Author's Notes: This was a toughie to write, though once I got the idea I couldn't resist working two of my favorite shows together. I began this in September of 2009 and finished it in March of 2012, though it went through several more revisions and two beta reads before its final polish in May 2012. This never would have seen the light of day without my superteam of beta readers, that much is for certain.

Synopsis: Booth and Bones go to Mulder for help with a case that seems eerily like an old X-file, but does he want to help?

Thanks to Rachel (oneturtledove) for her invaluable help with both the Bones and XF parts; she made sure that I had Brennan's voice ring true.

Special thanks to Alia for help with the legal/charging parts as well as her endless support.

Thanks as well to Melissa for her final read-through.

Last but never least, a HUGE shout-out thank you to Michael Chapman for the final beta and tweaking that it really needed.

Takes place in May 2008, just a couple of months after IWTB.

Bones ep: between Player Under Pressure and The Baby in the Bough


XF: Leonard Betts, The Host, IWTB, Travelers, Terms of Endearment, Hollywood A.D., Field Trip

Bones: Player Under Pressure

The Trip in the Field

By Suzanne L. Feld

Rated R

Chapter I

May, 2008

"Yes, can I help you?"

The slender, brown-haired woman standing on my porch was tall enough that she nearly looked me in the eye, her companion an inch or two taller than I with the look of a pugnacious ex-Marine if I knew anything about it—and I did. I used to work for one, matter of fact. Whatever else they were, they certainly weren't the Jehovah's Witnesses that had come by bothering me last week; I doubted they'd risk the shotgun again. "Fox Mulder?"

I was reminded a little of Dakota Whitney by her direct blue-eyed gaze, although the woman standing on my porch certainly wasn't FBI. Him, I wasn't so sure about and would reserve judgment until I found out differently. She was in street clothes, a pair of tailored slacks and a sweater under her plain navy pea coat, he in a black suit that wasn't as nice as the Armanis I used to wear but probably not off the J.C. Penney racks either, with a dark grey trench coat over it. I couldn't help but notice his rather colorful tie and large red belt buckle although I couldn't make out what it said, and I didn't want to stare at that part of his anatomy until I did. "Who wants to know?" I asked suspiciously in return, still behind the screen door with one hand holding the edge of the solid oak inner door and ready to slam it at a moment's notice.

The broad-shouldered man stepped forward and flashed a badge, holding it up by his face in a textbook move. "Special Agent Seeley Booth, FBI," he said, looking me in the eye with direct austerity, no anger or curiosity. "This is my partner Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist from the Jeffersonian."

I looked at her curiously. "You're not FBI?"

"No, I work with Agent Booth. I specialize in forensic osteology and advise the FBI.," she said. I then noticed that he held a pair of case files, the old red-and-white stripes of an X-File unmistakable behind a newer grayish-green manila one.

"Can we come in and talk to you?" Agent Booth said.

I heaved a sigh. "Only if this is not about the X-Files," I said, not moving. "But it is, isn't it?"

They exchanged a loaded glance; already they reminded me of Scully and I when we were bright, enthusiastic young agents. "Mr. Mulder—"

"Just call me Mulder," I said with a sigh, capitulating and reaching out to push the door open. God, did I feel old all of a sudden! How long had it been since it was me holding up that small black folder beside my face? Seven, eight years? Bittersweet regret swept over me as I showed them in but I pushed it away, and then shoved half the stuff on the dining room table aside so we could all sit down and have room to spread out the files. Scully was going to kick my ass when she found out I'd had people in with the house looking like this. Then I remembered how I had always appreciated it when someone had offered us something to drink even when we were unwelcome guests and said grudgingly, "You two like some coffee? Or iced tea?"

"Yes, thank you, coffee would be great," Dr. Brennan said, at the same moment her partner said, "No thanks, we don't want to put you to any trouble," with them each speaking over the other, then turning to glare into each other's faces.

As much as I didn't want to deal with whatever they were about to throw at me, they were amusing, that much I had to admit. "Well, I want some coffee so hang on, I'll make some," I said, leaving them to go into the kitchen. In here it was sparkling clean and neat; there were two areas of the house I didn't dare mess up and this was one of them. Scully would have my nuts in a vise if I didn't clean up after myself in here or in the bathroom. The rest of the house she had relaxed about over the years; we had both become much more mellow with age, I realized.

Speaking of Scully, how angry was she going to be if I got involved with the FBI again? I wondered as I set up the coffeemaker. She'd damn near left me over the last one and I didn't want to risk that again. I knew I should get hold of her first and for once, I was going to do the right thing instead of just forging on ahead and worrying about the consequences later. I was too fucking old for leap-before-you-look anymore.

Luckily my cell was on the counter next to the stove as I'd been about to make lunch before the knock came at the door. I took a quick glance into the dining room to see the other two paging through the newer case file, and ducked back into the kitchen to pick up my phone and open the messaging program.

- U there? Important, rly.

- Busy. What?

- FBI here about old XF. You OK if I talk to?

- Again? How'd they know our address?

- Helo ride prob.

- :-( K, thx for letting me know, just keep me informed.

- Will do. LYL.

- ;-) Me, too. See you later.

Grinning, I slid the new iPhone into my front jeans pocket and got mugs out of the cabinet as the coffee began to drip. Though she'd resisted kicking and screaming I had dragged Scully into the world of texting both on the phone and on the computer though she insisted on typing out proper English even if it took forever to send messages back and forth sometimes. I tried not to pester her too much or she'd ignore me, and was glad I hadn't bothered her yet today.

I carried the three filled mugs of coffee out to the table, then went back and got the sugar bowl, the jar of Scully's dry creamer, and spoons. Sitting down across from Agent Booth I growled, "Okay, let me have it. Doesn't mean I promise to help, but I'll at least listen to what you have to say. Fair enough?"

"I heard from Agent Drummy that you liked to do that gruff curmudgeonly act, though you are rather young for that," Dr. Brennan said, looking at me like I was a bug under a microscope. "He said you looked like an old mountain man the first time he met you, but I'd guess mid-to-late forties."

"Bones!" Booth hissed at her, then turned to me. "She tends to be a little, uh, direct."

"You don't have to apologize for me, Booth, stop doing that," she scolded him, stirring a brief half-teaspoon of sugar into her coffee. "I can apologize for myself… if the need arises."

I could not decide if I liked or loathed these two. They weren't your usual FBI types, that much was for sure.

"So, uh, Mulder," he began, pushing the grayish-green folder to me, "This should look familiar."

I opened the top to see a glossy, color photograph of a skeleton, its bones picked shiny-clean other than the connective tissue, lying in what appeared to be long grass. I couldn't resist and exclaimed, "Uncle Floyd! We wondered where you've been all these years!"

Dr. Brennan burst out laughing, but Booth just stared at me with those dark, deep-set, inscrutable eyes. I relented. "It's certainly not the first skeleton I've seen," I said drily. "But I can't say I recognize him."

"Her," Dr. Brennan jumped in. "We were able to make an ID from her pelvis, which gave us her gender and approximate age, by checking missing person reports in the area where she disappeared."

"That is the remains of Alicia Raeburn, aged seventeen, of Ferntree, North Carolina, who disappeared this past weekend," Booth added helpfully, then took a sip of his coffee.

"Holy shit! Was she boiled by cannibals?" I exclaimed, remembering the Chaco Chicken case. It was a long time ago, but having an eidetic memory has both its ups and its downs.

Dr. Brennan raised both eyebrows at me. "You're familiar with the signs of cannibalism?"

I snorted. "At least enough to admit that I never want to deal with it again." I still remembered how my heart had pounded when I'd seen Scully with her head in that fucking metal apparatus, the crazy bastard with the machete lifted over her head. I'd wanted to kick him across the field after I'd shot him for daring to touch my partner.

They exchanged another discreet look, which was kind of getting on my nerves. Had Scully and I done this too? The parallels were also beginning to be annoying. Who in the hell had thought to send these two out here? Was it because they were, on the surface, much like we had been all those years ago?

Agent Booth spoke this time. "The answer to your question is no, there's no cannibalism involved that we can find—so far. Alicia went camping with friends but never returned home and this is how she was found on Brown Mountain in North Carolina three days later."

I froze, staring down at the picture in disbelief as jolt tore through my gut. "You gotta be kidding me. Right?" When there was no answer I looked up to find both of them staring at me. "What?"

"You've gone pale," Dr. Brennan said. "I take it you remember the Brown Mountain case when you and Agent Scully were almost ingested by the giant underground fungus."

"That's not something you forget easily," I said wryly, taking a sip of my hot, black coffee. They didn't seem to know about my eidetic memory and I wasn't about to tell them. "So you think the fungus is at it again?"

Agent Booth shook his head. "The entire mountain and surrounding area were checked and re-checked by biologists from three different universities as well as a couple of scientists from the CDC. There's no sign of the mushroom or the spores described in your case file." He pushed the red-and-white folder towards me. "It does seem to have been completely eradicated."

I stared at him with narrowed eyes, ignoring the file for now. "If it's not the fungus among us, why do you think I can help you?"

Dr. Brennan snickered at my little joke, but Agent Booth glared at her and I just mentally rolled my eyes at the two of them. He needed to loosen his jockstrap a little, was my opinion. He turned to me and said, "Because Brown Mountain is also known for UFO sightings, and that was an area of your expertise as well."

I laughed shortly. "Yeah, crazy old Spooky whose sister was taken by E.T.—did Drummy tell you that, too?"

