Ghost of You (The) by Julie Fortune

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The Ghost of You by Julie Fortune

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X-Files: “The Ghost of You”

an original fan story by Julie Fortune

Disclaimer: I have absolutely no right to use these characters, just an abiding admiration for the creative work of the cast and crew of X-Files. All rights to all characters within this story are owned by Fox (that’s television, not Mulder) and the fine folks who created and slaved over this series. Although the story is original, it is a “derivative work” and I claim no copyright. No profits are made in any way in the writing or distribution of the work. It is written solely for creative enjoyment.


Friday, April 17, 1998
9:58 a.m.

Dana Scully put the finishing touches on her report and watched the progress of the save with weary fascination. Friday. She didn’t usually look forward to the weekend so much, but then she hadn’t usually spent a week in Madine, Georgia in a motel that made Norman Bates’ establishment look like a Hilton. Someday, the Bureau’s obsession with cost-cutting was going to go too far, and she’d end up diced up for fish bait in some town that didn’t even appear on maps …

The telephone rang. She looked up as Mulder, who was tossing wadded-up copies of his own report toward a wastebasket (and proving not to be NBA material), straightened and reached for the receiver.

She felt the strangest surge of cold, and thought of her grandmother saying somebody just walked over my grave. She wanted to tell him not to pick it up, but that was clearly ridiculous. Mulder hesitated for just an instant, as if he’d felt the same chill, then picked up the phone.

“Mulder.” He listened for a few seconds, pulled a notepad closer and wrote. “Yes, we can be out there in — about two and a half hours. Sure. Thank you.”

He hung up and looked at her. Shrugged. Gave her that faintest of Mulder smiles.

“At least it’s not Georgia,” he said. “Restonville, West Virginia. It’s a short drive. C’mon, Scully, I’ll get you home by the witching hour.”

“So what is it? Bigfoot? Vampires? Demonic possession,” she said. His eyebrows twitched as he stood up and shrugged on his jacket.

“He didn’t really seem to want to give the details,” he said. “But there’s a really strange body.”

“Bribery will get you nowhere.”

“Bribery will get me to Restonville, West Virginia.”

They hit a solid silver curtain of rain ten miles from their destination, a line of demarcation like a slash drawn across the road. Fox Mulder, squinting up at the steel-colored sky, couldn’t determine the angle of the sun, or even the presence of the sun.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have officially entered The Twilight Zone.

He right off of the main road onto a thin muddy cutoff, winced as the car slalomed in the puddles and bounced into a rut. He slowed it to a respectful crawl. In the passenger seat next to him, Dana Scully’s eyebrows slowly rose as she studied the West Virginia roadmap.

“You’re sure this is the turnoff?” It was her way of saying, Mulder, you idiot, you’re wrong. They’d been together longer than many marriages, and he’d gotten used to the subtexts. He pointed up ahead and off to the right. In the shelter of a cluster of dark trees, a red light glinted. Then another one.

“Pretty sure,” he said, so mildly it was provocation. Another game they played, and she awarded him the point with a shadow of a smile as she folded the map. Scully folded maps meticulously, like a scientist. He was more of a cram-it-in-the-glove-box kind of guy. He had to admit, her way left a lot more space – but his was more creative. “I told you it was going to get muddy out here.”

He’d stopped by his apartment to change from his suit into a pair of blue jeans, sneakers he could afford to ruin, a t-shirt and his trenchcoat to ward off the lingering chilly rain. Scully had stuck with her eggshell silk blouse, tailored jacket and matching pants, and the shoes were not mud gear. She shot him a wordless look.

“Well, I did,” he said, and almost lost the car as the right front wheel hit a dip and the back end shimmied liquidly to follow.

And did lose it, completely, as the right axle gave way with a crunch of metal and they slid off the road into a damp net of weeds and mud. Scully squeaked and clung to the passenger handle overhead as the Ford lurched and tilted, as if thinking about rolling over, but it stopped there, rocking gently, tires whirring, metal grinding. Mulder reached over to her, touched her shoulder, and said, “Okay?” and waited until she nodded before he let himself feel the rush of anger. “Shit.”

Scully looked forlornly out her passenger window. Damp grasses slithered over the glass as wind stirred through them. “I don’t suppose I could get you to help me out on that side.”

“For a price, Scully,” he said. He popped his door and stepped out into four inches of squishy, yellowish mud. Rain breathed cold on his neck as he reached back inside for her. Grabbed her hand and helped her clamber over into the driver’s seat. “But I’m not giving you my shoes.”

“You’re a prince.” She sighed as her feet sank into the West Virginia clay and accepted his hand to steady herself. “Tell me we don’t have far to go.”

Mulder shaded his eyes against the rain – which was pounding harder – and peered toward the lights.

“Not far. Couple of miles, maybe.”

She gave him a filthy look and started down the road, a tiny figure, quickly soaked, pulling her feet free of the mud with every squishing step. He caught himself smiling and wiped his face clear; she wouldn’t understand. He wasn’t sure he understood, himself.

He retrieved his trenchcoat from the back seat of the car, and an umbrella, and set off after her.

Half a mile later – which seemed like a flat eternity of dragging the mud, with the trees staying coyly on the horizon – they were huddled together under the umbrella, sharing the limited warmth of Mulder’s trenchcoat. It would have been easier, even sensible, for them to put his arm around her, but he knew that wouldn’t be a wise idea. Not that it wasn’t a good idea, just – not wise. He and Scully were already a little too close, these days. Perilously close, sometimes. And there were certain limits he didn’t think he could, or should, cross, for both their sakes.

“You could tell me what we’re going to be looking at,” she said, and he turned his face slightly toward her, not all the way because that would have brought them inches from — something. A knife of wind sliced at them through the open front of the trenchcoat, and he hissed in reaction. Scully sucked in a startled breath, more than the wind called for, and he looked down to see the top of her head bent forward, her hand clutching her chest.

“Scully?” He stopped where he was, suddenly terrified because he never quite forgot that there had been cancer lurking in her, a dark time bomb waiting to explode. Every hesitation set off a reaction of dread in him, though he tried to keep it out of his face and voice when he could. She glanced up at him, her eyes wide and strange. “Scully? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I – ” She hesitated, and then took her hand away from her chest.

And he saw what was wrong.

The eggshell silk blouse.

Transparent in the rain. He raised his eyebrows, cleared his throat and tried to think of something to say – or not to say – as she tried to tug her suit jacket into a position that would conceal the worst of the damage. It wasn’t going to work. No matter how tightly she wrapped up, she looked –

“I look like a stripper,” she fumed. He smiled, and immediately wiped the expression when she looked up. He wordlessly offered the trenchcoat. “You’ll freeze, Mulder.”

“You can flash me every once in a while, I’m sure that’ll help.”

