
there wasn't a second agenda to that remark.
Either that or sour grapes. I, myself, wanted a
chance to review the tapes before I made up my
mind about how I felt.

But I was beginning to understand some of those
backhanded remarks.

This was not a pair you wanted to find yourself
coming between.

Ever.

We also learned quickly that their unity
extended into other areas. With my best tool for
raising frustration levels gone, I decided to let
them stew for a couple of hours while I reviewed
tapes. GZ-1 was the longest of all the game
segments and there were actually three agent
teams moving through the game zone at the same
time. That was the other reason for the movable
walls. To keep the teams separated and unaware of
each other. So I was totally comfortable leaving
the agents to wander pointlessly.

Unfortunately, no one told them they were
supposed to get frustrated and start taking it
out on each other. Kramer just shook her head as
they spent a hour in serious debate over the
merits and shortcomings of various rental cars.
"Definitely field agents" was the consensus.

They knew how to handle boredom, and fruitless
and aimless wandering did not seem to bother them
in the slightest. Hell, once they got started
profiling Hannibal the Cannibal they actually
seemed to be having fun. That was until Mulder
decided enough was enough and started engaging in
some psychological warfare of his own.

The way his partner's eyebrows shot up when he
launched into a rousing rendition of Henry the
Eighth might have been amusing if Kramer and I
were not busy watching Command Center heads pop
up all across the room. When Mulder started
emphasizing the word "Henry" and singing directly
into the button microphone on the lapel of her
coveralls, I saw one of the most evil grins I had
ever seen spread across Agent Scully's face.

Then she joined him.

I'm Henry, the Eighth I am. Henry, the Eighth I
am ,I am

Funny how I never realized just how annoying that
song could be.

"You want to know the best part, Scully?"

I did.

Maybe then we could do something about it.

I got married to the widow next door, she's been
married seven times before.

The bastard actually smirked right into one of
the cameras. Considering how well hidden they
were, that was a feat in itself.

"They're not allowed to turn off the mikes."

Oh fuck.

Hell if I know how she did it, but that grinchy
grin got bigger. Then they linked arms and
started down the hallway like Dorothy down the
bloody yellow brick road. They even had the gall
to do that damn sideways step hop skip.

And every one was an Henry, HENRY!, She
wouldn't have a Willie or a Sam. I'm the eighth
old man, I'm Henry. Henry the eighth I am...

They had definitely seen way too many movies
together.

The Marines thought it was funny.

By the end of the next hour the betting pool was
also a hell of a lot bigger. The issue at hand
was who would crack first. The odds were running
three to one against the house.

I will always think that that had been some sort
of sign.

It was interesting to note that despite caroling
at the top of their lungs, the agents still
managed to take out another set of hostile
Marines. These ones were just there to herd, not
separate, but the agents did not wait to find
out. Mulder did not even stop singing.

Four "dead" Marines later, the agents looked at
each other, paused, then took a deep breath.

Second verse, same as the first...

Half the Command Center groaned. The other half
were fingering weapons and wearing tight smiles.
Kramer finally surrendered and triggered the
hallway sequence that would lead them out of
GZ-1. From the looks of gratitude around the
room, she could have asked for anything at that
moment up to and including volunteers to father
her children.

Agents: 1 ; House: 0

On the upside, they stopped singing.

They then breezed right through GZ-2. Although if
it was not for the fact that it was marked
clearly on the map-the map neither had pulled out
to read- they could have been forgiven for
missing that point. The zone was dimly lit,
filled with boxes and crates that made great
places for hostiles to hide. Four steps into the
room, the strobe lights came on.

It was supposed to be disorientating. Agents were
supposed to find themselves confused and under
fire and cautious about shooting barely visible
figures who may or may not have been their
partners.

That was the theory, anyway.

The reality was that both agents seemed to have
an almost preternatural instinct for the other's
presence. Which meant that anyone else was dead
meat. One of the Marines took advantage of a
moment when Mulder was temporarily out of her
field of vision to try and sneak up on his
partner. She did not even turn around to look
first before spinning to shoot. Whatever it was
that alerted her to his presence must have also
told her it was not her partner. The Marine took
a paint pellet square in the chest.

The Marine sergeant studying the action over
Kramer's shoulder had a slight frown between his
eyes as he watched all of this. He started to
open his mouth at one point, then just shook his
head and sighed. The only comment he made was
something about them being in the wrong program.

Then both agents were through the zone and
pounding down the hallways and back into HRT game
space. I gave them full credit for not dropping
their guards even when it should have been
obvious that they were alone. Sixteen hours after
entering the Maze, they disappeared into the
ductwork to sleep. By what was obviously
longstanding tradition since there did not appear
to be any discussion needed, Mulder took the
first watch while Scully slept.

They also took paranoia a bit further than I or
any of the game designers intended by treating
the food rations as a potential hazard. A short
debate over the merits of eating at all ensued
briefly and finally it was decided that they
would only eat individually, right before
sleeping. That way if the food was drugged, only
one of them would be incapacitated at a time.

Siles and I were mute with astonished disbelief,
but both Kramer and the Marine Sergeant were
nodding with hard-eyed approval. I also had the
sneaking suspicion that HRT was about to get a
new wrinkle added to their program.

One of my teams had already managed to get
themselves eliminated despite the Command
Center's best efforts. Willis and Holden,
Computer Crimes, had fallen apart in GZ-1 and
never gotten it back together. They blamed each
other for the pointlessness and lack of progress
with an unexpected vengeance. Then Willis stalked
away from Holden and when the Marines attacked,
they defended themselves individually instead of
as a unit. The Marine aiming to miss actually hit
Willis accidentally when she did not turn back to
her partner like he expected. At which point they
had both gone stark raving loony tunes, each
screaming that the other was at fault and
dragging up irritating habits and quirks they had
lived with for three years as proof. The Marines
had to physically restrain them from attacking
each other.

OPR was going to be thrilled about this one.

I , on the other hand, thanked my lucky stars
none of us would never meet that pair in the
field someday. I have no regrets about what we
did to them.

None at all.

Like Mulder and Scully, the other two teams had
gone to ground for some snooze time. Satisfied
that the nightwatch could handle the next few
hours, I decided to grab a few hours of sleep
myself. I still tell myself that there was
nothing I would have noticed. Nothing I could
have done.

But seven hours later, Mulder and Scully entered
GZ-3 and everything went to hell.

******************************

Darkness.

The game zone was pitch black and the blaring
shriek of several alarms interfered with her
ability to sense Mulder. He had been several
steps ahead of her when the lights went out and
the alarms went off.

She held herself motionless, pistol ready.

A male hand suddenly touched her lightly on the
shoulder and made a familiar sweep down her back
and came to rest where it always did. She relaxed
with a small sigh. Mulder. A gentle pressure
directed her away from their previous heading and
Scully moved unhesitatingly in the indicated
direction. She was four steps away before she
realized that something was off with his gait.

Senses alert for anything, she concentrated on
keeping her footsteps steady.

Two more steps and a prickle of unease crept down
her spine Then the shock of what was wrong
crashed over her. Hours of running had seen both
of them sweating into their fatigues. Every time
he had come close she had found herself bathed in
a scent as familiar to her as that of her
favorite shampoo. In the darkness it had been
reassuring in the same way it had reassured her
sleeping mind during all those hours on stake-
outs. A scent that was conspicuously absent.
Eyes widening uselessly in fury she whirled,
pistol coming up to fire. Instantly , arms
wrapped themselves around her from behind, the
fake Mulder grabbing the paint pistol from her
hands.

She opened her mouth to yell a warning to her
partner and instantly a gloved hand clamped down
over her face. Through the alarms she thought she
could hear Mulder cautiously moving in her
direction, drawn by the noise of the scuffle.
She heard him call her name and the worried note
in his voice triggered something totally
unexpected, something uncontrollable deep inside.
Scully trembled slightly, her body starting to
shake , not with fear, but with a primitive rage
that should have terrified her. Part of her
forebrain yammered at the howling madness.

This was a game. Only a game. These were just
players.

Other instincts examined that thought carefully.
Coldly analytical. Then considered the betrayal
of trust, the uselessness of the deceit and the
absolute cruelty and potential for damage of the
deception.

Not a game, her mind judged. Not anymore.

Primordial instinct took over.

Her hands were still trapped by whoever had taken
her gun and her arms were pinned to her side by
the man behind her. But she still had her legs.
Ruthlessly she kicked upward, feeling combat
boots slam into bone and muscle. A masculine yell
as the hands wrapped around her wrist were ripped
away by the force of the blow. Instantly she bent
her knee and, letting the man holding her take
all her weight, yanked the back-up weapon from
the makeshift holster on her ankle. She fired
twice in rapid succession at the swearing body
directly in front of her then twisted her hand
and fired into the man behind her.

Ignoring the pained grunt he gave as the paint
pellet connected at close range, she sank her
teeth into the palm of the hand holding her
silent. With a curse, the man released her and
she was yelling for Mulder to get down even as
she took aim at the place where the traitor
waited. The sound of a body hitting the floor
released her hold on her trigger finger and she
fired blindly in a deadly overlapping pattern.
Seven bullets later she hit the clip release,
letting the empty clip fall to the floor and
slammed in her spare. This time she held her fire
and waited for the bastard to make a move - any
move.

Obviously trusting his night goggles over their
hearing, he made a run for the door. Two paint
bullets from two separate guns nailed him on the
way out. The alarms died. In the silence, the two
agents waited through the sounds of retreat until
all that they could hear was the harshness of
their own breathing.

"Scully?"

"Yeah?"

"What the fuck just happened?"

Scully could hear her own breaths getting shorter
as she struggled to contain the explosively
expanding rage that threatened to shatter the
containment vessel. Instead of easing, the
shaking grew worse. The genie was well and truly
out of the bottle...and she found she welcomed
the release of the floodgates. So much anger, so
much pain...too much control. For too long she
had had no target...just shadowy men and shadows
who took again and again ...her certainties, the
life she could have lived...and now they had
tried to take her partner.

She tried again to tell herself that this had
just been part of the game. There was no reason
to suspect that this was another Consortium
test...another attempt to make them doubt their
loyalties to each other. Swirling in and around
this thought was the burgeoning desire to stand
up and tell everyone once and for all what they
were letting themselves in for if they tried
again. Her actions had stated her beliefs before,
but she realized with a flourishing sense of
freedom that she wanted to explain it to them
more directly. Wanted to hurl it into their
faces. Dana Scully was not resigned and she would
not go quietly into that good night.

They wanted to see a reaction?

She would give them a goddamn reaction.

"Mulder?'

"Yeah?"

His voice was cautious.

"Who sets up these little tests?"

Slight whispers of fabric on concrete as he
pulled himself to a sitting position. In her
mind's eye she could see the tilt to his head,
the hesitant curiosity...and the growing
conviction
that someone had just pushed his partner too far.
A small quirk of her lips acknowledged the unseen
tension and protective anger that would be
filling his eyes as he looked in her direction.

"VCU and the CIA for the most part."

"And can you think of a good constructive reason
for anyone to try and lure me away by pretending
to be you? A very good imitation of you?"

A slight indrawn hiss of breath was the only
reply. She smiled grimly then snapped her head
back and yelled a challenge to the unseen
cameras and microphones. The darkness was
liberating and she found it easier than she
expected to get the sheer volume she needed to
express her rage. The echoes in the large empty
room were particularly satisfying.

"What was it you bastards? A warning? Don't be
too quick to follow your partner? Look how easy
we can take you from him? Look how easily we can
use you as bait? Well fuck you."