"No, we looked through a few of your old files before we found this one," Dr. Brennan said in her direct, no-nonsense way as she tapped the dusty, yellowed old X-File I hadn't touched. Seeing it like that almost broke my heart; I knew that the division had been abandoned after my illegal court-martial and subsequent escape, Reyes and Doggett reassigned who-knew-where. Even more than being in the Hoover Building a few weeks ago, seeing this old file brought it home. The Brown Mountain case had been in 1999, almost ten years ago. Jesus. Right now it seemed like it had been a lifetime, not barely a decade. I was beginning to understand Arthur Dales' attitude when I'd first contacted him about the X-Files so many years ago. "You and Agent Scully certainly saw some… interesting things."

"She's Dr. Scully now, she works as a pediatrician at Our Lady of Sorrows hospital in Richmond," I said. Doubtless they knew this, but it didn't hurt to remind them.

"Did you really see the remains of… demon babies?" Agent Booth asked, leaning forward over the table, his deep-set dark brown eyes curious. "Was that man, the Hungarian immigrant in Virginia, really a devil trying to sire a normal child?"

Dr. Brennan laid a hand on his thick forearm. "Not now, Booth. Regarding the Brown Mountain Lights, which you referenced in your report—"

"Wait a minute, Dr. Brennan," I said, holding up my hand. "How many of our old case files did you go through? And how did you find out about me, and the X-Files?"

Dr. Brennan gave me a small close-mouthed smile. "Booth once compared us to you and Dr. Scully when we first started working together. I didn't know what that meant at first, until he enlightened me with some of your case files."

Booth had sat back and was staring over at me with a surprised look on his face. "Mulder, you are legend at the Bureau these days," he said, breaking into an honest smile and shaking his head. "And not in a bad way, either, especially after you and Age—er, Dr. Scully solved the Russian Frankenstein case. We are now told to keep our minds more open to extreme possibilities, but after having read the one about the Fluke-man, not to mention the guy who regenerated his head with iodine, I think I'll pass."

I couldn't help answering his grin with my own, albeit grudgingly. "Leonard Betts," I said. "He was a cancer-eater. Scully took him out; he messed with the wrong redhead in the wrong place." I decided not to mention that it was Betts who'd clued Scully into the fact that she had cancer, cancer that the Consortium had given her to make me believe in them. And so on, so long ago.

"I'd love to ask you questions about some of your more esoteric cases as well but first we need to solve this one," she said, bumping Booth's arm with her elbow as she emphasized the word "this." "You believe that you were abducted by extraterrestrials, correct?"

I froze, staring at her. "Left field called, they want their question back," I told her sarcastically. "What's that got to do with this case?"

"We were hoping you could take a look at the skeleton and see if it appears to be an abduction victim," she said, biting her lip. I suspected that she wanted to laugh at my comment but knew better—at least for once. This was a young woman who spoke her mind and while that really wasn't a bad thing per se, it was past beginning to get on my nerves. "While I don't believe in aliens visiting Earth to carry off people, we want to be thorough and cover every possibility no matter how remote or strange."

I stood up, filled with sudden cold anger. Despite what Agent Booth had said previously I could see that they were no different than Drummy or any of the other FBI agents I'd dealt with in the last month other than Whitney, and she was dead. I didn't need to be made fun of; just because all I did anymore was sit around and watch movies and scan the papers for interesting stories didn't mean that I was going to let them talk to me like this. "Sorry, I can't help you," I said flatly, closing the newer case file and pushing both back across the table at the burly man. "I think storytime is over. I said I'd listen and I have, but there's nothing I can do."

They stared up at me, clearly surprised, and then rose, Dr. Brennan finishing the last of her coffee and Agent Booth scowling as he picked up the old X-File. Neither had taken off their coats so that was one less thing to delay their leave-taking. "You can keep that one," he nodded at the grayish-green folder on the table. "It's a copy. If you have any questions or change your mind, my card's in there."

"Don't hold your breath," I said coldly. I followed them to the door and after they'd stepped out, closed it firmly in their faces without another word. I didn't slam it, but just barely. Then I stepped over to the living room drapes, staying behind the heavy material and listening to their voices recede across the porch through the blind-covered window. I always left one of the living room windows cracked a little bit so I could hear if anyone approached the house; I wasn't quite as trusting as Scully thought.

"What the hell, Bones, what did we say?"

"I think we hit a real sore spot with the mention of aliens. I had no idea; there are references to aliens all over those files. He was a real believer at one time, wasn't he?"

"Yeah, and both he and Agent—Doctor—Scully claim to have been abducted so I don't know why…such a problem… later."

I stepped back, taking a deep breath, as their voices grew indistinct then faded away. A car door slammed and I leaned over to glance out the blind-covered window to see a large black FBI-issue Ford Expedition drive away down the lane, raising a roostertail on the dirt track. They'd better close my gate behind them, I thought as I turned back into the house and headed for my study. Screw lunch; I wasn't hungry any more. I'd take a walk later to get the mail and check on the gate—I trusted them about as far as I could throw them. Was I abducted indeed! I wasn't about to show them the scars I still carried to prove it, nor tell them that it was one of the reasons I had first grown a beard.

Chapter II

Later that evening, at the dinner table, Scully cornered me about my visitors. Now I wished I hadn't texted her because I could have just not said a word and it'd have gone away without a murmur. As it was, I was ready to skip finishing dinner and go for a run or a drive or something to get away from her relentless grilling.

"God, now I know how our suspects felt when we had them in an interrogation room!" I snapped, near the end of my temper, and threw my cloth napkin in the middle of the kitchen table, barely missing the casserole dish sitting there as I glared at her. "I don't want to talk about this any more, Scully! I want nothing more to do with it!"

She ignored my theatrics, forking the last bite of tuna fish casserole on her plate into her mouth. It was one of my favorite dishes and since she didn't mind it, I usually made it once or twice a month. After she'd chewed and taken a drink of her iced tea, she said calmly, "Mulder, there's no way you're just going to forget about this and have it go away. Even if the FBI doesn't come back you'll just worry at it until you contact them. It's your curiosity that made you a great agent."

I snorted and leaned forward to grab my napkin out of the center of the table, flinging it back in my lap. "Great, right. Yeah, well, I'm not an agent anymore, as you remind me so frequently," I said bitterly. "I'm not any damn thing right now."

"On that subject, I think your personal limbo is over now that you're out of hiding, so you should think about what you're going to do from now on," she said serenely, tucking a spill of long red hair behind one ear. "Six years of mulling over your past and not doing anything new or looking forward to the future could depress anyone, I guess. I think that's why you got so agitated over the Father Joe case. I should have seen that."

"I thought you were a pediatrician these days, not a shrink," I said snidely, dishing out the last of the casserole onto my plate.

"I'd never know you were the shrink, or used to be, with the way you're acting," she came right back with, then reached over and swiped a bite from my plate. "You could have asked me if I wanted more, you know."

God, sometimes she drove me absolutely crazy! "You told me this wasn't one of your favorite dishes," I said, baffled.

"I never said I didn't like it," she replied, taking another bite from my plate. "And I'm hungry, I skipped lunch today."

"Do you want the rest of it?"

"No, I'm content to share."

I battled her for the last few noodles, mostly letting her win, then pushed my plate away and sat back in the hard wooden chair. "Shit, Scully, I don't know what to do. The condescending way that Dr. Brennan said 'I don't believe in aliens visiting Earth' really got under my skin. I don't need that kind of shit anymore."

"Wait—Dr. Brennan? Dr. Temperance Brennan?" Scully was staring at me wide-eyed.

"Yeah, why? Do you know her?"

"In a manner of speaking." She went out of the kitchen, and then I heard her footsteps going upstairs and coming back down just seconds later. She handed me a large hardcover book, turned to the back, so that I saw Dr. Brennan's picture on the dust jacket. "Is this her?"

"Yeah—I had no idea," I said, flipping the book over then reading the teaser on the inside cover of the dust jacket. "Why the hell is an author working with the FBI? He said she was with the Jeffersonian." I flipped to the back flap of the dust jacket and read her short bio. She'd been a world-renowned forensic anthropologist before becoming an author, I saw. Guess I could understand not wanting to give up a career you loved, I thought bitterly. If you were given a choice about the matter. "Oh."

Scully was taking the dinner dishes over to the sink, and I set the book down and got up to help her. With as hard as she worked at the hospital I didn't want her doing any housework, but stopping her was like trying to herd cats. Lots and lots of little baby cats.

"So help them, Mulder. Just don't ask me to get involved, and drive your own car," she said, alluding to the used Jeep Wrangler we'd bought for me after I'd wrecked her last car. I knew if I so much as dinged her new Fusion I'd never hear the end of it, so that was fine by me.

Then—wait a minute, I thought. "Hang on. I let you talk me into helping the FBI the last time and look how that turned out. You pulled a one-eighty on me right in the middle of it and I still have no idea what caused it, not that I even want to know any more. It's over and done with; I'd like to forget it. However, I don't want to end up getting threatened with you leaving me halfway through if I do help them again. "

I was wearing through her forced calmness, I could tell. Good. Nothing like a fine rousing fight to make bedtime even more fun. "I only threatened to leave because you wouldn't take no for an answer, and I had to concentrate on Christian," she said, putting plates into the dishwasher with a little more force than necessary. Although I knew there was far more to it than that—the deal with that particular patient was all mixed up with her faith and hatred for Father Joe and having given up William and who-all knew what else—I let it go. I didn't want her so angry that she refused to talk to me or, even worse, made me sleep on the couch. The one we had now had come with the house and was nowhere near as comfy as my long-gone old black leather couch had been.

I watched as she finished loading the dishwasher, grabbing the casserole dish from my hands. She was wearing the green crew-neck sweater I really liked, which reminded me of the one she'd been wearing the first time we'd made love, and had changed into a pair of jeans when she'd gotten home from work. I couldn't help but eye how well they fit as she bent over. "Are you trying to start a fight with me, Mulder?"

