Itinerant Stasis by Livasnaps

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Itinerant Stasis

Itinerant Stasis cover

Itinerant Stasis

Author: J. T. Filipek (aka Livasnaps)

E-Mail:

Rating: PG (for language)

Category: MSR, A

Spoilers: Lots and lots of spoilers. Too numerous to mention

Keywords: MSR

Summary: (don’t have one yet)

Written: 06/99

Distribution: Anywhere as long as it’s complete and is archived with this heading intact.

Comments: Will do almost anything for feedback. Please. It’s how I feed my children.

DISCLAIMER: Disclaimer: You know the drill. They belong to CC, 1013 Productions and Fox Television. Not mine, but I’m glad I get to play with them. This is better than the action figures. Also, I’ve used fragments of a lot of songs I don’t own either. And, of course, I’ve used David’s poem, which I also have no claim on, other than loving it. It appeared in the January 1998 issue of Movieline Magazine.

ITINERANT STASIS
By J. T. Filipek

Cliché Juice

Home is where the heart is and my heart is
out traveling. Up into the wild blue yonder;
wingless, prayerful that this miracle of flight
will not end, just yet.
Also at home with you, on the ground
wherever you might be at the moment, grounded
like a highschooler; like a wire, a bird and a wire,
feet on the ground and my heart is in my throat now, now
in my feet, lawfully descending with gravity
to the lower; lowest, most sought after
most beautifully bound, home.
Aspirations involve reparations. We reach
for the stars wondering what we are.
But my Reason has been found
by finding you and looking down. And it is there,
not in the stars of fantasized worlds, fifth
dimensions, sixth senses, holy parallel potentates of
potentialities—that my feet will trace
their slow as history itself dance;
a walking calligraphy so subtle that it will take 40 years
and more and a view from above
with an impersonal remove and lofty attachment I hope
to barely fail at that mythical two-backed beast; itinerant stasis;
like the one I enjoy up here in the well attended air;
to read the cursive strokes of my aggregate footsteps,
like some fairy tale dissolve, “Once upon a time” or twice
written upon our little page of earth, ground,
wherever our home may be
will be
wherever we happen
to be.

—David Duchovny

(published in Movieline Magazine, June 1998)

BOOK I

Chapter One

Chicago O’Hare Airport

12:12 a.m.

I’ve got sixteen minutes to get from Gate 33B to 17E. I’ve always hated O’Hare. Of all the airports in all the cities we’ve been to, I have the worst luck in Chicago. I don’t know how many times I’ve found myself running through this airport, trailing after Mulder on my eight-inch shorter legs hoping that we’d make our connecting flight. Mulder usually phones ahead for them to hold the departure of the next flight. FBI sanction makes all the difference in the world. I didn’t think to use it this time.

Gallup to Dallas, Dallas to Chicago, Chicago to DC. That was the best I could do for connections. And believe me, I chewed enough customer service ass to get that. Now I’m running down this endless corridor toward the hub of the airport, knowing that I’ll have to run back down another corridor even further. I see an airport security officer ahead and race toward him.

“Scully.” I’m having some trouble breathing. “FBI.” I flash my badge and ID, grateful for a moment to catch my breath. “The flight from Gate 17E, the one to Dulles. I need you to delay it until I get there. This is an emergency and I need to get back to Washington as quickly as possible.”

He checks my ID carefully and pulls out his radio. “Command center, this is Snowden. We need the plane at Gate 17E delayed, per emergency request of FBI Special Agent…” He pauses a moment and looks back at my ID. “Dana Scully. Badge number JTT03316613. Please have the plane wait at the gate until Agent Scully boards.”

The radio squawks back in a voice barely recognizable as human. I wonder vaguely why they haven’t made more improvements in sound in hand-held radios. “Who can we confirm that with?” the voice on the radio asks.

“Assistant Director Walter Skinner.” I reply. “Please hold the plane while you confirm.”

After what seems an endless amount of time, although it probably isn’t more than three or four minutes, the voice returns. “Flight 233 at Gate 17E is being held for Agent Scully. Snowden, please have her proceed to the gate as quickly as possible.”

I murmur my thanks to Officer Snowden and head down the corridor at a brisk pace toward 17E. I reach the gate eight minutes later to find an airline employee standing at the closed door to the ramp onto the plane. My badge and ID still in my hand, I bring it before the man’s face and he lets me in without a word.

My footsteps echo hollowly as I take long steps down the slight decline of the ramp. The air is warm and humid compared to the air-conditioning in the terminal and smells of jet fuel from the outside. A flight attendant waits for me and takes my ticket, directing me to seat 14C. I move down the aisle holding my briefcase ahead of me, conscious of the looks I’m getting from the other passengers, resentful at the delay of their flight. This is the last-call Chicago-DC redeye, and these people are anxious to get to their destination. I fight back the urge to glare back, or maybe I’m too tired to expend the effort. Tired, worried, terrified—take your pick.

Mercifully, seat 14D is vacant. Although redeye flights are notoriously quiet, I don’t think I can stand the idea of someone in the seat next to me trying to make small talk. I sit down, stowing my briefcase under the seat in front of me. As I buckle in, I wonder briefly how many redeye flights I’ve taken over the past seven years. Dozens? Hundreds? And till now, every one of them has been with Mulder. When I fly by myself, I usually go during the day. Mulder prefers night flights.

We have a rule about night flights. Not anything that’s ever been spoken really, just something we’ve always done. We generally don’t talk to one another the entire flight, unless one of us has some brilliant insight into the case we’re working on. I usually use the time for reading or catching up on file notes. I’m not very good at sleeping on planes. I’ve never been a good flyer. Sometimes Mulder will read, too, or listen to music on his Walkman. Or sometimes we’ll both just sit there, not doing anything, with one or the other of us occasionally brushing against the other’s shoulder. An acknowledgement, a reminder. Lots of times, though, Mulder just sleeps. Airplanes seem to be one of the few places in which he can actually get some sound sleep.

I remember the last redeye we took, while we were still working on the fertilizer cases. The one we worked on right after I came back after I got shot in New York. The flight was a non-stop from Billings to Chicago—two-and-a-half hours. We settled in and Mulder pressed earphones into his ears immediately and burrowed under the blanket he’d removed from the overhead compartment before sitting down. He was so frustrated and angry at where we were and what we were doing, it just rolled off him in waves. Hell, we both were frustrated. But I think it was worse for Mulder. I could tell by looking at him that he was sleeping even less than usual, so I was glad he was taking the opportunity to get some rest.

He slept for a while curled on his side, his back to me. He turned suddenly with a brief, soft snore, lying back in the chair and stretching his feet into the aisle. His movements took me away from the book I was reading and I turned just to check on him. His mouth was slack with relaxation and the worry lines that so often creased his forehead smoothed out. It made me sad to think how infrequently I saw him without the lines anymore.

At rest, he looked much the same as he did when I first met him, when we first started working together. That flight to Oregon, when we hit that pocket of turbulence. Gripping my armrests so tight my hands were sore the next day, everyone around me murmuring and whispering. And I look over and he’s got himself bent into two seats, Walkman plugged in, smiling like some kind of mysterious Buddha. It was his best “Spooky Mulder” imitation—my first encounter with Mr. “You’ve Never Seen Me Panic,” although I didn’t know it at the time. I was too busy wanting to strangle him with his Walkman cord and too scared to let go long enough to try it. We both were so young then, although neither of us really was.

The blanket slipped off his shoulder and I automatically reached up to tuck it back in, knocking the earphone out of the ear nearest to me. I could hear sounds coming from it, and I wondered what he was listening to. Reaching over, I gently plucked the earphone from where it had fallen just below his shoulder and tucked it into my right ear. I had to lean toward him a bit for it to reach me, and the armrest between us bit into my ribs. What I heard surprised me. Mulder is a classic rock guy, with occasional forays into progressive jazz or, interestingly enough, big band. The music he was listening to was strange, something I’d never heard before. A breathy, flute-like instrument with a piano background—the piano sometimes laying soft disharmonic chords behind the flute, sometimes acting as a melodic percussion, sometimes playing strange counter-melodies. I listened as one song blended into the next with barely a break between them, quiet and soothing in its very discord, mesmerizing. I felt myself drifting…

It barely registered in my sleep-clogged brain when Mulder raised the armrest between us. I felt him shift and push some of the blanket toward me, and I huddled into it. I’d left the overhead vent on because I don’t breathe well on planes, and it was making me cold. The music was still playing and, between it and the warmth of the blanket, I was lulled back into a doze. He was warm, too, as we sat, arms and legs barely touching. My eyes closed, I sensed the movement milliseconds before I felt his fingers on mine, where they rested just above my knee. He ran the tips of his first two fingers in light concentric circles around my knuckles, then threaded them through the first two fingers of my hand. I squeezed his fingers lightly, glad for the reconnect. One of so many disconnects and reconnects we’ve gone through since last summer.

I woke with a start when they turned the cabin lights on. I turned to see Mulder blinking slowly from sleep. Our fingers were still laced together and I was suddenly self-conscious. He sensed my discomfort, I think, because he gave my fingers a quick squeeze before pulling his hand away. A slow, drowsy smile crossed his face and I smiled back as he tugged on the cord, pulling the earphone from my ear.

We had an hour and a half before our connecting flight to Washington and Mulder volunteered to go get us coffee. I stood at the east facing windows and watched as the sky started to lighten with the rising sun. He came up beside me and handed me my cup and we both sipped in silence, watching the sky go from turquoise to rose to gold.

“What were we listening to?” I finally asked.

“It’s called Migration by Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai. Kater is the pianist and Nakai plays the Native American flute. He’s a Navajo-Ute.” His voice still held a trace of sleepiness, and he fought a losing battle with a yawn.

“Not exactly what I’d expect from you.”

“Always keep ‘em guessing,” he said with a smile. “Actually, I got it from Frohike. One day he gives me this big stack of CDs and says he thinks New Age music is being produced by the government using sound as an opiate and sending subliminal messages. He hands me five or six that he thinks are the worst and asks me to listen to them and tell him what I think. I listened to all of them—synthesizers, space music, all that happy crappy. I told him he was full of shit when I gave ‘em back to him. No subliminals, just hour after hour of excruciating boredom. But I kept that one. I just liked it for some reason.”

“Me too.” We both lapsed back into silence. I thought about the music. It wasn’t something I’d ordinarily be drawn to either. It was definitely more Melissa’s style than mine. In fact, last time I went to see Mom, I found some of Melissa’s CDs and she had solo CDs by both Nakai and Kater. But not that one. I haven’t heard it since that night on the plane with Mulder.

God, what the hell happened to Mulder? Gunshot wound? Sick? Fire? I send off a quick prayer that it wasn’t fire.

One more time, I mentally kick my own ass for leaving him. What could I possibly have been thinking? Set up an MRI and send him home to bed as if that was what he’d do? I know Mulder better than that. And I let him drive in that condition. Good one, Dana. The artifacts were so important to him, but I should have stayed. He sounded awful when I talked to him on the phone this morning. When she answered the phone.

The idea of Diana being there doesn’t make me nearly as angry as it makes me afraid for him. A hundred different scenarios play in my mind and she is directly responsible in 98 of them and an accessory in the other two. Mulder refuses to see what I know about her and he trusts her. No, that’s not true. He trusts me. But he doesn’t distrust her and I know that he should. I just know it. And it scares me.

I could hear the pain as soon as he started talking. Lord knows, after everything we’ve been through, I know what he sounds like when he’s hurting. And still I had to argue with him. Except it wasn’t much of an argument from his side. He just sounded sick and in pain.

Why didn’t I start getting home then? What the hell did staying accomplish?

What could have happened to him? Why didn’t Skinner tell me? Did I even give him a chance to?

If anything happens to him and I find out she was responsible, she better hope aliens exist and they have extra room on their ship. Because off planet is the only place she’ll be safe from me.

++++++

Mulder’s Apartment

15 hours earlier

Hurts. Why won’t she give me something for the pain? She always wants to give me something for the pain. Hurts. Making me sick.

Where am I? Bed, it’s my bed. How? Called Scully. Hurt. Said she’d be right there. Scully can fix this. Why won’t she fix this? How did she get me here? Maybe one of the guys. There was a man…

The sound. Way too loud. Sounds like a cartoon ray gun. No, phone. Afraid to open my eyes. Hurts. Hear Scully come into the room. The whispers start again.

<probably/the/bitch/maybe/one/of/those/idiots/he/used/to/hang/around/with/hope/it’s/the/ bitch/either/way/it/gets/back/to/her>

What?

“Hello?”

Glad Scully got the phone. Stopped the ringing. Look up. She’s standing in front of the light. Can’t see her face. Tall. Look how tall. Making me dizzy. Could puke from this.

“Just a moment.”

Scully hands me the phone. Don’t want to talk. Must be important. Scully wouldn’t make me talk. “Hello?”

“Mulder, where are you?”

Scully is on the phone. Scully gave me the phone. “I’m here. I’m resting.” She’s here, too. Why is she calling to ask me this?

“Where? Who answered the phone?”

I can hear her worry. “I’m home. It’s okay.” She sounds so far away. “Where are you?”

“I’m in New Mexico with Dr. Sandoz.”

New Mexico? Now I’m starting to remember. She left to find out about the artifacts. She’s where I would be if I could. She went for me. “Does he have the artifact?”

“Mulder, this artifact. If I’m to believe what I’m hearing about it…”

I know that tone of voice. She’s gonna tell me something. I’m gonna think it’s one thing, she’s going to say it’s something else. “What?”

“It has a passage on it from Genesis.”

I’m awake now, the headache alternately fading and flaring. “Scully, that artifact is extraterrestrial.”

“Mulder, it can’t be.” Her voice is quiet, but firm.

But I act like I don’t hear her. “Do you know what that would mean?” I try to think clearly, but the pain starts to edge back.

“No. It would mean nothing, Mulder.”

“No,” I answer back. “It would mean that our progenitors were alien. That our genesis was alien. That we’re here because of them. That they put us here.” I try to sit up, but a wave of nausea hits me.

“Mulder, that is science fiction. It doesn’t hold a drop of water.”

Why doesn’t she understand? Starting to hurt bad again. “Don’t you see? All the mysteries of science, everything we can’t understand or won’t explain. Every human behaviorism—cosmology, psychology. Everything in the X-Files. It all owes to them, it’s from them.”

“Mulder, I will not accept that. It’s just not possible.”

Of course she can’t accept it. She’s not supposed to. Hurts. Don’t want her to. “Well then, you go ahead and prove me wrong, Scully.” I wanted it to sound like a challenge. Even to my own ears, it sounds like a whine. She hangs up. She knows what to do. I want her to. Prove me wrong, Scully. I want an explanation for how I feel, for what I hear. For the voices. An explanation or a bullet in the head. Either one would do.

I look up as Diana takes the phone. Diana? How did she…? Can’t think about it now. Hurts. And I’m so tired. Won’t hurt so much if I’m asleep. It’s just Diana.

The voice fades in and out. <…artifact/…called/…distress/…find out>

I’m just dropping off to sleep when I hear the door close.

<wake/him/up/what/if/this/doesn’t/work/always/worked/before>

Raise my head. Don’t want to. Christ, it HURTS! Why won’t Scully fix this? New Mexico. Proving me wrong.

Diana is here again. What the fuck is she doing? Bra and panties. Pulling back the comforter. “Diana, don’t.”

<he/doesn’t/want/me/always/worked/before>

“Fox, I can make you feel better if you’ll let me.” Her mouth moves. Can even hear her hear her a little. Like she’s underwater. She puts a knee on the bed, as if to crawl towards me.

“Stop it. Just get out.” Can’t look at her, can hardly see. Hurts.

“You never used to say that.” Edgy, tense. What’s wrong with her?

“Things change.” Can’t stand to speak. No room in my head for my voice and the other.

Sit up against the pillows. She is smiling. But her eyes. Her eyes. Hurts. Hurts. Swallow. Can’t puke. Her eyes.

<his/face/he/doesn’t/want/me/he’ll/be/pissed/if/i/don’t/do/this/he’ll/be/so/pissed/

don’t/want/carl/pissed/gotta/do/this/he’s/sick/how/much/can/he/fight/back>

“I told you that night in your apartment how I feel.” Stomach is churning. I’m gonna lose it. Her eyes are strange.

“Scully again. Well she’s not here, Fox, and I am.”

Her eyes. Everything is there. Thoughts she doesn’t even know she has. Everything is there. Everything. The lies, the deceit, the betrayal.

<what’s/wrong/with/him/his/face/his/face/hates/me/scaring/me/needle/on/

the/table>

It was all a lie. All of it. Hurts. God, it hurts! Her, too. Even she betrayed. Everybody. Except Scully. Never Scully.

My hands are fists. Her eyes. Her eyes look back. Hate her. Hate this bitch. She backs away, off the bed.

<hates/me>

“Yes.” I answer.

She looks at me curiously as her hand reaches toward the nightstand. Needle on the table.

<he/knows>

“Yes.”

<god/module/how’d/it/get/switched/back/on>

She lunges forward. Lands on me knocking the breath from my lungs. Needle is ready, aiming for any part of me she can get. Free my arm, grab her wrist and squeeze. She drops the needle. Reaches beneath the pillow.

<stun/gun>

Stun gun. I barely finish the thought when I feel it pressed against my ribs. Brief flash of fire against my skin and the air whooshes from my lungs again. Muscles stiffen. Hurts. Hurts. Muscles slacken and I fall back against the pillows.

Diana retrieves the needle. She holds it up and taps the side a few times. Pressing the plunger, she expels a few drops of liquid. “I didn’t want to do it this way, Fox. Really, it was never against you personally. This won’t hurt you. You won’t even remember it in the morning.”

<you/see/this/as/betrayal/never/about/betrayal/about/survival>

“Quit looking at me that way,” she says. “You know what the stakes are here. When this is all over the winners are going to be the ones still standing and I’m going to be one of them. Everyone betrays. Everyone has a price, Fox. Even you.”

“Not Scully.” The words are thick and slurry.

“Not Scully.” She gives a bitter, caustic chuckle. “Not the precious Saint Scully. Who knows? Maybe not. Whatever. I don’t even care. I just want to talk about the artifact.” She plunges the needle into my arm.

And the world goes red.

+++++

Chapter Two

Georgetown Memorial Hospital

3:18 a.m.

I feel strangely self-conscious as I enter the sliding doors of Georgetown Memorial, as if the staff of every hospital in DC knows who I am. Between Mulder and me, we’ve hit about every major medical facility in the immediate area. I go to the information desk, expecting to hear that Mulder is on the fourth floor, where the ICU is, or the sixth floor, the post-surgical floor. I ask the woman behind the desk to repeat it when she tells me he’s on two, the special psychiatric unit. It’s a short-term unit for evaluating patients for referrals to other psychiatric facilities.

I exit the elevator on two and head down the corridor to where I see Skinner rising to his feet. Not exactly exuberant in the best of times, he looks especially grim as I approach. His expression frightens me.

“They just told me he’s in the special psychiatric unit.” My tone is accusatory, even to my own ears.

“I told you on the phone…”

“No,” I interrupt. “You said there was bad news. You didn’t say what was wrong.” I realize I’m starting to cause a scene in the hallway. “Look, I’m sorry. It just took me three flights to get here.”

He looks uncomfortable, hesitant. “I don’t know what else to do, Dana, and no one else does either. I knew you’d want to be here to see him, to talk to the doctors.”

Dana? He called me Dana. My stomach contracts when he takes my hand in his. The gesture startles me so much, I barely notice that he’s pressed a wad of paper into my hand. I place it in my pocket automatically, still trying to read his expression. “What? What is it?”

He propels me toward an open door. I stand in the doorway facing a wall of monitors. She’s in the room, watching the monitors, too. Diana. I feel my teeth clench and the muscles in my shoulders tighten. Rage, like a compact ball of fire in my abdomen, flares up and I almost say something but…

My eyes are drawn to one of the monitors. Oh God, it’s him. Mulder pacing in a small barren cell. He clutches his head as if in agony and cries and walks and walks. A lump forms in my throat, and I blink fast against the hot tears that spring to my eyes. Oh God, how can this be?

“Thank you for coming. He was asking for you last night.” Diana’s voice, beside and behind me.

I have the edge of the counter in a death grip to keep from striking out at her. Thank you for coming, like she’s hosting a fucking reception or something. As if I wouldn’t come. I think I’d hurt her bad for that if I could just look away from the screen. He screams and I can feel it tearing at my gut. What have they done to him?

A voice from behind me makes me turn around. “You really shouldn’t be here.” Mulder’s doctor?

I look back and forth between the doctor and the monitor. “What’s wrong with him? This man right here, Fox Mulder?” I need to look at the doctor, need to see him, but I can barely look away from the stark images on the screen.

He shakes his head in puzzlement. “I’m not sure what’s wrong with him and we don’t know what to do for him.” He sighs. “He’s got extremely abnormal brain function, but there’s no sign of stroke. We’re waiting to run more tests.”

My relief at hearing that there are no signs of stroke is short lived. They’re waiting. Why are they waiting? “Waiting for what?”

“He’s extremely violent. With what we’ve given him, he should be in a barbiturate coma. But there’s brain activity in areas we’ve never seen before.”

“I want to talk to him.”

“No, he is a danger to anyone.” The doctor is emphatic.

“Not to me.” I am just as emphatic.

Fowley interrupts us. “Can we speak in the hall?”

It takes everything I’ve got not to scream what I know at her. But I know better. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. “About what?” My teeth are clenched together so tightly my jaw hurts.

“Agent Scully?” Skinner says, a quiet warning. I look at him and see the expression that even makes Mulder quake sometimes. He’s ordering me into the hall. I look away, angry, and turn toward the door.

“SCULLY!”

The tone of his voice tears at my soul. He calls my name and I turn back to the monitor. I see him walking toward the camera, his gait flat-footed and unsteady. His hand loosely covers his mouth, fingertips grazing his lips. He comes as close as possible, his face filling the screen. I feel him looking into my eyes. He knows I’m here. I feel him looking at me. It’s almost like there’s nothing between us. His eyes. If I could just talk to him, just for a minute. I’m going to get you out of this, Mulder. Just hang on.

Turning away, I blink back another onrush of tears. Not here. They don’t get my tears, and tears now won’t do him any good. I hear Diana asking me questions, and I answer briefly, saying almost nothing. I wish she’d shut up. I need to think about what the doctor said. None of this makes any sense. I need more information.

I hear Skinner’s voice. “The case has nothing to do with what’s happened to him.”

How did this happen? I don’t understand the progression. When I spoke with him this morning—when she answered the phone—I could hear pain in his voice, but he was calm and lucid. How did he get here? When did he get here?

“Agent Scully says it does. Now you know my background, my previous work with the X-Files. If I can be of help in this case…?”

If she can be of help. Surely she must be joking. Is she being purposefully obtuse? Can she possibly believe that I’d think she could be of help in this?

Skinner speaks again, and I have the sudden feeling of them having a conversation around me. “The X-File here is a fraud. Agent Scully has ample proof of that. Evidence authenticated by a scholar and authority.”

Alarms go off in my head. “I never sent you that report.” Skinner won’t meet my eye.

“Anyway,” he continues, finally looking at me. “The case has been resolved.” I try to read his expression, unsure what it is I’m seeing. I want to push away the suspicions that are forming, but I can’t.

Diana speaks again. “Not as far as it affects Agent Mulder.” She looks at me and I look back without hesitation. “If you know what’s going on here, why won’t you tell me?”

Did her chin quiver slightly?

“Why were you with him last night?” She’s the part in all of this that doesn’t make sense to me.

“He called me,” she replies. Her voice is steady. But there’s something about her eyes. “I found him in a university stairwell. He could barely speak. He said I was the only one who’d believe him. About an artifact.”

No, that’s wrong. He’d have called me, or even the guys. I know it with absolute certainty. Her eyes. She’s fishing. She doesn’t know.

“You’re a liar,” I reply evenly.

“Scully.” Skinner’s voice has an edge I’ve never heard. Why is he siding with her?

And suddenly I think I know. I understand how Skinner knows about our conversation with Chuck in the basement office. “You’re both liars.” And I walk away, stinging from Skinner’s betrayal. Diana I expected. Skinner came out of nowhere and I don’t know if I’m more sad or scared.

I turn the corner toward the elevators, and see Mulder’s doctor coming toward me. “Dr…” I look down at his identification badge. “Buchanan. Please, can I have a minute?”

He looks distinctly uncomfortable, but nods. “Who are you?”

I fight a ridiculous urge to show him my badge. “I’m Dana Scully, Mr. Mulder’s partner.”

“You’re with the FBI, too?””

I nod. “What happened here?”

“He was admitted yesterday at about eleven in an extremely agitated state, brought in by EMTs. Ms. Fowley said he hadn’t been feeling well and suddenly became violent. So much so that she had to lock herself in the bathroom and call for assistance. We were able—with a great deal of difficulty—to get some blood, enough for a tox screen and chem twenty. That was before he broke an orderly’s collarbone. We tried to sedate him, nothing worked. We were forced to isolate him.”

He was admitted around eleven. I do some quick calculations, adjusting for the time difference, and realize he was admitted less than ninety minutes after I spoke with him. What happened in that time? “May I see the results of the blood work?”

He shakes his head in indignation. “Of course not.” He looks at me as if I’m insane.

“I’m a doctor.”

“Then you know the rules about patient confidentiality. Now Ms. Scully…”

He’s cutting me off. “Wait, can’t I see him, just for a few minutes?”

“Absolutely not. You’ve seen the state he’s in.”

I fight to keep the desperation out of my voice. “He won’t hurt me. He won’t, and maybe I can help here.”

“Look Ms., I mean Dr. Scully. I’m not willing to take on that liability, either for me or for the hospital. Maybe when he’s calmer.”

“Please? I’ll sign a waiver, whatever you want.”

“No.” His tone is adamant. “It’s too dangerous. The orderly who was hurt was lucky Mr. Mulder connected with his collarbone and not his head. It’s out of the question, I’m sorry. Now, I really need to get back to my other patients.” He walks away, not giving me a chance to speak again.

+++++

Scully was here. I heard Scully here. Scully was in that room with them. With Skinner and her, the traitor. I can feel Scully looking at me. Scully is worried and scared. I’m worried and scared for Scully. Too many voices, trying to keep me from hearing Scully.

<I’m going to get you out of this, Mulder. Just hang on.>

Scully will get me out of this. Scully knows about them. Help me, Scully, help me. Help me stop the voices. I’m tired. I’m so tired. Head hurts. Scully, get me out of here.

+++++

I want to see Mulder again, need to. I head back toward the monitor room in time to see Skinner lead Fowley away and around the corner to another corridor. Quickly I make my way into the room and shut the door behind me. In stark black and white, I watch him pacing the small room and hear his cries, his throat hoarse with many hours of strain. His back to me, he stops suddenly and drops his hands from his head. He turns and walks, sure-footed, toward the camera.

“I know you’re taping this. Every word I say. Stop watching me all the time!”

A warning, a message for me? Like before, he moves close, his face filling the screen. Again, I get the feeling that he knows I’m here and he smiles. His eyes. I can see into them and there is no trace of madness. I can see into him and can almost feel him seeing into me, although the rational part of me knows that that’s impossible. But still, I want to believe.

Mulder, do you know I’m here? I say the words in my head.

He nods slightly and smiles.

Prove it. I challenge. Touch your face.

He brings his fingers to his lips and blows a small kiss. He can “hear” me. It makes me smile and I wonder if he can hear that, too. He nods and smiles and points to himself. I picture sending him a kiss in return, and he touches his right cheek where I pictured the kiss. On his spot.

They won’t let me in to see you. They’re afraid you’ll hurt me.

His face is sad and confused as he shakes his head.

I know. I told the doctor you wouldn’t hurt me. Mulder, Diana’s here. She said you called her.

His eyes narrow almost imperceptibly, and he points at the camera, at me. He called me and she showed up somehow.

I was right about her. I still think so. She had something to do with your being here, didn’t she?

He nods and lowers his eyelids in contrition.

I’m going to get you out of here somehow. I’m not sure how, but I’ll do it as fast as I can. I might have to be away for a while. Just hang on for me.

He gives me a plaintive look, but nods sadly.

Skinner’s involved in this somehow, too. I don’t know who to trust.

He puts his hand on his heart, and his eyes meet mine. Trust him. Then he holds up three fingers. Can only be the Gunmen. I hear the door opening behind me and suddenly, Mulder begins his frantic pacing and crying again. I turn away to see Diana in the doorway.

“Agent Scully, I thought you’d gone.” She looks at me suspiciously.

I don’t even bother to acknowledge her as I brush past her and out the door.

+++++

Chapter Three

I head for Mulder’s apartment after finding the surveillance camera in the office. We used to routinely sweep for monitoring equipment, but I don’t think we’ve done it since we were reassigned. Apparently that was a big mistake. I’m assuming that if our office is bugged our homes are, too.

My mind is reeling. Skinner obviously knew about the surveillance equipment. That’s the only way he could have known about our conversation with Chuck. But he’d know better than to blurt it out that way.

Suddenly I remember the wad of paper he slipped to me when I got to the hospital. At the next red light, I take it from my pocket and unfold it. It’s one of his business cards and he’s written something on the back: “Under constant surveillance. You, too. Will help when I can. Don’t trust what I say without a signal.”

Who’s behind all this? I know the Smoking Man is in here somewhere. Anybody else? Is Diana working with him? With someone else? Her own agenda? There are too many questions and no Mulder to bounce them off of.

I’m saddened by Dr. Sandoz’ death, and scared on a lot of levels. Skinner was the only one besides me who knew where he was. I have to assume that the piece of the artifact that Dr. Sandoz had was taken by whoever shot him. My first thought was Dr. Barnes, but I called his office right away and he answered the phone. Is he in on this, too?

I reach Hegel Place and find a parking spot up the block from Mulder’s building. As I enter the lobby Mr. Gottlieb, the on-site manager, stops me.

“Ms. Scully, I saw Mr. Mulder being taken away by ambulance yesterday. I hope he’s alright.”

I don’t get the feeling that he hopes that at all. Mulder is a troublesome tenant, to say the least. I know I’d hate to manage the building where he lives.

Maybe I can do something to salvage Mulder’s tenancy. “He’s still in the hospital, Mr. Gottlieb,” I reply. “He had an extremely violent allergic reaction to some medication prescribed to him. It’s been touch and go. I don’t know how much longer he’ll have to remain in the hospital. Is his rent due or anything?”

Mr. Gottlieb looks genuinely concerned. “Oh no, Ms. Scully. He’s always real prompt with the rent. Paid it a week ago.”

I guess Mulder knows better than to miss a rent payment with his track record. “That’s good. Like I said, they’re not sure how long he’ll have to stay.”

“Well, you give him my best now, okay?”

“I certainly will, Mr. Gottlieb. I’m going up to get a few things he needs at the hospital, so don’t be alarmed if you hear me in the apartment.” I give him a smile that I hope looks more real than it feels.

He smiles and gives me a wave as I head for the elevator. I take the lift to the fourth floor and head down the hallway with the thought that it seems as if I spend more time at his house than I do at my own. I reach his door and find that the “4” has joined the “2” in hanging upside down and I straighten them, knowing they’ll both fall when I close the door behind me. Unlocking the door, I step inside the dark entryway.

Turning the light on, I see that the entire apartment is in shambles, with things overturned and broken, papers and books scattered everywhere. I have to pick my way through the debris to step further into the room. Reaching Mulder’s bedroom, I see marks on the bathroom doorjamb where Mulder apparently hit it with something trying to break in to get to Diana who, according to the doctor, had locked herself in to call for help. In the back of my mind, I wish he’d been able to get in but then he’d be in worse trouble than he already is.

Like the rest of the place, the bedroom is trashed. My eye is drawn to the bed, where a videotape rests atop one of the pillows. I reach for it and notice that there is a yellow sticky note attached to it with my name written in block letters. Digging into my bag, I retrieve a plastic evidence bag and use it to pick up the tape. Beneath it on the pillowcase, there are several yellowish drops that stand out against the pristine white of the cotton fabric. I remove the case from the pillow and place it and the tape on the bedside table. I scan the room, looking for a surveillance camera and note a small hole drilled high in the wall above the closet door. Inside the closet on a shelf behind some boxes, I find the camcorder that probably recorded the tape I was given. I wonder who left it for me. Satisfied, I don’t feel the need to search the rest of Mulder’s apartment. I’d be willing to bet I’d find similar equipment in every other room. I grab the videotape and the pillowcase and place it in a gym bag of Mulder’s.

Back in the car, I realize it’s time to get help from the only source I can trust right now. Reaching for my cell phone, I hit the number three on my speed dial. As always, I get a recorded message, but I know one of them monitors the phone constantly. After the beep I say, “This is Scully. I’m on my way there. ‘Bout half an hour.” The Lone Gunmen don’t like lengthy phone conversations or drop-in visitors.

I’m not exactly sure when the Gunmen went from being three strange guys to being number three on my speed dial right behind Mulder and my mother. For so long, I thought of them as Mulder’s friends, but as I drive along, I realize they’re my friends, too. Maybe the only ones I have anymore since my life has become so centered around Mulder and his quest. No, “our” quest, for it’s touched me as much as it has him, it’s become a defining thing for me as well as for him. How long has it been since I’ve seen my friend Ellen? Her son Trent is probably in junior high by now and I don’t think I’d recognize him if I passed him on the street. I’m somewhat saddened for the loss of her, but more as a symbol of what my life used to be than her actual presence in it. I mean, what would we talk about now? Soccer? Mutants who practice inbreeding? PTA? Alien abductions? My world is so different from Ellen’s it’s almost as if I never really knew her, like she’s a character I remember fondly from a book or a movie.

But still, Mulder and I couldn’t ask for better friends than the Gunmen, especially in the world in which we travel. Byers, Langley, and Frohike are actually unlikely friends for one another, let alone for Mulder and me, but we’re truly fortunate to have them. They know things and can do things that no one else can, and they’ve gotten us out of more than one tight spot. And their loyalty to Mulder is without question and, I think, to me, too.