Mulder's mouth dropped and ten startled heads
swiveled as Command Center watchers stared at
camera screens in bemusement as Special Agent
Dana Scully, Ice Queen extraordinaire, totally
fucking lost it. They watched the multi-colored
silhouette of her partner stand cautiously, gun
out but doing nothing to calm her down. On the
green-tinted screen reflecting the night-vision
lenses they could see that he had managed to
close his mouth, but he was still standing mute
in wide-eyed astonishment as his partner
insulted and threatened an entire FBI department
with CIA witnesses.

"Was it a joke? You VCU bastards get a little
bored cooped up in your lair and decide to come
out and yank old Spooky's tail? You little
pissants still upset about Patterson? Well fuck
you too. You ever profiled a profiler? Get ready
to duck, assholes."

VCU jaws dropped in a comical imitation of
Mulder's earlier shock. A muttered "Holy fuck"
echoed from the back of the Command Center as
Scully flung her crazy partner onto the
battlefield and the idiot just started to grin.

"And for the CIA bastard up there taking notes
for the enemy. You want an answer to take back
with you? You want to know just how far I'll go?
How's this..."

Her low-voiced growl was deadly in its arctic
intensity.

"...if you ever try that in real life I will find
you. Then I will crack your chest and rip out
your lungs and feed them to my partner's fish
for breakfast. "

One of the younger BSU profilers reached out a
hand as if to touch the screen, his face a murky
combination of fascination, arousal and that odd
glaze to the eyes that said he was trying to get
inside her head. The digital Scully slammed her
once back-up pistol into her holster and headed
back in the direction Mulder had been going
before they got ambushed. No one in the Command
Center had a single doubt she meant exactly what
she said.

"Come on Mulder. I've got a sudden urge to go
blast the crap out of something."

"I can't mind-fuck the entire CIA, Scully."

"Then we're going to do what you do best. We are
going to piss them off."

I turned my head as I became aware of a silent
presence standing at my shoulder. One of the CIA
shrinks - Detweiller was his name - was studying
the screen with an intent expression that
bothered me more than it should have. Uneasily I
recalled Scully's comment about note-taking
spies.

Surely that was just paranoia talking.

"What's Mulder's reaction to all of this?"

I shared a wry look with the profiler next to me
as we both glanced at an infra-red scan showing
the familiar heat pattern of a man extremely
turned on by surrounding events.

"Will he try to stop her?"

I smiled politely at the CIA agent, "I doubt
it."

As if in answer, Mulder's voice echoed in the
Command Center as the two agents slipped from the
darkened room into the next. His tone was a smug
combination of contentment and anticipation.

"Scully is in the zone."

The CIA agent snorted and reached for his cel-
phone.

***********************************

Thirty minutes after the first call to battle,
VCU and CIA team members watched with amusement
as Mulder and Scully captured a team of
infuriated agents and offered them a choice...
join the fight or die now. Twenty minutes after
that,the FBI stopped laughing. It took the CIA
another three hours to realize what the VCU had
already figured out.

Mulder and Scully were good at what they did. And
they had a plan.

Off duty VCU profilers studied the screens with
fascination. A make-shift table had been dragged
into the back of the Command Center and the CIA
and Navy personnel eyed the lunatics taking
over the back of the room with varying degrees of
disbelief and concern. I did not blame them.
Manic energy seethed through gimlet-eyed bodies
as they peered through red-rimmed eyes, tossed
file folders back and forth and sent terrified
administrative assistants scurrying between
coffee maker and photocopier. Bits and pieces of
conversation, argument and amazed commentary
exploded into the air over the regular sounds of
the game in play.

"...how the hell did he guess about the ...?"

"...haven't broken any of the rules?
Unbelievable."

"...were you there when he...?"

"...Doc Ice has gone off the reservation..."

Still more people - CIA analysts, ex-VCU agents
and several people I thought I recognized from
CIRG - slowly slipped into the room. Spooky
stories from the good old days were unearthed and
retold in hushed tones by those who had been
there-or who had known someone who was. Somebody
managed to crack open a few of the less
classified X-files and suddenly the stories had
a new addition...Special Agent Dana Scully.

"Agent Farrow?"

I turned automatically, then swallowed as I
matched the voice to the face glaring at me
coldly.

"Sir. Good afternoon, Sir."

"Cut the crap Agent Farrow. I send you two of my
best agents for a performance study and the next
thing I know, I'm getting calls telling me that
one of my agents has gone off the deep end. So
give it to me short and to the point. What did
you do? What has Mulder done? And what are you
doing about it?"

"I hope you'll be able to appreciate the irony
there, Walter. "

I turned to see one of the men who had been
lurking quietly near the impromptu VCU command
post walking over to join us. I had seen him
flash CIA credentials to get into the room and
from the reactions of the other spooks, they knew
who he was. I had also gotten the impression that
they were a bit surprised to find him here.
Glancing at AD Skinner I saw that the man had
adopted a closed expression, although his body
language seemed cautious more than alarmed.

Interagency politics if I had to make a guess.

"Excuse me? " Skinner's tone was even.

The spook grinned,"It wasn't Mulder."

Both the AD's eyebrow climb skyward,"Scully? All
of this because of Agent Scully? What the hell
did she do?"

"Nearly broke the arm of one of the staff,
challenged the VCU after kneeing them in the
collective groin and declared war on the CIA." He
flashed a genuinely amused smile,"I think that
about covers it."

Skinner groaned and pinched the bridge of his
nose. 'Fuck it Chalmers, if you've been messing
with my agents..."

"I swear, Walt. It wasn't us. This project is on
the level. Pygmalion is exactly what it says it
is. You did warn the administration what you were
sending them though, didn't you?'

Skinner growled,"What the hell are you talking
about? They asked for my best male-female team of
agents. That's what they got. What else was I
supposed to tell them?"

The CIA agent stared at Skinner in disbelief.
"Jesus, Walter. You let the VCU play mind games
with these two without giving them a heads up?
Even we're not that stupid. " He paused
contemplatively, "Or that suicidal."

I was still trying to work my way through the
subtext when the AD spun back in my direction and
pinned me with a deadly glare. "What's been going
on?"

I took refuge in the familiar structure of a
situation report.

"They started taking over the game grid about
four hours ago. Instead of advancing toward the
objective, they've been systematically capturing
their fellow teams of agents and convincing them
to join the revolution. They've been...amazingly
successful."

Chalmers gave a low-voiced chuckle,"What you are
not being told is that they have been twisting
the VCU's tail. Quite well I might add. Your
agents work very well together."

Skinner growled,"Are you just going to keep
rubbing in the salt or are you ready to tell me
what's been going on?"

Chalmers sighed, then nodded," They're
challenging the profilers directly. Each pair of
agents they come across they...well, see for
yourself. " He reached out and punched up a
digital file. 'This is a record of the last
confrontation."

Skinner watched quietly as the camera dutifully
recorded the dimly lit silence of an empty
corridor. Movement at the far end of the corridor
captured the eye and three sets of eyes watched
as two agents unknown to him made their way
cautiously down the hall. They showed good form
and the ex-Marine silently applauded their
professional attitude as they advanced toward the
invisible camera.

The capture was swift and unexpected.

One moment the agents were moving, the next they
were holding their weapons in the air as ceiling
tiles were punched to the floor and the agents
found themselves boxed in between the visible
arms and heads of Fox Mulder and his partner
Dana Scully as they leaned down from their hiding
places in the upper ductwork. Once the enemy
weapons were dutifully placed on the floor and
kicked away, Mulder and Scully swung down into
the hallway and swiftly secured the agents with
their own shoelaces.

Chalmers leaned toward Skinner, "This is the good
part."

In one of the most seamless tag team approaches I
have ever seen, Mulder and Scully didn't just
flip the enemy...they subverted them. Even
knowing the two agents, Skinner obviously had
never suspected this aspect of their working
dynamic. Somehow the two agents had pieced
together a fairly accurate guess regarding the
purpose of Pygmalion. Scully took the lead,
letting them see her anger, her affronted sense
of honor and all the accumulated frustration of
being treated as a rat in a maze...then she let
them break their teeth against her control. What
made it all the more amazing was that mad as she
was, I suspected that other motivations were
driving the agent. But her stated motivations
were doing the job nicely enough. Both of the
captured agents were so focused on Scully that
they forgot about Mulder watching and evaluating
from the shadows. Forgot about it until he swept
in with a few well chosen observations-usually
aimed at the male agent of the pair. By the time
the stunned and surprised agents recovered, they
had joined the war effort.

"Hell of a strategy, huh?"

Skinner shrugged,"Mulder's always been good at
figuring out which buttons to push. So everyone's
in a snit because they're breaking the rules? "

Chalmers studied the AD with a look of mild
surprise,"Hell no. VCU is pissed because your two
agents are giving them the figurative finger.
We've been trying for weeks to get these guys to
open up. Hell, half those agents have refused to
officially admit that they've even noticed that
their partners are female. Mulder and Scully
saunter in and suddenly they're having a regular
group therapy session down there. If I wasn't so
busy laughing my ass off I'd be foaming at the
mouth."

He sighed.

"We totally overlooked how pissed off the men
were. We knew they might be insulted on their
partner's behalf, but we were so concerned about
convincing the men that they could depend on
their female partners we never considered the
fact that we might be preaching to the choir.
These guys are mad Walt. I mean really pissed.
We give them female partners, tell them to deal
with it...and when they do, no one believes them
or gives them any credit. If they are sleeping
with their partners, then she's somehow less
credible as an agent. If they are not...then they
must be gay. They are told to see their partners
as equals and then when the inevitable happens
and some of them fall in love with the person
behind the badge, they are given no support
whatsoever. Christ. It's a mess. And those close-
mouthed macho male agents haven't stopped talking
since your team got them started. Listen"

Before Skinner could tell him that these were
things that Bureau management was actively trying
not to notice, Chalmers had hit another switch.
Unknown voices overlapped in conversation.

"...What the hell does that say about me huh? I
felt like yelling that I was more than just a
walking Y-chromosome that only thought with his
dick..."

"...my wife doesn't believe we've never slept
together. Sometimes I've just got to talk to
her...I mean she's my partner. But Mary doesn't
understand. ..."

"I get so turned on watching her mind work
sometimes. Hell, we were covered in garbage,
we're surrounded by cops, I'm standing there
like I just got hit with lightening...and all I
can think is...I love this woman."

" ... she's my partner. But she's not my type.
Why should I have to feel like apologizing for
that?"

"...We're not particularly close as people..."

" ...so we're laughing our asses off and this
shrink just looks at us like we're nuts and says
' couldn't you have chosen a phrase that was less
demeaning to your partner?' and Rebecca looks at
her and says "Demeaning? Lady, I'm the one that
said it!..."

Chalmers silenced the speakers and gave Skinner a
serious look, " Their little group of commandos
started taking hostages about two hours ago. The
staff members that went in looking to play their
little mind games are now sitting under guard in
one of the bunkers."

Skinner frowned,"So why the hell are you all
getting so excited. If it's a problem, pull the
plug."

I twisted my lips in a rueful smile," Because
it's a pissing contest now. Between Spooky Mulder
stories and X-Files about monsters under the bed
your two agents are being turned into the local
bugaboo. Everyone wants to be the one to bring
them in. Hell, I'm hearing rumors that HRT wants
a crack at them. All in fun, of course"

Skinner gave a short laugh,"Of course. Shit." he
sighed again,"Urban legends in their own time."

Chalmers and I waited patiently as the AD
considered the situation from whatever angles he
needed to. Finally he looked up,"So what's being
done?"

I shrugged lightly,"We're playing by the rules.
We're also expanding the mandate. Originally we
weren't looking for combat reactions, but ATF,
HRT and the military all want to see how the
male-female teams respond under fire. The mind-
gamers use night vision but for now we're banning
the equipment from the combat teams to keep it
relatively fair. We're also prepared to expand
the game beyond three days if necessary."