Sometimes she knew me too damn well. All those years of partnership, I guessed; I couldn't help grinning. "Kinda," I confessed. "You do have to admit, it's been some time since we had a nice big rousing one that ended in the bedroom."

She closed the dishwasher and pushed the necessary buttons, then turned to me with a sexy little grin that showed the dimples in her cheeks. She smiled a lot more these days and oh, how I loved to see it. "If that's what you're interested in we don't need a fight to end up there."

"Really?" I let her take me by the hand and lead me out of the kitchen towards the stairs. "Just a little disagreement gets your motor going, eh?"

"You get me going, Mulder, and don't you forget it," she said. "But if you'd rather fight we could do that instead."

I knew when to shut up.

Chapter III

I looked around as I followed Agent Booth into the forensics lab at the Jeffersonian, but he was moving so fast that I didn't have time to see much. My main impression was that it was large, airy, and open, with a lot of metal struts, glass, decorative plants, and people bustling around.

He swiped a keycard at the base of a set of low steps that led up into a raised platform where a half-dozen people or so worked at metal desks or what looked a lot like souped-up autopsy tables; I had seen enough of those in my years with Scully that I did know what a basic one looked like. Four or five people were gathered around one table which, I saw as we drew nearer, contained a skeleton. Probably the one Booth had shown me the photo of, I thought.

I was then introduced to the rest of Dr. Brennan's team. I couldn't help but appreciate the looks of the beautiful, lithe, dark-haired young artist, Angela Montenegro, who did facial reconstructions, although I knew Scully would kick my ass if I so much as contemplated doing more than admiring her. Angela was the type I used to go for before a certain tiny, feisty redhead stole my heart. There was no one for me but Scully and I knew it, but I wasn't so damn old I couldn't appreciate a pretty girl, that much was for sure.

I wasn't so taken with their boss, Dr. Camille Saroyan, who certainly was a fine-looking woman yet had a tinny hardness about her that I suspected she didn't hesitate to use. Nor did I care much for Dr. Brennan's assistant, introduced only as Zack, who was a rather odd, stiff, standoffish young man who eyed me like I was the person who'd created the skeleton on the table.

But it was the guy who did particulate/insect work for them who really got on my nerves. "Dr. Jack Hodgins—man, am I thrilled to meet you!" he gushed as we shook hands. I was taken aback but tried not to show it. I had gone from utter disrespect and disdain from that snot-nosed Agent Drummy to this guy fawning over me like I was a movie star; it was enough to bake one's noodle as they said in The Matrix.

"Why's that?" I asked as I drew my hand back.

"Dude, you are every conspiracy nut's hero, right up there with the Gunmen—rest their suspicious little souls." He was grinning at me over the table, hands on hips beneath his pushed-back blue lab coat. "I've read pretty much everything you've ever written under all your pseudonyms; I keep wishing you'd do a book instead of articles."

"Hodgins is our resident conspiracy theorist," Angela said, casting a fond eye at him. "Don't mind him." It was a good thing that I wasn't interested in her, I realized, because clearly her heart was with the bearded scientist.

"Okay, people, let's focus," Dr. Saroyan said. "Mr. Mulder, would you like to examine the skeleton?"

"Call me Mulder," I said, looking down at the bones on the cold steel table. "You really should have Scully doing this, but she doesn't have time to get involved; she's got a pretty full schedule at the hospital these days."

"Right, that's what she told us when we called her," Dr. Brennan said, gazing down at the skeleton. "At least for now."

I stared over at her, surprised and not pleased to hear this. "When did you call her?"

"Right after we left your house," she said, seemingly unperturbed as she leaned over to look closer at one of the bones, then glanced back up at me as she straightened. I saw worry lurking in the depths of those clear blue eyes; she seemed to realize that she might have screwed up.

I was momentarily nonplussed, and then decided to discuss this with Scully later. Instead I walked around the table examining the bones, the squints—as Booth so aptly and elegantly called them—moving out of my way. The skeleton seemed about the same as the ones I had seen all those years ago and I again had the thought that it should be Scully doing this, not me. Then something on the forearm caught my attention and I leaned closer for a better look.

"Here's a glove," someone said, and I took it without looking to see who offered it and snapped it over my right hand.

I lifted the arm carefully with my gloved hand and studied the cold, dried bone; even a non-doctor like me could see this. "Those are cut marks, from a knife or something else really sharp," I said standing up straight and removing the glove, wincing as it caught a few hairs from my wrist. I hadn't missed that. "The fungus didn't make those marks unless it grew hands. In our case, the Schiffs' bones were found with nothing on them other than that organic green goo, which turned out to be the fungus' digestive juices. Which, according to your reports, wasn't found on this one."

"Score one for you," Hodgins said with a grin from between his dark facial hair, which made me miss my beard. "My preliminary guess is a scalpel or straight razor. I was able to get some scrapings but haven't run them yet; I've been working on the outer particulates first."

"Then why am I here?" I asked, looking around at the faces. Booth stood back from the scientists and I, leaning against the railing that surrounded the raised area with arms crossed over his broad chest. I had agreed to come and look at the skeleton then fly to North Carolina with him to look at the crime scene as a paid consultant but was already thinking twice about the whole deal.

"Because you said in your report that during your chemically-induced dream the skeletons had been put there by aliens as a distraction," Dr. Brennan said. "Add to that the reports of supposed alien activity around Brown Mountain, and we figured that—"

"But that was only a dream conjured up by the fungi to keep me quiescent while it digested me," I interrupted her, frowning. I spotted a garbage can nearby and shot the glove at it; two points for the old man.

"There could be some grains of truth in it," Hodgins said. "No one says that aliens can't use Earth, uh, human tools to do their dirty work."

"This shows no signs of alien abduction, or alien interference, in any way," I said briefly. "I can guarantee ruling that out from past experience."

Hodgins shrugged and folded his arms across his chest. "If you say so. Still beats the shit of out me so far, though."

I looked back down at the skeleton, putting my hands in my front jeans pockets. Silence fell as I mused over what I knew so far from reading their reports, walking around the steel table and studying it one last time.

Alicia Raeburn, age seventeen, had been going camping with friends for years in the Brown Mountain area and was an experienced outdoorswoman. But this time, when she wasn't back in time for school on Monday morning, her parents had contacted her friends, who said that they hadn't been camping that past weekend. Knowing where she liked to camp, they had driven out to find her locked car and camping gear in its usual spot but no sign of Alicia or anyone else.

Search and Rescue had been brought in and the dogs had followed two separate trails to a set of tire tracks that went a short ways into the woods but were unable to go very far before they'd lost the trail and were unable to pick it up again. It was three days later that they finally found the skeleton before me, twelve miles from Alicia's unused campsite and not far from where the Schiffs' skeletons had been found and we'd been pulled out of the earth in 1999. Dental records had verified Alicia's identity beyond the shadow of a doubt.

First things first; we had a flight booked. I looked up at Booth and said, "Let's go see where she was found—but bring respirators just in case."

"I wouldn't go without 'em—c'mon, Bones, let's hit the road!" he bellowed, waving one arm towards the exit. "Get your stuff; we'll wait for you at the car."

No one seemed surprised by his theatrics, the rest of the team dispersing throughout the area as we headed out, Hodgins giving me one last reminder regarding his help with my theories. I still wasn't sure what I thought of the situation but, I mused as we left the building, I certainly couldn't walk away at this point.

Chapter IV

We saw nothing new at the site where Alicia's skeleton had been found nor at her now-empty campsite other than a lot of trampled ground. Dr. Brennan did take some tire casts when Booth noticed that there were dissimilar tracks around where Alicia's car had been. According to the original police reports the only car found at the campsite had been Alicia's and, when he called, Booth found out that none of the investigators had driven more than a hundred yards or so closer. The tracks were, we assumed, the same ones that the Search and Rescue dogs had tracked Alicia's scent to.

Originally I had recommended calling out an evidence team, but to my surprise, Dr. Brennan pulled out a duffel bag from the back of the rental car and opened it, taking out a large bottle of Fiji water and a gallon-sized clear Baggie almost full of white powder. Before I could make a smart remark she said, "One plaster cast coming up," and carried them over to where Booth had indicated and began working.

I looked over at the agent. "Ever the Girl Scout, huh?"

He rolled his eyes, but he was grinning affectionately over at her. "You have no idea."

After she was done we went to talk to Alicia's parents. It wasn't until we were on the porch and Booth was introducing me to her father that I realized I really didn't have a reason to be there. But, he could think on his feet, I had to give him that; he introduced me as a "private consultant" who had experience with this type of crime—and we weren't called on it, though I certainly would have had I been in Mr. Raeburn's shoes.

The father seemed fairly grief-stricken. Instead of inviting us in, he stepped out on the tiny, roofed porch and closed the inner door behind him. "My wife's pretty upset already, don't need to be bothering her," he said, leaning back against the railing and glancing around at us. "What else d'ya need to know?" Now I noticed that he seemed more sick and tired of the whole deal than upset about his daughter.

"This is just a follow-up," Booth said, standing with the file in one hand and his arms at his sides… a very open, calm, informal stance. Good. I relaxed a bit when I saw that he knew what he was doing and let him take the lead. "It says here—" he lifted the file slightly—"that Alicia had been going camping with just her friends for years. How old was she when she started going?"

"Thirteen," he said grudgingly. "Her friend Marie's older sister Maisy always went along as a chaperone, and they were fine with her before this."

"How old is this Maisy?" Dr. Brennan asked, leaning back against the railing across from him with her arms folded over her chest. Today she was decked out in shades of brown with a pair of bulky, dangling wooden earrings and matching necklace. She looked very stern and down-to-earth, though I did have to continually make myself stop glancing at her rather prominent cleavage whenever I looked her way. So sue me, I've always been a tit man.