“Ha,” she said sourly, and took the coat. It was huge on her. She wrapped it tight, adjusted the neckline, belted it tight, and rolled up the sleeves. She looked like a child playing dress-up, and he knew it would only make her angrier if he said so.

Discretion was the better part of valor. Definitely.

He was concentrating so hard on not laughing that the bright beep of a horn behind them made him slip in the mud. He grabbed for Scully’s shoulder –

And they both went down. It was Scully’s turn to curse. “Fuck.”

He was so amazed that he forgot the mud sliming his blue jeans. He got up – carefully – and handed her up, too. “Scully. Be gentle, it’s my first time.”

She shot him a look filthier than the mud.

“You folks shouldn’t be out here.” They turned toward the car, which proved to be a black-and-white West Virginia state police cruiser, and a slender, well-built young man in a snappy-looking suit and trenchcoat who was leaning out the passenger window. “Lost? That your car back there?”

Mulder felt a hair-raising moment of deja-vu, a feeling that rippled over his skin and through his soul like ghosts passing through him. I’ve seen him before. Been here before. He felt weirdly disconnected, suddenly, in this world of rain and mud and shadows.

And then it passed. He shook it off like raindrops.

“FBI,” Mulder said, and reached in a muddy pocket for his identification. “Special Agents Mulder and Scully.”

The West Virginia investigator looked them over, mud, blue jeans, trenchcoat and all.

“Always thought you folks dressed better,” he said, and jerked a thumb at the back seat of the cruiser. “Hop in. I guess you’re going to the crime scene.”

“Sure,” Mulder said. He opened the back door for Scully. “Unless you know a good karoake bar on the way.”

Whatever good mood was left fled at the crime scene – more mud, pounding rain, yellow crime scene tape billowing. They’d erected a canvas cover to protect what was left of the evidence.

It was a red and yellow carnival tent.

“There are times when life is too weird even for me,” he said. “Tell me you don’t have a dead clown in there.”

“It’s from Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows, they keep it for the spring festival, I think. Sorry, it was the only thing we had.” Their escort was Detective Steve Harmon, the cheerful guy with the handy car and the even handier sense of humor. “Watch your step.”

He crossed a muddy stretch with an easy jump. Mulder, with his longer legs, didn’t even have to jump. Scully, her face a grim mask, trudged through mud that came halfway up her calves, accepted Mulder’s hand when she had trouble pulling herself out, and ducked inside the tent with a sigh that didn’t sound relieved.

Strobe flashes from a wandering photographer lit up the interior. It was nothing more than more grass and mud, and in the middle –

Mulder blinked. “What the hell – “

Scully stepped forward, went to one knee next to the nude body. It was dug into the ground to a depth of nearly three feet, mud squashed up around it. It had been embedded in the mud, face down.

“Mulder.” Scully gloved up and reached out to take hold of the woman’s hand, lifting it by the thumb.

Hands did not move that way. Not like – empty sacks, the fingers bending like rubber, no stiffness to it at all.

Boneless. Scully lifted higher. The arm followed the hand, a piece of dead spaghetti.

“Christ,” one of the deputies said softly. Detective Harmon didn’t say anything at all, but his face paled. Scully carefully, almost reverently, let the woman’s hand fall back in place.

“Can we turn her over?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Harmon said faintly. “We got all the pictures. Better you than me.”

She looked at Mulder. Drafted. Nobody wanted to help – twelve deputies and forensic specialists crowded in the room, and every shoulder was pressed firmly against canvas. Mulder tried for a cool expression and took hold of the dead woman’s shoulder.

It felt like a cut of meat at the supermarket. Boneless. He swallowed hard as the body folded down the middle, like a paper doll. Scully helped him get her all the way over and in something like a normal position.

She had no face. Whatever bone structure had been present was obliterated, the face a mass of soft tissue, ruptured like something pulled up from the ocean too fast. No eyes. No teeth, either; the mouth, or what had been the mouth, shifted like jelly, and there were audible gulps from the others in the room.

“Scully?” Mulder cleared his throat. “I take it she’s real.”

“Well, she’s not made of rubber, even if that’s what it looks like,” she said. “I wish she was. Mulder, this woman fell from something unimaginably high. An airplane, maybe, and not some low-flying crop duster, either. I doubt we’ll find a bone in her body that isn’t powdered. Looks like every organ ruptured – death would have been instantaneous. I doubt if we’d have anything but pieces if she’d hit solid ground, but the grass and mud preserved her just enough to hold her together.”

“Christ,” Harmon said. “Did they throw her out naked?”

“Probably not. It’s typical in cases where bodies fall from a great height that the clothing is literally torn off of them by turbulence. She was dead long before she landed here.” Scully cleared her throat. “You’ll probably want to start a grid search, see if there’s anything. In all probability, you’ll find pieces of her clothes scattered all over the county.” She sat back on her heels, no longer ridiculous in Mulder’s borrowed coat. “Any good forensic specialist could have told you what happened. If you pull FAA records, check out flight plans, you should be able to narrow – “

“Ma’am,” Detective Harmon said, “we already had some idea what might have happened. FAA says no flights went over this area.”

“Private planes? Sometimes they stray – “

“No ma’am. And we’re not exactly on the drug-runner’s highway, here.” Harmon frowned across the tent at a couple of deputies who’d taken up whispering. “Thing is, we had a report last night, about when our ME pinpointed she probably died – a UFO report. Seems like about a hundred people swear they saw a big glowing light moving straight up.”

He gestured. Straight up.

“What color?” Mulder asked.

“Pardon?”

“The light. What color?”

“Uh – blue. Kind of a weird cold blue. Like lightning, but – in one place. Not flickering, just steady.”

Mulder met his eyes. “You saw it?”

Harmon looked away. His gaze ricocheted off the body, banked off Scully, came back. “Yeah. Me and about half the law enforcement of two counties. We were having our annual cookout, not five miles from here. And I tell you, Agent Mulder, I’m not making this up. I wouldn’t be stupid enough to make this up. I know how it sounds. But I saw it.”

Mulder nodded. Scully, he noticed, was not nodding. She was looking around at the other faces, at the other hesitant admissions of possible delusion.

“Were you drinking?” she asked. Right question. Wrong tone.

“What?” That from a big deputy in the corner, a pot belly and a .357 on his belt, a bully’s scowl on his face.

“It was a cookout,” Harmon said. “Yeah, we had beer. But we weren’t stumbling drunk, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“I’m simply pointing out that there was a storm moving in – ” Lightning flashed outside the tent, and the fabric shuddered around them as thunder boomed. Why don’t I ever get that kind of service? Mulder wondered. “And you had been drinking – it’s possible what you saw has a perfectly reasonable explanation. Planes sometimes accumulate balled lightning – it’s rare, but it does happen. What you saw might have been the plane that dropped this woman. In fact, if it was struck by some kind of lightning effect, it might have had damage. You should probably check all the service records of area airports, see if anything came in with electrical problems.”