As always, I park several blocks away and take a circuitous route to their “office,” where they publish their newsletter and keep their fingers in several governmental and bureaucratic pies. If something interesting happens, my money is on the guys knowing about it within the hour. Down an alleyway that would scare me to walk if I weren’t armed, I reach their door and knock, looking around vaguely for the cameras I know are there, but I’ve never been able to find. I want to make sure they know it’s me.

I must have passed the test because I hear the sound of several locks and chains being thrown to let me in. Byers opens the door to me, careful to stay in the shadows to avoid being seen by anyone who might happen to pass in the alley.

“Agent Scully, come on in,” Byers says with a gentle smile as he ushers me into the main room. As always, it is dark and crammed full of electronic equipment I couldn’t begin to identify, but I find it strangely comforting. When did open, well-lit rooms begin to make me uneasy? Is that why I seem to spend more time at Mulder’s apartment than I do at my own?

Langley and Frohike are gathered around the table in the small alcove that serves as their kitchen and dining room. They’re eating something that smells of Italian spices and as my mouth begins to water, I realize I don’t remember the last time I ate. I wonder which of them cooked. If it was Frohike, I’m hoping they’ll offer to share. He may be a bit eccentric, but I’ve never met anyone who makes better veal parmesan. Langley notes my expression and gets up without a word to fetch and fill a plate for me. I nod gratefully and dig into what appears to be seafood lasagna with shrimp and scallops and a spicy creamy white sauce. I fill them in on the situation with Mulder, as much as I know of it, and sop at the leftover sauce on my plate with a slice of garlic bread. Not only has Mulder’s quest become mine, it seems sometimes as if his table manners have, too.

When I’ve finished eating, we pop the tape into the VCR and watch as Diana—in a state of near undress, much to my everlasting disgust—gives a failed attempt at seduction and then immobilizes Mulder with a stun gun and injects him with something. Whatever it was, Mulder’s reaction was immediate and dramatic and, judging by the look on Diana’s face, completely unexpected. She was right to be afraid of him. I’ve never seen him like that and hope I never do.

I give the pillowcase to Byers and ask them to have it examined and to see if they can hack into the computers at Georgetown Memorial. “They won’t let me see him or let me see any of the results of his blood work,” I explain. “Patient confidentiality regulations, or so they say.”

Frohike snorts his disbelief. “This might take a while, Scully, but we’ll get right on it. What do we do in the meantime?” He is ready to charge right in and do whatever it takes.

I realize suddenly how fond I am of this little man—partly, I’m sure, because Mulder says he thinks I’m “hot” but mostly because of his unflagging devotion to Mulder and me. I’ll never forget the night he showed up at my apartment when we thought Mulder had died in New Mexico. Frohike had been almost staggeringly drunk and barely able to cope with his grief at the loss of his friend. I loved him for his grief and envied him his ability to show it, to let it out.

“Right before he was shot, Dr. Sandoz said we needed more pieces of the artifact. I think we can assume that whoever killed him has the piece that Dr. Sandoz had, and may very well have the pieces that Dr. Merkmallon had, too. I think I need to get to the Ivory Coast as soon as possible and see if there are more pieces.”

“I’m on that,” Langley says and jumps up to get on the computer to make travel arrangements.

Byers must see in my face something of the worry I feel. “What is it, Scully?”

I sigh. “I don’t know how I’m going to pay for this. None of my credit cards will handle the cost of this and I don’t think it’ll fall under FBI travel expenses.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he says with a smile.

“Don’t tell me you guys can do computer stuff where I’m flying for free. I really don’t want to take the risk of being caught.”

Frohike grins. “Actually, we can do stuff where you’d fly for free and get triple frequent flyer miles.”

“Frohike…” I start, trying to sound threatening.

“Melvin, for God’s sake, don’t scare her like that,” Byers says, exasperation in his tone. “This will all be paid for legitimately. It’s on Emesco.”

“Emesco?” I repeat doubtfully, trying not to be distracted by the sound of Langley’s fingers clicking swiftly over the keyboard.

Byers looks at me curiously. “Mulder never told you? No, he probably wouldn’t until you needed to know.”

“I think I need to know now,” I say, more sharply than I intend to. Another Mulder surprise.

Byers nods with a sigh. “A few years ago when Mulder’s father died… Well, between the insurance and the sale of several unused properties, Mulder came into quite a large sum of money. He used it to start a corporation—a research company—and he called it Emesco. He wanted a way for us—Frohike, Langley and me—to be able to fund our operation and a way for you two to have access to ready funds in the event of an emergency he’s certain is on the way. Quick getaway money. Emesco is how we’re able to have all this equipment. Subscriptions to our paper don’t generate this kind of income and, in case you’ve never noticed, we have no other visable means of support. Also, it looks pretty good on the tax records, since we never show any profit, although we sell enough research so that the lack of profits isn’t questioned. So, your travel expenses will be on the company.”

“Did Mulder come up with the name,” I ask and Byers nods. “From where?”

“Come on, Scully,” he replies with a grin. “Say it out loud. M-S Co. It was never in question that you would be part of this. I don’t think Mulder would do it without you.”

I may be way too tired, but I find this evidence of Mulder’s love so touching that tears spring to my eyes. Any man can give a woman flowers, but Mulder’s gift to me is an escape plan in the event of planetary Armageddon.

Langley springs up from the computer, bringing a printout over to the worktable. “This was fairly tough. The Ivory Coast isn’t exactly a travel hot spot, but I did the best I could. Scully, you’re going to be on planes for the next thirty hours or so. You’re booked on the Concorde to Paris that leaves LaGuardia tonight at eight. From Paris you fly to Algiers, then to Monrovia, Liberia. After that, a puddle jumper to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. I tried a lot of different routes, but this one was the quickest. Sorry I couldn’t get you there faster, but all the seats are in first-class, so you might use the time to catch up on some sleep.”

I smile reassuringly at Langley. I have the feeling that his trust in me was the most recently won, and I’m very grateful for it. “Thanks, Langley. I guess I’d better get home and get my passport and some clothes.”

“Not a good idea, Scully,” he replies cryptically.

Byers agrees. “If Mulder’s apartment was bugged, yours probably is, too. Plus, we don’t want any records showing you leaving the country. We don’t know all the players in this game, but I think we can assume that someone is watching for that.”

I look at him, confused. “So how do I get into these other countries without a passport, and how do I survive the next few days without at least one change of clothes?”

“Mulder saw to that, too,” Frohike answers. He walks over to a large wall safe and twists the combination dial. The heavy safe door opens, causing the air in the room to stir. He enters and returns a short time later with a metal box. Reaching inside, he withdraws a large wallet and hands it to me. “One of several aliases we have set up for each of you. He said that this one should be the first one you use—for sentimental reasons.”

I open the wallet and pull out a Virginia driver’s license, an international driver’s license, and a blue-covered passport, which appears well worn. Opening it, I find myself staring at my own photograph. I smile when I see that the identification section shows that I will be traveling under the name Georgia Hale, born in Bellefleur, Oregon. Georgia Hale—the female version of the alias he used to use when we first started working together. I feel a sudden pang, wishing he were here so that I could tell him what a sap he is. Georgia Hale! George Hale sounds okay for a man, but on me it sounds like a weather condition in the South. Georgia Hale or Laura Petrie. I really have to have a talk with Mulder about going incognito. Still, the tears that sprang to my eyes earlier threaten to fall down my cheeks and I brush them away quickly.

Byers enters the safe and comes out a short time later with a wad of cash in his hand. “Here’s three thousand dollars. Now, you’ll need to take the train from Washington to New York. They won’t ask for identification when you buy your ticket. If you take the two o’clock train, you should get to New York in plenty of time to buy yourself a few necessities for the trip and still catch a cab to the airport. Use the cash for your train ticket and whatever you need to buy in New York.” He hands me several credit cards, all imprinted with the name Georgia Hale and Emesco. “Don’t use the plastic until you get to Europe, then use it for everything you buy. We don’t want to activate the card in the United States, but once you’re overseas, it’s how we’ll be able to track where you are and make sure everything is on schedule.”

I nod and put the cash, credit cards and documentation into the wallet and the wallet into my briefcase. “Guys, Mulder is a sitting duck in that hospital. We need someone there to keep an eye on him. I think Skinner is with us, but his hands are tied and he can’t be there most of the time anyway.”

“One of us can be there round the clock,” Frohike offers. “But I think we should see about getting someone on the inside, too. Diana knows us and never liked us very much anyway, so we can assume that she won’t let anything slip around us. But nobody pays too much attention to the guy sweeping the floors. We’ll get someone on the inside.”

I hesitate a little and see them looking at me curiously. “I know this sounds strange, but I need you to find his door or get into the monitor room as often as you can without arousing suspicion.”

“Okay,” Frohike says, his tone uncertain. “And what do you want us to do then?”

“This is the strange part,” I reply. “I want you to think to him. I think… No, I believe that Mulder is receiving telepathic messages.” They look at me as if I’m speaking in tongues.

Frohike looks at me with something akin to awe on his face. “Ooo, Agent Scully. You’ve said the words that have won you my heart forever.”

“I’m not kidding,” I reply defensively.

He touches my arm and I look at him, grateful to see understanding on his face. “I know you aren’t, Scully.”

“Don’t say anything out loud because we don’t know who anyone is or who they’re playing for. But let him know I’ll be back as soon as I can. That I’m doing everything I can think of to help him. That I’ll get him out of there one way or another. I think… I think they’ll try to use my absence to convince him that I’ve abandoned him.” My throat gets tight at the thought and I find I can barely speak above a whisper.

“Scully,” Frohike begins. “He’d never…”

“Don’t let him think that,” I plead with them. “Tell him over and over again whenever you can. Make sure he knows he’s not alone. Tell him I lo…” I can’t go on.

Byers nods and makes a noise in his throat, less to clear it that to dispel the awkwardness in the air. “Agent Scully, we’ll need a way to be in contact with you.”

“I have my cell phone,” I reply, reaching automatically into my pocket.

“That’s a no go,” Langley says. “You need a satellite phone for that kind of range. We’ve got a few extra here. Just take one of ours. Untraceable. Oh, and you’ll have to leave your weapon here.”

“One more thing,” Byers says, turning toward a cabinet in the corner. “If you find any pieces of the artifact, you’ll need a way to get them back here.” He digs around and emerges with a bag the size of a briefcase. “This bag is lead lined. If radiation is indeed a problem, this will protect you and anyone else you come into contact with. Also, bringing them into the country might pose a problem. If you find anything, give us a call and we’ll see about getting archeological credentials faxed to you so that you can get through customs.”

I shake my head in wonder. “You guys are amazing. I don’t know how to thank you for all of this.”

“Anything for you, Dana,” Frohike says with a shy grin. “Come on, let’s get you on a train to New York.”

“We’ll call you when we get word on the analysis of the pillowcase and when we can get information on Mulder’s blood work,” Byers says. “And you be careful. Mulder will have our asses if anything happens to you.”

+++++

Chapter Four

Algiers, Algeria

Twenty-six hours later

I’m sitting cross-legged on a toilet seat in a restroom stall in the Algiers airport. I’m sitting cross-legged on a toilet seat in a restroom stall in the Algiers airport with a forty minute layover till my flight to Monrovia, Liberia, then two-and-a-half hours till my flight to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Only my third airport of five and they’re already starting to blend together. Langley worked like a dog to get me the best connections he could, but this all just seems so endless, like something out of Dante. Life has felt like that for a long time.

I’m sitting cross-legged on a toilet seat in a restroom in the Algiers airport rather than in the waiting area because I know I’m going to cry. I know it, I can’t stop it, and I hate it. It’s finally all catching up with me—everything—and I’ve never been so scared in my life. It was okay as long as I was moving, doing things, not thinking about it too much. But I’ve stopped for a while and the thoughts just creep up on me, like so many things in our lives.

So here I am sitting cross-legged on a toilet seat in a restroom in the Algiers airport and I feel the sob working its way up from my gut. It pauses for a while in my chest, lingering there, squeezing my heart like a fist, making it difficult to breathe. The constriction is so great, so intense, I almost wish it would break free and become the wail it so desperately wants to be. Almost.

Instead, it comes out a thin, reedy sound that I would never have guessed could come from me. But as it escapes—slowly, so slowly—the tightness in my chest decreases somewhat, and my breaths come fast, trying to compensate for the brief time I was without air. Finally, finally the tears come and I can feel the heat of fear in them as they roll down my face.

I’m alone. No government sanction, no cover, no weapon, no partner.

No partner.

God I miss him. It’s like a part of me is missing. The part of me that smiles, that wants to believe. Even though that part of me doesn’t get out much, she’s there. Much more than I think she is, much more than I let on to Mulder.

I wonder how he’s doing, if the guys are watching out for him. Of course they are, but if something were to happen what could they do? Things must be okay. They’d have called me if there were trouble.

This just seems wrong. I should be with Mulder. Does he know what I’m doing, could he really hear my thoughts? Or does he think I’ve abandoned him? No, I think he knows. In fact, I’m certain of it. Was this how he felt when I was in the hospital in Allentown and he was breaking into the Lombard Research Facility, or when I was dying and he was invading the Department of Defense facility to find a way to save me? I was scared when those things happened, but I knew he was out there doing whatever he needed to do. For me, to save me. I have to do the same for him. Because that’s what love is about.

How did this get out of control so quickly? I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive myself for leaving him when there was obviously something wrong with him. And for what? Sandoz is dead, the artifact is missing. Why didn’t I listen to him when he was telling me what was going on? For God’s sake, why didn’t I believe him? I blew him off when he said he’d heard Skinner in his head. It’s not like I hadn’t seen anything like that before. There was Gibson Praise, after all. I’d even been the one to bring the “God module” concept to Mulder.

The God module. Is that what this is all about? Dr. Buchanan said Mulder demonstrated activity in areas of the brain he’d never seen before. Like Gibson. I remember my conversation with the boy and he said he could hear people’s thoughts. Like a radio, but sometimes there are a lot of radios and I want to turn them off and watch some tv. But if it’s the same thing, why is it just now happening to Mulder? What does the artifact have to do with it? And why a rubbing and not the actual artifact itself?

A lot of radios. Is that what it’s like for Mulder? Constant noise, different levels of volume and intensity. And absolutely no way to know how to stop it. Gibson would have had his entire life to acclimate to that kind of constant sensory input. For Mulder, it just came out of the blue. What must it be like to suddenly be able to hear everything—real auditory sounds and the thoughts of everyone? Oh God, it’s unimaginable. This has got to be worth it. I’ve got to find some way to help him.

But will I find what we need and will I know what it is if I do?

+++++

Georgetown Memorial Hospital

Time Unknown

I sing in my head. you ain’t nothin’ but a hound-dog, cryin’ all the time Sing and sing and sing. Every song I know, over and over. naah naah naah na-na-na-naaah, na-na-na-naaah, hey jude When I ‘m out of songs, I just start over from the number one song and work my way through again. jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine

And sometimes it works. Sometimes if I do it loud and strong enough, mine is the only voice in my head. And for a few blessed moments, I’m alone. I can think behind the songs if the voices aren’t there.

love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfill. oh my darlin’ I love you and I always will. ah, thank you very much.

Long live The King. Long live all of us. I hope.

But when the singing doesn’t work—the voices, the sounds. THE NOISE. Sometimes it’s just one or two. That’s okay, I can stand that. Except it’s so hard to believe that most peoples’ thoughts are so mundane, so fucking boring. But when there’s lots of voices they get all garbled, woven into one another and they’re loud and they laugh and laugh. there’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold. and she’s buying a stairway to heaven. And I can’t stop them and the singing can’t stop them. And they stand in the room and watch me. I can feel them watching me.

Like I felt Scully watching me. I felt her believe me, talk to me. She blew me a kiss and I could almost feel it. Miss her. Sometimes I think of Scully and baseball. God, please tell me that wasn’t the last good time. take me out to the ballgame. take me out to the park.

But that was a good time. I try to think about it when the pain in my head gets to be too much. I think it helps.

I don’t know how long I’ve been here. I don’t think I’ve slept, except a few minutes here and there when the voices were quiet. When there’s just one or two voices I’m pretty sure they won’t come in here, and I can doze a little. one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do. two can be as bad as one. it’s the loneliest number since the number one. I can’t sleep, though, not really sleep. I don’t know what they’ll try if I do. I’m afraid to eat and drink, too, in case they put something in my food. A while back, I asked for bottled water with the cap sealed and they let me have that. Guess they were scared that I wasn’t drinking and they figured I couldn’t do much damage with a plastic bottle. I can eat when they give me whole fresh fruit, but not till after I check it thoroughly for puncture marks and wash it with some of the bottled water. I’m not that hungry, though I gotta say the water tasted pretty fine.

It’s funny. I’m afraid to eat here, and I’m afraid to sleep here, but still it’s the safest place I can think of to be right now. Okay, it’s not that funny.

I don’t know how long I’ve been here. time keeps flowing like a river—to the sea. I hear Byers or Langley or Frohike sometimes. Scully sent them to me, to watch over me while she’s gone. I’m grateful to know where she is, what she’s doing, but I’m scared for her. She’s far away and she’s alone.

Fowley is here a lot. the bitch, the bitch, the bitch is back. I hear her more than anyone else. She thinks she understands what’s going on with me and tries sending me thoughts. She tells me Scully is missing and has probably abandoned me. As if I would believe anyone telling me that about Scully, especially her. Even without the Gunmen and what they tell me, I’d never believe that. Fowley tells me I can trust her.

But I’ve made that mistake too many times already.

Fowley doesn’t understand this at all. How could she possibly? She thinks that her conscious thoughts are all I get from her. But there are so many levels, so many thoughts, so many motivations, and conscious thought is rarely the reality. Fowley is scared. I can hear her fear. There’s deep-rooted terror there. This didn’t work out at all the way she planned it and she knows that Spender the Elder wouldn’t hesitate to eliminate her the way he did his own son, her brother. I despise myself for how easily I was led, for what I didn’t see.

And she’s scared of Scully, of how she underestimated her. She just automatically assumed that Scully would disbelieve and dismiss what’s happened to me. Underestimating Scully is dangerous in any circumstances. So all Fowley can do is try what she can—to get me to doubt the one person I’ve been able to believe in without question for seven years.

The person I should have lost for how stupid and blind I’ve been. When I think of what I said to Scully at the Gunmen’s place… Did I really need to deceive myself so much that I could have hurt her like that? The one person in my entire life who never wanted less for me than I wanted for myself? The one person who’s put herself—all of her, her family, her beliefs, her own welfare—on the line over and over again? God, what an ass I am! How do I even begin to ask for forgiveness for that? Or for all the things I’ve never told her? But I will, I swear. I’ll tell her everything and then beg her for her forgiveness. Over and over again if that’s what it takes.

And she’ll give it to me, wretched ass that I am. Wretched and blessed.

Because in spite of every stupid thing I’ve ever said or done or how badly she’s been hurt in all this, she’s out there finding a way to save me. And she’ll do it or she’ll die trying because that’s who Scully is. Because she loves me. I heard it. I heard it in her mind when she was here and I can live through all of this for a chance to hear it in her voice.

Save me, Scully. Save us. I’ll make all this up to you somehow, I promise.

jeremiah was a bullfrog. was a good friend of mine.

+++++

Airborne somewhere between

Liberia and the Ivory Coast

According to the flight attendant, we’ll be landing in Abidjan in a little over an hour. I glance at my watch and realize it’s useless because I haven’t changed the time since Washington and I have absolutely no idea what time zone I’m in. The flight attendant gives me the correct time and I thank him, resetting my watch.

I’m so tired. I can’t remember ever feeling this exhausted. I’ve tried to sleep on every flight I’ve taken, but the dreams wake me up. Strange, frightening dreams about the light and the tests. But different than the ones I’ve had since my abduction. The ones I’ve never been able to tell Mulder about.

don’t tell anyone, or next time we won’t let you go back. we don’t want to hurt you, dana. we didn’t hurt you last time. we’ll hurt whoever you tell.

I’ve dozed again and awaken with a start, shaking despite the blanket I’ve wrapped around me. I’m so tired, but I’m scared to sleep again. Struggling to calm my breathing without drawing the attention of other passengers, I sit up and place the blanket on the empty seat next to me.

Reaching for my briefcase, I take out the paperwork for the person I am now, Georgia Hale. The passport fascinates me. It’s completely authentic looking, my picture, entry stamps from a dozen different countries in Europe and Asia. A new passport without those stamps would draw undue attention upon entering a strange country, but Mulder saw to that. I also have both Virginia and international driver’s licenses and several credit cards—platinum Visa, Master Card and American Express, all issued in Georgia Hales’s name through Emesco.

Emesco. M-S Co. He’s known for a long time that it would come to this, to where we are now. And he’s carried that knowledge by himself because I’ve refused to believe it. And even though I’ve refused to believe it, he won’t do it without me. Byers said so when he told me about Emesco. Mulder told me so himself in that hallway outside his apartment.

I don’t know if I want to do this without you. I don’t even know if I can. And if I quit, they win.

He won’t do it without me. Even though I’ve refused to believe, left him to believe alone. How much has he not told me, to keep me safe or because he knew I wouldn’t believe him? So he alone has been watching the skies, waiting, trying to find out, trying to prepare—certain that he was right.

I’ve always been certain of his certainty, even when he himself wasn’t. It’s what’s kept me going during all the times I didn’t think I could go on. I truly have had the strength of his convictions. But I’ve steadfastly refused to believe what he believes.

Why?

Because it flies in the face of science? I’ve seen what I know of science disproved so many times since I started on this strange journey. But is what we know of science really what there is? Generations before us were wrong about so many things and although we know more than they do, how much do we know of all there is? In reality, we don’t know what flies in the face of science.

No, I’ve refused to believe what he believes because it would be too horrible to contemplate what it would mean if he were right. It would mean that everything I’ve ever believed in—what I took an oath on my life to protect—was a lie, a mockery. It would mean that everything Ahab and Maggie ever taught us about justice and duty and honor was wrong, some party line handed to us to keep us like sheep. That alone would be too awful to bear. But to know the full scale of the deceit, our utter helplessness to stop the incomprehensible…

Mulder has known the full scale and he’s known it alone. And he’s kept me with him and he’s kept me alive. Because he won’t do it without me. Because he loves me. He told me so and I refused to believe that, too. Well, no more. God help us, he’s been right about what little we’ve been allowed to know. Now, instead of working so hard to disprove what he’s brought to me, it’s time to find more of what we need to prove that he’s right. It’s the only way I know to help him.

I think about the phone call I got while I was waiting for my plane in Monrovia. The display indicated that the call was from the Gunmen. I quickly pressed the button to answer. “Georgia Hale.”

“It’s okay, Scully.” The voice on the phone was Byers. “This is a secure line and your phone is untraceable. Just thought you’d want an update on how things are going here. Mulder is hanging in there. Frohike has managed to get into the monitor room a couple of times and he’s still pretty much the way you described. He seems to know when Frohike is there and Melvin is pretty sure he’s faking it. It’s a good idea if he is. The hospital is the safest place for him right now.”

“Have you heard anything about how he is physically?”

“Hospital staff say he’s barely slept since he was admitted and that he refuses to eat almost anything and will only drink sealed bottled water. Frohike says he doesn’t look too good, but that he’s hanging in there.” Byers sounded sad and tired, too.

“What about Mulder’s blood work or the analysis of the stuff on the pillowcase? What about prints on the videotape.” I prayed he’d have something for me.

“The tape was wiped clean before whoever it was left it for you. No prints. The blood work done on his admission to the hospital shows a high concentration of an unidentified chemical compound. I downloaded their lab data and found that it bears a striking similarity to a chemical—an ergotamine-based drug—Mulder was exposed to in extremely high doses nine years ago. When we first met him. It was a chemical developed by Susanne Modeski in a government lab, and stored for use in a planned experiment on the people of Baltimore. It was in an aerosol form and Mulder was standing behind boxes of it when a bunch of guys shot up the boxes. He absorbed huge amounts of the stuff—breathing it and probably absorbing it through the skin, and he had a violent reaction to it then.”

Scully’s brow knitted in concern. “Even in small amounts, ergotamine induces anxiety and paranoia. Large doses might even be hallucinogenic.”

“Yeah, the effect it had on Mulder was pretty dramatic. Susanne said it was water soluble and not traceable in the blood. Anyway, a compound very similar to it was found on the pillowcase you brought us. So I guess we can assume that that’s what Fowley injected him with. I thought maybe the high dose he got before made him more sensitive to it now, so I called Susanne to ask her about it. She said that was definitely a possibility, but that the effects of it should have worn off by now even under those circumstances. So I tend to agree with Frohike that he’s faking it to stay in the hospital.”

I heard something in his voice that troubled me. “What is it, Byers?”

“Scully, you’ve got to find whatever you’re looking for and get back here as soon as possible. They’re talking about transferring Mulder to another facility when his weeklong observation period is over. That’s four days. I think if they transfer him, they’ll disappear him, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah,” I whispered. “I should be there.”

“No,” Byers disagreed. “You have to find something to help him—the artifact, information, whatever. Without that, there’s nothing we can do. We need more to go on. Just do it fast, Scully. We’ll keep an eye on things from here.”

“I know you will,” I replied. “I’ll keep in touch. I may know more in the next few hours. We’re scheduled to leave for Abidjan soon.”

“Watch out for yourself, Scully.”

“Watch out for him,” I answered.

“You’re his best chance. Right now, you’re all he has.” His voice was gone with a soft click.

I’m all he has. I think that’s been true for him for a long time, although a part of me refused to believe that, too. God, please let me be enough.

+++++

Chapter Five

The Atlantic Coast

Thirty-eight miles east of Abidjan, Ivory Coast

1:13 p.m.

According to the map I got from Dr. Merkmallon’s colleague at the university, it’s just a few more miles to the strip of beach that served as his research site. I glance out at the ocean as I drive in the open Jeep on a narrow, pot-holed road they call a highway. I notice groups of men fishing with nets from the shoreline. The sun beats down mercilessly high over my head and the light dapples the water between the waves. I can feel it baking my scalp and the skin of my face. There’s a wide-brimmed straw hat on the passenger seat next to me. I threw it there when I realized the hat wouldn’t stay on my head driving as fast as I was. I’m glad the linen dress I bought is long-sleeved and light colored. Redheads are just not good sun people.

I spot the predicted s-curve on the road ahead and pull the car over to the shoulder as far as I can in front of another vehicle. Standing on the Jeep’s running board, over a slight rise, I see the site near the beach. Walking toward it I can feel where the sand begins as it passes through and in and out of the sandals I’m wearing. As I approach, I see a man, his back to me, staring out at the water.

“Excuse me!” I shout to him to be heard over the waves coming into shore.

When he turns, I’m close enough to see that he’s been crying. I look down awkwardly, uncomfortable about intruding on this moment. But I glance up to see that he seems not to find the moment embarrassing at all. He gracefully brushes away the tears and regards me closely through sad, chocolate brown eyes. “May I help you?” The man’s voice is deep and rich and he speaks with a slightly clipped accent, somewhat British, but smoother somehow.

“Are you Gabriel M’Boto?” I ask, looking at the name written on the map to the site.

“Yes.” He eyes me suspiciously with an expression that gives nothing away.

“Dr. Merkmallon’s research assistant?”

He nods and I see tears fill his eyes again and run down the dark skin of his face. “And his friend.”

“Then you’ve heard,” I begin and he nods with a sigh. “I’m sorry.”

“Who are you, miss?” His tone is more curious than suspicious.

I wonder which of the cover stories I’ve concocted to use and, in the end, decide to abandon them all. If Gabriel M’Boto was told the “official” version of Dr. Merkmallon’s death, he’s already been lied to enough. I needed his help and he needs as much of the truth as I can safely tell him.

“I’m with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, in America. I need some information.”

He nods in understanding. “That means you have no jurisdiction here. I assume you have some form of identification?”

I nod. “But it won’t confirm what I just told you. I am with the FBI but I’m not investigating in an official capacity.”

“Does that mean you doubt the official story, too?” he asks bitterly.

“What was the official story, Mr. M’Boto.”

“They said he was killed by Dr. Sandoz who took the artifact and disappeared.”

“And you don’t believe that?” I ask and he shakes his head. “Why not?”

“Solomon… Dr. Merkmallon and Dr. Sandoz had been corresponding for years on the Internet sharing information. Although they had never met, I would say that they considered themselves friends. He was going there to discuss the artifact with Dr. Sandoz, to compare it to the one that Dr. Sandoz has. I don’t believe for a moment that Solomon was killed by his friend.

“I don’t think so either, Mr. M’Boto. He was killed for the artifact and Dr. Sandoz was killed for the piece he had.”

He looks alarmed. “Dr. Sandoz is dead, too?” I nod. “Who are you, miss?” he asks again, his voice quiet with fear.

I look him in the eye, hoping to dispel any doubt he might have about me. “Mr. M’Boto, it’s safer for you if you don’t know that. I know you’re scared, and I won’t tell you that you shouldn’t be. The people responsible for Dr. Merkmallon’s death are dangerous.”

He looks at me with skepticism etched on his face. “And you can catch them? You can bring them to justice?”

“No,” I reply. “I won’t say that I can. But maybe I can find out why he died, the real reason. If he had been my friend, I think it would help me to know that.”

“I would be most grateful for that,” he says, his voice soft and thick. “What do you want from me?”

“Some information about the artifact. I need it to help me find out about Dr. Merkmallon’s murder and maybe to save someone’s life. Someone who’s in a lot of trouble right now.”

“I’ll help you, miss, all I can. But I have to be careful. I have a wife and a small son. I can’t put myself in danger.”

“I understand,” I assure him. “I hope it won’t come to that. First of all, has anyone else come here asking questions.”

“No, absolutely no one. The president of the university found out about Solomon’s death through a telephone call from your State Department. Not even a personal announcement. After they told me, I came to the site to start to pack up his things. I hadn’t gotten very far when I was overcome with missing him and I left the tent to look at the ocean and think for a while. That’s when you came.”

So no one’s been here yet. That’s good. “How much did Dr. Merkmallon tell you about the artifact?”

“I saw what it did,” he replies cryptically.

“What it did?” I repeat, suddenly recalling how Dr. Sandoz’ piece spun around on the table, seemingly of its own power.

“Come with me,” he says and leads me into the large military-style tent that apparently served as Dr. Merkmallon’s living quarters and office. He crosses the room and unlocks a desk drawer, pulling out a large, dark-covered book. He sets it on the desktop and beckons me over to look at it.

Before him is a Bible covered in worn black, hand-tooled leather, the edges of its pages are gold-foiled. There is a deep, thick gouge through the book’s spine and into the pages at least three inches. I bring it before my eyes and place my fingers into the gouge. The edges of the paper are ragged, as if they had been ripped.

“What does this mean?” I ask. “What happened to this Bible?”

“Solomon brought this here from his office at the university before he left to consult with Dr. Sandoz. He thought it would be safer here. Miss, before he called Dr. Sandoz—earlier in the day—he found a piece of jagged rock buried in the sand on the shoreline. Some fishermen saw it and brought it to his attention. He brought it back to his office because it seemed similar to another piece he’d found a few weeks before. He told me he placed them on the table before him and was surprised to see that the edges seemed to match, as if they were two fragments of a larger piece. And then when he put them together they began to spin around together, like a child’s toy, and that they gathered so much force that they were hurled from the table. Solomon said he found them imbedded in the Bible on the shelf and that the two pieces had fused together.”

I stare at him in disbelief. “The pieces were hurled from the table with enough force to drive them into a book this far?”

He acknowledges that his story is strange. “That is what Solomon told me, miss. After he called Dr. Sandoz, he made several rubbings of the symbols on it and sent one to Dr. Sandoz by facsimile. There is another copy in the desk.”

“I’ve seen a copy of the rubbing, but I don’t have one with me. May I take the one from here?” I ask, hoping against hope that Mr. M’Boto will allow me to do so.

To my surprise, he agrees immediately. “Yes, I don’t want it here. I don’t want anything to do with it.”

“And I need to see the place where the piece of the artifact was found.”

“I wasn’t at the site that day, but that group of fishermen were here. One of them speaks some English and I think I can get him to show you the place. But, miss, after that, I’m leaving.” He reaches into the desk again and brings out a copy of the rubbings and two notebooks. “Here is the rubbing from the artifact, and these are Solomon’s notes. That’s all I can do. I don’t want to know what you find.”

He heads for the door. “But someday, if you’re able to explain, I would like to know what happened to Solomon and why.”

I nod, and am suddenly filled with a feeling of apprehension. “Mr. M’Boto. My Jeep is parked on the roadside next to yours. Is there a place where I can conceal it, hide it from anyone who might pass by?”

He gives me a sad smile of resignation and understanding. “Drive it down the slope and you’ll see a group of large rocks with a stand of tall grass around them. Drive around to the side of the rocks and no one will be able to see your vehicle from the road. While you do that, I will go and speak with the fishermen. Come back here afterward.”

I do as he says and meet him back at the tent about fifteen minutes later. “It’s arranged, miss. The man in the bright green shirt. His name is Lisimba and he will speak with you about what he saw.”

“Thank you Mr. M’Boto.”

“Miss, did you hide your vehicle because you fear you will be followed here?” There is apprehension in his voice.

“I think maybe that’s possible,” I reply honestly.

“Then I think, miss, that it’s time for me to go to my family.”

I reach into my bag and withdraw several hundred dollars in cash. “Take this, Mr. M’Boto,” I say, pressing the money into his hand. “It’s American money. I’m sorry, but I didn’t have time to exchange it for your currency. Is there a place you can exchange it?”

He nods. “In the city.”

“Then take it and use it to take your family away from here for a while. Is this enough?”

He looks at me in wide-eyed wonder. “Oh yes, miss. With this we can go away for several weeks. Thank you, miss. I will be going now.” He smiles at me tentatively and heads through the flap that serves as the door to the tent.

I place the notebooks in the lead-lined case that Byers gave me and take the rubbing of the artifact with me to go and speak with the fisherman. Leaving the tent, I see that M’Boto is already at his car and pulling away.