"I guess she's 'bout twenty-five," he said, frowning. "What's that have to do with anything? None of them knew anything 'bout any camping trips so far this year and Alicia had gone on five, six that she told us 'bout."

It didn't take ESP to know that the three of us were all thinking the same thing: the father didn't check and make sure that his underage daughter was in the company of an adult on a camping trip? But no one said anything. "Did Alicia have a… boyfriend, someone she was seeing?" Booth asked in a carefully modulated tone, one calculated to soothe the parent rather than aggravate him. I had used that exact same tone with suspects many times in the past.

I happened to glance over in time to see Booth and Dr. Brennan exchange a long look; he frowned slightly, she pursed her lips, he shook his head faintly, and then she looked away. They held an entire silent conversation in ten seconds. Was that really what Scully and I had looked like? I wondered. Hell, we probably still did it sometimes. Must look awfully interesting in the grocery store.

"She dated some the last year or so, but I dunno who," he said, staring off into the distance. "You could ask her friends about who it was; I work afternoons so I never met 'im."

Wonderful parents, I thought. Booth opened the case file and read off several girls' names, to which the father nodded. "Yep, them's her friends, they'll know. Now, if you don't mind, I'm gonna go finish my supper."

The three of us exchanged a silent look as we went down the stairs; words weren't necessary this time either even when I was involved.

Chapter V

With the second friend we hit paydirt. Shayne Oberlander had been Alicia's best friend and when the three of us gently but firmly cracked down on her, she admitted that she'd known about her friend's 'camping trips' with a mysterious older man she'd been seeing since mid-winter. "I don't know where she met him, but he worked in Washington and only came down here on weekends," she admitted. "He had family 'round here somewhere, I think. He told her when she turned eighteen later this year he'd marry her and they'd move to Washington; she was really lookin' forward to it."

Naturally she didn't know his name or anything else about him, and the other girls we spoke to didn't even know she'd been seeing someone other than one boy at school she'd been dating most of the year. When we went to question any of them about who she had been seeing at school, they all clammed up. We were sure we could find that information out easily enough, so we didn't push them.

As we left the last girl's house, Booth glanced at his watch and sighed. "Think I should call for a warrant or will that terribly protective father just let us search Alicia's room?" he said sarcastically as we walked down the cracked cement path towards the grey Escape we'd rented at the airport. It wasn't quite as boss as the Expedition that they'd been driving the other day, but it fit the three of us comfortably. "Although I'd rather do that tomorrow and just go check into the hotel now."

"I'm done," I said, holding up one hand. "If you're staying you can just take me back to the airport. I'm outta here."

Dr. Brennan stopped in her tracks and stared at me, both Booth and I stopping as well. "Why?"

The direct bluntness of her question momentarily disgruntled me, and then I recovered and answered just as honestly. "Because I'm of no help to you," I admitted. "I'm just following you around not doing much of anything. At this point I'm not even sure why I'm here."

"But the case is young yet," Dr. Brennan said. "We would like you to stick around for a while. I suspect that, down the line, you'll have insights that we don't. We know it wasn't aliens or the fungus, but at least we've got a lead and we'd like your help in following it."

Booth added, "Even if this mystery boyfriend did kill her that doesn't explain the state of her body when she was found just three days after going missing. We can really use your expertise there."

I was torn. I really wanted to help them, but I hadn't planned on staying here overnight and I wasn't sure how I felt about that. Once again I didn't want to risk pissing off Scully over this, but if I were going to continue on this case it would be stupid to fly back to D.C. then drive home just to turn around and come right back out here tomorrow. I had honestly thought this was a one-day-only deal, but apparently I was wrong. Well, I was charging them a damn good consultant's fee by the hour so why not tag along?

"C'mon, let's head for the hotel for now," Booth said, passing me and opening the rental car door. "And if you don't want to stay I'll drive you to the airport."

"Fine," I grumbled, deciding not to call or text Scully just yet. The last time I'd jumped the gun I'd regretted it, so this time I'd think it over more carefully.

We didn't talk during the drive and I was relieved when we pulled up to a cheap motel in Ottsville, a tiny tourist town at the base of Brown Mountain. To my bemusement I saw that the FBI wasn't paying for any better accommodations now than they had for us back in the day. As I got out of the car, I spotted a room door opening down the row and to my surprise, Scully stepped out.

"Before you even ask, I took a leave of absence at the hospital," she said as she walked towards me with her long, loose hair gleaming bright auburn in the late afternoon sunlight, smiling slightly. She was dressed casually in a pale pink, short-sleeved knit sweater, jeans, and little white tennis shoes. "I haven't had any really difficult cases since Christian's and most of the other doctors owed me the time, anyway."

I wasn't sure if I was glad or upset to see her, but I did drop an arm around her shoulders and kiss her briefly. "For how long?"

I noted that no introductions were made, just brief hellos and nods between the other pair and she. There was no way I'd start an argument here, but later was a different story. Though it seemed hard to believe, it did look like Scully had gone behind my back here—as had they.

"Indefinitely," she said as we all moved towards the little café at one end of the long, L-shaped building in silent agreement. "And Father Ybarra didn't say a thing. He knows he's lucky I didn't resign after he interfered with the Robinson case along with the crap he pulled over Christian."

Dr. Brennan asked about Scully's work as we seated ourselves in the café; I let them talk and just watched. Though I knew better than to profile my partner (which we still called each other for lack of a better term) I felt no such restraint when it came to the other two, and began studying them. However, before I could really get into sitting there and brooding, Booth began asking about some of our old cases, and I found myself drawn into talking about them. We ended up having a rather pleasant dinner together and afterward, it was really too late to head back to the Raeburns. Booth and Brennan decided to go find a bar and have drinks, but both Scully and I passed and went back to the room together.

"What do you think, are they sleeping together?" Scully said with a grin as I closed the door behind us.

I turned to face her, folding my arms over my chest. "So, Scully, what exactly are you doing here?"

Her grin faded as she perched on the end of the bed and gazed up at me with an inscrutable expression on her face, tucking her hair behind her ears. "What do you mean? Other than to help with the case?"

"Help with the case?" I repeated, letting my banked anger loose and throwing one arm out in exasperation. "Since when? The last time I all but begged you to get involved and you wouldn't. This time someone else asks and here you are, no argument or anything."

She stared at me, clearly shocked. "I thought you'd be happy to see me!"

"I would have if you hadn't snuck around behind my back!"

"I wanted to surprise you!"

"Oh, you did that all right! Just like the time I found you at Father Joe's!"

She jumped up, glaring at me, five and a quarter feet of angry female in one small, dangerous package. "To hell with you, then! I thought this was what you wanted, but I'm clearly not welcome here."

"Why'd you talk to Booth and Dr. Brennan when they called you?" I asked suspiciously, blocking the door even as she dragged her overnight case out of the closet. I saw mine next to it and knew that she'd brought my clothes without asking which, for some reason, made me angrier rather than appreciative. "You came running when they called, although you wouldn't when I asked."

"Wait a minute," she said slowly, turning to face me. "You're pissed because someone else asked me, aren't you? It's not that I'm here, it's that you didn't ask me to come."

I blinked, and then started to deny it…but didn't. I hadn't realized it. She did have a point, now that I mulled it over. "I was surprised when Dr. Brennan told me that she'd called you after they left the house, and you'd talked to them," I admitted. "I wasn't too happy about it. I felt like all of you were going behind my back."

She left the suitcase sitting on the floor outside the closet and marched over to where I was still standing by the door, stopping a foot or so away and gazing up at me with arms akimbo. "Mulder, I realized after that last case that being an investigator and profiler is your first, best destiny, to quote one of your favorite movies. It's what you do, like you told me once before. This time I don't want to arrive almost too late."

I had a flash of seeing that crazy Russian fucker holding an axe over me, then disappearing, and there was Scully grasping a chunk of firewood and gazing down at me with a horrified expression.

Oh, shit.

It hit me like a goddamn freight train. Once she knew that I was going to get involved again she didn't want me to do this alone. She was here to be with me, to stand by my side as she had for all those years, not to steal my thunder or make me look incompetent.

"I'm an asshole," I told her.

"You are," she agreed immediately. "But you're my asshole."

I grinned and stepped over to enfold her in my arms. "I am glad you're here," I said, nuzzling the top of her head. I was freshly amazed at how well our bodies fit together despite the disparity in our sizes; she molded to me like we had been created as a matched pair. "No matter how or why, I guarantee we can use your help. But won't it be a problem to be away from the hospital for the duration of the case if it takes a while?"

She leaned back to see my face, though we didn't let go of each other. "I've needed a leave of absence since Christian was discharged," she admitted. "Father Ybarra has been breathing down my neck even more than before."

"Jealous you proved him wrong," I said, leading her over to the bed where we both sat on the end. "Or trying to make you look bad so he won't appear to be as big a jerk as he really is."

She nodded, entwining the fingers of her right hand with my left and resting them on her denim-clad thigh. "And now that I know we can get away from the darkness whenever we need to, no matter where it finds us, I'd rather be by your side."

"Together is where we belong," I agreed, feeling a great relief sweep over me that I hadn't even known I needed. I squeezed her fingers gently. "Hey, feel like finding our younger counterparts and having that drink?"

She huffed. "Are you trying to say we're old, Mulder?"

"'You okay, Jim? How do you feel?' 'Young. I feel young, Doctor,'" I quoted from the same movie she had used a little while ago, Star Trek IV. "That answer your question?"

"Sure does," she said, standing up and tugging me with her. "Let's go."