Skinner sighed, considered his problem children
with less than total affection and then took it
like a Marine.

So began an eighteen hour game of cat and mouse.
Sixteen more staff members got taken hostage
without casualties to either side. Mulder
demanded money and safe passage, HRT cut the
power. ATF sent in a four man rescue squad only
to find that the hostages had been moved, the
cameras deliberately rigged to send a false feed
and the bunker was booby trapped with paint
pellets from the extra clips. Scully agreed to
let one of the hostages go - a man with an
alleged heart condition - in exchange for food
and water. Ten seconds after the hostage was
safe, the hostage negotiator made the mistake of
telling Scully that her father would be proud of
her. Scully picked another hostage at random and
shot him in the head.

Grumbling in annoyance, the VCU got together with
HRT and set off a two pronged attack and
unexpectedly captured Mulder. Scully's forces
managed to pin them down in one of the bunkers
where they lied and told her that her partner had
been injured in the attack and if she surrendered
that he would receive critical medical aide.
Reportedly, Mulder told the HRT Commander that he
had just made the biggest mistake of his life
when ex-ATF smoke bombs and live bodies started
dropping from the ceiling. Scully's team
reported two minor injuries - all eight HRT died
in the onslaught. Scully herself took out the HRT
agent taking aim at her duct-taped partner.

More than a little annoyed about the deaths of
their teammates and a bit embarrassed at the fact
that they were not succeeding quite as rapidly as
they had thought they would, HRT decided to
revisit Waco and started playing golden oldies at
brain thumping volumes. Mulder fell over laughing
when they started playing Walking in Memphis ,
then held out his hand to Scully. Surviving
agents and hostages watched in surprise as the
Ice Queen smiled, pulled him to his feet and the
two agents waltzed their way through the
impromptu concert. The rest of the agents jumped
up to join them while the VCU and HRT glared at
the camera screens as their weapon of torture was
turned into a junior high sock hop.

Meanwhile, some of the more enterprising computer
wizards at the Quantico campus had overheard that
something odd was going on and it involved the
VCU. Human curiosity being what it was, four of
them hacked into the video feeds coming from the
cameras inside the Maze. Before you could say
"illegal access" they had created a website on
the internal server and uploaded their favorite
moments including one of Scully standing
protectively over her partner as she took out one
of the elite HRT. The IS department thought they
were under attack when hits to the server
threatened to drop the system within three hours.

Deciding it was better to give in gracefully
rather than encourage half the population of the
Quantico base to commit computer espionage, the
FBI looked the other way as the IS department
hastily erected a high volume mirror site and set
up live time access to some of the cameras inside
the Maze. Within hours, unofficial FBI, CIA and
ATF office pools across the country numbered in
the triple digits. One FBI accountant noted
jokingly that they should have sold banner space
and pop-up ads.

Unsuccessfully trying to access earlier footage
from the game- and thus settle a few of the open
bets that were speculating on how this whole
thing got started, the four computer wizards were
suddenly shocked to find their own system under
attack. Before they could pull the plug, the
phrase "Better than Doom, Man" scrolled across
the screen and an anonymous server was dumping
gigabytes of data into their system. All of which
explained how Scully's rant and earlier footage
of the partners' astonishing performance was
suddenly being accessed by thousands of law
enforcement and governmental personnel across the
country. Bewildered as they were by the
popularity of the revolt, the FBI and other
senior government administration were even more
bemused by the questions coming up in the newly
created chat rooms dedicated to the event.

After spending two decades carefully looking the
other way about the possibility of male agents
sleeping with female partners, the issue was
suddenly exploding across the web at the speed of
cyber-light. There were a few snide comments and
the expected questions about whether the agents
were sleeping together. What shocked the
administration however was how quickly the more
disrespectful of the commentators were flamed off
the site. Hundreds of law enforcement officers
under fake names and using anonymous email
addresses started asking pointed, bluntly honest
questions of each other...and the administration
was stunned by the pain and confusion implicit in
the conversations. No one questioned whether or
not Mulder and Scully or any of the other agents
were sleeping together.

They did not care.

What many of them wanted to know was the next
step in the equation. Once you've gone that next
step...how do you make it work?

An anonymous military officer admitted to
sleeping with a fellow officer and asked if any
of the police officers had any suggestions how to
juggle the public and the private relationships.
The officer admitted that both of their careers
were at risk despite the fact that they were
outside the same chain of command and neither
were married. The general reaction was one of
honest support and genuine confusion about how to
proceed. Like gates torn off a dam, thousands of
military lurkers came up out of the shadows. Air
Force, Army, Navy...every field, every rank,
every department from the motor pool to military
intelligence.

The military discovered to its surprise that
most of the male soldiers thought it was just a
matter of when, not if, women would be admitted
to combat positions. Their biggest concern was
whether promotion standards would be the same
across the board. A curious admiral lurking on
one of the chatrooms posed a cautious question.
What about sexual tension in tight quarters and
stressful situations?

The general answer?

We're all adults. We'll deal with it.

And so, over one hundred thousand people who knew
exactly what it took to trust your life to
another's hands were watching when HRT and ATF
made their final move. Thousands of law
enforcement personnel groaned as the paint mines
Mulder had sent their ex-military agents to dig
up and reset exploded in hallways, painting HRT
and ATF body armor in blood red acrylic that
showed black on the green tinted night vision
cameras. Despite the fact that most were rooting
for Mulder and Scully directly, more than one law
enforcement officer shuddered as he or she
considered the damage the FBI guerrillas were
inflicting. More than one teenager stood silent
in a doorway and shivered as they watched as
tears shimmered in their parents' eyes.

It was just a game after all.

Wasn't it?

Those with DSL cable got to see it all in real
time. Those without used a buffered connection or
downloaded the file and played it over and over
again. Somehow the camera accidentally caught the
exact spot, the exact angle needed to capture the
faces of the two agents who had started all of
this when the end came. Thousands saw the flashes
of the HRT paint pistols, the bodies falling in
simulated death that felt all too real in
imagination and thousands saw the realization of
failure pass over green tinted faces stark with
shadows and hiding nothing. Eyes captured eyes
and, unaware of the camera's cruel honesty,
Mulder grinned at his partner and Scully saluted
ruefully. Three thousand miles away, a woman who
had never seen her husband cry stared in horror
as he wept for the partner he had lost in the
line of duty twenty years before.

Then darkness swept over Mulder's eyes and
Scully's smile faded as she searched her
partner's face. He hesitated, then in a hoarse
voice he uttered words that echoed through one
hundred thousand living rooms across the US and
would re-echo in a million more before the week
was out.

"There's a way."

One hundred thousand people held their breath as
faith and trust and something no one was willing
to limit to the word love crossed his partner's
face. Her voice echoed his in simple commitment.

"If we quit now, they win."

Then the camera lost them, and they were gone.
Despairing cries reached out as hands grabbed for
keyboards and tumbled through camera windows,
desperately trying to find one which would answer
what came next, where the pair had gone. IS
fingers danced through circuits seeking the right
codes, the right frequencies. HRT and ATF visuals
were dumped into secondary windows as everyone
tried to locate the fleeing figures who had
become the tragic heroes of the Maze Revolution.
Watching sixteen monitors at the same time, the
FBI tech support crew edited the video feeds on
the fly and dumped it straight onto the web
server. The result was a remarkably complete
record of the agents' flight intercut with
supporting visuals of the HRT pursuit closing in
on their heels.

The transition from dimly lit hallway to complete
darkness was shockingly abrupt. Camera feeds
shifted to green tinted night vision and infra-
red, and viewers saw both agents come to a halt
twenty feet into a cavernous room. Shoulders
tensed and teeth clenched as they watched the
agents fumble blindly in the darkness for a
ladder that could be seen clearly in green tinged
light. Explosive sighs of relief as Mulder found
it and both agents launched themselves upward
into the dark. One of the IS techs isolated and
boosted the audio feed and living rooms echoed
with the haunting sounds of labored breathing.
Then the agents were on the catwalks fifty feet
above the ground.

A mid-air run of unconnected staggered metal
catwalks, watchers heard Mulder pulling the
length and position of each catwalk from memory,
saw Scully pace forward with crime scene
precision then stop and feel around cautiously
for the next section. The agents held their
balance carefully as the walkways trembled and
swayed with their passage. And then the HRT
arrived.

Cutting to a second camera, viewers watched as
the team froze, adjusted night vision goggles and
tilted their gazes upward. The whispered curse
captured and edited into the footage by a
creative IS tech was the only warning to the
watching public.

"Holy Mary Mother of God. They're doing the
Catwalk in the dark."

Startled eyes widened in horror as the IS techs
cut back to the final stage of the journey. The
final catwalk was much more than two or three
feet higher or lower. This one...was impossible.
The sound tech switched back to the audio feed
capturing the low-voiced conversation between the
agents.

"How high up is this one Mulder?"

Silence.

"Mulder?"

"Eleven feet. And there's two feet of horizontal
air between us and it."

Mulder's voice was quiet. For a long moment
neither agent moved. Then Scully's voice came
back quietly.

"I'll need your fatigues for a rope."

Viewers watched in horrified fascination as the
male agent immediately slipped out of his one-
piece coveralls. Scully wordlessly removed boots
and socks and stuffed everything into her pack.
The watchers joined the HRT team in a round of
quiet cursing as Mulder boosted his partner to
his shoulders and she used his upheld hand to
balance as she carefully straightened. In that
moment, one hundred thousand people ceased to
breathe.

She tightened the strap on her protective
goggles.

There was a safety net but no one really noticed.
All they could see was an agent balanced
trustingly on her partner's shoulders as she
stared blindly into the darkness at a catwalk she
couldn't see. At a landing point she had only her
partner's word existed.

"Now, Mulder."

One hundred thousand people cried out as Mulder
placed his hands beneath his partner's feet and
threw her upwards and out. One hundred thousand
people cursed as her outstretched arms slammed
into the top of the catwalk and she started to
fall. One hundred thousand hands clenched as
fingers grabbed, caught, then held.

As she hauled herself to safety, one person
allowed himself to breathe.

Scully rapidly pulled on socks and combat boots
while stunned HRT agents gaped upward. Suddenly
eyes failed to meet eyes as HRT remembered the
awkward bitter truth that there was to be no
heroic escape. Even as they acknowledged that
between the two sets of fatigues the agents might
have enough rope to haul Mulder past the last
obstacle, the two renegades didn't have enough
time. Both agents turned their heads as they
identified the sounds of HRT agents swarming up
the ladder. Having reconsidered the use of night
vision goggles and unhampered by blindness, the
HRT raced toward them. Unbelievably the watchers
heard good humor in Mulder's voice as he bantered
with his partner.

"Fuck Scully, this is going to be undignified.
You want to throw back the coveralls?"

"Shut up and climb Mulder."

The watchers held a collective breath as Scully
seemed to fall backwards over the end of the
catwalk, her knees hooked around the metal rung
at the end of the structure like a six year old
on the monkey bars. The tied legs of Mulder's
coveralls were wrapped around her wrists and the
arms hit him in the face. His face registered
astonishment, then the clang of boots on the far
catwalk propelled him upward.

Scully hissed as his weight hit the makeshift
rope and her voice was strained .

"I've decided that you owe me for this, Mulder."

He laughed almost soundlessly, "Would that be
female logic or Scully logic? Who's idea was
this?"

Even strained she managed to inject a note of
prim certitude, "The leap in the dark? Yours."

"I stand corrected. What do you want? Assuming we
survive, of course."

Mulder had reached her hands and after a brief
hesitation decided on the fabric at her shoulder
as the most structurally sound place to grab
hold.

