Golden Chances

by Gina Rain

Title: Golden Chances
Author: Gina Rain (ginarain@aol.com)
Category: X, MSR
Rating: R (I'm not a violent writer so ... draw your own conclusions)
Spoilers: Fight the Future and small ones for early season six.
Archive: Sure.
Summary: Mulder. Scully. Atlantic City. Gambling. Disorganized crime. Psychics. Spirits. Soul mates. Take your pick. It's all in there.
Disclaimer: CC and Co. own it.
Thank you: To Sybil. I know how busy you've been and I appreciate your taking a crack at this longish story. You cheer me on and make me laugh. What more could one ask for in a beta?

Golden Chances

XXXXX

Dana Scully's apartment
September 7, 1998

After their third time, she watched his desperate struggle against sleep become futile. His eyelids closed and his breathing slowed and steadied. He suddenly startled just as she was ready to join him in slumber. She responded as she had all evening, drawing his naked body closer to her than it had been before.

Over his shoulder, she could see the alarm clock, its LCD screen glowing '4:45' in a bright shade of green. In less than two hours their first night together would be over: a night of skin against skin--soft and silky; heated and damp; cool and sticky. She wondered if, in the nights to follow, he would always battle slumber so valiantly; if he would always attempt to absorb her in each cell of his body. She wondered if each subsequent joining would always have the transcendent feel of a near religious experience.

"They can never take this away from us," he mumbled into her shoulder.

At the time, she thought it an odd thing for him to say.

Later, she thought it ironic.

They didn't even have to make an attempt. Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were perfectly capable of screwing up their relationship without any outside help whatsoever.

XXXXX

Madame Miranda's Love Connection
Atlantic City, New Jersey
January 4, 1999
9 P.M.

It was closing time. Time for her nightly ritual.

Miranda locked the front door to her shop, stood on her toes and reached up and grabbed the bottom of the security gate. Once she pulled down the garage-door-like contraption, and secured the lock, she hesitated before standing up. Max's breathing pattern had changed. It was quicker and louder. She could now feel someone standing behind her.

It took all of five seconds to realize that the breaths the Golden Retriever was taking were excited, not fearful. He knew the person standing behind his mistress. Not that it counted for much. Once Max 'met' someone, they were automatically added to his buddy list. Still, Miranda hoped he would at least give off a disgruntled whimper if someone were about to knife her in the back.

She stood up and turned around quickly.

Kevin.

"Some psychic you are," he said with a smile, "I had you going there for a while, didn't I?"

"I told you--I'm not that kind of a psychic. Besides, I have no need to worry. I've got protection," she nodded at the dog.

Kevin's laugh was more of a snort.

"Max? The only thing he'd ever bite is a fly off his own ass."

"Now what kind of a talk is that?" Miranda asked.

"Sweet talk, me darlin'"

He was pulling out the big guns: his charming Irish-copon -the-beat routine. He did an admirable job considering the fact that the only Irish in him originated from a great-great grandmother he never knew.

"Well, it's not very sweet to hear you refer to my dog in such vulgar terms. Say what you will about me, but I take great pride in my puppy. He has no flies anywhere near his ass."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, tipping his hat to her in a highly old-fashioned sign of respect.

This was also becoming quite the routine. In the four months since Kevin joined the Atlantic City police department, he had given her more police 'protection' than she had had in the previous two years since she had opened Madame Miranda's. She had never felt particularly threatened while locking up her place of business. After all, gambling occurred at all hours of the day and night and there was always someone walking on the old boardwalk searching for a luckier casino. And she did have her four year old 'pup' as her constant companion. Still, with Kevin around, she felt downright carefree. The sometimes overly polite, solicitous man had obviously watched way too many Car 54 reruns in his youth, but she appreciated the teasing banter and genuine concern that seemed to stem from his idea of who the perfect police officer should be.

She decided to stay on the boardwalk until she reached South Carolina Avenue. This way, Kevin could walk with her without any difficulties. He always took his break at this time of the night so, technically, his time was his own. While his new partner went for coffee, he chose to spend a few minutes making sure Miranda got home safely. Still, he was walking her home while in uniform and she didn't want anyone thinking he was shirking his duties in any way. His beat was the boardwalk and there was no crime in having someone walk with him.

"So," he asked as they began to walk, "how many love connections did you make today, Miranda?"

"Three."

"And how many people did you see?"

"Twenty."

"And you were able to see all of their soul mates?"

Miranda smiled. "For lack of a better term, yes."

"But only three were actually with the people they were supposed to be with?"

"At this time, yes."

"That's frightfully sad," he said, a hint of greatgrandma' s brogue slipping between his Jersey accent.

She stopped strolling.

"Sad?"

"All those people--not with the true loves of their lives. You'd think, if there is such a thing as Destiny, she'd be more organized and make sure that everyone ended up with their heart's desire."

She laughed. "It's much more complicated than that."

He stopped walking and stared at her. "Read me," he said.

She felt her whole body slow down, as a heavy weight seemed to take over her being. She didn't want to do this. Not at all. Not with him. What was wrong with living in a fool's paradise, anyway? It didn't hurt a soul. And it gave her hope.

"Miranda? Do I have to stop by during business hours? Do you need your crystal ball?"

He knew, full well, she didn't have a crystal ball. She hadn't said a word since he asked her to read him and the silence was not comfortable. She was being ridiculous. There was no reason in the world why she couldn't grant his request.

She led him to the railing dividing the boardwalk from the sand.

How many nights had she stood there--a moony teenager on family vacations in Atlantic City's pre-gambling days? When it was just a beach resort for the working middle class. The main attraction was the Steel Pier with its rides and amusement park games. She never cared for any of those things. She just liked walking on the boardwalk at night. The wind whipping her hair around while the strong waves crashed to the shore.

It was a Harlequin Romance in the making. The only thing missing was the romantic hero. And now he stood before her, tall, sandy blond hair and laughing blue eyes. Perhaps not a pirate, or a rich millionaire looking for a marriage of convenience but a good, decent man.

The man destined for her?

She put her hand out and laid it flat against his chest.

Everything faded away and she told him what she saw-- feature by feature. Dark green eyes; light blond hair-- long and curly. High cheekbones. Perfect white teeth. "And a beauty mark on the right side of her neck--about half way down. That's it. That's all I see."

Kevin's smile became tight. Disappointed. "Sounds like my ex-wife," he said flatly.

"It could be. Do you have a picture of her? I could confirm it."

He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He flipped through a few photos and showed Miranda his wedding picture.

It was her. The woman who, when all was said and done, was meant to be the great love of his life.

She nodded.

He sadly tucked the wallet back in his pocket.

"Well, I asked for it," he said.

She smiled. "Again, it's complicated. We can talk about it in more detail some other time. I really should be heading home. Max is probably hungry."

The Golden Retriever did what he always did when he heard the "h" word: he wagged his tail as if it was battery-operated and someone had just changed the Duracells.

"Good night, Miranda. Get home safely."

"I will. Good night, Kevin."

And she slowly slipped into a side street, with her dog by her side.

XXXXX

Hoover Building
January 16, 1999
9:23 AM

Scully was still checking email and wondering about the whereabouts of her partner. He was late. For him, very late.

Dana Scully liked stability. Her working life seemed to contradict that preference but, nonetheless, it was true. She had found that stability in a basement office shared by someone who felt very much at home in the cave-like atmosphere. And she had felt very much at home with him. The artificially bright bullpen with its artificially cheery life forms was not to her liking at all. And obviously, Mulder felt the same way. She didn't like her new role as early bird, especially since there was no longer any kind of worm to be caught. At the end of the day, their fertilizer and background check detail left them both dissatisfied.

She continued to spend time on her email. Just a few more moments of relative silence before going through endless files and placing phone calls she was beginning to despise.

She looked up just in time to see her partner sauntering over to her desk, unsuccessfully holding back a smile. She stifled her first thought. There was not a glimmer of a suggestion that he and Diana had resumed their long dormant relationship. None at all. But the thought consistently plagued her at the most inopportune moments--especially moments when he seemed to be happy.

He rolled a chair over to her side of the desk and reached over to grab a stack of files that lay to her left.

"Which poor sucker should get these? Anyone pissed you off today, Scully?" He asked in a stage whisper.

Scully quickly looked around to see if this uncharacteristic jauntiness--and public proximity--was being noticed by any of their 'pen' mates.

"Mulder?"

He dropped the files, grabbed her right hand and rested it on her lap. He ran his index finger down a line in the middle of her palm.

"Well, what do you know? I see travel in your immediate future. I see a beach and slot machines and...whoa--I see an x-file!" This last bit he nearly hissed--in the most cheerful voice she had heard coming from his mouth in months.

"We're not on the x-files, Mulder."

"No. Not officially. But if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck. . ."

She pulled her hand away, once again glancing around the room to see if anyone noticed their behavior.

He leaned in quickly, "You are such a good girl," he said in a whisper, "but I take absolute pride in being a very naughty boy."

He grabbed the stack of files and placed it on the desk of an agent nearby.

"We have to go out in the field, Agent Winters. AD Kersh doesn't want this to wait, since the date of our return is undetermined at this point. Sorry to dump this on you." The tall blonde looked up at Mulder with vaguely disguised annoyance.

The shit-eating grin he gave her seemed to temper her reaction. She smiled in return. Scully knew she'd do the work. It was probably a step up from the type of work she normally did. Scarily, the fertilizer duty and background checks happened to be one of the cushier jobs in AD Kersh's department.

XXXXX

On the road to Atlantic City
1 P.M.

Scully watched as Mulder playfully tapped the steering wheel in time to a song he was humming. She could swear it was "On the Road Again." She only allowed herself a quick smile.

"A psychic?" she asked, looking up from the thin file on her lap.

He nodded. "Possibly many psychics, but that would be a stretch. More than likely, it's just the looove psychic," he said, taking great pleasure drawing out the word as if he were auditioning for a remake of 'The Love Boat.'

"What the hell is a love psychic?"

"A psychic who can look at you and see your true love."

She didn't respond. She didn't have to. The slight scowl on her face said it all. On the road again, indeed.

"You going for a reading, Scully?" He teased.

"Exactly what is this love psychic's problem and how did we get involved?"

"Subtle change of subject," he said, glancing her way with a smile. "Okay. At first, this seemed like a simple case of not so malicious mischief. You remember those small psychic shops on the boardwalk, Scully? Read your fortune for a couple of bucks? Well, four of these places had words scratched on their windows sometime during the night. Actually, one word on each window which, when put together made up a simple sentence: 'She warn MM now.' Not the greatest sentence but effective. Then, the messages appeared on only one window--the one belonging to our loooove psychic, Madame Miranda."

"That's very irritating, Mulder. Please stop."

"Stop what?"

"The stretched out love business. It's annoying."

"I thought it was sexy."

"Think again. You sound deranged."

"Well, Miranda didn't pay all that much attention to the messages--even though they had been written after hours- -from the inside of her shop, without visible signs of breaking and entering. She did, however, pay a lot of attention when her dog was accidentally poisoned after scarfing down a sandwich she had made for her own lunch."

"Perhaps the food had been spoiled when she bought it."

"She had made three of these sandwiches that week from the same packet of ham. Nothing was wrong with the meat. The funny thing is--the dog had a bellyache--but there wasn't enough poison to do him any real harm. So, if Miranda had actually eaten her own sandwich--it would have done her even less harm. Just made her slightly ill. I think it was meant to be another warning."

"And this was the most recent incident, or is there more?"

"Yesterday, there was blood splattered on her windows. Again--nothing was out of place. And she has one of those metal security gates--so her windows are not exposed when she's not in the shop."

"And what have they determined about the blood?"

"Human. They are doing some preliminary DNA testing on it."

"Well, that's all very interesting, Mulder. But this barely qualifies as an x-file. Yes, there are some odd things involved but nothing so out of the ordinary that the local police shouldn't be getting first crack at it."

He shook his head. "Madame Miranda, aka Miranda Jenkins, is the niece of Deputy Director Michaels. His only niece. First, he doesn't want anything to happen to her on a personal level. And from what I've heard, his sister is giving him shit that her only child may be in grave danger. It may not seem a big deal to anyone else but I guess the warnings, poison and blood are freaking her out on some sort of maternal level. Secondly--and this is what Kersh stressed--if something should happen to her, there might be negative publicity. Finding out a store-front psychic was related to a very high official in the FBI who couldn't manage to keep her out of harm's way. . ."

"Oh, brother," Scully said, "and you were happy about this case? Mulder--this is no better than fertilizer duty."