Chapter VI

The next morning we met for breakfast at eight in the hotel café. We were, all of us, slightly hung-over and more than a bit tired—I don't think anyone had planned to stay out until after 2 a.m. drinking and dancing at a nearby retro bar but that was exactly what we'd done. I could not remember the last time that Scully and I had done something like this; I think it might have been in Hollywood after the screening of that horrible movie about us, when we'd partied 'til dawn on Skinner's Bureau credit card.

We'd proven last night that we weren't too old for it—nor for a nice ending for the evening once we were back in our hotel room.

Although none of us had gotten shitfaced drunk, no one ate much breakfast - not even Tempe (we were all on a more-or-less first name basis now) though she did give a lengthy discourse on the various anthropological meanings of cultural dancing as we sat around the table. We were all too tired to do much more than listen listlessly. We drank what seemed like gallons of coffee and juice and choked down some dry toast and then trooped outside into the bright sunlight with matching groans. "Where are our damn cars?" Booth groaned, sliding a pair of dark sunglasses onto his face. I did remember spotting him a couple of tequila shots last night, though we'd mostly stuck to beer.

Tempe looked around with one hand shading her eyes. "We didn't drive back, I remember that much," she said. "Did we take a cab? Or get a ride?"

"We walked," Scully and I said together, then shook our heads ruefully, grinning at each other. "It isn't very far," I said, wishing I had my sunglasses, which, of course, were in the Escape. I shaded my eyes as well, looking up and down the street as memory came back, and then said, "It's three streets down and two over. The Volcano Club."

"Oh, yeah," Booth groaned as we began to walk. It was a quiet Tuesday morning, with a few cars moving about and even fewer people on the sidewalks although most of the businesses were open. Tempe and Scully were ahead of Booth and I, discussing something scientific I couldn't quite make out, but the agent and I walked in silence. We'd been the best of friends last night after a few drinks, I recalled, but right now I really didn't feel like talking.

I was remembering how good it had felt to let go last night, to sit around a bar drinking like anyone else there, dancing mostly with Scully but a few times with Tempe. The music had been a mishmash of '70s, '80s and '90s mainstream and, while I sat out the fast stuff, I enjoyed the slower dances. Best of all had been seeing Scully enjoying herself, laughing and talking animatedly, in a way that she hadn't done for years. I'd have to take her out more when we got home, I mused.

We reached the bar and sure enough, there were our rental cars sitting alone in the gravel lot. "Meet at the Raeburn's?" Booth said, glancing at Scully and I as we all stopped outside the grey SUV.

"Sounds good," I agreed. "But what're we going to do there?"

"Help us go through her bedroom," Tempe said, her voice slightly muffled as she opened the passenger door and reached inside the Escape, and then emerged with both her glasses and mine. "Four sets of hands work faster than one."

I took my sunglasses from her with a nod of thanks. For some reason I had rarely seen Scully in shades, and now was no different. I drove her rental Chevy, following Booth and Tempe in the Escape, around Brown Mountain to the Raeburn's house in Ferntree, which was a good twenty miles away. The father wasn't home, but the mother let us in without asking for ID other than what Booth proffered or even a warrant, which we should have had but why go to the bother if you can get away without one? It seemed that Booth had studied our methodology.

As we pulled on latex gloves we crowded into Alicia Raeburn's bedroom, which wasn't small, but not large enough for all four of us either. I caught Booth's eye and waved him over to the door. "Let's let the ladies have the first go," I murmured "They were teenage girls once and probably have a better idea of where to look for the good stuff than we do."

"So, uh, Mulder… how long have you and Dana been together? I mean, before you went underground? As in, while you were partners?" He spoke just loud enough for me to hear him, but not the women who were on the other side of the room.

I looked over at him expressionlessly. "You want my advice on how and when to jump your partner?"

His eyes widened, and I deliberately gave him no clues to my mood to see what he'd do. "No, but everyone keeps thinking we are, uh, together and I'd like to change that. It gets in the way sometimes."

I watched as the two women systematically searched the room, working in quiet harmony I didn't answer right away as I remembered. "Most people thought that about Scully and I long before it was true, but we let it roll of off us, mostly," I said slowly, remembering Kroner, Kansas and a very wet high school reunion and how hard it had been for me not to kiss Scully that trip—especially after the chubby blonde woman had grabbed and kissed me in front of her. I turned to look at him. "Why does it bother you so much?"

"It's not professional," he said, frowning and still watching the search.

"This from a guy who wears an almost-obscene belt buckle, ties that put my bachelor collection to shame, and rainbow-striped socks," I said with clear sarcasm. "I am a profiler and psychologist, you know."

"Jesus, you're worse than Sweets," he mumbled, and then moved away from me into the room. I was baffled, but decided to let it be; I had no clue as to what he was talking about and decided to ask Tempe later.

Booth insisted on lifting the mattress and box spring on the bed though Tempe argued that she could do it just fine and protested with something I couldn't quite hear but probably had to do with the anthropological reasons for men being so macho. I was getting to know her.

It was there that they found it. A yellow lined legal pad with doodles and drawings all over it tucked beneath the box spring and one of the bed slats; Alicia had been a strong young woman, it seemed. Scully pulled it out and the four of us crowded around after Booth replaced the bed in its original condition.

Written all over the first five or six pages in a smooth script was Mrs. Alicia Trask, Alicia Lori Raeburn-Trask, Ms. Trask, Mrs. Michael Trask, A.L.T., and every variation between. When I glanced up from the paper Booth was already on his cell, walking away through the doorway. Tempe dug around in her duffel bag, pulled out a roll of large plastic bags, and together, she and Scully secured the notepad. We left the house without ever seeing Mrs. Raeburn, even though I detoured through the kitchen to throw our latex gloves in the trash. Lovely people, these.

Outside, Booth was standing by the Escape's hood, drumming the fingers of his unoccupied hand on it with the cell pressed to his other ear. But it was just moments before he stood up straight, snapped, "Got it," into the phone, then shut it and turned to us. "Michael Trask, aged twenty-eight, works at the Hoover Building in the records department and his next of kin are his parents who live in Ottsville, of all places," he said with clear relish. "They're bringing him in for questioning now."

"He won't have to go far," I remarked, and got a small grin from Scully.

"You think we might have the killer the first time, this time?" Tempe said as she trotted over to join Booth.

"Maybe," he said. "Wouldn't put money on it, but there's a first time for everything."

Scully and I glanced at each other, knowing exactly what they meant from our own past experience, and then climbed into the Chevy, heading back to the motel to pack and then catch a flight home.

Chapter VII

Michael Trask turned out to be a tall drink of water: skinny with a strongly receding hairline that must have really bummed him out in college. But for all that, he wasn't unhandsome in a kind of adult-Ron-Howard way, with an open, pug-nosed face and clear blue eyes.

Brennan, Scully and I stood inside the adjacent room, watching through the two-way mirrored window as Booth grilled him. Though he worked in Records, Trask was not an agent but simply a government-employed clerk. He'd been a police officer in a small town in Maryland since graduating with a degree in criminology six years ago, then moved to D.C. and applied to the Bureau last autumn. Although he'd been turned down for the agent program, he had been hired in as a clerk which, I thought, was kind of strange. Why would he leave a perfectly good law enforcement job to clerk at the FBI? Did he hope he might eventually qualify for the Bureau as an agent? If so he was fooling himself; I'd seen his psych profile and knew there was no way he'd ever pass. I was actually surprised he'd made it as a police officer though his record had been fine with no blemishes… but no commendations, either.

Booth had asked me to go into the interrogation room with him but I had declined; I wanted to see how he handled it. Maybe later I could come in handy… but for now I just wanted to watch.

"So you admit you knew Alicia Raeburn? That you were carrying on a sexual relationship with an underage girl?" Booth's voice came through the tinny speakers.

Trask was leaning forward in his chair; arms crossed on the table in front of him, very intense and upset looking… but I didn't quite buy it. Either he wasn't really as upset about her death as he pretended, or he was trying to play it cool. Either was incredibly stupid. "Yes. I met her two years ago in Ferntree and no matter what I did, I couldn't forget her and we started seeing each other a few months ago. I knew it was wrong to go out with her, but she was going to be eighteen in November and I was going to marry her. I saw no reason to wait."

"When was the last time you saw her alive?"

Just then the door to our little room opened and a young man in a suit with an FBI badge hurried in, saying, "Sorry I'm late, I had a…" then staring at Scully and I in turn with a very surprised look on his face.

"Sweets, this is Dr. Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, they're consulting with us on our latest case," Brennan said. "Dana, Mulder, this is Dr. Lance Sweets, our FBI psychiatrist."

'Our'? I thought her phrasing odd but didn't remark on it as we shook hands with him. We were a bit cramped, but Brennan and I managed to move to the back since he needed to be in the front and I knew Scully couldn't see over us. Dr. Sweets picked up a tiny earbud from the console and put it in his ear, but I noted that he didn't flip the transmitting switch.

"So you were supposed to go camping; didn't you think it was odd that she wasn't there when you arrived?"

"The camping was just a blind. We'd set up our stuff and then go to a motel; I knew if a ranger or cop stopped by and caught us together it wouldn't look good."

"So you were at the campsite on the day she disappeared?"

"Yeah. Like I said, I got there about four o'clock on the fifth and her stuff was set up, her car was there, but there was no sign of her. I waited until it got dark, then I left and went to the motel thinking she might be there. I didn't think anything had happened to her until the next day when I still hadn't heard from her and she wasn't answering her cell phone, but I couldn't call in a missing persons report."

"So you left, with your little girlfriend possibly hurt out in the woods, maybe dying of exposure with a broken leg or drowning in the river or chased up a tree by a bear," Booth snapped out, frowning at the other man. "Was it worth her dying for? Keeping your relationship secret?"

