Degrees of Sanity BY by cheerful minion

Title: Degrees of Sanity
Series:
story #2 in the "Degrees of" series; sequel to Degrees of Separation
Status:
finished
Author:
cheerful minion (
cheerfulminion@frenchtoast.net)
Date:
22 June, 2002
Category: mostly a character study, with some angst for fun <g>
Rating:
PG
Pairing:
Scully/Reyes friendship (series is leading to a romantic relationship)
Season:
nine … with minor spoilers for anything in season nine
Summary:
Ah, the tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.
Archive:
Pink Rabbit, list archive for Scully_Reyes. Anyone else, please do not archive without explicit permission.
Disclaimer:
If I owned the show or the characters, not only would the mytharcs have died a slow death, but we would actually have seen some character development for Reyes … ergo, none of them are mine. They belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, FOX, and probably a whole bunch of others whose names escape me. I promise to put them back on the shelf when I’m done playing with them. As always, this was written for love of the show and the wonderful characters, not for money. If you are one of the aforementioned owners, feel free to steal anything herein that strikes your fancy … please? <g>
Notes:
While I intend for the stories in this series to be standalones, this one will make a lot more sense after reading the first one, since it basically exists to tie up a few loose ends. This series is (hopefully) going to develop a solid friendship between Scully and Reyes before moving into a romantic relationship (in other words, if I actually write a sex scene, it’s gonna be a few stories away). I’ve worked on this story long enough that I have no feel any more for whether it has any merit or whether it simply sucks. As always, feedback is more than welcome, though it’s getting a little warm outside to want to deal with flames.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

X-Files Office, basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building
Friday, 11:21am EST

"I don’t believe him!"

Dana Scully looked up in surprise – and with a sense of mild alarm – as John Doggett’s angry words rang through the room, punctuated by a slamming door. She glanced reflexively at the woman sitting across the table from her, noticing that Monica Reyes had been equally startled by her partner’s abrupt entrance into the office. She also noted that the other woman seemed to be as visibly alarmed by his outburst as Scully herself was. Then she turned her attention to Doggett’s pacing figure, able to see just enough of his face to make out the smoldering look in his eyes.

The gentle lilt of Monica’s voice echoed in the air, concern and confusion layered in her tone. "What happened, John? What did Assistant Director Skinner want to talk to you about?"

A snort from the pacing man was the only answer for a long moment, and Dana felt her eyebrow ride higher on her forehead. She was familiar enough with his patterns, however, to not say anything or ask any more questions, since she knew he wouldn’t be able to keep his mouth shut for long. Doggett just didn’t have a reputation for being the strong, silent type. Well, actually, he could do the strong part without any difficulty; it was the silent part with which he had no faculty.

She glanced over at Monica again, seeing that the other woman’s mouth was open, as if to ask another question, but unmoving, as if she’d thought better of it mid-gesture. There was an odd glint to Reyes’ eyes that caused a wave of concern to flood through Scully, and she marveled – not for the first time – that the other woman seemed to have a knack for worming her way into her emotional side. The look in those dark eyes was one of pain, and she was certain that it had been triggered by the raw anger radiating from John. But what Dana couldn’t be sure of was whether or not it was just an empathetic response to his passionate outburst, or whether it was something deeper and more personal that had come unexpectedly to the surface.

Frowning mentally, Scully made a note to check in with Reyes later – to see if she could get a better sense of what was going on in the other woman’s head. Their last case had been hard on everyone, but particularly on Monica, and Dana was more worried about her than she was entirely comfortable admitting … even to herself.

She rapidly shifted mental gears and turned her attention back to Doggett, just as he began speaking. "Oh, it wasn’t Skinner. Yeah, he was the one who called me in, but Kersh was there, wanting to go over our last case again … talk about the details of our reports." He snorted indelicately, as if at some cruel joke. "Go over the case again, my ass. Looks to me like he’s got some notion that we’re hiding something and he’s trying to worm it out of us … well, out of me anyhow."

Scully felt, rather than saw, Reyes’ dark gaze swinging to touch on her, and she let her eyes slide back to the other woman. All three of them (as well as Skinner) knew they had something to hide about the last case, but Dana wasn’t entirely sure what in the case file had managed to catch the curious eye of someone higher up. As far as she knew, nothing they’d actually written down was even slightly irregular or likely to arouse suspicion. She’d filed far more … erratic and nebulous reports in her career without being called on the carpet, and she’d read over Monica’s report and knew there was nothing even remotely odd sounding in it. As for John’s report, she hadn’t seen it, but she knew all too well the man wasn’t that imaginative and his reports tended to be straight out of the book and not include any extraneous elements. The two women shared a quizzical glance and then turned with one accord back to Doggett, seeking further enlightenment.

Scully was the one who spoke. "What makes you think Deputy Director Kersh suspects us of hiding something? Was he disputing the information we included in our reports?" She had no problem believing the man might ask some questions about the case in an attempt to put the X-Files team on the defensive, since his dislike of both Doggett and Reyes was practically palpable. She wouldn’t put it past him to try anything in his power to make one or the other of them look bad. But she couldn’t quite believe that if he really was suspicious and wanted to get information, he wouldn’t have also wanted to see herself and Monica. The classic method of determining whether someone was lying about something was to separately question all those involved and see whose detailed version of events didn’t quite square with the others. And in her experience, the top members of the FBI were nothing if not mindful of usual procedures. In fact, you could almost call them slaves to bureaucratic procedure.