"Were you not listening? There's a good possibility that --no matter how small--this is an x-file. That's good thing number 1. We're out of the office for a while. Good thing number 2. Atlantic City smells a hell of a lot better than fertilizer detail. Very good thing number 3. And--most importantly--solving this thing for Madame Miranda will put us in the good graces of someone slightly higher than our beloved Alvin Kersh. To quote Martha Stewart, that's a very good thing." He glanced over at her. "I've never seen that jacket before."

She stopped for a moment, wondering if he actually made the verbal U-turn she thought she heard. When she confirmed it by looking at the expectant expression on his face, she answered.

"I don't wear it to work. You said to only bring casual clothes."

"Yes. We need to blend into the crowd. G-woman wear is not standard on the boardwalk. Still, you'd think I would have seen that jacket." She stared at him as he frowned while looking out at the road.

Fox Mulder was a very puzzling man.

End of Part 1


Part 2

September 7, 1998
Dana Scully's bedroom
12:37 AM

After the second time, she found herself listening to new sounds. His sounds. Deep and heavy breathing in her ear as she lay on top of him. Spent. Satiated. The thudding in his chest matching hers, then calming with each passing moment. A moan as she moved herself off his body and curled to his side.
A soft sigh escaping his lips as he placed his forearm across his eyes.

Had they really done this? Was it the right thing to do?

Earlier, they had stood outside in the afternoon sun. He was firmly advising her to do everything he had begged her not to do that fateful evening in his hallway. Everything she had been halfway prepared to do before their world had literally been turned around by a bite from a tiny insect. Her refusal now was solid and she used his own words to back up her argument. He had been right. There was no quitting. Not only because they would win but because the commitment Mulder and Scully had was full and complete. There was no turning back. When she took his hand, she told him with the soft press of flesh against flesh everything that was in her heart. Everything he had tried telling her then with an unwavering gaze and lowering lips. Soft, inviting lips that were just a hair's breath away from hers when they had been 'interrupted.'

She prayed he would get her message--her full message-- without the words. Words seemed trivial and inadequate. As they began walking, he once again grasped her hand and she invited him to her apartment for an early dinner.

He had received her message. Before she could put on a pot of water to boil, he stood before her with the same look he had that afternoon in his hallway. Sans flying insects. Dinner was not only never consumed, it was never prepared.

She listened to the sounds of rustling bedclothes before she felt him tuck the blanket around her.

"Do you feel cold?" he asked.

She snuggled closer to him and pressed her mouth against the lips recently warmed by hundreds of kisses.

"I'm fine, Mulder," she said. And, for once, she meant it.

XXXXX

Blue Shores Motel, South Carolina Avenue Atlantic City, New Jersey
January 16, 1999
4:45 PM

Scully walked into Mulder's room as he was putting his clothes into the old dresser on the far end of the room. His room seemed to have the same inadvertent sepia tone as hers.

"You didn't lock your door," she said.

"Actually, I did. The lock is broken."

"Mulder, you need to have that fixed. Our rooms face the street. Anyone can walk right in."

"Someone's on the way."

"There's mold in my bathtub," she stated conversationally. The discovery was not one that had pleased her. It was a cold, gray day and a nice hot bath before bed would have felt wonderful. Now, even if they cleaned it, the memory of the mold would keep her from the indulgence.

"He can fix that, too. Or you can use mine. I didn't think it was especially dirty when I looked at it before."

"Great. There are thousands of rooms in this town and we end up in the most disgusting ones. Disgusting, yet expensive. How did you find this place, Mulder?"

He walked over to the window and pulled back the heavy drapes. A puff of dust accompanied the movement. Scully walked over and looked through the dingy windows at an ugly structure which had originally been painted in Pepto-Bismol pink.

"See that nifty residential hotel across the street?" he asked.

"The one with the balcony that looks like it's going to crash-land on the sidewalk? With the peeling paint?"

"Hotel Andres. Home of none other than Madame Miranda and her faithful dog, Max."

"I don't get it."

"You don't get what?"

"How someone gives up a fairly lucrative career to live in relative squalor."

"Spartan lifestyles, Scully. Remember?"

< Men with spartan lives, simple in their creature comforts if only to allow for the complexity of their passions.>

She remembered. Once again, he had created a Kodak moment out of the words she had once used to describe both his and Max Fenig's living quarters. She smiled at the memory and wondered about Miranda's 'passions.'

XXXXX

Madame Miranda's Love Connection
5:15 PM

Miranda put the 'Back in Five Minutes' sign on her front door and walked to the back room. She smiled softly at the sight before her. Kevin and Max were asleep on the couch, the dog lying behind the fully- uniformed officer's knees, his head on his thigh.

She cleared her throat.

"Officer Simmons, are you sleeping on the job again?"

He jumped up and Max leapt off the couch in response.

"Wasn't sleeping, 'Randa. Just closed my eyes for a minute."

"Please, you two were sawing more wood than a pack of lumberjacks in Seattle."

"Seattle has lumberjacks?"

"More than Atlantic City, I'm sure."

"Safe bet. Anyway, I wasn't sawing anything. Max and I were on guard at all times."

"I was joking. God, you must be exhausted. I would have let you sleep but your lunch hour is almost over. . ."

"No, I'm glad you didn't." He got up and adjusted his uniform. "I'll be back during my break."

"Kevin. . ."

"I'll be back."

"You don't have to."

"I know what I saw and I'm not leaving you alone here for long. I should see about arranging for some leave."

"Don't you dare. Kevin--my uncle called in the FBI, for heaven's sake. I think we have more than enough manpower on something that's probably just some stupidity. If it wouldn't have been for Max getting sick, I never would have mentioned it to my mother. I just got scared."

She couldn't figure out which set of puppydog eyes were more expressive. The canine's or Kevin's.

"You were right to be scared. But, it would be nice if these FBI agents actually showed up. Just when are they planning to drop in, anyway?"

"According to Uncle Paul, they've already arrived. I believe they are doing some investigating on their own first and then will come by before closing time tonight. So, there's nothing to worry about. We'll be fine."

"How do you know?"

"Just a feeling. I don't get any bad vibrations from any of this."

"You're not that type of psychic, remember?"

"I remember. Go to work."

He picked up his jacket then dropped it again as he turned to hug Miranda. It was warm and all encompassing and very, very comforting.

"See you later. Max, keep an eye on her. Come and get me if there's trouble."

"He's not Lassie."

"No, but he loves you just the same. That's got to count for something, no?"

"It counts for a lot." She said, and led him through the door.

XXXXX

McGee's Restaurant
Boardwalk
7:05 PM

Scully had left Mulder to supervise the locksmith's work on his door and they planned to meet for dinner before their evening meeting with Miranda Jenkins. They each wanted to casually interview the other psychics who had their storefronts marred with the etched writing. Mulder felt comfortable enough playing the role of a disgruntled, unlucky gambler willing to blow his last few bucks on a psychic. Scully did not feel the same. She approached her two interviewees as a reporter from a Philadelphia paper doing a story on the 'other' Atlantic City: a piece which was to focus on the myriad of lesser-known tourist attractions a visitor might find interesting during a jaunt to the gambling town.

Two hours later, she had arrived at the pre-arranged meeting place first. The restaurant was warm and cozy and atypical of the bustling, quick service eateries that categorized the type of dining fare in the rest of the city. Surprisingly, Madame Miranda's shop was located nearby. Both were somewhat off the beaten path. They were on the boardwalk but nestled between the last two casinos in town. Prime real estate, Scully imagined, would be further up where there was casino after casino, broken up only by the 99 cent stores, the psychic booths like the ones she had visited earlier, and salt water taffy places. Business here would not be as brisk, she was sure. They would probably only get the crowd that was seriously interested in walking long distances.

Scully looked out the window as she sipped her coffee. A few people walked by, looked at the restaurant's menu displayed in a plastic case on the outside wall, and walked away. A few brave seagulls could be heard even from inside the restaurant and the Atlantic ocean was nothing short of angry--it's waves reaching a dangerous height and crashing to the shore. It was a cold and bleak picture and once again she wondered at the type of woman who would leave behind a fairly comfortable life in order to read fortunes for a tiny amount of money, in a town where even borderline loneliness would be amplified a hundred-fold.

"Hey--no daydreaming on the job, unless it's about me," She nearly jumped as Mulder slid into his seat with a smile on his face.

"How did it go, Mulder?"

"Let me order something first--do a quick pit stop at that highly inviting men's room back there and then we'll talk."

The meal was served before he got back. He came into the dining room looking refreshed. His hair had been tamed and he smelled of generic liquid soap. But the color in his cheeks was still high. He had walked a long way in the wind and the cold and it suited him. Between the nature-induced glow, and his enthusiasm over a hot meal, Scully had every bit of her old partner back. She never fully realized how much she had missed him.

"Did you get lucky?" She asked between bites.

"Well, since you brought it up--almost."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, psychic number one--all the way over by the Taj Mahal--told me a dark haired vixen would soon be entering my life and that I was greatly affected by someone with a J or a G name. You know, a John, or a Joe, or a Josephine, or a Georgia, or a Georgette or a Giovanni. . ."

"I get the picture," she said, trying to hide the infinitesimal scowl that seemed stuck to her face over the mention of the dark haired vixen.

"As I was leaving, I casually noticed the message etched in the glass. The word 'warn'--clear as day. Etched from the inside. I joked about it and asked what she was warning us about and she must have thought I was flirting because her answer was. . .off-topic."

"Uh, huh."

"Anyway, psychic number two--"Epey" didn't tell me my future at all. Instead, she offered. . .other services at a greatly reduced rate. I declined, of course, and then did the 'my, what is that," routine over the world 'she' etched in the glass. She had tons to say on the subject. She considers it malicious mischief. Surprisingly, I don't think the paranormal has even occurred to her."

"Was she a dark haired vixen?" Scully asked.

"Perhaps, " he said, moving the green beans to the side of his plate, "to the farsighted, anyway. A bit on the skanky side."

Scully winced.

"How about you?" he asked and leaned forward. "Did you get lucky?"

"Well, I didn't go up and down the boardwalk collecting propositions, like some people I know. Actually, the first woman was very publicity shy. She was very careful about the amount of information she doled out and was quite belligerent over the idea of discussing the 'MM' engraved in her window. Everything she said seemed to be preceded by the word 'fucking." The second couldn't be more anxious for her fifteen minutes of fame. She threw in a free, unasked for, reading. Told me I'd marry a doctor and have twins."

It was Mulder's turn to wince.

"But, she appears to have been the most creative in dealing with her message. She has two handwritten signs. Above the etched word 'now', she wrote "the time is ... " and below it "for a reading by Giselle."

He let out a brief laugh.

"Enterprising."

"And now, what about Miranda?" she asked.

"What about her? We listen to her story and take it from there. And, of course, while we're helping her, I'm sure she could let us know who the loves of our lives are or whatever it is she is supposed to be good at finding."

"I wouldn't know. You are the one with the looooove psychic information."

"Good job, Scully. I'm impressed." She watched his smile fade a bit. "Actually, who knows what information she imparts. I suppose it's a service of sorts."

A dozen different thoughts entered Scully's mind. He looked way too pensive for what had been a light moment before. She wondered whose name he expected to hear in a reading and just how often he thought of Melissa Ephesian or Diana, for that matter, as potential candidates. One had proclaimed herself his eternal soul mate while conjuring up images so vivid he could still see the smoke from bloody battles fought long ago. The other held up a mirror to his beliefs whenever it suited her purposes.

Smoke and mirrors.

Illusions for a man who was desperate to believe.

This case was just what they needed all right. Another ticket for the soul mate lottery.

She stopped her internal wanderings only to find him looking back at her. Whatever he had been thinking of seemed to have resolved itself. He was smiling as he reached over and dipped a finger in the caramel sauce from her apple dumpling dessert.

"Hurry up and finish, Scully. Destiny awaits."

End of Section 2


Section 3

Scully's bedroom
9:30 PM
September 6, 1998

After the first time, they were completely in the dark.

The last of the day's sunlight was gone and no light shone on the depths of their bed. And she would now consider it their bed, she thought, even if he never spent another moment in it. He fit there. Surprisingly, their first time was not as clumsy as the first times that had come before. And she expected it to be. Both, she suspected, were long out of practice. Or maybe neither of them noticed or cared if they had been less than graceful. They had been so swept away in their own feelings and emotions.

She felt his hands on either side of her face, his thumbs rubbing gingerly over her cheeks.

"Does it hurt?"

"No. The redness will be there for a little longer but it doesn't hurt."

His lips soothed the skin still raw from exposure.

"Antarctica," he said, in a voice that told her he still couldn't quite believe what they had been through.