To my surprise, Trask burst into tears, covering his face with his hands. "I knew it was wrong, that I should at least go look for her, but she was experienced in the woods—I figured she'd call me," he blubbered.

The young man, Dr. Sweets, keyed the mike button. "Booth, try sympathy—my guess is that he saw or knows more than he's letting on and if you keep pushing him like that he'll just—"

"So you left her out there to die, you mean bastard," Booth snarled, banging a fist on the table as he leaned over it towards the blubbering suspect. "So much for true love, eh?"

"Goddammit," the doctor mumbled with annoyance, glancing back at Brennan. She shrugged, eyes wide, and we all went back to watching. I agreed with Dr. Sweets; Scully and I would have done the good cop/bad cop routine at this point, with her being the mean one and me being sympathetic. Some people might think that was bassackwards but it had certainly worked well for us. Now I wished I'd gone in there with Booth, but I bit my lip and stayed where I was for the time being— difficult as that was.

"How—how did she die," Trask choked out, still covering his face with both hands. As a psychologist and profiler, even rusty, it was clear to me that he was hiding something that he was afraid would show on his face. The tears were real enough, but I didn't think it was guilt at leaving her out there that was causing them. He clearly thought he was playing us, but he was sadly mistaken.

"Here, read it yourself." Booth spun the file towards him and it skidded off the side of the table, spraying papers in all directions. Trask lifted his head and stared at him, clearly shocked, then got up and began collecting the papers and photos without even wiping the tears from his face.

"Good one," Dr. Sweets said. "Making him react."

"Exactly," Booth said, leaning back in his chair as if he didn't have a care in the world.

"Are you talking to me?" Trask growled without looking up, sweeping up papers from the floor.

Brennan reached over and snapped off the transmitter switch.

"No, just thinking out loud," Booth said to the man in the room with him as Trask got up and sat at the table again. They were glaring at each other as the younger man pulled a handkerchief from the inside pocket of his suit jacket and wiped his face, seemingly unembarrassed at his emotionalism. He then took an exaggerated deep breath and opened the file, skimming over the papers inside but slipping past the 8 x 10 glossy color photos just a little too quickly.

"He's a worse actor than Tor Johnson," I remarked. The other three faces in the room turned towards me, Scully smiling but the other two appearing baffled which I was used to when I said things like this. "One of the bad director Ed Wood's favorite actors," I explained, then looked at Scully. "But he certainly did try; you have to give him that."

"I saw that movie, the one that Martin Landau won the Oscar for," Brennan said, turning back to the window. "I didn't quite understand why they let that man keep making movies."

"No one does," Scully agreed. "Even his fans."

Our eyes caught, held, and then I added, "This guy could take lessons from him." I knew Scully was on the same wavelength I was, and that bolstered my flagging confidence. It had been a lot of years since I'd been the cop in the interrogation room and I wasn't quite as self-assured as I pretended to be.

Sweets was studying me as I turned back to look into the other room and cut his eyes away as soon as he saw me looking at him. I wasn't sure what that was all about, but I'd worry on it later. For right now, I went back to watching Booth.

He was still glaring at Trask from beneath thunderously dark brows. "Well, let's tally up the charges, shall we? Statutory rape, of course, gross sexual imposition of a minor, registration in the sex offender database, which will be on record for the rest of your life… I think that's it. But I could probably find more, give me time."

Trask looked a little too shocked. "But she was seventeen! She wasn't really a minor!"

"She was, legally, in every state that counts, as well as emotionally!" Booth growled, learning over the table towards the other man again. He was enjoying this, I could tell. It was always nice when someone took pleasure in their work, which included bringing pedophiles to justice—especially outstandingly stupid ones who should not be allowed to even touch FBI records. But was he really that clueless, I wondered, or was it all an act? Hard to tell. "She was a young girl blinded by the attention from an older man and you took advantage of that. You make me goddamn sick, Trask. How would you feel if that had been your teenage daughter seduced and abandoned by a thirty-year-old man?"

The younger man froze, staring blankly over at Booth before obviously gathering his wits and shutting down all emotions. "I think I'd better have a lawyer here before I say anything else. You're coercing me."

Booth threw up his hands, and then snatched the file away from him. "Fine. At this point I'm not sure it matters, unless of course you have any information on how Alicia Raeburn died."

Trask stayed shut down, tightly held. His arms were folded across his chest, eyes flat and emotionless. "I said lawyer."

"Fine, be that way. But we'll find out all of it, the truth, don't you worry," he said, clearly showing his confidence and enjoyment. "We've got the best forensic team on the planet working on this one. In the meantime, get used to your cell. You'll be in one for a long, long time."

He left the room without looking back, but we all saw the momentary anger and hatred on Trask's face in the glare he tossed at Booth's back before he glanced at the glass we were behind and wiped the look from his face.

"That says a lot," Sweets remarked drily. We turned and filed out of the small room into the hallway where we met Booth just as he closed the door to the interrogation room behind him.

"Even if he didn't kill her, and I'm not sure he did, we got that bastard locked up for a while," he gloated, slapping the file folder against his other palm. "What d'you think, Sweets?"

The young shrink leaned back against the wall, arms folded across his chest, glaring at the taller agent. "Why do you bother to ask, when you never listen to me?"

"You come up with good things… sometimes," Booth said grudgingly. "I'm heading back to my office for now to do s'more research. What's everyone else doing?"

"I'd like to go over the bones with Dr. Brennan, if I could," Scully said, nodding at the other woman. But before Tempe could answer, her phone rang and she stepped away a little to answer it.

"Brennan." Pause. "Are you sure, Hodgins?" Pause. "Of course I'm not impugning your knowledge, it was just an expression of surprise. So it had to be on Brown Mountain, and her bones were scraped with stainless steel?" Pause. "Great. Thanks, Hodgins. Sure, I'll tell him."

She turned back to all of us. "Hodgins said that some of Alicia's bones were very lightly but noticeably scraped with a stainless steel blade: mostly likely a common household carving or paring knife sharpened to a razor edge, by a left-handed person. However, he feels that she was likely killed somewhere else and carried to the field where she was found. Other than that he's not sure how the flesh was removed. My guess would be boiling."

"So it's likely a very human killer," Scully said, folding her arms over her chest and cutting her eyes at me briefly. "Not the fungus or, Heaven help us, aliens."

I grinned down at her. "You can never rule out aliens."

Brennan and Booth passed another glance, one I could read: will he just make up his mind about the damn aliens?

Chapter VIII

I went back to Booth's office with him, curious to see if his workspace was as eclectic as he was. It didn't disappoint. While I wandered around looking at stuff, he picked up a bulky but not too large manila package from the top of his desk and cut it open with a huge buck knife he took out of one desk drawer.

"What ho! Look what we have here," he announced, and I turned to see that he held up a small pink-covered book with gold embossed pages, only partly out of the envelope, his fingers not touching it. He set it down and pulled a couple of blue latex gloves out of the box on his desk, then tossed me a pair. Once we were both covered he picked up the package again and pulled out the contents.

Booth handed me a note on lined pink paper, then opened the small book that I saw had "My Diary" embossed on the cover, and flipped through the pages, stopping to read one or two as I perused the note.

"Dear Mr. FBI Agent Booth:

This was Alicia's diary. I know I should have gave it to you when you was here, but she made me promise that I would never let anybody else see it she gave it to me before she left that last time. But I want you to catch who killed her, that is really sad and a shame because she was my very best friend ever and I'm really going to miss her.


"'Anonymous?'" I repeated with a snort of laughter. "We'll never figure out who that could be."

"Well, we now have a new suspect," Booth said, closing and flourishing the book and ignoring my comment. "She was seeing someone else, a kid from school named Robbie, to cover her affair with Ol' Stupid."

"Let's go," I said, handing the note back and watching as he tossed it on the desk. "Don't you want to get prints from that?"

"Later," he said as both of us stripped off the gloves. "For now, we've got a flight back to North Carolina to book."

"I'm getting tired of flying back and forth every damn day," I said, knowing I sounded peevish but unable to help it. "God, did I really used to do this for a living?"

Booth punched me lightly on the shoulder, grinning. "Don't tell me you've lost the thrill of the chase?" he boomed, then preceded me out of his glass-walled office. "Out with the old, in with the new."

Old? He thought I was old? He was gonna find out who was old, I thought with determination as I followed him to the elevators. I was going to teach this damn kid a lesson!

And so I did, though not the way I'd planned to.

"Robbie" ended up being Robert Blackburn Riddle III, a jock and one of the most popular kids at Alicia's school. We arrived just as the school day was ending, and found that Robbie was in the locker room getting ready for basketball practice. Booth and I were shown to the gym and seated ourselves on the bleachers to wait, both of us looking around.

"I hope this one goes better than the last time we had to deal with a high school gym," Booth mumbled as we settle down on the lowest tier.

"Why? What happened?"

"Kid got squished in the bleachers by his girlfriend's father, of all people, and it was a real mess," he said. "I'd rather not see anything like that ever again."

"For me, this brings back memories," I said, inhaling the smell of floor varnish, old sweat, and rubber balls. "Were you a jock, Booth? You look like you were probably captain of the football team."

He nodded and turned to me appraisingly. "And my guess is that you played basketball or baseball; these days I'd think soccer but they didn't have that when you were in school, did they?"

"No, we played real sports," I shot back. Just then the doors at the other end of the gym banged open and the large empty space filled with the echoing sounds of running feet and shouting, laughing teenage voices as a group of kids in orange and blue basketball uniforms burst in. As Booth and I stood up I saw one tall boy at the front of the pack stop dead, so fast that at least two others plowed into his back but none of them fell though they all stumbled around for a moment.

