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[XFVCU 1x06] Skyland by Eodrakken Quicksilver Part 1 of 2
Summary: Krycek and Fowley are called in to investigate two murders at Skyland Mountain, dredging up old memories and resentments. Part of the XFVCU virtual series.

If you're not familiar with the XFVCU Virtual
Series, get the details at http://xfvcu.deslea.com.
Plus, watch for next week's episode, 1x07 Prism, a
collaborative effort by Deslea, CindyET, Emily M,
Eodrakken, Lara Means, Maidenjedi and Vanzetti, in
which a killer with a penchant for mindgames poses
a challenge to the entire team - and a crisis for
one of their number.

Skyland Part 1 of 2
X Files: VCU 1x06
By Eodrakken Quicksilver

DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine.
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name and headers.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Set 18 months after The Truth.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Post-series, casefile, XFVCU.
SUMMARY: Krycek and Fowley are called in to
investigate two murders at Skyland Mountain,
dredging up old memories and resentments.
VIRTUAL SERIES SITE: http://xfvcu.deslea.com
AUTHOR SITE: http://www.morosophy.com/sun
FEEDBACK: eo@morosophy.com

The mountain sat curled up on the horizon, smugly
watching over the countryside. The sun had gone
down and the sky was smudged black and blue, like
smeared charcoal, and the nighttime animals were
coming out of burrows, out of the earth, out of the
mountain. There were Canada geese, in rough
formation. White-tailed deer with hard tense legs
and melancholy eyes. Owls too, silent but *present*
- and the field mice went to ground.

It had been years since bodies burned on this
mountain, but the animals could still smell the
smoke. It smelled like fear, but it pulled them
too, and made them never want to leave.

At the mountain's foot, the boy stared up at what
he could see of the stars. Cassiopeia - looked like
she was dead sky-center, right above his auburn
head, and she called to him - beckoned him. The
queen and her subject. He could not refuse her.

He could not get to her.

He threw his head back and *wailed*. It echoed
through the canyon like a lupine howl of unholy
anguish, and the deer scattered. But they would be

The boy dug into the dirt, getting it all over his
hands and arms, jammed under his fingernails,
soaking into his knees. He could feel an itch in
the center of the mountain that he had to get to in
order to scratch it. Beyond desperation and into
pure need: he had to get *in*.


A high, tentative voice, with an undertone of
gravel. Confused, maybe frightened, but trying to
suppress it. The boy froze. Such an effort - such a
*push* to stop himself from scratching at the dirt.
He sweated, pressing his body hard against the dug-
up earth. There was a part of him that understood
that if he was caught here, he would be taken away,
and this would all be for nothing. Again.

"Is someone out here?" she asked the stars
plaintively. She stumbled slightly on a root and
cursed under her breath. "Is anyone-?" Such
desperate confusion in her voice.

The moon broke through the clouds, and he saw her.
The frizzed outline of her hair, the white-
highlighted curve of her shoulder.

"Hello?" she said again. "I don't-" Her voice
trembled, and she broke off. "Why am I here?" she
demanded savagely, suddenly sounding frustrated and
disgusted with herself.

She turned her back.

The boy seized his chance. She screamed.

She wouldn't be confused anymore.


Diana Fowley cut across the grass in front of the
building, not because she was late for work, but
simply because she couldn't wait to get there.
There was an undeniable spring in her step - she no
longer had to watch her back. The morning was
bright (green, yellow, pale blue), and she liked
that, and wished it didn't have to fade away into
winter so soon.

As she approached the door, she was not looking
where she was going, and her toe caught and sank
into the ground - she stumbled slightly, but
steadied herself. It was a fresh gopher hole in the
lawn. She pulled her foot out of the little mound
of soft dirt, her brow creasing in annoyance.
Standing on one foot, she tried to brush the dirt
off, with moderate success.

"Damn it," she muttered softly.

"You okay?"

She looked up quickly - it was Alex. He must have
just walked out the front door. He was not wearing
a jacket, and was holding an empty paper cup from
the coffee shop across the street, half-crushed in
his hand.

"Yeah, I'm fine," she said, her voice a little
muffled with embarrassment. She put her foot down
and brushed her hands off against each other. "I
just...stepped in something."