The fisherman in the green shirt sees me approach and comes to meet me. “Ma’am,” he says and it sounds like mom. “The man who work with the professor, he say you want to see where the rock was found.”

“Yes. The rock has markings on it, like this.” I show him the copy of the rubbing.

“Was not here that day myself, but I will ask them.” He takes the rubbing and runs to the others, showing it to them all in turn. There seems to be a lot of fast and loud discussion among the men, full of agitated hand gestures and shaking of heads.

Lisimba returns to me a short time later. “They say the rock had these markings. I will show you where it was, but the others are afraid.”

He turns and heads down the beach without a word, apparently expecting me to follow. We edge toward the waterline and I remove my shoes, not wanting to ruin them in the tide. I can feel the wet sand between my toes, and I find the feeling comforting somehow. Several hundred yards down the beach, he stops and points to a spot on the shore where several good size boulders and rocks jut from the sand. He points to the area and then turns and runs back in the direction from which we came.

I crouch down at the waterline and see what appears to be a small piece of stone showing through the sand. Reaching into the water to brush aside the sand and seafoam, the water feels extremely warm, almost hot to me. Beneath the sand, imbedded in it, is a large tablet with markings like those on the rubbing. I touch it tentatively and a tingling surge of heat runs up my arm and suddenly I have feelings of… feelings of…

<GET TO HIM! scared, I’m scared. GET TO HIM! what is this thing? I think I remem…>

No! I rise slowly and back away somewhat, my eyes glued to the spot where the stone has quickly been covered again by the sand. Sweeping my eyes back and forth, I see two pieces of stone wedged between some of the smaller rocks. I pick up the smaller of the two—one about the size of the piece that Dr. Sandoz had—and examine it closely. It, too, has markings that resemble those of the rubbing. I get no unusual feeling from this piece. I reach for the other and find that it is longer and slightly wider than the other one. I weigh them in my hands and they seem lighter than they should for their size. Reaching into the lead-lined case, I retrieve two squares of a strange, metallic cloth I find in a side pocket. I carefully wrap each piece separately and put them into the bag.

I find I’m hesitant to return to the tablet under the sand but at the same time, I can’t stay away from it. I remember Mulder saying that the piece that Sandoz found was fused to the rock beneath it, and I wonder how I can free it. I suppose I’ll have to go back to Dr. Merkmallon’s site and look for some tools. I stoop down again, and scatter the sand under the water to find the edges. It’s attached seamlessly to something beneath it and I run my fingers all the way around it. Again, I feel the tingling heat and feel my breaths start to come in short gasps. <GET TO HIM!> Pushing up with my legs, I pull and the piece comes free with such ridiculous ease that I fall on my ass in the sand.

And my mind is flooded with images, overwhelming me, blocking out everything else.

<sleeping in my bed. safe, warm. i see them enter the room. missy, wake up, help me. where’s daddy? why won’t he help me. can’t he hear me scream? why can’t i scream? god, god, god, help me.>

I know I’m sitting here in the sand, but it’s like I’m watching myself sitting in the sand. The warmth in my arms is spreading through my entire body. It doesn’t hurt, but it feels strange, invasive.

<it’s light. it’s so bright i can’t see. but i hear them, i hear them whispering. i can’t move, but i can feel them touching me, prodding and poking. no, not there. don’t hurt me. please let me go. i want to go home. she’s not ready. erase her and take her back. the light shines in my eyes until it’s so bright it goes dark.>

I’m shaking. I’m shaking so violently I can hardly sit up. No, it’s not me. It’s the ground. It’s vibrating from tremors within the earth. And the noise. I’ve heard this before, this deep steady rumbling. Oh, God, run! Gotta move! I had Mulder to help me before. Scared, I’m scared. Holding the tablet. <GET TO HIM!!!>

I think to put the tablet into the case with the other two pieces and close it securely. Rising to a stand, I look out at the water and it is rolling and bubbling as if it’s boiling. In the distance, I can see a big wave coming in toward shore. Turning, I run toward the stand of grass where the car is hidden but the earth trembles, rolling unevenly beneath my feet and I fall several times during the effort. The sound is getting louder, almost deafening, and I feel the pressure of it pushing against my eardrums. I stumble again, and struggle to my feet once more, the case securely held in my right hand.

Finally, gasping with the effort, I reach the Jeep and secret myself in the space between the passenger door and the rock, looking back to the place where I found the tablet. I drop the case at my feet and press my hands against my ears, hoping to decrease the pressure and pain. I’m thrown off balance again and my shoulder collides painfully with a sharp edge of the boulder. Righting myself, I watch the water again. Waves, one right after another, crash against the boulders at the shoreline, sending sea spray and mist into the atmosphere.

Something is rising from the water—slowly, majestically—and I can feel my mouth drop open and my breath stop in my lungs as more and more of it emerges.

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!” I hear my voice in my head repeating the phrase over and over again. “It’s true. Oh God, Mulder, you saw it. You saw it. I see it. Oh my God!” I can feel myself screaming the words, but I can’t hear them over the deafening noise.

Will it ever stop coming out of the water? Oh, God, I’ve never seen anything this size in my whole life. It’s gigantic, monstrous. All of the words I have aren’t enough. I think of a word I’ve read, but never actually spoken out loud. Behemoth.

Finally, it clears the surface of the water and the tremors in the earth stop. I watch in awe as it ascends—slowly, inexorably. Once free of the water, it is surprisingly silent, making only a soft humming noise. As it rises into the sky, it’s size blots out the sun leaving even the area where I am concealed cast in shadow.

Vaguely in the distance to my right I hear a man’s voice. “No! No!” I turn my head and through a space between the rocks, I see a lone figure coming over the ridge, running full tilt toward the beach. “No!”

I turn my head back to the craft and watch it hover for a while, perhaps a hundred feet over the water. Then in the blink of an eye, it’s gone—without a sound, without a trace. It’s not even a speck in the distance.

The man reaches the shore just as the ship darts off. His back is to me, but I can see he is wearing jeans and a lightweight jacket. He falls to his knees in the wet sand. “No!” he cries again. I watch him claw at the sand at the water’s edge, using strange straight-armed movements, screaming in frustration as handfuls of wet sand slip through his fingers. Finally he stops, weak with his efforts, and bends to rest his forehead in the shallow water.

Suddenly, I’m very conscious of my red hair shining in the sunlight. If the man turns toward me, he might see it and my cover would be blown. I reach for the hat in the passenger seat and put it on my head, tucking my hair beneath it as best I can. The hat blends in much better with the tall grass I’m standing in.

The man crawls on hands and knees along the stretch of shoreline from which the ship came. The beach looks strangely unaffected by what happened, the crashing waves quickly filling the gaping maw with displaced sand. He sifts through it, but his movements are slow and his posture belies his disappointment. After a few minutes, he gives up and rises to his feet, looking out onto the water, his arms hanging loosely at his sides, his shoulders slumped in defeat. He turns then, to make his way from the beach back to the road at the top of the ridge. He doesn’t seem to see me, but I finally have a clear view of his face.

It is Alex Krycek. And I can see the tears that streak his face as he walks away from the beach.

+++++

Chapter Six

Georgetown Memorial Hospital

“God, make her shut up. Make her shut up. She lies, the bitch lies. God, why won’t she leave me alone?” I sit in the corner, my knees clutched to my chest, and rock back and forth. Rock and rock. gonna rock around the clock tonight.

Throat hurts from screaming. Want more water. She won’t let them bring me more water. Why are they listening to her? Don’t they know about her?

<you/can/trust/me/fox/you/can/always/trust/me/i’ve/always/been/there/she’s/gone/why/

isn’t/she/here/if/she/cares/so/much/don’t/trust/her/where/is/she/has/she/gone/to/them/i’ve/

always/been/the/one/you/could/trust/calm/down/if/you/calm/down/they’ll/let/me/in/to/see/

you/if/you/calm/down/she’s/gone/i/don’t/think/she’s/coming/back/just/as/well/she/never/

believed/you/not/like/i/do>

“SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP! YOU LIE YOU WHORE, YOU TRAITEROUS BITCH! SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

Throat feels like it’s bleeding, raw and hot. Please make her stop. Tired, so fucking tired. So much hurts. My head. So tired, so fucking tired. More coming. Can’t scream. Makes more come.

<dhejsoejbGBSOBGdjbSSSSSSbsoGxWKShdBSCjkekVVyhgps

heKDKHNSSSSSSSSIDHGHSPdiglssssssssssskvnskdNDKNS

GklskdlsleAjACldnviOFAIHSSSSSSGATUAFHIAGUSSSSSSS

JNGKAIFIRGNKFASVNDKlpowSSSutnbSJIEKJSHGOAKJGHDUA

PPGKAJSGJRSSSSSSSSSSMMVKIDNSHIGFAJASJAJFLASHGUPHD APHVBglAgrfsfafDHShekgugnbdhgegxbsssssssssvdgfjg

kyirudnfGBDSSSNAFSSSSSSSSSTDSBSMKFHFGetsgdbnfhfb

dGSFRahsmcksksanmhsgffcgVFHJNFJSHQJDHFDFGFAGDHSH

ANDBDGSNXndvDDDIXIVHNGNPZHHDPSSSSSSSSSSSSGNEKSHG

PKYKJJSS>

*ojesusogodogod/makeitstop/makeitstop/theyreinsideme/ifeelthemfeelthem/makeitstop/

noise/thenoise/THENOISE*

Don’t scream it. Go away if I’m quiet. It’s like they’re inside me, in my head. Hurts, hurts. Like they’re trying to push out. Hurts. Where’s my doctor? Call my doctor. Call Dr…

“Scully.” Can barely hear myself say the word. More tears fall down my face, burning like acid. I need Scully. She’s been gone for so long for weeks for months. Did I ever really know her? Is she coming to save me or did I make her up? Maybe I made her up. Who could be as wonderful as she is? Maybe I made her up.

No. She’s real. The only real thing. The only sure thing. She’s real and she’s coming to save me. She can stop this. She saved the world. She’s real.

HURTS!

Close my eyes. Just for a second. Breathe. Slow. Breathe. Think of Scully. Remember her, remember us. I can feel her in the circle of my arms. I can hear the ball smack against the wood of the bat. The balls go so high into the sky they become stars and she laughs and laughs and her laughter is like bells, like music. Hips before hands, hips before hands. My mouth next to her ear and my nose in her hair. The scent of suede, the scent of her. She smells like rain, like flowers, like the first day of spring.

<she’s/not/coming/back/i’m/here/fox/trust/me/trust/me/she’s/never/loved/you/like/i/do/

she’s/gone/for/good>

No! Get the fuck out of my dream, you liar, you manipulative whore. You lie.

jeremiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend of mine. never understood a single word he said, but i helped him drink his wine. he always had some mighty fine wine.

No screaming. Get the fuck out of my dream.

Hips before hands. Pretty soon all your cares just melt away—the ticking of your biological clock. WHACK! A star is born! How you really can’t afford that nice new suede coat on a G-woman’s salary. Nuzzle her hair, smells like mist from the sea and honeysuckle. How you gave up a promising career in medicine to chase aliens with a crackpot, albeit brilliant partner. My lips barely brush against the skin of her earlobe and she giggles and shivers. WHACK! She leans back against me a little and I tighten my grip, encircling her, enfolding her into me. Hips before hands. Keep ‘em coming, Poorboy. Love her, love how she fits in my arms, love her.

I remember her and she helps me remember me. That’s how I know she’s real. It’s how I know I’m real.

I sit with my back to the corner so they can’t come up behind me. The camera’s always on and it can see every place in the room, except in the corner where it’s mounted on the wall. If I go there, they come in to see what I’m doing and they bring more voices. thenoisethenoise So I stay where they can see me. I let them watch. Every move, every expression. And they take their little notes.

Tilting my head back, I will the hot tears back into my eyes. Reabsorb them. Save them for later. I don’t care if they see me cry from the pain. So much hurts. But they don’t get my Scully tears. They’re ours.

I sing in my head.

never gonna let you go, i’m gonna hold you in my arms forever. gonna try and make up for the times i hurt you so. never gonna let you go, from this day on we’re gonna be together. and i swear this time, i’m never gonna let you go.

I sing in my head. Sing and sing and sing. Every song I know, over and over. The melodies change, but the words are always the same.

scully. scully. scully.

Please hurry.

scully. scully. scully.

+++++

Over the mid-Atlantic

Scully. Scully, Scully. His voice sounds so near that I awaken reaching for him in the empty seat next to mine. Langley bought both seats to make sure I wasn’t bothered by anyone else in the first-class section of the Air Afrique flight from Dakar, Senegal to New York. The one I almost missed because the flight from Abidjan was late.

I’m groggy from sleep that wasn’t really sleep and I have a difficult time figuring out what I’m doing here. A quick review, Dana. The death grip I have on the shoulder strap of the bag carrying the artifacts reminds me of where I am and how I got here.

I waited in the tall grass for a long time after Krycek left. Maybe half an hour. I was afraid he’d just been pretending not to see me and would be lying in wait for me when I drove back up onto the road. I phoned the Lone Gunmen while I waited—as soon as I could stop shaking enough to dial and as soon as I could be sure that my voice would work enough to speak.

Frohike answered the phone and said that Byers was at the hospital with Mulder. I told him what had happened and what I’d found and begged him to find a way to get me home quickly. He set Langley to the travel agent task again, and he secured a seat on a flight from Abidjan to Dakar with an almost immediate connecting flight from Dakar to New York. I asked how I would be able to transport the pieces without them being confiscated.

“Don’t worry, Scully, we’ve got you covered. Go to the American Express office in the Dakar airport and we’ll have a fax waiting for you. Credentials from the Smithsonian authorizing you to bring them into the country.”

“You guys are amazing,” I said. “I don’t think I want to know how you did that one. Will they stand up?”

“I think so. A masterful job if I do say so myself,” he replied with pride. “But we’re covered there, too. Call us before you go into the Customs area. We’ve got a guy inside who’ll help you through.”

Frohike must be pretty sure of the security of the line to make an admission like that over the phone. “Wow,” I replied. “Federal Agent to archeological smuggler within a week.” And for some reason, I found that the thought didn’t disturb me as much as it should have.

“Yeah,” he replied. “Life’s funny, ain’t it? Listen, Scully, you need to get to the airport. You’ve got less than three hours. Don’t miss the connection. We need you back here.”

“How’s Mulder?” I got into the Jeep and started it, hoping I could get it back to the road without a problem.

“Just get back here.” His tone worried me.

“I’m driving, Frohike. I’m on my way to the airport. What’s wrong with Mulder?” I fought the panic I was starting to feel. Panic wouldn’t do any good so far away and would just be a distraction.

“He hasn’t slept more than a few minutes here and there in more than three days. Even if he is faking now to stay in the hospital, Scully, a person just can’t go without sleep like that. You know the effects of sleep deprivation.”

I thought I heard something else in Frohike’s voice. Something he wasn’t telling me. I knew the tone from years of working with Mulder. “What else?”

He hesitated. “I don’t know, Scully. It seems like Fowley is running the show there. Skinner’s there quite a bit and they tell him stuff, but it’s her the doctors and staff talk to.”

“Jesus Christ, she’s the one who put him there!” I was livid and I could feel my skin turning red with rage. “Should we bring the police into this? Show them the tape?”

He sighed and the connection was so good I could hear him draw his fingers over the ever-present stubble on his chin. “We talked about it. Right now, we know where Mulder is and where he’ll be till the observation period is over. Bringing the police in would just complicate things, especially given what you’re doing. You’ll be back before they decide to transfer him and I can’t imagine her trying something before then. She hasn’t said anything, but she knows that one of us is there all the time. And she’s not too happy about it.”

I twist in the seat in discomfort and anger. Diana in charge? On what basis? And what the hell is Skinner doing in all of this? I find myself questioning his message again. What is he afraid of here and who is he answering to? Did he mean what he wrote on the card or is he just trying to lull me into his confidence? I recalled his words in the hospital when he was inches from death. And I recall the words in his office a week later.

The questions swirl endlessly in my mind, more and more of them coming out and none of them with answers. In my exhaustion, I find I can’t keep track of all of them. I’m so tired. I raise the armrest between the seats and curl across them, an ineffectual airplane pillow at my head. If I don’t get some sleep, I’m not going to be any good to Mulder or anyone else.

I’m terrified for him, alone in that place, and the enormity of what I’ve done strikes me hard. I left him there. I traveled thousands of miles away from him on the belief that he understood what I was doing. But does he understand why I’m not there? If he understood it then, does he still understand it now? Over three days without sleep. Mulder can function better on less sleep than anyone I know, but these are extraordinary circumstances. Between the drugs and sleep deprivation, his thoughts now would probably be disorientated. And does he hear the voices—like Gibson? How can he cope with that?

My hands clench into tight fists of rage at my helplessness in the situation. I’ve got to relax, got to get some sleep. There was no choice. I had to leave him to help him and I think I have. I don’t know what I have or what it has to do with Mulder, but at least we have something we didn’t have before. It has to help. This has to have been worth it.

Drawing the thin airplane blanket around me, I breathe deeply a few times, willing myself to relax. Think pleasant thoughts, I whisper. Think pleasant thoughts. What do I do at home when I want to relax? Listen to music. I have the headphones they passed out at the beginning of the flight, but the thought of putting them in my ears makes me shudder. <Sometimes it’s like a lot of radios.> I read sometimes. I write in my journal. That pretty much always makes me relax.

I’ve kept journals since I was about thirteen. And I’ve kept them all—hand written, every one. They’re stored in a box in the back of my hall closet. Twenty-two volumes of journals. Well, in junior high and high school they were diaries, but they still count. I was religious about writing in them every day then, and even into college, when I started calling them journals. That’s also when I started getting big, leather-bound books instead of the ones with the tiny gold locks and keys. In college and all through med school, I was pretty sporadic at journal writing. I was so busy. It was while I was in the Academy that I got fairly regular about writing in them again. I found I could work out a lot of frustrations and unwind by getting things out of my head and out on paper where I could get a better look at them. Now I write whenever I feel like there’s something I need to say or examine or think through. It’s the place I can take things apart and put them back together again. It’s the place where the feelings live, when I let them. I try to just write whatever comes out of my pen. But sometimes that’s hard.

The last time I wrote in it was April twenty-fourth. My new birthday. I can remember every word as if I can see whole pages in my mind. Breathing deeply, I close my eyes and read my journal in my head.

April 24, 1999—5:38 p.m.

Have to write right now. I don’t know how else to figure out what to do. Got home to find a message from Mulder on my machine. Missed his call by just a few minutes. This is the message, word for word:

“This is Fox Mantle calling Dana Scully, unacknowledged and secret niece of the legendary Vin Scully. I’ve got a surprise for you. A present. A… a birthday present.” (He was making it up as he went along, I just know it.) “Okay, okay, your birthday was in February. I know, I know. So it’s either very early or very late and, personally, I prefer the former. But it is very special. Anyway, it’s the thought that counts, right? So, Birthday Girl, to collect, you have to meet me at 8:00 tonight at Waverly Park. I trust your investigative skills to locate said park and said present.”

That’s it, word for word. I know because I listened to it four times. But the question is, what does it mean? He sounded happy(?) playful(?) Oh God! It’s been so long since I heard either of those in his voice, I’ve forgotten what they sound like.

I know where Waverly Park is. I looked it up after the third time I listened to the message. The first time, I dismissed it out of hand. Just a bad idea for a lot of reasons. (Many of which are detailed in other entries in this journal.) I figured I’d just tell him I got the message late and that would work. The second time… I don’t know why I played it again. But the second time he sounded like he did in the office this morning when we were fighting over my tofutti rice dreamsicle or when he was telling me about the baseball statistics. Right before he ditched me again. But you know, I realized something this afternoon. It makes absolutely no sense to get pissed off about that. I know. We’re having a perfectly good time, then something catches his attention and off he goes. That’s just Mulder. It’s who he is. Getting pissed has never changed that and it never will. And do I really want it to? Wow, seven years with Mulder and I finally decide to accept him for who he is. At least the ice cream wrestling was fun.

After the third playback, I looked up the address for Waverly Park. Maybe if it’s not too far away. It’s twenty minutes, max. The ice cream wrestling “was” fun and watching him tell me about the baseball statistics. God help me, I almost forgot that expression—enthusiasm, joy. His eyes sparkled. When was the last time I saw that? I listened again. Four times.

I could see it again tonight if I wanted to. I want to. But I’m afraid to, too. Afraid to move sometimes, to upset the balance.

Has it always been so precarious between us? Maybe. Maybe always. At least since I got sick. No, before that. Maybe always. Moving, always moving. Moving separately together. He theorizes, I disprove. I rediscover my faith, he loses his. I put aside my skepticism to hold onto his faith, and he clings to my skepticism to only to give it back to me when he’s ready to embrace his beliefs again. A balance, almost a wary circling—facing one another, moving around and around.

Until last summer. That changed everything. When I almost walked away, almost took a left turn instead of endless right turns, around and around. When I could convince myself of the reason I was leaving because I never thought I’d hear what he told me. But I did hear it. He said it and it changed everything.

And true to form, we’ve never talked about it, but it hovers around us all the time like its own atmosphere. Questions unaddressed. It’s ironic. We’ve spent seven years searching for the truth, but we’re afraid to ask questions we can’t stand the answers to. Instead, we work to find a balance, find our places in the circle. Like we always do, no matter what—through demotion, reassignment, lies and deceit, hits and misses and near-misses. We claw our way back to the circle.

I was in the waiting room at the dentist’s office a few months ago. They were running late, as usual, so I started glancing through the obligatory old magazines. One caught my eye—a movie magazine, of all things. Movietime, Movieline, something like that. To tell you the truth, I just grabbed it because the guy on the cover looked something like Mulder. A lot like Mulder, actually. So I’m paging through it, not really reading it. Just glancing at the pictures mostly. And I get to the interview with the guy on the cover and they’ve included a poem he wrote in a separate box in the middle of the article. I read the poem and turned a few pages. Then I went back and read it again. And again. It was good—clean lines, nice imagery. But I remember a phrase he used close to the end of the poem. Itinerant stasis. I didn’t think much about it then, but I think about it a lot lately.

Itinerant stasis. Moving and keeping our places, our positions. Thinking we’re staying true to who we are. But who are we?

Partners? Most definitely, without hesitation or doubt. Sometimes there are situations we go into where I’m afraid for us but when I’m with him, I’m never afraid for me. I know without question that he’s there with me, he’s on my back. And I know without question that he knows the same thing about me. Partners, certainly, but so much more than that.

Friends? Yes, absolutely. We’ve been there together through unimaginable times in one another’s lives. I’ve never had a friend like Mulder, so completely unpredictable. Except when it comes to me. I know—he has proven it over and over—that he will do anything for me. I’ve never doubted that, even during the times when we’re furthest from each other. Friends, surely, but more than that, too.

Lovers? Less than that, but somehow more, too. I love Mulder. I have for a long time. I think maybe I’m “in” love with Mulder, and that maybe he loves me that way, too. But again, we’re afraid to ask questions we can’t stand the answers to. What if we’re wrong? What would that do to us?

So we work to find a balance. Work to protect something we can’t define but can’t walk away from either. To protect it from ruin. So we claw our way back to the circle and just keep moving. Can’t hit a moving target. Itinerant stasis.

Well I’m tired of moving. Years and years of moving. And my fingers are bleeding from clawing my way back. Sometimes things get ruined, no matter how you try to protect them. If they’re not beyond repair, sometimes you can fix them. But sometimes you can’t. And sometimes you can replace them with something new and something better.

Two points in a circle moving around it at the same speed will never meet. Simple principle of physics. Maybe if one of us changes direction, we can meet and maybe just stop for a while.

I want to see that expression on his face again tonight. And I get to because it’s my birthday. I’m the Birthday Girl.

Been writing over an hour. One more time on the message. I think I’ll wear my new suede coat.

END OF ENTRY 4/24/99

<<i open my eyes slowly. i try to lift my head from the page. stuck, stuck to something. plastic, my skin is stuck to plastic. pull it away. book, fell asleep reading the book. it’s a transparency in the book. internal organs, labeled, overlaying an outline of the human body. anatomy textbook. i taste the ends of my hair in my mouth and push it away, gathering my hair and throwing it behind my shoulders. chewing on my hair again. mom always hated that. don’t even notice when i’m doing it. she says i’d stop if i cut my hair short. look out the window in front of my desk. the stars, the stars. gotta go now. gotta go. i’m in the dormitory parking lot. my Omni is there as always. who’d steal that old clunker? drive and drive. the stars tell me where to go. i’m on the hill. i’m standing on the hill and the stars tell me to stand on the hill. i see the light. i see the light. i’m scared but the stars won’t let me go. won’t let me run. and the lights and the lights and i’m in the place. nobody else here this time. just me. and them. and i’m on the table. it’s cold and the lights are hot and i can see them even when i close my eyes. and they touch me and i can’t move. the tube. the tube is coming down and it hurts when they do this. more than last time. they didn’t do this last time. and they blow me up and up like a balloon. the needle, not the needle. i’ll explode. the needle goes in and i don’t explode, but it hurts. it hurts. suction, suction. they’re sucking my life from me with the needle. then they’re done and they make my stomach small again. and the voices. dana, don’t tell. don’t ever tell. we’ll hurt them dana. whoever you tell. your mother, your father. you know we can. or we’ll come back dana, and we’ll take you again and never let you go. don’t tell. you know we can. it would be better if you just forgot about this dana. no, no, I won’t tell. we can take anyone, dana. anyone you’re close to, your family, your lover, your children. don’t tell. please let me go. i won’t tell. don’t hurt them. don’t do this to them. nobody ever. i won’t tell. please, please, please…>>

<<*it’s the past, fbi woman.* i see stars. billions and billions. i’m not on the hill, i just see the stars. i’ve never seen so many stars. yes i have. once, just once. mulder spoke to me from the dead. from the bridge that spans two worlds. it’s the past, fbi woman. don’t be afraid of the past. albert hosteen. i know his voice—kind, wise. *but don’t forget it. you need the lessons you learned in the past. but now, you need to be in the now. get to the fbi man. you must be with the fbi man. bring him to me and i will help him and you will help me. get to the fbi man.>>

I sit up with a start, and I wonder if my gasp was as loud as it sounded to my own ears. Catching my breath, I look around the cabin to find the other passengers asleep. Of course they would be. It’s the middle of the night.

Albert Hosteen. I dreamed about Albert Hosteen. And something else. But Albert Hosteen wasn’t like a dream. It was different. *Get to the FBI man.* And the feelings on the beach. GET TO HIM!!!

I have to get to Mulder. Something is really wrong there. But when I get there, will they even let me in? Dr. Buchanan wouldn’t let me in before. I’ve got to get to Mulder.

My hands shake badly as I reach for the phone mounted on the seatback in front of me. Do I dare to use it, unsecured as it is? I have to use it. I have to talk to them.

I call the Gunmen and Langley answers on the second ring. Don’t these people ever sleep? Thank God for Mulder and me that they don’t. “Langley, who’s at the hospital?”

“Frohike.”

“Give me his number. Is his line secure?”

“You’re kidding, right? You want me to patch you through? Save you dialing time.” Langley does something before I can even answer and I hear the ringing of another phone. He’s patched me through to Frohike,

“Talk to me.” Frohike never identifies himself on the greeting.

“It’s me. What’s going on there? How are things?”

Frohike sighs. “About the same, I think. As much as we hear. None of us has been able to get into the monitor room in a while. Diana’s watching us pretty close.”

“Is she there now?” I ask, anxiety grabbing at my guts.

“Snoozing on a bench down the hall,” he replies. “I can see her from here, but she can’t hear us. But she’s not snoozing too hard. She’s up every time there’s movement in the hall. Seems pretty nervous.”

She fucking well better be.

“Does Skinner happen to be there?”

“Yeah. He’s here a lot of the time that he’s not at the office.”

I sigh, trying to make a decision. “Give him this phone and let me talk to him.”

Frohike hesitates. “You sure you want to do that?”

“Yeah,” I reply, trying to convince myself. “But hang around. I want to talk to you after I talk to him.”

“I’ll be right here. Be careful, Scully.” There is a pause and the sound of muffled voices.

“Skinner.”

“It’s me, sir.”

“So I hear. Where are you, Agent Scully? What are you doing?”

“I think you know what I’m doing.” I sidestep the location question and he doesn’t press me.

“Is there something I can help you with, Agent Scully?”

Something’s up, something’s not right. Two Agent Scullys right in a row. Is he wired? Even if Frohike’s line is secure, they could record us if Skinner’s wired. But I’m hoping they can’t trace us. I have to try this.

“I want to see him,” I say in a voice that’s stronger than I feel right now.

“Nobody but staff has been in there.” His voice is carefully neutral.

“Have you asked? Look, sir, I’m asking you to see if you can get them to let me in there.”

“I can’t do that, Agent Scully. I think you overestimate my position in the chain of command at this hospital.”

Those words. He’d said them once before when I should have trusted him and I didn’t, when Mulder was dead in New Mexico. Don’t trust what I say without a signal.

“Maybe if you were family, Dana.” There is a subtle change in his tone. “Maybe if you were family.”

“Yes, sir,” I reply softly. “Please give the phone back to Frohike.” Another pause.

“I’m here and out of earshot, Scully.”

“I need…” I think about what I’m going to ask for and realize I don’t know if it’s possible. “Frohike, how much money does Emesco have?”

“How much do you need?”

“I need a helicopter.” I answer.

“To buy?” Frohike asks.

“No, no. To rent. I need to hire a helicopter and pilot.”

“No problem, Scully. Emesco has enough money to buy one. Where and when?”

I sigh with relief. “Really short notice. I need it waiting for me when I land. And I need it to go to Greenwich, Connecticut. And wait for me. Then in Greenwich, I need a driver or cab or something. Look up Mulder’s mother’s address. I don’t remember it.”

“You’re going to go from there?” Frohike sounds doubtful. “You really need to get back here.”

“Frohike, it won’t do me any good to get back there if they won’t let me in to see him. We need some help here. Maybe I can get Mulder’s mother to help me get in there. I’ll be quick, and then the helicopter can take me back to DC.”

“Scully…”

“I don’t know what else to do.” I’m scared, I’m scared. This has to be the right thing to do. “Can you arrange all that by the time I land?”

His voice is soft and kind, almost as if he can hear my apprehension. “Yeah, I can do it if I get right on it. Just get there. And remember to call before you go through Customs.”

Tears of gratitude sting my eyes. What would I do—what would we do—without this strange, remarkable little man and his friends? Our friends. Redwoods among mere sprouts. “Thanks Frohike,” I murmur. But he’s already gone, no doubt already setting to the tasks I’ve placed before him.

+++++

Chapter Seven

Georgetown Memorial Hospital

3:17 a.m.

pretty thirsty now. thirsty and tired. mostly thirsty. the eye on the wall. talk to the eye cuz the ears there too.

“Please, a drink please, a drink please, a drink please, a plink drease a…”

cant stop saying it. making me thirstier. cant stop saying it.. can hear him in there. the night guy.

<can’t/he/shut/up/why/won’t/he/shut/up/watchin’/a/movie/for/chrissakes/shut/up/why/won’t/he/sleep/everybody/else/is/asleep/all/the/nuts/in/their/shells>

“…a drink please, a dreank plise, a drink, a drink…”

cant think of any water songs. jeremiah was a bullfrog. bullfrogs are sort of by water. maybe thats a water song. jeremiah was a bullfrog. cant sing it like her. like my scullly. cold and thirsty. we were cold and thirsty and she sang to me. and she saved me. and she kept me safe. kept me warm. because thats what she does. she saves me. she saved the world. and i kissed her. and she tasted like moonlight. and i love you scully. and i was expecting the left. and i jumped. and i hit the water. water.

“…dink of water, wink o water, drink of water, please, drink please…”

not listening. watching the movie.

<can’t/have/water/shut/up/shut/up/go/to/sleep/you’ll/need/it/shut/up/this/is/the/good/part/eddie/murphy/goes/into/that/redneck/bar/laughed/my/ass/off/first/time/i/saw/this/still/funny/shut/up/you’re/wrecking/it/fix/you/up/good/tomorrow/fuckin’/looney/christ/what’s/he/doing/should/kick/his/ass/for/making/me/get/up>

i hide under the eye on the wall. hide in plain sight. hiding in the light. he’ll come in if i stay under the eye on the wall. i can ask him for water. thats not much. ill be good. ill be good. hear the lock. hes mad. hear it in my head. screaming in my head. kick my ass. missing the movie. opening the door.

“…please, water please, drink of…”

“Out of the corner, Mr, Mulder. Out where we can see you.”

we. no not we. only him. thats why i did this. only him. not more coming. not all the voices. ill be good. ill be good. im out now. cant stop talking. hates that. night guy says shut up.

“…please, water please, just a little, just a little, I’ll be good, I’ll be quiet…”

rain. we were standing in the rain. and we were laughing. in the rain. only want to see you laughin in the purple rain. water from the sky. and we were laughing. and i loved her a little then. and she was new and fresh and beautiful. so beautiful. and i loved her even then. and we were laughing. in the pouring rain. sheets and rivers and buckets of water from the sky. water for chocolate. water.

“Sorry, Mr. Mulder. No water for you. You’re on a twelve-hour fast for some tests tomorrow.”