Doggett sat down with a thud, then leaned forward across his desk, eyes burning with irritation. "He wants to see my phone records so he has proof we got an anonymous call to help crack our last case. Dunno why he’s got a bug up his butt about it, since we use anonymous informants all the time … but he seems to think it’s ‘highly irregular’" his lip curled in disgust "that I didn’t give them the Bureau phone log as proof of the call. So then I told him it was a call to my private number and that I didn’t turn it in because there’s personal information on it. Besides which, I’ve used informants on cases before and never had to prove their existence. His answer to that wasn’t what you’d call understanding … and was damned politely insistent." He slammed a fist down on the desktop and even though Dana wasn’t close enough to actually feel the vibration, she winced at the explosive sound. "Dammit … protecting my partner shouldn’t put my ass in a sling … all because of some stupid psychic nonsense … put my whole career in jeopardy to cover up something I still don’t believe in …and Skinner was no help …" The rest of his staccato sentence disappeared in an angry mumble.

Some sense of foreboding caused Scully to turn her eyes away from the man and focus in on Reyes. The dark haired woman’s face was pale and her lips were set in a thin line. At a casual glance, it looked as though she was angered and trying to hide it. But to anyone looking past the surface, the expressive eyes gave the lie to that assumption. Sorrow and guilt reflected in those deep brown pools, and Dana felt – once again – a surge of protectiveness rise to the fore on behalf of Monica Reyes.

She knew full well that the other woman could take care of herself … hell, Reyes was stronger and faster than Scully herself, and had put herself in the line of fire from physical danger more than once to save those around her … Dana included. But this wasn’t any sort of danger, just the messy world of emotions, and she realized with some irony that while Monica was far more in touch with that realm than she was, she knew more about defenses and protection than the other woman.

And she couldn’t – and didn’t want – to ignore the fact that Monica had been vulnerable in front of her, and had opened up to her. She couldn’t pretend that was an everyday occurrence, and it touched her more deeply than she’d expected it to. With a mild pang of loss, she reminded herself that even Mulder, for all that they’d been through together and all that they’d shared, had kept many, many things secret from her … sometimes putting her life at risk in the process. He had trusted her, as she had trusted him, but they still couldn’t open themselves completely to each other.

And it wasn’t just him; most people seemed so intimidated by her penchant for rationality and her more reserved personality that they didn’t let her get all that close. Sometimes it felt as though people assumed she had ice in her veins simply because she preferred to think about things, not just react to them. Monica was one of the few people who seemed to understand the way Dana operated, and who didn’t assume that having strong preferences for logic and science precluded having irrational feelings and trusting in faith. In some ways, it was as if the other woman was her other half in terms of how they tended to complement and balance each other. Reyes’ surface personality was very open and trusting and prone to emotional sensitivity. But underneath that, there was a surprisingly practical view of the world and a need for things to make some kind of sense.

Maybe in some ways that was why the other woman had opened up to her, and why Scully felt comfortable with her. It wasn’t as if she and Reyes had poured out their souls to each other or anything like that, and it wasn’t even like they had become magically close in the aftermath of the last case, though they had certainly spent some very meaningful time together in conversation. But she felt a sense of a bond with the other woman, and had a sense that the feeling was mutual. She knew better than anyone else just how fragile a state of mind Reyes was in, though the younger woman was good at hiding it and had enough inner strength to do her job and not let on to her colleagues that she was hurting. But having once seen the mask come off, Dana could easily see the subtle flashes of pain, and wanted to do what she could to make things easier for Monica.

Especially since John Doggett had a knack for pushing her buttons. Mostly unintentionally, yes, and mostly unaware of the consequences. At least he usually was clueless about his intentions, though in this particular instance, Scully was fairly certain that his provocation of his partner was deliberate, even if his awareness of the consequences was still non-existent. He felt frustrated and threatened, and was lashing out at his partner to make himself feel better, regardless of the toll it took on her. Dana could easily see him placing the blame on her for the fact that the lie about an anonymous phone call – concocted as it was to cover up the fact that it was Reyes’ empathic ability that actually solved the case – was getting him in hot water with his superiors. Doggett was used to being a straight shooter and hadn’t yet gotten used to the rather flexible approach often needed to work with the X-Files.

Dana watched as Reyes’ dark eyes swung slowly around to rest on her, as if the dark haired agent had finally noticed the continued perusal. Scully noted the way the solemnity of the other woman’s face eased just a fraction under the concerned look directed her way. Doggett seemed oblivious to the visual exchange, still lost in his own thoughts. She offered what she hoped was a reassuring smile, and gratitude rushed through her as the pained expression on Monica’s face eased a bit more. Wasn’t nearly enough, she thought idly. But it would do for the moment.

Then she turned her attention back to John, not saying a word, just letting the full weight of her scrutiny make itself felt. She’d learned quite well that staying silent was sometimes the most effective means of getting someone’s attention.

The tactic worked. The man ceased his mumbled ranting and cocked his head to the side, watching her watch him. He raised his eyebrows as he let his gaze slide over to touch on his partner before moving it back to Scully. "What?" he demanded brusquely, when neither woman said anything.

"So Deputy Director Kersh is insistent that you offer up your phone logs as evidence." Scully kept her voice neutral. She already knew what the answer would be – he’d stated it plainly enough already. Her intention was to calm his volatile emotions a bit by forcing him to slow down and go through things one step at a time. And since she knew – just as Reyes obviously did – that the bulk of his emotions were directed at his partner, she was also hoping to help him gain a bit of distance from his feelings … to put his frustrations on a less personal plane. She empathized with his frustration, having been there with Mulder entirely too often as she tried to balance her duty to her superiors with her loyalty to her partner. But she also knew it wasn’t something Monica was quite up to dealing with. She knew it wasn’t her job to babysit the other woman, but she empathized with her too, knowing entirely too well just how hard it could be to cope with a case that got personal and a partner who chided her about it. Though Mulder’s method of chiding her had been more along the lines of "why don’t you sit this out since it’s obvious it bothers you," which had been just condescending enough to hurt worse than his outright annoyance would have.