Alex smirked unpleasantly. "I know the feeling."

His tone was unusually dark, and she picked up on
it instantly, half-alarmed. "Why, what happened?"

He waved her off vaguely, squinting up at the sky.
"Caught a double murder. Kersh wants me and

"You and Fox?" she echoed. "Why?"

"Because of the location. It's Skyland Mountain."

"Ah..." She chewed her cheek for a moment,
considering. "I'll talk to Kersh," she said

He threw her a sharp glance. She'd expected that -
he wouldn't want someone else to jump to his
defense, as if he couldn't handle it himself. But
they both knew Kersh would be unlikely to listen to
what Alex had to say in this instance. And Diana
privately thought that Alex's style of argument
wouldn't help the odds. Maybe Alex was thinking the
same thing, because his gaze softened, and he

"Sure," he said.


Diana strode up the corridor to Kersh's office, and
met Jeffrey coming out the other way, juggling
several folders.

"Hey, stranger," she said.

He glanced up, and smiled - and oh, it was still
good to see him smile, even if it was only a little
bit. "Hey," he said. "Morning."

"What kind of mood is he in?" she asked.

Jeffrey shrugged. "His usual. I went in to ask a
simple question, I came out with twice as much
paperwork as I went in with."

Diana grinned. "That's life in the surface world,"
she said lightly, gesturing at the slick, brightly
lit offices around them.

Jeffrey chuckled. "Why do you ask? Going in to ask
for a raise?"

"No, just going to...bring a couple of things to
his attention."

"Why, is there a problem?" Jeffrey asked, his face
turning to slight concern.

"I hope not," she said with a wry smile, holding up
crossed fingers.

Jeffrey still looked curious, but he nodded. "What
do you want to do for dinner tonight?"

She shrugged and shook her head. "I'm not sure I'll
be in town. I'll let you know, though." She put her
hand on his lower back with a smile as she passed.

She paused in the doorway to Kersh's assistant's
office. The woman was on the phone, and waved Diana

Kersh was at his desk looking through some papers,
and glanced up first with annoyance - then with a
rare, flat smile when he saw who it was.

"Agent Fowley. Good morning. Have a seat." He
indicated the chair across the desk.

"Good morning, sir," she said, returning the smile
politely and sitting down.

"What can I do for you?"

"Sir...I understand you've assigned Agents Mulder
and Krycek to look into the murders at Skyland

"The local authorities requested them by name.
Evidently someone remembers them from the last
investigation. Given that past experience, it
seemed reasonable to grant the request."

Diana nodded, but her brow creased, and she let out
a small hum.

"Do you think that's going to be a problem?" Kersh

"I do, actually," she said. "I'd be concerned that
the...difficulties between them would steal too
much focus from the task at hand."

"They're going to have to learn to work as a team
at some point, Agent Fowley," Kersh said, turning
up his palms.

"I know that, sir. And I know them - I know they
won't disappoint you. I trust them to work it out.
But I also know that it's going to take time." She
paused. "I'm afraid it's too soon, sir," she added

Kersh studied her carefully for a moment. She held
his gaze without difficulty. He sighed slightly,
and rubbed his left eye under his glasses. "All
right. I trust your judgment in this. You'll go to
Skyland with Agent Krycek. But be sure to keep in
touch with Agent Mulder - I want you to have his

Diana nodded and stood up with a brief, small
smile. "Yes, of course. Thank you, sir."


Alex was in the passenger's seat while Diana drove
them down the bright Virginia highway, yellow and
green fields with occasional barns and lone,
stunted round trees. Cows were grazing free-range,
and it reminded Alex that there are horse farms out
here. Or at least there used to be.

He glanced over at Diana, wondering if she was
thinking this too, if she'd met the Brit out here
as many times as he did. But she was just gazing
out at the road ahead of her, and tapping her
fingers against the steering wheel in time to the
muffled, staticky radio - *Very superstitious,
writings on the wall...*

They wound their way up the switchbacks. Musty,
sun-stroked old forest on either side. When they
were on a switchback facing one way, they could see
the distant wires and cold black towers of the ski
lift. When they were on a switchback facing the
other way, they could see only trees. They turned
onto a gravelly service road, the entrance marked
with NO TRESPASSING signs. The radio really started
to give out, and Diana switched it off.