"I want a sea monster." Her voice was
contemplative, but determined.

Mulder almost lost his grip at her waist and both
agents swayed back and forth as his legs kicked
in reflex.

"Jesus Scully. A little advanced warning before
you do that."

"I mean it Mulder. I want something we can
photograph. And ocean Mulder. No wimpy-assed
ponds, lakes or rivers. Honest to god ocean.
Blood and tissue samples. Something we can by god
shoot if tries to eat us. Got it?"

Mulder's delighted grin was so unexpectedly
brilliant and his answering laugh so joyous that
cops across the country found themselves smiling
in response.

His left hand grabbed the fabric at her thigh and
then his right was hitting catwalk and Scully
wrapped her fingers around his boot and pushed
upward. He crawled over her body, then reached
back an arm and helped haul his partner back to
safety. She unhooked her knees from the metal
rungs, unknotted the legs of his fatigues and
handed them over . Both agents flattened
themselves on the catwalk as the HRT took aim
despite the distance. Then, laying down defensive
fire by sound alone, both agents ran for the end
of the Catwalk and left the HRT cursing behind
them.

******************************

By unspoken agreement, both agents were ready to
finish the game. It was unlikely that any of the
other teams had survived the last attack and it
was only a matter of time before they ran out of
places to run to.

"Hey Mulder, do you think that last exercise
qualified as our problem solving exercise?"

Her partner grunted and compared the symbols on
the wall to the map in his head and took an
abrupt right turn. " It's got my vote,
unfortunately it was an HRT game zone. I think
we've pissed off enough people that they'll be
picky about it."

"That's what I thought you'd..." her voice cut
off abruptly as they suddenly found themselves in
a brightly lit, white painted room. The door they
had entered was the only entrance or exit.

"Uh, Mulder?"

"Shit, this wasn't on the map Scully. This should
be a hallway."

As one the agents whirled as the door behind
them clanged shut with a bang. Instantly the two
agents separated, running fingers lightly over
the walls and meeting on the far side of the
room. No doors, no seams, no exit. Eyes searched
for ductwork, movable ceiling tiles, grillwork -
again, nothing. Both agents froze when a barely
felt tremor vibrated through the soles of their
boots.

"Scully?"

"Yeah?"

"Tell me that was just too many burritos for
breakfast."

"Look on the bright side Mulder. We must have
really pissed them off."

Her partner threw her a wry look. "Go team."

A clicking sound near their feet had both agents
leaping backwards just as a six by six piece of
the floor dropped out from under them. Scully
peered over the edge carefully. She looked up
briefly as her partner grabbed the back of her
coveralls, then turned back to her investigation
when he smiled deprecatingly, but didn't let go.

"It looks like a slide of some kind, Mulder."

"Wherever it goes, Scully, it's not on the map.
There's not supposed to be anything under this
part of the building. I think we should take
another look for another exit before we try this
one."

Scully frowned consideringly, then nodded. "Maybe
we tripped something accidentally. Did the map
show anything under construction?"

Mulder shook his head "But they may only mark it
if it's completed."

"Or maybe this is something for one of the
military teams. SWAT maybe."

"Maybe."

They backed away from the opening cautiously.
Before they could start searching however,
another rumbling vibration, this one much more
pronounced, shuddered through the floor. Mulder
and Scully exchanged glances, then stared in
open-mouthed disbelief as the walls started
closing in.

Mulder swiveled his head in wide-eyed alarm, "I
think we can absolutely positively say that we've
pissed them off, Scully."

"I don't friggin' believe this."

The agents backed toward each other as they moved
away from the steadily advancing walls.

"I'm willing to pretend this is a drug induced
hallucination if you are."

"Mulder?"

"Yeah?"

"Jump!"

With a yell, both agents abandoned caution as the
walls lurched forward with increasing speed and
hurled themselves into the yawning cavern at
their feet. The slick sides of the slide provided
almost no resistance and Mulder and Scully shot
down the incline totally out of control. The
slide made a sudden turn upwards and, yelling,
the two agents found themselves briefly airborne
before slamming back to earth in a great splash
of water. Instinctively recognizing that none of
the howls each was hearing was induced by pain,
they indulged themselves with a few seconds of
virulent cursing and sputtering as they hauled
themselves upright in the knee deep water.

Finally, limbs straightened, faces wiped and
teeth chattering they eyed each other,
automatically taking inventory and checking for
signs of superficial injury. Scully scowled as
she saw Mulder's swiftly hidden grin as he took
in the sopping locks plastered to her head and
dripping in her eyes.

"Not a word, Mulder."

"Did I say anything?"

He grinned, she snarled, then they both shivered.

"I don't think this water is a good sign,
Scully."

"It's warm enough that we should be okay if we
keep moving. It's not the water that's cooling us
off, it's the air temperature."

Both agents peered around the tiny room. Dim
lighting from recessed underwater lamps bounced
off stone walls and generally gave the agents the
impression that they had fallen into some
medieval crypt located deep beneath the streets
of some Middle-Eastern city.

"I give it an 'A' for atmosphere, Scully."

"You think maybe this is part of the training
grounds for some of the HRT doing work overseas?
Anti-terrorism?"

"I hope so. Otherwise we're going to be very
hungry before they find us."

"I've found a hole in the wall, Mulder. Over
here, just above the waterline."

"Can you see anything at the end?"

"Yeah. Light. What do you think?"

"Okay. But this definitely counts as our problem
solving exercise."

Chuckling softly in response, Scully squirmed
into the tunnel. After a moment, her partner
followed.

******************************************

"You lost them. What do you mean you lost them?"

I pulled my attention away from the monitor I was
studying and tried to locate the source of that
baritone rumble. Agent Siles was on the phone
trying to explain to a harried IS support crew
that it wasn't the Command Center's fault. IS, in
turn, was trying to explain that they really
didn't care whose fault it was, but the email
traffic wanting to know what happened was
threatening to overload the servers, so could
they please just fix the cameras. Please.

AD Skinner was glaring at a hapless CIA analyst -
Detweiller again - who cringed even as his eyes
darted towards Chalmers in desperation.
Unfortunately for him, the spook appeared equally
as agitated as Walter Skinner.

"They removed their tracking devices and audio
transmitters several hours ago. I was tracking
them using cameras when we had a power surge. The
cameras were only out for a few seconds, but when
they came back online the agents were gone."

Skinner opened his mouth, definitely geared up to
verbally splatter the analyst across half the
Command Center when Chalmers reached out and
touched him lightly on the shoulder. The AD
growled and glared at the spook, but held his
fire. Chalmers pinned the analyst with a
penetrating stare.

"Was there any place they could go that you might
have missed?"

Detweiller swallowed, then offered tentatively,
"They might have gone back in the air ducts."

Chalmers looked back at the AD. "Could your
agents have caused the power surge?"

The AD started to shake his head, then paused. A
thoughtful look appeared on his face. " I don't
know" He finally admitted. "I've learned not to
underestimate anything those two might be capable
of doing. But you'll have to ask the techs if
it's physically possible from where they were
when it happened."

I studied the trio for another long moment before
deciding that everything was under control. My
fingers danced over the keyboard as I called up
another time stamped computer record. There was
something about the action taking place on the
screen, but I could not place what was bothering
me about it. The last of my three pairs of agents
were enjoying a large supper and would expect to
meet with me in another ten hours regarding a
performance debriefing. I was actually looking
forward to the debrief. Not only had the agents
survived almost to the very end, it was the team
I would have sworn would have died in the first
few hours of play.

I hid a quick grin. It turned out that the lack
of synchronicity I had seen was a very practiced,
very well established role the agents played to
hide the fact that they had been lovers for
almost four years.

I was looking forward to talking with them.

For now however...my fingers slide across the
rollerball and advanced the picture another few
frames. For now I had a mystery to solve.

**************************************

They had emerged into a dimly lit tunnel built of
more stone walls. The far end of the tunnel was
hidden in shadows and the ceiling curved low
enough that Mulder had to bend his head awkwardly
to avoid scraping his scalp.

Scully turned to ask Mulder a question only to
flounder as a sudden groan and explosion of water
knocked her off her feet. A heavy weight fell on
her, pinning her briefly under water as Mulder
tripped when his feet tangled with hers. Both
agents came gasping to the surface, yelling over
the torrents of water spewing from the walls.

Within minutes, the water was swirling around
Scully's knees and almost as one the agents
started racing as fast as possible through the
water jets, heading for the far end of the
tunnel. Knocked back and forth through by the
force of the water, Mulder almost missed it when
his hand, dragging across the ceiling for
support, disappeared into thin air. He lurched,
grabbed onto Scully to keep her from disappearing
into the deluge and felt around cautiously.

It was another tunnel, this one drilled straight
up into the ceiling. He was about to thrust his
arm all the way into the hole when Scully grabbed
with both hands, restraining him. A moment
later, she thrust her pack into his grip. He
paused and then thought about the fact that this
might be an air vent of some kind. His fingers
twitched spasmodically as he considered the sick
image of his hand thrusting up into the blades of
a spinning fan and he swallowed back a sudden
urge to vomit. Smiling weakly at his partner, he
pushed the pack up into the hole. Nothing. No
sudden drag indicating that the pack had caught
on anything, no sudden upward yank as blades
grabbed hold. Nothing.

As he yanked the pack out of the hole, Scully
placed both his hands around her waist and
indicated that she wanted a boost. They both
already knew she wouldn't fit, but he guessed she
had to try. Her head fit easily enough, but there
was no way she was getting her shoulders into
that narrow space. Not unless she had taken
lessons from Tooms when he wasn't looking. He
felt her chest vibrate and could only assume she
was calling for help. The sound of the water
seemed to get louder as the tunnel filled and his
eardrums were starting to complain.

Scully indicated that she wanted down and he
didn't even bother trying to yell a question at
her. The look in her eyes and the negative shake
of her head said it all. He looked down the
tunnel and turned to ask if she wanted to see if
they could find an exit, but she had already
followed his gaze and had started moving in that
direction.

They found the end of the tunnel within five
minutes.

Both agents stared in disbelief at a solid stone
wall set with several six inch pipes across the
top. Mulder considered them briefly and concluded
they were probably part of some form of overflow
system. There was a steel hatch set into the wall
at the left. Unfortunately, even if the handle
had been unlocked, it was obvious that the hatch
was meant to open inward. They would never be
able to open it against all this water pressure.
Ergo, it wasn't meant to be opened during the
exercise.

If this was an exercise.

The terrifying thought that they had stumbled
over some automated environmental system or
unfinished game zone was reflected in Scully's
horrified eyes. Then she turned abruptly and
surged back the way they had come.

"We have to get back in the other room, Mulder."

He could barely hear her shouting over the water,
and the level was high enough that she was
swimming more than walking. He wasn't doing much
better. He considered her plan. Obviously they
would have to swim through the entrance tunnel.
He grimaced at the thought of doing it underwater
and in the dark, but it was doable. Hell, they
had both done worse. At least this water was
clean.

The walls of the slide would be slick, but he
assumed that at worst they could wait until the
tunnel filled up with water and use it to float
up. If the water didn't go high enough...well,
hopefully by that time someone would take pity on
them and come drop them a rope.

Assuming anyone even knew where they were.

Mulder told himself he was just being paranoid.
That the games were set up the way they were to
trigger just this sort of fear response.

They were doing a good job.

Mulder was just passing the hole in the ceiling
when the world seemed to explode. He had a brief
vision of Scully turning a startled face toward
him when it felt like the ceiling caved in.
Weight slammed into his shoulders and he barely
had enough time to draw a deep breath before the
water closed over his head and the weight carried
him to the floor.