Besides, the voice of logic whispered in her ear, tugging her thoughts away from more personal reflections, the blame for this situation wasn’t entirely on Monica’s shoulders … a fact that John seemed to be conveniently forgetting. Reyes had been willing to tell the whole story and risk disbelief and ridicule, but it had been Doggett who not only didn’t believe his partner, but who came up with the idea of the phone call in the first place. Not that it was nearly that simple, but it wasn’t fair of him to not accept any of the responsibility for his own actions and choices.

Doggett pushed back from the desk, rose from his chair, and resumed his pacing. "Oh yeah. He’s giving me 48 hours to get the records from the phone company, or he’ll do it himself. Not that it matters … there’s nothing there to show I’m not lying. It’s a great choice: either I come up with non-existent records or have a big, black mark on my personal record." He muttered several choice invectives under his breath, including one related to a rock and a hard place that would have made a sailor blush.

Dana canted her head to the side – considering options for how to proceed – when she heard the soft wash of Monica’s voice, a slight catch the only sign of the tumultuous emotions lying under the surface. "Why don’t we just go to the Deputy Director and tell him what happened? He might still be angry at you for lying, but once he understands why you did what you did, the blame will most likely fall right on my shoulders …"

She stopped there, but the abruptness of the ending left Scully with no doubt that the other woman had intended to finish with "… where it belongs."

She quickly turned to look at Monica, wondering what she’d see in the other woman’s eyes. So she saw the subtle flinch when Doggett shot back quickly, "Still won’t change anything … won’t change that I lied … that I covered up the facts about a case … same as I accused Kersh of doing. You think he won’t hang me out to dry right alongside you?"

"John." It was a simple sentence in Monica’s best pleading voice, but the look on her face was more eloquent than words. Not that her partner was paying attention to it – he remained preoccupied with his own emotions and oblivious to anything else. Dana found herself surprised by the way even that simple word, when combined with the vulnerability of the other woman, caused her protective, nurturing instincts to rise to the top. Almost idly, she mused that she seemed to always act that way where Reyes was concerned. Even when they were in disagreement about a case or an interpretation of evidence, she tended to be more gentle and understanding with the other woman than was her usual default setting. In the part of her mind that noticed that tendency, she wondered if it was just a belated attempt to make up with her sister, since there were moments where she could swear the words coming out of the dark haired woman’s mouth were those of Melissa. But she dismissed that thought almost as soon as it occurred to her, and then she wondered whether it was simply because of who Monica Reyes herself was and how her openness and kindness appealed to Dana Scully. And as soon as that thought occurred to her, she mentally shied away from it. Not a comfortable thought, not at all.

Before Scully even realized it, she’d shaken herself free from her discomforting pondering and broken through the conversational roadblock with the quiet but emphatic, "Enough." Both Doggett and Reyes turned toward her, quiet and attentive. She was impressed at their reaction. ‘Guess I won’t need to worry about having a good command voice for William,’ she thought dryly.

"Look, this isn’t getting us anywhere," she continued, hearing a note of tiredness in her own voice. Between William’s ability to wake her up at least twice during the night, John’s ability to provoke her into arguments with his stubbornness, and Monica’s ability to raise her concern with a simple look, it was no wonder she was feeling on the weary side. And here she’d thought leaving the X-Files to once again return to the world of teaching would prove less strenuous. Clearly, she’d been completely mistaken.

Before she could continue, Doggett sank back down in his chair, chin cupped in hands as he planted his elbows firmly on the desk. "May not be getting us anywhere," he conceded, his tone displaying his aggravation, "but it’s not like there’s a whole lotta options here." He tipped back in his chair, folding his hands behind his head, staring expectantly at Scully. She couldn’t help but wonder when she’d been appointed the designated answer provider. She still hadn’t gotten used to the fact that Mulder wasn’t around to fill that role, since he’d seemed to have answers for everything. She’d always operated better when she could debunk someone’s theory and then offer her own in its stead.

Despite John’s expectant look, she couldn’t come up with any logical solution to the problem. Hoping to help herself think, she rose from her chair and paced for a moment, finally stopping behind Monica. Bracing her hands on the back of the other woman’s chair, she once again regarded Doggett. "What – exactly – did you tell them?" Seeing his forehead crinkle in a question, she elaborated, "I know you told them – both today and the day we apprehended the murderer – that you got an anonymous tip. But what specifically did you say about it?" Seeing that he still had a frown line creasing his forehead, she added, "We need to be clear what you’ve already said so we can avoid tripping ourselves up any further."

He nodded his comprehension at that, and let his gaze fix on the wall, recollecting his thoughts. Scully glanced down at the woman in the chair beneath her. Reyes seemed unaware of her appraising gaze, her attention on her own hands where they were twisted together in her lap. The sight of the elegant fingers tangled in a knot did nothing to alleviate Dana’s concern about the other woman. She let her gaze slide upward and caught the hint of a bandage on Monica’s arm, peeking out from under her sleeve, a stark reminder that only three days had passed since she’d received the wound. Only three days since the other woman’s empathic flashes had allowed them to capture a cold-blooded murderer … three days full of reports and questions and meetings that left Monica Reyes precious little time to deal with the myriad emotions that whole ordeal raised.

Once they got through Kersh’s little game, Scully resolved, she was going to make time to check in with the other woman and see if she wanted someone to talk to. Despite her outward penchant for keeping her own emotions tightly locked away, she knew as well as anyone how hard they could be to deal with alone. And given the pain the other woman had experienced empathically, as well as her lingering guilt, Dana knew it couldn’t be easy to go through it without anyone around offering support. Scully at least had family and friends around to make her burdens easier to bear; Monica, as far as she knew, didn’t really have anyone nearby on whom she could lean. As far as she could tell, Reyes’ family lived in Mexico, and the other woman’s friends mostly lived far away.