They drove what seemed like hours without seeing
any forks, and just as Diana was about to wonder
aloud if they'd gone up the right way, a short
detective in a black jacket appeared around a bend
and flagged them down. Diana pulled into a ditch by
the side of the road, and they got out of the car.

"Agent Krycek," the detective said with a quick,
sharply curious smile, shaking his hand. "Good to
see you again." Alex remembered this detective by
her dimpled, rather doughy face and long, thick
hair, but he could not recall her name.

"I'm Agent Fowley." Diana offered her hand.

"Detective Warsaw. Nice to meet you. Will Agent
Mulder be joining us?" she added to Alex, with an
undisguisable hopeful look.

Alex coughed.

Diana glanced at him askance. "No," she said
simply. "Where's our crime scene? I only see

"It's a little ways up," Warsaw said, gesturing
behind her. "I heard your car coming. Didn't want
you to miss it."

So they hiked further off the road, until they came
to where the uniforms and photographers were doing
their business.

The body was half buried in the gentle incline of
the mountainside, black dirt and mud scattered and
thrown around all over the leaf litter. Her left
leg and her right foot were in the open air, as
were her left hand. The hand was stark white, with
tightly-curled fingers. Flannel shirt, jeans,
sneakers, dingy white tube socks. Everything
scattered with dirt.

"Do we have a name?" Diana asked, walking around to
get a look at the burial from all sides.

"Rebecca Austor," Detective Warsaw said. "Did you
bag that wallet yet?" she asked a crime scene tech.

"No, ma'am."

"Give it here." She retrieved the wallet and showed
Diana the driver's license. "Forty-two years of
age. Resides right here in Skyland."

"We were told this was a double murder," Alex said.
He turned up his palms. "I only see one body here."

Warsaw glanced aside briefly, clearing her throat.
"Well, yeah, it's technically - the first body was
found three days ago."

"But the murders took place on the same day?" Diana
prompted, puzzled.

"Uh...no, it looks like not."

"Then why did you-" Alex started in an irked,
accusatory tone, but he cut himself off. "They're
just similar crimes, then," he started again, in a
lower voice. "Not the same crime."

"Right. Maybe your secretary or whoever didn't
understand the message. But, you know, it's good
you came. I really wanted you to come." She
suddenly looked embarrassed, as if she'd said too

"Me?" Alex echoed, sounding non-plussed. He was
squatting down to look closer at the excavation
job. "That's flattering," he deadpanned. "I'm not
in such high demand these days."

"Where was the first victim found?" Diana asked.

Warsaw gestured behind them. "Maybe...three hundred
yards off."

"Can we go have a look?"

Warsaw nodded. "Sure thing. You got all the
pictures you need?" she asked a photographer.

"Yeah. The coroner's here, he's ready to take her.
They had a hard time getting the van up the trail."

Warsaw nodded. "Go ahead. Be careful. And put some
of that dirt in a bucket, will you?" She beckoned
to Diana and Alex and started hiking further up the

"I have to tell you, there's not a lot of physical
evidence," she told them as they walked. "Only
footprint we got was a size thirteen Nike. On
fingerprints and fibers, we don't have anything at
all. Look at this. I wanted to show you this too.
We've got more of these dug-up holes, all over the
area...There's a bunch of them. Over here, and
here-" Warsaw pointed. "Some look older than

They slowed down as they passed a hole that was
partly covered over with forest debris, but did
look very much like the hole in which Rebecca
Austor was buried.

"Is there any possibility that it's animal
activity?" Diana asked.

Warsaw shook her head.

"Probably not," Alex said. "An animal doesn't just
dig for no reason, and that's what this looks like.
It's...ineffectual. Shallow. They're not getting

"Yeah, they are shallow," Warsaw nodded, turning
around to walk backwards as she talked to them.
"They're not big enough to have held a body. Even
so, we dug a couple of 'em up. I sent the dirt out
for analysis; they'll tell us if there's blood. But
I don't think so."

"You must know this area well," Diana observed.

