--------- 5 -----------

"No... No Watson, I don't want the damn apartment.  I can get the car and that's worth much more than the apartment WHICH, I might add, was cleaned out days ago by that backstabbing ex husband of mine."

Long, well manicured fingernails tapped the corner of the tall oak dresser. Lisa Ripley Stern, formerly Ripley, then Stern, now Ripley again stared at the ceiling.  She sighed and set her crystal glass of brandy to the oak table in her navy colored hotel suite.  Absently, she yanked her long blonde hair out from its black barette.

"You're not listening, I---fuck!"  Lisa dropped lazily to the plush loveseat and kicked her heels off. "I have another call, hold on--"  She clicked the 'flash' button on her handset and closed her eyes warily, managing, " hello?"

"Lisa!  Oh Lisa darling," came the perky voice from the other end of the line.  Lisa opened one eye and began to stare at her half-downed glass of brandy.  She should have poured more, she thought.

"Yes?" Lisa replied, only half interested.  "Who is this?"

There was a large breath from the other line and then, "Why Lise, I can't believe you don't recognize my voice! It's me--Mandy from Roosevelt, you remember?"

Lisa rolled her eyes and put one of her well-manicured hands to her forehead.   This was definitely not her day, she thought.  First her damned ex husband and then her damned divorce lawyer, and now her damned best friend from high school.  Great, she muttered under her breath.  Then, "Of course," she said out loud, in the nicest voice possible.

"Well, I heard you were here in town and I just wanted to say hi, you know, catch up on old times."  Mandy took a short breath, then, " There's just so much to tell you!  It's been so long!  Oh, I'm an actress you know--in a play this week--- Juliet from 'Romeo and Juliet,' maybe you can come and--oh, I wanted to tell you I have an opening in my schedule tomorrow. We can have lunch, gab, oh I don't know... I just HAVE to talk to you, dear."

Lisa leaned over and swigged down the last of her brandy.  Just what she needed, she thought.  A walk down memory lane with her old friend.  Cutesy, spoiled, bratty Amanda Larson, one of her best friends from high school, the leader of the pact, the head snob of the snob clique... that is, until the senior superlatives Lisa and Mandy's senior year, when Lisa got a bid and Mandy didn't. Vaguely, Lisa could remember a fight and a separation towards the end of the tear, after the prom, when Mandy got really bad, nasty and mean--not that she hadn't been before.  All through high school, as long as Lisa could remember, Mandy had been a bully, a teaser.  She just enjoyed making people unhappy.  And it wasn't that Lisa never teased and tormented anyone, she had of course, her moments, but towards the end of their senior year, Mandy became just downright vicious. Lisa suspected it was because Mandy was bitter and frustrated, but she never stuck around long enough to find out.  The most Lisa could remember about the end of that year was Mandy making some poor red-headed girl cry at the prom.  It was some girl who her ex boyfriend Marcus had liked---What was her name---Dana something or other, Lisa couldn't remember.

"How did you know I was in town?" Lisa asked sweetly, fingering her empty glass.

"Oh, you know I have my ways, friends everywhere and what-not."  Mandy giggled.  "But really now, enough small talk. There's just so much I have to tell you...we must get together.  You free tomorrow for brunch?  At the Rockville theatre?  I know some great places here in town...."

Lisa suppressed a groan.  She stared at the engagement ring lying on the dresser across from her and then at the cracked picture of her and Jeff, her ex husband. Surely by now he was off with that bitch bimbo secretary he was fucking.... Lisa shook her head.  She didn't know what possessed her to come to New York.  She had been alone all week.  Alone and miserable and desperate for company.

There was a pause on the line.  Lisa took a breath.

"Yeah, ok" she finally said, leaning heavily against the chair.  "Brunch tomorrow. Sounds great."

Mulder slurped down a string of mozarella that trailed from the base of his pizza slice all the way down to his mouth.  He chewed, swallowed, and swung his gangly legs up over the side of Scully's twin motel bed.

"So, what did the enigmatic Director have to say?" Scully asked, frowning distainfully at her partner's complete lack of table manners.  Mulder snatched up another piece ---the last slice----and took a seat on the wooden desk chair, opposite the room's inadequate twin.