Her thoughts were pulled away from their meandering as Doggett started to speak slowly, his words coming with the imprecision of faded memory. "In my report, I explained that we got an anonymous phone call to my private number. Figured that was the safest route, since I still got some old informants from my days as a beat cop. They check in sometimes and a couple of ‘em have tracked down my home number. Never minded it much since their info is always right on the money … and I’ve used ‘em in reports before and no one said squat about it." He didn’t bother to add the accusatory, "Until now," but it hung in the air regardless.

Dana spared another glance down at Monica, noting in her body language that she had clearly picked up on the thought. Scully’s hands still rested on the back of Reyes’ chair, and though they weren’t making physical contact with the dark haired woman, she could feel the tension radiating outward from stiff shoulders.

Ignoring the undercurrents – or most likely, oblivious to them since he was lost in his own thoughts – Doggett continued. "Said in my report that it might have been one of those informants who called me … never figured I’d need to prove it or anything. But when I was talking to the boys in the field …" He broke off and glanced at Scully, and she raised an eyebrow at the his choice of phrasing. Had she not known the man, she might have taken it as sexism. But he wasn’t a sexist, not by any stretch of the imagination; he just tended to have a very old-fashioned view of things. Some might argue it was the same thing – Scully knew it wasn’t. "When I was talking to the agents in the field," he picked up smoothly, "I just said we’d gotten a lucky break … got a phone call that led us to our guy. They all seemed ok with that … I mean, who hasn’t gotten a lucky break a time or two?"

Scully saw him glance at her, as if for confirmation, and she nodded knowingly. Sometimes, you just had to pray for a miracle when you ran out of clues. Every once in a while, you actually got one. This time, it just happened to be in the form of Monica Reyes.

As if her thought prompted him, Doggett let his eyes move away from Scully to touch on his partner. Dana watched him as his brow furrowed, his face a study, as he seemed to realize for the first time that he wasn’t the only one dealing with the whole situation and the implications of it all. He wasn’t someone she’d laud for being sensitive, but neither was he someone who intentionally ignored people in obvious distress.

She looked down in time to see Monica look up. The younger woman seemed to have regained some of her composure – the look in her eyes was not nearly as raw and wounded as it had been even moments before. But Scully could see what that composure cost her … could see it in the firm set of Reyes’ jaw and the way her fingers were still knotted tightly enough in her lap to leave her white-knuckled.

Doggett opened his mouth to speak, but his partner beat him to it. Her voice was quiet, but carried effectively through the room. "I’m sorry, John … sorry you’ve been suspected of doing something wrong … I know how much your reputation means to you. I want you to know how much I appreciate you trying to protect me. I don’t think I ever thanked you for that."

Despite wishing that Reyes didn’t feel the need to take all the weight of guilt on her own shoulders, Dana felt her admiration for the other woman climb several notches. Had she been in Monica’s shoes – especially given the other woman’s emotional state – she would have been arguing angrily with the man. She would have pointed out in her best logical and defensive tone that it wasn’t fair of him to place the blame on her for a plan he’d devised to give her protection she hadn’t asked for. She certainly wouldn’t have thanked him for that, or been apologetic … and she certainly wouldn’t have let him escape his own role in the mess. And even if she’d have acknowledged that he acted out of her best interests and that the truth in this case needed to remain hidden, it would have been an admission made grudgingly and only under duress.

But then again, she wasn’t Monica Reyes.

The dark haired woman’s reaction seemed to finally break through Doggett’s self-righteous anger as effectively as Scully’s theoretical argument would have … perhaps even better. His expression softened as he regarded his partner, glancing up briefly to see the recriminating look Dana fixed on him before letting his gaze slide back down to Reyes.

"Oh, hell, Monica," he sighed, blowing his breath out between his teeth. "I’m sorry too. I came up with the lie in the first place, so the blame is as much on me as it is on anyone." He risked another glance up at Dana and she curled her lips in a half smile and nodded at him. She knew well enough it was his way of making amends with them. Doggett had his faults (who didn’t?) but being unrepentant wasn’t one of them. He was – at heart – a good man, and one who was almost scrupulously fair.

Now that the mood in the room felt less volatile, Dana let herself reclaim her chair, turning it slightly so she could see both her companions from where she was sitting. The three of them sat in silence for a moment, then John spoke, his tone utterly practical. "Ok, so we got ourselves into this mess. How do we get ourselves out of it without completely destroying our reputations?"

Dana tapped her fingers thoughtfully on her knee, hoping the action would somehow lead to a burst of insight. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Technically, she knew it wasn’t her problem. She wasn’t an agent assigned to the case, she had simply loaned her assistance upon request. And she was no longer an official part of the X-Files. But because her work on the X-Files had grown immensely important to her, and because John had been her partner and she felt loyalty to the man for the things he’d done for her, and because she genuinely liked and trusted Monica … she wanted to do whatever she could to help them. Just as she knew Skinner would, were he in a position to do so. He’d helped with any number of things, but he couldn’t risk his own neck to offer his assistance in this particular instance … not if they still wanted a friend in management. And since she had been involved in the case, even if only nominally, she did have a stake in how things turned out with the Deputy Director. As long as she was part of the Bureau, and as long as she had any shred of involvement with the X-Files, she knew what happened there and what the agents were investigating would always be of interest to her. She’d spent eight years of her career focused on unusual cases that couldn’t be found anywhere else; it wasn’t the kind of thing a person could casually leave behind like a pair of worn socks.