<yeah/tests/see/how/you/are/tomorrow/after/a/few/hundred/volts/zap/ya/with/the/juice/mellow/you/right/out/the/juice/jump>

door closes behind him. no. no. just a drink. not the juice. god not the juice like before. brains scramble your brains. fry em like eggs. this is your brain. this is your brain on electroshock. any questions? no not electroshock. im a psychologist. i know. im a psychologist. called electroconvulsive therapy. ect. im a psychologist. scramble your brains like before with the juice. fry em like eggs. egghead. hes so bright mrs. mulder. he’s so smart. its like he knows the answer to the question before i even get to ask it. egghead egghead smartie fartie. i cant keep him interested mrs. mulder. hes bored in class. i think you should consider skipping him a grade. hes so smart. bookworm teachers pet. hes tall for his age. hell do okay with the older kids. sister lost his sister. says he doesnt remember. probably killed her himself. weirdo weirdo. sorry i lost her dad. not the doctor again. not the juice. i didnt mean to lose her. dont take that away too. how will i find her if you take that away? dont take it away. dont burn it away. ill find her. just leave me the gift. dont take the gift.

walkin in memphis. walkin with my feet ten feet off the beale. walkin in memphis. do i really feel the way i feel?

smoky. smoke drifts like low clouds. darkness and lights on a mirrored ball. put on my blue suede shoes and i boarded the plane. sitting close to the stage. i feel his excitement. he bounces jittery like a kid. two faces. he has two faces. id almost forgotten. hes happy. scully sees it too. she laces her fingers through mine behind him. not that hed notice. hes so happy. shes there. the woman of his dreams. he sees nothing else. scullys hand is warm and soft. her thumb moves over mine. hes happy. he laughs out loud and hes beautiful. she sees it too. the woman of his dreams sees it and comes to him because hes beautiful. he laughs out loud and i do too and so does scully. my scully. high five, buddy. dancing with the woman of his dreams. his life is complete and hes beautiful. look at scully. shes beautiful too. no surprise there. of course shes beautiful. shes scully. shes alive. shes healthy. so close. it was too close. but shes here. shes alive. shes here with me. because i asked her to be here with me in this strange place. stayed with me. stays with me. dance with the woman of my dreams. hold out my hand. will she take it? oh brother. she smiles. shy? surprised? she takes my hand and i pull her to me and it takes forever for her to be in my arms. And she fits. and i hold her and i hold her hand. theres a pretty little thing waitin for the king down in the jungle room. and i was walkin in memphis and i spin her and her hair flies out from her face. and i hold her close again and my life is complete. put on my blue suede shoes. blue suede juice.

the juice. im scared scully. where are you scully? you can stop this. the juice. the juice scully like before. hold me together scully. they want to take it again. help me keep it scully.

+++++

Greenwich, Connecticut

6:14 a.m.

The cab ride is endless. It’s early. Will she even be up? I don’t care. She’s got to get up now. I have to get to Mulder.

We stop in front of a neat-looking white house. I check the address Frohike gave me again, but I know this is the place. I recognize it from last time. There is a realtor’s sign close to the sidewalk leading up to the front door. In big bold letters it proclaims that the house is sold.

I reach the front door, hand poised to knock, when it suddenly swings open. She begins talking before she has a chance to look up. “I wasn’t expecting the cab until sev…”

“Mrs. Mulder…”

She meets my eyes with the look of someone who recognizes me, but can’t quite recall why I’m familiar. “You’re…”

“Dana Scully. You son’s partner.” I look out at the sign in the yard and back at her. “He didn’t mention that you were moving.”

She looks at me with something akin to dread on her face. “Why are you here? Has something happened to Fox?”

“Yes, Mrs. Mulder. I need… May I come in?” She doesn’t move, doesn’t answer. “Your son… He needs your help. I need it.”

She puts a hand up in front of my face. “No, wait. I don’t want to hear it. Not again, not anymore.”

“It will just take a few minutes. Please let me in.” I push past her into the entryway. Where I stood last time I was here. Maybe the last time Mulder was here, too. In a corner I spy several suitcases and a purse. The furniture in the living room is covered with plastic drop cloths. She’s not just moving as in indefinitely over the next few weeks. She’s moving today, now.

“Agent Scully, I’m sorry. I just don’t have time right now. I have a cab coming in just over an hour and there are things I’d like to see to before I leave.”

“You’re leaving? It’s just funny that Mulder didn’t mention this.” Her silence speaks volumes and she refuses to meet my eye. I process what that means. “Oh my God. He doesn’t know, does he?”

Her face is cold, unwavering. “I don’t see how this is your concern.”

But I’m still trying to deal with the fact that she’s sold her house and is leaving without telling Mulder. “You’re just going to go, disappear somewhere, and not tell you son?” I am incredulous.

“I’m not… I’m not…”

She hasn’t finished her sentence, but I think that she has. “You’re not disappearing?”

She shakes her head angrily. “No. I’m not…” She hesitates, as if trying to find the right words. “He’s not my son.”

Her words shock me. “Oh, Mrs. Mulder, no.” God, God, thank You for not letting him be here to hear this. “Look, I know you and your son have had some problems. But to disown him, to say he’s not your son… You’re all the family he has left, he’s all you have left.”

“No,” she snaps back. “You don’t understand. He’s not my son and he never was. He’s Bill’s son!”

What is she talking about? I fight to control my expression. “You’re right. I don’t understand. Help me understand this.”

“Young lady, I barely know you. I don’t owe you an explanation of my life.” Her tone is indignant, outraged.

And makes me so angry I can hardly breathe. “What about him?” I cry and blink back the tears that are threatening. “Don’t you owe him an explanation? It’s his life, too.”

She chuffs. “But he’s not here, is he? As usual. So I explain to you and you explain to him? Is that it?” Sarcasm drips from her voice and she turns and pretends to arrange some items on the foyer table.

“God, I hope so. I hope I get the chance to explain it to him.” I can hardly trust my voice to speak. “Who else does he have? Obviously not you.”

Her head snaps toward me, eyes flashing. “Don’t you dare judge me. I did the best I could. And it was never enough for them. Never enough.” I look into her eyes for the first time and I can see it. Sorrow and despair so deep there’s no end in sight. I know the look.

And the tears are back. “Please, Mrs. Mulder. Tell me. I’ve been with him for seven years and watched him being eaten alive from not knowing what you know. It’s consumed his whole life. Please, if you won’t help him, won’t you at least help me help him?”

She crosses over to the other side of the room and makes a show of pretending to look out the window, her back to me. She’s been quiet a long time, so long I’m starting to wonder if she’s going to answer at all, or if I’m being dismissed by her stony silence. Finally she speaks, so softly that I have to approach her from behind in order to hear her. “Maybe it’s time I did,” she whispers.

“Bill and I were married in 1954. I was going to Sarah Lawrence but in those days I don’t think any of us actually planned to graduate. We were there to meet the right kind of men and find husbands. You’re probably scoffing, Agent Scully. But that’s what we did then. It wasn’t shameful or wrong. It’s just what we did. I met Bill in 1952 at a New Year’s Eve dance. He was perfect—handsome, a great dancer, had a good job with the government. But he was dark and mysterious, too. I didn’t find out until later that the ideal of dark and mysterious is much better than the reality of it.”

I manage to creep up beside her and I watch her profile, her head back slightly, her eyes closed. “We moved into a nice little apartment complex in Capitol Heights with other young couples. It seemed like all the men were in government service and we all became friends. The men all went to work every day and the girls—that’s what we called ourselves, girls—we decorated and shopped and shared recipes and cooked for our husbands. Just like our mothers taught us to do.

“After a couple of years, though, I began to notice that they were all starting to drift away. One of the girls would get pregnant and they’d decide they needed more room and move to a nice house in Bethesda or somewhere. And some other couple would move into their apartment. It happened over and over again. Three, four years down the line and I realized nobody lived there who did when Bill and I moved in. And I wasn’t pregnant. Bill was with State then and traveled a lot, but still we were together enough that I should have been pregnant.”

She sighs, a heavy deep sound in the high-ceilinged room. “By six years, I was desperate. I wanted a baby so much, I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with women who had them.” I think of Tara and Matthew and I understand her feelings. “We went to the doctor, both Bill and I, to see if there was anything wrong. But they said we both checked out fine. But, you know, they couldn’t diagnose things then the way they do now. The doctor said to try and relax, that sometimes couples who adopted a baby would come up pregnant within a year just because they’d been able to relax about it. But it was difficult to relax. Bill and I were fighting so much of the time that we couldn’t even broach the idea of adoption. And I wanted a baby so badly. And the way things were between us, that wasn’t going to happen.

“Then one day he comes in and drops the bottom out of my world. He starts by telling me they’ve transferred him to Boston and that we have to be there in three weeks. Believe it or not, that wasn’t that unusual among our crowd. He tells me he’s found a place for us in Chilmark on the Vineyard and that he’ll commute from there when he’s not traveling. And I’m absorbing this and nodding and taking it in and even starting to think about everything I had to do if we were going to move because that’s what we did back then. And I was even kind of looking forward to it, getting out of that place where every new couple that moved in was younger and fresher than we were. And I didn’t have to watch them come up pregnant, one right after another.”

Mrs. Mulder leans her head against the pane of glass in the narrow window beside the door. “Then he says, Teena, there’s something else I have to tell you, and I knew, I knew. We’d been having so many problems. I’d seen it happen to some of our friends who were having problems, too. I knew he was going to tell me there was somebody else. And he did. But he assured me it had just been a mistake, meaningless. But there’d been a baby and the woman—he never told me her name—had died in a car accident. He was so sorry, he was so sorry. But he wanted the baby. He wanted us to raise his son. We were going to a whole new place. Nobody would have to know that the baby wasn’t ours. Even little Fox—he told me his name was Fox—wouldn’t have to know. A clean slate.”

She looks at me and tears shimmer in her eyes. “At first, I just said no. How could he ask me to raise his child by another woman? But then he said something that changed my mind. He said that he’d made a mistake but that it wasn’t right to punish the baby for the sins of the father. He was just a baby, just two months old—a baby whose mother was dead. And I’d wanted a baby for so long. But still it was the hardest decision I’d ever made.”

Now that she’s started, it’s as if she can’t stop. Words are pouring out of her, spewing out of her, and it’s like she’s talking to herself. Like I’m not even there.

“So we moved to Chilmark with our new baby. Bill got a birth certificate that said I had given birth to Fox. I don’t know where he got it and I didn’t ask. By that time, I knew enough not to ask questions. Fox was a good baby. Quiet, not any trouble. But different from other babies I’d seen. I don’t know how to explain it. He was… watchful, focused. If you talked to him, looked into his eyes, it was like he knew things, understood things babies can’t understand. And he could just do things. He spoke in full sentences at seven months. It was scary. Sometimes it was embarrassing. People would bend over his buggy and make those little baby talk noises and he’d ask them to talk more clearly because he didn’t understand what they were saying. One day when he was two, I was in the kitchen and I heard him talking in the living room. I couldn’t imagine who he thought he was talking to. I found him on the floor with the newspaper spread out in front of him. He was reading the headlines out loud. He asked me what assassination was. He scared me and made me a little sad sometimes because I’d wanted a baby so badly and I got one that just didn’t seem to need me very much. I’d set him down someplace, turn around for a second, and he’d be gone. Off on some adventure with me worried to death about him. I don’t know how many times I had to get the neighbors involved in searching for him. We’d find him later, and he never seemed to be able to figure out what all the fuss was about.”

That brought the closest thing to a smile I’d had in days. Apparently, Mulder’s ditches go way back.

“So Bill and I eventually put things back together as best we could and went on. His job took up more and more of his time and I knew there was some kind of big secret project going on, but I didn’t ask. He made it clear that he was involved in things he couldn’t talk about. But still things fell into place and were okay. Sometimes okay is the best you get. Then when Fox was four, Samantha was born. She was absolutely beautiful and Fox fell in love with her from the start. He’d look at her for what seemed like hours on end, and talk and talk. He never seemed to mind that she didn’t answer back. He’d just keep talking and she’d watch him and smile. She loved Fox better than she loved either Bill or me, I think.

“From the outside, we looked perfect. Bill was successful, we had two perfect children, a beautiful home. Hell, we even had a summer house. Two perfect children who barely knew their father and a beautiful home he hardly visited any more. The meetings and trips were more frequent. He was hardly ever off the phone when he was home. He came and went in the middle of the night. Carl Spender and the others from the Project would drop by at odd hours bringing strange men who spoke with foreign accents. And they all seemed angry—and afraid. And we didn’t ask questions, none of the wives, because we knew. People who asked questions, who made too much noise, sometimes they went away and never came back. Or they came back different, like Cassandra Spender. I didn’t ask and I raised my children and kept my mouth shut.

“Until that summer, 1973, when I knew things were really bad. Bill was hardly ever home that spring and when he was, he was adamant about getting me and the kids to Quonochontaug and that we had to stay there for the entire summer. I said okay and started to mention it one night when Carl and Cassandra were over and Bill changed the subject so fast it made my mouth drop open. So we went that summer. And one night Bill was home and he was pacing and nervous and it was scaring me. I sent the kids up to bed and finally, I just couldn’t keep quiet any more. I asked him what the problem was and he was going to tell me, I think, when Carl burst in. No knocking, nothing. And he was livid. Bill took him out on the sun porch and they screamed at one another. I went out to tell them to be quiet, they were scaring the children. And that’s when they told me everything—the Colonists, the bargain they’d all made to give up a child. And that everyone but Bill had done it and the Colonists were demanding that he do it, too. That he give up Samantha like he’d agreed. I couldn’t believe it, my husband had agreed to give up our daughter. But looking at them, I couldn’t not believe it, either.”

She took a deep breath. “The rest is kind of a blur, but after Carl left, I screamed at Bill that he couldn’t take our daughter. He shook me—he’d never touched me in anger in all the time I’d known him—but he shook me until I thought he’d break my neck. And he said it wasn’t a game and that if he didn’t do what he’d agreed to everyone would die. Not just us, but everyone. He yelled and yelled and told me not to try and understand something I couldn’t. And I said… God help me, I said let them take Fox, and he went quiet and pale and said he couldn’t do that. It had to be Samantha because Fox had to stay here. It was almost as if he were talking to himself, saying Fox was the only chance, and crying about how he didn’t understand how things had gotten so out of hand.”

“He went out and sat by himself on the porch for a while. When he came in, he told me he’d try to get them to change their minds. That since the time was past, he thought he could do it. He told me not to worry. And then he left, too, and we just spent the rest of the summer in Rhode Island. He’d call every few days and tell me not to worry, but that’s all. We went back to Chilmark on Labor Day and then the kids went back to school. He didn’t say anything more about it and I hoped that meant everything was all right. I was too afraid to ask him straight out.”

She lowers her head and clutches the windowsill, her shoulders hitching slightly. I know what’s coming next and I wait with a nauseating combination of anticipation and dread. My knees start to shake and I sink onto a straight-back bench a little to my left. She’s going to tell me about that night, November 27, 1973. A date I know as well as my mother’s birthday, a date that changed Mulder’s life—and mine too. She’s going to say what happened that night, and I have to fight the urge to cover my ears because I know there will be no stopping her from finishing the story. I can see it in her face.

“We played bridge with the Galbrands every other Friday night. We had for years, whenever Bill’s schedule allowed it. They were our next door neighbors, the first people we met when we moved to Chilmark. Usually we got a sitter, but I didn’t have any luck that night. Bill said it was just next door and that Fox was old enough to watch Samantha when we were that close. He even made a big deal about Fox being in charge and I think Fox was proud that his father was giving him the responsibility. He loved Bill so.”

I can see her swallow hard, her face a map of confusion, even after twenty-five years, about what happened that night. “We were at the Galbrands playing cards, just like we always did and suddenly Mitzi looks up at the clock and exclaims how it’s almost midnight. We never played past ten and she said… I remember this. She said she couldn’t imagine where the time had gone. When she said that, Bill stood up so quickly he tipped his chair over and, without a word, he was running out the door. I followed him and I think maybe Mitzi and Dan did, too. The last clear memory I have is running through the shrubbery between the houses and seeing our house. The door looked as if it had been ripped off the hinges and the windows were all blown out of their frames. After that, everything is fuzzy, patchy. I remember going into the house after Bill and seeing Fox cowering in the corner, shaking and clutching his head. He’d wet himself. His clothes were soaked and he was sitting in a puddle, rocking and clutching his head. And Samantha was gone. Then there were police and questions and our doctor came and gave me a shot and for a blessed while, there was nothing. I don’t even know how long that lasted.

“I remember being in bed a lot and Bill coming to me and giving me pills and telling me how important it was that I never tell anyone what I knew. I couldn’t even remember what it was I was supposed to know, but he said if I told there would never be any chance that we could get Samantha back. I remember him saying that Fox wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t eat and that he had to take him somewhere to get him some help. But I didn’t care about that. They’d taken my daughter. My baby was gone.”

Her baby was gone. The tears that have been threatening all through her story finally escape my eyes. Her baby was gone and I know how that felt. “But you still had another child, Mrs. Mulder. You might not have given birth to him, but to Fox you were his mother.”

Her eyes grow hard and flinty. “They took my baby girl and left me with Bill’s strange, broken child. I know that how I acted was wrong, but I couldn’t help it. Bill brought Fox back from wherever he’d taken him for treatment and he was different—strange, eerie. He had no memories of what happened that night. He’d just wander around the house, so quiet, so lost, and I’d see him looking at me with such need and…” She paused and her voice dropped to a whisper. “And I could hardly stand the sight of him.”

Oh God, oh God. How can I be hearing something like this? How can she be saying it? Mulder, oh God, Mulder. How could he have lived through it?

She must have seen something in my expression. “Don’t look at me like that. Don’t you dare look at me like that. You don’t know what my life was like then.”

“But he was just a child,” I replied.

“I know, Agent Scully, I know that what I was thinking was reprehensible. I knew it then and I tried, I really tried, to help him. To love him. But I couldn’t. I tried to hug him, to comfort him, and sometimes it was okay and I could do it and it would make him happy for a while. But one day when I was crying for Samantha… There were years and years of days that I couldn’t make it through without crying.” She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a handkerchief to wipe at the tears streaming down her face. Steeling herself, she goes on. “One day when I was crying, he came up behind me and put his arm around me. It startled me, I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t even know he was home. But… but I jumped up and pushed him away and he must have seen something in my face because it was years, literally years, before he ever tried to touch me again.

“And Bill… Bill was so hard on him. He was always either screaming at him or he’d go for weeks without talking to him. Once I was walking past Bill’s study and I overheard him… I heard him tell Fox… He said that maybe if Fox had been braver and stronger that night, he could have stopped them from taking Samantha.”

I hear a strange keening wail and realize that it’s coming from me. I can feel myself trembling and feel the hot trails of tears on my face, and I can stop neither of them.

But Mrs. Mulder seems not to notice as she goes on with this story that seems obscene in its pain. “I heard him say those things to Fox. I heard him pass his own blame onto his son and I didn’t stop him. I couldn’t. Because he was saying out loud the very thoughts I was carrying in my head.”

I bring my hands to my face and they are icy against the hot skin of my face. I can’t believe this. It goes against everything I’ve ever known or believed about families, about the love of parents for their children. “But he was just a boy.” My voice sounds like what it is—a plea for the key to understand this.

“Just a boy,” she says with quiet bitterness. “But such a special boy. So smart, so capable. So special that my husband gave up my daughter, my little girl, for him. But he couldn’t use the gun to defend his sister? They found Bill’s gun on the floor, unfired. He couldn’t have run next door to get help?”

How many times every day does Mulder ask himself those very questions? How many thousands and thousands of times over the course of twenty-five years have those questions rung in his head? Put there and reinforced by the very people who should have moved mountains to make sure he understood that none of what had happened was his fault. My stomach clenches and I’m glad I haven’t eaten in a long time because I don’t think I’d be able to keep it down with what I’ve heard this morning.

Suddenly I’m just tired, tired and weak and sick to my very soul. And I hurt for Mulder— my Mulder. For truly, who else does he have? I hurt for the boy he was then, a child denied even basic human comfort for something completely beyond his control. And I hurt for the man he has become. “Then what?” My voice sounds old and dull in my ears.

Her voice has become cold and distant, as if relating something she read in a book or saw in a movie. “Every so often the men from the Project would come to see us, to look at Fox and to tell me how important it was that I never tell anyone what I knew. And Bill kept trying to reassure me that he was doing what he could to get Samantha back. And somehow I kept going. I kept our house, made meals for Fox and for Bill when he was there, which was less and less. I bought Fox clothes and did his laundry and he moved around on the periphery of my life somewhere and somehow six years went by. Fox announced that he had won a scholarship to attend Oxford and I knew it for what it was. A desperate attempt to escape our lives and, God help me, I envied him his ability to get out. We drove him to the airport and on the way back, I told Bill to get whatever he wanted from the house and never come back. That I was filing for divorce. He didn’t disagree, but made sure I knew that there wasn’t a chance of getting our daughter back if I even thought about telling anyone what I knew. We got divorced and I bought this little house.

“Fox came home from Oxford during the holidays and stayed with me. With Bill out of the picture, it seemed better between Fox and me. I’d had some time to come to grips with things and it seemed that Fox did, too. Or maybe he’d lowered his expectations for our relationship. I never asked. After graduation, he told me he’d decided to join the FBI and he moved to Washington. He’d call regularly and even visit on occasion, but I don’t think he had any contact at all with Bill. From what I’d heard, Bill had bought the house in West Tisbury and spent most of his days with his new best friend, Jack Daniels. We’d talk from time to time, and he stopped even pretending that he was looking for Samantha.

“But I knew Fox was looking, and they knew it too, so they kept up their little visits and warnings about who could get killed if I told anyone, especially Fox, what I knew. But, you know, this is strange. It just stopped having any meaning to me. So many years had passed that what I knew was like a dream, something that never really happened. She’d been gone for many more years than I’d had her and I found I couldn’t even remember really what her voice had sounded like. Until she came back. Until Bill brought her to me and I saw how beautiful she was and I had my daughter back. Until Fox couldn’t leave things alone and she was gone again. And I tried not to hate him for that.”

“She wasn’t your daughter, Mrs. Mulder,” I say quietly.

“I know that,” she whispered. “I know that. But she could have been, damn it. If he’d just left her alone, she could have been my daughter. But no, this time he traded her away—just like his father did. He traded her for you.”

“She wasn’t your daughter,” I repeat.

“But he thought she was. Fox told me he thought she was Samantha. And still he traded her for you.”

“Mrs. Mulder, it was her idea. Things went wrong that night, dreadfully wrong, but it was her idea. The people who killed her would have found her anyway. They created her to keep Mulder involved. To lure him in deeper. You, of all people, should know what they’re capable of.”

She looks at me with pity in her eyes. “You know what they’re capable of, too, don’t you Ms. Scully? I wonder what your story would sound like to me. Well it worked, just like it was supposed to. After that, every time I saw Fox, he was like a man possessed. Asking questions, looking for information about that time. Then Bill was murdered, and Fox was dead, and then Fox was alive and all he had were questions, questions. They told me they’d kill me if I told. Human existence is funny, isn’t it? Even with the hell my life has been, I didn’t want to die. They’d killed Bill, and he was important to the Project. I didn’t have any doubt that they’d kill me, too. And still Fox kept on, searching and searching, asking and demanding until that day two years ago. You were here. When he came in ranting and screaming and making accusations that weren’t true. God, I wish I had been unfaithful to Bill all those years ago. I wish I’d found someone to love me enough to take me away from all that.”

“He wasn’t himself that day, Mrs. Mulder, it was…”

“Don’t you see? It doesn’t matter anymore. I slapped him that day. That was the last time I touched my son and the last time I heard his voice. He’s never made contact with me since then and I haven’t made contact with him. And they know it. The warnings have stopped coming and for two years, I’ve almost felt normal. I just want it to be over. I just want some peace in what’s left of my life. I’m an old woman now, Ms. Scully, and I spent what were supposed to be the best years of my life terrified and in tears.”

“Please, Mrs. Mulder, he needs your help.”

She shakes her head and actually places her hands over her ears. “I don’t want to hear it. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the choices I made and for everything that’s happened to him. I’m sorry. But I just don’t have anything left to give him. They’ve taken it all.” Her voice drops to a whisper. “He’s still looking for her isn’t he?”

I nod, unable to speak through the lump in my throat.

“Doesn’t he realize that even if he found her, she wouldn’t be his sister? She would be some grown up stranger who wouldn’t know him if she passed him on the street. I hope she never comes back because I couldn’t bear that. How can he not see that? How can he keep doing this?”

I rise from the bench and go to stand before her. “Because you and his father ensured that he would. He’s spent his entire adult life trying to fix something that wasn’t his fault, trying to stop the men responsible for it, in the sheer hope of winning back your love. He can’t get it back from his father. He’s dead and I hope he’s rotting in hell. But I held your son—your son—as he wept at your bedside after your stoke. He was battered and bruised and in shock and still, all he could talk about was how he’d failed you. He keeps doing this to bring her back for you. And you don’t even want her.”

I head for the door and pause with my hand on the knob. “I’m sorry I’ve taken up so much of your time. You can have your peace, Mrs. Mulder. If you think running away is going to bring that to you, just go. Personally, I think Mulder is better off without you, but it makes me sad for him because I know he wouldn’t think so. I’ll find some way to help him, with or without you.”

She looks at me incredulously. “Even knowing what you know. Even after what they’ve done to you. I don’t know your story, Ms. Scully, but I can see that you’ve paid a high price for your part in this. You’re not that fresh-faced girl I met at Bill’s funeral anymore. But they suck you dry, don’t they? They suck you dry. Why do you keep doing it?”

The million dollar question. The question no one else in my life has the guts to ask me, the one I’ve asked myself over and over, but never answered out loud. “I do it because it’s the right thing to do,” I reply. “I do it because it’s not right that he should do it alone. He’s been alone enough for this lifetime. Fox Mulder is the most remarkable man I’ve ever known, and I believe that even more firmly after what I’ve heard today. Just the fact that he lived through life with you two is incredible, but to come out of it the man he is, is miraculous. I’m sorry you’ve never allowed yourself to see who he is, because you’ve missed something special.”

She touches my arm as I open the door and I look down at her hand, surprised. “Ms. Scully,” she says, fresh tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry. For everything. But I’m glad he has you to love him. It makes me understand a little better how he could have chosen you over Samantha. Take care of him. I never could.”

The cab is waiting to take me back to the helicopter. The driver is considerate enough to leave me in silence. so I’m able to think about all she’s told me. I feel drained and empty and incredibly old. How will I tell him this? And I know I have to. I can’t be a partner in concealing their lies. That’s even assuming I get a chance to tell him.

What am I going to do? I can feel every minute pass and with the feeling comes the knowledge that time is growing shorter and shorter.

I have to get to Mulder.

+++++

Chapter Eight

Georgetown Memorial Hospital

7:35 a.m.

the songs are gone. all used up. im still here. alone. except for the voice in my head. the liar. i hope shes a liar. i know shes a liar. shes a liar.

<for/your/own/good/fox/really/we’re/just/trying/to/help/you/it/will/make/you/better/fox/
don’t/you/see/you’re/not/eating/you’re/not/sleeping/it’s/for/your/own/good/won’t/hurt/not/
like/last/time/fox/they’ve/changed/it/you/won’t/even/feel/it/it’s/the/only/choice/fox/you’re/
not/eating/you’re/not/sleeping/she’d/agree/to/this/fox/she’s
adoctor/she/would/know/
there’s/no/other/choice/but/she’s/not/here/is/she/maybe/because/she’s/sick/of/all/of/this/
so/much/has/happened/to/her/maybe/she/just/wants/it/to/stop/i/know/you/think/you/love/
her/and/she/loves/you/but/if/she/loved/you/she’d/be/here/wouldn’t/she>

almost all the tears are used up. almost down to the scully tears. the ones im saving for us. her book. i read her book. wrote to me. mulder i feel you close though i know you are pursuing your own path. for that i am grateful—more than i could ever express. i need to know youre out there if i am ever to see through this. back to you scully. give them back to you. the words. wish i could write.

<you’ll/feel/better/i’ll/help/you/feel/better/when/it’s/over/you/can/sleep/you/can/rest/you/
don’t/need/it/fox/it’s/bad/for/you/like/last/time/it/was/bad/for/you/it’s/for/your/own/good>

shut up. be quiet. i’m talking to scully. like she talked to me in her book. can’t write to her. can’t write. i can write in my head.

Scully, I’m scared for you. I can hear the guys out in the hallway sometimes but they’re not clear. They mix with the other voices and I can’t understand them. I don’t know where you are and that terrifies me, like it always has. You’d be here if you could. That’s the one thing I’m certain of—the single thing in my life I know to be true. You are what I know, who I believe in, who I trust. And if I’ve ever led you to believe, even for a moment, that that’s not true, I’m sorry.

You would be here if you could.

And that’s why I’m scared. Because you aren’t here. If I could pray, Scully, I’d pray for you. I haven’t been able to for a long time. But if God would let me ask for something, I’d ask that He keep you safe. Safer than I’ve been able to.

For a while, I was scared for me. But not anymore. Because you’ll get me out of here if you can. If you can’t, if something’s happened to you, it doesn’t matter what they do to me. If you’ve got nothing left, you’ve got nothing to lose.

But I’m scared for you. And I miss you. And I hang on for you because you’ll be here if you can.

+++++

Washington DC

9:22 a.m.

I called from the cab and Byers is waiting for me when the driver drops me off at the entry to the alley leading to their office. I’m glad because I have a suitcase, my briefcase and the bag with the artifacts and I’m exhausted. He takes the suitcase and my briefcase, sensing my reluctance to release the artifacts, even to him. I don’t mean any offense and I don’t think he takes it that way. Neither of us speaks and I stare down at my feet as we walk down the alley. As we near the building, I look up to see Frohike standing in the open doorway. Apparently, it’s Langley’s turn at the hospital.

Frohike closes the door behind us and it’s cool and dark and I have a feeling of home, like I could kick off my shoes and curl up on the couch. Home. I’ve been too far in too short a time. I’ve seen things and heard things that have changed how I feel and what I believe. But now I’m home. I think of a quote from Hamlet. For this relief much thanks; ‘tis bitter cold and I am sick at heart.

Shakespeare. Fucking great. Maybe I’ll do sonnets next. I’m so tired. And sick at heart.

“She won’t help us,” I say in my newly acquired dead voice, although I can’t imagine that they can’t read this on my face.

“His mother, his mother won’t help us?” Byers asks in disbelief. “What happened?”

I shake my head. I can only repeat what I heard this morning one time in my life. Just once. To one person. “Guys, I know you deserve the whole story here, but I can’t tell you what happened before I tell Mulder. I just can’t. She just won’t help us, okay?”

We lapse into an uncomfortable silence that Byers finally breaks. “Agent Scully,” he says, almost hesitantly. “May I see the artifacts?” He looks barely able to contain himself, a look I’ve never seen on Byers. Frohike looks interested, too, although I think he’s still troubled about why Mulder’s mother won’t help us.

I look down and see that I’m still clutching the strap of the bag tightly in my hands. Home, I’m home. I can let go for a while. I hand the bag to him and follow him and Frohike over to the worktable under the big light. We all stand around the table and look at it for a moment, as if uncertain as to who should be the one to open it. That’s Mulder’s job. Finally, I unzip the bag and push it toward Byers, and he pushes the flap back. Dr. Merkmallon’s notebooks and the smaller pieces of the artifact are on top. Setting the notebooks aside, Byers unwraps one and Frohicke the other and they set them side by side under the bright light.

The tablet, uncovered, rests in the bottom of the bag and I can’t look away from it. I reach for it and place my hands on its surface. It seems to vibrate under my fingers and sends a feeling of warmth up my arms.

it’s beautiful. see how beautiful. carved. symbols. <GET TO HIM!!!> shines. shines. not a rock. beautiful. <GET TO HIM!!!> it’s warm. nice. i feel… i feel…

Frohike slams down the lid to the case and I pull my hands back instinctively. I think I’m swaying and he grabs my waist and wrist and leads me to the couch. wait, wait.

“Take that in the next room,” he tells Byers “This is what Corliss said happened when she opened the bag in Customs. He said she told him it was jetlag.”

I watch Byers take it away with a pang of apprehension. It shouldn’t be far away from me. I feel… I feel…

“Scully.” Frohike is beside me and he looks worried. “Just relax. Just sit here a while.”

…better. I feel better, rested. “No, Frohike…”

“You need to rest a while.”

I shake my head. “No, I’m fine now.”

“Fine-fine or Scully-fine?”

Mulder’s been talking it seems. “Fine-fine,” I reply and he looks at me doubtfully. “Really. I’m all right. Frohike, what are we going to do? I was counting on help from Mulder’s mother. I’m at the end of my rope and we’re running out of time.”

He looks down at the floor and I can see that there’s something going on in his head by the look on his face, but I don’t know him well enough to read the expression. “Scully…” He pauses as if he doesn’t quite know how to go on.

“Spill it, Melvin,” I whisper. I don’t want to hear it. I have to hear it.

“A few years ago,” he says softly. “Mulder gave me a box to give to you if he… in case…” He gets up and goes to the big vault and comes out with a metal lock box. “He said to give it to you if he was dead or in so much trouble…”

He reaches out to offer it to me and I take it automatically, my eyes never leaving his. Reaching into the collar of his shirt, he draws out a chain with a key on it and hands it to me.

“Do you know what’s in it?” I ask.

“No.” He shakes his head. “Mulder said only you. He’d take it out every couple of months or so and check through it, I guess. Sometimes it looked like he changed things around or exchanged one thing for another.”

I take the box over to the worktable and Frohike discreetly stays on the sofa across the room. Sitting on the high stool under the light, my hands shake so that I can barely fit the key into the lock. Finally, I get it in and twist it and the lid pops up slightly.

Opening it, resting atop two large envelopes, I find a letter size manila envelope with just the letter “S” scrawled big in Mulder’s distinct handwriting. I pick it up and remove the letter inside, unfolding it with trembling hands.

*Dear Scully,

*The fact that you’re reading this letter indicates that things are bad right now. I know you feel alone and scared. It’s how I felt, too. But you’re not alone. The guys are there and they’ll help you. You can be sure of them. You can trust them. They’ll do whatever they can because they know I will either haunt them or come back and kick their asses if they don’t. And they know I won’t hesitate to do either one.*

That brings a little smile to my face. Even now he can make me smile.

*There are two packets in the box. The first one is marked “A” and is stuff you’ll need in the event of my death—will, insurance policies, bank information, stuff like that. There’s also a video. Please don’t watch it unless I’m dead and you’re absolutely certain I’m dead. There are things in it that I need to explain to you face-to-face and I swear to you, if I’m alive, I will.