"Not much," Mulder answered, chomping down another gob of mozarella, oblivious to Scully's disgusted stare.  "He says that he never saw the fall itself, that he was backstage in wardrobe when it happened, as I'm sure Gracie-whatever her name is-will be able to corroborate for us.  But... Then, you were there for that one, right?"

Mulder paused to wait for Scully's perfunctory  nod, then continued, "Seems like too much of a nervous guy to lie if you ask me, and much too dedicated to all this acting shit to want to kill off his 'star performer, ' as he put it."

Mulder paused to take another bite, chew and swallow.  "Anyway, " he continued, "Director Smith claims that all he heard was Jennifer's scream, and he also said that Amanda---Jennifer's understudy--- was nowhere close to Jennifer or the balcony at the time of her death... HOWEVER, she WAS somewhere onstage. Both he and Sarah Jamison insist that she was under the supervision the lighting guy--Ed something or other the whole time, and, as a matter of fact, Mr.Wonderful director was rather adamant about being positive that noone in his company could have been involved in Jennifer's death----IF, in fact, there was foul play."

Scully nodded, thoughtfully.  She touched a weary index finger to the corner of her soggy slice of pizza, as far from hungry as humanly possible. Her mind was miles away.  She was still unwaveringly angry with herself for her sorry performance that afternoon as an agent of the government and she just couldn't shake it.    "So," Scully asked, undoubtedly distracted,  "what are you thinking?"

Mulder devoured another clump of pizza, his expression turning thoughtful.  "Well," he started, "considering that everyone is claiming Jennifer screamed something along the lines of  'no' right before she fell, I think it's safe to rule out suicide, first.  And since the use of the word 'no' would seem to indicate a protest against another person--or, at least, the presence of one, I'd also like to rule out 'accident' as the cause of death.  And considering this whole 'understudy thing' looks fairly shady at this point, even with the wintess stories, I think I'm leaning towards homicide, though I'm not at all ruling out the possibility of an X File.  If we talk to the lighting guy tomorrow and find out that Amanda was in fact on stage and not the balcony, then I’m thinking telekinesis.  I’m thinking Wiccan religious practices. I'm thinking something along the lines of the supernatural.  Maybe something that coincides with the history of the warehouse or the surrounding area. "

Mulder took a breath and finished, waiting for his partner's ultimate, scientific, "Mulder, you're nuts" rebuttal.  He was actually disappointed when Scully did not look up at him or even nod. Mulder stared at her strangely.  "You ok, Scully?" he asked, softly.  Scully acknowledged him and  nodded, distractedly.  "Yeah, fine."

Mulder nodded back, rather unconvinced.  "Ok..." he said, curiously, "So then tell me, what did Amanda the Understudy have to say?  Did her story corroborate with Sarah's and the director's?"

Apparently, his question took her by surprise.  Scully looked up, startled, and stared at her partner.  "Hmm?" she asked, sounding confused.  Mulder shook his head and set down his pizza, leaning forward, concerned.

"You're not ok, Scully," he told her, authoritatively.  In turn, Scully shot him a disgusted look, folding her arms across her chest.

"I said I'm fine," she retaliated dully, in that no-nonsense voice. It was that voice that screamed, 'shut up Mulder, because I'm not in the mood to argue with you.'  Mulder sighed and tapped her forefingers on the desk.  He was more than just annoyed.  After all, they were a month into a relationship--a caring one, based on unshakeble faith, trust, mutual passions and shared affections, and she STILL wouldn't tell him when she was hurt. She STILL refused to trust him with that precarious part of her.

"Fine," he retorted, lowly. "I believe you."

Scully nodded back at him firmly, but as they stared at each other, she knew full well that he didn't believe her.  And she also knew that, undoubtedly, she was full of shit.  And that he probably knew that, too.

"So," Mulder continued.  "What did she say?"

Scully frowned.  "what did who say?" she asked.