At first he was too stunned to panic, and then he
was too busy trying not to panic to move. By the
time his body was pinned flat against the floor,
the option to move was taken from him.
Desperately he shook his head, trying to get his
face clear, and he was losing the battle with
panic when a familiar and welcome set of hands
wrapped themselves around his face.

Scully.

The sudden burn in his chest told him that he was
running out of oxygen. He tried again to claw at
the stuff holding him down only to feel her hands
tightened. He froze. She wanted him to hold
still. Scully needed him to hold still. Fighting
every instinct he had, Mulder clenched his teeth
and froze.

Instantly her hands brushed across his face,
carefully clearing away something that felt like
mud. He wanted to scream at her to hurry and do
whatever it was that she was going to do or he
was going to be out of air and out of time.

Unexpectedly she pinched his nose and he waited
in terror and confusion for her next move. She
tapped the side of his jaw. When she tapped it
again he knew she was trying to tell him
something, but he didn't know what. Then she was
gone.

He almost cried out after her. It was only by
telling himself that this was Scully, that he
managed to hold himself still. This was his
partner. She wasn't going to leave him. Not
unless she had no choice. He forced himself to
think it through. Obviously he was trapped under
something she didn't want him trying to move. The
stuff on his face had felt like mud. Had part of
the wall caved in?

As he latched onto this puzzle, his panic receded
just enough that he became aware of signals his
body had been trying to deliver. Pain radiated
down his right leg and the pressure across his
chest would have made it hard to breath if he had
had any way of breathing. It was the slight
tremors he was feeling through the floor at his
back that told him why Scully had wanted him to
stay still.

Something in the pile of stuff holding him down
was still shifting.

He was out of oxygen, his lungs almost beyond the
point of excruciating pain when he felt her hands
slide over his face again. He had one almost
incoherent thought that at least she would be
there when he died when she pinched his nose
roughly, jammed two fingers between his teeth and
yanked. The unexpected betrayal didn't even have
time to register as the useless air in his lungs
exploded outward. Before he could inhale however,
lips were fastening over his and air, blessed air
was being forced into his mouth. He inhaled
greedily.

Reflexively he held his breath as she disappeared
again.

Three more times she came back, three more times
she breathed air into his lungs before his mind
cleared enough to begin calculating what had
happened. What was still happening. They slipped
into an unthinking rhythm, broken only once when
she took longer to return and he nearly panicked
thinking that she had drowned. The trips took
longer after that and the likely reason for it
slowly filtered through his sluggish brain.

The tunnel had obviously filled with water and
Scully was forced to go further for air. The
image of the narrow hole in the ceiling popped
into his brain and he could only hope that
whatever water was coming into the tunnel was
matched by the water flowing out the overflow
pipes. Otherwise they were both about to die
hideously lonely deaths.

Or no, not so lonely.

Somehow he knew if Scully found the hole filled
with water one of the times she returned, that
she would come back to him. They would die, but
they would die together. Oddly enough, the
thought was reassuring in a strange way.

But the actual thought of dying still sucked.

Mulder fastened his hopes on the people upstairs
noticing that something was wrong and coming to
get them. Because that was the only way either of
them were getting out of this alive. Even if he
had a way of telling Scully to make a run for the
slide, there was no way she would leave him. Not
as long as he was alive.

He examined that thought carefully.

He wasn't suicidal. He would hang on as long as
possible. But...it was an option. If it took too
long, if it got to the point where Scully got too
exhausted to continue, but where she was too damn
stubborn to give up until she died with him.
Well...it was still an option.

He smiled as he felt her hand slide gently across
his face.

*********************************************

"What the hell are you looking for? You've been
staring at that scene for almost two hours."

I glanced up to find AD Skinner studying the
screen over my shoulder. Then I rolled my
shoulders painfully and stretched to get the
kinks out. "I'm not sure exactly. Something
set your agent off and it's been bugging me.
I can see WHERE it happens. I just can't figure
out WHY."

Skinner dragged a chair close, sat down and
leaned closer to the screen. "This is where
Scully flipped out?"

I nodded and forwarded the tape to the relevant
portion. On the screen a green tinted Scully was
frozen in the arms of a large Marine, her boot in
the process of connecting with the arms of the
burly Sergeant in front of her. Both men wore
night goggles and the agent looked excruciatingly
tiny next to the two men.

" Everything up until this point was more or less
normal. They were intense and serious about the
game play but that's about it. But here. Here
something happened and from her body language
your agent started taking this deadly seriously.
She was shooting with paint pellets, but I'm not
sure her conscious mind was aware of anything
other than pulling the trigger. I'm damn glad she
didn't have a knife...because I think she would
have used it."

The rustling of fabric behind me had me turning
my head to see Chalmers moving up behind me. The
CIA operative just stood quietly, eyes intent on
the screen, obviously interested in my
explanation. He started to say something, then
stopped. Skinner fixed him with a steady gaze
obviously waiting for whatever it was the CIA
agent was so reluctant to say. Finally the spook
exhaled slowly.

"We've been assuming that she just...overreacted
to the game. That we inadvertently triggered a
hot button response. But..Walt. What if her
instincts were right?"

I frowned, confused. Surely Chalmers wasn't
suggesting what I thought he was suggesting. I
glanced over at the AD expecting to see a
reflection of my own disbelief and was shocked to
see serious contemplation. His eyes were fixed on
the CIA agent's face as the man continued to sort
through his thoughts.

"Both of these agents are field operatives,
Walter. You and I both know the kind of shit they
get caught up in. Maybe she sensed something,
something that set off the alarms. Maybe she
didn't even know why she was reacting. Her mind
would have been telling her it was all a game.
But what if..." his voice trailed off as the AD's
expression hardened.

I found my breath getting shallow as I stared
between two men who shouldn't be...couldn't be
saying the words I was hearing...and were. I had
to make two attempts at swallowing past the lump
in my throat when Chalmers pinned me with an
intent gaze."Play that back in real time."

I immediately tapped in the request and watched
as the screen obediently replayed the scene. As
it came to a halt, Skinner sighed then looked at
Chalmers, who shrugged.

"You didn't see anything? You don't know why she
got so angry?" Despite everything else, I
couldn't keep the disappointment out of my voice.
I had been hoping that someone who knew the
agents might have seen something I had missed.

"Oh I know why she was angry...your Judas there
pretended to be her partner and almost led her to
abandon him. Believe me, that would have been
enough. These two are...extremely protective of
each other."

I was studying the screen as I defended the game
strategy."The whole point was to make partners
more aware of their partner's identifying
characteristics so that something like this
wouldn't happen in real life. The whole point was
for her to recognize that it wasn't her partner."

Chalmers' voice came back laden with
disgust,"Seems like you stacked the deck a bit
much didn't you? That little trick with the hand
on her back. What the hell was she supposed to
recognize- his breath?"

The unexpected attack threw me enough that I
glanced toward the AD hoping for some support,
or at least an explanation- and found a mirror
image of Chalmers' disgust.

Glancing back toward the screen I rolled the tape
back until it showed the part where the staff
member playing her partner reached out and pushed
her toward the waiting Marines. My eyes narrowed
as he studied the image. I hadn't realized how
deliberate that action had actually been.

"Is this the trick you mean?"

Chalmers snorted, "Bastard even got the exact
place on her back. " He darted a guilty look in
Skinner's direction and mumbled, "Surveillance
tapes." as a hasty explanation.

Ignoring the implications of a why exactly an FBI
agent would be under (illegal) surveillance by
the CIA, I tapped the relevant frame. "Are you
two telling me that you recognize this gesture.
That it's enough of a trademark for you to
recognize it as Mulder's?"

Chalmers' snorted," Recognize it? Hell, it's one
of the reasons the water cooler crowd thinks
they're sleeping together. Agent Scully isn't
touchy feely at the best of times, but she
hasn't taken his hand off yet. Figuratively or
literally."

For the first time, I thought I understood what
it meant for blood to freeze in one's veins. I
should have noticed. Why hadn't I noticed?
Because obviously this gesture was reserved for
circumstances other than combat. Either that or
it had been overshadowed by the high amount of
physical contact required by the game. I recalled
again that Mulder and Scully had spent much of
their time in ductwork and darkness. Not the sort
of situation where a gesture like that was
needed.

"Assistant Director Skinner, Agent Chalmers. I
didn't ask that man to do that. I certainly
would never have done something like that
under these circumstances. It would be ...
extremely counterproductive."

And not just because it pissed the agents off.
This sort of thing could actually damage the
sort of recognition we were trying to develop.
The fact that these two agents had enemies who
knew them well enough to use their instincts
against them was...disturbing.

Those were not the sorts of enemies that FBI
agents were supposed to have.

Two heads came up like bloodhounds and I
swallowed tightly at the look that passed between
the two men.

"Agents Scully and Mulder are still missing."

I wasn't sure why I felt I had to emphasize that
fact. The words were out of my mouth before I
realized that I was going to say them. But
instead of laughing at me or giving me odd looks,
both men were suddenly on their feet and grabbing
for cell phones.

Within minutes, every able bodied staff member
and agent pair were combing the Maze. Every light
was turned on, every camera cycled through. They
had been searching fruitlessly for over an hour
when I suddenly heard a horrified voice from
three consoles away.

"Oh my God, there's water in the tunnel
overflow."

I stared at the white-faced VCU agent monitoring
the cameras from the lower levels and wracked my
brain for a matching reference. Then my eyes
widened. Oh shit. Snatching at my keyboard I
punched in the relevant codes even as I heard my
own voice shouting for the HRT Commander.

Please. Please. Please.

I found myself praying for unnamed things.

Finally the camera brought up the section of the
Maze I was looking for. Groans and gasps behind
me only confirmed what my own brain was telling
me. Water was pouring from the overflow vents and
despite the fact that there was no reason to
believe that this was where the missing agents
were located, somehow I knew...

It was the same feeling I had gotten every time I
had gone rushing into a suspect's hideout, hoping
against hope that this time we would not be too
late.

The days I got that feeling...we always were.

Through my earpiece I could hear the sound of
combat boots echoing on cement and then the sound
of cursing and something about a door welded
shut. I was too busy calling up the cameras. Then
the HRT commander was yelling something in my ear
about explosives and sending divers down the
slide.

The cameras in the first chamber were
unresponsive and it was with no real surprise
that I heard another set of voices cursing and
yelling that the entrance to the tunnel had caved
in.

The feeling ...that feeling...started to get
worse.

Finally the underwater cameras came on-line and
the first thing I did was bring up the ones by
the Blowhole. Assuming they weren't trapped under
whatever mess had closed the tunnel, this was
their only hope. A sudden ragged cheer behind me
greeted the sight of Agent Scully rising into the
tube for a lungful of air. But the euphoria was
short-lived. Before we could do more than note
that she was still alive, she had dropped back
below the surface of the water and headed for the
bottom of the tunnel with determined strokes of
her legs.

The cheers trailed off into fear and uncertainty.

No long-limbed body took her place, sharing the
single source of air available in the Tunnel.
Just the green-tinged sight of Agent Scully
disappearing below the range of vision on this
camera lens. Hastily I typed in directions and
the camera was tilting down and down even as the
body of Agent Scully flashed by on her way back
to the Blowhole. No one suggested changing the
camera angle. We knew where she was going. We
wanted to see where she had been.

Dread jackhammered in my chest, and even with the
night vision it was hard to make out the scene at
the bottom. The water was murky, the result of a
partial wall collapse. The obvious conclusion was
that Agent Mulder was trapped somewhere under all
of that mud and stone, but no one shouted out in
recognition. Was he buried? Was Agent Scully just
too grief-stricken or too stubborn to leave her
partner's body to be recovered by the rescue
teams?