*Open the second one, “B,” if I’m still alive but in big trouble. There’s a second letter in that packet.

*I’m sorry, Scully, to have put you through whatever got you to this point. I know you’ll do whatever is supposed to be done now. And what you do will be right. I know that with everything I am. I trust you.

M

(4/17/99)*

Tears blur my vision and I can’t suppress the shudder that passes through me as I take out the large envelopes. The first one says “A: Mulder is dead;” the second, “B: Mulder is alive but his shit’s looking nasty.” He probably thought that was funny at the time. I set Packet A aside, not even tempted to look at something with those words written on it.

If there’s anything I can use to help Mulder, it’s going to be in Packet B. I tear open the end of the envelope and pull out the sheaf of papers contained inside. Another letter size envelope, this one with no handwriting at all.

*If you had to open one of these packets, Scully, I’m glad it’s this one. But I’m scared for you, too. At least if I were dead, there’d be a chance they’d leave you alone. But I’ve always had a tendency toward self-centeredness, so I’m glad you’re reading this one.

*Wherever I am, I’m holding out hope that you’ll be able to fix whatever’s going on now and I hope some of what’s in here helps. The first thing on the stack is a form granting you Durable Power of Attorney in any matter regarding me. If I’m sick, injured or missing, you have control of everything regarding me, including any and all medical and financial decisions. Attached to it are copies of the results of my latest Bureau physical and psych exams (March 1999) to prove that I was fit to name you as my agent. (That sounds nice. I’ve always wanted my very own agent.)*

I read the beginning of the form. “I, Fox William Mulder, the principal, of the City of Alexandria, in the County of Fairfax, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, appoint Dana Katherine Scully my attorney in fact and agent in my name and for my benefit.” Three pages of legalese later, I come to a page with his signature and the signature and seal of a notary. I set it on the table to my right.

Next is all the incorporation paperwork regarding Emesco. I know the guys have told you about the company by now. Leaving you my Power of Attorney also extends decision-making about Emesco to you. Use any funds or resources in any way you see fit. Byers knows the financial setup. I hope he’s already explained some of it to you. If not, ask him to.

I set the paperwork aside and I see it. Big, bold letters across the top. How could you miss it? Decree of Divorce. My hands are moving on their own because my mind certainly doesn’t want to see this up close. My hands do it anyway. A divorce granted to Fox William Mulder from Diana Claire Fowley. I drop it as if it were on fire and reach for the letter again.

*Coward that I am, I saved this for last. I hope that, by some miracle, I’ve told you about this and just haven’t had time to update this letter. But knowing me, there’s probably not much chance of that. Please forgive me for not telling you about this. You don’t know how many times I wanted to. But I’m such a fucking coward. But I swear to you, I will—if you’ll let me. I’ll tell you everything. I tried to do it on the video in the other packet, but I need to tell you to your face. If I may. I know a copy of my divorce decree won’t do you much good in whatever I’ve gotten myself into, but I wanted you to have it as a promise that I will tell you everything. And that I won’t keep anything from you again.

*I hope for a chance to talk to you about this but it would be understandable if you decide you can’t do that. Do what’s right for you, Scully.

I’m sorry. For so many things.

I don’t even realize I’ve been breathing irregularly for the last few minutes until I vaguely hear Frohike say something about hyperventilation. Suddenly it’s all I’m aware of as he rubs his hand up and down my back, a frightened expression on his face.

“Scully, calm down. What is it?”

I hold the paper in front of his face and my hands are shaking so much that my arms ache with it. “Did you know about this?”

“What?” He reaches out to still my hands so he can see what I’ve got.

“Did. you. know. about. this?” Each word succinct, exact, excruciating.

He takes it from me and looks at it and I can see his brow knit in confusion. “No,” he whispers.

“You didn’t know that they were married.” He must have known. How could he not have known? How could I not have known?

“Scully, I swear. You think I wouldn’t have told you about something like this?”

I see the hurt on his face, but I’m so incredibly angry, enraged. “You’re Mulder’s friend.”

“I thought I was yours, too.” His voice has fallen quiet and I see that I’ve hurt him. My anger cools a little and I touch his arm, hoping he knows it as an apology. “Scully, I never would have let you do that background check on Diana not knowing that she was his wife. His wife. Jesus.” He shakes his head, unable to believe it, as I am.

“All these years and he never told me.” I speak more to myself than to Frohike and I take the paper away from him. I didn’t look at it too closely before. The final decree was issued on February 28, 1995. Oh God, oh God. “He was legally married for almost the entire first two years we were partners.” This fact is incomprehensible to me and I place the decree on the table, hardly able to stand to touch it.

He touches my hand briefly. “Scully, I’m sor…”

“You knew them back then. You guys knew them. And you didn’t know they were married?” I shake my head in disbelief.

“No,” he insists. “Not even a clue. We knew they were involved. We told you that the first time you asked us about her. But married? His file…” He stops as if unsure whether he should go on.

“What?” I prompt.

“When we first met him, we hacked into the FBI database to check him out.” He looks at me sheepishly. “His file said he was single. Like I said, we knew they were involved, but we thought it was just a convenience thing, you know? They worked together, bizarre hours, not much chance to meet anyone else. Married…jeez. No way.”

“Frohike, the information on the database is just what we give them. If he and Diana were married, it would have been a lot easier for them if the Bureau didn’t know about it. Why is this so hard for you to believe?”

“It’s hard to explain.” He rubs his chin. “It’s the way they were. I just never got that kind of vibes from them. It didn’t seem like they even especially liked one another all that much. But it’s not like they disliked each other, either. It just seemed… convenient. But hell, maybe I just missed it. Mulder was harder to read in those days.”

“What do you mean?”

“When we first met him, Mulder was still profiling. And he was the best there was, maybe ever. I don’t know if all the Spooky Mulder stories you might have heard at the Academy were true, but I can tell you he was an awesome profiler. But, you know, I think the Bureau bigwigs were so busy patting themselves on the back for his success and pushing him for more that they didn’t see what it was doing to him. He’d go into their minds all right but to do it, he had to let them go into his. And each time, I think he lost a little bit of himself. He was never the same person from one time we’d see him to the next.”

A cold chill runs down my back. I’ve seen Mulder in profiling mode. And it scares me because I know that when he does it, he gives up more than a little bit of himself.

“Things got better when they started working on the X-Files. It was better for him to do more straight field work, if that’s what you call working on the stuff that you do,” he says with a shake of his head. “But there was still something about him. Once they found the files and things started going strange, it was like he became driven. No, more than driven. I don’t know a word for it… relentless, maybe. But even more than that. Nothing mattered and nobody could get in his way. It didn’t matter where he had to go or what he had to do to get information. Anywhere, anytime. He got beat up in more dark alleys following false leads. But he didn’t care. He’d just get patched up and go on to the next one. Man, he had us going all the time and we didn’t have anything like the equipment we have now. But if we weren’t fast enough for him, he’d come in here and ream our asses. He could be a real prick.”

“So why did you keep doing stuff for him?”

Frohike pauses to think about that one. “I don’t know,” he says softly. “At first it was because the stuff he gave us was always golden. Our readership on The Lone Gunman tripled because of him. His stuff was good, reliable, and scary as hell. And I think maybe that’s why we kept it up, too. Because it was starting to look like he might be right and if that was the case, people had to know. We just couldn’t sit back and let it happen.

“But anyway, back to Mulder. That’s another reason I can’t believe they were married. I mean, there were times when we found out information that didn’t gel with what she’d found out. She didn’t like us much anyway, but when that happened it really pissed her off. Well, if Mulder found out that she’d given him the wrong stuff, he’d ream her ass, too. He just didn’t care. Nothing was as important as the mission.”

I remember the day I met him. “He told me that once when I was first assigned to work with him,” I say. Don’t think about that. I look down at the divorce decree again and my anger flares anew. I page through them reading a word here, a phrase there, until I come to the section about grounds for the divorce. Abandonment. The word sends a twinge through my heart. Abandonment, abandoned. “What happened after she left?”

“You know, we didn’t even know about it till two or three weeks after it happened. Mulder kept coming by without her, which happened on occasion because, like I said, we weren’t her favorite people. But then we noticed that he was always coming by without her. When we asked, he said she’d transferred to Berlin. I don’t know if he ever would have mentioned it if we hadn’t asked.”

This surprises me. “You mean he didn’t act any differently?”

“Not that I noticed then,” Frohike replies. “Maybe if I thought about it now, he might have been a little quieter than usual but it was nothing I saw then. He just kept working, kept digging, charging in no matter what and not afraid of anything. But on him, it wasn’t like bravery, it was like not giving a shit about what happened to himself.”

I nod, knowing what he means. I got that feeling from Mulder when we first started working together and it terrified me. So much so, that there were a couple of times that I’d almost requested a transfer. I went so far as to fill out the paperwork once. Because they teach you at Quantico that a partner who doesn’t give a shit about himself is dangerous. Like a partner who doesn’t give you all the information. He didn’t tell me, that son of a bitch didn’t tell me. I can’t think past that. He didn’t tell me.

I must not have my best poker face on because Frohike says, “I know he should have told you. He should have told you. But maybe he couldn’t.”

“Couldn’t,” I repeat dully.

“Look, Scully, Mulder is my friend. And I’m his, and I think maybe that’s why he asked me to give this stuff to you. I know it’s not my place to butt in here…” He hesitates and I think he’s looking for permission to go on.

“But…” I prompt.

“Mulder’s not the same man he used to be. Not for a long time now and you know that. Used to be, he wasn’t afraid of anything. Now he is. He’s afraid of losing you.” He looks down, shifting back and forth on the balls of his feet.

“I know that, Frohike,” I answer. “He’s somehow gotten it into his head that he won’t do this without me.”

He looks at me with scorn, something I’ve never seen him direct at me before. “You two…,” he says with an exasperated sigh. “It’s not that he won’t do with without you, Scully, it’s that he can’t. He can’t do it without you.” Frohike’s angry—with me.

And I’m pissed, too. I’m pissed that he can stand here and defend Mulder’s keeping me in the dark. “And what brings you to that conclusion?” I’m yelling at Frohike. I’m yelling at my friend.

And he’s yelling back. “Because I watched him while you were gone. I watched him watch you dying—twice. I saw what it did to him. It was bad enough when they almost made him lose you, but if he lost you because of something he did…”

And I have no answer for that. Only a pain in my heart that knocks the breath out of me.

“Scully,” he goes on, more gently this time. “Used to be Mulder didn’t give a shit about anything. Now he gives a shit about you. And about himself. For you. He cares about you—more than anything—because you’ve cared about him. And I don’t think that’s happened much in his life. Sometimes when you’re in love you do stupid shit—mostly out of fear. Sometimes you do stupid things, or things that look stupid to other people but they’re the only things you can do. Stupid things. Like breaking into Department of Defense facilities. Like getting yourself locked up for contempt of Congress. Like hauling your ass from a hospital bed to drag it across half of Antarctica. Like flying halfway around the world to dig in the sand looking for something that would fit in the palm of your hand.” He turns away and goes back to his seat.

Sometimes when you’re in love… Sometimes when you’re in love… Agent Scully’s already in love… I’m glad he has you to love him…

I look back down at the decree. There are several sheets of paper stapled together, and I page through them. After the decree itself, there are copies of legal notices of intent to divorce from the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune, and newspapers in Paris, Frankfurt, and Berlin. He had to post legal notices in order to file for divorce on the grounds of abandonment. Abandoned. He had to announce in major world newspapers that he had been abandoned. Again. How must that have felt?

I turn back to the signature page. Finalized February 28, 1995. Filed August 28, 1994. Six month waiting period for divorce for abandonment. I try to recall what we were doing around that time but it seems like forever ago. February 1995 doesn’t bring up anything outstanding in my mind. Three months since I’d come back to work. Six months after my abduction. Six month waiting period. I look at the filing date again—August 28, 1994. Three weeks to the day after I disappeared. The check I wrote at the market that night was dated August 7, 1994. Three weeks after I disappeared. Abandonment.

Flipping the pages closed, I notice a note in the lower right hand corner, in Mulder’s handwriting. Copy to Diana 5/22/98. May 22, 1998. I know that date. The day before the fire in the office. He gave her a copy of the decree on May 22, the day she got shot. When it was her turn to watch Gibson. Did she come to the motel to relieve me directly from talking to him? I don’t remember looking at her when she came in that evening. I was still too upset by what Gibson had told me.

You don’t care what anyone thinks. Except her.

They brought her back here to distract him, to come between us. And when that didn’t work…

Suddenly all of this makes awful sense to me. I have to get to Mulder.

“Frohike, where’s your copier? We need three copies of the Power of Attorney and the divorce decree. Get Byers and tell him to bring the artifacts. One of us has to stay with the artifacts at all times. We’ve got to get to the hospital right now.”

We scatter and are ready to go in a flash. At the door, Byers hands me my badge and holstered weapon. I’d left it with them before going to the Ivory Coast. I clip the holster to the back of my jeans and pull my shirt down over it. As always, it feels reassuring there.

We head for their old VW bus parked in a space off the alley. I climb into the back and Byers and Frohike are in front, Melvin driving. Byers turns to me and I see he has the bag with the artifacts clutched to him in his lap. “What is it?”

“I know why Diana’s running the show there,” I reply. “They think she’s his wife. She could show them proof of marriage and she didn’t show them proof of divorce. Once the observation period is over, she can have him transferred anywhere she wants him. Anywhere they want him. And till then, they’d have to run all his treatment options through her. She’s in control.”

We have to get to Mulder. Drive, Frohike!

I’ve prayed so much in the last few days but I do it one more time and ask God to let it not be too late. He promised me an explanation. He promised. Please don’t let it be too late.

It can’t be too late. Everything must still be okay. Langley would have called if anything were going on.

And suddenly Byers’ cell phone rings and I feel my heart stop.

+++++

Chapter Nine

Georgetown Memorial Hospital

10:22 a.m.

ogod three of them. more in the hall. fowley too.

<snfhiwfiwntipsssssSSSSSSssssjoajdsistpghaiSSSsjogpgg

nhbapnpgnbsdnkgisrSSSSSSSSSSSogjgsnieanbniernifhgiSSS

SSSSSSSgakjieriifigimnejsuvngfhskfwgiaksklepwoxhgfnlk

wjfhksmmshfksssssssssssjfjdotjowhfkgotiyfjsahvnsabadh

saajfghSSSSssssSSSSSSSSghjbopslgkgmbnvjdheyruuufjghdy

wgfghsgcbdSSSSSkkdkfjjyphojknmslsdjssssssssSSSSS>

too tired. okay. too tired. juice. maybe for the best. scully would be here if she could. tiredsofuckingtired. not the juice not the juice. she’d be here if she could. something happened. godogodogod. not scully. shell be here. shell be here.

<okay/mr/mulder/taking/you/foraride/not/much/fight/left/itll/help/dont/worry/youll/feel/

better/fox/hes/right/hell/help/you/well/all/help/you/fox/take/you/in/get/you/ready>

i sing in my head.

“savemescullysavemescullysavemescullysavemescullysavemescully…”

+++++

“Yeah,” Byers answers and then is quiet for a moment. “Yeah, she’s back. We’re on our way to the hospital.” He turns to me and hands me the phone. “Langley wants to talk to you.”

I grab the phone with a trembling hand and bring it to my ear. “Yeah.”

“Scully.” He sounds breathless, worried. “The floor guy, the one we have on the inside. He says Mulder’s on the ECT schedule for twelve-fifteen. I don’t know what that is, but they haven’t taken him out of that room in six days.”

ECT. ECT. What the hell is that? Think, think. Oh Jesus. Electroconvulsive therapy. Oh God. Gotta stop that. Gotta get to him. Abnormal brain activity. The God module. Jesus, they know. Gotta stop it. Stay calm. Stay calm.

“It’s electroconvulsive therapy.” The calm in my voice surprises even me. “We’re on the way, Langley. We’ll be there in fifteen minutes, max.” I disconnect and hand the phone back to Byers, meeting Frohike’s eyes in the rearview mirror.

“Electoshock?” he asks and I nod. “Like in Cuckoo’s Nest? Jesus.”

“Just hurry, Frohike. We can stop this. Just hurry.”

I’ve got to get to Mulder and I’ve got to get him out of there. Then what? Don’t think that far ahead. You’ve got to get him away. They want him, just like Gibson. They’ll do to him what they did to Gibson. Stay calm, stay calm. Get him away. We need stuff. Mulder doesn’t even have clothes. Get him away.

“Byers.” He turns and looks at me. “You got a notepad? Frohike and I are going in to get Mulder out. We’ll send Langley down and then we need you to get some stuff. Clothes. Gotta buy new ones and a suitcase. Get a suitcase.”

He’s writing furiously in a small spiral notebook jotting down sizes and what I tell him to get.

“Also, other IDs, whatever ones you have for us. Secure, usable credit cards. Cash, whatever you’ve got on hand. Weapons and clips. We’ve got to get Mulder out of there and disappear him ourselves. Drop us off, get the stuff and get back here as soon as you can. And you guys have to keep the artifacts with you. Do not let them out of your sight.”

Frohike reaches the hospital in twelve minutes. He and I both hop out of the van and run for the door, while Byers runs around the front of the vehicle for the driver’s seat to wait for Langley. Frohike stops me at the door with a hand on my arm, and I pull away. I have to get to Mulder.

“Scully, calm down. We can’t go running in there like a couple of lunatics. They’ll have security on us in nothing flat.”

He’s right. Calm down, take a breath. Can’t help Mulder if security detains us and tips them off that we’re here. I nod and he gives my arm a gentle squeeze before releasing it. We manage to walk in and make it to the elevators without drawing too much attention to ourselves.

We emerge from the elevator on the second floor and go directly to the monitor room. I need to see Mulder, make sure he’s okay, then I can talk to Dr. Buchanan. There is an orderly before the bank of monitors and he looks startled as we burst into the room.

“Hey,” he cries. “You’re not supposed to be in here.” He rises to his feet.

I look at the monitors, all of them, but I don’t see him. The screen for the room where Mulder was shows an empty cell. “Where is he?”

“Who?”

“Mulder. Fox Mulder, where is he?” Don’t panic, don’t panic.

“Took him a few minutes ago for ECT,” the orderly replies.

“He wasn’t supposed to have it till twelve-fifteen,” I insist. “What’s going on here?”

“Don’t ask me, lady. I don’t make the schedules. I just take ‘em where they tell me to.” He looks at me suspiciously. “Hey, who are you? You haven’t been here before.”

I ignore him. “Where is he? Where did you take him?”

Langley’s lanky form hits the doorway just then, with a hand to the jamb to stop his movement. “Thank God I heard you, Scully. Come with me. I know where he is.”

He leads us down the corridor.

+++++

cant move cant move cant move paralyzed wires wires no not wires again dont do this not again not again cant move move

<angie/says/remember/bread/when/i/come/home/don’t/forget/to/stop/at/the/store/almost/

done/he/should/be/asleep/creepy/when/their/eyes/are/open/at/least/the/succinycholine/

seems/to/be/working/should/be/asleep/wonder/if/she/needs/milk/too/call/her/before/i/

leave/this/guy/should/be/asleep/justafew/more/leads/then/he’s/ready>

save me scully save me scully save me scully

“Sa…Scu… Sa…Scu…”

“Ssshh, Mr. Mulder. It’s going to be all right. Just close your eyes. Let the medicine do its work. You’ll be fine.”

<what’s/wrong/with/this/guy/should/be/asleep/what’s/he/trying/to/say/put/the/bite/block/

in/supposed/to/be/asleep>

“Sa…Scu…Sa…Scu…”

no no take it out choking cant breathe god cant move cant breathe

more voices in the hall. dont hear scully. cant hear scully. diana. diana thinks shes in the clear. cant move. can’t move. langley was here. where is langley.

+++++

Diana is sitting in a chair outside the ECT room paging through a magazine. She jumps up at our approach and I can see the surprise on her face, but she recovers quickly.

“Agent Scully, thank goodness you’re all right. We thought something had happened to you.” She moves to stand in front of the door Langley has directed us to.

“Out of my way.” I try to push her aside but she stands her ground.

“You can’t just go bursting in there. You don’t know what’s going on here.”

“Oh, I know what’s going on here. Out of my way!” I push her hard and she slips on the floor, landing soundly on her left hip.

He’s on a bed against the far wall of the room and a man is attaching EEG leads to his head. His face is thin and gaunt and his eyes are shut. Somehow I’m across the room and I’m pulling wires off of him. Get the electrodes. Both temples. Bilateral ECT. The rest of the wires are just monitoring equipment. Get the electrodes.

“What the fuck are you doing?” The man is screaming and grabbing for me.

I struggle and break free. IV line, stop the IV. EEG wires are the next to go, then EKG. I look down at him. His eyes are squeezed shut. Bite block in his mouth. Take it out. His eyes are squeezed shut. He’s not asleep. He’s supposed to be asleep when they do this. His eyes are squeezed shut. He’s scared. He doesn’t move.

“Lady, what are you, crazy?” The technician is trying to pull me away. No way, no fucking way. “Do I have to call security?”

“Do that!” I scream. “And Dr. Buchanan, too. I want him in here now!”

I turn back to Mulder. He hasn’t moved but his eyes open briefly, wide with terror, and he squeezes them shut again. He doesn’t move. What did they do to him? Think, remember. Atropine. IV line for methohexital for sleep, then succinycholine for muscle paralysis. That’s why he can’t move. He doesn’t know. He’s scared. His eyes are squeezed shut. He’s scared.

+++++

breathe can breathe again shes here and i can breathe she helps me breathe see her see her shes not really here cant hear her shes here shell stop it shes not here cant hear her just see her god god hear everyone else too many dont hear her dont hear scully see her too many too many

<sjdnDJGOSJXJoxsgjSSSSSSSSAEAEAEAEAEAESSSSSSSsmdnfgifn

ssssssglhpofmnvbzfwhfkgfgglsdhsgfytihjndsssnfhgkgoiSSS

SSSSSssssSSSSSSSSmbkhlsjgotljidskbvmbnsfgerererzbfkdsx

ghslguidsgjhkjlSSSSSSSSSSshfgdjsoighodssssjglhpsiehgnb

lsljhhdkd>

too many

+++++

A hand on my shoulder, turning me around. Frohike jumps in and grabs Dr. Buchanan, refraining him from touching me. “Stop it. Right now! Ms… Dr… You’re interrupting treatment.”

“No!” I’m still yelling. “I’m stopping treatment.” I look at Buchanan’s face and see that Diana is standing behind him. When did she come in? I want to claw her eyes out, tear at her hair. And I can see in her eyes that she expects it somehow, wants it to happen. She’ll be the rational one, I’ll be the lunatic who attacked her.

And suddenly I’m calm. I’m calm and she can see it and I think she knows she’s busted. I reach behind me for Mulder’s hand, but I don’t think he can feel it. He’s scared but I’m calm. I can feel his hand.

Dr. Buchanan releases my shoulder and Frohike releases his and we all stand there for what seems like an eternity, breathing hard, watching one another. Finally, Dr. Buchanan speaks. “Look, I’m sorry but I don’t remember your name. Dr…”

“Scully, and I…”

“But what do you think…”

We’re talking at the same time. One of us has to stop. I can wait.

“…doing? You can’t just come in here and stop treatment.”

“I think I can. I have Mr. Mulder’s Power of Attorney. In the event of his incapacitation, any treatment authorization comes from me.” Frohike hands me a copy of the Power of Attorney form and I give it to Buchanan, who reads it with a confused expression.

“I don’t understand, Dr. Scully. Why would he give you his Power of Attorney when his wife…”

I can’t stand to hear the word out loud. “She’s not his wife!” As I hand the doctor a copy of the divorce decree, I look over at Diana. She, at least, has the grace to look sheepish. Not ashamed, mind you, just busted. “She hasn’t been for four-and-a-half years.” I watch him read, his lips moving slightly. He hazards a strange look at Fowley, then turns to me. “Now things are going to change quickly or I’m going to teach you a whole new meaning for the word lawsuit.”

“Dana, let me explain…”

“Ms. Scully, let’s not…”

They’re both talking at the same time. “Shut up!” And they must have understood that I meant both of them, because they both fall silent. “Listen to me. Dr. Buchanan, is Mr. Mulder to be detained here for legal reasons? Is he in formal custody?”

“No,” he admits. “We have not been informed that his wife…” He sees my threatening glare. “…Ms. Fowley has pressed charges. Look, Ms. Scully…”

“Dr. Scully,” Frohike reminds him.

“Dr. Scully,” Buchanan corrects himself. “Ms. Fowley told us she was his wife. Showed us a marriage certificate. There’s no way we could have known… She signed him in.”

“Then if no legal charges are pending, you can’t detain him. I want him released.”

“That’s not advisable,” he replies. “We’ve watched him for almost a week, he needs treatment.”

“Electroshock? Is that what he needs?” I can feel myself getting angrier, and I turn away to look at him for a moment.

“Electroconvulsive therapy. It’s widely used, Dr. Scully, and a perfectly accepted form of treatment for the symptoms Mr. Mulder is displaying. It’s endorsed by the National Institutes of Health and…”

“I don’t care if it’s endorsed by the Pope,” I say, interrupting him. “You said yourself that he has shown abnormal brain function. And I would think that might contraindicate use of ECT here. Plus, what do you know about his medical history? What about informed consent?”

“Ms. Fowley said…”

I interrupt him again. “Ms. Fowley hasn’t known anything about Mr. Mulder for eight years or more.”

“But we didn’t know…”

“You do now,” I reply. “Listen, I have no interest in suing this hospital. I just want him out of here. I know it’s against your recommendation. I’ll sign a waiver, I’ll release you and the hospital from obligation. Just get something written up. Make it short, make it legal, make it easy to understand. Just see to getting him released . We’ll wait right here until our friends can come and bring him some clothes and then I’m taking him out of here.”

He shakes his head. “You can’t just wait here. It’s a treatment room.”

“Right now it’s a waiting room. Just because I don’t want to sue this hospital doesn’t mean I won’t, doctor. And I think I can pursue federal charges for unlawful restraint since Mr. Mulder is a federal agent. Please get started doing whatever it is you have to do.” He must believe that I’m serious because he turns without a word and goes to the door and the technician follows him.

+++++

juice. no juice. can hear them. can’t hear her. can’t hear scully. can’t move. open your eyes. open your eyes. red hair. red like scully’s. can’t see her face. look at me. look at me. can’t hear her. can hear her in my ears but can’t hear her. all the others. all the others. not her. can’t move.

+++++

“Agent Scully… Dana, look, somebody had to make decisions for him. You weren’t here…” I can’t believe she has the gall to try and justify herself.

“Shut up!” Fists, I’m making fists. Want to hurt her. Want to hurt her bad. No. Not important right now. He’s important. Only him. “Get her out of here, Frohike.”

He hears my tone and knows it for what it is. We exchange looks and he knows, he knows what we need to do. He ushers her out of the room and she goes with him, casting a worried look toward me as she leaves.

I turn to Mulder and meet his eyes. There’s fear and panic there and it’s as if they see me and don’t see me. He doesn’t move. He can’t move. Of course he’s afraid, he can’t move. I sit on the edge of the bed beside him. Touch him, touch his face. He can’t move, but can he feel? Succinycholine. I can’t remember.

“Mulder, Mulder, it’s okay,” I whisper and I turn his head to look at me. “You’re going to be okay. It’s just something they gave you. It’ll wear off in a few minutes. You’ll be fine. You’ll be fine.” I stroke down the side of his face and feel the adhesive they used to attach the electrode to his temple.

His eyes. His eyes. He sees me, I know he recognizes me, but the look of terror has been replaced by confusion, doubt.

+++++

voices in the hall. i hear them in the hall. i hear them outside my head, i hear them inside my head. she’s here. i see her. i hear her but i can’t hear her. touches my face. can’t move. can hear her. you’re going to be okay. it’s just something they gave you. it’ll wear off in a few minutes. you’ll be fine. you’ll be fine. fine-fine or scully-fine? her voice. shut up mulder. i’m playing baseball. her. its her but i can’t hear her. everyone else but not her. i made her up. that’s why i can’t hear her. but she’s here. touching my face. scully. scully. she’s beautiful. she’s tired. she should rest. she’s here. she stays with me. it’s okay. she says its okay. can’t hear her. her eyes. can see her eyes. it’s okay. her eyes.

+++++

His eyes. He’s better. He understands, knows who I am. Oh, God, look at him. So tired, so thin. How did he get so thin? His eyes, they’re red, glazed. But they’re his. I can’t stop touching his face. Stubble, more than stubble. Almost a beard. Smiling at me. He can feel this. I’m glad. “Mulder, don’t worry. I’m going to get you out of here.”

He knows. He nods. Must be wearing off. Does it wear off so quickly? I take his hand and he squeezes a little. “Feet. Move your feet for me, Mulder.” His toes wiggle. Okay, this is going to be okay. I look back at his face and he smiles at me. Has he always been so beautiful?

His eyes. He’s smiling at me but there’s pain in his eyes. He hurts. Of course he does, there are voices in his head. I sit on the bed beside him and lean toward him. Cradling his head in my arms, I massage his temples where the hateful electrodes were. He sighs in relief and brings his hand up, trying to reach mine and not quite able to aim with the lingering effects of the anesthesia.

+++++

she said i could move. i can move a little. she said so. smiling at me. so beautiful. loves me. loves me. don’t need the voice. can see it in her eyes. never needed the voice. toes. i have toes and it makes her smile and i smile. her eyes. nothing else in the world. no pain. no juice. just her eyes. still hurts. its okay. its okay. fingers. fingertips. on my head. and its nice. nice. warm. juice. no. like it but not. nice. quiet. quiet. quiet. her fingers. her hands. i feel… i feel…

…better. I feel better. It’s quiet. Mine is the only voice here. Oh God, I made her up. She can’t do this. Maybe they gave me the juice. And I forgot. I forgot last time. And that’s why it’s quiet. And I made her up because she’s all I have. No. She’s here. She’s real. Ask her, she wouldn’t lie to me. Ask her if she’s real. Can’t talk. My mouth’s stuck. Thirsty. I’m thirsty. Need to tell her she makes it quiet.

+++++

His eyes slip shut with his sigh and he seems to relax for a while, his face slackening. His face. I can’t stop looking at his face. Suddenly his brow knits. He looks confused. Of course he’s confused. He’s been awake for so long. His face relaxes again and I can see him trying to move his mouth, to speak. But he can do no more than make gummy smacking noises. Thirsty. He’s been without water at least twelve hours—they would have done that for the ECT. I have to get him something to drink. Shouldn’t have water on top of the anesthesia. Just a little, just a bit. I’ll watch him. He needs water.

I try to move his head from my arms and back onto the pillow and he looks at me with panic, alarm. He thinks I’m leaving. “Mulder, it’s okay,” I whisper, hoping to soothe him. I touch his face and his eyes meet mine. He’s with me. “There’s a sink across the room and I’m going to get you some water. I’ll be right back. It’ll make you feel better. You want some water?”

+++++

Scully. Water. All I need. Which more? When she brings me water, I’ll know she’s real. She has to go to bring me water. Don’t go. Please bring me water. Stay with me. I’m so thirsty. She’s gone and I watch her <voices in the hall> and she doesn’t disappear. I hear the water running. <and the voices>. Water. She’s coming back. Scully has water. She’s bringing me water. Of course. She’s Scully. Right next to me. She holds my head again. Slowly, Mulder. Let’s take it slow. Just a little. That’s it.

+++++

Bending the rim of the paper cup to make a spout, I touch a few drops to his lips to moisten them and his head instinctively pulls forward, eager for more. I hold his head still, the hand holding it stroking his hair, heedless of the remnants of the EEG adhesive clinging to it. He relaxes into my touch. I bring the cup back to his lips and tilt a few drops into his mouth. His eyes meet mine briefly, then close in a look of such ecstasy and gratitude that it nearly breaks my heart. How long for him without water? At least twelve hours, but more than that? His mouth moves around the water and he looks at me, seeking more. Gotta be careful. Don’t want him to aspirate. But he needs more water, his eyes are begging me for more. “Slowly, Mulder,” I say. “Let’s take is slow.” A few more drops and I watch his Adam’s apple bob as he swallows. His face contorts a little, as if it’s painful for him. I give him a few more drops. “Just a little. That’s it.”

+++++

Her hand in my hair. Nice. Cold cold cold. I forgot how wet and cold. Just a little. Can’t be this cold and wet. Just water. It’s only water. Oh God, I made her up and she brought me this wonderful stuff. No, she’s real. She saves me. A thousand times over. But if I’m nuts and I made her up, that’s okay, too. I made her up good. She’s Scully. She’ll tell me if I ask.

“Scu…”

+++++

“…ully.” His voice is ragged and barely registers above the sound of a breath. And it’s like music to my ears.

But it hurts him. I can hear it, see it on his face. Don’t let him talk. I press the cup to his lips again, offering another sip. “SShhh. Don’t talk. You’re going to be okay. Just relax and don’t worry. We’re getting out of here just as soon as the guys get here.” I feel tears streaming down my face. When did I start crying?

He accepts the offering and he swallows a little easier this time. I expect him to grab for the cup to get more but to my surprise, he pushes it away, shaking his head. “No, wait,” he whispers. His mouth keeps moving but his voice has stopped briefly. “…real? You real?”

And the hope in his eyes tears at my heart. He thinks he’s imagining me. Oh God, where has he had to go in his head to have been able to last this long? Where would I have gone? To anyplace in my head that he was. He thinks he’s imagining me.

“Yeah, Mulder.” Setting the cup down, I try my best to gather him in my arms. Hard to do since he outweighs me by seventy pounds, but it’s close enough. “I’m real, Mulder. I’m here.”

“Mmmm.” His voice sounds a little stronger and he manages to throw an arm around me with a sigh. Suddenly he pushes away, his eyes wide and alert. “Hold it. I’d make you say that.”

“What?”

Doubt begins to cloud his expression. “If I made you up…” His voice fades again and he motions for more water. I bring the cup to his mouth again and his hand covers mine, shaky but there. He begins again. “If I made you up and asked if you were real, I’d make you say yes.”