But Dana’s interest and desire to help didn’t seem to automatically translate into an actual solution. Unfortunately, she couldn’t think of a single option that there was a chance in hell that Kersh might believe. As she glanced again at Doggett, she knew she wasn’t alone in the lack of answers department.

Luckily, however, that lack appeared to be limited to the two of them. A soft, genuine smile crinkling her face, and a note of relief in her voice, Monica offered quietly, "I have an idea."

******

Office of the Lone Gunmen
Friday 4:12 pm, EST

"You want us to WHAT?" The indignant voice belonged to Langly, though the expressions worn by Frohike and Byers suggested that the feeling was all very mutual.

Doggett – who considered the men fools, and didn’t suffer fools at all gladly – scowled at the trio and reiterated, "We want you to insert something into my phone records that makes it look like I got an anonymous phone call. We caught a murderer using some … paranormal stuff … and if we let our bosses know that … well, you know the kind of stuff they do to people when they’re trying to cover something up. Better to just keep the truth a secret and we need some kind of alibi to do that."

Scully noted the way his eyebrows were raised and bit back a smile as she recognized that his features were set in his best what-part-of-this-are-you-not-getting look. She opted to stay out of the conversation for the time being, interested in seeing how the Lone Gunmen dealt with the newest X-Files team … and vice versa. She knew she could easily get the conspiracy triplets to do pretty much anything she asked; she had an unfair advantage in that not only had she been Mulder’s partner and they trusted Mulder, but also in that at least one of the three had a crush on her. But she resolved to wait and see if Doggett and Reyes could work with them before she jumped into things. The connection between the Lone Gunmen and the X-Files had been mutually beneficial, and she wanted to see if the new players could continue the alliance without her help … or Mulder’s.

She also wanted to stay out of the discussion for the very practical reason that you don’t use all your ammo at once.

Frohike spoke quickly, a note of challenge in his voice. "We’re sure you have good reasons for what you’re asking. Doesn’t mean the reasons are good enough for us. Gotta admit, it’s ironic to have law enforcement types asking us to do illegal things."

Doggett shot back, his tone dripping annoyance. "You’ve done a lot of illegal stuff when Agent Mulder has asked you to." Not that he had any real way of knowing that, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out.

This time, Byers countered with, "Agent Mulder also got into frequent trouble when he went outside the law. As I understand it, you’re trying to avoid getting into trouble … or getting someone else into trouble. Having us do something illegal would not help in that endeavor."

Doggett – his patience clearly wearing thin – tried another tack. "Yeah, well, that’s not your job to worry about. Look guys, you do illegal stuff every day when you get into classified stuff or break passwords or whatever the hell it is that you do. As an FBI agent, I could bust your asses, but I don’t because you provide us with valuable information. And right now, we could use a little of your help." Clearly, he didn’t see why it was an issue in the first place.

It was Langly’s turn to speak again. "There’s a big difference in merely looking at information and tampering with information. What you want us to do is cross that line." The long haired man folded his arms stubbornly across his chest.

Dana shared a glance with Monica, seeing a hint of fond exasperation in the other woman’s face. John was trying hard, she’d give him that, but his inherent distrust of the Lone Gunmen was leaving him wide open for their arguments. Despite their rampant paranoia, the trio had no difficulty discerning between someone who saw them as weird guys with good intentions and someone who saw them as fruitcakes with bizarre delusions. As she kept her eyes locked with the other woman’s, she saw the hint of a question in the dark gaze. She nodded slightly in response, knowing that Reyes would take that as an answer to the unspoken question.

Monica stepped forward, the sudden movement interrupting the visual showdown between the men. Her voice was neutral. "We’re not asking you to do anything that you haven’t done before." Reyes raised a hand to forestall the instant burble of denials, and Scully felt the faintest touch of a smile curl her lips. The woman had a definite knack with people. "Creating a fake record for one person’s phone log is less tampering with things than you do when you crash a website or server … or when you insert fake headlines and graphics into online papers and sites."

She paused for effect and Scully had to bite her lip to keep from chuckling as the trio had the good grace to blush. Pressing the advantage, Reyes continued, "It’s not even the equivalent of accessing and using someone’s identity to get access to classified records and information." The blushes deepened.

Dana had no idea how Monica managed to know with such apparent accuracy precisely what the trio did. It wasn’t like Reyes had spent much time around them, and she herself had never understood enough of what the Lone Gunmen did while hacking to explain it to someone else. Honestly, all Scully knew about their work was that they published a newspaper that reported any obscure hint of a governmental conspiracy they could get their hands on … true or untrue. The understanding of what else the trio did had been Mulder’s … and she was positive that he’d never mentioned any of the specifics to either Reyes or Doggett. He hadn’t been around the two all that long in the first place, and they’d had rather more pressing matters to deal with at the time.

The dark haired woman continued smoothly, all traces of the earlier emotional maelstrom carefully locked away. "As Agent Doggett said, we could arrest you. But the fact of the matter is that you provide a service – not just to the X-Files, but to those who aren’t satisfied by official explanations of things like Roswell. There are times when you have to break the rules to protect the truth."

Scully’s admiration slid up another notch. Reyes hadn’t actually said that she approved of what they did or the paper they published, and hadn’t actually said she agreed with their version of the truth. But she’d gotten down to the essence of how the Lone Gunmen perceived themselves, and had managed to sum up in her last sentence the most essential common ground held by all the people in the room. If anything could convince the conspiracy trio to continue to help the X-Files team, it was that sense that they were all working to protect the truth. It didn’t really matter whether they all agreed on what the truth was.