"Antarctica," she said, in awe of not only their incredible journey but also for the motivation behind it. He literally went to the ends of the earth for her-- not for an x-file, or a conspiracy, or anything but saving her.

"Can I pull back the drapes a bit? I'd like to see you. I need to see you."

"Yes, please." She needed to see him, too.

Touch and taste and sound were all wonderful but she felt truly grounded when she could look in his eyes. And there were things that only his eyes could say right now.

He opened the drapes and returned to bed.

XXXXX

Madame Miranda's Love Connection
January 16, 1999
8:13 PM

Mulder pushed open the door to Madame Miranda's Love Connection and held it until Scully entered. It contained all of the trappings she expected from a psychic's place of business. Two gilt-edged chairs with a potted palm between them graced the small waiting area, which was separated from the reading room by thick purple drapes.

What she didn't expect was Madame Miranda herself. At the sound of the wind chimes clinking from the breeze of the open door, a tall, 30-something brunette dressed in jeans and a thick turtleneck sweater came out of the back office. She stood still for a moment, staring at Mulder. She smiled and glanced Scully's way, the smile still intact.

Before they could introduce themselves, a big bouncing yellow bear of a dog came bounding out of the room, leaping at Mulder with such force that the agent landed flat on his back.

"Max!" Miranda went over and pulled the dog's collar as he was sampling Mulder's aftershave with his tongue. "I'm so sorry. He's really friendly--he just doesn't know his own strength sometimes. Are you hurt?"

"Just my pride," Mulder said as Scully leaned down to give him her hand. He took it and whispered, "and my ass."

Mulder smiled sheepishly and started brushing himself off as Scully reached into her jacket for ID.

"We're. . ."

"Agents Scully and Mulder. I know. Come on in. It's warmer inside."

"Boy, you really are psychic," Mulder said.

"I am gifted. In a way. Yes. But that's not how I knew who you were. You just have a certain. . .bearing. . ."

"Told you to slouch, Scully," Mulder said.

"Actually, I think I looked at you first, Agent Mulder."

"Damn," he said.

Scully felt the color rise to her face as she promptly took one of the seats Miranda had offered. Women had a tendency to flirt with Mulder right in front of her-- especially tall, dark haired women. Mulder's "type" of woman. Now she was reading things that were not necessarily there and had to stop doing it. She scratched Max behind his ears and he happily beat out a response against the carpet with his tail.

"So, where do we begin with all of this? The only Federal officer I ever spoke with is my uncle Paul and I can't say he's ever interrogated me before."

"Well, you're not a suspect," Scully quietly replied, "so, there is no interrogation. Why don't you just tell us what's been going on."

Miranda sat back against the high-backed purple velvet chair.

"Okay. The very first incident was about ten days ago. A friend of mine, as a joke, bought me a crystal ball. I mean, there is nothing wrong with crystal balls but it's just not me and I didn't have one. Actually, if I could, I would simplify this setting but this is the boardwalk of Atlantic City and people expect a certain atmosphere. Anyway, it was a little before 9 PM and I was closing for the evening when the ball just shattered, in a million pieces. Max was in the back room and I grabbed him and kept him out of here--then took the dustpan and managed to gather everything up. It was odd but I thought there had to be a logical reason. It wasn't apparent to me what that reason could be but I just forgot about it.

Two days after that the etched messages appeared on my window."

"But you don't have any writing on the glass now," Scully said.

"That's Uncle Paul's doing. After he heard about the incident with the blood, he had someone come in this morning and redo the windows--carting the entire front window away as 'evidence.' A bit of overkill if you ask me."

"What did the writings say."

"There were three of them. 'Warning.' 'Connections.' 'Memory.' All on different nights. And then I heard about the other messages some of the mediums on the boardwalk were receiving. I don't know. It's just odd."

"The incident with Max?"

Miranda's green eyes darkened. "I don't think it was intentional. Well, it wasn't directed at Max and I consider whoever did this rather lucky that I feel this way because Max is my--well, he's my best friend. I know that sounds corny but it's true. He makes me happy. He's my family. I wouldn't be all that charitable if I felt someone meant to harm him. Anyway, I made a sandwich that morning for lunch. Same bread I had been using all week. As a matter of fact, it was the same bread I made toast out of that morning for breakfast. I pulled out some ham--also the same deli-sliced ham I had been using for days, and threw a couple of slices on the bread and that was it. Around 5 PM, I decided to have lunch. I keep strange hours. I pulled out the sandwich and went to the front to put the 'out to lunch' sign on the door when someone came in to ask me about a reading. While I was explaining what I do, Max ate the sandwich. Within a few minutes, he was drooling and vomiting and did not look well at all. I closed the place up and took him to an animal hospital where it was confirmed he was poisoned. But they didn't think there was a lot of poison in his system. Enough to make him sick but not enough to cause permanent damage."

"Did they test the stomach contents to see what type of poison?"

"No. I mean, I wasn't thinking all that clearly and didn't ask them to. I just wanted to take Max home at that point and hibernate. Of course, I did get up and go on with my life the next day but still. . .it was discouraging. And then--there was the blood incident."

"Blood was on the windows this morning," Scully said.

Miranda nodded. "But there was more to it than is mentioned in your reports. I locked up last night as I always do. I have a metal security gate that goes down and no one has access to the windows through the gate. However--I locked someone inside. My friend, Kevin, who is a police officer, insisted that he wanted to stake the place out. Unofficially. So, he came in through the back entrance--which is a rather seedy way of entering these stores and a door, frankly, I never use ... and I locked him in for the evening. He witnessed it."

"What exactly did he witness"

"A shadow without real form. And blood--spattering. Then nothing. I think it scared the hell out of him."

"And when did this happen?"

"Shortly before dawn."

"Can we speak to this witness?"

"Sure. He'll be by in a while, if you'd like to wait. He's taking his break here."

"Actually," Mulder said. "I'd like him to stop by our motel. I'll leave the address with you. It will save us some time before we come back here tonight."

"You're coming back?"

"Yes. You're going to lock us in as you did the good officer Kevin yesterday."

Scully suppressed a sigh. It was going to be a long night.

XXXXX

Mulder's Room
Blue Shores Motel
9:05 PM

"They fixed your door, I see." Scully said as they walked through the door of room 105 at the Blue Shores Motel.

"I wonder if they cleaned your tub."

"I don't think I care anymore. This is the longest day of my life," she said, sitting on the ugly orange couch across from the bed. "And it's only going to get longer."

She watched Mulder crack a small smile as he lowered himself on the bed. "You know we have to stake out her place. At least for tonight."

She stifled the whimper she could feel rising from her throat. The air was damp and cold and a sinus headache was in the making. "I know."

"For the record, I don't think anything will happen if we do."

"You don't think it's an x-file?" She asked, surprised.

"Oh, I do. I'm pretty sure it's a spirit who is unable to find rest because he has some information to impart to Miranda. And, also for the record, I think he's harmless. I think he's just desperately trying to get her attention and doesn't know how."

"He?"

"The movements are a bit clumsy. I think it's a he, all right."

She smiled at that.

"Disgruntled customer?" She guessed.

"You're not fighting me on this? You're not telling me I'm full of shit and it's some teenage rabble rousers who are somehow doing this?"

"I thought we'd just skip over that whole part this time," she smiled, leaning back against the cushions.

"Wow. Where's my calendar? I need to mark down this date."

"Well, let's just say my mind is slightly more open to the possibility due to the odd way I spent Christmas Eve. Mulder--why did you suggest that Officer Simmons meet us here instead of on the boardwalk?"

"I don't know the nature of their relationship but I thought he could speak more freely without Miranda being present. And I wanted to sneak in a shower before we go on stake out. You could probably take a short nap, if you want."

"No, it's all right. I'll take a shower, too, and we can buy about a gallon of coffee on the way."

"Are we conserving water?"

His eyes twinkled but she wasn't quite in the mood to play.

"I don't think this place wastes a lot of water. They certainly don't use it to clean."

"Suit yourself."

Someone knocked on the door. Mulder looked at his watch.

"Prompt."

Scully got up and opened the door to a tall, good looking, All-American police officer. That was the best way she could describe him.

He shook hands with them and seemed a bit nervous.

"Agents Mulder, Scully," he said, nodding to the wrong one in turn, "Miranda has told me a lot about your visit this evening."

"I'm Mulder, she's Scully," Mulder said. "Miranda told us you had a personal encounter with--something--early this morning."

He ran his right hand through his wavy hair.

"Well, you'll probably think I'm crazy but. . ."

Mulder interrupted. "Let me put your mind at ease. We belong to the X-files division of the FBI. We investigate the paranormal. So, feel free to tell us whatever you saw. Don't censor yourself because you think we'll feel you're odd. Nothing you could tell us would come near to some of the things we've seen."

"Really? Miranda's Uncle Paul sent you?" He colored at his own words. "I mean, it's just surprising. From all I've heard, he's rather a by the book type of person."

"Well, sometimes even by the book people will call in the right ones for the job if the need is great enough."

"I suppose."

Scully interjected. "Could you tell us a bit about what happened this morning?"

"Okay. After a lot of discussion--well, argument, really--Miranda agreed to lock me in for the night. I think she pretty much feels that this is not being done by people--I do believe she feels it's. . .paranormal? But she didn't want me to be in a position of being alone with it--the entity, ghost or whatever. I talked her into it using the opposite argument. Because I was a hundred percent sure--although I couldn't figure out the logistics--that it was a case of malicious mischief. And I didn't like Max getting hurt. I like the dog, too, and frankly--it could just as easily have been Miranda--and it could just as easily have been a fatal dose of poison. So, I just settled in for the night. And, basically, it was a little creepy in there. All quiet and everything. I had a walkman with me to listen to the news. That was about it. It was about 5:45 in the morning and I figured I'd give it until 6:30 and then go home. I don't know why but I was pretty sure that whatever would happen would happen at night. And people start roaming on the boardwalk more about 7 AM-- breakfast and all of that.

So, I go to the bathroom and when I come out--there is like--I don't know. A fog--but more than that. A fog with substance to it. No shape but kind of like a translucent blob. And out of the blob--all of a sudden, blood spattered against Miranda's windows. But not as if it were thrown from a bucket but as if it were coming from someone who was shot in the head or something. Just spattered--really quickly. And then the blob thing was gone and everything was normal except Miranda's windows. I got my wits about me--checked the back exit--checked the locks. Nothing had been touched at all."

"You weren't overly tired, were you, Officer Simmons?" Scully asked.

"I thought you were open to anything I told you, no matter how odd," Kevin said, looking a bit hurt. Scully smiled reassuringly.

"We do believe you. It's just a routine question--not one trying to discredit you in any way."

"I wasn't overly tired. If anything, I was energized. I really wanted to catch this guy for Miranda."

"You are friends?" Mulder asked.

"Yes, we're friends," Kevin said with a slight lowering of his eyelids. Mulder caught Scully's gaze and smiled.

"What did you feel it was when you left this morning?"

"I don't know. But it wasn't human. That's for damned sure."

"Thank you, Officer Simmons. We'll be staking out the place tonight."

"If you need my help, I'll be more than happy to relieve you or whatever you want. I'm not afraid. Well, I am to some extent but not enough to keep me away."

"That won't be necessary. Just get some rest this evening. We'll let you know about tomorrow."

"All right. You figure this out for her, okay? People shouldn't have to live in fear."

"We'll try our best."

And Mulder escorted him back to the door and out of the motel.

"We should have offered him this room. He might want to keep an eye on Miranda this way," Scully said.

"Hey--he can be a man and keep an eye on Miranda in her own room."

Scully smiled. "Yeah, Mulder. That's quite convincing. You should probably open up your own shop and give advice to the lovelorn."

He smiled. "What do I know about romance? But, as far as stakeouts are concerned, "Do bring lots of coffee--as long as a bathroom is available. Don't be late. Meet you back here in a couple of hours?"

"I'll be here," she said, turning to go back to her own room.

End of Part 3


Part 4
Madame Miranda's Love Connection
January 17, 1999
12:37 AM

"Stop that, Mulder," Scully said as Mulder sat behind Miranda's desk and began rifling through the top drawer. They were in hour three of a fruitless stakeout and Mulder's mind and body needed exercise. For her part, Scully was content to lay back against the ornate purple chair with her stockinged feet up on a footstool she had pulled up to use as an ottoman. They had pulled back the velvet draperies, which gave them access to two rooms at once--the reading room, where they spent most of their time, and the waiting area.

"I'm just being thorough. There may be clues that Miranda has overlooked. Besides, it's not like I'm looking in her underwear drawer or anything."