“I’m real, I promise.” I gather him closer and for a while he is compliant. Until he pulls away to look at my face.

“But how do I know?”

“You want proof?” I ask him softly.

“Gotta have proof,” he whispers. “Learned that from you.”

Even over a sob, this brings a smile to my face. “I don’t know how to prove I’m real, Mulder.”

“Tell me something you’ve only told me,” he suggests, but then shakes his head. “No, that won’t work. I’d make you tell me something you only told me. No. Wait, I know, I know. Tell me something you’ve never told me.”

His face in inches from mine and I look into his eyes. Tired, he’s so tired and so am I. Even in his exhaustion, his eyes glitter with apprehension, fear, doubt of his own sanity. But there’s something else there as well. In his eyes I can see who he is—the need, the sheer desire to believe. In me. He wants to believe in me because I’m who he believes. I can see it in his eyes and I think it’s been there a long time. He waits for me to tell him something I’ve never told him. Something true, something he can be sure he’d never make up.

“I love you, Mulder.” It’s all the truth I have right now. And I tell him with my voice and my eyes and my heart. And tears fill both our eyes as I watch him believe.

“Oh, Scully,” he whispers and pulls me close, his face nuzzled in the crook of my neck. “Love you, Scully, so much, so much. I knew you’d come. Knew it. I knew you’d be here if you could. Glad, I’m so glad you’re all right. I was so scared. You were gone for…”

I’m crying and he’s crying and I hold him to me, feeling the relief roll off him in waves, and I love him so much I think my heart will burst with it. My mouth has found his hair and I press kisses into it and I raise his head a little so I can touch them to his skin, his forehead, the bristly stubble on his cheek. His head lolls back a little and he gives me a smile so brilliant it nearly takes my breath away. His eyes are drifting shut, dispelled anxiety finally replaced by sheer exhaustion, and I feel my eyes droop in unconscious imitation. Tired, so tired. Everything’s okay now…

…Everything’s not okay! I have to get him out of here. Where the hell are the guys? Mulder’s falling asleep. We need him awake enough to get him out of here.

“Mulder.” I try to push him away but he’s not helping me. “Mulder,” I repeat and tap his face a little.

“Ow, don’t hit me.” He’s not quite awake, exhaustion making him whiney, like a kid. He feels safe enough to rest and I wish with all my heart that that were true because he needs it so badly. But he has to stay awake right now.

“That wasn’t a hit, Mulder,” I rub his cheek and he gives a soft chuckle, his eyes still closed. “I need you to wake up now, stay awake for just a little longer. Can you do that for me, Mulder?” I finally manage to push away enough to free my arms. I need to try and get him to sit up, wake up.

“I can wake up,” he whispers in return and I see his eyelids flutter as he strains to open his eyes. He’s trying so hard, and I kiss his forehead and he chuckles again. “‘t’s nice.”

I slide off the bed, hoping to get some leverage to help push him to a sitting position. He’s helping now, a grin still plastered on his face. I check around me for the control to raise the head of the bed, and find that it’s not a standard hospital bed. It’s a treatment table and the head is not adjustable. I’ll prop him against the wall behind the bed. I don’t think he can sit up on his own. Between the two of us, he somehow ends up where I hoped he’d be. But he’s still waging an intense battle to keep his eyes open.

I cross back over to the sink and get another cup of water and wet some paper towels with cool water. Climbing back up on the bed, I kneel beside him and pull his head away from its resting place against the wall. One hand behind his head, I use the other to shake out one of the paper towels and begin to wipe his face and he turns toward my ministrations. I grab another and press it gently to his closed eyelids and feel him shiver a little beneath my hands at the coolness on his skin.

When I pull it away, I find his eyes open and alert and locked to mine with an intensity and intimacy I find almost too much to bear. Almost but not quite because I can’t look away, either. His eyes—they’re a thousand shades of green and gray and gold and brown. I must have known that before now.

“Can I have some more water, Scully?” Has he always said my name like that? Like a benediction, like a poem? I nod and turn to retrieve the cup from the table behind me, my other hand still cradling the back of his head. Somehow without my realizing it, his hand between us has found a place at my hip.

I bring the cup to his lips and tilt it slightly. “Not too much, Mulder. Just little sips till you’re used to this again.” His other hand covers mine on the cup, not trying to take the cup away, just covering mine. He does as I ask, drinking slowly until about half the water is gone. This time he moves our hands on the cup, moving it away from his mouth and toward mine. I tip my head back a little as we pour the water into my mouth. It’s cool and I swallow it gladly. I was thirsty, too. When the cup is empty, we crush it between our hands as our fingers interlace and it falls away somewhere that I don’t see because I can’t look away from his eyes. Our faces are mere inches apart and all I can see are his eyes.

And I know this feeling, this quickening of my heart, though it feels brand new. I know this feeling from last summer and I know what it felt like to think I’d missed the chance forever. And I can’t bear that, not again. I move toward him, my eyes open until I see his slip shut. I close my eyes just a fraction of a second before I touch my lips to his.

+++++

Sitting up, I think. Room spins, even with my eyes closed. Scully asked me to wake up. Wake up for Scully. She’s never asked me for much, I can do this. She loves me. The wall is hard against my head, but that’s okay. It helps me know where I am. I’m up, I’m up. But my eyes won’t open even though I’m up.

I sense her moving away from me and I force my eyes open to watch where she goes. This time, I’m not afraid she’ll disappear—I just want to watch her. She loves me. But the room spins and I can’t look at her for long enough. I close my eyes and tilt my head back so the crown of my head presses against the wall and wait for the spins to stop.

The mattress shifts and suddenly she’s there beside me. I try to open my eyes again but she’s spinning, and I put my hand on her hip to keep her in one place. I feel her hand slide in behind my head, so small and soft, and I’ve lost where I am again. But that’s okay, it’s okay. I’m wherever her hand is and it’s warm. Warm. Cool. Her other hand is cool and gentle and she wipes my face. She loves me and it’s warm and cool.

She sets a cool cloth over my eyes and presses gently. I could cry with how perfect this feels as the spinning slows and stills. Now I need to see her and it’s like she understands because she moves the cloth away. My eyes open and hers are right there. The room starts to spin again but it’s okay because I’m anchored in her eyes. I try to swallow to see if that will start me breathing again, but my mouth is too dry.

“Can I have some more water, Scully?” And she has it there, she doesn’t have to leave, doesn’t have to take her hand from my head. Yes. Little sips. Not Dr. Scully, just my Scully. My Scully loves me. I touch her hand, hold the cup with her.

I can see her concentrate—little sips—and I smile, dribbling a drop of water down my chin. Her tongue darts out quickly over her lips as if to catch a mirrored drop on her own chin. She’s thirsty, too. She lets us bring the cup to her lips and she tips her head back to drink, draining what’s left in a couple of swallows. Her eyes close as her head tilts and I don’t think she even realizes that she’s smiling. I didn’t remember her beautiful enough while she was gone. I need to see her closer and I move my head forward a bit and when she opens her eyes, our faces are close. So close all I can see are her eyes. Blue, so blue, and warm and cool. And I feel her breath on my lips and her eyes are like home. And she’s close and we’re gonna and I close my eyes so I can only feel it, taste it. And our hands are laced together, how did that happen, and her thumb traces circles on my palm.

I’m aware of it the instant her lips touch mine. It’s light, barely a graze. Almost like a dream about a kiss. And she stops there, not moving away, but not moving toward. Just resting there and it’s incredible and I need more of this. But careful, don’t shatter the dream, press in, soft, soft. She exhales and her breath is on my lips, then her lips are on my lips gliding. The hand laced in mine leaves. No! But then it comes to rest again on my face and it’s soft and cool and her other hand pulls my head toward hers. And heaven couldn’t be better than this—nobody’s heaven.

+++++

Closer. Mulder, I’m kissing Mulder. He’s kissing me and I need him closer and the hand at my hip reaches around my back to pull me to him. He knows I need him closer. Of course he knows. I pull away slightly to change the angle and he makes a sound in his throat at my leaving. Or is it me who makes the sound? His other hand is in my hair now and his fingertips caress my scalp and his mouth under mine becomes more insistent and I need that, too. Oh God, this is bliss! This is what they tried to take away from me, what I never would have known frozen away at the end of the earth. I’d have spent eternity not knowing this. This. But he came for me. He came and brought me back so that we could have this. And it’s everything, everything. Soft and gentle and indescribably tender. And I’m breathing his air and he’s breathing mine. And I’m dizzy, light-headed, and it’s our first kiss and it’s wonderful, and it’s right, so right. And I feel infused with wonder and joy, pure joy, and I feel laughter bubbling up inside me. No other outlet for such delight, such bliss. And I’m laughing against his mouth and pressing him closer and laughing with a joy I’ve never known.

“What’s funny?” he asks, never moving his lips from mine. His hands run up and down my spine and it’s a delicious sensation.

I whisper against him and try to pull him closer still. “Our first kiss.”

“Mmmm, yeah.” I can taste him tasting me and he plunges both hands into my hair to hold me to him.

“We’re…” His tongue is probing and exploring and I can barely stand how superb it is. Rational thought is being shattered, but I have to tell him. “We’re having our first kiss on an electroshock table.”

And he understands. I feel him laugh against my lips, and the sound is low and pleasing. He pulls his mouth from mine and trails hot wet kisses along my face until his mouth is at my ear. “That should seem more wrong than it does,” he says softly, sending a new set of chills down my spine. “Maybe someday we can go on the Newlywed Game and tell the world about this.”

“Mmmm,” is the best answer I can give because his mouth is doing incredible things to my ear and all I can think of is how to get him never to stop this. “But you’d have an unfair advantage. You know what I’m thinking.”

And suddenly he’s gone. He’s pulled away from me and I look into his face to find confusion and an inexplicable sadness. “What is it?” I touch his face and he leans into my hand.

“I don’t know what you’re thinking, Scully. I don’t hear you anymore. I did, though, I did.”

“The voices are gone, Mulder?” Oh God, was I too late? “Did they do something to you before I got here?”

“No, no.” He sounds so sad, so tired. “The voices are still there. All of them. I can hear everybody and they never shut up till you think you could go fucking nuts.”

“Mulder…”

He goes on as if he doesn’t hear me. “One or two is okay. But sometimes there are so many and I can’t tell one from another and it becomes… there’s a hiss like static, but not. And everybody is there. Everybody but you. I can’t hear you, Scully. The only one I want to hear. But I did, I heard you before. You blew me a kiss.”

I nod and pull him close to me again and his arms come tightly around my waist. “That’s why you thought I wasn’t real. Because you couldn’t hear me.” He nods against my shoulder and a small sob escapes him. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” I soothe, stroking the back of his neck. “We’ll figure it out, Mulder. We’ll get you out of here and get some rest, then we’ll figure it out.”

He pulls away and looks into my eyes, as if for reassurance that I believe that this will happen. And I see such profound belief and trust on his face. He has absolutely no doubt that I can explain this, that I can fix this.

And I will somehow—we will—because he needs this, we both do. I lean in and press my lips to his with a promise, and I’m relieved to see him smiling when I pull away.

“Frohike and Byers are coming in.” The words are barely out of his mouth before the door opens. Byers looks uncomfortable to find us wrapped in each other’s arms, but Frohike greets us with a smug smile as he pushes a wheelchair through the door. I kiss Mulder’s cheek again before disentangling myself from his grip to slide off the edge of the bed.

“You got everything?” I ask and Byers nods.

“The doctor is outside with the paperwork,” Frohike informs me. As I head for the door, he grabs my arm. “Diana’s still out there, too.”

A flash of anger, hot and intense, flares in me. “I don’t care who’s out there. We’re getting him out of here. You guys help him get ready and I’ll go sign the paperwork. Be careful, he’s probably not too steady on his feet.”

“You don’t look too steady either, Scully.” He gives me a friendly smirk I can’t help returning his smile as I head for the door.

As Frohike said, Dr. Buchanan and Fowley are waiting outside the door as I enter the corridor. Ignoring her, I approach the doctor, who has a clipboard and pen ready. The release forms clearly state that I’m removing Mulder against the recommendation of his doctor and that I release him and the hospital from any obligation or consequences resulting from the release. I give them a cursory read through, sign them, and return the clipboard to him.

“I still think you should reconsider, Dr. Scully. Mr. Mulder…”

“I know what you think, doctor,” I reply. “We’ll be going now.” He nods and walks away from me.

Turning, I see Diana standing in front of the door again, like a bizarre replay of what happened before. “You’re making a mistake, Agent Scully,” she says. “He needs treatment. You haven’t seen what he’s been like for the past week.”

I can’t look at her. I’ll kill her if I do. Just push past her, just get to Mulder.

But she won’t let me. “All right,” she says. “I shouldn’t have lied, but you weren’t here. Somebody needed to make decisions and it looks like somebody still does. He needs treatment…”

“Shut up,” I whisper through clenched teeth. “Just shut up and get out of my way.”

She shakes her head. “I could press charges for assault. He went berserk, he tried to kill me. I could press charges and they’d keep him here where he can get some help.”

Charges? She could press charges? I can’t believe she has the unmitigated nerve to stand here and say such a thing. For the first time, I take a good look at her and realize she has no idea what I know and I want to slap that look of fake concern right off her face.

“Charges,” I repeat unbelievingly. “After what you did.”

A brief look of worry crosses her face. “What did he tell you? He’s not exactly in a position to give a reliable account of what happened. Look, I’m just worried about him.”

And this is more than I can stand. “Let me worry about him, Fowley. You’ve got enough to worry about right now.”

“What do you mean?” She eyes me suspiciously.

“I’d think you’d be worried about why your associates didn’t tell you about the surveillance equipment in Mulder’s apartment.” It’s so gratifying to see her eyes widen briefly in shock. “Or why you needed a stun gun and drugs to get what you wanted from a man in bed. That would worry me. Or why somebody left the tape for me. With my name on it. Right on top of the pillowcase with the drops of what you injected him with. I’d worry about that. You really should have bled the syringe into a cotton ball, Diana. Leaving trace evidence like that was just plain sloppy. You just don’t seem on top of your game right now, but then that’s what happens with age I guess.” Sarcasm drips from my voice and I feel better with each word that leaves my mouth. “So I’d think twice about pressing charges.”

She tries to smile and it actually works pretty well for her. “So, Agent Scully, if you have all that proof, how come you’re not pressing charges?” She’s trying to call my bluff without holding any cards.

“Because I have important things to do. I’m getting him out of here. Besides,” I say with a smile. “I don’t think the justice system would deal with you nearly as effectively as your associates will after they’ve seen how monumentally you’ve screwed this up. I’d be worried about that, too. I bet Jeffrey Spender could have told us something about that, but nobody seems to know where he is right now. I think you do, though.”

She blanches visibly as I glide past her to go back to Mulder. “We’re getting out of here, Agent Fowley, and let me give you a message for your friends. Anybody they send after us had better be expendable because nobody is taking him away from me. Understand that and make sure they do, too.”

Mulder is dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and sitting in the wheelchair when I enter the room again. He’s so thin and there are dark circles under his red-rimmed eyes and he’s so exhausted he can barely sit up. But still he smiles at me when I stoop down to meet his eyes and he’s never been more beautiful to me. “Wow, G-woman,” he says. “I wish I could have heard both sides of that conversation. Whatever you said scared the piss out of her.” His eyes fill with tears and he reaches up to touch my face. “Scully, I’m so sorry.”

I cover his hand with mine and press it to my face. “Ssshh. Not now, Mulder. Let’s just get out of here. We’ll figure everything out later.” He nods, his eyes drooping again, and I kiss the palm of his hand before standing up to face the guys.

“Langley’s waiting downstairs in the van,” Byers says. He pushes Mulder’s chair to the door and Frohike opens it for us. In the hallway, Diana is nowhere to be found.

People pass us as we make our way to the elevators, and with each one that passes, I see Mulder’s eyes widen, his breaths coming short and irregular. He can hear their thoughts. Everyone. How must that be for him? I reach for his hand and he squeezes mine gratefully.

We’re waiting before the bank of elevators and the one directly in front of us opens, filled with people. Mulder’s eyes widen in terror and pain and he can’t suppress the low groan in his throat. “We’ll wait for the next car,” I say and the elevator doors shut. Even with them gone, Mulder shakes with the force of their thoughts in his head.

I stoop to be at eye level with him and see the tiny beads of sweat that have broken out on his forehead. “So many,” he whispers and there are tears in his eyes.

I turn back to Byers and Frohike. “Guys, I didn’t think of this. He hears everyone’s thoughts—God, I can’t even imagine that—and it hurts him. I don’t know how we’re going to get him through the lobby. There are hundreds of people down there. He can’t take that.”

Byers nods. “There must be a loading dock somewhere. Probably lowest level in the back of the building. Get and elevator and wait for an empty car, then take it to the basement. I’m gonna take the stairs to the first floor, go get Langley and we’ll meet you in the back. You should be able to avoid a lot of people down there.” He takes off in a run toward the door marked “Stairs” and Frohike hits the elevator button again.

I turn back to Mulder. “See? No problem.”

He laughs and his head lolls slightly. “The celebrity treatment. Back door stuff. Ladies and gentlemen, Mulder has left the building.” He giggles and I try to smile back at him.

Suddenly his eyes fill with tears again. “Oh Scully,” he says, reaching out to touch my face. “You’re so tired. You need to rest, Scully. But you’re still unbelievably beautiful.” With a strength belying his exhaustion, he pulls me down to sit in his lap.

“We’re both tired, Mulder,” I say, holding his face and looking into his eyes. “I just need you to hold it together a little while longer, okay? Then you can rest, I promise. You can sleep as much as you need. Just a little bit longer, okay?” He looks at me and nods and I can see that he’s with me, that he’s trying. His sudden mood changes worry me. He’s running on less than empty and I try to recall what I read about sleep deprivation and its long-term effects. But I can’t remember because he’s right. I’m exhausted, too.

The elevator door opens and, mercifully, the car is empty. Frohike pushes the wheelchair into the elevator with me still in Mulder’s lap, and pushes the button for the basement. I’m standing by the time the car reaches the ground floor, and we exit looking for signs to the loading dock. An occasional maintenance person walks past us, but no one so far has questioned why we’re in the basement. Maybe this is the way they get celebrities out of here.

We find the door to the loading dock and I stay back with Mulder while Frohike goes to check out the best way for this to work. He comes back a short time later. “There’s about six guys working out there and no trucks being loaded or unloaded now. Langley and Byers should be here in just a couple of minutes. We’ll zip open the back door, load Mulder inside and then take off. What about us? Can he deal with all of us?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything about this.” I crouch down to talk to Mulder. “How ‘bout it, sweetheart? You still doing okay?” Sweetheart? Did that come from me?

“Sweetheart. That’s nice. Better than Poopyhead.” He nods and tries to smile. “I’m all right. But hurry, okay?”

Byers and Langley arrive a few minutes later and we push Mulder’s wheelchair out onto the loading dock. One of the dock workers comes up to us. “Hey, this isn’t a patient pickup area.”

My badge is out of my pocket before I even know I’ve thought about it and I flash it before the man. “Protected witness,” I say in my best professional law enforcement officer voice. He backs away and I chance a look down at Mulder. He’s leaning forward, holding his head in his hand, and I can see him struggling to control his breathing.

Byers runs to open the back of the van and Langley comes up to help us get Mulder to the vehicle. There’s a thin mattress there and some blankets and pillows, along with a good-sized suitcase. “We got these when we got the clothes and stuff,” Langley says. “We thought Mulder would need to lie down.”

My eyes fill with tears again, and I feel one roll down my cheek. “I didn’t even think of that. Thanks guys.” Maybe I should start worrying about my own mood swings.

We get Mulder loaded into the back and I crawl in beside him and we take off with Langley driving. Byers is sitting shotgun and Frohike is in the back seat directly in front of us. He turns and looks at me expectantly. “What next?”

Next? There’s a next? God, I don’t know. I have no fucking idea. Dante images start to swirl in my mind again and I shake my head to dispel them. As we pull into traffic, Mulder starts rolling on the mattress, holding his head and groaning. Other cars? He can hear them in other cars? His moaning is heart-wrenching and I move over to where he is. Propping myself against the side of the van, I pull him across my lap, hugging him close.

“I’ve got to get him away from population. Someplace more isolated,” I tell Frohike. “Just take us to my car. I’ll find someplace.”

Byers turns to us, shaking his head. “You can’t drive like this, Scully. You’ve been awake almost as long as he has. You both need to rest.”

“I’m okay,” I insist. “I have to get him away someplace.” I look down at Mulder. He’s quieter, but pain still etches his forehead.

“You won’t do either of you any good if you run your car off the road falling asleep at the wheel,” Frohike says.

“I know,” Langley chimes in. “I play D&D with this guy who has a cabin in Asheville. It’s about a hundred miles west of here. He says I can use it any time I want to. It’s in the woods and nobody is closer than a mile. I’ll swing by and get the key. We’ll drop Byers off at your car and he can follow us there. You can probably stay as long as you want to.”

They’re right. I’m in no shape to drive and no position to turn down a viable idea I didn’t have to think of. Frohike sees my nod and seems to understand that I can’t look at him because I’m crying again. I have to get some sleep. This is just not how I operate.

Mulder shifts on my lap, turning his face toward me and wrapping an arm around my legs. I see that he’s fallen into a light doze, still making faint moaning sounds in his throat. His tongue peeks out of his mouth as he tries to wet his lips. He’s thirsty.

“Guys,” I say. “We need you to stop at a 7-11 or something and get a couple of bottles of Gatorade—cold—and a paper cup. I need to get fluids in him as often as he’ll take them.”

Frohike smiles at me. “No problem, Scully. But it’s a couple of hours to Asheville. Why don’t you try to get some sleep, too.”

I shake my head. “I’m okay. I need to take care of Mulder.” I stroke his hair and find myself smiling at the little snoring sounds he’s starting to make. “He’d take care of me.”

“Yeah, he would.” Frohike agrees.

An hour later, we’re heading west. I’ve gotten Mulder to drink some of the Gatorade and he’s sleeping soundly, still draped across my lap, his even snoring lulling me. My feet are starting to fall asleep under his weight and I shift him around so that I can pull my legs out. He makes a protesting noise in his sleep until I stretch out beside him. I just need to rest for a bit, I won’t fall asleep. His arm comes across my waist and pulls me to him and I reach behind us for one of the pillows to prop under our heads. This is nice. I won’t fall asleep.

––-

Title: Itinerant Stasis – Book II, Mulder’s Story

Author: J. T. Filipek ()

Rating: PG (for language)

Classification: MSR, A

Keywords: MSR

Summary: Picks up from *Biogenesis and tells the story of a long and perilous journey—both inner and outer. All good journeys begin with clarity.

Spoilers: Lots and lots of spoilers. Too numerous to mention

Disclaimer: You know the drill. They belong to CC, 1013 Productions and Fox Television. Not mine, but I’m glad I get to play with them. This is better than the action figures. Also, I’ve used fragments of a lot of songs I don’t own either. And, of course, I’ve used David’s poem, which I also have no claim on, other than loving it. It appeared in the June 1998 issue of Movieline Magazine.

Post: Anywhere as long as it’s complete and my name is on it. (It would be nice if you’d let me know.)

Acknowledgement: A very special thanks to Zuffy, whose input and assistance has been invaluable to me, and who has graciously allowed by little tale to be posted at her site.

Comments: Will do almost anything for feedback. Please. It’s how I feed my children.

Cliché Juice

Home is where the heart is and my heart is
out traveling. Up into the wild blue yonder;
wingless, prayerful that this miracle of flight
will not end, just yet.
Also at home with you, on the ground
wherever you might be at the moment, grounded
like a highschooler; like a wire, a bird and a wire,
feet on the ground and my heart is in my throat now, now
in my feet, lawfully descending with gravity
to the lower; lowest, most sought after
most beautifully bound, home.
Aspirations involve reparations. We reach
for the stars wondering what we are.
But my Reason has been found
by finding you and looking down. And it is there,
not in the stars of fantasized worlds, fifth
dimensions, sixth senses, holy parallel potentates of
potentialities—that my feet will trace
their slow as history itself dance;
a walking calligraphy so subtle that it will take 40 years
and more and a view from above
with an impersonal remove and lofty attachment I hope
to barely fail at that mythical two-backed beast; itinerant stasis;
like the one I enjoy up here in the well attended air;
to read the cursive strokes of my aggregate footsteps,
like some fairy tale dissolve, “Once upon a time” or twice
written upon our little page of earth, ground,
wherever our home may be
will be
wherever we happen
to be.

—David Duchovny

(published in Movieline Magazine, June 1998)

BOOK II: Mulder’s Story

Chapter One

Scully was jarred awake by the jostling of the van, and she blinked her eyes against the light and a fledgling headache. Hot. It was so hot. As she came to herself, she remembered where she was and why. Her eyes came into focus and she saw she was face-to-face with Mulder and that he, too, seemed to be stirring from a restless sleep as he made little groaning noises in his throat. His hand at her waist unconsciously drew her closer to him. Or maybe not unconsciously.

The vehicle hit what seemed to be a gigantic pothole and her head knocked against Mulder’s, where it rested lightly against the crown of her head. “Uuhhh,” he moaned, his eyes flying open.

“Guys,” Scully called out, although the pain in her head flared with the sound of her own voice. “Can we slow it down some? This road is killing us back here.”

“Sorry!” they chimed back in unison.

She could feel the decrease in speed and it seemed to quiet her stomach somewhat. She looked back at Mulder to see him wincing in pain. Disentangling herself somewhat from his grip, she reached for the bottle of Gatorade and emptied the last of it into the paper cup. “Mulder,” she said gently and smiled when he opened his eyes. “Here. You want the last of this?” She brought the cup to his lips and he took a healthy swallow.

Mulder grimaced and pushed the cup away. “Jesus!” he cried. “Warm Gatorade sucks.”

Scully was thirsty herself, but decided against draining the cup when she saw Mulder’s reaction to it. “Hey,” she called out. “You guys got anything cold and wet up there?” She heard the sound of someone digging into ice in a cooler and soon Langley’s face appeared above the seat in front of them.

He handed her a bottle of water and she smiled at him gratefully. “How much farther?” she asked.

“Probably another twenty, thirty minutes.”

Scully rolled the bottle briefly across her forehead. It was icy and wet from the cooler and felt absolutely wonderful. She touched the bottle to the side of Mulder’s face that was exposed to her and he chuckled appreciatively at the sensation. He smiled and opened his eyes a bit, rolling onto his back to feel it on the other side of his face. She grinned back at him and placed the hand that had held the bottle against his cheek. It was cool and wet and soft and he pressed his face against it with a sigh.

Scully dumped the remains of the Gatorade back into the bottle and refilled the cup with some of the water. She leaned down to offer him some and he shook his head. “You first.” She drank deeply from the water, and poured some more into the cup. As he had earlier, he put his hand over hers as she raised the cup to his mouth.

He drank about half the water, his eyes locked to hers. Then he dipped his fingers into what remained and drew a cold, moist trail across her cheek. She shivered and looked away from Mulder’s face to see Langley staring at them as if they were some kind of mutant life forms.

Feeling suddenly self-conscious, she sat up straighter and fixed Langley with *the look* and he smiled sheepishly and turned back to look out the front window. She gave a small, inward triumphant smile. The look rarely failed. It hadn’t since she’d developed it in sixth grade, when she was entering her fourth new school since kindergarten and needed a way to combat the new kid feeling she always seemed to have.

Scully ventured another glance at the guys in the front seat. Langley was making little hand gestures, his expression animated—as animated as it ever got. <Oh God, don’t tell me. They’ve developed some kind of hand language, silent communication. How paranoid is that?>

“Shut up, Langley,” Mulder called from behind her and she saw the alarm in the Gunmen’s faces as they looked at one another.

“What?” Langley replied defensively and Frohike chuckled maliciously.

“You know what,” Mulder replied. “You too, Frohike.”

Langley quickly clamped a headset over his ears and slumped down in his seat.

Mulder knew the hand signals, too? <No, wait, he’s curled up on the floor. He can’t see them.> In her exhaustion, she’d almost forgotten about the voices. He’d been so quiet since they’d left the city that the problem had almost slipped her mind. “What?” she whispered. “What was he saying?”

He shook his head in exasperation. “Nothing worthwhile, believe me,” he replied with a wry grin.

Looking down at him grinning up at her, the reality of their situation hit her with the force of a freight train. Mulder could hear Langley’s and Frohike’s thoughts. Their thoughts but not hers. Why would that be?

“You hear their thoughts.” It was a statement rather than a question and he nodded. “What’s it like?”

“We’re talking Langley and Frohike here, Scully. You know that can’t be pretty.” She frowned slightly at his attempt to make light of her question. “This isn’t bad,” he said quietly so only they could hear. “Not like in the hospital. It’s just the guys, I know them. Their thoughts are familiar. I’m part of their thoughts and so are you. And when there’s just one or two, I can keep track of… There are different levels. People think a lot of things at the same time. And except on the most surface level, they don’t follow any pattern or order that makes sense to me. But I hear lots of levels and sometimes it seems like bits and pieces of different levels. And when there’s a lot of people, it all blends together with the thoughts and the feelings and the emotions. And it’s… it’s overload.” He shuddered and she reclined resting on her elbow to face him at his eye level. They weren’t touching, but they held one another’s eyes.

“Mulder, this is…” Her tone was filled with awe, but she couldn’t decide if it was wonder or dread. “I can’t imagine what this must be like for you. Does it hurt?”

He paused to consider the question, his finger brushing aimlessly across his chin. “I don’t think so, not really. But it did in the hospital. My head… it was like a constant throbbing pressure. It felt like the voices were pushing against my skull. But not now. Now it’s like I’m aware that they’re there, but it’s just the guys, you know?”

“You’re sure it doesn’t hurt?” she asked, looking into his eyes. She’d know by his eyes if he were in pain. He shook his head, and she knew he was okay. “But still not me?” He shook his head again and Scully struggled to understand. “Mulder,” she said hesitantly. “How do you know that what you’re hearing is really what they’re thinking?”

He met her question with an indulgent smirk. “You’re never alone with schizophrenia, huh Scully? Okay, fair question. Langley is listening to old Devo, even though the case says it’s a Pink Floyd CD. He doesn’t want Frohike to know that he’s listening to something as lame as Devo. He’s paging though an old comic book, but really he’s quietly freaking out about this and wondering how he can block his thoughts from me.” She gave him a faintly skeptical look. “Go ahead, ask him what he’s listening to.”

Scully raised herself to her knees to look over the seat at Langley. On the dashboard was the jewel case for a Pink Floyd CD and in his lap was a comic book. She poked his shoulder lightly to get his attention and he moved one of the earphones aside. “What are you listening to?”

“Pink Floyd. Dogs of War,” he replied, giving her a curious look.

“Mulder says it’s Devo.”

Langley gave her a panicked look. “Cha, as if.” He tried to be nonchalant about removing the headphones and placing the machine in the glove compartment but didn’t quite achieve nonchalance with his hands shaking ever so slightly.

“Devo!” Frohike snorted derisively from the driver’s seat beside him. “Welcome to the world of techno-pop. What’s next, Langley? Plastic hair?”

Scully looked back and forth between them. Devo must be some kind of sensitive spot between them, but it was at a level that was over her head. She watched as Langley tried and failed to come up with a retort. She almost felt sorry for him.

Mulder chuckled behind her. “I don’t think someone who’s singing songs from Fiddler on the Roof in his head has room to make fun of Devo.” Scully watched as Frohike’s mouth literally fell open.

Fiddler on the Roof?” Langley laughed with delight. “Come on, sing one for us, Melvin,” he teased. “I’ll start you out. If I were a rich man…”

“Kiss my ass, Devo Man,” Frohike said in a quiet warning.

“Ooo, snappy comeback.” Langley laughed maniacally. “Come on, just one. Sunrise, sunset…”

And they were off in one more of their nonsensical arguments as Scully turned back to Mulder. She resumed her place beside him. “So what do you think about me getting my own 900 number now? Spooky’s Psychic Hotline?” he asked quietly.

Scully’s brow knit in a kind of resignation. “Okay, so maybe it’s not schizophrenia.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, Scully.” His tone was wry, bordering on hurt.

She sighed and sent out a silent plea for his understanding. “I’m doing the best I can here, Mulder. You must know it would be easier for me to deal schizophrenia than with what it looks like is really happening to you.”

“Yeah,” he admitted. “There were times in the hospital that I was sure it was schizophrenia. But it’s not.” He reached out to wrap a hand around her waist and pull her close.

“Mulder,” she protested. “They’re just up in the front seat.”

He smiled against her objection. “They’re arguing like two people on Judge Judy. I don’t think they’re paying too much attention to us.”

She turned away from Mulder to hazard a quick glimpse at Langley and Frohike, who were, indeed, deep in the belly of yet another inane argument, having left Devo behind for greener pastures. Turning back, she was alarmed to find Mulder grimacing again.

“It’s hotter than hell in here, Scully.”

She nodded. “The windows back here don’t open and you know this heap doesn’t have air conditioning.”

He lowered his head, turning it slowly back and forth. “I smell bad.” His voice had taken on the whiny kid tone again. “How can you stand this? I smell bad. I don’t want to smell bad.”

Scully chuckled tiredly. “Neither of us is going to be offered any perfume endorsements in the near future, Mulder. I think that’s why they stuck us all the way back here. I’m feeling pretty ripe myself.”

“Uh-uh. You always smell great.” He reached and pulled her next to him, nuzzling his face into her neck and inhaling deeply.

“That’s not what you said when that dung factory exploded,” she reminded him, thinking she should pull away, but not really able to muster the resolve to do it. It was a nice place for his face to be.

“I was full of shit,” he replied. He pulled away slightly and sniffed at himself again, his nose wrinkling in distaste.

“If I remember correctly, we both were.” When that didn’t get even a smile from him, she understood how truly distressed he was. “It’s okay, Mulder. We’ll be there soon and you can get cleaned up. Half hour, max.”