“It wasn’t ball lightning,” the big deputy said, and took a step forward. Mulder rose smoothly up out of his crouch, taller and using it now; he knew the type. Didn’t like outsiders, didn’t like sissy-boy feds and girls, and he really didn’t like being called a drunk, which probably meant it had a grain of truth. “You got some nerve, coming out here and calling us boozers, lady.”

“Parker,” Harmon snapped. “Enough.”

“You have a pilot’s license, Deputy Parker?” Scully asked. Which wasn’t really like Scully, she wasn’t a stick-the-pin-in-the-bear-and-watch-the-fun kind of agent. Mulder felt wounded. She was taking over his territory.

Parker took another step forward, in Scully’s space, stared down at her. She stared right back.

“There’s a dead woman here,” Harmon reminded them quietly. “Maybe a little less attitude and a little more performance. Parker, answer the question.”

“No,” he snapped, and shoved past Scully, came up short when Mulder didn’t move out of his path. “Scuse me.”

“Sure,” Mulder said, and smiled. “All you have to do is ask.”

He watched Parker plunge out into the rain.

“Agent Scully, what else do you need here?” Detective Harmon asked. Good guy, Harmon. Like a bloodhound, he kept putting them back on the track.

“Fingerprints,” she said.

“Yes ma’am, we can do those for you. Where do you want ‘em faxed?”

She hesitated; Mulder could see her mulling over the benefits and drawbacks of letting the locals do even this much of the work. Scully’s gracious nature came through. “The FBI fingerprint lab in Quantico. Tell them to call me directly with the results, they have my cell phone number. Apart from that, there’s nothing I can do until I get autopsy facilities and work the body. Mulder, I suppose you plan to interview the – witnesses.” She managed to make the pause barely perceptible. This had her back up, and it wasn’t just the rain, the mud, the transparent blouse. Scully was definitely bugged, or she wouldn’t sound quite so much like Carl Sagan facing an audience of Trekkers.

“Beats mudfishing,” Mulder said. “Harmon, any chance we can hitch another ride?”

“As long as you don’t mind a quick stop at the karaoke bar.”

“Oh God,” Scully muttered. “Separated at birth.”

Mulder was opening car door to get in, half-listening to some anecdote of Harmon’s, when he felt that shivering chill come over him again.

Deja vu.

Time stopped. Shifted. Changed courses.

And the world ended.

It had been raining for a while before Fox Mulder noticed the cold fingers of drips down his neck; he looked up into the gray sky, the mist, and wished he could see the sun one more time. It wasn’t much of a wish, and it faded almost as quickly as it had come.

He shifted a little on the grass, pulled his gun from its holster and held it close to his body, trying to keep it out of the rain. Its black finish beaded moisture like jewels.

“Well,” he said to the rain, and the grass, and Dana Scully’s tombstone. “Here we are.”

Scully had nothing to say. So long since he’d heard her voice. So long since he’d seen the bright flare of her smile or the brilliance of her auburn hair in the sun.

He wished the sun was out, but he wasn’t willing to wait for it.

“I wish you were here.” His voice felt unused, like some dust-covered knick-knack left on a shelf. “I wish you were here to stop me.”

Like a phantom’s whisper, he heard her say, you’re the only one I trust, Mulder, and the intensity of the memory made his stomach cramp and his hands shake. His fault. All his fault that she was under the heavy stone. It looked too austere for Scully’s youth, her formidable presence.

Her unbearable absence.

“You know what really sucks, Scully?” he asked the tombstone. In his mind, he could see her turning toward him with that half-smile, that superior glint in her eye. “I’m sorry. I tried so hard to hang on — I don’t even understand why it happened.”

But she wouldn’t have been surprised by that in the least.

No sense screwing around with it, he decided, and opened his mouth, guided the barrel of the gun in until he was gagging on the slick black taste. He wasn’t afraid so much as simply repulsed, not only by the taste but the knowledge of what would be left of him when he was done. Poor bastard of a groundskeeper only earns six bucks an hour.

He focused on Scully’s tombstone, reading the words obsessively, over and over, feeling an ache build in his throat like a scream and tears in his eyes like blood, and in the instant before he decided to pull the trigger a shadow passed over the granite and a voice said, softly, “You can still stop it.”

Scully.

Shame flared hot inside him, and he jerked the gun out of his mouth almost before he realized he intended to. His lips felt burned and abraded and he could still taste the metal.

As he started to turn toward the voice, he felt the world shift under him.

Time.

Changed.

He jerked back to the present with a shock like a cattle prod to his spine.

Detective Harmon was calling his name, worrying edging dark into his tone.

“Agent Mulder?”

He shivered with reaction and relief, caught Scully watching him from inside the car.

“Caught a chill,” he said. Harmon nodded soberly, water cascading in a silver thread from his hat.

“Be careful,” he said. “Might catch your death out here.”

Scully leaned into the hot spray of the shower, grateful not to be thinking for the moment, grateful to have five pounds of yellow mud rinsed away, grateful that Mulder hadn’t laughed when he had every right to. Eggshell silk blouse. It wouldn’t have been so bad without the silk chemise turning transparent underneath, and the not-very-concealing brassiere under that –

Very gentlemanly of him, but then Mulder was always surprising her. He hadn’t even asked the obvious question – “Is it cold, or are you just glad to see me?”

She was absolutely certain it had flickered through his mind.

She scrubbed shampoo into her hair and used more soap, finding grit in places she hadn’t known it possible to be muddy.

That corpse. She still felt a little lightheaded, even now; she’d seen uglier sights, but very few had ever been creepier. There was something so fundamentally wrong in the way that body moved under her fingers, something almost terrifying –

She heard the door latch click. She froze, absolutely still, shampoo streaming down her face, heart racing, and for a long, hallucinatory moment she imagined that boneless sack of a body gliding over the floor like a slug, flowing up the tub, down around her feet –

A two-knuckle knock on the bathroom door. Boneless bodies did not possess knuckles.

“Yo,” Mulder said. “Sorry. My laptop’s down, I needed to borrow yours.”

“Okay,” she called back. “Go ahead and shut it down. I’ll be out in a second.”

She rinsed quickly, wrapped herself in a thick terrycloth robe and a towel over her hair, and padded out to join him —

— and two members of the Redland County Sheriff’s Office. Detective Harmon and, her luck being ever good for a laugh, Deputy Parker. They were standing in the doorway, goggling.

She leveled a helpless and furious look at Mulder. He was as stunned as she was.

“Uh – Sorry, Scully, they just got here – ” No matter what he said, it had the same look, and they all knew it. “Okay. Let’s just call this one a pie in the face and meet you in the hotel restaurant. My treat.”