Mulder stared back at her, pointedly.  He crossed his legs and leaned farther forward, folding his hands over his lap, watching her with rapt interest.  "Amanda, the Understudy," he reminded her.  Scully grimmaced and looked away.  Mulder sighed and got up then, crossing the room to sit behind her on the bed.  The mattress groaned and dipped beneath his weight, but Scully did not move.  Mulder closed his eyes and let his hands trail over towards her shoulders, slowly.  Scully leaned back and sighed, enjoying the feel of her partner's stong fingers pressing into her back and lower neck.  He kneaded and pressed and she closed her eyes.

"You went to high school with her, too, didn't you?" Mulder asked.  Scully's eyes flew open and she twisted her neck to look at him.

"How did you know that?" she asked, accusingly.  Mulder gave her a sheepish smile and traced his index finger along her cheekbone.   She shrugged it away, sullenly, and glared at him.  Mulder frowned at her and touched her cheek again, this time leaning his forehead close to hers in a show of silent communion.  When she didn't protest, he gently told her, "I ah, I sort of  overheard the 'no-date-Dana' thing."

At that, she closed her eyes, painfully.


"It was so stupid," Scully whispered angrily, her nose touching his, her forehead gently resting against his.  The action seemed to give her strength and she knew that was why he did it.  And she was almost grateful for the support, glad he was there to hold her, although it made her nervous, for whatever reason...

"It was just...," she sighed and pulled away, rising  up off the bed.  "I was there for one reason and one reason only, Mulder----to do my job.  And I didn't do it.  I saw an old bully from my childhood and I let her get to me.  I let her get to me in high school, and I let her do it again."

Mulder leaned back and watched as Scully began to pace the length of the room, shaking her head in self-doubt.  Well, he thought, hopefully.  At least she's talking to me...

"So what?" Mulder asked, not knowing what to do, just wanting to help. "You got flustered, Scully.  Shit happens.   We've still got the rest of the week to figure it out.  So we'll just go back to rehearsal tomorrow and I'll question her this time, alright? I'll---"

"No!" Scully interrupted, aghast.  "No, Mulder.  It's NOT alright."

Mulder shook his head and frowned, frustrated.  "Scully----"

"No, Mulder," she insisted, pacing faster, "You just don't get it.  This isn't a trade-off.  This isn't a choice.  This is my JOB.  Amanda Larson is my past, my distant past, and this case is my current responsibility.   If she's a possible suspect then  I need to pursue that avenue and block out any personal biases I may have.  I can't let my personal feelings cloud my judgement while on the job and I did."

Mulder sighed and stared at her, dully.  "It HAPPENS, Scully," he insisted, "sometimes people get to you.  Sometimes things happen that deter your judgement, I'm telling you, it happens to everyone at least once."

Scully shook her head at  him.

"Not to me," she told him, heatedly  "I can't allow for emotional attatchment or connection to distract me like that."

Scully paused for a moment and turned as Mulder watched her, deflated.  Faltering under the heat of his stare, she closed her eyes and realized the impact of what she had just said.  The double meaning of those words, "emotional attachment."  Was she still even talking about the case, here?  Damn it, she thought...


"Tell me, Scully," Mulder asked, half bitterly.  "Do you always need to feel that disconnected?  Is that how you feel about me?"

Scully glared at him, contemptuously. "I can't believe you just asked me that," she muttered, turning towards the window, sullenly.  Mulder closed his eyes and cursed himself, desperately trying to figure out what the right thing to say was.  I need to Muster up the drive, he thought.  I need to find the power to say it.  To finally say what I know she needs to hear right now.

But Scully's back was still turned and he still couldn't do it.  He was absolutely terrified, and he couldn't do it.  Fuck, he thought, angrily...

So instead, Mulder got up off the bed and crossed the room, coming up just behind Scully, wrapping his long arms around her slender waist.  He leaned his head upon her shoulder gently, clasping his hands around her middle but she didn't move.

"Scully," he softly whispered, "You know what I meant."

He felt her nod, barely.  "I know," she whispered back simply.

Mulder sighed and, against his better judgement, went on,  "Maybe you should... um, I don't know...tell me about what happened to you."   The silence that followed was awkward.