This seemed to placate him. “‘Kay,” he said with a weary sigh. “They wouldn’t let me take a shower in there. Said I was too dangerous. Had to pee in a toilet in the corner and they were always watching.” He closed his eyes and shuddered.

She pulled him close and rocked him back and forth. “Ssshhh. Don’t think about it now.” He tried to pull away from her, but she just kept him clasped to her. “I don’t care how you smell. Listen, we’ll get where we’re going real soon. You can get cleaned up and have something to eat. Then you can sleep as long as you need to. You’ll feel lots better when you’re rested and then we can talk. But don’t think about that place now, Mulder. You’re out, you’re safe.”

He chuckled at that. “I’m out, I’m safe? You’d make a bad umpire, Scully. They have to make a decision and stick with it.”

She laughed with him. “Actually,” she replied. “I’m pretty good at sticking with my decisions.”

He sat up a little and pulled out of her embrace, pulling her instead into his. “I know you are. Does that include the one you told me about in the hospital?”

His expression was strangely shy and expectant and it touched her heart. “Oh, yeah,” she replied and reached up to kiss his stubbly cheek. She was suddenly aware again of the fact that Langley and Frohike were just in the front seat and it made her feel a bit shy, too. But not quite enough to make her pull away. She moved her lips over just a bit to whisper in his ear. “I’d never say that to you if I didn’t mean it. Not that.”

“I know,” he whispered back, his voice low and husky. “I know you wouldn’t. You kept me sane in there, Scully. You kept me alive.”

“You kept yourself alive in there.”

“Nope,” he disagreed. “Without you, there wouldn’t have been a reason to.”

He rubbed his face in the crook of her neck again, and his beard slid over the sensitive skin there. It was distracting, but not enough to take her mind away from the enormity of what he’d said to her. He’d said he didn’t want to live without her and she didn’t know how to react to the feelings that statement brought up. It was exhilarating and heart-warming, but at the same time, it was frightening, too. To be someone’s reason for living…

She pulled away slightly, touching his cheek as she looked into his eyes. “Don’t say that, Mulder. We don’t know what’s going to happen to either one of us, but if something does, the other has to go on. This is too important.”

He moved his face a bit and pressed a kiss into the palm of her hand. “I can’t promise you that, Scully. I know how important it is, but it’s not as important to me as you are and it hasn’t been for a long time.” His eyes began to droop again as he fought an unsuccessful battle against a yawn. “Tired,” he mumbled.

Mulder rested his head against hers and Scully could feel his breathing start to even out. “Hey,” she said, with a gentle poke to his ribs.

“Hmmm?”

“We’re almost there, Mulder. Can you stay awake a little longer so the guys don’t have to carry you into the cabin?”

“Cabin?” he asked, slightly confused. “Is this another nice trip in the woods?”

“From what I can see through the windows it is. Come on, stay awake.” She nudged him, trying to make him sit up.

“Yeah, yeah,” he replied over a yawn, sitting up with his back braced against the side of the vehicle. “I can stay awake, at least till I get a shower.”

“And a shave?” she asked hopefully.

He rubbed a hand over his face, annoyed at the itchy, grimy feeling of his skin. “The hirsute look doesn’t make it for you, huh?

She shook her head, her nose wrinkling a little. “It’s scratchy. And it covers up your spot.”

His hand came up automatically to his right cheek. “That would be one of the few reasons I could think of to actually keep the beard.”

“I like your spot.” She gave him a tired smile—the best one she could come up with.

And he smiled in return. “Then I’m clean-shaven for life.”

They arrived at their destination a few minutes later, following a washboard ride over a downhill sloping driveway. Frohike and Langley came around the back and opened the door and a rush of pine-scented air greeted Scully and Mulder. There was a gentle breeze and it was much cooler and drier than it had been in the city. They scooted to the edge of the van’s doorway—both a little unsteadily—and sat for a moment breathing in the fresh air. Langley and Frohike stepped forward to help them out of the vehicle and were waved away with gestures that would have looked amazingly alike to someone watching the scene from afar.

Slowly and on wobbly legs, but definitely under their own steam, they made their way to the cabin, looking around as they walked. They were in the middle of a small clearing surrounded by dense forest. A long driveway ensured that they were not visible from the access road. The cabin itself was a small, well-kept A-frame structure with a front porch spanning its width.

Langley ran ahead and opened the door for them. It entered onto one high-ceilinged room that made up the entire home. In one corner was the kitchen-dining area. Another corner, close to the bathroom and blocked off discreetly by Chinese lacquer screens, apparently served as the bedroom area. A living room of sorts was set up in front of the natural stone fireplace. Not overly spacious, but clean and well appointed with nice furniture and modern appliances.

Scully raised her eyebrows in surprise that, for once, was pleasant. This was far better than she had hoped for from a D&D buddy of Langley’s. She’d met several of the Gunmen’s friends in Las Vegas and this place was not what she would have expected from any of them. “This is where your friend camps, Langley?”

He chuckled. “Derek isn’t exactly the camping type. Made a little money developing software and built this place. He just uses it to get away sometimes. Used to come here more before his girlfriend dumped him for playin’ the game all the time.”

Scully looked over to see Mulder swaying slightly on his feet. She directed him to a straight-backed chair from the dining room set and he kicked his leg over the seat, sitting backwards to use the chair back as a headrest. She saw him struggling to keep his eyes open and wondered what either of them was running on. She herself was afraid to sit down, afraid that she might be overcome with sheer exhaustion. “Where’s Byers with the car?” she asked.

“He’ll be here in a while,” Frohike replied. “He stopped at the last big town to buy some groceries for you guys. Shouldn’t be too long.” He elbowed Langley in the ribs. “Come on, let’s get the stuff out of the van.”

Mulder stood to go with them, but Frohike pushed him by the shoulder back onto the chair. “We got it, Mulder. You should probably just rest. You look like hell.”

“Gee thanks,” Mulder replied sarcastically.

Frohike grinned wickedly. “Hey, if your friends can’t be honest with you, who can? There’s not that much stuff to bring in. Just relax.” He left to join Langley, who was already descending the porch steps.

Langley brought the suitcase in and Scully noted that he seemed awkward, as if he didn’t quite seem to know what to do with it. And she understood his unease because bringing the suitcase to the bedroom would acknowledge that there was only one bedroom and she, herself, didn’t know how comfortable she was with that acknowledgement.

“Just put it on the couch,” she said and thought she saw a grateful look on his face. Frohike followed closely behind and put the bag with the artifacts on the sofa beside the suitcase.

There was an awkward silence for a few minutes, until all heads turned at the sound of tires on gravel. Byers came in with several plastic grocery bags and told Langley that there was a couple more in the car. He put the refrigerator items away and left the rest on the counter. Looking between Mulder and Scully, he could see that both were on the verge of collapse. “We’re going to get back to DC, Scully.” He addressed her because he wasn’t certain Mulder was even still awake. A soft snore from that direction gave him his answer.

Scully nodded and walked toward the Gunmen, her head lowered in weariness and sadness at her lack of words to sufficiently thank them for all they had done. “Guys, I don’t know how to tell you…” Her voice trailed off as a lump formed in her throat.

“It’s okay, Scully,” Frohike said. “We get it.”

Byers nodded in agreement. “You two just get some rest. You need to think this through, figure out what’s going on and you need a clear head for that. You should be okay here for a few days at least and there’s plenty of food.”

“Weapons, other I.D.s? Where are they?” Scully asked.

“Box on the coffee table,” Langley replied.

They stood at the open door engulfed in another awkward silence. Finally Frohike spoke. “You guys try and let us know you’re okay when you can, huh?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to be doing too much more than sleeping for the next few days. Looks like Mulder’s getting a head start.” She looked over at him with a wistful smile.

Byers turned to leave and Scully placed a hand on his shoulder, pulling him into a fierce hug. He brought his hands up and patted her shoulders clumsily. “You two take care of each other.” His voice was thick and he turned away without looking into her face. She then hugged Langley and, finally, Frohike in turn and stood in the doorway watching as they walked together to the van and drove away. Shutting the door, she locked it behind her, not trusting even this isolated place.

Mulder stirred somewhat at the sound of the door closing, swiping unconsciously at a bit of drool that had dribbled across the cheek resting on his arm. He sat up straight and yawned, stretching as he did so, and Scully took a good look at him for the first time. The scraggly growth on his face accentuated his thinness and pallor and his eyes were dim and weary. He looked like a refugee—a victim of some kind of unspeakable disaster. It was time to get him cleaned up because her Mulder was nobody’s victim. Drained though she was, she crossed over to him and took his arm to help him to stand.

He stood up shakily and placed his arm around Scully’s shoulder when he felt her arm go around his waist. “Shower time?” he asked hopefully.

Even though he had gotten painfully thin, his weight was still a lot for her to bear, but bear it she did. “You’re still not too steady,” she said, gasping somewhat with the effort. “How ‘bout a bath instead? You can’t fall and hurt yourself if you’re already sitting.”

“Yeah, okay. Just so soap is involved here somewhere.”

“Know what you mean, G-Man.” She herself was looking forward to a shower, even though she’d had the opportunity to wash up on planes and in airports during her travels. It just wasn’t the same as the full body water experience.

She helped him into the bathroom and was happy to see that it was a spacious room with a large, old-fashioned tub with a slanting back. She knelt down to plug the drain and turned the water on, carefully adjusting the temperature so as not to burn him. “Why don’t you start getting ready and I’ll go get your overnight bag. The guys brought ‘em in from the trunk.”

Each of them kept a small suitcase in the other’s car for times when they had to make quick unexpected trips. The bags held a change of clothing and underwear, as well as toiletries to use on their excursions. They also kept a large, well-stocked medical kit in each car for the strange emergencies they often found themselves facing. These things had come in handy on more than one occasion.

Scully emptied the clothes in Mulder’s bag onto the sofa and took the rest back to the bathroom. Mulder had managed to get his t-shirt off and was bending forward trying to untie his shoes. He looked up as she entered. “Byers tied them with double-knots.” His tone was full of helplessness that might have been amusing to her if she hadn’t seen the frustration written all over his face at his inability to untie them. “Asshole,” he muttered to himself.

“Not a problem, Mulder,” she said with a smile he couldn’t help returning. She knelt to untie his shoes and pulled them off, along with his socks, setting them aside so he wouldn’t trip over them later. He finished undressing and she set his shampoo and soap on the ledge of the tub and his razor, shaving cream, and tooth-brushing supplies on the counter next to the sink.

She caught herself watching his reflection in the mirror, admiring the slopes and angles of his broad back and shoulders as he moved, bracing himself with a hand against the wall to stand unsteadily on one foot and test the water temperature with the other. Muscles working in concert with bones. She knew she could still name each of them from all the years of anatomy classes she’d taken, but nothing in those classes could have prepared her for the affect a moving and breathing Mulder had on her—although she knew she could also explain those physiological responses as well. As attractive as he was clothed—and she smiled that she could finally admit to herself that he was—naked, he was magnificent. Realizing that she had stopped moving just to gape at his reflection, she looked away, somewhat embarrassed and relief flooded her that he hadn’t turned to witness her perusal. She heard him sink into the water with a satisfied sigh as she closed the door behind her. The air was cooler outside the bathroom and she paused a bit to catch her breath and get her bearings back.

While she waited her turn in the bathroom, Scully headed to the kitchen to see what Byers had bought them for groceries. She was a little surprised to see he had taken care to buy simple things—canned soups, crackers, instant hot cereals—that would be easy for Mulder to digest after such a long period without eating. There were also bananas and strawberries, as well as milk, butter, and eggs in the refrigerator, along with bread and sandwich fixings, and for some reason she couldn’t guess, boneless chicken breasts. And less Byers’s heart, he’d remembered to get a bag of sunflower seeds. She poked through the kitchen cabinets and drawers and found pots and pans, dishes, glasses and silverware. The cabinet beside the stove revealed a large selection of herbal tea bags and, surprisingly, a bottle of Flintstones vitamins.

She placed a kettle of water on the stove to boil and got out two mugs and bowls. Reaching for the chamomile tea, she placed a teabag in each mug. The tea would help both of them sleep a little more soundly, she thought. When she heard the kettle whistle, she removed it from the flame and poured steaming water over the teabag in her mug and on top of the instant cream of wheat with its little dehydrated blueberries. She poured a little milk on it and added a few banana slices. Attacking it with a gusto she didn’t think she possessed, she tried to recall the last time she’d had anything substantial to eat. She’d make some for Mulder when he got out of the tub so that he could eat while she showered. On a whim, she grabbed the vitamins and tipped a few into the palm of her hand, placing two Betty Rubbles next to his empty bowl, and grabbed a Fred and a Dino for herself, relishing their fruity, vitamin-tasting sweetness.

Scully crossed back to the bathroom and gave a discreet knock before entering. “Hey, when’s it my turn?” she asked as she opened the door.

Mulder was sprawled in the bath in the steamy water, fast asleep. The soap and shampoo were where she had left them and his hair was still dry and matted in spots with the EEG adhesive. His head lolled toward his right shoulder and a small, peaceful smile played at his lips. A wave of protectiveness swept over her, made more powerful by an intense feeling of joy and relief to have him with her instead of in that awful hospital.

<Well, I guess if I’m ever going to get a turn, I’d better get him out of there.> She touched the top of his head, wondering how she was going to get that stuff out of his hair. Her mother used to use peanut butter to get the chewing gum out of her hair. Maybe it would work on the clumps of adhesive as well. She returned to the kitchen where she found a plastic pitcher and rummaged through the cupboard in the hopes of finding peanut butter. The ever-resourceful Derek came through again, for there was a big jar of Jif on the second shelf. She located the linen closet and got out towels and washcloths and brought everything into the bathroom where Mulder seemed not to have moved at all in her absence.

She took a deep breath searching for the trained medical professional side of her persona. Dr. Scully, however, was nowhere to be found as she stared at him, wet and naked before her, and she could admit to herself how much she wanted to do this. To touch him, to take care of him, to clean away all that had happened to him since this whole ordeal had begun. To be able to express to him with her actions what she could finally admit to herself that she’d felt for a long time. Her heart beat fast, like a young girl’s, in her chest.

Scully folded a towel and knelt upon it beside the large bathtub. Moving him by the shoulders so that his head was closer to her, she began gently to massage the peanut butter into the strands of hair held together by the adhesive, hoping to remove the biggest clumps before trying to shampoo it. Running a damp washcloth over the strands, she was pleased to find it worked just as it had for her mother as the gobs of glue came easily out of his hair. He slept on, stirring only when a particularly bad clump caused her to pull his hair a little.

His eyes still closed, she watched his nose twitch as he caught a familiar scent. “Mmmm,” he mumbled. “Peanut butter? I saw something like this in a video once. What did you have in mind, Scully?”

He managed to open his eyes and fixed her with a look that would have taken her breath away if she hadn’t had her emotions so tightly held in check. This was so much easier when he’d been asleep. But his eyes were locked to hers and his drowsy smile seemed to indicate that he was not uncomfortable with his current state of nudity. But then he never had seemed too concerned with her seeing him in various stages of undress. This, though, was different—intimate, powerful. This was not to be bantered about.

Not trusting her voice to speak, she filled the pitcher with warm water from the tap. She snaked an arm behind his neck, cradling his head as she slowly poured the water over his hair, wetting her own shirt to the shoulder in the process. He emitted a pleasured moan and smile, and sat up a little to help her when he realized what she was doing. She rubbed a dab of shampoo between her palms and skimmed it through his dripping hair, working it into a rich lather with gently massaging fingertips. This elicited a soft sigh from him that sent a quick, unexpected chill down her spine. When she was finished, he tipped his head back as she poured pitcher after pitcher of warm water over his scalp until it ran clear down his back and the shampoo was completely rinsed away.

Pushing his dripping locks away from his forehead, she eased him back against the slanting back of the tub, her eyes locked to his in silent communication—different, more intense than their usual eyespeak but close enough to be heartwarmingly familiar. She felt his eyes move with her as she stood and turned to the sink, running hot water over a small hand towel, then ringing it out until it was damp and steaming. Kneeling again, she placed it over his face, covering his beard to soften it and prepare it for shaving. She left it there as she reached for a washcloth and the soap.

“Scully…” Mulder whispered.

“Sshh.” She placed her fingers on his lips and another shiver shot down her spine when he kissed her fingertips, his eyes never leaving hers. “Let me do this for you.”

She could feel him shiver beneath her fingers. He watched in what appeared to be utter disbelief as she soaped up the washcloth until it was overflowing with foamy lather and began to wash his chest and arms with a drowsy circling motion. Dipping the washcloth into the water, she brought it up over his skin again and again, dispelling the soap into little islands of foam that floated in the water around him.

For the most part, she kept her eyes on her task, only occasionally hazarding a glance at his face, for what she saw there was almost too much to bear. Mulder was happy—he radiated it, glowed with it. Until that instant, she hadn’t realized that she had never seen him truly and unqualifiedly happy. And he’d never seen it in her. She felt a brief intense stab of anguish, but banished it quickly to bask in the wonder of his expression. She tried to give it back to him, but she was finding it difficult to maintain eye contact and still remember to breathe.

Pulling him forward slightly, she ran the cloth over his neck and shoulders and down his back. More than anything, she wanted to drop the cloth and use just her hands. But at the same time, there was something breathtakingly alluring in using it. Through the cloth she could feel the ridges of his spine, the ripple of his muscles. But still, there was a thin barrier between them, leaving her something yet to explore when the time for exploring came. Exploring would come later. Now was the time for purifying, cleansing away all that had happened to him. He needed that and she needed to give it to him. She rinsed his back and gave him a little nudge, making him recline again against the back of the tub.

She soaped up the cloth again and raised each leg in turn—washing them slowly and thoroughly, even the spaces between his toes. She looked up as he groaned and flexed his foot against her hand and saw as he tried to blink away the tears that filled his eyes.

But Scully saw his tears and felt her heart swell with love for him. She’d never had a relationship with a man where she’d done anything like this and couldn’t imagine wanting to do it for anyone but Mulder. Reaching up to touch his face, she found that the towel she had placed there had cooled to a tepid temperature, so she took it off and leaned forward to kiss him. His mouth was wonderfully responsive, and he let her control the kiss as she ran her fingers through his dripping hair and down his cheek. She delved and he welcomed it, his acquiescence thrilling her beyond her own understanding.

“This has got to go,” she whispered, running her hand over his face and the soft, damp stubble there. She reached behind her for the shaving cream and razor and, shaking the can, she squirted a mound of foam into her palm. Using the fingertips of her other hand, she spread it across his cheeks, down his neck, and across his upper lip, careful not to get any in his mouth for she was certain that it would taste vile. She raised herself to the full height she could achieve while kneeling to have better access for the task at hand. As she dipped the razor into the water, she looked into his eyes, seeing nothing there but infinite love and trust as he tilted his head back to expose his throat to her.

She made one steady, sure stroke from his lower jaw and down his throat, following the path of his jugular. Touching the vein, she felt the beat of his pulse beneath her fingertip, along with a slight abrasion from stray leftover whiskers. She rinsed the razor and changed the direction of the stroke, making a swipe upward over the same path, till the skin beneath it was smooth. Her face a mask of concentration, she finished shaving him, her eyes meeting his during brief pauses to rinse the razor. She could feel her face contort as she shaved above his upper lip, trying to coax him to make the same faces. And it made her smile with delight when he actually did it.

When she finished, she wiped away the remnants of cream with a damp cloth and ran her hand down his cheek. “Not bad for a newbie, huh?” She smiled at him with pride, and bent to give his spot a little nudge with her nose.

“You are truly gifted, Scully,” he replied, covering her hand with his own, pressing it to his face. “The hands of a surgeon.” He leaned forward to give her what he thought would be a brief kiss but, once begun, it turned into more somehow. “Thank you,” he murmured when they finally pulled apart somewhat.

She smiled. “Anytime. Isn’t that why I went to med school?” She tried to chuckle, but he silenced her with two gentle fingers on her lips.

“No,” he said, his tone solemn and sincere. “I mean for everything, Scully. Thank you for everything.”

Tears sprang to her eyes and suddenly she was just so tired of crying, wouldn’t cry. “I know, Mulder. But let’s not talk about anything now, okay? We’re both just so tired.”

He nodded reluctantly. “We can look at this a little more rationally when we’re rested, huh?” His tone was quiet and she could almost hear him struggle to keep it neutral, to keep from sounding hurt and needy.

But she knew, she knew his fears, saw them in his eyes. And, somewhere in her mind, she knew he was justified in having them because she could rationalize this away. There were probably hundreds of reasons that this wouldn’t work. But tired as she was, physically and mentally, she was even more tired of hiding behind rationalism. She wanted what they were starting to have and it was time to let him know that. She took his hand and brought it back to her cheek, pressing her face against it. “This doesn’t change, Mulder. Rested or dead on my feet, I love you.” She smiled at his visible relief. “But so much else has changed, so much has happened, and I’ve been so tired for so long that I can’t even begin to sort it all out. And all of it is part of who we are and what we’re becoming. But for now, let’s just rest, okay?”

He nodded, a small grin pulling at the corners of his mouth. “I love you, too,” he said. “You’re right. We’ll rest then we’ll talk.” He moved his hand to the back of her neck to draw her to him for a gentle kiss. She broke away slightly and his eyes opened slowly, drowsily. “Oh, man,” he whispered.

“You need to eat,” she said, blushing a little. She was trying for the for your own good tone, but a quick check revealed that Dr. Scully was still among the missing. “Why don’t you finish up here and I’ll go make you something. Then I’ll take a quick shower while you’re eating.” She rose to her feet and left the bathroom, grinning at him before closing the door.

Scully set about getting his food ready, dry cereal in the bowl, another bowl with applesauce beside it. She located the spice cabinet and stirred a little cinnamon and nutmeg into the applesauce and sprinkling a bit of sugar over the top, hoping to avoid him balking about eating it. Mulder did have a sweet tooth, especially for fruity things like pies and pastries. One day they’d been working a case and stopped for lunch and Mulder had waxed enthusiastic about the best damned pie he ever eaten at a diner in Twin Peaks, Washington—wherever that was. While eating a slice of key lime pie, followed quickly by blueberry, he explained that he’d gone there while assigned in Behavioral Science to assist in the investigation into the mysterious disappearance of an FBI agent—a mystery that was never solved. Agent Dale Cooper, the man who had vanished, had since passed into the realm of FBI myth and legend, cloaked in rumors of strange goings-on and demon possession. But even as much as that case had been right up his alley, Mulder just went on and on about the pie.

After about fifteen minutes, the water was boiling merrily away in the kettle and Mulder still had not emerged from the bathroom. “Hey,” she called out. “Did you fall asleep in there again?”

His face appeared in a crack in the door. “I’m naked in here, Scully. Is there anything out there for me to put on?”

Shit. She’d forgotten to tell Byers to find sleepwear for both of them. In fact, she hadn’t looked through the clothing in the suitcase at all. “There’s a robe on the back of the door. Put it on, then you can look in the suitcase. I sent Byers and Langley shopping for us under conditions that were entirely too stressful. No telling what we’ve got. Just put on the robe.”

“I can’t wear some other guy’s robe,” he protested.

“Mulder, for God’s sake,” she answered, exasperated. “How much goop, grime and slime have we been covered in during all the time we’ve been together? I don’t think a little used terrycloth is going to hurt you.” She felt hesitant to remind him that perhaps his modesty was out of place here as she’d just seen the full show a few minutes before. The memory brought a wicked grin to her face. <It was a pretty good show.>

He was still chuckling when he came out of the bathroom, tying the belt of the robe around his waist. He sat down at the table where Scully had placed his food and looked at up at her, his nose wrinkled in distaste. “Cream of wheat, applesauce, and tea?”

“Hey, I slaved over a hot teakettle to make you this meal,” she said, laughing at his disgusted expression. “Mulder, you haven’t eaten in days. You’ll be lucky if your stomach can handle this. Besides, I think we’re too far out in the sticks to get Thai food delivered. Now dig in and don’t forget your vitamins.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied as crisply as his weariness would allow. He reached for the vitamins first. “Oooo, Scully, Betty Rubble!” He popped them into his mouth and chewed with delight.

“Yeah, I figured since we both identified with her bustline…”

He laughed and shoveled in a spoonful of the cereal. “Your bustline is much better than hers, Scully.”

“Gee thanks,” she replied. “I can rest much better in the knowledge that my boobs are superior to a cartoon character’s.”

“Better than all the cartoon characters’,” he replied sincerely, swirling his spoon in his applesauce trying to avoid having to eat a food that so distinctly reminded him of hospitals.

“And on that note, I think I’ll go take a shower.” She crossed over to where the suitcase lay on the sofa. Opening it, she found that Byers and Langley had purchased a case with a divider inside and had separated their clothing. She opened the side with her things and saw they had purchased what she’d asked for—jeans, t-shirts, underwear, socks. But tucked beneath them, she came upon a floral patterned nightgown trimmed in ribbons and eyelet lace, sleeveless and princess-waisted. It was pretty and sweet in an old-fashioned way and she wondered which of the two long-time bachelors had thought to include this for her. Though the obvious choice would have been Byers, Scully was hesitant to discount Langley’s hand in this. Thank God Frohike had stayed at the hospital with her or she’d be holding something red and see-though and trimmed in marabou. <But that might be a possibility for later.> She gathered the nightgown in her hands, along with her overnight bag and headed toward the bathroom.

Mulder grabbed her forearm as she passed and she looked down at him, struck suddenly at the difference in perspective. Most of the time, it was he looking down at her, the downward angle keeping his countenance almost always partly in shadow. From this viewpoint, his face looking up at her, the light played off his eyes in a way that she rarely got to see, reflecting off the gold flecks in his irises, lending them an incandescence that she’d never seen before. Or maybe never allowed herself to see. She looked away briefly at his hand resting lightly on her arm, then returned her eyes to his.

“Scully,” he whispered, his voice raw and urgent. “That bath… when you bathed me… it was like…” His voice trailed off and she watched him struggle with the frustration of not having the right adjective, the right metaphor.

And his hesitation, his incapacity to find words, scared her a little because Mulder always had words—more words, longer words, more obscure words, better words than anyone she knew. So often, they were both his sword and his shield. And right now, she wasn’t certain she could deal with discussing a situation that was so important that it stole his language.

“It was a bath, Mulder,” she said, smiling yet hoping to telegraph her unreadiness to talk about this.

He shook his head. “No, it was…”

“Just a bath,” she interrupted and this time she saw him catch her silent plea, understanding dawning in his eyes.

“Okay,” he replied with a tone that was quietly resigned but not downhearted. “It was just a bath and the Taj Mahal is just a building.” Mulder gave her a small reassuring grin and squeezed her arm a little. “We’ll rest, then we’ll talk.”

Scully smiled her gratitude at his willingness to allow her to do this in the only way she could. She was treading new ground here, not even close to certain of her footing. But she knew she wanted to make the trip.

“Now go take your shower,” he said, releasing her arm with a caress. “And let me know if you want me to wash your back.” Mulder’s tone was light, but still serious enough to let her know that he would be available if she chose that option.

“In your dreams, Mulder,” she replied with a smirk. A strange new look passed over his face, one that maybe said that he’d had that dream. And it made her shiver a little. She turned back to him and ran the tips of her fingers through his still damp hair. Bending forward, she whispered in his ear, “In mine, too.” Blushing furiously—the curse of all redheads—she turned and quickly walked into the bathroom. “Now quit playing with your food and eat!” she called through the closed door, leaning against it with her hand on her chest, almost as if to still the mad beating of her heart, and a smile that threatened to split her face in two.

+++++

Mulder chuckled quietly to himself and the smile stayed on his face as he continued to make swirls of no discernable pattern in the applesauce. Steeling his courage, he brought a dab to his mouth and was surprised to find it not nearly as repugnant as he remembered. Maybe Scully had done something to it. She’d surely heard him bitch about hospital applesauce enough times. He took another, bigger bite and found that he was actually hungry and it was actually pretty good. She must have done something to make it better for him.

For him. This amazing woman had made his applesauce special. She’d given him just a bath—the most amazingly profound and moving experience he could ever remember. Tears came to his eyes again as he recalled the feeling of her small, strong hands cleaning him, soothing him, making him better. He realized with a sad wistfulness that he’d never in his life been touched with such love, had never known cherished prior to that night. He’d gone until now without it, and this amazing woman had given it freely. And at no small cost to herself, for it couldn’t have been easy for her to let him see so much of her. And he’d seen. He’d watched her face, seen the shifting expressions, met her eyes and saw the love there. She’d let him see into her, finally, and what was there both awed and humbled him. This amazing woman—who bathed him, made his applesauce special, saved him a thousand times—loved him.

He yawned deeply and began to eat his cereal. Actually, he liked cream of wheat a lot, especially the kind with the fake blueberries. For some reason, they reminded him of the Crunchberries in Cap’n Crunch—undoubtedly the world’s finest food. He spooned the banana slices into his mouth first, sucking the cereal off before chewing, then ate the cereal, careful to make sure there was at least one fake blueberry per spoonful. About halfway through, he realized what he was doing and made a mental note to make every attempt to eat like an adult when Scully was around.

But finally, even in his exhaustion, his mind turned to the events of the past few days, as he knew it must, and a shudder of dread raced down his spine like drops of ice water. One more time she’d saved his life, pulled him from the brink and healed him. She’d saved his life and according to the Chinese, that meant she owned it. Truth be told, she’d owned it for a long time. Well, maybe they owned it together—joint ownership. He liked the sound of that. Before Scully became part of it, he hadn’t had much interest in owning his life himself. Before Scully.

Before Scully. He wondered vaguely when it was that he had begun using her entrance into it as the point by which he marked significant events in his life. Things happened either before or after Scully. Like they used to happen either before or after Samantha. Before Samantha and after Scully were the only periods of his life that seemed real to him and the recollections of the time before Samantha had taken on a mythic, mystic quality to him. Only the time since Scully was really real.

They’d come so far together and seen so much. She’d been sent into his life and she let him show her strange and inexplicable things, although she rarely—if ever—believed them to be what did. But still she let him show her, still she looked. Her disbelief delighted him, pissed him off, challenged him, exasperated him, made him love her. He recalled more than one occasion when he’d spent nights and weekends pouring through the files for the most bizarre thing he could bring to show her—almost as if to see if she would still look. And—incredulity and skepticism ringing in the air—she always did. Even though much of what he had shown her had hurt her badly.

She made him real. Even after all the incredible things they’d seen, even in the surreal situation they found themselves in currently, he felt more alive than he ever had before she’d come into his life. Before she’d become his life. And she had been for so long. Maybe since her abduction and definitely since he’d watched that shapeshifting bastard bend his arm around Scully’s throat and demand that Mulder trade the only thing he thought he wanted in his life—his sister. And he’d done it. Not without question, not without agony, but because his very existence had depended on it. He’d believed the clone to be Samantha—also not without question or agony. And he’d given her up, in the face of his father’s wrath and his mother’s baffled despair, because he couldn’t live without Scully. He had lived without Samantha for more than twenty years, but it had been the three months of living without Scully that had almost killed him.

Now they were close to something, something that they were almost certain to wish that they didn’t know about. But also something that they couldn’t not find out about, something they had to discover. The pieces had been so slow in coming together, but only since Scully had there even been any pieces to assemble. Before Scully, he’d done nothing more than spin his wheels and convince himself time after time that he was onto something. With her, what had been nebulous was becoming concrete and frightening though they may be, they had both earned the answers.

With another deep yawn, his head slipped off of it’s resting place on his palm. Hunger assuaged, sheer weariness was beginning to take over. Rising with a stretch, he went over to the suitcase and dug out boxers and a t-shirt, slipping them on and throwing the robe over the back of the couch. He briefly considered moving everything off the couch and sleeping there, but he just didn’t want to. He wanted to rest—really rest—and he wanted to sleep beside his Scully. She wouldn’t object to that, would she?

Entering the bedroom area, he was inordinately pleased to see a queen-sized brass bed. He turned on a small lamp on the bedside table and walked through the rest of the house, dousing lights as he went along until the lamp was the only light in the cabin. He returned to the bedroom and looked at the bed once again, feeling little twinges of reluctance in the back of his mind. Maybe she would object. He grabbed the sheets and blankets, pulling them back. The idea of turning down the bed with her intimidated him somewhat—it seemed, perhaps, too intimate. Slipping beneath the crisp top sheet and blanket, he felt a mellow warmth creep over him, and he fought off sleep to wait for her to come out.

+++++

She emerged after about a half-hour, her hair in damp curls around her face because she didn’t have the energy to blow it dry. Mulder was already in the cabin’s sole bed, having opted for a t-shirt and boxers as sleepwear and the side furthest from the bathroom as “his” side. All the lights in the cabin were out except for a small lamp on a bedside table at his side. She paused in the doorway, looking at him on his side facing her, his head propped in his hand and his eyelids drooping in a curious state of pre-slumber. <Droopy eyes is a good look for him.> And she found she was nervous about sharing a bed with him.

“You look pretty,” he said softly, his voice husky and low. He noted her hesitation and he smiled sweetly at her, patting the mattress beside him. “Come on, I promise I won’t attack you in your sleep.”

She shrugged and found she had to return his smile. “I’m so tired, I don’t think I’d know it if you did.” She climbed into the bed and pulled the sheet up over them, laying her head on the pillow facing him.

He waggled his eyebrows at her. “Oh, you’d know it, Scully. Trust me on that one.”

Her eyes started to drift shut and her speech started to slur a little. “You’re the only one I trust.”

Mulder’s own eyes were starting to close as well, much as he tried to fight it so he could watch her fall asleep. “Scully?” he whispered, reaching out to take a damp curl between his fingertips.

“Hhmm?”

“I ate all my cereal and applesauce and took my vitamins.”

She yawned, deep and large. “That’s good, Mulder.”

“So can we snuggle for a reward?”

She chuckled low in her throat. “Well that certainly deserves a reward.” She moved closer to him just as he was moving closer to her and they met in the middle. He took her into the crook of his arm and she reached around his waist, laying her head on his chest. Sighing in unison, they each shifted slightly to find the most comfortable snuggle. They both deserved a reward, it seemed.