“You’d better believe it,” she said through gritted teeth. Wait until this got back to Skinner. Visions of Professional Conduct hearings clog-danced in her head. “Mulder, perhaps you’d like to make it clear to the fellow officers that we do not share a room.”

“Yes. No, we don’t share a room. It’s just that – ” He gave up. “Never mind. Gentlemen, soft drinks are on me.”

Scully was mad. She wasn’t showing it much, but Mulder knew her well enough to gauge the rigid posture, the tight lips. She was an eight of ten on the mad scale.

He didn’t insult her further by standing up when she arrived at the table, but the locals did. She nodded to them curtly and took the empty chair next to Mulder. “Sorry to hold you up, gentlemen.”

“No problem,” Detective Harmon said. “Sorry we busted in on you like that.”

“Not your fault.” She sent Mulder a look that clearly indicated whose fault it was. He managed not to smile. “Please continue.”

Harmon nodded and pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket. “This is a list of everybody at the cookout, as well as folks who called in about the lights. I’ve called the Highway Patrol to fax me a list of any tickets they issued in the vicinity, too – maybe one of them saw something.”

“How about the military?” Scully asked. “Any flights from bases in the area?”

“You know the military, they hate to give out information, even if it’s just the time of day. But I’m working on it.” Harmon looked friendly, but Mulder had the feeling he’d be cheerfully, relentlessly persistent, a bulldog wagging its tail while it chewed your arm off. “I figure you want to ask some questions. Ask away.”

Mulder opened his mouth to begin and stopped as a pink-uniformed waitress leaned over the table and placed four soft drinks in front of them. Scully looked at hers dubiously, so he said, “I ordered you diet.”

As he said it, he knew how it sounded, and if he could have run faster than the words he would have scooped them up in mid-air. She turned her head and looked at him, nothing at all showing in her eyes, and he thought, oh, hell.

“May I have a moment, Agent Mulder?” she asked, far too nicely, and stood. Harmon and Parker stood too, and she glared until they sat. Mulder followed her out of the warm, grease-thick air of the café out onto the covered porch. Outside, the rain was coming down in silver sheets, hammering hard on the roof.

She let the door close to the restaurant before she said, with surgical precision, “Are you trying to get us censured?”

“Jesus, Scully, it was a Diet Coke.”

“No! Mulder, look at this my way. First, you undermined my authority by letting those two locals see me in my bathrobe, for heaven’s sake – “

“Not my fault,” he said. She barely paused for breath.

“—but now I come in and I find you’ve already ordered for me. Mulder, I am your partner, not your goddamn wife! You can’t treat me like your date at the senior prom!”

“It was a Diet Coke.”

“It was the appearance of familiarity! You implied, whether you realized it or not, that you were my – ” She ran out of words, so furious that she resorted to a circular hand motion.

He thought of several possible words he could insert, refrained. “Come on. Does it really matter what they think? You wanted a Diet Coke, I got you a Diet Coke. If I don’t know by now that you like Diet Coke, I suck as an investigator. Lighten up.”

“Get serious!” she shot back, tore open the door to the restaurant, and went in. Mulder sighed, leaned against the wall, and stared out at the rain.

Her reactions were all out of proportion, and he didn’t know why. There was something wrong, and he didn’t have the vaguest clue what it might be.

The clouds were clearing over the trees, and the moon shone through, pearl-bright. Odd. He remembered it being just a quarter full last night, but now it was full.

“Some investigator,” he said to the rain, straightened up, and went in after her.

She fumed through dinner, but when she asked questions or made comments, she was careful to leave them cool and professional. Why was she so angry? She was scientist enough to puzzle over that; he was right, it wasn’t over the Diet Coke, or even the bathrobe incident.

It’s the woman, she realized. Abducted and discarded in mid-air. The thought physically hurt, like a paper cut to the soul. She wanted nothing more than to go back to her room, climb in bed and sleep for a day.

The story the two policemen offered was, by X-Files standards, textbook stuff. A glow in the clouds, localizing into a hard blue ball of light in the sky that moved in a manner inconsistent with known aircraft. A low swooping approach through the trees south of the picnic area, followed by an abrupt ascension at an angle impossible for gravity-bound vehicles.

Scully rubbed her temples, thought wistfully of a slice of pie, and shook her head when offered dessert. Harmon and Parker took leave almost immediately; Mulder ordered coffee. Only for himself, she noticed. She nodded agreement to the waitress for a cup, and said, “I think I’ll turn in early, if you don’t mind.”

“No problem,” Mulder shrugged. “Maybe the rain will let up by morning.”

“Maybe,” she agreed. Coffee arrived. She stirred her reflection into it, along with a packet of sugar. “I don’t agree.”

“About the rain?”

She shot him a look. “I think it’s very likely that it was a low-flying civilian aircraft, maybe drug smugglers. You know how rainclouds refract light, and what physics can’t explain, suggestion certainly does. All it takes is one person who’s wrongly certain, and a whole group can – “

“Are we friends again?” Mulder interrupted. She looked up at him. “Sorry. It’s important, Scully. I don’t want us to be like this. Should I apologize?”

His offer struck her like sandpaper on raw skin, she didn’t want an apology, she wanted – wanted — She wanted to sleep with an intensity close to pain.

“Sure.” It came out as dismissive, patronizing, and she saw the pain in his eyes vanish almost before she saw it. Mulder was capable of ruthless control, when he needed it.

“Great. In the morning, you can pursue your theory, I’ll pursue mine.” He finished his coffee in two gulps. “Sleep well.”

He was up and moving before she could say another word. She watched him move to the register, watched the young female cashier’s face light up when he spoke to her. She wondered if Mulder noticed things like that. He didn’t seem to; in some ways, he was remarkably dense.

There was some thought trying to work its way to the front of her mind, but she was too tired to listen. She left the coffee untouched, paid her bill, and made it to her bed just in time to drop into a deep, untroubled, dreamless sleep.

Until time slipped like a tired belt on an overdriven engine.

Until the world

Ended.

She was weightless. Floating. Floating into the light.

Pain, so much pain, so much anger —

Mulder. She tried to scream his name. Tried to touch him.

Too late.

Mulder changed into grubby sweat pants and a faded t-shirt advertising the New York Knicks, laced up running shoes, and went out in the cold, unrelenting rain. He put Scully out of his mind and forced himself to a brutal pace, jogging along the shoulder of the highway.

He had gone less than a mile when he saw the lights. Airplane, he thought, and then his mind went blank for a second as the lights turned and did an impossible mid-air correction. Floated weightlessly. Spun.

He splashed to a stop, breathing hard, watching the blue glow.

Coming his way. He watched it hover, hesitate, then shoot suddenly forward, directly overhead.