Langly, Byers, and Frohike huddled together, clearly weighing her words. Doggett shot an impressed glance at his partner, who raised an eyebrow and offered a one-shouldered shrug in response to the nonverbal admiration. Scully bit back a grin at the woman’s reaction, knowing that it was yet another manifestation of Reyes’ oft-hidden practical side … the "let’s wait and see if it works before we throw a party" approach. Then, sensing the other woman’s discomfort with being the center of attention, she redirected her gaze to the three men huddled together in a mini-conference. She couldn’t quite decide whether it was a good sign or a bad sign that it seemed to require so much conversation in order for the men to decide whether they were going to help them or not.

After several suspenseful moments, the trio broke up and Byers – apparently appointed spokesman – stepped forward, his full attention on Reyes. "We’ve decided to accede to your request … here’s a list of things we’ll need in order to make this convincing …"

******

FBI Offices, J. Edgar Hoover Building
Tuesday 7:43pm, EST

Scully walked briskly down the hallways, acknowledging the occasional word of greeting with a smile and nod as she kept walking. She wasn’t exactly in a hurry, but neither was she anxious to get caught in conversations. Small talk with her colleagues had never been one of her fortes, anyhow, especially not when her mind was focused on something more important than opinions about the weather. And preoccupied definitely described her current mood.

As she exited the elevator, she flashed a tight smile at the woman waiting to get on. Then she made her way down the hallway and around the corner where her destination waited. She stopped in front of the door to the X-Files office, frowning as she realized it was closed, then knocked once.

Half a minute later, receiving no response, she knocked again, several hard raps against the wood, taking her impatience out on the inanimate object. This time, there was a response, but not the one she expected. She heard the soft lilt of Monica’s voice, coming from somewhere behind her. "Careful, Dana. You might actually break your knuckles knocking like that."

She turned around in surprise, seeing that the other woman was walking down the hallway towards her, twirling a set of keys on her finger. She felt her cheeks heat slightly in embarrassment over pounding so earnestly on the door, suddenly convinced the action made her look stupid. Looking stupid was one of Scully’s persistent and hidden fears. Forcing herself to glance up and meet Monica’s eyes, she steeled herself to see a "what an idiot" look on the raven haired woman’s face. But there was nothing but a gently teasing smile curving her lips and a warm glow in her doe eyes. Dana allowed herself to relax slightly, realizing that Reyes wasn’t the "hit ‘em when they’re down" type. For that matter, she wasn’t exactly the hitting type at all.

She stepped aside, letting the other woman unlock the door and usher her in. As Monica walked over to the desk to set down the file she’d been carrying under her arm, Dana shrugged out of her coat, leaving it draped over the back of a chair. A graceful hand waved her to take a seat, and she followed its direction, watching as Reyes propped her backside against the edge of the desk, leaning back with her weight supported on her hands where they pressed flat against the desktop.

Monica canted her head to the side. "So what brings you by, Dana?" she asked, her curiosity evident in her tone.

Scully stared nonplussed at the other woman. Reyes usually didn’t need things spelled out for her. It struck her as odd that the other woman seemed so relaxed and nonchalant, given everything that had been going on. She spread her hands helplessly out in front of herself as she answered the question, hearing the faint note of incredulity in her own voice. "Agent Doggett had his meeting with Deputy Director Kersh today … after handing over his phone records yesterday."

Apparently that statement did nothing to clarify things for the dark haired woman. Her shoulders lifted in a nearly imperceptible shrug as she asked simply, "And?"

Scully raised an eyebrow at that, shaking her head in disbelief. Frustrated by both a very long day and the feeling that she wasn’t being understood, her words came out with bit of bite. "And … I’d like to know what happened, how Director Kersh responded, whether or not John is off the hook. Considering that I’m involved in this mess, it would be common courtesy to at least let me know what happened."

She knew she sounded annoyed and she didn’t really care. She’d been more worried about the situation than she’d been willing to let on, and that – combined with her residual concern about Monica – had caused her to spend a good portion of her day on pins and needles. Doggett’s appointment with Kersh had been well over eight hours ago, and in her opinion that was plenty of time for one of them to have at least called her. She wasn’t used to such a blatant display of insensitivity from either of the members of the X-Files team. She watched the clouds of confusion drift over Reyes’ face and saw her brow wrinkling in thought. The other woman asked uncertainly, "Didn’t John call you?"

Scully offered a single, emphatic head shake in lieu of a verbal response, and Reyes pushed off the edge of the desk, standing upright, worry coloring her features. "I saw him this morning, right after his meeting. I got called in to assist another team with some mythology references they’re trying to make sense of for their case and I ran into him on my way to their office. He said he was going to call you, since I didn’t have time. In fact, I just got done over there."

Dana sighed softly, some of her annoyance fading at the genuine confusion and concern in Reyes’ voice, abruptly realizing that the other woman would never have intentionally left her in the dark for so long. "No, he never called me."

Monica bit her bottom lip uncertainly, then picked up the desk phone in one hand, using the other to dial up a number from memory. After a moment, she spoke quickly, "Hey John, it’s Monica. I’m here in the office with Dana … she stopped by to see what was going on since she hadn’t heard anything from you. I was just wondering if everything’s alright. Call me when you can, ‘kay?"

Scully watched as the other woman placed the receiver back in its cradle. "I just got his voice mail," Reyes explained needlessly.

"Yeah, I got it too when I called him." She hesitated for a moment, not wanting to sound accusing, then added, "I tried to call you as well, and got a bit worried when I couldn’t get through."

Monica’s eyes widened. "I’m so sorry. I turned my cell phone off because we really needed to be able to concentrate on the work we were doing … and since John and I don’t have any pending cases right now, I didn’t think there’d be any harm …" She trailed off, her distress evident in her face.