"What makes you say that?" Warsaw asked with a
puzzled expression, stepping backwards over a tree

"You can walk it without looking where you're

Warsaw looked slightly flustered, and turned
around. "Oh...well, we've had to walk back and
forth a lot this morning."

And she was quiet for the rest of the walk.

"This is it."

She'd stopped in front of another hole dug into the
incline, this one deeper than the other ones they'd
passed on the way up. "The victim was a male,
twenty-five years of age. Jason Hankins. Also a
Skyland resident, a native. He's waiting in the
coroner's office for you, but we found him just
like the other one. Half buried, head first in the

"What was the cause of death?" Diana asked.

"Had his head beat against a rock. That rock." She
pointed to a large black stone a few yards off. "We
found blood traces. He was also strangled, but I
think it was the head trauma that did it. The
coroner would be able to tell you more."

By the time they returned, the excavation was done,
and Rebecca Austor's grave was a crumbling black
mouth in the side of the mountain. They could hear
the coroner's van rumbling off down the service
road, crunching the gravel. Crime scene clean up
and the photographers were packing up their gear.

"How did you find the bodies so quickly?" Diana

Warsaw hesitated, looking strangely startled. "What
do you mean," she said flatly.

"This is supposed to be off-limits to everyone but
the park service, this area," Diana clarified. "Who
found the bodies?"

Warsaw hesitated. "I - I did."

"You found the bodies?" Alex prompted, eyebrows
raised in surprise. "Both of them?"

She nodded. "I saw them when I was coming up on

"You're city PD," Alex said. "You guys do patrols
all the way up here?"

"Sometimes," Warsaw said, stepping back from them
and crossing her arms across her chest. "We get a
lot of tourists, a lot of dumb kids. The park
service, they're under staffed, you know, we've got
to help each other out..."

Diana frowned. "But the sites aren't visible from
the service road," she said.

"Yes they are," Warsaw shot back aggressively,
before Diana had quite finished her sentence. "How
else would I have seen them?"

The scene was suddenly quiet, as everyone turned
around to look. Warsaw bit her lip. "Sorry, I
didn't mean to snap at you," she said in a lower
voice. "It's been a long week."

Diana paused. "It's all right," she said carefully.
"We'll catch up with you later today to give an
update on our progress. I think we want to go down
to the coroner's office now." She looked at Alex
for confirmation.

He nodded. "Let's go."

"The bodies wouldn't have been visible from the
road," Diana said in a whisper, when they got to
the car. "We had to be flagged down and walked over
to them-"

"Agent Krycek?"

He turned. It was Warsaw.

"Can I ask you something?"

He glanced at Diana. She shrugged, getting back
into the car.

"Yeah, sure."

"It was real, wasn't it," the detective said, her
hands dangling uneasily at her sides.


"I mean, it...it was real. Duane Barry, what he
said, what happened to him was real."

Alex tensed, looking affronted for a moment. But
there was no insult in the detective's round face -
just worry and searching curiosity. It still took a
moment for him to answer. It seemed strange, even
now, to be *able* to answer, to have no reason to
hide the truth. "Yeah," he said.

Warsaw hesitated. "You just have to wonder...how
many people are locked up somewhere, and they're
not crazy, they're just..." She trailed off, waving
her hands in a gesture of helplessness.

"It doesn't accomplish anything to worry about it,"
Alex said curtly.

Warsaw looked slightly disappointed, as if she'd
been looking forward to talking about it, but
nodded. "Yeah, I...I guess not."


"She's definitely hiding something," Alex said as
they drove back down the service road. "She lied
about how the bodies were found. And she
misrepresented the nature of the crimes to make
sure we'd take an interest and come out here."

"Not we," Diana corrected. "You. And Agent Mulder,
presumably. Do you remember her?"

"A little, but we didn't work with her very

Diana hummed. She wasn't sure if she could see that
dimpled face contorted in homicidal rage, or
sadistic lust. Though it was never smart to rule a
suspect out on appearances alone. "Do you think
it's possible she killed those people?" she asked.

"Anything's possible," Alex said, peering intently
into the rear view mirror as if he could see the
detective there. "But if she did, she's doing a
shit job of covering it up. She called up down
here, she admitted she discovered the bodies... I
mean, there is such a thing as an incompetent
murderer, but we just saw her doing her job, and as
a detective, incompetent is the last thing I'd call

"Then maybe she wants to be caught."