Not an airplane, Scully. No way is that a Cessna. He was almost suffocating with wonder and an odd sense of triumph. He wished she were next to him, watching this, sharing it.

But she wasn’t.

Joy faded, leaving a tangle in his guts of fear, relief, anger, a desperate need to know. There was still a core of ice at the center of it, a dread he couldn’t quite overcome.

The light wandered toward the motel. He went after it, no longer jogging, a flat-out run. He abandoned the road, jumped a ditch, skidded in mud, caught his balance and ran on. Gravel under his feet, then pavement. The motel parking lot. His running shoes splashed puddles toward the sky.

The light pulsed overhead, completely silent and fixed. The rain falling around it shattered into rainbows. Mulder stopped, gasping for breath.

It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. He blinked water from his eyes, opened his mouth to yell for Scully’s attention –

And her door opened. There she was. Pale in the blue glow, her hair the only warmth about her … something wrong with the way she was moving. Floating. Scully was upright, but her feet hovered inches above the ground and her arms stretched out on an invisible crucifix. Her head lolled forward, auburn hair hiding her face.

The rain was a blur as he ran, the only thing clear to him that they were taking her and he would not let that happen, never again, never –

Blue light, cool on his skin, chilling. It locked him in place, froze his trembling muscles. He watched Scully float past him, touching distance, so close, so close he saw the rain beading in the silk of her hair, and she opened her eyes and looked at him, agony in those hazel eyes, wordless rage, begging him to help —

He tried to scream as the light consumed her.

Time shifted.

Spun down.

Lurched back on track.

Mulder woke in the dark, disoriented, sick with dreams. Sweat cooled on his body, and his muscles shook with the effort of waking. He flipped on the light, squinted at the brightness, and flopped back on the bed to stare at the water-stained ceiling.

The rain continued, a steady drumming on the window and roof. He listened to it for a while, then rolled over and picked up the phone.

Scully’s number rang twice, three times, four. He listened to it with a growing hollow ache in his stomach. On the tenth ring he hung up, dragged on a pair of blue jeans, grabbed his gun, and ducked out into the rain to pound on her door.

“Scully!”

No answer. He used the room key she’d given him for emergencies, threw open the door, saw the disordered bed, the fallen pillow, her clothes discarded at the foot of the bed. He checked the bathroom, the closet, under the bed.

The rational part of his brain urged him to consider the alternatives. You just missed her. She went out for an early breakfast.

He realized that he had sunk to a crouch, breathing too fast, his body shaking from more than the cold rain beaded on his skin.

He stood up, put his hand in the hollow of the disturbed sheet for one long, aching moment, then turned for the door.

Scully was in the doorway, her hair plastered in disordered ringlets to her cheeks, sweat pants and t-shirt soaked through and clinging. She was watching him, wide-eyed, and he knew how it had looked, knew how it still looked; he fought back a surge of shame and irritation and said, “I called and didn’t get an answer. I was worried. So shoot me.”

“I went out for a run,” she said. “Thanks for your concern.”

The tone could have frozen Niagara, let alone the small cold space between them. He stepped back to let her pass. She sat down on the bed and untied her running shoes with vicious yanks, not looking at him. He tried to think of something, anything to say. I dreamed you were abducted sounded ridiculous. Worse, it sounded false. He gave up and turned to go.

“Mulder.” Still ice in the tone, but at least she was speaking to him. He looked back, door half-closed between them. Scully wiped her wet hair back from her face and said, “I called Skinner. He’s sending another agent. I’ll be leaving as soon as my replacement arrives.”

Her replacement. The word created a gravity-free zone in his stomach. There was no replacement for Scully.

He came back inside and shut the door.

“Talk to me,” he said. She put her wet shoes aside and stripped off damp socks. “Damn it Scully — “

“Stop it!” she shouted, and stood up, right in his face. She was pale, tense, her eyes wide. “Just — stop. I can’t do this, Mulder, I can’t do this anymore, I can’t, I’m so — scared — “

She caught her breath on what sounded like a sob.

He reached out and touched her face, cupped her cheek, looked down into those brilliant eyes.

All this time.

All this time, I never knew what she was feeling.

He traced his thumb lightly over the elegant curve of her cheekbone, touched his fingertips to her lips. Soft. So soft.

She was shivering, from chill, from something else. So was he.

Stop me, Scully. Stop me now.

She put her hands on his bare chest, a burning contact of flesh that drove the breath out of him.

Stop.

She tasted like rain, and then those soft lips parted and it was exactly how he’d known she would taste, sweet and dark and smoky. All those feelings, buried so deep, locked away behind FBI masks and the unwritten code of partners, friends. It was like standing in the middle of a bonfire, blinding, searing, destroying.

It was beautiful.

He pulled back, just far enough to put a breath between them, rested his forehead against hers. He ran his hands through her hair, followed the creamy line of her neck, down to the thin, almost transparent fabric of the wet t-shirt. He was seeing what he’d willed himself not to see for so long.

“Don’t leave me,” he whispered. He didn’t know where the words came from, surely not from his brain. His brain was empty of everything but the sense of her. “Please don’t.”

She didn’t answer him.

Or she did. The taste of her mouth was hotter this time, sweet as peaches and raw honey, the feel of her skin like cool silk under his hands –

Scully, stop, oh God, stop –

Not this time. There was no more fighting, no more conscience, no more walls between them –

He lifted the damp, clinging hem of her t-shirt and pulled it over her head, spraying them both with water. Under it her skin was cool and pale and perfect. His hands fit over the swell of her breasts, traced the sharp outlines of her nipples through the heavy cotton of her sports bra, and she moaned into his mouth. Her fingers traced down his chest, following cool raindrops, leaving fire where they touched.

A cellphone rang.

“Noooo,” Mulder moaned as she pulled away, her eyes still wide and blind. “Scully, no, come on – “

She stumbled back, braced herself with one hand on the bed, and sat down. After a second or two of deep breathing, she reached for her purse and pulled out her cell phone. Closed her eyes tightly, pressed the button, and said, “Scully.”

Her pulse was pounding too fast to count, and every nerve in her body jangled, sweet disharmony, God, she wanted that, she wanted his hands on her, she wanted to taste him again, she wanted – wanted –

Please stop me, Mulder. Please.

She closed her eyes tight, took a deep breath, and said, with as much calm as she could manage, “Scully.”

“Agent, Scully, sorry to wake you, this is Jimmy Onofrio in the Quantico fingerprint lab – “

You didn’t wake me, I was just about to go to bed with my partner, damn you. No, thank you. “That’s all right, Jimmy, I appreciate the call. What’ve you got?”

On the other end of the line, Jimmy cleared his throat. She remembered him, a tall older man, long-faced, with a soothing smile. A bit of the devil in that smile. Like Mulder. No, she couldn’t think about Mulder, standing there radiating heat at her; she kept her eyes shut and concentrated on the very businesslike phone call.