Even though they had recently upped the intimacy ante by a few notches, he still couldn't shake the idea that, although he really DID want to know what was wrong, talking to his partner like this was really odd.  Somewhat uncomfortable and really odd.

Apparently, Scully must have thought so too because she stiffened in his embrace and let her face fall to the left.  She leaned her auburn head next to his, letting him know in Scully-speak that it wasn't him, persay, that she was angry at. She was just angry in general and she did NOT want to discuss it.

"It's not relevant to the case," Scully finally said, monotonously.  Mulder closed his eyes and leaned in even closer, allowing his nose to nudge the inside of her neck, affectionately.

"It's relevant to me," he answered, softly.

Scully sighed, her entire chest heaving beneath his fingers, and she shrugged out of his grip, awkwardly.

"Not on assignment," was all she said as she stepped away from him.  Mulder let his head fall back in frustration. He cracked his neck, finding that the end of his rope was coming up a lot faster than he had anticipated.

"It wasn't an offer for sex, Scully," he managed, fighting back anger as she turned to face him.

"I know that," she snapped, folding her arms defensively, feeling more and more exhausted by the moment.  "I just... I don't want to discuss this now. Ok, Mulder?  Can you understand that?"

Mulder folded his arms in a similar fashion and nodded at her. "Yeah," he answered, shortly.  "I can understand that."

Scully nodded, hoping that his answer would mark the end of the discussion.  She had no desire to continue further with the conversation, and she had even less desire to argue.  But Mulder, of course, had other ideas.   His eyebrow rose thoughtfully, and he finally managed to come up with another angle.

"But you don't find it odd," he asked, "that both of these girls--who just so happened to be in your graduating class--also just so happened to turn up at the center of all this?  That we just so happened to be requested for the case?"

Scully frowned at that, forgetting her earlier annoyance. "What do you mean we were requested?" she asked.  "I had just assumed you stumbled on this case from a friend in the New York office."

Mulder quirked an eyebrow at her and settled back into a chair.  "Scully," he managed pointedly, "come on. Just how many friends do you think I have?"  He shrugged his shoulders, sheepishly.  That got a smile out of her.

"Good point," she agreed, a half smile alighting her mouth.  "So then who requested us?  That kid, Sarah Jamison?  her friend Ben?"

Mulder shook his head and leaned back, causing the old wooden desk chair to squeak.  "Apparently," he mused, "you have more friends than you think.  Certainly, more than me."

Scully furrowed a brow and looked at him, strangely.  "What do you mean?" she asked, shifting her weight from right foot to left.  She leaned her head to the side, staring at him.  Mulder stretched his legs, lazily.

"Your lovely friend, Amanda the Understudy," Mulder answered, nonchalantly. "Apparently, she keeps up with old classmates. She knew you held a position at the FBI and she asked for you---well, actually, the both of us, specifically."

Scully swiftly crossed the space between the desk and the window to stand in front of Mulder, staring down at him with a look of utter bafflement.   "she did?" Scully asked, her nose scrunched in disgust. "But why?  If she knew that she was going to be a suspect, then why----"

Mulder shrugged and reached out a lazy arm to carefully grab Scully's hand and pull her quickly down onto his lap.  Scully's brow furrowed, but she did not protest Mulder's grasp.  She stumbled and fell, distracted, and leaned back into his arms, considering this new bit of information that her partner had just presented.  It just made no sense to her...None at all...What could Amanda possibly want?  Certainly, not her help...

Mulder's arms wrapped around Scully's waist, securely, but she barely noticed.  His head rested upon her shoulder but she was too distracted to lean down and acknowledge it.  For whatever reason, the idea that Mandy Larson, her 4 year high school tormentor, had asked for herself specifically, bothered her more than just running into the woman by chance.

Mulder sighed and held her closer.  He knew she was troubled by this whole thing and the desire to enclose her within him and keep her safe, even though he knew she was quite capable, almost overpowered him.  Scully answered his silent longing by sighing back.

Mulder kissed the inside of her neck tenderly, and suddenly, her heart jumped.

Mmmm, she thought… her love life interrupting her special agent train of thought.  Mulder….

