~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
High overhead wild geese cry out, and I think I hear your name
Then the words are gone on autumn wind, I've lost you once again.
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Lone Gunmen Headquarters

FROHIKE:

//I know where you can find Susanne Modeski.//

The caller had quietly hung up after dropping this bombshell, though I could swear that a certain amount of smugness oozed forth before the connection ended. No one in the room, and I mean no one, moved much less breathed for a few minutes.

Byers became immobile upon hearing her name, with that patented deer-caught-in-the-headlights stare of his. That poor, dumb fucker. He's reliving it again. Hell, we had even stopped mentioning her after all these years - as had Mulder; it was the kind thing to do. And here we go again.

How long has it been? Nine years since we met her? Since we last saw her? And what the hell does that cigarette smoking bastard have to do with knowing where she is? I don't like this at all.

We met the fair Susanne the week the three of us clicked as a group. She pulled some damsel in distress routine, batting those eyes at Byers so often that he got tangled in the ebb, and I let myself get dragged in by the residual effect. So we all got caught up in helping the pretty lady only to have her snatched away right in front of us. Some help we were. Couldn't even stop a car. And we were supposed to expose the truth. Yeah, right.

The next couple of weeks were kind of interesting. The three of us still didn't completely trust each other, but we had some leads to track down. The license plate from the car that carried Susanne away, the warehouse manifest listings, trying to find out what was really going on at Whitestone. Not getting much of anywhere, even with Mulder's help. Eventually, we dead-ended on leads and information.

And then she showed up again. I thought it odd that she went straight back to Byers, but she *had* been able to single him out at the convention. Sometimes I wonder if the poor guy doesn't have 'victim' plastered on his forehead in three-inch neon lettering.

Langly and I were still getting our stuff moved down to DC, setting up a central place for the three of us to work. She either wouldn't or couldn't tell us where she had been, only that she had spent those last couple of weeks undergoing questionings and debriefings about the projects that she had been involved in. It didn't sound right at the time - Mulder had told us that her casefile had been closed and that the investigation had been halted. So it had to be some section of the shadow government that had gotten to her. Byers bought the story, and we had no real reason or proof not to, either.

And being so relieved that she was alive and had come back to him, Byers promptly asked her to marry him. And why not? He'd already lost all reason by volunteering to help her in the first place; it was only certain that his heart would go next. They seemed happy together. A happy Byers is a very unusual creature, and Langly and I were glad to see it, but I was worried that they had only fallen for each other due to the extreme circumstances of fate. There are worse reasons for marrying, of course. They honestly did seem happy though, right up until the day, a few months later, when Susanne disappeared for good.

It was a Saturday, just about this time of year. An early autumn afternoon, filled with a crisp chill and the scent of fallen leaves. She had left to go shopping down at the Pentagon City Mall and never came back. There were no reports of anything out of the ordinary at any of the Metro stops or at the Mall itself. No one could recall seeing her, and it was never known for sure if she ever got to the Mall. It was as if she stepped on the train and disappeared. And Byers lost it. Thoroughly and completely. He was already on shaky ground at his job, having been put on probation for the events that happened in Baltimore. He only kept the job to be able to have some semblance of a normal life with Susanne. With her gone and no clues as to where to turn next, he retreated to the Headquarters with Langly and me, retreated into himself. And, with few exceptions over the years, never stuck his head - or his heart - out again.

So all we can do now is wait. Wait for a phone call that I'm praying never comes. Hoping beyond hope that this is all some sick joke to get back at us.

* * * * * * *

Smithsonian Metro Exit
One week later

BYERS:

I was told to come alone. I don't feel alone. Every elementary school in the area must have a class out here on a field trip, getting in that last outing before the weather starts turning cold. I have already politely turned away those who were offering to show me directions to the sights on the Mall. Perhaps I was too quick about dismissing them, but I could not take the chance that anyone watching me would think that I was here with someone else. I know that Frohike is probably only a heartbeat or two away, just to keep an eye on the situation, but he's good about keeping himself hidden. Langly, however, would need to be all the way down at the Washington Monument in order for me not to notice him. I hope that the thought of all this taking place in such a public venue has kept him away. After all this time, I don't want anything to go wrong, for her not to come. I couldn't take that. I couldn't live with the death of my hope.