"Mulder. It's still her desk. Do you think the ghost--or whatever you think we're dealing with--left her a note?"

"He wrote on glass. Why not paper? Ah--what have we here?"

Mulder pulled out a small printed card with a picture of a crystal ball on the front. Inside was a description of where it was made and how many years the company had been in business but on the back was a handwritten note.

"'A crystal ball for a rusty psychic. Your reading last night sucked. Love, K'. K--" Mulder closed his eyes and put the card up to his forehead. "K--I see a cop--a cop named Kevin. So, he's the 'friend' who gave her the exploding crystal ball."

Scully smiled softly. Mulder frowned. "You find that romantic, don't you? God. It sounds downright insulting to me. He told her that the work she does sucks. Sucks, Scully. That's romantic?"

"If it was an insult, she wouldn't have kept the card. There must be more to it and therefore, yes--it's kind of romantic."

Mulder stared at her with an unreadable expression on his face. When she first met him, she found that look intriguing. Then there was a short phase when she felt she actually could read those unreadable expressions. Now, they just annoyed her.

"What?" Scully asked, finally.

"Nothing," he put the card back and closed the drawer. He let his arms hang down between his spread legs and looked up. "Come out, come out, wherever you are."

"Where did you pick that up? Ghost-busting 101?"

He looked at her again. "Aren't you bored? Tired? Frustrated?"

"All of the above. And I'm cold, too. Miranda should have warned us that they turn off the heat."

"She probably didn't know," Mulder said. "She made you uncomfortable, didn't she?"

"Why would you ask that?"

"Just a feeling."

"Mulder--you throw out these odd statements and have nothing to back them up."

"You gave her a strange look, okay?"

"What kind of a strange look."

"A look of avoidance. Like you didn't want her delving into your private thoughts."

"She not going to go delving into anything."

"Oh? Don't be too sure."

"Mulder. This is ridiculous. You think she automatically reads everyone she meets?"

"I would."

"Yeah, I have no doubt about that."

"And I would have read you the minute you walked through the basement door."

She said nothing but rolled her eyes and smiled. She knew he was doing this just to stir up the static air in the place.

"Would you have read me?" he asked.

"No."

"Really? Come on--picture it. You have this wonderful gift of seeing into another person's love life and you wouldn't use it?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because I would never imagine it to be as simple as it seems."

"You complicate things, Scully."

"I'm sure I do," she said.

"You're very agreeable today."

"Yes, I am."

"I bet all that would stop if I made a really smutty suggestion, wouldn't it?"

"Well, you answered your own question, didn't you?"

He frowned. "Scully--have I ever done anything you consider the least bit romantic?"

It was Scully's turn to stare at him. The question was unexpected. They had had one night together--so many months before that she assumed he just considered it a big mistake on both their parts and wanted to move on. The next day had been tempestuous, at best. It started with the OPR hearing where he felt personally betrayed, and was followed by the return of Diana Fowley, which stirred up all kinds of negative emotions in Scully. At times, she wasn't so sure they hadn't made a mistake. But, Mulder had been right in what he said as he held her after their last time together. They had one night that no one could take away from them. One perfect night. And then, without discussion, they returned to their easier, tried and true relationship. The banter soon resumed but was without real promise. Mulder's question seemed to go beyond banter, however, and threw her enough to allow her to answer without guile or hesitation.

"Antarctica," she said softly. "And a few other times but that one--well, you can't get much more romantic than that."

He smiled, warm and genuine and then deflected. "Hey-- it's just the type of guy I am. I'm making some coffee. You want some?"

XXXXX

Miranda's apartment
Hotel Andres
1:45 AM

Miranda closed the door behind her. Max ambled by her side as she walked down the dimly lit hallway past the faded floral wallpaper. At one time, the Hotel Andres was a reasonably priced hotel catering to families on seashore vacations. Now, it was an inexpensive residential hotel filled with retirees, people down on their luck and ... Miranda. No one questioned why she lived there. She seemed to belong in some vague, inexplicable way and the other residents accepted her without question.

Max ran over to an elderly gentleman seated on a ratty wooden rocker. He was facing the balcony doors in one of the hotel's communal lobbies. The old man laughed and ran his fingers through the golden coat.

"Hey, Max, old boy--what's happen'in?"

"Good evening, Rupert."

"Evening, Randa. What you doing up so late?"

"I could ask you the same thing."

"You could, but you already know the answer. I'm an old man. Don't need more than 4 or 5 hours at night--tops. I do take a nice afternoon nap, though. Now, what's your excuse?"

"I don't know. I just wanted some fresh air."

"Girl, that air can get no fresher. It's twenty degrees out there. It's so fresh, it'll bite you on your beehind."

She smiled. "I'll only be out there for a few minutes. You can time me, okay?"

"Okay."

Miranda left Max by Rupert's side and stepped out onto the old balcony, closing the french doors behind her. If she leaned far enough to her right, she could see the ocean but she chose to just concentrate on the empty streets.

A sudden movement caught her eye and she stepped back for a moment.

"Miranda, Miranda, wherefore art thou, Miranda?"

"Kevin?"

Kevin stepped out of the shadows of the motel across the street and crossed to her side.

"Kevin, it's almost 2 AM. What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing up?"

"I couldn't sleep."

"No ... sightings?"

"No. Of course not. Kevin, you're going to wake everyone up."

"So, I'll arrest myself."

"Kevin, go home. I'm fine."

"Where's Max?"

"In with Rupert."

"He should be with you."

"Next time."

"I should be with you."

"You should be home."

"So should you. I'll go in when you get off that creaky balcony, stop freezing your butt and the lights go off in your apartment."

"So, is that what you've been out here waiting for? My lights?"

"Yes it is."

"You're hopeless. And I think you might qualify as a stalker."

"I don't care."

"Good night, Kevin. Go home. I'm not kidding."

"Lights off."

"Go home. I already had one father. I don't need another one."

He smiled up at her and she gave him a quick, dismissive wave. She smiled as she closed the doors behind her.

"Girl! You didn't tell me you got yourself a fella," Rupert said.

"I don't."

"Uh-huh."

"Good night, Rupert."

She walked back to her room with Max following closely at her heels. The old man's laughter gently accompanied their steps.

XXXXXX

Madame Miranda's Love Connection
6:45 AM

"Scully," she felt a hand touch her hair. She'd recognize that voice anywhere.

Scully opened her eyes with a slight groan. It was even colder than before.

"What time is it?"

"6:45--rise and shine."

"Mulder, I've only been asleep for a half-hour."

"I know. You fell asleep right in the middle of one of my more scintillating stories. Remember?"

"Uh, huh."

"Of course you don't. You need your jolt of caffeine by now. But, we're being relieved in fifteen minutes and you can either caffeine yourself up or go to bed in your nice, deluxe motel room. Your choice."

"I'll get back to you on that. Who's relieving us? Kevin?"

"Nope. Miranda's old uncle got someone to relieve us during the day. He's giving us time to sleep and investigate outside of the shop."

"Your government dollars at work."

"Scully, you're not taking this case seriously."

"I am, Mulder--but I'm also putting it in perspective. If this happened to anyone other than a relative of a high ranking FBI official--you wouldn't even be able to get the local PD involved."

"Well, it is happening to a relative of a government official. And it is an x-file--albeit a seemingly minor one. So, we are on the case."

She leaned back against the couch and then leaned forward. "Where are you going?"

"You'll see."

She heard the back lock being opened and the door closing. In a few minutes, she heard the metal security gate lock being opened. She got up and stood by the windows. She couldn't see anything from inside but the bright morning sunlight should tell the tale.

When Mulder pulled it up, the only thing seen through the windows was Mulder's smiling face.

Their ghost had writer's block.

End of Part 4


Part 5

January 17, 1999
2:30 PM

Scully woke up earlier than she had wanted but it was still not early enough to catch up with Mulder. He was off and running. Before they left each other that morning, they divided up the day's work. She was to interview Miranda again, and he was to hit the Atlantic City police department looking for possible connections with their latest cases. She wondered how far he'd get. Somehow, this hardly x-file hardly seemed to warrant FBI intrusion in local police matters. Still, Mulder could be persuasive when he decided to charm the right people.

She ordered a quick served-all-day breakfast and wandered over to the young psychic's shop before 4 PM. Miranda was in the middle of a reading and Scully sat in the outer office trying to look inconspicuous.

Miranda gave her a big smile as she said goodbye to her customer and put up an 'out to lunch' sign. She ushered Scully in the reading room where she was, once again, greeted by an enthusiastic Max.

"Sit, sit, Agent Scully. You look tired. Didn't you get any rest?"

"I did. A few hours worth. It's difficult to sleep during the day."

"Well, I would imagine the Blue Moon would have paper thin walls, anyway," she smiled.

"It's not that bad," she said, scratching Max behind his ears, and then turning her attention to Miranda. The dog slinked back to his spot on the floor and was asleep within minutes. "I would like to discuss your background, what you've done before and how you got into this line of work. Actually, I could use a more detailed description of the actual work itself. We might find patterns or clues in what you tell us that you might not be able to see. I might find ... " she corrected herself with a smile, "You were in the financial field originally?"

"Yes. Wall Street. I was going through a practical phase in college. I can't say my heart was ever in it. But I was damned good at what I did. After a while, though, the stress got to me. I didn't have any great commitment to what I was doing and couldn't imagine doing it for the rest of my life. And I always knew I had this gift-- for lack of a better term."

"How?"

"Well, it actually began with my parents. I would catch my mother's reflection in my father's face--even when she was not in the house. Kind of like a superimposed image. I don't remember what I originally thought of it. Probably nothing much. Kids see things sometimes and just don't know enough to question them.

I did not see my dad's face when I looked at my mother. From time to time, I got flashes of another man. One I did not know. Anyway, as I said, it didn't concern me or even make me terribly curious. I had always been told I had an active imagination and I just thought it was a outgrowth of that

One day, a few years after my father died, we moved and I found a box of pictures--and one of them was of that man. It turns out he was my mother's high school sweetheart and when I asked her about him--her whole face lit up as it never had for my father. And her face will always light up for him--until the day she dies. I'm convinced of it."

Scully tried to keep her face as emotionless as possible.

"You're thinking it's not much to base a life's work on, aren't you?" Miranda said.

"You read minds, too?"

"No, but I can read your expression. You don't understand. It wasn't just my parents. It happened with other people as well. When I was younger, it was random. When I was a teen, I tried to harness that energy. To actively "read" people. And I got to a point where I could pretty much read almost anyone I wanted. But it was always something that was in the background of my life. Few people knew about it. One day, there was a woman at work who was pretty much in the same boat I was--single, lonely, successful with more money and less time than any single person should have. She was miserable. She was over thirty and desperately wanted a husband and children but was so far beyond the dating scene that she hadn't dated in years. She felt unloved. And unlovable. I read her. I could clearly see someone out there for her. And I told her. She thought I was completely nuts but within six months--she found him. I went to their wedding. It was the same guy I saw in my reading."

"And this convinced you to give up your career?"

"I gave it up to save myself, first and foremost. I had money before I began my career. I had much more money afterwards. But I was not happy. The job demanded all of my time and then some. I chucked it. And then I looked at options. I liked giving that woman hope. Even if she thought I was full of it--she began to look at herself in a slightly different way. Perhaps open herself up a bit mentally. Feel less unlovable."

"But why here? Why not Manhattan?"

"We used to come here as kids--before all the gambling. I used to dream here. I feel a kinship. It's cold and lonely sometimes. Elemental. But I feel I can almost reach out to souls who may need me here."

"And tell them about their true loves?"

"No. Well, I don't know. It's far more complicated. The way I look at it now is that I see the person, when all is said and done, that SHOULD be considered the love of your life."

"A soulmate," Scully physically willed herself not to roll her eyes heavenwards.

"No. Maybe more of a grand passion. Your greatest love. It's very complicated. For example, married people come here all the time. I don't necessarily see them with each other at all."

"You tell them that?"

"Only if they are being read separately-which I've pretty much come to insist upon."

"What if they are happy in the situation they are in?"

"Well, that's what I tell them. Sometimes you are not meant to be the happiest with the grand passion of your life; sometimes someone more suitable to your temperament can make you happier."

Scully shook her head slightly.

"So, pardon me for asking, but what is the point then?"

"This service ideally should not cater to those who are happily married or in a relationship. If I had a choice, I would only read the so-called lonely hearts. To let them know there is hope. But I can't pick and choose my clientele. People are out here to have a day of gambling and wandering around the boardwalk and think it would be fun to come in and have a reading. I can't turn them away."