"Or she could be covering for someone else, but
she's having doubts about it," Alex added.

Diana nodded. "We'll have to be careful. When you
suspect local PD..."

"Yeah, I know," Alex said grimly. "I'd say play it
cool for now, keep an eye on her, see what she
does. We don't want to have to question her

They passed a boy with auburn hair walking down the
side of the road with his hands shoved in the
pockets of his dirty jeans, kicking up the dust. He
twisted around to look at them when he heard the
car coming, and shuffled further over to the side.
From his face, Diana saw that he was older than
she'd first thought he was.

Squinting against the sunlight, he kept his eyes on
them as they drove past. His gaze was sharp, but
strangely vacant. As they rounded a curve and he
fell out of sight, he stumbled awkwardly over
something in the road.


Rebecca Austor lay on a metal gurney next to the
one belonging to Jason Hankins. Both were waxy,
white, like they could be covered a thin layer of
frost. They had similar crescent fingernail
scratches and hand-shaped strangulation bruises on
their necks. Hankins's face was skewed a bit off-
center from having the back of his skull crushed.

"No weapons," said the coroner in a neutral,
businesslike tone, "except his own two hands. No
sexual assault on either victim, no mutilation of
the bodies post-mortem. They were both fully
clothed when they were found."

"Were there usable fingerprints?" Diana asked.

The coroner shook his head. "Everything was
smeared. That's a problem in bare-hands
strangulation. I can tell you if your suspect's
hands are the right size, but not much else.
They're large hands, as you can see. Almost
certainly a male. I'd say a tall male."

Diana and Alex shared a glance. That ruled out
their primary (and so far only) suspect.

"I'd like for you to take some additional X-rays
for us," Diana said to the coroner. "The head and
neck area and the lower abdomen of each victim."

The coroner nodded. If he thought this was a
strange request, he gave no sign of it.

Alex picked up Rebecca Austor's heavy white hand.
There was black earth still jammed beneath the
blue-white fingernails.

"You got something there?" Diana asked, craning her
neck to see what he was looking at.

"Maybe," he murmured. He turned and stepped over to
Jason Hankins's corpse, and picked up his hand,
even heavier than Austor's. The crescents of black
dirt were thinner under his nails, but still there.

Alex placed the hand back down on the table and
looked over at the coroner sharply. "Is there any
chance these people were alive when they were

The coroner shook his head. "No."

Diana sidled over. "What are you thinking?" she
asked quietly.

"I'm thinking these people dug their own graves,"
he said. He pointed out the dirt.

"By force?" Diana asked.

He shook his head, gazing down intently at Jason
Hankins's off-center face. "Maybe, but it doesn't
seem likely. If he'd been holding them at gunpoint
or knifepoint..."

She nodded. "Then you'd expect them to have been
shot or stabbed. But why would they be digging in
the dirt with their bare hands, of their own free

He shook his head again, still not looking up. "I
don't know..."

Diana glanced up at the coroner and started to say
something, but was stopped by the look on his face
- tense and grave. The man was standing awkwardly,
his weight all on his back foot, watching Alex
uneasily, almost fearfully. She could well imagine
what he was thinking. The FBI's killer agent -
cracked, fascinated by violent death, a dangerous
man only allowed back into the field by a pulled
string, a pulled *purse*-string- Her face grew warm
with indignant anger.

"Thank you for your help, sir," she said, more
abruptly than she'd meant to.

Alex looked up at her in surprise, having no way to
know where the sudden burst of rudeness had come

They headed out into the corridor. "You seemed
eager to leave," Alex observed, somewhat puzzled.

But she wasn't about to tell him why.


They spent the afternoon conducting tearful
interviews with the Hankinses and the co-workers of
Rebecca Austor (who had no family aside from seven
cats and a canary). Did the two know each other?
No. Did they have enemies? Of course not, everyone
loved- Involved in drugs? God, no - how dare you.

Do you know of anything unusual that ever happened
to them? Did they ever disappear for a few days?
Complain of severe nightmares or seem to become
confused and disoriented?

No. Never.