A sudden yell and I was staring as Scully's
compact little body arrowed into the camera's
field of vision. Aiming straight for the base of
the collapse, she checked her pace, cautiously
inching closer as the gentle disturbance of her
passage brought more mud drifting down from
above. And then her hands were moving in the
water and a sudden rush of bubbles from the end
of the pile marked the missing agent's location.

"Oh my god."

The curse was soft and I could not have turned my
head to see who said it if the fate of the free
world rested on knowing the man's identity. Not
if it meant turning away from the drama unfolding
across my console screen. Not a person in the
room drew a breath as Agent Scully dipped her
head forward, the purpose of her action implicit
in the situation.

And then she was gone. Back to the surface. And
Agent Mulder remained motionless, a light coating
of mud and silt drifting down to cover his face
once more.

"How the hell can he just stay there, without
struggling?"

The horror in the young CIA agent's voice ignored
the possibility that the agent was not moving
because he could not. Somehow, everyone knew that
he was staying still because he had too. Because
too much pressure one way or another would bring
the rest of the tunnel down on top of him. So it
was a question without an answer.

Surprising me though, AD Skinner found one.

"Because she needs him to."

The next ten minutes passed in a haze of frenzied
concern and speculation. It was obvious that we
couldn't blow the door-not without risking a
secondary cave-in. But we could at least get air
to the agents. Up in the Command Center, three
dozen people watched as scuba tanks were lowered
into the Blowhole. We winced in sympathy as,
exhaustion in every limb, Scully slammed headlong
into the metal tanks before her brain could
process what she was seeing. Then we saw her peer
through the murky water and saw her hands reach
out with sudden desperate energy. Without even
pausing to take time to refill her lungs at the
Blowhole, she wrenched the tank from its rope,
and headed back to her partner.

There were two mouthpieces connected to the first
stage octopus, and Scully made good use of one as
she got her partner connected to the other and
found a safe place where the tank wouldn't be
ripped away by an unexpected shifting of the
debris. Then she was back to the surface to see
what other goodies the HRT had left her.

There wasn't much they could get to them. Masks
to let the agents see, a tank for Scully and a
spare for Mulder. Flashlights were out of the
question as the engineers needed to see what was
going on, and the additional light would have
interfered with the night vision cameras. Two-
piece wetsuits to help conserve body heat. No one
actually thought that Mulder would have any use
for his, but no one wanted Scully to have any
reason to suspect that they might harbor doubts
of digging him out from under the mud.

Hope was the only real gift we had to give.

One of the HRT donated an underwater watch with
luminous oversized numbers and after agreeing to
check in every 30 minutes, Scully returned to her
partner. Using the new freedom supplied by the
scuba tank, she carefully explored the debris
field. Even through the murky water and less than
optimal camera angles, the watchers could already
see that it was a futile effort. Any attempt to
uncover or shift the pile, brought more sliding
down from the wall. From the cautious looks
Scully kept giving the roof above her, there was
also some doubts as to its stability.

By the time her first check in rolled around she
had exhausted thoughts of digging Mulder out. She
suggested checking out the tunnel back to the
slide, but the HRT Commander wanted to wait until
they could get air-lines connected to above
ground compressors down to her partner. He was
worried that if the tunnel was unstable and
Scully herself became trapped, that they would
then only have the air left in their Scuba tanks.
Independent lines connected to an air source
above would at least ensure a constant supply of
oxygen as long as they didn't get the lines
twisted.

So we waited. Except for periodic trips to the
surface to check for updates, Scully spent the
next two hours sitting quietly by her partner,
hand touching his shoulder, letting him know that
she was still there. For his part, if it wasn't
for the fact that bubbles streamed away from his
face in steady exhalation, no one would have
known he was still alive. He was conscious. That
much we knew. But the agent did not turn so much
as his head as his partner moved in and out of
his field of vision.

Only AD Skinner had any concept of the cost of
that seemingly unremarkable feat to his normally
hyperactive and twitchy agent. And he was at a
loss how to explain it. He later described
looking around at the room full of CIA analysts
and VCU shrinks and wanting to yell at them to
open their eyes. To see that the ultimate goal of
all our partnership games and exercises was right
there on our camera screens.

How do you tell a room full of active agents and
physically courageous people, that the purest
form of love and trust and bravery it had ever
been my privilege to witness was in the action of
an active man actively doing nothing.

Finally the word from the engineers came back.
Whatever had caused the collapse had ruptured one
of the main water lines. The overflow was
handling it, but there were problems. First, the
dirt behind the wall was saturating with water,
becoming heavier and more unstable. This was bad
enough, but the extra weight was putting pressure
on the already compromised wall and the entire
tunnel was one big cave-in waiting to happen.
Worse, they weren't sure what would happen when
they shut off the water. There was a considerable
amount of water pressure behind the break, and
the resulting shift in counter-pressure could
cause the very collapse they were hoping to
avoid.

The entrance chamber was totally blocked and it
looked like deliberate sabotage. In fact, they
suspected that the collapse which had trapped
Mulder was actually an unexpected ripple effect
from the original explosion. They would have to
check the debris field later, but tentatively
they didn't think collapsing the tunnel had been
the bomber's original purpose. He had just wanted
to block access to the slide. The collapse had
been an unfortunate accident resulting from an
unknown structural weakness in the tunnel wall.

Mulder just happened to be standing next to it
when it fell.

The engineers had looked shocked when AD Skinner
unexpectedly dropped his head into his hands and
started laughing.

Finally they just decided to cut through the
steel door. The door itself led into an airlock
that could be flooded with water to equalize the
pressure on both sides, allowing the door to be
pushed gently inward. Rescue divers would then
rush in with all the protective equipment needed
to extract the trapped agent - hopefully before
the rest of the wall came down on him or the roof
caved in. The engineers however, were adamant
that the ruptured water main had to be shut off
immediately. By the time they got underwater arc
welding equipment out to the site and cut through
the steel plate hatch, it would be too late.

If they shut off the water now, they might only
trigger a mudslide in the already compromised
wall. If they waited, the whole damn tunnel would
probably go within the hour. Agent Mulder was
already trapped, Agent Scully was not. And the
minute that door was open, there would be more
people going into that tunnel. Did anyone really
want to compromise the integrity of the structure
any further?

The answer, of course, was no.

At her next check-in, Scully was told the news.
There was no real way to get across details and
no time, but they managed to make one thing
perfectly clear. Agent Scully had five minutes to
get her ass away from the wall. They might have
told her that they wanted her away from the wall
so that she could dig him out after the slide.
The fact that it would have been only half a lie
should have given it credibility. Would have, if
she had stopped to listen to them. But Scully had
had two hours to consider the likely
ramifications of a mudslide or cave-in and she
had made plans of her own.

Her earlier attempts to dig around Mulder had
resulted in the partial clearing of his head and
shoulders. She had taken the wetsuit top the HRT
had sent down for him and worked it carefully
under his head and about six inches under his
upper back. It had had the result of insulating
him somewhat from the cold floor he was resting
on, but that wasn't the reason she had done it.
She had threaded the above ground air lines
through the right arm of the jacket, and now,
picking up a six foot length of four inch pipe
she had dug out of the debris, she threaded that
through the left arm.

The spare Scuba tank was already buried securely
in the mud, both mouthpieces tucked between
Mulder's neck and shoulders. It was a back-up
system in case the slide damaged the air-line
connected to the compressor above. Scully had
zipped the right side of her own wetsuit jacket
to the left side of Mulder's. Now, we watched
open mouthed as she slipped her arms out of her
fatigues and then kneeling beside Mulder's
shoulder, brought her wetsuit jacket over her own
back and with some difficulty, zipped the left
zipper to right.

Both of the agents heads and upper shoulders were
now enclosed in a rough tube of neoprene and one
of the HRT divers sucked in a quick breath as he
figured out what she was doing. The tight squeeze
made it difficult for her to move, but from the
cameras it looked like she was stuffing the gaps
between their sides and the neoprene with the
arms of her fatigues. Then her fingers grasped the
necks of the suits, and arching her upper body
protectively over Mulder's head, she rested her
forehead on braced forearms and pulled the suit
in tight.

"Off. Tell them to turn the water off."

The diver's voice was hoarse, but there was no
doubt in his face. One of the engineers cursed as
someone grabbed him, showed him the screen and
then he was grabbing his cell-phone and ordering
someone else to shut down the main valve.

For a long moment, no one moved. No one even
wanted to breath least the shallow movement here
set off disastrous motion there. And then it
happened. Someone moaned aloud and several others
cursed as the mud shifted above the two
agents...and slid. The camera went momentarily
black as mud and dirt engulfed the agents. Tense
minutes passed as they waited for the silt to
clear.

Meanwhile, the rescue team wasn't waiting for
anything. The arc welding equipment had arrived a
full ten minutes earlier than expected and they
were making good use of the time. Fifteen minutes
later the door fell. The silty haze had cleared
enough that the rescue divers were visible as
they dug through the mud and dirt covering the
agents. The mudslide and resultant release in
pressure had moved enough earth that another
collapse was not an immediate threat. The ceiling
was still an issue and the mudslide,
surprisingly, had had an unforeseen benefit.

I stared at several jagged edged pieces of cement
that had fallen from the ceiling and landed on
the mud covering the trapped pair. Any one of
those pieces, connecting with unprotected flesh
would have been enough to crush bone. I swallowed
back nausea at the thought of what one of those
lumps of rock could have done to an unprotected
skull. Now if only the sheer weight of the mud
hadn't killed them both already.

"Can you tell if they are still getting air?"

The diver kept his eyes glued to the screen and
AD Skinner realized that he hadn't even heard the
question. He touched the man's shoulder gently.
The diver nearly leaped out of his chair in
shock.

"Can you tell if they are getting oxygen? Are
they breathing?"

The diver glanced at the screen helplessly,
"There's air going down, but there's no way to
tell if it's getting to them or if the line is
ruptured and is bleeding off somewhere."

"But they still have the spare tank right?"

"Yeah, but even assuming they can physically
breath under all that weight, the air itself
isn't the problem. They can inhale all they want.
Isn't going to do them a damn bit of good if they
can't exhale. That's the problem with mud. No air
pockets. It doesn't leave anywhere for the air to
go."

"So that's why..."

Skinner gestured at the screen.

"Yeah. She was trying to create an air pocket.
Unfortunately, even if she did that, the air they
are exhaling is trapped down there with them
Eventually the pressure will build and..."

"Squash their skulls?"

"Something like that. She was probably hoping to
bleed off some of the pressure with that length
of pipe, but I don't see any air bubbles so it
may be covered in mud or..."

His voice trailed off, but it was easy enough to
guess what he was about to say next. Either the
end of the pipe was covered, or the agents
weren't generating any air to create bubbles.

As if in answer to that very thought, a sudden
explosion of bubbles from where he had been
digging knocked one of the rescue divers flat on
his ass. In a flurry of motion, experienced hands
cleared away rock and silt until a ragged cheer
echoed across the Command Center. The
unmistakable shape of two bodies appeared, air
bubbles bleeding from the edges of the neoprene
now that the sealing weight of the mud was gone.

Both agents were barely conscious and there was
still a need to go slowly. Aside from the still
present danger of cave-in, it was more than
possible that Mulder had injuries that had been
obscured by the mud. Their care was rewarded when
it was discovered that somehow in the fall, his
leg had broken. The heavy weight of the mud had
acted as an impromptu splint, keeping him from
damaging the leg further. It was only after the
doctors got a good look at the x-rays that they
realized how closely the broken edge of bone had
come to severing the artery. One of the interns
commented that it was a good thing that lack of
oxygen had probably made him too weak to
struggle. It had probably saved his life.