"Do you tell them the truth about what you see? Even if it could possibly effect their long-standing happy relationships?"

Miranda looked down at her hands.

"I don't lie. I try to lighten up my readings and put things in perspective when I see potential trouble and would hope that the relationships they are in are serious and committed enough to survive a half- hour in my shop. But if they choose to accept everything I'm saying and they are discontented to begin --yes. It could possibly affect a long-standing relationship or marriage."

"Someone could have something against you."

"Yes. If you follow that line of reasoning, yes."

"You don't keep records of any kind?"

"None. It's a cash business. And it's Atlantic City. Some locals pop by but mostly it's the tourists from the buses. In and out in one day."

Scully let out a breath. This was not going to be easy.

XXXXX

Boardwalk Outside of Madame Miranda's Love Connection 8:45 PM

Scully turned onto the boardwalk from the side street immediately preceding Madame Miranda's. She saw a figure on a bench that could only be Mulder's. They had been separated for quite a long time that day. Following her interview with Miranda, she had made her way to the Atlantic City police department, where Mulder was scouring over a stack of files hoping to find something connected to their case. It was a needle in a haystack. After a few hours, Scully had gone back to quickly check on Miranda and have a solitary meal.

It was lonely in this town. Very lonely. She was tempted to pop into a casino just to hear some noise and see some people actually enjoying themselves but decided that might very well depress her further.

He turned before she quite made her way to him. A bright smile lit up his face and made something in the pit of her stomach do a brief, nearly painful somersault.

It was supposed to have turned out differently. It was supposed to be different.

And it wasn't.

She sat next to him.

"Did you eat?" she asked.

"Yeah, I grabbed something. I didn't have a chance to shower, though."

"Thanks for the warning," she said, butting her side against his. "Did you find anything?"

"Not really. This town sure does have it's suspected mob-related crimes, though. Amazingly, none of them seem to lead anywhere. Very few trials. Very few convictions. No witnesses. How strange is that?" He feigned wide-eyed innocence.

"Very strange, indeed."

"There were a couple of local murders. That's about it."

"You didn't really expect to find much, did you?"

"No."

"So, why are we sitting here, Mulder?"

"Miranda has a late reading. I thought it would be better if we were out here instead of hovering inside, screwing up business."

Scully got up and walked to the railing. Just sitting there with the cold wind blowing was becoming intolerable.

She looked out at the water and a sudden thought occurred to her. She turned to face Mulder.

"Do you remember your first kiss, Mulder?"

He looked at her in surprise. She shrugged her shoulders in response. She had very little idea as to where the question came from. She just wanted to hear the answer.

He seemed to accept her shrug, leaned back against the bench and looked up into the night sky.

"I saw stars," he said finally.

"That good, huh?"

"That bad."

"Tell me."

"Well, Pammy--that was her name--was about 13. I was almost 14. It was a very big embarrassment to me that I had lived to such a ripe old age without having anything to share in the boy's locker room discussions. So, I had to change the course of history and selected Pammy as 'the one.' She came from a very functional, if somewhat reserved family. She had seen some public displays of affection but no great slobbering matches. I had my romance lessons from the street."

"Yeah, I hear the Vineyard was tough."

"It was a regular Fort Apache. Anyway, what I had been taught was a real man--one considered a highly skilled kisser--always attempted to shove as much of his tongue down the recipient's throat as possible. So, Pammy and I go to the movies and she is eating popcorn and I turn to her--pretty much as she is about to pop another kernel in her mouth and pop my tongue in instead. She gagged; I gagged at her gagging and she proceeded to bitch slap me about the head and face until..."

"You saw stars."

He nodded. She tried desperately to keep from laughing at the mental picture.

"You would never bitch slap me about the head and face, would you Scully?"

"You mean I haven't already?"

"Not so far," he smiled softly. "So, why the sudden interest in first kisses?"

"I don't know. Maybe it's just the atmosphere. All the moonlight and water and talk of the great passions in one's life. Maybe it's just some long dormant curiosity over what you were like when you were younger. I have no idea."

"What was yours like?"

"Not all that much better than Pammy's, actually. I didn't gag but I didn't find it all that exciting either."

"Men can be such beasts."

She laughed and looked back out at the water. She felt him move behind her and drape his arms around her body for warmth. She stiffened at his touch and felt his arms stiffen in response.

"Don't hate me," she thought she heard him whisper. She was just about to turn and ask him to repeat what he said when she spotted a woman determinedly coming up toward them

"Uh, oh. Trouble."

"What?" he said, dropping his arms to his side.

"One of the psychics I interviewed is coming toward us."

"Oh. Well, I'll be your ... "

"We have to talk," a thin, bleached blond approached Mulder and Scully.

"Change your mind about being interviewed for the article?" Scully asked.

"What article? The one for the Federal Times? Please. . ."

The gig was up.

"Okay. Then what would you like to talk about?" Scully asked evenly.

"Dead people."

XXXXX

McGee's Restaurant
Five minutes later

They led Rita into McGee's restaurant and took a corner booth. The restaurant was no longer crowded and privacy was not an issue.

"Okay. What about dead people?" Mulder asked.

"Right to the point, are you? That's good. No offense to you, Ms. Scully, but no newspaper worth its salt would do an article on the non-gambling joys of Atlantic City. I've lived here all my life. AC is gambling. That's it. That's all she wrote. You want the seashore-- you go somewhere else. Hey--even places not far from here have nicer beaches. You want old world charm and kitsch--again, find another place. Anyway, I knew you were some sort of law enforcement officer and I just thought you guys might be picking on charlatan psychics."

"And are you one?"

"I admit to nothing. Well, no, that's not true. I admit that my particular expertise in the paranormal world is not the one I currently represent in my little storefront booth. But then again--no one wants to hear what I'd have to tell them. At least, not during some one day gambling junket."

"And what is that?"

"I can channel the dead."

"I see."

"Not all that thrilling is it? When you come in to find out your lucky numbers of the day, or if you will be riding home in a limo instead of the bus--you don't want to hear that great-aunt Ethel is standing over your head telling you to be better to your mother."

Mulder smiled.

"But, I do have this 'gift' ... curse ... whatever. And I can't do much with it but it's always there. Except now I'm not flying solo. Since you got into town, I've had this damned near constant companion--Miranda's ghost. And he just won't quit. And he sucks at communicating although he's trying all the time."

"A bumbling ghost?"

"Nah. Just pathetic. No offense," she says to the air around her. "He doesn't seem to have the energy to come through clearly. For example, he tries to stir up a breeze--it comes out as a puff of air. Tries some of that ghostly writing stuff and can barely do more than a word or two. But I have managed to pick up a few things. He's been sort of playing some kind of psychic charades with me. Sending me mental pictures. So, I'm passing it on to you and you can do with it what you will. I know he wants me to tell you because that image came through loud and clear. It was you, Miss Scully and this guy you're with."

"Agent Mulder," Scully supplied.

"Yeah. Well, I didn't know him from a hole in the wall but I saw you with this good looking guy in my vision and lo and behold, I find you two groping on the boardwalk."

"We were not ... "

"Look, you don't do any exposes on charlatan psychics and I never saw a thing. Anyway, this guy--and I call him Freddie--I have no idea why. I don't think it's his name but I needed to call him something. He was killed pretty recently. His killer was caught. It was his wife. She had the direct Madame Miranda connection. She had been read. She later told her husband about this and he went to her shop. I don't know why. Anyway, I see Freddie standing outside of Miranda's shop and looking in the window and something happened. I don't know if she was busy, or what, but he never got read by her himself. Instead, I see him kind of walking off in a fog.

He went home and as he's sitting there, a little lightbulb goes off in his head--and believe me--that's the way the guy showed me what he wanted to say. I don't know what strange shit this man watched but every freaking message he gave me more or less came through this way. Me trying to pull some meaning out of his weird ass images --like I'm pulling some fucking teeth with a pair of rusty pliers. Anyway, he's sitting there having some sort of revelation at the same moment that the poison his wife has been slowly feeding him for a week has finally accumulated to the point of being fatal. 'Aint that always the way? And now--geez, I'm seeing Miranda's dog. What's up with that? He's sending me a mental picture of the board game 'Sorry." Make any sense to you?"

"Um, yes. It does. I think he was trying to tell us about the poisoning and perhaps regrets how he tried to get his message across," Scully said.

"Okay. If you say so. So, he never got to say what he had to say to the people he had to say it to. But he made it seem like his wife knew. That he told her during his dying moments. We need to talk to her. Well, you need to talk to her. I need Freddie out of my head. No offense," she again addressed the air.

"And how do we get in touch with this anonymous woman?"

"Well, apparently, she's in the slammer. That should rule out all those people not in the slammer." She smiled wryly. "And her name is ... unless I'm really fucked up with the game ... Natasha. He was running this little Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon in my mind and I saw Boris and ... Natasha. She had a spotlight over her and when I said her name out loud, the cartoon disappeared. So ... Natasha. How many freaking Natashas can there be in jail?"

"In the country?"

"Yeah. Even in the country. I can say with one hundred percent certainty that I have never met an actual Natasha. Have you? But I can narrow it down even further. I am getting a strong, strong feeling they were local. So, check the local jails." She shook her shoulders. "Whew. He's gone. Cool."

Mulder shrugged. "That's it?"

"Yeah. That's it. He got his message through. I don't think he'll be bothering anyone anymore. May he rest in peace and leave me the hell alone."

She swallowed the last of her coffee and bid the agents a good night.

XXXXX

Scully's Room
Blue Shores Motel
January 18, 1999
1 AM

The evening's stakeout was cancelled. After a brief consultation with a Miranda who had no recollection of anyone announcing that their name was Natasha--it was the general consensus among those who believed in ghosts that it would be worthless spending the evening waiting for a spirit who had now found some rest. Scully scowled in response and tried to think of what she would tell Paul Michaels when he called to chew them out for not fulfilling their duties. Mulder pointed out that their only duty was to find the rest of the ghost's message to Miranda and once that was fully understood, it was back to background checks--or, if the Deputy Director was extremely grateful, back to the X-files.

Mulder spent a few minutes on the phone trying to locate a Natasha but gave up on conventional routes. Instead, he called the Gunmen who promised an answer by morning. Scully took a shower, got dressed in a warm pajama and then found it hard to even begin to relax enough to sleep. She opened her curtain and looked out onto the dark, Atlantic City streets. This wasn't the boardwalk. This was a sidestreet. It made all the difference in the world. Whatever feelings of desolation one felt on the boardwalk, one could always pass it off on the ocean on a winter's night. This street was just cold and raw and ugly.

Scully didn't even think. She picked up her key and Mulder's key and left the room. In a few moments, she jiggled the spare key in Mulder's lock and let herself in. The television was on but Mulder was sound asleep. Good. She was hoping to find him in just such a state. She didn't particularly want to talk; she just wanted to be in his presence. She sat down on a dusty easy chair near his bed. It was nice watching him sleep. He didn't have to say a word or even be conscious. Just being with him helped give her life a sense of structure and order.

"Scully? What's wrong?" he asked, groggily.

"You think I hate you," the words were out of her mouth before she was fully aware of the thought forming in her mind.

"What?" he asked half asleep. She was surprised she uttered the statement herself. She hadn't been aware that it bothered her so much.

"I think I heard you say that on the boardwalk," she said, backpedaling a bit.

He sat up on one elbow and rubbed his face with his hands.

"Well, that was pride. I wanted to kiss you. I thought you had issued an invitation with your choice of subject matter but when I felt you stiffen up when I touched you--I guess a lot of issues we haven't discussed came flooding into my mind and I just channeled it into that general statement."

She smiled. Even half asleep he could psychoanalyze himself.

"Do you?" he asked gently.

"Hate you? Of course not. I was just taken surprise by that little public display of affection. That isn't our usual M.O."

"No, it isn't," he said with a soft smile.

"Mulder. . ." his name was almost carried on a sigh. "I know we screwed up badly. I don't know how anything that started out feeling as right as it did that night got so complicated, but it's so hard to sit there, sometimes, and pretend I don't want to show you how I feel."

"I don't want you to pretend."

"But it is easier to not be involved romantically, isn't it?"

"Of course it is. Romance seems to have this big--I don't know--expectation of complete devotion. Maybe that's not even the word I'm looking for. That next morning, Scully, I expected you to completely back me up during the OPR hearing. and you were the same skeptical scientist I had known all along. Making love didn't suddenly change that. And I think you were expecting me to not have unreasonable expectations. When have I ever given you any indication that I was even capable of such a thing?"

Scully laughed and watched Mulder lay back against the pillows with his arms behind his head.