“Agent Scully, much as I appreciate a good joke, I’m a little mystified about this one, and frankly, I resent the fact that this card came in with a rush request. I put aside other cases for – “

“Jimmy, I’m sorry, I don’t understand. What joke are you talking about?”

Her genuine confusion must have gotten through to him, because a bit of the steel melted out of his voice. “Well, I can’t imagine how it could be a mistake. You’re certainly no rookie, and even a rookie would have trouble fingerprinting themselves instead of a corpse.”

Her mind went blank. White board. “What?”

Jimmy Onofrio said, “The prints, Agent Scully. They’re yours, down to the last whorl and twist. A perfect match. So either you fingerprinted yourself, somebody’s playing on heck of a joke, or you’re dead. Take your pick.”

The body. Her height. Her weight. Shoulder length auburn hair.

Boneless. Jellied. A thing barely recognizable as human.

“Agent Scully? Everything all – “

She cut him off. Gasped for breath, hung her head and fought back panic. It’s a trick. A joke by the locals. I should never have let them get their hands on the body, not even for fingerprinting.

But where had they gotten a perfect ten-set of her prints?

“Scully?” A hand touched her cheek. She flinched away, opened her eyes and saw Mulder crouched down next to her, all the fire gone out in his eyes, the old Mulder, the one she trusted and needed. The one who would never turn away from her when she needed him. “What happened?”

“Jimmy – Jimmy Onofrio. At the fingerprint lab.” She couldn’t seem to get the words out, but she tried. “Somebody’s playing one hell of a joke, Mulder. Whoever fingerprinted the corpse sent in my prints instead.”

Shock rippled through those calm brown eyes, quickly buried. A flicker of anger, too; Mulder could be dangerous when he got angry. Unpredictable. He was also capable of hiding it very well.

“As a practical joke, it ranks up there with whoopee cushions. As a warning — ” His eyes went briefly dark. “There may be one other possibility.”

“What?”

“A more implausible explanation. Wait, Scully, hear me out. What if – what if that was you? Another you? We know cloning is possible, hell, we’re even capable of it. And I’ve seen so many variations of my sister – “

“Even if I believed that to be true – “

“We know they sampled your DNA,” he interrupted. “We know it’s possible. Maybe this was another Scully, an experiment that went wrong.”

She looked at him a long time, at the light in his eyes, the pure unwavering light of inspiration.

She had to hand it to him, the man knew how to change a subject.

She smiled and said, “Let’s go fingerprint a corpse.”

Mulder cast a lingering, regretful glance down at her sports bra. “Might want to throw on a shirt first.”

The dead woman looked worse, if possible, under the cold sterile lights of the autopsy room than lying in that muddy field. The ultimate violation, not even a human corpse left behind. Stripped of everything that had made her who she was.

Scully swallowed hard and brushed gloved fingers over the ragged, matted strands of auburn hair. Her color. The skin was starting to mottle with decomposition, but it was fair and fine.

Fingerprint ink still stained the fingers. Which didn’t necessarily prove anything.

It’s just another corpse, doctor. Get on with it. The hand flopped like a sand-filled bag when she lifted it. She took the roller and carefully inked the first of the rubbery fingers, rolled it expertly onto the card. Tricky process, not for the faint of heart. The slightest smudge would ruin the sample, and then Jimmy Onofrio would kill her.

Mulder leaned over her shoulder to watch.

“You’re in my light,” she murmured. He backed off without a word. She put down the index finger, then the rest in quick succession. She sat back, tension leaking out of her muscles. “Sorry. This isn’t an easy thing to do.”

She meant it on a number of levels, and as she looked up at Mulder, she saw him nod. He’d changed into a sober dark suit, something appropriate for working with the dead; she’d done the same. Formality was their only line of defense against what had happened back at the motel. Or almost happened. It was already fading, like a late-night illicit dream. She’d had plenty of those. She imagined he had, too.

Their gazes locked for a second, and he was the first to look away. She wheeled her chair around to the other side of the autopsy tray and printed the left hand.

Done. She put the card aside, put it out of her mind for the moment, and stripped off her latex gloves.

“Scully — ” he said. She didn’t look at him. “Maybe you should fax the prints to Jimmy again. Let him make the comparison.”

“It’s a straight point-by-point comparison, nothing we can’t handle here for verification,” she said. “And I don’t want to be known as ‘Spooky Scully’.”

“At least it’s alliterative.” He watched as she flipped open the ink pad and rolled her thumb, right to left, then repeated the action on the fresh card she’d set out. One down. “I hate to sound like a bad Harlequin novel, but about this morning — “

“Mulder.” She shut him down with the single word, concentrated on her left index. Her left ring. She finished the left hand, wiped at the ink stains, and started on her right. “In the great universe of things I don’t want to talk about, this qualifies as the galactic center.”

Not now. Not until I know. There were times when imagination was a terrible burden; she imagined the tearing fall, the utter terror as the ground spiraled up, the mutilating impact — no. That girl, whoever she was, had been dead long before her body had dug itself into the mud.

She prayed that was true.

She finished her right little finger and sat back. As she cleaned away ink from skin, Mulder leaned over her shoulder to look at the two cards.

She had so far avoided that. She avoided it now, letting him do it. One of her rare moments of cowardice.

His silence went on too long. Much too long. She raised her eyes to the cards and forced herself to do it, to stare at the corpse’s left thumbprint, her own.

Oh God. Oh, no.

Mulder’s hand touched her shoulder, feather-light. She didn’t move. After a long hesitation, he allowed the touch to settle, a blanket of warmth between them, something to combat the ice-cold shock running through her veins.

“Scully,” he said softly.

“Look for a birthmark,” she said. “Left hip. It’s shaped like a half moon. And a scar just above the elbow, back of the arm.”

The left index was a perfect match. Left middle. Left ring.

God. She meant it as a prayer.

Mulder’s warmth left her. She heard him gloving up. It seemed a very long time before he said, very quietly, “There’s a birthmark. And a scar.”

She took in a deep breath that seemed to turn arctic inside of her, freezing her solid.

“Clones don’t have birthmarks,” she said. “Or scars.”

He didn’t say anything. She looked over to see him staring at her, his face pale and tense, his eyes full of something — something she couldn’t bear to see right now.

“That’s me,” she said. “Somehow. It’s me.”

It wasn’t so much a matter of misdirecting the locals as just not communicating with them; standard FBI procedure, actually. Be polite and share as little as possible. It was a game Mulder didn’t particularly enjoy, but he was good at it; he misdirected Harmon and fended off the local Sheriff and made sure nobody would be asked Scully any awkward questions she wasn’t prepared to handle.

And then he went to find her.