Scully offered a half smile and said quickly, "There’s no reason for you to apologize. As far as you knew, Agent Doggett had already contacted me." She shook her head briefly, slightly amazed at the way the other woman kept wanting to take the blame for things that weren’t her fault. She wondered briefly if Monica had learned that from some sort of abusive situation … or whether she just took everything on her shoulders to avoid really having to own up to those things that were her actual responsibility. And as soon as the thought occurred to her, she realized just how little she knew about the other woman. Most agents talked a lot about themselves and their lives while on stakeouts, while driving to crime scenes, even while discussing their theories about things. It was one of the methods of building trust and solid partnerships. Despite her openness and warmth, Reyes was actually as private as Scully herself. And that was yet another reason that she felt a certain degree of comfort with this woman … in a Jerry Springer world, it was all too rare to find people who understood and respected privacy.

Filing that revelation away for further consideration, she looked up at Monica and saw that some of the tension had drained from her face. As if reading her thoughts, he other woman sighed softly and said, "I guess I don’t really need to be apologizing. I’m just tired and on edge, and so some of my old tapes catch up to me at times like that." She didn’t say more on the subject, and Dana didn’t want to ask. She didn’t make a habit of quizzing people on things – figuring that if they wanted to tell her more, they would. That was probably yet another reason not too many people got all that close to her – she wasn’t big on prying and most people seemed to take that as a sign of disinterest rather taking it as a gesture of respect for privacy.

Monica studied her for a long moment, and Dana thought she saw a hint of relief in the other woman’s eyes. She took it to be relief that Reyes wasn’t about to be subjected to an armchair psychologist session. The raven haired woman continued smoothly, "I’m just really wondering what happened to John. I can’t figure out why he didn’t call you, and I don’t have any idea what he might be working on. As far as I knew, he was thinking about taking the rest of the day off while he had the chance. I just wish he’d call one of us back soon, since I don’t have any idea where he might be."

Scully opened her mouth to say something, but the soft trill of the phone interrupted her before she could even fully formulate her thoughts. In one fluid motion, Reyes snagged the phone receiver and brought it to her ear. "John," she exhaled.

Dana couldn’t help it, she chuckled out loud at that. It was just too weird that the man would call right on the heels of Monica’s statement. Under her breath, she muttered, "I wish I knew how she did that. And they called Mulder spooky …"

Monica waved an impatient hand at her; clearly she was muttering loudly enough to distract the other woman from the voice on the other end of the phone. "Sorry," she murmured, and then fell silent, listening to the one-sided conversation.

Not that it was much of a conversation, consisting mostly of Monica saying "uh huh" and "okay". Scully sighed softly, never one to appreciate being left completely in the dark … or even mostly in the dark, for that matter. Unfortunately, it was a situation she was all too familiar with. Mulder had often given her incomplete information at best, in an effort to keep her safe or out of trouble. She just wasn’t used to that sensation with anyone but him; Reyes and Doggett had always been good about giving her more information than she actually needed. Occasionally, they even veered into the realm of way too much information.

Thinking of Mulder caused the usual pang of loss to bubble up in her chest, and she resolutely pushed it away. There was nothing at all simple about her feelings for the man, and she didn’t have the energy to deal with them on top of her current set of worries. She knew eventually she’d have to sort things out, but it was all just too raw. There were days when the fact of his absence still didn’t feel quite real, despite knowing all too well from the change in her daily routine that he was gone.

Dana sat up straighter in her chair as Monica set the phone down with a soft sigh. The younger woman turned to face her, answering the question foremost in her mind. "Everything’s fine; John just got called to the hospital. His ex-wife was in a car accident and she still had him listed as one of her emergency contacts. He went right to the hospital and then was busy calling her family and letting them know what happened, so he forgot all about calling you."

She felt a sudden, sharp embarrassment over her earlier annoyance. She knew she couldn’t have possibly known about the accident, but she still felt bad for being upset that neither Reyes nor Doggett had called her. She let out a sharp breath, her doctor’s instinct taking over as she asked, "How badly was she hurt?"

Monica smiled her best reassuring smile. "It sounds like she got off with just a broken wrist and some nasty bruises. They actually released her from the hospital and John took her home. He says he’s going to stay with her tonight, and her mom is going to fly out tomorrow and be there to take care of her."

The notion of taking care of an ex-spouse might have sounded strange to anyone who didn’t know John Doggett. But his actions didn’t surprise Dana, and she could hear the slight tinge of pride in Monica’s voice. There was a bond between the man and his ex-, and the fact that they couldn’t make their marriage work didn’t mean that there weren’t feelings of concern or care still under the surface for both of them.

"Well that’s a relief," Dana offered, running a hand tiredly through her hair. "Not a relief that she was in an accident," she clarified hastily … and unnecessarily, given the "duh" look on Monica’s face. "It’s a relief to know that she’s ok, and to know that John is ok." She paused for a moment, then apologized quietly, "Sorry I was so grouchy when I got here. I just …"

She didn’t have time to even form the syllables of her next word before Monica’s voice overrode hers. "I’d have been grouchy if I was in your shoes," the other woman said emphatically. "I don’t like it when I don’t know what’s going on. I tend to do better with information overload than I do with a lack of information."

Scully smiled at that. "I think it’s safe to say I tend to feel the same way." The last of her residual annoyance drained out of her body when she saw the sympathetic look directed her direction. She should have known that Reyes wouldn’t be bothered by her mood – hell, the other woman made a specialty out of respecting people’s emotional states. As she thought about it, it was far more likely that Monica would ask her WHAT she was feeling, rather than deriding her for HOW she was feeling. Especially when the other woman shared her feelings on being left in the dark.

And as soon as she’d come to that realization, it suddenly struck Scully that she was still in the dark. "So," she drawled slowly, letting the faintest edge of humor creep into her voice, "now that we know John is fine, how about telling me what actually happened with Director Kersh?"