"Anything else you want to clear up, Mulder?"

He looked her straight in the eye. "Anything else you want me to clear up?"

She knew what happened during the OPR meeting. She knew why they had both been cold toward each other afterwards. One issue remained: Diana. It still hurt. Perhaps it always would but she was now convinced that Mulder was acting on the basis of old loyalties toward his former partner and lover. Scully had expectations of total devotion of her own--perhaps she deserved it but she could only deal with what she was actually given. Just as Mulder learned about her and her scientific ideals. So be it.

She shook her head.

"Then come here--it's warmer."

He lifted up a corner of the blanket and she scooted in next to him. She was tried of fighting against something she wanted so badly.

He put out a hand to gently touch the curve of her waist. Such a soft, tentative touch. She looked in his eyes and found a soft, gentle, tentative look--afraid of revealing too little or too much without some kind of signal from her. She quickly put her arms around his neck and buried her head on his shoulder. She needed to feel him again.

"No pretense?" he asked as he nuzzled his face against her hair.

She shook her head against him.

No pretense.

End of Part 5


Part 6
Mulder's Room
Blue Shores Motel
January 18, 4:45 AM

In the middle of their fifth time, Scully heard herself moaning. Soft, little sounds of pleasure that she had never heard coming from deep inside her. Part of her wanted to be quieter, more dignified, but she knew it was impossible. Mulder had found a good rhythm, the exact right spot to practice that rhythm on and she was quickly making her way toward seventh heaven.

She had her eyes closed and was concentrating on the rocking motions of the bed and their bodies when Mulder suddenly slowed his pace dramatically. She opened her eyes to find him looking at her with amusement.

"Just wanted to make sure you were paying attention."

"Mmmmm, yes, I am."

"Good," he said, twisting his hips a little. She let out another moan. Louder. His smile widened in response. "You like that, huh?"

She nodded and moved her hands from the middle of his back onto his behind. Once there, she tightened her grip until she knew he would have the crescent-shaped imprints of her fingernails as a souvenir.

He squeezed his eyes shut. "You are a devil woman, you know that. You're messing up my concentration."

"Don't you like that?" she asked him in the same selfassured voice he had used to ask almost the same question.

"Why, yes, I do. But this wasn't supposed to be about me yet."

She tightened her hold on his firm flesh once again. "It's all about us, Mulder. Both of us."

He looked down into her eyes and began to move. Same rhythm, same spot but double the intensity. She was moaning almost constantly now--over the incredible feeling of him pumping in and out of her and the accompanying look of concentration on his face. He was so intent on giving her the most pleasure he was capable of and that was an incredibly sexy feeling. He reached down with his right hand and moved one of her legs a little further apart. It was enough to set her body in a full-on spasm of pleasure and her internal contractions were enough to make him join her chorus of moans as he leapt into a heaven of his own.

She pulled him down on top of her, not caring for the moment that her breathing was slightly obstructed with the bulk of his body.

"Mulder," she murmured, running her fingers through the hair on the back of his neck. She was glad to find it slightly wet from his exertion in this rather cold motel room. "God, Mulder. I missed this so much."

He pulled away from her and moved off of her body, rolling her with him. She could breathe easier now but missed him inside her already. Their first time that evening was quick and frenzied but this time was so slow and exquisite, she never wanted it to end.

"Sometimes easy is not the answer. I would have given up everything as long as I had you in my life, Scully. In any capacity--but now--I'm fighting like hell for this one. If I act like an idiot by noon today--feel free to grab my ass again and remind me what I'm fighting for."

She buried her head in his shoulder and laughed.

"We've never laughed in bed together, Scully. This is kind of nice."

"There's a lot of things we haven't done yet."

"I think I'm scared and turned on all at once."

She ran her hand down the front of his body to check for physical proof.

"Scully ... you're good but not a miracle worker."

"Just checking."

"Sex maniac."

"It's just as well. We need a few hours of sleep before dealing with Rocky and Bullwinkle."

"Natasha," Mulder murmured.

"Whatever."

He kissed her head lightly.

"I do love you, Scully."

"I know. The feeling is completely mutual."

His soft laughter was a nice sedgeway into sleep.

XXXXX
7:39 AM

Natasha was not all that difficult to find. The Gunmen were able to track her down to the Newark Correctional Facility. As promised, they had a full name and history by morning.

"Three, Mulder. Three Natashas in prisons in the United States," Frohike said in lieu of a greeting.

"I'm surprised there are that many."

"Well, I'm glad this chick seems to fit the bill because she could have Americanized her name and we could be trying to sort through a butt-load of Natalies."

"We'll save the butt load for another day, Frohike. Give me the rundown."

"Poisoned her old man. Fed him small amounts of arsenic over time. I'm not entirely sure how she thought she'd get away with it but she was apparently very surprised over her arrest."

"That's strange."

"Human nature, Mulder. We all think we're a lot smarter than anyone else."

"Aint it the truth."

"Anyway, she was caught--confessed, and got twenty five to life. Eligible for parole in 18."

"And that's it?"

"Pretty much."

"What was her motive?"

"She was having an affair with a man whose name she refused to divulge."

"Ah ... "

"But, the plot thickens. She wouldn't reveal his name but a neighbor swears it was Ricardo Monte--a small time mobster who controls a portion of the boardwalk--one casino, protection on some stores--that type of thing."

"Now we're getting somewhere."

"Mulder, one last thing to keep in mind. Natasha's husband--Douglas Burk--was in debt. In and out of Gambler's Anonymous. He owed money to Monte. Not a hell of a lot in the grand scheme of things but enough for Monte to not want it swept under the table."

"I see. So, Natasha was actually doing Ricardo a favor by killing her husband?"

"Yup."

"Okay. Thanks, Frohike. I owe you one."

"This one is a freebie. I won't start collecting again until you've got the x-files back."

"We're working on it."

"Give Agent Scully my love, Mulder."

"Oh, I'll be sure to do that."

Mulder disconnected his cell phone, put it on the night table and moved the blanket aside. He nudged Scully's shoulder with his lips.

"Frohike sends his love but it will just have to wait in line. I was here first."

XXXXX
Newark Correctional Facility
10 AM

Natasha Burk sat in the small interrogation room and started with a question of her own.

"Got a cigarette?"

"No," Scully said.

"Too bad," the weathered brunette said, "I could use one. So, what's the deal? I'm already in here. You have your confession. What else do you want?"

"We are here to try and get a few more details. They may have a bearing on a case we're currently working on."

"What's in it for me?"

"Personal satisfaction?" Mulder suggested. "Or ... nothing?"

Natasha barked out a phlegmy laugh. "I like you. You got balls."

"I should hope so," Mulder replied. "Now, how about starting with Madame Miranda's Love Connection. Ever been there?"

"Madame Miranda? The psychic? Oh, sure. I did it as a goof, really. The reading. I was with a girlfriend and we were kinda drunk, to tell the truth. She was from outta town so we hit the slots and took advantage of the free booze.

Anyway, we went for a long walk to try and sober up because --well, my husband really didn't like to see that. He thought it was unladylike.

So, we passed by the little shop and it was different from the others because of the love connection crap. And Annie--my friend---dared me to go in and find out if Dougie--my husband--was really the love of my life."

"And?" Scully prompted.

A shadow crossed Natasha's face until she visibly shook it off. "And ... she was a nice kid. Takes her job too seriously if you ask me."

"And did your husband prove to the be the love of your life, according to Miranda's reading?" Scully continued.

"No."

"Did you recognize the description Miranda gave you or is it someone you didn't know yet?"

"Yeah, it's one of the butt ugly women in my cellblock," she sniped, then quickly turned serious. "I recognized the description."

"Who was it?" Mulder asked.

"That's my business and mine alone."

"Fair enough," he said, "So, you were pleased with this reading? Or did it disturb you?"

"You know I poisoned my husband. I didn't do it because I considered him the love of my life."

"Why did you do it?"

"He was in the way. There was another man."

"The man Miranda described?"

"Depends. How good is Miranda's memory?"

"She doesn't have a clue who you are or any recollection of your meeting."

"In that case, yeah, her reading was good."

"And what happened to this guy? Where is he now?"

"I haven't seen him since I was arrested. And I don't expect to."

"I don't understand. I thought getting your husband 'out of the way' was going to help your relationship with this person."

"You and me both. I wasn't supposed to get caught. Dougie was a big man. Real big--and not in a good way, if you get my drift. I was feeding him this poison for a while. He was supposed to just drop dead one day--and really, if it had gone as planned with witnesses and all--no one would have questioned that it was anything but a heart attack. They would have asked if I wanted an autopsy done and I would have told them I wanted to preserve his body as the shrine that it was. But he died in the apartment with just the two of us there and I said something that was 'inconsistent' with death by natural causes. I could cut my freaking tongue out for that. How the hell was I supposed to know? I've never seen anyone die before and I thought I could wing it from what I seen on tv."

"So, your --boyfriend--wasn't in on it?"

"No. And I'm not talking about him any more. Ask me something else if you want but I'm not talking about him. It's clear as day I'm not the love of his life."

Scully took over the questioning. "Did your husband know about the reading?"

"Yes. I told him. Well, I just told him she saw a face that wasn't his. I kind of did it to piss him off but he took it real seriously. He went over there--I think--to get read himself." She shut her mouth quickly.

"And ... " Scully prompted.

"And I don't think he got read."

"Why don't you think so?"

"I don't know. Just a feeling."

She was lying but both agents knew that antagonizing her would do no good.

"Tell us about your husband's last moments, Mrs. Burk."

"Natasha, please. I killed the guy. I feel funny using his last name, you know? He knew something was up and I think he knew it was my doing. He just kept saying, "why, why," and then he died."

"That's it?"

"Why are you asking me that? I'm telling you what I know. You want me to make up a story for ya?"

"No, we just thought there'd be more of a connection to our case."

"I don't even know what your case is. What? Is Madame Miranda in trouble? Cause I know I only saw her the one time but I gotta tell you--she seems legit. You want some bogus psychics--I can point you in other directions all right."

"We're not really at liberty to discuss the case."

"Hey, then I don't know what more I can tell you."

Mulder cut to the chase. "Your husband never said anything about Madame Miranda directly before his death?"

"No," she frowned. "All right--yeah. I don't know what happened. He went to see her and told me he saw something through her window--something he had to warn her about."

"But you don't know what it is?"

"Not really. By that time, his speech was going and he was gasping for air. I didn't understand exactly what he was trying to say. Look, Miranda's a good kid. I think she's okay and she made me happy that day, y'know? But I 'aint gonna do anything to get myself in more trouble than I'm already in. I'm just not going there. So, I hope you can get something out of this because I'm not giving you any details that will fry my ass."

XXXXX
12 PM
Atlantic City Expressway

"Ass-frying, Mulder. What do you know about it?"

Mulder was driving them back to their motel when Scully gave him his pop-quiz. He turned to her and gave her a quick, amused glance before focusing his eyes on the road.

"Well, in this case, I'm pretty sure she was not talking about any further legal punishment."

"No, I didn't get that impression, either. I think she's pretty open about the only skeleton in her closet. So, she's somehow afraid of punishment by Ricardo Monte?"

"It would seem so."

"And yet--falling in love with a mobster is not a crime. Even admitting an affair with him is not a crime. Unless she knows something."

"Or suspects something. Some kind of connection between Miranda's warning and Richard Monte."

"Well, we now have pictures for her to look at. Perhaps something will jog her memory."

XXXXX
Madame Miranda's Love Connection
2 PM

"I remember her face," Miranda said cautiously as she looked at Natasha's photo. They slipped a press photo of Ricardo Monte in next. He did not have a mug shot. Rumors and innuendo surrounded him but no actual criminal charges were ever filed. The photo was from the opening of his casino.

"Oh, yes. I saw him during a reading."

"Hers?"

"Probably. I recognize both of their faces and I actually tend to focus more on people who come through in readings since I have to give those being read their descriptions."

"Okay. What about him?"

They passed a picture of Douglas Burk.

"No, I have no recollection of this man at all."

"Well, meet our ghost."

"Oh. Well, I'm sorry but I know I've never seen him before."

Mulder flopped back in his chair and covered his face with both hands. He quickly removed them and looked at Scully.

"What next?"

"I don't know, Mulder."

"We have the ghost--your original problem," he said to Miranda. "who more than likely will never bother you again because he felt he delivered his message. But, his message was a warning. And we don't know what the warning is. So, do we sit around and wait for something or ... "

"We call Rita," Miranda said firmly.

"The one who channels the dead?"