The attending physician, six interns, a resident,
three nurses and several curious onlookers simply
stared in confusion as the caustic voice of the
AD bit out that the only weakness involved was
the weakness of the brain that had a wet-behind-
the-ears child making comments about something he
knew nothing about. Then he told them that if
they were planning on making idiotic and ignorant
statements of that sort anywhere in the vicinity
of the red-headed nuisance they kept trying to
evict from Mulder's room, well then...

"You might want to make sure that your death and
disability policies are up-to-date."

**********************************
Epilogue

Several weeks later...

Scully took a deep breath and pushed her hair
slowly back from her face as she stared at the
woman in the mirror. The eyes. Had she ever
belonged to those eyes? Before Mulder?
Before...everything?

The glass was cool and slick under her
fingertips, reminding her almost of marble and
that famous line about the sculptor not creating
the vision in marble, but simply let it out.

Who was the woman she was about to set free?

She found herself slipping into her skin so
easily, this stranger who had lurked beneath
proper suits and federal regulations. Had she
always been there or had she found her genesis
in the molten kiln called Truth? Justice.

Sacrifice.

There was no gentleness in this woman. Not in
this aspect. This woman was distilled anger,
purified vengeance and unyielding in her
judgment of the sins committed against her.

Her eyes studied her body dispassionately, then
discarded the severely cut suit and equally
proper shoes. Mulder would be there today,
watching. He had always known this woman waited
behind Dana Scully's daylight persona. With his
profiler's soul and watchful eyes, her suits had
never disguised those rare flashes of personality
which betrayed her.

But he was not the one she was dressing for...

Her hands reached for the clothes she had laid on
the counter in earlier preparation. Why was she
doing this now? This was more than a warning. It
was a clarion call to battle to those who had the
eyes to see. Assuming she was simply not sinking
into an odd form of madness, envisioning a role
for herself that was as pitiful as it was
melodramatic.

No.

No doubts.

The woman she needed to be would have none. Not
about this.

The black long-sleeved knit turtleneck was a gift
from Mulder. Had they broken into an Air Force
base or an Army base that night? She frowned as
she realized that she couldn't remember. It did
not matter. The thin knit material hugged her
body closely. Comfortably smooth beneath the
shoulder holster it left nothing that would
accidentally snag on loose objects that could go
crashing to the ground at inopportune moments.
The shoulder rig had started life brown in color,
but had been carefully dyed two days ago until
it matched the rest of her outfit. Black guns,
black belt with a blacked out buckle and a
leather case for her handcuffs - also dyed to
match.

She had almost worn combat boots. Had tried them
on and stared at them for a long moment in the
mirror in her bedroom. They had been comfortable,
but they were not quite what she needed. She was
a stiletto today, not a machine gun. She needed
something a bit more...feline. Combat boots were
exchanged for a pair of black-soled leather ankle
boots with sturdy toes and heels. In her mind's
eye she had almost seen the soles gripping the
edge of a balcony as she slipped over the side.
Could feel the impact those toes would make when
driven against the inside of a knee-cap or up
into a groin.

She had handed the saleswoman her credit card
without a moment's hesitation.

And finally the guns. The Beretta was holstered
on her left shoulder, angled for a fast downward
draw that would not pinch and would not slow her
down by dragging across her breast. Her Sig was
at her back and Mulder's back-up gun was snuggled
up tightly against her right ankle. Two spare
clips rested in each of the military style
pockets that ran along the outer thighs of her
black cargo pants. A deadly looking pocket knife
shared space with a black knit watch cap and
mini-maglight in the pocket on her left calf.

Staring at herself in the mirror she waited for
the first feelings of sheepish regret. She was
wearing more hardware than the average SWAT
officer and carrying enough bullets to take out a
platoon. She waited for the image in the mirror
to start looking ridiculous. She waited for some
sign that she was having second thoughts.

She wondered if she had time to buy an ankle
holster for her other ankle.

She reached for the last of her accessories.
Ostensibly, the wide band of black neoprene and
velcro wrapped tightly around the wrist of her
right hand was a slightly trendy watchband. In
reality, she marveled at the feeling the
additional support gave her as she pulled her Sig
and sighted experimentally down the barrel. Maybe
it was time to reconsider parts of her wardrobe.

The woman in the mirror smiled a slow dangerous
smile as she tugged her sleeve down over the
band. It didn't matter if it was visible or not.
It was how it made her feel that was important
here.

State of mind was everything.

She started to turn away, and then hesitated.
Something...something was still missing. Some
inner edge that she could not quite put her
finger on. The gel in her short hair had given
the swept back locks a wild and tangled look that
was as efficient as it was feral.

Her eyes went to her ears. Reconsidered earrings
of some kind, then shook her head. The woman in
the mirror didn't need them. They were a hazard.
Something that could get snagged. Not to mention
the possibility of an unexpected glint of silver
or gold giving her location away.

No, the woman in the mirror had no need or desire
for ornamentation.

Except.

Her hand reached and hovered briefly. This felt
right. Prompted by some inner instinct, she
fastened the tiny cross back around her neck. The
gold showed clearly against the black of her
turtle-neck and it should have looked out of
place. Something hovered, some understanding of
herself was waiting just outside her reach. She
fingered the necklace and wondered what her
subconscious was trying to tell her. Was this
just part of the image or something deeper?

The lady in the mirror had no answers.

Would they see what she meant them to see?

No more practice. If they wanted to play, they
better be prepared for her to play for keeps. She
had given them fair warning.. Right there in the
darkness she had told them what she would do.

It was their own fault if they did not believe
her.

The woman in the mirror smiled a cold, merciless
smile.

Because if those bastards thought they were
taking her partner from her, they were in for a
surprise.

****************************************

She let Mulder's black leather jacket slip from
her shoulders as she stepped from the driver's
seat of the bronco and uncoiled from the vehicle.
The jacket landed in the passenger seat and the
FBI credentials she had just shown the CIA
parking attendant slid into the right thigh
pocket with the clips. She had wondered about the
bronco. Considered whether or not the woman in
the mirror would drive a sports car. Then she
contemplated the places you could go, the things
you could carry...the bodies you could hide. Her
smile was cold and held feline anticipation.

She scanned the damp gray concrete pillars and
parked cars openly, making no secret of her
suspicion, her intent to react with deadly force
to any threat. She imagined the sudden
consternation of the security guards as they
viewed her attire in black and white camera
screens. She paced toward the building entrance,
letting the feelings that came from the smell of
the guns, the weight of the spare clips wash
through her blood.

Intent.

That was the key

The best salesman in the world is the one who
believes in his product, because it shows. In his
voice, in his eyes, in every line of his body.

Live the role.

Believe the lie.

Believe.

A half step left of the Abyss was a world where
shadows waited. A world where men like Alex
Krycek, Luis Cardinal and CGB Spender lived.
Where death was the price of admission and you
learned the rules by surviving the first round of
play. A world of innuendo and make-believe. Power
built on fear and belief. Intangible control
easily broken, easily lost. The game had only one
purpose. To maintain control without losing too
many of the players.

You are only as powerful as the strength and
numbers of your pawns.

Death then, was not the ultimate objective. Just
a possible tool. One of many.

Threat was the knife edge of control.

Push too softly and your pawns refuse to react.
Push too hard ...and they'll turn on you like
cornered rats in a desperate bid for life or
salvation. And you never knew who you might
need in the future.

Image.

Belief.

The foundations of illusionary power.

But death laughs in the face of illusion. Death
has no respect for threat.

Death is threat.

Look at me and see what I have become. What you
have made of me.

*I am become Death, destroyer of worlds*.

I am the Assassin. I am Death. I am Threat.

Use me well...

Lest the knife in your hand become the knife at
your throat.

For the Assassin is the minion of Death.

And I fear no illusions.

Startled eyes, puzzled eyes, these she ignored.
They were not the ones with eyes to see the world
she was walking within.

There.

Those eyes there, and that pair over there. The
man she had come to see had barely joined the
game. Yet he would know those eyes, if only by
reputation. Now he would watch their eyes,
watching her.

Would he see what they saw?

Or would he see what he wanted to believe?

The clips, the guns, the clothes, the walk.

All props.

But the woman. At this moment, the woman was
real.

And she was extremely pissed off.

*********************************************

"What the fuck does she think she is doing?"

The minute he said it, he regretted the loss of
control. But Christ! His agent looked like an
escaped extra from a Tom Clancy novel. Or a b-
grade movie set. How many bloody guns was she
wearing? He watched in disbelief as cold
blue eyes went first to her partner, openly
assessing his condition, publicly establishing
her priorities. Icy suspicion studied the men at
his back, clearly evaluated the potential hazards
surrounding him and sent shivers down the ex-
Marine's spine.

Echoes of gunfire and distant jungle swirled in
memory, and as she met his eyes, for the first
time since he had known her, Walter Skinner felt
a flash of fear of her rather than for her. This
was not the naive young woman affronted and
confused by the betrayal of her government. Nor
was she the haunted victim of a shadowy
conspiracy whose personal losses evoked equal
measures of respect for her determination, guilt
at his own inability to prevent the loss and
anger at the foolish blindness that sent both
these agents bumbling and stumbling headlong into
one avoidable disaster after another. They played
larger games in ignorance, and seemed so offended
when it came back to bite them on the ass.

Who was this?

He ran his eyes slowly over her body,
reevaluating her attire. Not FBI, no. But who
would he have assumed that she was if he did not
know her? Old memories flickered and he looked
again at shoulder rigs with no reflecting metal
pieces, clothing chosen for functionality and
weapons rigged for speed...and far too many
clips. Her outfit said assassin. Those clips said
something else.

Extreme lethal force.

Looking at Mulder, he expected to see horror or
embarrassment at his partner's bizarre attire.
Instead, the agent was watching with a hard light
in his eyes that Skinner did not recognize. Was
that fascination? Approval?

Anticipation?

It was a rather sudden shock to realize that
for the first time since he had known him, the
agent's face accurately reflected the darkness
that sometimes moved in his eyes. Unease shivered
its way across his spine as he looked, really
looked, at his agent for the first time in years.
He knew better than most that looks could be
deceiving. He had known that the man was a
profiler. Had even seen the effects second hand.

But Mulder had always seemed so damn young. His
passion seemed to manifest itself as exuberance,
his features...delicate, unfinished somehow.
Mulder was a problem because of his enthusiastic
and unending ability to hurl himself into the
hunt. But if he had been asked, Skinner would
always have said hound dog, not wolf.

When you looked at Mulder, dangerous was not the
first word that came to mind.

He lacked that hard edge, that ruthless quality
that Hollywood was so fond of stereotyping. But
there was nothing boyish about his features now.
All that passion, all the energy that normally
seethed and rolled off the agent in a hundred
chaotic directions was suddenly leashed and
bound. The body that twitched and bounced and
shifted in a constant state of motion was held
motionless with a hungry anticipation that was
excruciating in its predatory patience.

Hard coiled explosive potential.

Watching.

Waiting.

And most terrifying of all, under absolute
control.

More eyes than his were watching her. More
precisely, Agent Cory Detweiller - CIA, wannabe
player and recent terrorist - watched the men
who he aspired to become watch her. His initial
look of disdain changed slowly to caution and
then surprised apprehension as he realized that
men who he had assumed feared nothing watched
a tiny woman in black with their eyes blank and
their empty hands held casually near weapons.

"I think Agent Scully would like to speak with
the prisoner, Sir."

Mulder's low-voiced comment caught Skinner off-
guard, and for a moment he just looked at the
man with emerging anger. What the hell were his
agents up to? This wasn't their case - not
considering that they were involved. But it was
Scully who had left her partner in the hospital
and spent the next two weeks of her "vacation"
tracking the man down. She had been smart about
it too. There was nothing connecting her to the
anonymous tips which had led to his arrest.
Nothing that could lead to a charge of
interference with an official investigation.
Nothing provable, that was. No one, however, had
any doubts who was responsible for connecting the
dots.