"Now *this* is police work," Diana sighed as they
walked down the Hankinses' front steps and back to
the car.

Alex snorted. "Don't pretend you're not loving
every second of it."

She grinned briefly. "It is good to be back."

"It is, but I wouldn't mind a solid lead right
about now." They reached the car, parked by the
weed-ridden, tree-lined curb, and Alex leaned
against the hood, taking a second to think. The
Hankinses' great black dog could apparently still
see them from his yard, and his rough voice echoed
down the otherwise quiet block. The mountain arched
above the housetops, fat and mocking. "The only
thing the victims have in common," he said, "is
that they lived in Skyland, and had for a long

Diana hummed. "I asked for X-rays to check for
implantation," she said, "but it looks more like
our *perpetrator* is an experimentation victim, or
at least wants people to think he is - choosing to
kill near a known abduction site."

Alex nodded. "Trying to make it look like test
subjects are dangerous."

"If that's the case, then there may not be any
connection to find. The victims could have been
chosen simply because their deaths would elicit
sympathy - a woman, a young man with his whole life
ahead of him..."

"But it's not big enough yet," Alex said. "Two
murders aren't going to grab anyone's attention."

"Except ours," Diana added as she got into the car.


They returned to the police station in the evening
as promised, but they didn't have very much
progress to share.

Alex ran his hand through his hair. "There's no
reason someone would want both of our victims

"Then this has got to be a psycho, right? A serial
killer." Detective Warsaw almost sounded hopeful -
and fearful, too, as if afraid the answer would be

Alex shook his head mutely, looking grim.

"No," Diana said, "I don't think so. With a true
serial killer psychopathology, you see a set
pattern or ritual - a set victim type or means of
death - and escalating violence, not de-

"But there is a pattern," said Warsaw vehemently.
"It's the same spot, right there on the mountain.
We've had two murders within a couple of hundred
yards of each other, at around the same time of
night. I want to stake out the area tonight, see if
anyone turns up. If the killer is drawn to this
place, he may not be able to help himself from
coming. And the area's supposed to be restricted,
so anyone who shows up can be arrested for
trespassing on the spot."

"But the two murders took place three days apart,"
Diana said. "If there's a pattern, we wouldn't
expect another death until Friday..."

Warsaw hesitated. "But you said it yourself, there
might not be a pattern. We can't take chances."

"Well, unless we're dealing with someone who's had
a complete psychotic break, no killer is going to
come back to the scene when he sees there are other
cars parked in the road," Alex said irritably. "And
even if they would, we can't just stake out the
area indefinitely..."

"I didn't say indefinitely," Warsaw snapped at him.
"I just said tonight." At Alex's affronted look,
her face immediately softened into surprised
embarrassment. "I'm sorry," she said, "I don't know
why I said that. It's-"

"Yeah, it's been a long week," Alex finished
evenly, watching Warsaw's reaction carefully. "I
think you're right. I think we should do it. Let's
set up the stakeout, it's not like we have other

Diana nodded, playing along. "When I'm on an
interesting case, I can never sleep anyway. Let's
do it."


They had dinner in a noisy local caf? - or rather,
Diana had dinner, and Alex watched.

"You need to eat, Alex," she said.

He only shook his head. "I don't know what we're
walking into here," he said, rubbing his hand over
his face. The surrounding conversations probably
covered what he was saying, but he'd learned to be
careful through hard experience - background din
couldn't always be counted on, and there was no
sense in taking chances. So he paused, trying to
think of the vocabulary, and then continued in his
stiff Arabic. "I think that Warsaw *was* covering
for somebody, but now she wants to get out of it.
Now she wants him to be caught."

Diana paused, taking a moment to register the
switch. "Without his knowing that it was her who
gave us the information," she continued in her
smoother dialect.

"Yes. It may be a friend or a boyfriend. And if she
knows that he's a murderer, of course she would be
afraid to come forward."

Diana nodded, but frowned slightly. "But she had
the courage to show us where the bodies were. It's
possible she kept it a secret from him, but..." She
shook her head. "I think there's more to it than

"I guess we'll see," Alex said in English, and
stole a French fry off Diana's plate.