"The one and only. We need her to get back in touch with our spirit."

End of Part 6


Part 7

Mulder's Room
Blue Shores Motel
7 PM

Mulder threw the motel room key on the dresser. Scully took off her coat and draped it over a chair.

"Did you ever hear such a creative string of expletives in your life?" Mulder asked.

"Well, certainly not followed by the statement, 'now leave me the fuck alone so I can meditate."

He smiled. "The woman has a process. Gotta respect that."

"She wasn't even sure she could do this, Mulder. They usually come to her. She doesn't have to summon them."

"Well, just think--maybe we'll get to be part of a seance tomorrow."

"Yipee," she said in a voice completely devoid of enthusiasm.

Mulder removed his shoes and laid back against the headboard, closing his eyes. He suddenly looked very tired and frustrated.

"What's wrong, Mulder?" she asked, sitting by his feet.

"I want to solve this."

"Mulder--a lot of x-files are never solved. You know that better than anyone."

"Knowing it doesn't make it any easier. And I'm not really talking about the brownie points we may or may not get from the Deputy Director. It's just that I don't want to leave Miranda in doubt over her life. Having to live with a vague warning of 'something' about to happen because we couldn't solve this."

"But how do we solve this, Mulder? There is not all that much we can do if we are truly dealing with the nonphysical realm."

He smiled.

"What?" she asked, knowing the answer already.

"I don't know. I just love hearing you talk about these things. It's an incredible turn-on, in its own way. And I'm serious about that. It's like I've actually had an influence on you."

"Gee, do you think?"

"Oh, you know you would probably melt like a puddle of goo if I started espousing true scientific theory."

"Perhaps. But right now, the only thing turning me on is the prospect of water. Hot water and lots of it."

"Did they ever clean your tub?"

"Yes. They did but I won't be sitting in it any time soon. Showers are safer."

"Are you coming back?" he asked softly, seeming to walk a thin line between eagerness and nonchalance.

"Do you want me to?"

Nonchalance flew out the window. "Let's get this straight. I never want you to leave."

"My clothes are in my room."

"I can loan you some. If you get cold. And I can also promise that I will do everything in my power to keep you warm."

"It's a deal. Mulder?"

"Yes?"

"We can conserve water now, if you're interested."

"I've always been a closet environmentalist." He leaped off the bed and followed her into the bathroom.

XXXXX
Blue Shores Motel
9 PM

Scully watched Mulder as he snuggled her breast in postcoital bliss. He opened his eyes a little wider and suddenly seemed fascinated by the nipple nearest his line of vision.

"Are you cold, Scully?"

She smiled, "Something like that."

"That will never do," he said and latched on, massaging her nipple with his warm tongue.

"Better?" he mumbled, his mouth still occupied.

She lifted his hand from her waist and covered her other breast with it. Now, both were warm. "Much better."

His soft massaging turned into slight nibbling, which quickly progressed to full-on suction. She put her hands in his hair and encouraged the movement of his mouth.

She had a sudden flash of a few past lovers. This was always part of foreplay--never more than a means to an end. Mulder had not had anywhere near sufficient recovery time and yet, he seemed to want to do this for her.

And a part of her knew that, at one time, she might consider it selfish to take so much pleasure. She could picture herself muttering a quick, "that's all right, go to sleep," and roll over and do the same.

But this was Mulder. A couple of days ago, she wasn't even sure she would ever be this close to him again. She would take it all--completely, selfishly and thankfully.

And she would stop counting the times they made love because she planned on enjoying each moment as a routine expression of their feelings; not a rare special occasion.

She pushed a stray lock of his hair back in place and watched his beautiful lips pursed over her breast. She couldn't remember a prettier sight.

XXXXX
Hotel Andres Second Floor Lobby
9:30 PM

Kevin, Miranda and Max all sat in the old lobby facing the balcony. Rupert had been there when they initially came out but he made a hasty retreat, scoffing at Miranda's half-hearted protestations.

"So there is a possibility that Mulder and Scully could pack up and leave before solving this?" Kevin did not look happy.

"Kevin, just how long are they supposed to stay? As far as their 'assignment' is concerned--they finished it. The initial 'threat'--the spirit--is gone. If we can't summon him and find out what he was trying to warn me of, really, how long are they supposed to wait?"

"As long as it takes."

"He might have been warning me of something five or ten years in the future. Who knows?"

"Well, then, we should force his wife to tell us more."

"How? She has her rights--even in prison. She doesn't have to tell us anything."

He ran a hand through his hair.

"I know. It's just so damned frustrating."

"Yes, it is," Miranda wanted to lighten the mood and knew just what would do it. "Tell me, how is Russo taking in your 'tales of the paranormal?'"

Miranda enjoyed watching the color flood into Kevin's cheeks.

"Russo is an idiot."

She leaned forward. "Tell me."

"Russo thinks you're cute but 'freaky.' And I should run as far and as fast as my legs can take me."

"Isn't that what Murphy thought?"

Kevin's eyes softened at the mention of his former partner's name. George Murphy had been killed in a hit and run accident a couple of months before. The two men had an instant bond of friendship and Miranda knew that Kevin enjoyed the memory of the man he had known for all too short a time.

"Murphy was joking. He liked you a lot. Russo doesn't know when to quit."

"Ah, well, when whatever is out to get me, gets me, you'll get along better."

"Don't even joke about that, Miranda."

"I'm sorry. I know you take this all very seriously."

"Well, I am the only one who saw this 'spirit.' I figure he came to me for a reason--that blood splattered on your windows was there for a reason. And none of the reasons I can think of are good ones."

She took his hand.

"You're a good guy, you know that, don't you?"

"My momma didn't raise any hooligans."

"Hooligans?"

"Old fashioned term. There is rampant usage of them as part of my genetic makeup. Just a warning for you to store away for the future."

"And why would I care about such a thing?"

"I don't know."

"Okay. Since we're revealing genetic flaws, I can do you one better. I can see the love of people's lives by concentrating on their faces."

"Well, personally, I think your radar is off so I wouldn't go bragging on that one yet."

She laughed and he brought their joined hands to his lips. The kiss he left on the back of her hand was rough and desperate. It was also the most romantic gesture she had ever been the recipient of.

XXXXX

Mulder's Room
Blue Moon Motel
January 19, 1999
4 PM

Scully got off the phone. While she had been talking, Mulder came in from outside, taken off his jacket and shoes and preceded to give himself what looked like a foot massage. The boardwalk was very long and not easy on shoe leather or the bottoms of feet.

"I had them add a sample of Doug Burk's DNA to the ones they are already testing. Actually, they are almost through testing those but if nothing shows up, they can test his."

"Yeah, why not?" Mulder said, digging into the arch of his foot with his knuckles.

"You're distracted," she told him.

"Rita hasn't called yet."

"Give her time, Mulder."

"We're paying for her to take the whole day off to 'fucking' meditate--what more does she need?"

"Maybe the spirit's not willing, "she said with a smile. "What did you find out about our mobster?"

"Nothing much at all. He's suspected of all kinds of illegal activities but there is very little evidence to get anywhere near building a case against him."

"So, we'd have no business questioning him?"

"None at all."

"And we won't."

"Not at this time." His answer both surprised and relieved Scully. While they did have the Deputy Director's sanction, she knew it would be withdrawn quickly if they stepped out of line completely.

Mulder continued. "We will wait to see if Dougie shows up. Right now, we're going on next to nothing. I wouldn't want to arouse Monte's suspicions when I don't know what I'm even aiming for."

Someone banged on the door.

"Let us in. It's fucking freezing out here." It was Rita's voice. Scully opened the door and Rita smirked at her presence in Mulder's room. Scully ignored her.

"Let us in?" she asked.

"Yeah, I got Dougie with me. The pain in the ass."

XXXXX
Mulder's Room
4:45 PM

Rita was sitting on Mulder's bed, eating the potato chips she insisted he run out and buy her. Mulder sat backwards in a straight backed chair, patiently watching her while Scully sat in the threadbare easy chair, assessing the current state of her manicure.

After finishing half a bag in silence, she drank half a can of Diet Coke before taking a breath and putting her snacks aside.

"That's better. I was so fucking hungry, I couldn't think straight."

"So, how did you get Dougie back?"

"I just concentrated on everything he told me--tried to remember the energy I felt at that time and boom--I didn't have to remember because there he was. And I gotta say--he's a little pissed. Kind of like being yanked off a plane when you're halfway to Hawaii."

"Did you tell him that we didn't get much out of his wife?"

"He's not deaf, you know. He knows. You know, if Miranda ever did read this guy, I'm sure she would have found that the love of his life was Natasha. The stupid bitch. Okay, okay. I'm sorry," she told the air. "He's very defensive," she stage-whispered to Mulder and Scully.

"Let's leave her out of it for a moment. He's showing me pictures--three of them. One of them is him. Man, he was a big one. Oh, another one is this brunette--I'm getting the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon again so it must be Natasha and there's this man posing near a slot machine."

"Yes, we know the pictures."

""Okay, he's sending me an image of him waving his arms back and forth. I think," she grabbed her coke and the agents had to wait a moment before she polished off the rest of the can, stifled a small burp, and continued, "I think he's trying to say you showed the pictures to the wrong person. Oh, cool. I got a thumbs up! Good signal, Dougie. Very clear."

"Who should we be showing it to?" Scully asked.

Rita closed her eyes.

"Wow. Everything turned blue."

"Blue?"

"Yeah, a navy blue."

"Cops uniform? Boys in blue?" Scully suggested.

"Bingo. Another thumbs up."

"Okay. We need to show this to Kevin. He'll know someone in the pictures?"

"Oh, I'm getting a shoulder shrug. Dougie, Dougie--what are we trying to say here?"

She leaned back against the headboard and closed her eyes. She reached out blindly toward the nightstand and grabbed her potato chip bag. She stuck her hand in and thoughtfully munched on chips with her eyes closed. Mulder and Scully exchanged glances with Mulder smirking at the expression on Scully's face. If they had been alone, she would have been tempted to stick her tongue out at him.

"Okay, I'm getting the cop that hangs out with Miranda. The cute one. Dougie is standing outside Miranda's shop and watching her talk with the cop. I see a lightbulb flash over them. Okay. Now, I see Miranda's shop and there's blood on the window. Yuck. Now, I see mud and that picture of the guy near the slot machine is sticking out of it."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Mulder asked.

"I have no idea," Rita said.

"The guy is dirty?" Mulder asked.

"He's giving me a mezza-mezza on that one, big guy," Rita said.

"Clear as mud? Muddy connection?" Scully said.

"Thumbs up! Damn, you're good at this, Agent Scully."

"Great. So, he may or may not be involved in anything."

"No ... I'm not getting that feeling. I'm getting a feeling of someone not necessarily knowing what the connection is."

"And he can't tell us?"

"No. I think it's beyond him at this point. I'm surprised he's been able to do as much as he has."

"Anything else?"

"Nah, he just pulled back. In like ... one second, all his energy is gone. He must have been a freaking dynamo in bed," Rita said and bit into a small stack of potato chips with a resounding crunch.

End of Part 7


Part 8

Madame Miranda's Love Connection
6:30 PM

Madame Miranda's "Out to Lunch" sign was on her door again. The sun had gone down a short while before and Kevin had come in for his supper break. The three pictures were laid out before him.

He pointed to Doug Burk's picture, "I know I've seen him on the boardwalk. He had a slight problem with his gait- -like you have when your knees are shot? Like that. I've never talked to him but I have seen him--definitely."

"But not Natasha."

"No."

"And what about this gentleman?" Scully tapped the picture of Ricardo Monte. He stared at it for a long while. "Maybe," he said finally.

"Maybe?" Mulder echoed.

"Something is ringing a bell. I certainly didn't see him in this setting--in a casino taking a publicity shot. But there's something vaguely familiar about him."

"Keep thinking," Mulder urged.

Kevin shot him a look. "I'm trying. I am trained to pay attention to faces and details but something is off here."

"Have you ever been hypnotized before, Kevin?"

"Mulder ... " Scully said, once again trying to keep from rolling her eyes.

Kevin cut of an argument before it could begin. "Can I take the picture with me? Give me until tomorrow to try and remember naturally and if I can't--well, I'm willing to do whatever it takes."

Scully looked not at Kevin but at Miranda. She was looking down at her hands with a small, shy smile lifting the corners of her mouth. She could have kicked herself over thinking that Miranda was a potential threat to her relationship with Mulder. Miranda was completely taken by Kevin and she hoped that whatever was holding things up between them resolved itself soon.

"Okay," Mulder agreed somewhat grudgingly. "We really just want to do everything we can before we're called back to Washington."