"What the hell, Riddle?"

"Watch your ass, fucknut, don't you—"

The kid who'd stopped, built much like Booth on top with a thick neck and broad shoulders but also tall and leggy, suddenly turned and bolted for the doors leading outside on the other side of the gym. "Goddamn it!" Booth swore, and then pointed the way we'd come in. "Go outside, the parking lot!"

My fleeting thought was that the kid likely didn't have his car keys on him. Regardless, I raced for the inner doors as Booth followed him, scattering the crowd of milling boys like a flock of geese startled into flight by a stray dog. Luckily the echoing halls were mostly clear as I bolted through them, with only a few straggling students heading for the exits and teachers standing around talking or herding the kids out. They stared as I ran by, but oddly enough didn't seem unnecessarily alarmed.

Though I didn't know the layout of the school, we had parked in the students' lot since the visitors' lot was full with parents picking up their kids and I remembered the way we'd come in. I raced out through the front doors and started to turn right, startling a pair of boys sitting on a bench just outside the doors so badly that their mini chess set scattered. I paused, spotting Riddle running almost right at me through the students' parking lot, Booth hot on his heels. If he kept going the way he was, he'd cross right in front of me on the walk leading up to the school and then across the lawn to a main street, where we could easily lose him. He didn't appear to notice me so I leaned back against the brick alcove just in front of the doors, barely peering out around the wall, and waited for him to get closer.

"Hey man, what the—"

I waved my hand irritably at the kids behind me to shush them, not taking my eyes off of the fleeing Riddle, Booth not far behind him. As he approached I readied myself, but then realized that I didn't want to tackle him on the cement walkway and would have to wait a few steps until he hit the grass, as long as he didn't veer off into the visitor's parking lot.

He was barely a pace past me when I burst out from the alcove and, the moment his foot hit the grass, launched myself at him, knocking us both ass over teakettle. I saw something large and dark go over us as we tumbled—which I figured had to be Booth jumping over us—but I've had enough practice with falling and being knocked down that I just kept myself tucked in and rolled.

When I stopped, face down in the cold grass, I looked up to see Booth hauling Biddle to his feet, both arms pinned behind him. "Why the hell did you wait so long to get here, Mulder?" he panted, holding the kid's wrists in one meaty fist while getting his handcuffs out with the other.

"I didn't want to tackle him on the sidewalk," I explained, trying not to show how heavily I was breathing. "I was out here before you were; don't believe me, ask those kids." I pointed to the disgruntled chess players as I got to my feet, stifling a groan. If I needed any more evidence that I wasn't twenty, or even forty, any more, here it was. I felt like I'd gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson instead of a twenty-yard sprint and tackle that wouldn't have had me breathing hard even ten years ago. "Not bad," Booth said grudgingly over Biddle's shoulder to me. "Pretty good flying tackle for a non-jock, I'll give you that."

"Fuck you two assholes, my dad's going to sue your asses to hell and back," the kid snarled, but we both ignored him.

I glared over at Booth, brushing fruitlessly at the grass stains on my jeans. "What makes you think I wasn't a jock?"

"Real jocks play football."

"Kiss my ass, Booth."

His only answer was a smart-assed grin and I turned away, shaking my head. I'd like to see him do that at forty-nine!

While Booth read the kid his rights I went over to the small crowd that was gathering by the front doors to watch the excitement. I wandered among the students asking questions about Alicia and Robbie, committing the various answers to memory. The clearest impression that I got was that they were an odd couple; Alicia wasn't popular like most of the girls he'd gone out with, and he'd dumped one of the prettiest girls in school to date her although before that, no one realized that they even knew each other. Interesting.

Booth had the local sheriff haul Riddle away, and then joined me in questioning the curious few left. "Well, let's go find out what our track star knows," he said tiredly, flipping his notebook closed as the last few students wandered away. "Want to stop and grab a bite on the way to the station?"

"Sounds like a plan," I agreed, walking beside him back to our rental car. Remembering that I had driven, I began to dig through my pockets for the key, which I hadn't bothered to put on my keychain, but couldn't find it. "Uh, Booth, we've got a problem."

I hadn't planned to finish out the day scouring an overlong lawn and rows of bushes for rental car keys, but somehow it didn't surprise me that that's how it turned out.

Chapter IX

I got home after two a.m. after a bouncy flight back from North Carolina and a tiringly long drive and moved quietly so as not to wake Scully, though I almost always did when I came in after she was in bed. I thought I'd succeeded as I lay back on the firm mattress and pulled the covers over me with a silent sigh of relief - at least, until I heard her voice in the dark.

"So how'd it go?"

I rolled over and cuddled up behind her, slightly bummed that she was wearing PJs but not surprised since it wasn't often I could persuade her to sleep au naturale. Sliding one arm under her head and the other around her slender waist, I pulled her back against me as we fit our legs together without even thinking about it. I nuzzled her soft, citrus-smelling hair and then let my head relax into the pillow again. She wrapped both arms around mine and squeezed lightly, leaning back against me. "Another dead end. The kid's alibi checked out; he was at a family reunion in Tennessee the weekend that Alicia disappeared."

"Did he know anything?"

"He admitted that Alicia had approached him a few months ago and offered him payment and to copy off her schoolwork in exchange for dating her exclusively. She wouldn't tell him why, but the little snot didn't really care considering she gave him a hundred dollars a week and his grades went from Ds and Cs to Bs with the occasional A."

"So where'd she get the money? Trask?"

"Yep, apparently they came up with the scheme together."

"So… a waste of time?" Her voice was growing soft, a sure sign she was about to doze off again.

"Not as much as you'd think. I'll tell you more in the morning and you can catch me up with your news," I said, kissing the back of her head and settling her more firmly against me. "Love you, Scully, sleep well."

She mumbled something that was probably the same thing I'd said, but she was mostly asleep and it wasn't long before I joined her.

The next day Scully woke me at noon with the news that Brennan had called and we were to meet her and Booth at the Hoover as soon as we could get there. "They've got news on the case that they want to tell us in person; I get the funny feeling it may be solved," she said, perching on the edge of the bed as I sat up against the headboard, groggy and much sorer than I would ever admit to. "How are you feeling?"

"What do you mean?" I asked, biting the inside of my cheek to stop from groaning out loud as I moved my legs. My left shoulder and hip, in particular, felt like I'd dislocated them or, at the very least, had slammed into another unyielding body with them leading the way.

"Mulder, we've been together a grand total of nearly twenty years; don't you think I know you by now?" she said, clearly exasperated. "I don't know what you did yesterday, but you were moaning in your sleep every time you moved so it's clear you're in pain from something, sore muscles would be my guess. I'll run you a hot bath with Epsom salts and you can soak a while, then we'll hit the road."

As much as I hated to admit to any kind of weakness, I wasn't about to argue that. "I, ah, tackled a high school kid running from me and Booth."

She stared at me blankly for a moment, then threw her head back and laughed. Chuckling, she looked at me with some disbelief. "Why didn't you let Booth do that?" she said, reaching out to cup the side of my face.

"Why, just because he's younger?" I said defensively, stung, moving my face away from her hand.

"No, you stubborn jackass, because he was a linebacker in high school," she said, moving her hand to my right shoulder and squeezing lightly, her eyes still amused. At my expense, of course, but I found my irritation lessening. "Don't you remember him telling us all about his high school football career at the bar? Now, stay there and I'll go run you that bath."

"You going to share it with me?" I called after her as she headed for the other room.

"Only if you can do more than lay there and groan."

"Never mind."

Chapter X

I don't think either one of us ever got used to going through the public entrance to the Hoover Building; though we'd both used it occasionally during our time as agents during suspensions and the like, I know I wanted to head for the employees' entrance and was sure that Scully felt the same.

As we rode the elevator up to the fourth floor I was lost in thought. Though I had enjoyed working on the case with Booth and Brennan, I was no longer used to traveling so much and found myself missing the known confines of my study, indeed the house itself. Perhaps I was becoming a homebody in my old age, but then I'd traveled so much when younger perhaps it was just a natural progression.

When I mentioned this to Scully she snorted laughter. "Old, Mulder? You? You're the original eternal kid. You'll never be old. Besides, who was it that wore me out the other night?"

I couldn't help my chest swelling and since we were alone in the elevator I said, "Yeah, I am pretty good at that, aren't I?"

"I'm afraid to add fuel to that fire or your head won't fit through the door and we'll be using the Jaws of Life to get you out of the elevator car."

I guffawed. "Not with you to keep me grounded, it won't."

"Damn straight, Mulder, damn straight."

A moment later the elevators slid open to reveal Booth standing there with hands in pockets, looking both relieved and annoyed; I'd called him just as we arrived in the city. "About time," he snapped, turning around and leading us to a glass-walled conference room just down the hall.

Waiting for us was Brennan, Dr. Saroyan, and a short, rotund, but serious-looking middle-aged African-American woman wearing an FBI badge, though I didn't think she was an agent. She was the one who spoke as soon as we were inside the door, never mind seated. "All right, Seeley, spill it," she demanded, glaring up at the tall agent from her chair. "I've got better things to do than sit here and wait around for your little dog and pony show."

Without introducing us Booth sat at the head of the table, exchanged a look with Brennan, and said, "The idiot confessed to murdering Alicia."

"Who, Trask?" I blurted, surprised. "That idiot?"

"The one and only," Booth said, shaking his head slowly. "He gave us all the details. Full confession this morning."

"While archiving records he had read your case file from the giant fungus case," Brennan added. "That's what gave him the idea to clean the skeleton and put it on that side of Brown Mountain. He figured that no one would even look for a human killer."