He didn’t expect to find her back in the morgue, gloved and gowned, looking every bit Scully the Scientist. She was laying out autopsy instruments, moving as if it were another day, another case, another normal corpse on the tray in front of her.

The corpse — he couldn’t think of it any other way — remained as horrifyingly mutilated, as deeply disturbing as ever.

Its hair gleamed auburn in the cold lights.

“Scully,” he said. She didn’t turn to look at him.

“It has to be done.”

“Not by you.”

She flipped on the overhead recorder and donned plastic goggles. Mulder remembered hearing, somewhere, that pathologists in Russia received hazard pay. He wondered how much Scully would be due for this.

“Subject is a Caucasian female, approximately 64 inches tall, weight — ” A very slight hesitation. “Weight one hundred ten pounds. Hair auburn, eyes — eyes — “

Her voice failed. There weren’t any eyes. Mulder took a step toward her, stopped as her shoulders tightened.

Scully reached up and turned the switch on the recorder. For a few seconds neither of them said anything, but he felt the need between them like an almost physical pain. She wanted to ask for comfort. He wanted to give it.

But he didn’t know how.

“We can stop this,” he said. “I don’t know how, but we can make this — not happen.”

“How?” She pulled in a deep breath and removed her goggles. She should have looked professional, but in that instant she looked vulnerable. Frightened. “We don’t even know what’s happened, much less how to stop it. That can’t be me. I’m here. I’m right here!”

He put his arms around her, not a planned thing but something that felt deeply right, deeply necessary. After a second’s hesitation, she leaned into him, surrendered to the warmth of it. He closed his eyes and rested his chin on the soft cloud of her hair and fought back a surge of pain.

He wasn’t going to let this happen.

Not again.

His eyes opened.

Again?

What the hell —

He’d been here before. Seen this before. Time —

Shifted.

From behind them, a voice said, “What are you folks doing in here?” A cool cop-voice, warm with accent but not friendly. Mulder let go of Scully and turned toward it.

Detective Harmon, no expression on his young face or in his old eyes. It was the face he showed strangers. Perps.

“I’ll need an answer,” he said.

Scully said, “You know what we’re doing here.”

“I know what it looks like,” Harmon said. “And it doesn’t look real good. Now show me some ID, right now, or I’m going to have to arrest you for trespassing.”

He didn’t know them. That hit Mulder like a sucker punch. He glanced at Scully, and something caught his eye behind her.

The gleaming steel autopsy tray.

It was empty.

Mulder slowly removed his badge from his suit and held it out. “Agent Mulder, FBI. This is Agent Scully.”

Harmon examined the credentials with what could only be called prejudice. Well, he did just catch us mugging in the morgue. Not the best FBI moment I’ve had all day. After a long look, Harmon handed them back and turned to Scully. “Ma’am?”

“My credentials are in my suit coat,” she said with what — even for Scully — was remarkable cool. “Would you like me to get them? They’re in the locker.”

“Yes, ma’am, I think you’d better. We’re going to have a little chat.”

Scully had noticed the empty tray, too. She turned her head from it and met Mulder’s gaze, questions swirling between them, but all she said was, “Of course. Give me a moment to change.”

She walked toward the lockers, stripping off the oversized smock and latex gloves as she went. Mulder watched her with sincere appreciation.

You’re good, Scully. Very, very good.

“I suppose you’ll want to know what we’re doing here,” Mulder said. “There was a body dropped out of a UFO. Maybe you’ve heard of it.”

Harmon raised his eyebrows.

“Agent Mulder,” he said, “if I were you, I’d can the crap. I haven’t had a homicide in this county, apart from old Wilma Garrison stabbing her old coot of a son with a butter knife, for nearly two years. And I damn sure never saw any UFOs.”

Scully, who was shrugging on her coat, said, “What day is it?”

“Excuse me?” Harmon was running out of patience.

“The day. What day is it? What date?”

“Jesus,” he muttered. “April 16th. Thursday. Look, I thought the FBI had some kind of screening process for nuts.”

On another day, that would have stung, just a little. Today —

Which was yesterday —

— it hardly mattered at all.

It was the day a body would drop out of the sky and shatter.

It was the day Scully would die.

They got the hell out of Dodge, driving the first rental car available with Mulder’s credit limit.

They’d entered the morgue in the morning, but it hadn’t been morning when they’d come out. The clocks — and their watches — read 7:56 p.m. Late in the day. Close to the time the Law Enforcement picnickers, partying down in the woods, had seen a blue light —

He drove too fast.

“You might want to fasten your seatbelt,” Mulder said. It was raining again, gray cold streaks down the windshield that rippled like silk with the force of the wind. Scully, clinging tight to the handhold, stared straight ahead into the distance.

“Just drive, Mulder,” she said. Her eyes were fixed and clouded, her face chalk-pale. He wanted to reach over and take her hand but he needed both on the steering wheel, the wind was fierce and getting worse.

“Check your watch,” he said. She had it covered by her palm; she gingerly looked and shook her head. There hadn’t been any more miraculous jumps, and while they knew it was close, they didn’t know how close. She hadn’t been able to determine the time of death — too many variables. “This has to be a localized phenomenon. There’s been something like it before, remember the file I showed you on Flinders, Iowa? Small town, isolated — everybody swore the clock turned back a day and a half — “

“Mulder, for God’s sake, shut up.” She closed her eyes. “The body disappeared.”

“Which means that it isn’t going to fall out of the sky.”

“It might also mean that it disappeared because it’s now inevitable that it fall out of the sky. That I’m going to fall out of the sky.”

“Scully. Wild theories. Next thing you know, you’ll be going to science fiction conventions and wearing Spock ears.”

He was trying hard to keep his tone light. Better she hate him right now than focus on the future. Come on. Fight.

The wind shoved hard at the car. He swallowed a rising sense of panic, but it kept growing like a hard glass bubble in his stomach.

Scully didn’t say a word.

“Ten miles out should be far enough,” he said, half to himself. “It was in Flinders. We should be almost outside of — “

Scully said, tensely, “Stop.” He shut up. Ten seconds later, she said it again, with elaboration. “Stop the car.”

He did, carefully, pulling off to the soggy shoulder while the rain whirled in sheets outside and the wind howled. He switched off the engine as Scully opened her passenger door, leaned out and was vividly sick. He handed her tissues and a half-empty bottle of Evian when she closed the door and collapsed back against the seat, eyes shut, face the color of cooked oatmeal.

“Get me out of here,” she whispered. She took a long drink of the water, dabbed water or sweat from her face. “Please, Mulder. Please.”

He gently brushed hair back from her face, trailed fingertips over the cool skin of her cheek, and started the car.

“I will,” he said.

From the storm outside came a burst of blue light, so bright it overloaded his eyes, turned everything to outlines and ash-gray shadows.