And she had been standing there watching when the
CIA and FBI had made the arrest. Not
surprisingly, no one had seen where she came
from, no one remembered calling her, and no one
saw her leave.

Now, as Detweiller was led into the interrogation
room, Skinner saw several agents remember the
rumors. That this was the woman who was REALLY
responsible for Detweiller's capture. That he had
been the one responsible for setting off the
explosion which almost killed her partner. That
the CIA had been unable to get him to drop the
attitude long enough to get him to finger the men
who had paid him.

Or even to give a reason why.

Skinner shifted uneasily as he realized that
Scully was following the prisoner into the
interrogation room fully armed. Amazingly, no one
had the guts to protest. Not even him, it would
seem. Chalmers motioned both Skinner and Mulder
into the room next door. A wall to wall one way
mirror made up the connecting wall and Skinner
eyed the other occupants uneasily.

He recognized them. Not who they were, but what
they were. Eyes too shadowed, stances off by just
a hair, a few too many weapons. He'd go long odds
that half of them weren't even CIA.

And they were all watching Scully.

Skinner felt the frown gathering slowly and for
the first time in too many years, felt lost
regarding his agents' political agenda. It was
his job to save their asses, damn it. He was the
one who negotiated the political minefields and
kept them from getting their legs blown off.
Their positions were shakier than ever. The old
guard was dead. The men who had protected them as
often as they had threatened them were gone. A
dozen dozen people in shattered projects with
incomplete information fought among themselves
for new positions of power. Some knew part of
what was actually happening, some clung to what
was supposed to have happened, but none, he
realized, were Mulder and Scully.

He turned that thought over once or twice,
carefully.

The Consortium, which had held equal parts hope
and equal parts damnation for mankind, was dead.
The easy power which they had wielded, the
rewards for the inner circle which they had been
able to offer, all gone. Even assuming that their
successors knew what the hell the larger picture
was supposed to look like, no one had the time or
the connections to put it all back together
again. These were new agendas, with new players
and new loyalties. New alien factions.

How many of them even knew about the aliens?

They could deal themselves right out of the war.
Right here, right now. Walk away and never look
back. Did either of them realize that? Mulder had
never had a choice before, regardless of what he
might have thought in the early years. His
father's legacy had seen to that. And Scully?
Scully could no more walk away from what had been
done to her, her family and her partner than she
could sprout wings and fly. So they were both
flies in amber, trapped by their pasts and their
natures.

Until now.

No one was left to punish. No one was pulling the
strings, dangling hints and oddly shaped pieces
of an unknown puzzle in order to tempt them into
the game. No one particularly wanted them alive,
but no one truly wanted them dead. If they kept
their noses out of it, they were just another
couple of civilians...unless...

Unless.

What do the crusaders do when the quest is over
but still unfinished?

What do you do when you suddenly realize that
there are no people standing at the top. Nobody
holding the reins. Nobody to follow or to blame.
Just bits and pieces and foot soldiers who may or
may not even know what war they are fighting.
Soldiers who needed generals. Who needed a rally
point. Something they could recognize.

Someone who could give them answers.

Maybe that bomb had done exactly what it was
supposed to do after all.

He had thought that they could walk away.

He had never really thought about the roles they
would need to take on if they did not.

It wasn't just a power vacuum, Skinner realized
suddenly, but an absence of direction. All those
foot soldiers and no senior officers. All those
newly promoted officers...and no map to the war.
But if Mulder was the natural heir-apparent to a
cause that spanned decades and claimed countless
lives, then Scully was Jeanne d'Arc. Not the
woman burned at the stake for her beliefs, but
the soldier who raised an army for the King of
France. He had forgotten.

Wars need leaders, but leaders need generals.

And generals needed soldiers like those gathering
in this room.

Skinner had always known it was a war. In his
head, he had known it. But his emotions had
never made the connections between the battle
to come and the agents he had always seen
somewhat as its victims.

But who else was there?

Their honor, their motives were unassailable.
Their names were known. They knew the larger
picture of what the Consortium planned...and what
it had hidden. Their bodies harbored the chance
for immunity, the possibility of a vaccine the
Consortium would have used only after the aliens
had decimated the old world order and left the
empty seats at the top free for the taking.

Who, after all, would resist the only men with the
cure?

But Mulder and Scully could become what the foot
soldiers wanted. Figureheads cast in the image
their followers needed. Created whole cloth from
belief, need and mutable reality. Symbols.
Rallying points. And they would allow it. Duty
would let them do nothing less.

Mulder was the natural heir to the projects his
father worked on and the natural ally of his
father's enemies. And Scully? The men who would
follow her would lay their lives at the feet of
Mulder's cause for one reason and one reason
only. Because she believed. Because the strength
of her convictions and the passion of her support
would lend credibility to the cause and because
of the wistful hope that by following, the
followers might somehow touch just a bit of
reflected light from the fire that burned between
them.

Mulder and Scully.

The Martyr and the Soldier.

Justice.

He had been wrong. They could never walk away.
Not now. Perhaps not ever.

And neither could he.

In the interrogation room, Detweiller had been
handcuffed to the table and the two CIA guards
had left Scully alone with him at a nod from her.
Detweiller had a frozen half-sneer on his face
that had been his stock response to any and all
questioning. He never gave an inch, not even to
confirm information they already knew.

Scully just looked at him with the same detached
curiosity with which she might have watched a
routine autopsy. Significant in a professional
sense, but not something from which she expected
to learn anything.

"There is no honor in their war."

There was no heat in her voice. No burning hate.
Simply judgment. Moral values weighed and found
wanting in the eyes of one who had shed blood to
draw the line he had crossed. A mortal archangel
fallen to earth to render her verdict with a cold
fury born of offense and anointed in sacrifice.

Implacable.

Immovable.

Retribution reborn.

Wingless but not crippled. Carrying a gun instead
of a sword...

Detweiller fastened his eyes on a ring of scars
visible on Scully's exposed right forearm. As he
studied those marks, badges of a battle he could
only guess at, Skinner frowned. He didn't
remember those scars as being so prominent. So
visible. As she casually rested her hand against
the table, naturally drawing Detweiller's eyes to
the ripple of muscle beneath damaged flesh,
Skinner realized that this too was part of the
play.

With one simple action she established beyond a
doubt that Detweiller was a mere puppy in a dark
war she had survived for seven years. She did not
brag. She did not threaten. She simply was what
Detweiller longed to be. A warrior fighting for
something worth saving. Worth dying for.

Someone who knew the potential cost of losing the
coming battle...and who rejected Detweiller's
actions as unworthy.

Men like Alex Krycek were lost when they sold
their souls too cheaply. Foot soldiers who
trusted their lives and honor into the hands of
men who did not value what they held. Whose
flaws could have become strengths in another's
grasp.

Who would Alex have been if he had met Mulder
first?

Dark twins. One lost, one found.

Who would Mulder have been without Scully?

One had only to watch the desperate way Krycek
circled them to see every soldier's nightmare.
Back and away, then back again. Coming as close
as his sins would allow. Trapped like a moth to
the flame that burned between the two agents he
might have given his life to had the butterfly
beat its wings just a little bit differently.
The cost of betrayal. Trust given too lightly or
too soon. Gazing ever in at something he had
forever barred himself from touching before he
knew enough about the game he was playing to
judge the price of his actions.

That was the true tragedy of a shadow war.

Men who learned to trust no one still trusted
their orders. And took the blame. Because once
they lost their names, their orders were all
they had.

Flies in amber.

Trapped forever unless someone set them free.

And the men in the observation room were looking
at a hammer.

Detweiller was staring deeply into ice blue eyes,
searching for answers to a question he did not
know how to ask. He saw choices. He saw lines
drawn. An unflinching loyalty that paled to
insignificance anything he had ever felt in his
life. Even as he shrank from the heat of the
blaze, he yearned for the power of its touch.
Just once. That was the longing Skinner saw
reflected in the window of his soul. To feel
that certainty, that searing commitment. To
know he was capable of even a fraction of that
incandescent passion.

Just once.

"Why Mulder?"

His shattered whisper held a million questions.
She answered only one.

"Because he is the last gift left in Pandora's
box."

A prize worthy of her soul.

The last hope of the world. Or no. Mulder had
hope. Enough hope to fling himself into the fire
that would blaze across the sky and take the race
of mankind with it. He generated it within him.
Hope for himself. Hope for the world.

Enough hope to fight a war.

Detweiller's breath came in shallow pants as he
tried to find meaning in the answer she had given
him. Then he asked the words that gave his life
into her keeping.

"Then who are you?"

Lady Justice.

Hope's Guardian.

The other half of their combined soul.

Her smile held a million answers, but her voice
betrayed none.

Detweiller jerked his head up as two CIA guards
opened the door. Confusion crossed his face as
they came to his side of the room.

"Wait."

He searched her eyes, looking for the questions,
the demands. The lies.

"Wait."

Scully merely watched silently and he began to
resist as the guards hauled him to his feet.
Detweiller's eyes were frantic, his voice
desperate.

"Don't you want to know why?"

She did not answer. Detweiller's struggles
grew to a fever pitch as he fought to stay.

"What do you want from me?!"

The cry was ripped directly from his soldier's
heart. And with that, he was hers forever.
Every man watching saw it happen. Saw the sorrow
in her eyes and the loss and despair crashing
into Detweiller's soul.

The sentence came gently.

"Nothing at all."

****************************************

The silence in the interrogation room was
absolute. Blank eyes in blank faces.

And then they left.

Slowly.

Giving long thoughtful looks to the man meeting
his partner's eyes through a one-way window.
Nothing was ventured. Nothing was said.

And the silence spoke louder than words.

Neither Mulder nor his partner moved. Skinner
was held trapped by the spell woven between his
two agents. Had he really seen what he thought
he had seen?

And where would this day's work take them?

A tiny ripple of motion, a shivery breath as
Mulder suddenly seemed to stir to life and the
agent turned his head , eyes still burning with
something Skinner wasn't sure he wanted to
understand. Then he smiled.

A curiously edged twist of the lips that echoed
the darkness swirling in his eyes.

"I said I couldn't mind-fuck the CIA."

He glanced once more through the glass and the
edges grew pointed fangs.

"I never said that she couldn't"

**************************

Skinner and Chalmers both lingered, perhaps out
of morbid fascination. They watched Scully lift
her head guardedly as the door opened and Mulder
limped through. He paused just inside the door.
Fleeting expressions came and went, too rapid to
truly be analyzed...at least by outsiders. And
perhaps, too quickly even for those caught in
the middle.

Suddenly, Mulder flashed his partner a blinding
grin and brought his hand to his chest and swept
her a graceful, old fashioned bow. He tilted his
head to look up at her and hazel eyes gleamed
slyly through roguish, half-lowered lashes.

"My Lady Retribution."

Beneath the black sweater, shoulders relaxed and
Dana Scully shot him a half exasperated, half
amused look even as she playfully nodded her head
in regal acknowledgment.

Mulder straightened, his smile widening, "Shall
we go save the world?"

Skinner found himself holding his breath as he
thought about a game turned reality and reality
played like a game. He thought about the fact
that he did not know these people at all. Had
only scratched the surface of what they were
becoming.

For all the humor in his voice, Mulder was dead
serious.

Scully paused, then smiled a slow secret smile
as she pulled the Beretta, checked the clip
and shoved it back in the holster with a snap.
Her words were a truth that Skinner knew to his
bones.

"I got your back."

~The End