Booth turned to give his partner a grim smile. "But he didn't count on our Bones here being able to figure out how she was killed," he said.

"But since I am the world's foremost forensic anthropologist, he should have seen that coming," she stated with a complete and utter lack of guile.

Everyone in the room seemed to be briefly taken aback and after a moment of silence, Scully said, "So how did he kill her?"

"And why?" I added. "That's what I could never figure out. If he'd just waited another year…"

Booth signed. "She was pregnant. Only a couple of weeks but the moment she told him, he began to plan her murder."

We all shared understanding looks. "With her being seventeen, he would have been charged with statutory rape," the unknown woman said.

"Which he has been already," Dr. Saroyan added.

"Statutory rape's a lesser charge than murder," Scully pointed out.

"Only if you get away with the murder," Booth said.


"So what killed her, chère?" the woman asked him impatiently. "Cause of death?"

"Her throat was cut," Brennan said, ignoring the fact that Booth had been asked the question. "He was very careful, but he had to dig the knife in deep enough that he left some very fine cuts on the hyoid bone that Zach and I were able to identify as having come from a filleting knife, the same one he'd scraped her bones with. Which, of course, we found in a fishing box in his truck."

"Neck bone," Dr. Saroyan injected helpfully, glancing at us.

"It's called a tacklebox, Bones," Booth said.

She glared over at him, but didn't object. I was beginning to feel like I was in the middle of a Three Stooges sketch.

"Okay, then, how did he move her?" I asked.

"He packed her body in coffee grounds, of all things, to transport it to the other side of the mountain," Booth said, shaking his head. "That's why the dogs couldn't trace it."

"And he boiled the bones in an old ceramic bathtub which didn't mark them up too much but he had to scrape some of the flesh off with a knife, hence the marks we found on some of the bones," Brennan said. "Very sloppy, not well thought out."

"And we found the bathtub in the Ottsville dump thanks to Hodgins' particulate work. Not our most brilliant killer," Booth agreed. "But when we showed him the forensic evidence this morning, he confessed. And blubbered like a baby, which is no huge surprise."

"Well, that wraps this one up," the other woman said, heaving herself to her feet. "You two just keep it up, all right, chère? The less work for me the better."

"You got it, Caroline. We didn't even have to bother you to get a warrant this time."

That gave me a pretty good idea of who she was, but I didn't say anything as she left the room.

"So that's it? The case is over, done, finished, just like that?" I said into the following silence, looking around at everyone. "I don't think I've ever had a case end so abruptly. So you had us drive all the way down here for this?"

I was annoyed and let it show. Scully raised her brows at me but didn't comment.

"That's how it often goes for us," Booth explained. "We did want to tell you in person. Seemed the right thing to do after all your help."

"Why is this a problem?" Tempe said, frowning. "We got the killer, and that's what matters most."

"It is indeed," I said, still feeling unaccountably annoyed. "I guess we'll go, then."

"Wait—at least let us at least take you out to dinner," Booth said.

"We have a two-hour drive home," Scully pointed out, clearly on the same wavelength as me. "What would we do until five or six tonight?"

"I think that in celebration for catching this killer, the FBI and the Jeffersonian will understand if we all take off a little bit early," Booth said, standing up. "Bones, why don't you call the others and have them meet us at Founding Fathers. I'll give them a heads'-up so they have a table for us."

"It's barely three o'clock. Little early for dinner, don't you think, Booth?" Dr. Saroyan said, raising her brows at him as we all got up from around the table.

"It'll be whatever I want it to be," the agent retorted as we left the conference room. "I'll meet you guys downstairs." He pulled out his cell phone and moved away down the hallway as the rest of us headed for the elevator.

Once in the main lobby Bones called her people and after Booth caught up to us the five of us headed out. As we left the Hoover Building I glanced down at Scully to find her looking back at me; we had thought that the last time we left would be the final time, but here we were again. We fell back from the pack as we walked, and talked in low tones.

"So, Mulder, is this something you want to go back to, assuming you could?" Scully said, catching my hand in hers. "Did you miss the thrill of the chase on a non-supernatural case with a boringly human killer?"

I heaved a sigh, trying not to look at Dr. Saroyan's swaying ass in a tight dress in front of me. "I'm not sure. Parts of it were fun and like old times, but overall I think I'm too old for this anymore and I don't want a desk job. Besides, I can't go back into law enforcement with my record and I'm not sure I want to do this in the private sector."

"You mean like a private detective?"

"Exactly," I said, although I hadn't quite thought of that. I'd been thinking more along the lines of a security guard or something. "But I was thinking that I could—"

Brennan looked around and, spotting us behind her, slowed until she could walk next to Scully so I cut myself off as I wasn't sure I wanted anyone else to hear what I was thinking yet. As they began to discuss something that sounded vaguely doctor-like I tuned out, looking around and noting both how much and how little the place had changed. When we were agents Scully and I had often foraged in the area around the Hoover for lunch, and I noted that while our favorite deli was gone, it had been replaced with a Starbucks—our new favorite watering hole since neither of us drank much anymore.

We reached the restaurant and ended up seated around a large round table in the back, three seats left empty for the rest of the team. Drinks were ordered and served before they showed up, but once we were all there, Booth stood up with his beer bottle in hand. Raising his voice to be heard over the din of the place—which was surprisingly crowded so early in the day although it was mostly business suits—he called, "A toast! To the best team in law enforcement, me and Bones, yes, you've rubbed off on me, as well as the best squints anywhere and the best, uh, retired investigative team who still has it, the doctors Mulder and Scully."

I felt my eyebrows hit my hairline; I didn't realize that he knew I had a doctorate since I had never used the title. But I didn't argue, just raised my glass along with everyone else and joined in the "hear-hears" that rang out around the table.

I sat between Scully and Jack Hodges, who was uncharacteristically quiet around me and seemed to be deep in conversation with Angela or Dr. Saroyan every time I turned to talk to him. I had an idea that I wanted to discuss with him but since he seemed to be ignoring me I thought I might ask the younger guy, Zack, who was more than a bit odd but hopefully just as knowledgeable.

There was nothing serious discussed during our early dinner, just friendly conversation. At one point Brennan asked Scully if her hair was naturally that color and I nearly laughed myself out of my chair, which got me a swat on the shoulder from my partner and aghast stares from everyone else around the table. Scully, with some dignity, admitted that it was, indeed, natural although she did have to touch it up now and then as the bright color was beginning to fade with age. Tempe admitted that the reason she had asked was because she was beginning to get some prematurely grey hairs and considering dyeing her hair, and groused that she'd have to find someone else to ask for help. Scully recommended going to a salon and at that point I tuned out of the conversation.

The dessert dishes had been cleared away and after-dinner coffee and liquor was being consumed when Booth, who was on the other side of Scully, turned to me. "So, Mulder, would you be interested in some freelance work if we have some available and can use your services?" he asked far too casually.

I immediately looked to Scully to get her reaction; I hadn't the least idea what she'd think of this. To my relief she had a slight smile on her face, so I replied, "Yeah, I think I would. But I'm also considering working on a fiction novel based on our years with the X-Files; Hodgins gave me the idea. So I'm not sure how much time I might have."

Hodgins jerked around to face me, blue eyes wide beneath the mop of curly hair. "I did?" he said, clearly surprised.

"Yeah, it was the day I examined Alicia's skeleton at the Jeffersonian," I grinned. "Remember? You said that I was every conspiracy nut's dream guy."

Scully guffawed laughter before clapping a hand over her mouth among everyone else's chuckles.

"Speaking of, would you be interested in working on the novel with me if I run into something that could use your expertise? I've been out of the field a few years—"

Before I could finish he jumped in. "Sure, man, anytime! I know a few other people who are conspiracy theorists, you know, like—"

Now I interrupted him. "I meant your real job, Jack."

He turned slightly red as everyone laughed, but was clearly in good humor about it. "Sure, I guess being wanted as the bug guy isn't bad either."

"Hodgins, don't forget that it was your particulate work in finding that bathtub that broke the case open," Angela said from where she sat on his other side.

"But it was Zack and Brennan's identification of the tiny cuts on the bones that really did it," Hodgins protested.

"And then you found the knife," Zack directed towards Booth.

"I love this mutual admiration society, but we really need to get back, " Dr. Saroyan said, glancing at the tiny bejeweled watch on her wrist. "At least, if nothing else, to wrap up for the day and go home."

"Yep, until the next apparently-unsolvable murder that we figure out," Booth said, knocking back the dregs in his rock tumbler of Scotch. "Maybe with Mulder's help as well."

"Anytime," I said easily as we all rose. "You've got my number."

"And we know where you live," Brennan said meaningfully, clearly alluding to their visit where I hadn't exactly been a congenital host, and we grinned at each other.

Goodbyes were said outside the restaurant and then I dragged Scully over to the Starbucks I'd noticed on the walk over. "Mulder, shouldn't we be getting back?" she said as I held the door for her.

"Just want to grab a coffee for the ride home. Do you remember what this place used to be?" I said as we went over to the counter.

She nodded as both of us looked up at the menu board above the bulky espresso machine, though we frequented Starbucks so often these days we knew exactly what they served. "How could I not when we used to have lunch here nearly every day when we were in town all during the nineties?" she said, the barista waiting patiently for us to order. "But you know how it goes, the more things change the more they stay the same."

I knew what she meant. "I'll have a venti Pike Place, and a tall skinny mocha latte for the lady," I ordered, getting our usual. I put my arm around her and leaned down to kiss her temple, and grinned down at her when she smiled up at me. Fun as all those years had been, I liked these even better and was looking forward to the future—which I no longer wanted to fight—with more hope than I ever had before.