People are once again pouring out of the Metro exit onto the pavement, some quickly dispersing to the left or to the right towards the various museums. Some just walk out onto the grassy area where I am and take a gander at the buildings and to get their bearings. Others are drawn into the web of those offering the 'free' directions. And I just stand here, waiting.

I am waiting for Susanne. I train my eyes on every blonde woman stepping forth from the staircases, wondering if time had changed her at all or if she was still a blonde. Not here. She's still not here. I take a few steps, form a small tight circle. To clear some tension. And as I turn back to the exit, I spy her.

I cannot tell if she notices me. I have not changed that much in appearance - perhaps a few pounds and some graying. But she is there, waiting for someone. Waiting for me. Those bangs still hang in her eyes. Her hair is longer now, pulled back into a ponytail. But it is her.

The late afternoon autumn sun is blinding me. Or is it just her radiance? I still have such vivid memories of her from years past - that first glance, those tears in Baltimore. That serenity as she held my hand in the courthouse in Arlington while we waited for a magistrate to marry us. Holding her when the nightmares would unleash themselves weeks after her release. That last morning and the hurried 'good-bye'. My own nightmares of spending the next few months of not being able to identify the numerous bodies of Jane Does. There were times when I prayed that one would turn out to be Susanne, just so that the phone calls would stop.

Only seconds have passed with the panorama of the past, and she is looking directly at me and smiling. I am rooted to this spot - I should take off running and pick her up and cry with the happiness of finding her again. But I can't move. Perhaps it is a baser instinct in me that wants to see her come to me. Those long legs, the tilt of her face as she tries to remember how to read my emotions. It is my most fervent dream come true. I am drunk with the waning autumn day, intoxicated by her as she moves swiftly toward me across the green. She always comes back to me - she will always find me. And I will never hide again.

* * * * * * *

Lone Gunmen Headquarters
Three weeks later - early October, 1998
 

Langly had been watching Mulder on the video monitors for over a minute, debating with himself as to whether or not to let him in. As per Byers' instructions, he had said nothing to the agent the one time that he had called them. He did not fully understand why Mulder couldn't be told; 'hell,' he thought, 'he's just as tied to this as we are'. Mulder was not leaving without being given admittance and was becoming quite vocal about it. Langly snuck a peek around the corner, hoping that the others would stay in the back rooms for as long as it took to get rid of the guest, and got up to unlock the door.

"About time." Mulder breezed by and turned back towards him as he got about halfway into the room. He glanced over at the CRTs in Langly's 'area'. "Got a good game going, I hope?"

"Yeah, something like that. What do you need, Mulder?"

The agent dug a tape out of his inside jacket pocket and walked back to hand it to the Gunman. "There's some sounds on here that I want to see if you guys can isolate and identify. I'm hoping that there are some residual waves or patterns, but it could be a whole lot of nothing."

"Sure, sure," Langly replied, turning the tape over and over in one hand with the other on the door handle. "Anything else?"

Mulder smirked. "Trying to get rid of me? I hope that you're winning . . ."
 Footsteps and slight laughter echoed from the hallway in the back of the room, closely followed by the appearance of Susanne and Byers. They both initially froze when they noticed the agent at the door but quickly recovered and headed for the stairs.

Mulder took about three seconds to process the scenario. "Hey, wait. Susanne Modeski?" He quickly crossed the room to cut off their exit path but found Byers' hand in the middle of his chest, holding him off. "Byers? When . . ."

"Long story, Mulder. And for another time."

"No, wait; I've got some questions . . ."

"Not now. Susanne's in no condition for your line of questioning." Byers motioned for her to continue upstairs. He waited until she turned at the top of the landing and then grabbed Mulder by the elbow, steering him towards the common work area.

"We found her a couple of weeks ago."

"Is she OK?"

"Physically, yes. Still somewhat skittish with the new surroundings, but she's coming around." He glanced upwards to be sure that she was out of listening range. "She had been kidnapped, again, that last time and taken back to Whitestone. She's also been at a few other labs over the years, always under guard and being forced to work. For *them*."