Scully's breathing hitched and she leaned in closer, resting her head inside the crook of Mulder's neck to try and slow her pulse.  Sometimes she thought that she could settle her body's racing chemistry by assuring herself that he was here, that he was HERS.  Occasionally it worked but most of the time it didn't.  Her heart raced anyways; whether Mulder was holding her or just looking at her.

Scully swallowed then and allowed herself, if only for a moment, to revel in his touch.  His warm arms...  Sometimes, she thought, Mulder made her feel so incredibly warm and safe, so loved, that she didn't know how she could ever let him go.  And then other times he made her want to scream and punch him in the head so hard that he wouldn't ever be able to hold anything again. It was a strange relationship they had, but it was a love she wasn't willing to sacrifice for anything; certainly not his bouts of absent mindedness and her occasional irish temper. 

Mulder kissed her forehead tenderly and ran a slow hand up the length of her back, careful to not creep underneath her shirt or come close to touching her in any way that could be considered.... well, un-professional....  Not that kissing or falling in love with his partner was exceedingly professional but….well, they had yet to cross that barrier, that...sexual..barrier...and the whole idea of it--of taking it that far for whatever reason, made them both incredibly uncomfortable.  Insanely uncomfortable, really. So they avoided it...  By default, they made it void and taboo.  Of course, individually, they knew that one of these days it was going to come back and bite them on the ass, with a vengeance… But for now, the entire subject would remain something akin to one of those stickers that read “do not open till forever.”

"So you don't know why she requested us," Scully managed, trying desperately to get back to business. It was a hard thing to do though, especially while sitting in her partner's lap as he caressed her back and arms.... She felt Mulder shake his head, definitively.

"Nope," he answered.  "But I plan to find out."

Scully leaned further into Mulder's chest and closed her eyes, feeling exhaustion creeping up on her.  "So you think it's important?" She asked, sleepily.

Mulder frowned and pursed his lips, his hand caressing errant circles on Scully's lower left arm.  His embrace unconciously tightened around her and his eyes narrowed slightly.  "I have a feeling that her reason for requesting us and that her connection to you, her connection to Jennifer, is less than coincidental ," he told her, honestly.  He felt her nod through his shirt, lazily.

"Then may the force be with me," Scully muttered, half asleep, trying to leaven the moment.  Mulder chuckled nervously, but  he couldn't push down the lump of apprehension he felt in his throat.  Scully opened her eyes heavily and stared off into space, more troubled and confused than she knew she should be.   Mulder's lips came down and pressed reverently against her forehead, his right hand smoothing away her hair, and she closed her eyes.  She didn't want to think about any of it---about Mandy---about Jennifer---at a time when the man she loved more than life itself was wrapped around her, caressing her arms and back as if she were porcelain.

Scully took a deep breath and let her arms trail up and around her partner's neck, palms resting flat against his shoulder blades, her head buried in his chest.  Her eyes began to close out of sheer exhaustion, and she allowed her lips to graze his lower neck before she drifted off....  sleep overtaking her almost as soon as her heavy lids consented to closing....

Mulder held her tighter and felt her shift, his lower half trying to shift with  her so that she would not fall off the chair.  When Scully slept she slept all over the place and he knew it.  He sighed and tried to push back the apprehension he felt with this case, with the overt number of coincidences mounting up.  He just felt as if his partner were being set up--poised for a fall---and he didn't like it one bit. He would die before he let anything happen to her.

Almost errantly, with sleep threatening him into a lull, Mulder let his head rest against hers.  His heart pounded with hers in tangent.  They were opposites, he thought.  Like different sides of the moon, but they fell in love regardless.  So tell her, his brain ordered.  Tell her.  Tell her NOW.

"Scully, I…, " he whispered, half-asleep, "I… love you... “

But as he lowered his head, he could hear her softly snoring; the usual Scully breathing mixed in with the after-affects of a lingering cold he knew she was trying to hide.  "Scully?" he asked, softly.

There was no answer. His heart sank as he realized that she was asleep.  He had just made the gut wrenching, heartfelt, hard-to say confession of the century, and she had never even heard it.  But more importantly, he didn't know if he'd be able to say it again.