Monica literally and figuratively smacked herself in the forehead. "Right." Dana saw an embarrassed look creep across her face. "I kinda forgot that we hadn’t told you that yet. Everything’s fine … the records were exactly what they wanted and while Kersh read John the riot act for the delay in turning them over, he did congratulate him for keeping those lines of communication open with his old informants. John thought he was kidding at first, but Kersh kept saying that one of the most important things the FBI needed was to have reliable information coming in." She paused and offered a soft laugh. "I guess that even if he’s still suspicious, he’s going to let it drop."

Though the other woman stopped there, Scully picked up on the unspoken, "For now."

She let out a sigh of relief at the news, seeing her own feelings mirrored in Monica’s expressive face. The other woman continued quietly, "Looks like we can finally put that last case behind us … now that the suspect is in jail and Kersh has signed off on the case file."

A subtle note of … something … crept into her tone, and while Dana couldn’t put a name to the emotion, she picked up on it nonetheless. "Can you put it behind you?" she asked Reyes, before she could think better of the question. "I saw what that case took out of you … how it affected you … and even if the file is closed, it doesn’t make the trauma any less real for you."

She stopped abruptly, not really sure what else to say, knowing only that – from a medical standpoint, if nothing else – emotional trauma was as real as physical trauma in the effects it had on the body. She had resolved to keep an eye on Monica and she hadn’t been able follow through, and she wanted to reassure herself that the other woman was really alright. Or as alright as she could be under the circumstances; Dana knew all too well the kinds of nightmares that could plague a person after experiencing such a horrible thing.

She felt her heart beat a little faster as Reyes regarded her with utter solemnity, not quite sure whether she’d overstepped a line in the sand by asking the question. Yes, she had seen Monica vulnerable, and yes, she knew there was a spark of friendship between them … but as with any new relationship of any sort (platonic or romantic), she still wasn’t quite clear where the boundaries were. She knew all too well that her perceptions might be entirely different than the other woman’s.

And then Monica laughed softly, and Dana released a breath she hadn’t been aware of holding. "I’ve been better," the dark haired woman allowed, "but I’m coping. I can’t say I’ve put it behind me … but it’s not so raw. I’ve forgiven myself as best I can, and let go of that guilt. But I do have to say it helps that the file is closed now … that John isn’t angry with me … makes for fewer things I still have to sort through …" A pregnant pause stretched between them. "However, I do think some dinner and some conversation would be good for me … and if I’m not mistaken, I think you could use it as well. I’m not sure I’m up to talking more about the case and my feelings tonight, but I’d like to just be able to talk about other things … rather than sitting at home alone in front of the tv. Have you eaten, or do you need to get home to William? I’d like to spend some time with you … have some good food and good conversation … if that’s possible … assuming, of course, that you’re even interested."

Scully found herself smiling at both the invitation and the sensitivity of the other woman to her responsibilities to her son. "I’d like that," she said brightly. "No, I haven’t eaten, and my mom took William and went to visit her sister for a few days, so my evening is free." Now it was her turn to pause before continuing, still amazed at how much concern she felt for the other woman and how much she felt … safe with her. "I just wanted to be sure you’re alright. And I do think some conversation would be good … for both of us … even if it’s just about the weather. I could use a night of actual adult conversation about something other than baby wipes."

She felt a sense of relief when Monica smiled at that. The taller woman walked over and extended a hand to help Dana up out of her chair … a completely unnecessary gesture, but one that carried a sense of reassurance to it somehow. Reyes let her fingers wander from Scully’s hand to rest on her forearm. "I know you’ve been worried," she breathed softly, "and it means a lot to me. I don’t have a lot of friends right now, what with the work I do and the way I’ve moved around so much … and so it helps to feel like I do have a friend I can rely on … one that I can trust with my real secrets … one who understands the type of work I do and the types of things I run into. It’s not exactly the kind of thing you can explain to anyone who isn’t there and doesn’t have a clue. And I can only hope that you feel the same way … because I’d like to think I could be a good friend to you … especially since …"

Monica broke off there, but Scully knew with certainty what she’d left unsaid. She finished the thought, "Especially since Mulder is gone." She sighed softly, the old pain and complexity of feeling that accompanied it rising to the surface. Dana felt the fingers pressed against her forearm begin a gentle massage, and she was unaccountably warmed by the gesture. "I do consider you a friend, Monica."

They stood unmoving and unspeaking for a long moment, aware that entire conversations lay in the silence, but comfortable enough with each other to let the words lie fallow for the moment. Finally, Reyes cleared her throat and moved her hand away from Scully’s arm. "Y’know, as much as I love this office, I don’t think it’s the best place to be talking about these sorts of things," she offered practically.

That was certainly the understatement of the day, Dana thought with a degree of amusement. She offered a dry laugh and ran her fingers tiredly through her hair as she agreed, "Right."

Monica made a big show of retrieving her coat from its hook. "How about we order some take out and head back to my place? We can put our feet up and drink some wine and talk, and maybe even relax a little. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a very long day."

The thought of that caused Scully to sigh longingly. "I’ve had an incredibly long day, and putting my feet up sounds like a wonderful plan." The more she thought about it, the better it sounded. Both the chance to put her feet up and the chance to just sit and talk with someone … to be able to just relax her guard around someone else. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d really been able to do that – with her mom, there were too many issues and too many secrets, and with Mulder, there was too much tension to his constant search for the truth. She was almost surprised just how good spending time with the other woman sounded.

Before she could think about that too much longer, Monica smiled and threw her arm around Dana, in order to propel her out the door. "Good food and conversation it is then. I think I hear some Chinese food calling my name; how about you?"

She didn’t bother to answer in words, figuring the genuine smile lighting her face was probably answer enough.

The End

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