"So how did she end up here?"

"She was let go, and she came back to find me." Byers turned a bit and noticed that Langly was still in the room and corrected himself. "Us."

Mulder was somewhat incredulous. "And you didn't think to tell me? After what happened to me in that warehouse with that biological agent that she created?"

"Why do you think that this has to be about you?" Byers suddenly did not like tone that the agent was taking. He had been correct in his thinking that Mulder would focus on that business in Baltimore rather than the immediate situation - that was why he wanted the guys to keep Susanne's appearance under wraps. "She wants protection, to feel safe after all these years. I'd like to work on that before we drag out the unpleasantness of the past."

"Byers, you don't get it." He shrugged off the hand that was guiding him back towards the front door. "I got doused with that chemical, and then I was seeing aliens. You know that I underwent regression hypnosis right after that and started believing that my sister had been abducted. That incident got me started towards the X Files. But now, I can't be sure that it ever really happened. Byers, I need to know more about that compound. We have to examine it . . . it might lead us to . . ."

"No, Mulder. No. She's not ready."

Mulder eyed the Gunman. "You said she was let go? Just 'let go'? And you *believe* her?"

Byers met that gaze hard and whispered, "I don't like that implication, Mulder."

"I didn't think you would, but did you ever consider it? Now, excuse me . . ."

Byers grabbed Mulder's upper arm to prevent him from moving towards the staircase. "Not now."

"What are you going to do, Byers? Throw me out?"

"If I have to."

"Exactly who was she working for, Byers? Have you gotten that out of her yet?"

"Get out, Mulder. Just go."

"What other wonderful concoctions has she dreamed up? What's that phrase - Better Living Through Chemistry? What has she contributed to world enlightenment lately, huh?"

Mulder watched as the usually calm and collected Byers grew visibly agitated.

"Yeah, I know. I'm going." He shot a glance over at Langly before leaving. "I just hope you guys know what you're doing."

Seconds after the door closed shut, the Gunmen looked over at each other. Byers spoke first. "This is for the best. I know what I'm doing." He then turned to ascend the staircase and join Susanne.

Langly began resetting the locks and whispered under his breath, "I sure hope so."

* * * * * * *

Lone Gunmen Headquarters
Four weeks later - early November, 1998

LANGLY:

I don't trust her.

I just don't trust that woman. Frohike has even taken to calling her Mata Hari, behind Byers' back.

"Langly, have you been doing something screwy with the databases?"

This should have been my first clue, but I'm slow on the uptake. So I answer Frohike. "No."

"Reformatting? Caching?"

"No, why?"

"It's almost as if there's a lot more available space here than I remember."

"I haven't done any housecleaning in a while." I check the drives on the units I usually hoard over, but disk space is usually not something that I worry about. I've got plenty of units here; if one starts to run slow, I just jump on another. All of them look OK, until I get to the last one. There's so much available space, it's like I never used it. Not likely.

So when did I think that something weird was going on? When I caught her at it. Yeah, that's right. I caught her with disks in one hand and turning off a monitor with the other. She didn't see me, but I definitely got the impression that she didn't want to be seen. Sure, it could have been something completely innocent. I mean, she's a scientist. She does research; she hopefully knows more about computers than she did when we first met. And she's Byers' wife.

But I'm still not clear on what she's been doing all these years. And it's like, me and Frohike aren't about to pry. Oh, we're dying to, but they'll tell us, eventually. We both did some searching of private sites and government files for her name but couldn't find her listed on anyone's payroll. And they've got some catching up to do - like nine years worth. We leave them alone. We've been sacking out downstairs, didn't even have to ask us to - we're not totally socially clueless.

I've been keeping my eye on her since Mulder's visit. He and Byers haven't been talking. I mean, Mulder *has* a point - if one of these guys had disappeared for a few years and then showed up and wouldn't tell me every last detail pronto, I'd be suspicious as hell. I know that Byers feels like he's got to protect her but still . . . And then she comes downstairs in the middle of the night and starts copying or something for a while. I checked that hard drive later on - didn't find anything wrong with the directory. Didn't think to check the other drives. I probably should have confronted her right then and there, but what was I going to say to her? If she was doing something covert and sneaky, what would she have done to me? I mean, she'd survived these last years somehow. We'd seen her use a gun before. Hell, she shot two guys right in front of us. Did she willingly cooperate or did she fight back the whole time? And what would I have said to Byers? 'Hey, guy, by the way, your wife is shuffling through our files'? Who's he going to believe - me or her? And I'm wondering if last night was the only time she's done this. I don't like the odds.