And now they were sitting in the car a little ways
off the service road, watching for - who knew what.
Diana, sitting in the passenger's seat, was working
her way through a plastic bag full of tangerines
she'd bought earlier that day.

"You're driving me crazy with those, you know
that?" Alex remarked casually. "How many of those
do you think you can eat before you get sick of

"I'd think you'd be used to it," Diana said,
holding up her crumpled, orange- stained napkin to
wipe the juice from her chin. "Marita's getting
food cravings. You remember at lunch on Saturday?
How many prawns she ate? And that was bad enough,
but the *ketchup*..."

"I know," he said, rubbing the back of his neck,
already stiff from sitting in the car so long,
"that's why you're driving me crazy; I don't need
*both* of you losing your minds."

"There's nothing wrong with a little food
obsession. Just because *you* don't want to eat..."
She waved the half-eaten fruit temptingly in his

He smirked and shook his head. "After tonight,
you're never gonna want to see another tangerine

"I already don't ever want to see another prawn

He breathed a laugh.

And they sat in companionable silence for a while,
watching the black-green forest. Diana polished off
the tangerine, and made the polite gesture of
waiting a few minutes before starting another. It
was the last one. Not needing to look at what she
was doing, she dug her thumbnail in, getting the
damp white interior of the peel bunched up against
the tender borderline of the nail bed.

Alex tensed, listening for something. "Did you hear
that," he whispered.

Diana set the food down on the dashboard and
listened...but turned up her palms wordlessly. Alex
opened the car door quietly and tilted his head to
find the direction of the noise, like an animal
searching for the sound of its prey. Thinking he'd
pinned it down, he turned and looked piercingly
into the tree cover. And there was something
there...an animal silhouette moving delicately
among the trees...deeper darkness intermittently
blocking the moonlight.

Now Diana could see it too, and silently reached
for her weapon. But Alex was already out of the car
and moving towards those shadows...slowly,
silently, a wolf-like stalk. The secret to walking
without noise is to place your foot down first, and
then shift your weight onto it, as every animal and
assassin knows. Each step was precise, perfectly
balanced, carrying him forward smoothly, tensely.
Every muscle under control, nothing left to chance.

The shadow in the trees stopped, and Alex froze.
Not more than ten feet away from each other,
neither one breathing, each intensely aware of the
other. Their heartbeats the loudest sound.

And the shadow jumped, leaping up the side of the
hill - and he bolted after it, cutting across the
tall grass - and they were locked in pursuit,
running flat out into the woods. Alex's rational
mind cuts in with the information that there's no
chance he's going to be able to run down a wild
animal in the woods, in the dark. But as that
thought hit him, he found himself grabbing onto
slender legs and falling heavily to the ground with
this warm body struggling frantically beneath him.

Diana emerged into the clearing a few moments
later, weapon drawn, breathless: "Alex - are you

"Yeah." His breath was coming back to him, and he
was holding the boy with auburn hair pinned down in
the leaf litter.

"We're federal agents," Diana said, brandishing her
ID. "Identify yourself. What are you doing out

The boy kicked out uselessly like a trapped deer,
still struggling against Alex's weight, and a
*laugh* tore out of him, like it was tearing him to
messes on the inside as it came. "I don't know," he
gasped. "I don't know, I don't know. There's
nothing *here*."


In the flickering red lights of the sedan into
which the uniforms were stuffing their suspect,
Diana walked back to the car. Alex stood there
leaning against the hood, self-consciously brushing
some leaf litter from off his sleeve. Left sleeve.
He was rattled, and she knew it.

She came up next to him. "I asked them to book him
for trespassing first, so that we'll have more time
to question him. So we've got an little while to

"Which I'm gonna need, right?" he said in a
slightly acid tone. "Pull myself together." She
started to object, but he went on: "I lost track of
myself completely, back there. I didn't identify
myself, I just - reacted." He let out a shaky,
half-laughing breath, shaking his head. "This is
just not-"

"It is going to work," Diana said, placing her hand
firmly on his shoulder. "I know it's not easy. But
you've made it this far. This is not the hardest
thing you've ever done."

He looked at her, and with the flickering red light
coming from behind him, his face was unreadable,
eyes black. He smiled. "Not by a long shot," he