A tick of time.

Scully’s face, her eyes wide, frozen in the flash of light.

His hand, raised against the flash, bones like black sticks showing through the skin.

The taste of rain and hot metal.

They were weightless. Floating. No storm outside now, nothing but cold pervasive light radiating through the car, through their bodies, through time.

Rising.

Going higher.

Mulder fought for breath, felt his heart pounding, heard something like a gasp from Scully. The ground was falling away from the car, a dizzying blur of gray shadow.

It felt like they were falling.

“No,” she whispered. Her hand flailed, found his. Gripped with desperate strength. “No — “

They had to almost out of range. They had to be. If he’d stopped ten feet farther on —

No use.

The car tilted, as the bands lifting it had broken away on one side. Scully’s side. Gravity reasserted itself with a lurch that tore at Mulder’s muscles, threw him sideways against the restraints.

Scully hit the car door. It slammed open.

His hand was all that held her. He abandoned his hold on the steering wheel and used both hands on hers, hauled her closer —

There was no rain outside now, they’d passed beyond the clouds. Cold, it was so cold — his breath fogged the air between them — her face pale as ice and weirdly calm now, her eyes blank —

“No!” he screamed, and held on. Held on.

Something was pulling her away.

“Mulder — ” she whispered. It was a prayer. An apology.

His fingers slipped.

He watched her fall away from him, auburn hair a silky cloud obscuring her face, and they were so high, so high he could see the earth curving away from him, oh God —

She fell out of the light into the darkness.

And he went up. Into the light. The cold.

The pain.

Time slipped like a greasy ball bearing, veering from the track, jumping on a roulette wheel of choices …

The taste of her mouth was hotter this time, sweet as peaches and raw honey, the feel of her skin like cool silk under his hands –

Scully, stop, oh God, stop –

Not this time. There was no more fighting, no more conscience, no more walls between them –

He lifted the damp, clinging hem of her t-shirt and pulled it over her head, spraying them both with water. Under it her skin was cool and pale and perfect. His hands fit over the swell of her breasts, traced the sharp outlines of her nipples through the heavy cotton of her sports bra, and she moaned into his mouth. Her fingers traced down his chest, following cool raindrops, leaving fire where they touched.

A cellphone rang.

“Don’t get it,” he whispered between kisses. “Just this once. Don’t.”

She didn’t.

Five more rings and it stopped, but the kiss stretched on, hot, damp, endless. He rolled her sports bra up; she raised her arms to let him pull it entirely away.

“Oh, God,” he whispered, and traced his thumbs lightly around the rose-colored nipples.

“Don’t talk,” she said. She was trembling again. He moved her backwards to the bed, laid her down on it and pulled off her damp sweat pants.

Time to stop, if you’re going to stop. Think. Think about Monday morning, about how you’re going to look at her again without seeing this —

He spread his hand over the thin, almost transparent nylon of her panties. She bit her lip and pressed hard against the touch, and the panties were damp, too, but not from the rain. He slid his hand down the smooth fabric, seeking the source, and heard her breath catch on a moan. Her hands were trailing over his chest, his arms, drawing a line of heat down to where the waistband of his blue jeans built a firebreak.

Her eyes were on him, wide, luminous, wicked. He’d seen glimpses of this Scully, from time to time; he’d imagined what she would be like. His imagination had never been this good.

She tugged at a belt loop. “Take these off.”

Three words he’d been waiting to hear. He unbuttoned and unzipped, worked the damp fabric down his hips, carrying his underwear with them. Her fingers closed around him before he could take a deep breath and the feeling was so incredibly rich what breath he had shuddered out. He couldn’t remember being this hard before, this sensitive. Her touch was sensual and torturous, and he didn’t think he was going to be able to stand it for long.

He hooked thumbs in the waistband of her panties and took them off in one long, straight pull. Came back up the smooth line of her legs, drew the tip of his tongue along the inside of her thigh, up into warmth and the damp hot center of her, heard her cry out and wanted that, wanted to make her scream, he didn’t care if Skinner and the entire OPC committee sat and took notes. He’d wanted her for so long. So long. Scully.

She was panting like a marathon runner, the muscles in those lovely strong legs tensed, her back arched. He pulled away and kissed his way up her body, pausing at the warm swell of her breasts to taste rose-colored nipples, and the pressure of her hips against his made his breath come faster, too. Her hands stroked his back, his hips, slid under to tease him again. He kissed her wildly as her legs slid apart for him, a welcome he’d dreamed of and never imagined, not like this, not with such incredible intensity.

He slid inside her. It was the most perfect, liquidly beautiful instant of pleasure of his life, the hot tight embrace of her, the desire in her eyes, the sound she made, her head thrown back, the graceful arch of her throat.

And then he couldn’t think anymore. Then it was feeling, and light, and flesh and souls.

Sometime that day, the telephone rang again. They ignored it.

Across town, a body vanished from the morgue.

In Quantico, Jimmy Onofrio stared dumbfounded at a fingerprint card as the prints vanished from its surface.

Neither of them felt the chill, or the end of their world, as

Time

Rolled

Back

On

Track.

Friday, April 17, 1998 9:58 a.m.

Dana Scully put the finishing touches on her report and watched the progress of the save with weary fascination. Friday. She didn’t usually look forward to the weekend so much, but then she hadn’t usually spent a week in Madine, Georgia in a motel that made Norman Bates’ establishment look like a Hilton. Someday, the Bureau’s obsession with cost-cutting was going to go too far, and she’d end up diced up for fish bait in some town that didn’t even appear on maps …

The telephone rang. She looked up as Mulder, who was tossing wadded-up copies of his own report toward a wastebasket (and proving not to be NBA material), straightened and reached for the receiver.

She felt the strangest surge of cold, and thought of her grandmother saying, somebody just walked over my grave. She wanted to tell him not to pick it up, but that was clearly ridiculous. Mulder hesitated for just an instant, as if he’d felt the same chill, then picked up the phone.

“Mulder,” he said. Paused a second or two. He shrugged and hung up.

“What?” She raised her eyebrows.

“Wrong number, I guess,” he said. “Probably a ghost trying to reach me from the other side. Want to run a trace?”

She ignored the question, turned back to her report. “Plans this weekend?” she asked.

He was quiet for so long she threw a look at him. Caught him in an expression that jolted through her like electricity. Like fear of falling.

And then it was gone. He aimed another paper basketball at the File 13 hoop.

It missed.

“Cindy Crawford said she’d stop by,” he said. “You?”

“Brad Pitt,” she said.

“Glad we’re keeping busy.” Mulder let a few seconds go by before he said, “Remember, the only safe sex is abstinence.”

She couldn’t resist a smile.

“Then I guess we’ve safe,” she said.

He sighed.

### end ###

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