And I don't trust her.

* * * * * * *

somewhere in downtown DC
later that afternoon

BYERS:

I take a chance at the first stop light to glance over at my passenger. The afternoon light streams through the side window, her profile providing a near eclipse of the setting sun. So far, there has only been silence between us since we got into the car, yet I hardly know where to begin.

I just don't believe it.

Not one word.

There would be no reason for the guys to think that Susanne is looking through our files with subversive intent. She was confused about the past few years, that's all; that's what she told me. She had been in isolation, and there are just some things that she wanted to verify for herself. She wasn't doing anything behind our backs. I showed her how to access some of the units; I watched her catch up on the news. We've talked about things, and although she's been evasive, she has been through hell, and I know how hard it can be to talk about that kind of existence, about one's deepest pains and terrors.

She has been with me for two months now and, even though speaking of her past is difficult, we have been happy together. We love each other, and being with her like this, like we should have been together for all these years, has been my joy. My life has felt whole again for the first time since that day in Baltimore so many years ago. I am not alone anymore, not afraid. To be able to have her by my side, to hold her in my arms at night . . . I never want to let go of her again. I do not care how suspicious the guys are. Susanne is my wife, my lover, my beloved.

The people I can truly trust can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Susanne is one of them. She is not doing anything wrong. She can't be. Why would she want to spy on us? It's impossible. She's safe here. She loves me.

But then again . . .

I have noticed that Susanne seems more on edge today. Not like when she first fell into my arms that autumn day two months ago and begged me not to let her go. Every muscle in our bodies seemed to individually relax one right after the other from the anticipation of the meeting, until we melded as one with a kiss in the afternoon sun. It was an endless, perfect moment. A moment I wanted to live in for the rest of my life.

But today has been different. And if the guys hadn't had mentioned it, I probably would not be having these second thoughts. There *is* something odd - I just can't quite put my finger on it.

She arrived with the clothes on her back and whatever was in her purse. Either she did not know that she was being released or she was unable to take any additional personal effects with her. I'm ashamed to admit that, after that little run-in with Mulder, I grew curious about the authenticity of her explanations and rummaged through her purse for any clues. The first thing that I came across was her wallet. She had some money but only enough for a short period of time. One credit card with her name on it. The driver's license and Social Security card were new and official looking. If they had been fakes, they were good ones - I can usually tell. So maybe she was being prepared to be released. Or so it seemed. She came back into the room before I could explore more. The purse was heavy enough and had several compartments, but I never had another opportunity to check the rest of it out.

We have spent most of this week bringing her up to speed on some of the incidents that we've uncovered over the years of government involvement and secret dealings with private research companies, hoping that some of the names might click with her. She finally seemed ready, almost eager to talk about these things. But she had been checking her watch, as if she was suddenly conscious of time. And every few minutes, her eyes sought out the clock overhead. She tried to hide it, and I don't think that she realized that I had noticed. She left the room at one point.

The guys seized an opportunity and pulled me aside, and Langly started giving me the drill about what he saw yesterday. Frohike chimed in with his suspicions about her disappearances, but we were interrupted with Susanne's entrance. I do not know how much she heard, if anything, and I noticed that she had brought her purse downstairs.

She asked if I could take her for a drive, that she would like to get out for some air. I'd been so stupid. I just assumed that she would want to stay inside with us, away from whomever or whatever may have been out there haunting her. I jumped at the chance to spend some time alone with her. Maybe now she will open up about where she has been without the likelihood of being overheard. I know that the guys would not purposefully eavesdrop - no wait, in light of recent events, they probably would, but they seem to be waiting to see if I have any apprehensions about her.

If I can only get her to relax and open up to me. Perhaps the drive and the change of scenery will soothe her a bit. I just hope that I'm prepared to hear the truth.

end Part 2

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