"And we're very grateful, Agent Mulder. But even Uncle Paul can't keep you out here indefinitely."

"I've got to go. I'll be by to pick you up after work, " Kevin stood up and quickly squeezed Miranda's shoulder before he moved out into the reception area to put on his jacket.

Scully would have questioned her vision or her sanity if what she saw next had not led to the chain reaction it did.

When she looked down at the sleeping Max, the view was suddenly obstructed by a thick, translucent fog. Before she had a moment to even get startled, she saw what looked like a hand reach over and pinch the dog's behind--the dog yelped in response and immediately ran out of the reading room, and through the open door that Kevin was passing through. Max leapt up on Kevin and knocked him flat on his back just as a bullet came sailing through the front window of Madame Miranda's Love Connection.

Mulder took off at top speed in the direction of the shooter while Scully quickly checked to make sure that everyone was all right. Once she did, she ran across the railing--jumped over it and landed on the sand. In the distance, she could see Mulder running to her left and she took off in his direction.

He slowed down and she caught up with him.

"Did we lose him?" she asked.

"No. Not yet. You see that tunnel?" Atlantic City had a system of small tunnel-like pathways that ran under the boardwalk connecting the beach to various sidestreets. They enabled bathers to have easier access to the beach. Since gambling was instituted, they became run down and were not used much but a few of them were still open and functional. They were standing in front of one of them.

"He went there and I haven't taken my eyes off the place. He knows if he moves, I've got him. He's hiding in the shadows, Scully."

"Okay--do we go in now?"

"No. Double back and get Kevin. Go to the side street entrance to this place. We'll block him off."

"Be careful," she hissed and ran back to the boardwalk. Kevin was still sitting there with an apologetic Max licking his face.

"Can you come with me? We have the shooter trapped. We also need backup."

"I called a few moments ago. They are on their way," he jumped up and followed the already running Scully.

As they approached the entrance, two shots rang out.

"Mulder!" Scully yelled as she entered the tunnel.

"I'm fine, Scully," she followed his voice and saw him leaning over the shooter, checking for a pulse.

"Dead?" Scully asked.

"Yes."

Kevin caught up with both of them and leaned down to get a good look at the man who had tried to kill him a few minutes before. His eyes widened.

"Recognize him?" Scully asked.

"Yes, and I now know where I've seen Ricardo Monte."

XXXXX

Madame Miranda's Love Connection
10 PM

Madame Miranda's small shop had been lit up like a Christmas tree. Several police cruisers had come and gone and there had been a fairly short, but fruitful, field trip to the beach with Max, Miranda, Kevin and two officers. It was not a doggy potty break or an aerobic activity. Miranda had been the lucky one this time and witnessed the translucent blob surround her dog once again. Doug Burk decided the very best medium for his messages was the open and friendly yellow dog.

Max walked purposefully to the entrance of one of the closed tunnels under the boardwalk. It had been boarded up for quite a while. He pawed the ground until they removed some boards and went inside. After Max went directly to the spot they needed to focus their attention, it took only five minutes to find a severely decomposed, male body.

He was bagged and shipped off to the coroner's office with several officers assigned to guard the body.

Mulder and Scully came back from the police station, after filing some paperwork and making several phone calls--just in time to see another of Miranda' front windows being carted away as evidence.

"It's too damned cold," Miranda said. "Let's take this party elsewhere."

She went outside and pulled down the security gate with a resounding thud. On it, she scotch-taped a handwritten sign:

"Closed until further notice."

XXXXX
Hotel Andres
Second Floor Lobby
11 PM

This time, they all sat in the lobby of the Hotel Andres. Rupert chuckled out loud when he saw Miranda, Kevin, Mulder, Scully and Max coming up the formerly ornate wrought iron staircase.

"Damn, girl, you're a regular social butterfly," he said, taking his newspaper and cane and making his way back to his room.

Miranda sat down and closed her eyes, breathing deeply. This room was relaxing. In the evening, only small table lamps illuminated the space. You could almost hear the former occupants of the hotel: the faint laughter of children ready to spend the day at the shore; honeymoon couples arriving with hopes and dreams and very modest amount of money to build them with. Those ghostly sounds were muted by the constant crash of waves hitting the shore in their never-ending song. She found it all soothing.

When she opened her eyes, she found Mulder and Scully looking at her with some concern but Kevin was there-- alive and calm. And Max was sticking by his side like glue. That was really all that mattered.

"I talked to Detective Bryant. The shot hit the exact spot on your storefront window that the blood had been splattered on. And I checked on the DNA work. They never needed to check Doug Burk's. The blood was yours, Kevin," Scully said.

"Damn," he said. "Well, it sort of makes some kind of sense now."

"How so?" Scully asked.

"Well, I knew the shooter and Mr. Monte from the same place. Actually, I'm pretty damned sure it was one of the times I saw Doug Burk, too. He wasn't with them, though. I think that's what drew our attention to the situation in the first place. Doug Burk was kind of limping his way over to a bench to rest while two men were arguing loudly nearby. We kept an eye on the situation because if tempers flared--well, in this day and age--you never know who might pull a gun--and we now had an innocent bystander who potentially had problems leaving the scene quickly.

My former partner--George Murphy--thought it would be best to just confront the situation. Ask if anything was wrong and give them enough of a diversion to take the anger down a notch. He approached them directly. I was a little further back so I didn't see them as clearly and that's why I had difficulty remembering Monte, in particular. I saw him at night, in an area of low lighting. But I do remember they were not at all happy over the intrusion. Just by the looks on their faces. They did leave the scene and we went on with our patrol but apparently--we witnessed more than we thought we did and ... " A look of slowly dawning horror crossed his face.

"What?" Mulder asked.

"Murphy," Miranda said and Kevin nodded, suddenly very intent on petting Max and not looking anyone other than the dog directly in the face. Miranda continued, "Murphy died in a hit and run accident. There was a suspected drunk driver but the car and driver were never found. There was just a witness who saw the car operating in an erratic fashion before plowing into Murphy. I guess there's a possibility it wasn't an accident after all."

"How long ago was this?"

"A couple of months. But only a week after this incident," Kevin said. "But I don't understand, then. Why not kill me, too. Right then and there?"

"Because I suspect they might have wanted it to appear as it did--as an accident. Two accidents to men who were partners in a very short amount of time would seem suspicious."

"And a murder wouldn't?"

"I think--that in some odd way--they might have felt forced into taking action tonight. Word would have gotten around as to who we were and since the general public would have no idea about the connection between Miranda and the FBI--they might naturally think a big mob shake-down was in the works. They needed to clean up loose ends--even if it was risky."

"So, the warnings might have precipitated the events?" Miranda asked, ready to kick Dougie's non-corporeal ass.

"Perhaps these particular events but I think Kevin as their target was very real. And so was the warning. It would have happened eventually."

"Well, we'll figure out all the connections in time," Scully said, "but for now--I think we're going to leave you alone to get some rest."

Miranda looked away from Kevin and Max and up at Mulder and Scully.

"Thank you. Really. To say you went above and beyond would be an understatement ... " she smiled. "If you ever want a reading ... "

"Thank you, but it won't be necessary," Mulder said.

Scully gave a half-smile and walked down the stairs.

End of Part 8

Part 9

Hotel Andres Lobby
11:30 PM

Miranda watched as Kevin came down the hall with a cup of tea and a yellow dog by his side. He had gone to her apartment to make her the warm drink and Max ambled by his side. He obviously was still feeling guilty over knocking him down earlier in the evening. Bless his furry soul.

"You're wrong." Kevin told her, handing her the cup.

"What?"

"Your reading--it was wrong."

"My reading of you?"

"Yes. Perhaps you don't have the gift you thought you have."

"I know what I saw."

"Maybe you have x-ray vision or something. Instead of seeing in my heart, you saw through my pants and into my wallet."

"Which brings up an interesting point," she winced at the inadvertent sexual innuendo but needed to address the exact issue that she had with the whole situation. "You were divorced--what? Three years ago? And you still carry your wedding picture in your wallet. And you claim this woman is not the love of your life?"

"I claim she is A love of my life. My first love. The one that was tangled in teenage hormones and young adult frustrations and loneliness. One love. One of perhaps a few. Perhaps not. But it would be sad to think that she was it when I feel nothing for her now. That I may now--thanks to Max and the ghost--live maybe thirty or forty more years and have no one else."

"I never said that."

"And the picture carrying thing? I have my sister's first communion picture in my wallet. She's 31 years old now. You give me a picture ... it pretty much stays in there for life. Or until I get a new wallet--whichever comes first."

"Remind me to give you a wallet for Christmas, then."

He smiled. A full-out, dazzling smile.

"What are you so happy about?"

"Exchanging gifts. I'll buy you perfume. Or exotic underwear."

"Kevin."

"I never would have asked you to read me if I wasn't 100 percent certain of whose face you'd see. And it wasn't my ex-wife's. And I'm not settling for thirty or forty years of loneliness when there is a perfectly lovely woman right in front of me who I have been crazy about since she and her dog first bowled me over on the boardwalk. Quite literally.

You're open to all kinds of thoughts and ideas. A whole other world. A whole other dimension. Why can't you be open to the idea of someone really loving you?"

XXXXX

Blue Shores Motel
January 20, 1999
11:45 AM

Scully walked down the boardwalk and let herself into Mulder's room. He was just getting off the phone and she made herself comfortable by removing her jacket and sitting in her favorite dusty easy chair.

"The dead man was IDed as Hank Jenson, a bigger fish in the mob pond," Mulder started without preamble. "I guess Monte felt by killing him--he could take over some of his territory."

"So, Kevin is not in a good space, is he? He witnessed Monte setting up the hit. The only witness to Monte's crime where there have been absolutely no living witnesses before." Scully asked.

"No, actually, that problem has been solved. The mobster was missing from the day after that meeting Kevin and his partner interrupted. Murphy kept a running log of all their activities--even the ones that seemed like they were nothing much to speak of, which gives us an exact date. Well, Jenson must have had friends in very high places. The coroner positively IDed the body during the night and this morning, Ricardo Monte was found dead. Bullet hole through the brain."

"Justice-mob-style. Well, at least Kevin won't be going into witness protection."

"No, he can stay here and moon over Miranda."

"I think there's mutual mooning going on, Mulder. And I think she might have more time for it because I don't think she's reopening the shop."

"She's not?" he asked, surprised and somewhat disappointed.

"I don't think so. I went to say goodbye to her and she said she had to think about it but that life--and love-- was a little too complicated to define. Even with help from the paranormal."

"Damn."

"What?"

"I didn't even get my free reading."

"I thought you turned it down. You didn't 'need it." Well--run on over. I'm sure she'd make an exception in your case."

"Nah. I really don't need to be read. I'm just yanking your chain."

She lifted his hand and traced the lines there.

"I see us getting the x-files back."

"Now you're yanking my chain, right?"

"No. I didn't say when it would happen. It could be now, when we return as the defenders of the Deputy Director's niece--or we could be back to fertilizer duty by the end of the week. Who knows? But we will get them back."

"And what do we do in the meantime?"

"We do whatever it takes to hang on to what really matters."

He smiled and brought her hand up to his lips. He planted a soft, gentle kiss there.

"Want to hit the slots before we leave. Maybe we'll strike it rich. Get enough money to open up our own casino or something. Or do you want to go home?"

"Let's go home. Just you and me in a room without mold. We're bound to get lucky."

"Luckier," Mulder corrected, leaning over and kissing her gently on the lips. She cupped his face for a moment and looked in his eyes, then nodded in agreement.

On the way out, each of them looked up at the rundown facade of the Hotel Andres. For a brief moment, Scully could have sworn she saw the hotel restored to its former glory. A light pinkish hotel that sparkled in the sun with a tropical warmth that radiated old world charm. An old man sat on the new wrought iron balcony with a smile on his face and a cane by his side. She blinked and the image was gone.

She knew what Miranda's next career move would be. It would cost money. More money than most single people ever needed in their lifetime. And it would need the dreams of someone with a lifelong passion for filling lonely hearts. She wished Miranda Godspeed.

And, as she allowed herself the indulgence of taking Mulder's hand in public, she could swear she heard a cheerful bark in response--warming the cold, hollow air of winter in Atlantic City.

The End.

Dedicated to:
My mother, father and brother for timeless memories (including family vacations--guess where?) And to the four-legged creatures in my life--past and present. Max is a blend of the dog of my childhood and the nutty, wonderful creature I live with now, and the name is an homage to my cat, Maxine, who I miss like crazy.
And to Atlantic City--in all its bizarre glory.


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