Cocooned together, they slept for a long, long time.

+++++

Chapter Two

<<come with the fbi man. but be careful. there are those who want what you have. come with the fbi man.>>

It was dark when Scully awoke after what she thought finally might be enough sleep. The dream, the dream had startled her awake and her first thought was that she didn’t know what time it was, or even what day. The dream. Albert Hosteen had been in her dreams twice since they’d fallen asleep—whenever that was—imposed upon a field of stars. Like the dream she’d had about Mulder. The dream that hadn’t been a dream.

She had absolutely no idea how long it had been since they’d arrived at the cabin, but she had awakened several times—sometimes with Mulder, sometimes by herself. She’d gone to the bathroom, gotten something to eat or drink and then fallen back into bed to sleep some more, only vaguely aware that Mulder had done the same thing.

Once again, she found herself clasped to him in some kind of death grip, and managed to gently extricate herself from it somehow without waking him up. Apparently Mulder was a serious snuggler, something she herself was not. <Not that that’s a bad thing,> she told herself, just something that would take getting used to. It had been a long time since she’d shared a bed with anyone.

Scully walked slowly to the kitchen, making her way carefully through dark, unfamiliar surroundings and smelled the scent of cooking. On the counter near the sink, she spied a crock pot and, lifting the lid, she inhaled deeply. She reached for a spoon and stirred it, seeing that it was some kind of spicy chicken and vegetable stew that Mulder must have put together because she certainly didn’t remember doing it. In the sink were several used bowls, cups, and glasses, and the counter was scattered with three or four empty hot cereal envelopes, four banana peels, and the lots of little green strawberry heads with lots of sunflower seed hulls intermixed. A little rest seemed to have done wonders for his appetite and, from the looks (and smell) of things, he was ready for some more substantial food.

While waiting for the water to boil for tea, she washed the dishes that were in the sink, placing them in the dish rack to dry, and threw the litter into the trash. If she was going to learn to snuggle, then Mulder was going to have to learn to straighten up the kitchen. <As if,> she said to herself, recalling his own kitchen. <Oh well, it wouldn’t be a fair trade anyway. Snuggling with Mulder beats the hell out of straightening the kitchen.>

She took her tea outside to the cabin’s front porch, where she’d seen a glider as they came in. Sitting down, she sipped from the steaming mug and rocked back and forth, the glider squeaking companionably beneath her. In the extreme darkness of their surroundings, myriads of stars were visible in the night sky <<Albert Hosteen.>> and, from the position of the moon, she guessed it to be around midnight.

As a kid, Scully had learned the names of all the stars and constellations. She was, after all, the child of a Navy man and, as such, was expected to be able to navigate by the stars. She loved the times she’d spent with her father—her beloved Ahab—looking at the stars, with him quizzing her and her firing back answers as quickly as he asked them. She’d loved his pride in her quick mind and in their shared interest and the sky had seemed a friendly place—vast and infinite, but identifiable.

Now, however, she knew differently. The skies weren’t friendly and the truth was, indeed, out there. She’d seen the ship, watched it rise and streak away. And much as she wanted to, she could no longer deny what Mulder had contended for so many years, what she herself had experienced at that dam in Pennsylvania—an event she still could not consciously recall.

She’d kept the tape of her hypnotherapy session with Heitz Werber, but she could never bring herself to listen to it or examine the experience too closely. When it was going on, she had been relieved for Mulder’s rational explanation, although, at the same time, it had disturbed her greatly. His loss of belief, his crisis of faith following her recovery from cancer, had affected her as well. He’d seemed so lost, so far away from her at a time when they should have been closer than ever—a time when she, too, could have believed. He had been bitter and angry at what he saw as his own gullibility and it had nearly torn her apart that his finding her cure had destroyed his faith in himself, and that there hadn’t seemed anything she could do to help restore it.

She’d seen that faith reborn, seen it on his face as she drifted in and out of consciousness on that ice field in Antarctica, sharp and clear as the cold sky overhead. But she hadn’t seen what it was that restored that faith. She simply had not seen it. Although she’d tried to explain to him that she didn’t doubt that he’d seen it, she couldn’t—wouldn’t—swear to Bureau officials that she had. And he’d been so… Not quite angry, not that. And not exactly disappointed in her. She couldn’t name the emotion Mulder seemed to have had toward her, but it had colored their partnership ever since.

Now, though, it was she who had seen the ship, who had found the objects that it had left behind. Would that mean that they were finally on the same page? Would they finally have a shared belief and, if so, what would that mean for them? Her very foundations, the basic tenets by which she ran her life, were shaking down around her and the only truth she had was the trust she’d always had in him.

Yet, he hadn’t trusted her like she thought he did. He hadn’t trusted her enough to tell Scully about her… <I can’t even say her name in my head. No! She doesn’t get that kind of power. Diana. Her name is Diana.> …about why he’d continued to place his trust in her in the face of what Scully considered overwhelming evidence that she wasn’t trustworthy. He’d thrown her proof back in her face, had taunted her in front of the Gunmen. His words had cut her to the center of her heart and then when she thought she couldn’t possibly hurt any more, she’d had to turn and bear the looks of discomfort and pity on the faces of Byers, Langley and Frohike.

Undoubtedly one of the worst moments of her life, right up there with her first glimpse of the x-ray of the tumor growing subtly and irrevocably behind her face. Even worse, somehow, because when she saw that x-ray—terrified though she was—part of her could hold on because she knew that Mulder would be there for her. <<Would have been if I’d let him.>> She’d told him about the cancer first, something she wasn’t certain her mother would ever completely forgive her for.

But that moment in the Gunmen’s dark office, she’d been completely alone. She knew she’d had the guys’ sympathy, but that they’d felt they couldn’t set aside nine years of loyalty to take her part. And she really wouldn’t have wanted them to. It would have been more than she could fairly ask of friends.

And so she’d stood there, alone and confused and shaken to her very foundation. She’d had proof, hard evidence that that woman <Diana, for God’s sake.> was not who she seemed. Scully had had proof. And damn it, she’d been right.

But how many times had in their years together had her proof managed to sway him from what he believed? How many times had her proof actually proven anything? No, it was when she had been willing to stray from her proof, move more instinctively, that they’d had the most success, worked the best, been the closest. She knew her instincts were good, when she let herself listen to them, and that Mulder knew that, too. What if she’d just told him how she felt, what her gut was telling her about Diana?

<He’d have just chalked it up to jealously,> her mind answered.

<<And would he have been wrong?>> her heart countered.

<Shut up,> her mind commanded her heart.

Ever since Diana’s return, Scully’s heart had tried to ask that question, only to be stilled, forcefully anesthetized, by her mind. Now, however, her heart had been reawakened and she found she no longer had the strength—or even much desire—to push the question away again. Would his assertion of jealousy been wrong?

<Yes,> her mind answered immediately, insistently.

But her heart was awake and alert after a long slumber. <<Come on, Dana. It took you a year to make yourself ask that question. Is it going to take another one before you answer it truthfully?>>

She sighed and sifted in her seat, uneasy with the debate between two parts she didn’t often allow to talk to one another. Truth of the matter was, she’d loathed Diana before they’d passed a hundred words between them. Had loathed her since Mulder had uttered that horrid sentence—*You know what to do, Diana.*—when he’d wanted a battery of psychic evaluations performed on Gibson Praise. He’d simply uttered the request and left. Scully had despised Diana from that point on because Diana had, indeed, known what to do. And it hadn’t taken Scully long to figure out why she’d known what to do. They’d worked together before. And she’d seen how he’d just been able to tell Diana to proceed, knowing that she would. He hadn’t needed to explain or charm or beg or cajole her. Diana had simply known what to do and he hadn’t even questioned that she’d do it. So Diana had gone off to do what she knew to do. And Scully stood alone in the hallway outside of Gibson’s room, stunned almost to inactivity by the revelation. Alone and… jealous?

<No,> her mind insisted. <It was professionally threatening.>

<<Like when you saw them holding hands through the window?>> her heart probed derisively. <<Like when you couldn’t get out of the building fast enough? Like when you sat in your car barely able to breathe?>>

<It was the shock of finding out about them. Finding out from someone other than him.> Her mind sounded almost triumphant.

And this time, her heart had no ready retort. Because it was the part that had had to bear the pain of the fact that he hadn’t told her. And then there had been no time to deal with the pain because everything became a blur and their lives immediately turned to shit. Diana had been shot and Gibson kidnapped.

<<He was there with you at his apartment and not at the hospital with her,>> her heart offered hopefully. That seemed to make her mind pause to think.

Then what could have, and perhaps should have been the final killing blow—the purposeful incineration of their office. The destruction of the X-Files. But it hadn’t been the killing blow. Or maybe it had and they were too stunned to notice in the events that followed. Their temporary reassignment, the events in Dallas, the preposterous charges filed against them after the bombing. The secret trip back to Dallas and all they’d seen there. Salt Lake City, Utah—transfer effective immediately. That heart-stopping, heart-affirming, heartbreaking moment in his hallway. Antarctica. Censure and reassignment under Kersch.

Then she’d watched him die, slowly and seemingly inexorably. Not physical death—no, that at least would have been quick and merciful. It was the death of his soul, a cancer as malignant and deadly as the tumor she’d had. First it had been his hair, his beautiful hair cropped off like Kevin Costner on a bad day. His hair gone, like a sacrifice to all he had lost. She realized shortly after their reassignment that he wasn’t sleeping much—his eyes were often bleary and unfocused, dark circles forming on skin that grew increasingly pallid. Then she’d noticed that he seemed to have stopped running, his usual proclivity for junk food starting to show just ever so slightly around his formerly lean waistline. Junk food had never been a problem for him between the running and the extremely active investigations they’d always undertaken. Scut work was, for the most part, inactive work. But most tortuous of all to watch was the gradual atrophy of his mind, the stifling of his intellect. His fire, his passion, his drive were replaced by ennui and apathy.

And in the beginning she’d contributed to that, urging him to accept their fate and follow the rules. What else would Special Agent Dr. Dana Katherine Scully do? Rules are rules and must be followed absolutely. And for a while he did, his eyes growing dimmer and deader with each passing day. Sometimes he’d just disappear for a couple of hours during the day, never a word about where he was going or when he’d be back. But he always came back, and would sit at his desk doing his background checks like a grimly determined automaton while she stared at his slumped shoulders from her place at the desk behind his. She had watched him dying of cancer of the soul just as surely as he’d watched her dying not so long before. And this time she had no implant to save him as he had saved her.

Until the Crump thing in Nevada, when he’d seen the television report and his starved soul grabbed onto it like a life preserver thrown to a drowning man. She’d known where he was going with his thoughts and had resisted. What if Kersh found out? They were down in the Bureau as far as they could get—the next step was out.

They were arguing about it over the roof of the car when Scully saw it. She saw it happen and it stirred her heart. The light returned to his eyes again, just a small flicker, but growing as they debated. They were arguing. They were bantering. They were Mulder and Scully again. Fast on the heels of that epiphany came the realization that the cancer in his soul was killing her, too, and that nothing—not her life and certainly not her bullshit job—was worth seeing that light in his eyes go out again. And it would surely expire if they didn’t pursue this case. So they’d gone to Nevada and they’d worked together, separated by hundreds of miles, and figured out what was going on. And even though the results had been tragic, they’d succeeded in seeing that it didn’t happen to anyone else.

It had been worth the fine Kersch had levied against her. And Mulder had helped with the expense, although he’d never admitted to it. Her bank statement the following month had shown an unidentified deposit for exactly half of what she’d had to pay. She knew then that he must have pilfered one of her deposit slips and it brought a smile to her face that he knew her well enough to know that she would never have accepted him paying the full amount. He’d paid half, as her equal, and she’d been extremely grateful because, in truth, she could ill afford the expense, still paying off some of the medical expenses from her cancer that had not been covered by insurance. The experience had allowed them to begin to heal some of the things that had come between them since the disastrous happenings in Arizona.

<When he went off with her,> her mind sneered at her heart.

<<And you got jealous.>> Gloatingly.

<No!> her mind insisted. <It was a professional thing. I’m his partner. I should have been with them. If I’d been there, she wouldn’t have been able to pull the crap she did in her report. It wasn’t jealousy.>

**Give it up, Dana!**

Oh God, it was her conscience. Her heart had obviously called for backup when her mind wasn’t paying attention. For a long time—since her sister’s murder—Scully’s conscience spoke to her in Melissa’s voice, sounding like Melissa had the last time she saw her alive, when she’d nearly begged Scully to acknowledge her emotions.

**For God’s sake, it never changes. Why can’t you admit you’re jealous of Diana?** Melissa’s voice in her head conjured up in Scully a familiar yearning to see Melissa again, to be able to talk to her just one more time.

<I’m not jealous.> The protest was weakening.

**He isn’t worth being jealous over?** Melissa’s voice was wryly teasing.

<Of course he is. But jealousy is so…>

**So what? So imperfect? So human? People get jealous, Dana. It’s human nature to want to keep the person you love close to you. Why do you want to be above that?**

<Believe me, Missy, I know I’m all too human?>

**Do you? Do you know that? Are you willing to claim your humanity? Because the time’s growing short and only humanity will be able to save itself.**

Had she done that? Had she gone so far as to place herself above feelings and human emotions—love, jealousy, even happiness? For the past year her mind had been able to convince her that she wasn’t jealous, while her heart forced her to do things that spoke exactly the opposite. She’d never before felt the searing pain in her chest that she’d experienced when she’d seen them holding hands. The pain of having her heart ripped out by Padgett’s psychic surgeon had paled in comparison because at least then she’d had the luxury of screaming. She recalled sitting in her car, her heart sending out a primal wail, stopped excruciatingly by a throat so tightly constricted that air could barely make it through. How long had it been before her mind released her throat enough for her to be able to call him and lie about where she was and ask him to meet her at the office? What else could the pain have been except jealousy?

And the scene at the Gunmen’s? She’d gone directly to the guys after changing her clothes following the incident in the decontamination unit. She’d gone there angry, humiliated. They’d forced them to take a shower together in the same area—all done under the watchful eyes of Diana’s decon goons—and still he’d excused what she’d done. Sitting there in those shapeless scrubs, stripped of makeup, hair a damp stringy mop listening to that bitch dressed in a Donna Karan suit issuing an abject apology, watching Mulder lap up that apology like a cat with cream, then being issued a burlap sack of a dress four sizes too large for her as a replacement for her own clothes. It was the end, the last she’d take.

So she’d gone to the guys and sent them to hacking nirvana trying to dig up information on Diana Fowley, gloating triumphantly at what they’d found. She could hardly wait for Mulder to show up to wave it in his face. She was right, she had proof. And maybe—just maybe—hurt him a little, too, the way he’d hurt her.

Only now could she see what a mistake that had been, having learned what she had about Mulder’s life since then. She’d grossly mishandled it, and now could see that she’d been unfair, too. She’d ambushed him in front of his friends. Had done everything but call him a fool, an idiot. How many people had done that in his life? She was the one he should have been able to depend on never to do something like that. What had she been thinking to confront him in front of the guys? Professional courtesy, at the very least, would have dictated that she talk to him in private, and after all they’d been through, they must surely be beyond mere professional courtesy. She’d called him a fool in front of his friends and screamed out that he’d been betrayed. And Mulder’s fear of fire paled in comparison to his fear of betrayal.

Then she’d given him her conclusive evidence—the same kind of evidence that they had seen manipulated and planted and vanished a hundred times over the course of six years. Mulder would have gone, and did go, immediately into defensive posture. What else could he have done? She’d seen a flicker of doubt, brief though it was, pass in his eyes. But his partner, his friend, his Scully—the person who had publicly defended him against people who called him a fool—had just done so herself. She’d placed him in a position where he could not back down and still retain any face, any pride. Had she handled it differently, he might have told her about Diana then.

What except jealousy could have prompted her to arrange that scene? The only alternative to jealousy was fear. Fear that if she didn’t hurt him first, he would hurt her again?

But even knowing about Diana now didn’t change the fact that Scully loved him. In spite of everything, she loved him. And she was so tired of pretending that she didn’t, of denying it even to herself. Even the hurt, the rage she felt didn’t change that. And much of that rage was directed at herself because she still loved him. What did that say about her?

It just wasn’t supposed to have happened. She wasn’t supposed to be in love with Mulder and he wasn’t supposed to be in love with her. He’d been right to worry about her rationalizing this away. There were so many reasons for this not to work and only one good reason that it would.

They couldn’t live without each other. It came down to that one reason. But was it enough? Could she really answer that question without knowing the whole story?

It annoyed her that this was so important to her in the face of everything else that was going on, all the things she’d never believed that seemed now to be true. The world could very well be on the verge of collapse and no one knew, no one was prepared. But what preparation could there be?

A shooting star caught her eye and she was surprised to find her heart racing. Relax, just a meteor. Not another ship. She sighed at her own foolishness. But the skies weren’t friendly and the truth was, indeed, out there.

+++++

Mulder stood at the screen door, watching her glide back and forth and a sad smile played over his features. She was achingly beautiful sitting there looking at the sky, with the moonlight illuminating the side of her face closest to him and playing off the golden tints in her hair.

Even after hours—maybe days—of sleep, he still couldn’t hear her, her voice wasn’t in his head. He’d been aware the last couple of times he’d awakened that his was the only voice in his head and he’d almost wept with relief. Quiet, blessedly quiet, after days and days of endless voices, endless noise. Soon, though, he realized that he couldn’t hear her and, for just a brief flash, felt a pang of loneliness—even though she lay right beside him.

But watching her now, he didn’t need her voice in his head to tell him that she was pondering something troubling and he wondered if she would tell him about it if he asked. How to ask, that was the problem. He’d learned from past rebuffs when he’d asked her questions she didn’t want to answer. He looked toward where her eyes searched the skies and he, too, saw the shooting star.

During one of the times he’d been awake he, too, had come out to sit on the glider. Just sittin’ and thinkin’. It had been twilight, the lilac-colored sky struck through with ribbons of pink and gold. But he’d been only vaguely aware of the beauty around him, simply glad for the silence as he tried to sort though the sounds and thoughts and memories he’d had at the hospital. Now that he was rested, his system cleared and the voices gone, he realized all that they had done to him, all that they had taken, what they’d caused him to do to himself. He remembered now, and was filled with and impotent wrath as bitter as gall. They’d taken him memories, his gift—not just once, but twice. And they’d tried to again, but Scully stopped them.

Scully. Despite everything—all the things he hadn’t told her, all the things he’d said and done to hurt her—she’d stopped them. He sighed, remembering his promise of an explanation in the letter he’d left for her, but the promise had been an empty one, although he hadn’t known it at the time. Before this, he wouldn’t have been able to give her an explanation because he didn’t remember. And maybe that was part of the reason he hadn’t told her—because he couldn’t make everything that had happened make sense in his own mind. They’d left the memories of events but stolen the motivations behind them.

Until now. He could tell her now. He had the ability, the memories. But did he have the strength? And what would she think if he did tell her, when she finally saw that he’d been weaker and even more a pawn than he’d ever been able to perceive?

In the end, he realized that everything outside the explanation was out of his hands—even whether or not she would accept an explanation. But he had to offer it to her. After all she’d been and done and given, she had to have that option. And he had to accept any reaction she had to it because it was time to start giving back.

The screen door creaked as he pushed it open and she looked away from the heavens to give him a smile that somehow was both solemn and welcoming. “Hey,” he said with a hesitant smile. He felt awkward, unable to gauge where they were emotionally.

“Hey yourself,” she answered softly. “I see you cooked. I didn’t even know you could do that.”

He smiled and leaned against the porch railing facing her. “Throwing a bunch of stuff into a crock pot doesn’t exactly qualify me as Wolfgang Puck.” He longed to sit on the glider beside her, but was uncertain if she wanted him there.

“Smells good,” she remarked. “You hungry now?”

He shook his head. “I put it in the refrigerator. I figured we could heat it up whenever we felt like eating.”

They fell silent and Mulder willed himself not to fidget in his uncertainty and fear. He was so afraid she’d reconsidered, wouldn’t blame her if she did, although it would break his heart. Despite his resolve, his fingers seemed to have minds of their own as they drummed spasmodically against the wood of the railing. “You sleep okay?”

“Yeah,” she replied softly. “But it’s weird. I don’t have any idea what time or even what day it is or how long we slept.”

He nodded his understanding. “I’d guess somewhere between eight hours and a week.”

That earned him a chuckle, the first thing that gave him any kind of hope for where they were now. “Well that narrows it down some.” She patted the empty seat beside her in unspoken invitation.

He sat down gratefully, his head reclined, not quite daring to meet her eyes. He saw her bare feet sticking out from her floor length nightgown and was delighted to see the caps of her impossibly tiny toes painted a color something like the blush on a peach—they were just so pretty. They rocked together for a while, gaining comfort between them with the soothing motion. Finally defying his anxiety, he willed his gaze to her and saw her looking off into the distant sky. Another brief flash of light in the distance, and he felt her stir slightly. “Summer meteor shower,” she said, almost to herself.

“Wishing?” he asked quietly.

“Watching,” she replied, her voice also hushed in the stillness of the night.

“For what?”

“Them.” The quiet dread in her voice left him no doubt about whom she was talking. She paused for a long time and he wondered if she was going to continue. “I… I saw one of their ships, like you did in Antarctica.” He looked at her expectantly, and she told him about what had happened to her in Africa—finding the artifacts, seeing the ship, seeing Alex Krycek. He was careful not to interrupt, just listen, sitting perfectly still except to use his legs in tandem with hers to propel the glider. “I saw it, Mulder. I believe,” she whispered, looking down at her hands folded in her lap.

By the end of her recounting, Mulder was sitting with his elbows on his knees, propping his forehead with his hands. Wanting to see his expression—to see what he thought—she pulled at one of his hands to try and coax him to lift his face to hers. Instead, he took her into a fierce embrace, enfolding her into him with her head pressed firmly against his chest. “Thank God,” he murmured into the crown of her head. “Thank God.”

“I believe,” she repeated softly. “You win, Mulder.”

He pulled away, dropping his arms and sliding to the end of the glider. “What?” he asked, confused. He looked at her, at the misery that was so clearly etched in her face at this admission. “Do you… have you seen this as some kind of competition, Scully? Something either you or I were going to win?”

Mulder watched as her brow knitted slightly, seriously pondering a question he had meant as rhetorical. Had she seen their partnership as a sort of competition? “You have, haven’t you?”

Her eyes had taken on a wary look, one that he’d seen a lot in the past year, one that tore at his heart. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Mulder. For years, you’ve wanted me to believe and now I do. Isn’t that why you were so angry with me after the OPR hearing when they transferred us? When my disbelief cost us the X-Files?”

Angry with her? He’d been angry, certainly—enraged, livid. But at her? Was that how it had come out, how it had appeared to her? He tried to recall his reactions, but the memories were colored by what he had learned since. “Cost us?”

And suddenly he knew what she had been carrying around inside her for months. She felt that he blamed her for their transfer. And with that knowledge, came memories of incidents—some small and some large—where he had unconsciously reinforced that feeling in her. Incidents in which he’d merely been venting his general anger and frustration, but that he could now understand that she might have seen as being directed toward her. “Oh Scully, it wasn’t your disbelief that cost us the X-Files. The OPR hearing was a farce, a setup from the start. Nothing either of us did would have made the slightest difference. Cancer Man and his cronies expected us to die in Antarctica. When we didn’t and we came back here, they couldn’t just eliminate us, kill us outright. We’d made too much noise and killing us would have drawn all kinds of attention they didn’t want. They couldn’t kick us out of the Bureau because they’d lose one avenue of control of us. So the only other option was to discredit us, transfer us, hope to break us that way. We could have brought in a whole family of EBEs—Mr. and Mrs. Gray and their two point five offspring—and it wouldn’t have mattered. There was nothing that you did or didn’t do that caused that. And I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, for anything I did to make you think I believed this was your fault.”

“But you needed me to validate what you told them.” Her voice was quiet and sad. “You were so angry.”

“Oh hell yes, I was angry,” he answered. “I still am. All the wasted months. But, Scully, even though at the time I thought it would make a difference with the OPR, I didn’t need you to validate what I’d seen. I knew what I’d seen.”

“But you wanted me to say that I saw it, too. You wanted me to believe.”

“I don’t want your belief at the cost of your integrity. Not ever. I never wanted you to say you believed if you didn’t,” he protested.

“Didn’t you?” she asked quietly.

“No.” He hesitated, trying to find the right words for what he was feeling, to express something that he hadn’t been able to sort out in his own mind for years. “I wanted… I want you to believe. I’ve wanted that for a long time. But not for the reasons you think.”

He paused, thinking about what he’d just said. “No, that’s not entirely true. I’ve wanted you to believe sometimes—a lot of times—just because I wanted you to believe me. Me. But is it wrong to want the person who’s most important in your life to believe you? I wanted that. I still do. But it was more than that, Scully, especially after Antarctica. I wanted you to believe me because I was afraid… I knew what I’d seen. I saw the ship. I… we were inside it. I saw the aliens gestating, using human beings as incubators. And I wanted you to believe it. Because I was afraid for you not to believe. I was so afraid—terrified—that you might not believe until it was too late.”

“How do we know that it isn’t too late already?” she asked.

“I guess we don’t,” he conceded. “But we have to keep thinking that it’s not, that there’s still something we can do to stop this. Otherwise, why are we even doing this? I’m sorry Scully. I wish you hadn’t seen what you saw, that I hadn’t seen what I saw. I wish for our sake, for everybody’s sake, that I’d spent the last ten years in some delusional state. But I didn’t and, God help me, I’m glad you saw the ship.”

“You’re glad,” she repeated, pain tingeing her voice. “Okay, okay, I understand that. And I’m sure there’s some part of me that’s glad about it, too, because it’s better that I know the full scale of what’s going on here. But, my whole belief system is falling apart here. Everything I was raised to believe, that I was taught, that I learned to believe, is falling down around my head. And it’s scary as hell, Mulder.”

He reached for her, but she raised a hand, asking that he keep his distance and he feared that gesture. “Wait,” she whispered. “I need to say this. It’s terrifying and I always knew it would be. Do you really think that I’ve never considered the possibility that you were right all along? Do you think I’ve never thought about that? But it was so scary, on so many levels. That’s why I had to work so hard to disprove you. There’s such a rightness in science, Mulder, in things that are the same over and over. Something I’ve always needed and until I started in the X-Files, science never once failed me. But your being right makes everything I’ve ever believed in wrong or at least in question. Everything. I don’t know what to believe anymore. I saw the ship. We don’t know how to make anything that big that can fly or anything that can fly like what I saw. So it has to be them. Beyond that, I don’t know what I believe. You’ve been right about so much of all this. But, damn it, I want the world the way I believe it is. I don’t want to blindly believe what you believe.”

He placed a hand on her shoulder, feeling awkward because he didn’t know in what ways he could touch her now, whether she wanted him to. He was heartened when she didn’t pull away and he ventured a light caress with his thumb. “Is that what you think I want?” he asked. “Unquestioning belief? Scully, don’t you see? I’ve been wrong about so much of this, too. You said it yourself a long time ago. The truth is out there, but so are lies. I don’t know how many times I’ve been blinded by this whole thing, ready to believe any lie that came along. But you’ve been there to help me cut through the lies. You ask the questions I don’t think to, don’t want to. You thought your disbelief cost us the X-Files. Just the opposite, Scully. It’s what let us keep them for as long as we did. You make me sort through the bullshit, think things through. I meant it when I said you’ve saved me a thousand times. I’d be a corpse in a shallow grave somewhere if it hadn’t been for you.”

“Then why didn’t you trust me? Why didn’t you tell me about Diana?” He watched her eyes widen briefly as if in shock, quickly replaced by that heartbreaking, wary look. She hadn’t wanted to be the one who brought this up first, and she shouldn’t have had to. “No, never mind. Forget I asked. If you’d wanted…”

He cut her off abruptly. “Don’t, Scully. Don’t act like this doesn’t matter.” The walls were coming up again and he had to stop it because maybe this would be the time that neither of them had the strength to tear them down again. But at the same time, he wanted so much not to be having this conversation.

“I’m not sure that it does,” she replied.

“This doesn’t matter?” he said, trying to keep his disbelieving tone mild. “You’re not pissed about this?” He knew what she was doing here—trying to sublimate her feelings, keep them logical and in control. Keep them the way she knew how to do them. In his mind, in his heart, he was begging her not to do it. But maybe she had to—for herself. He’d told her in the note to do the best thing for her. And he wanted to let her do that. Wanted to.

She didn’t answer, and looked down at her hands in her lap. His eyes followed and he saw that her hands were clenched together so tightly that her knuckles were turning white.

Anxiety twisted his stomach into knots and he felt glad that he hadn’t eaten in a while. Anxiety for her, for himself, for them. She was so afraid of losing control, and he both wished she would and prayed she wouldn’t. But what would happen if she did? The only answer was the truth, the only hope.

He wanted to raise her face, to make her look at him again. But at the same time, he couldn’t force her, didn’t want her to look at him unless she wanted to. “You get to be mad, Scully.” His tine was heavy with apprehension.

She looked up at him then, a confused and somewhat apprehensive expression on her face. “To what end? Would it change anything? There’s no purpose in it, Mulder.”

“How about just to let me know for once what you’re feeling?” He held his breath, hoping he hadn’t gone too far. He knew he shouldn’t push, didn’t have any right to. But he didn’t want her calm, he didn’t want her rational. That had gone on far too long.

“For once…” she whispered, almost to herself. “Don’t push this off on me.” Her tone was quiet, intense. “I’m not the one with the secret spouse here. You want to know how I felt? Okay, I guess you could say I was little pissed.” The hands she’d stared at had balled themselves into tiny fists. “Mulder, I found out about your wife—your wife for God’s sake—in a note promising me an explanation. Or there was the convenient video version if you were dead. The note was written four months ago. Four months where, until this happened, I thought we were getting back on track together. Was I wrong in thinking that?” She finally looked up, seeking the answer in his eyes. He saw the momentary flash of anger in her eyes, and he both feared and relished it. Anything—even her ire—was preferable to the stony silence and lifeless eyes he’d witnessed for so long.

“No.” This time he wanted to look away, but fought against the urge. “You weren’t wrong. And God help me, I used how good things were getting between us as one more excuse not to tell you.”

She heaved an exasperated sighed. “This makes no sense to me. Millions of men have ex-wives, Mulder. It never once occurred to you over the course of seven years that you should tell me you’re one of them?”

“Of course it did,” he replied. “So many times.”

“So why didn’t you?”

He shook his head with a shrug. “There was a different good reason every time I hared out. But I think I know now, Scully. Part of it was chicken-shit cowardice, like I said in the letter. But part of it was that I couldn’t.”

“So what does that mean, Mulder? You trust me with your life but not your marital status? Why couldn’t you tell me about her?”

“It wasn’t that I didn’t want to tell you about her.” He looked down at his hands, clasped and dangling between his knees. He took a deep breath and made himself raise his head. If he was going to tell her about this, he had to say it to her face. She deserved that at least. “It’s that I didn’t want to tell you about me. Most of it, anyway. To tell you about her, I’d have had to tell you about me. And I didn’t want you to know what kind of… I didn’t want you to know how I used to be. But some of it was that I didn’t want to think about it. I wanted to put it all behind me. I told myself I deserved to put it all behind me. But some of it was that I just didn’t remember. I didn’t remember until all this started happening. While I was in the hospital.”

+++++

Scully suddenly felt apprehensive, as if they were crossing over into a place she might not be ready to enter. Did she really want to know something he’d felt so compelled to hide from her? If he told her about his past, wouldn’t she, in turn, have to tell him what she knew of it? And she had no idea how she was going to do that. How she could tell him something that would hurt him so. Suddenly she had an idea of why Mulder hadn’t been able to tell her about the theft of her ova. He’d wanted to protect her from the kind of pain he was going to feel when she told him what she’d learned. And maybe protect himself, too, because she also understood how easy it would be not to tell him, not to have to be the one to hurt him.

“You don’t have to do this,” she heard herself say. And her heart screamed out, <<Yes he does!>> cried her heart that still felt hurt, betrayed. Her heart that needed to understand this, that needed the explanation—the one he’d promised. But still, she had to offer him an out. She would not, could not, badger him into this.

“Yes I do,” he replied quietly. “I should have done it a long time ago. I’m so sorry, Scully. I wanted to, I meant to.” He paused as if unsure how to continue. “Now I’m afraid not to. Afraid what it’s done, what it will keep doing, to us…”

“We’ll be fine, Mulder,” she interrupted, not sure why these things she didn’t believe, didn’t want to say, continued to fall out of her mouth. Was she as afraid to hear what Mulder had to say as he was to say it?

He shook his head, closing his eyes almost as if he were in pain. “I don’t want fine Scully. Christ, I hate that word! We’ve been fine for years. Fine as fucking frog hair. We’ve been hurt, sick, dead, near dead, missing, had family members torn away from us, our fucking futures torn away from us. And we’re fine. It’s gotta stop.” He lowered his head to his hands, running his fingers through his sleep-tousled hair. Then he raised his head searching for her eyes. “I want more than that. I want you. I want what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling. I want your stories, and to get that, I’ll give you mine. And that’s no small feat, Scully, because I come out quite the asshole in this one. Especially with what I know now. But as lame as they are, there were reasons for what I did. Shit, maybe they’re just sorry excuses. The whole thing is pretty sorry in light of what I found out. But I didn’t know it then.”

“Know what?” she asked.

“How blind, stupid and totally manipulated one man can be,” he replied bitterly. “And the really ironic thing is that I still don’t know why. But I could go off on that for days and I promised you an explanation. If you’d let me give it to you.”

She studied his face in the moonlight, his eyes glowing silvery in the ambient light, searching for some kind of hesitation on his part. If he were reluctant about this, she’d have a reason to stop this conversation. And they’d be fine. Fine as fucking frog hair.

But she saw no hesitation on his face. His eyes offered but didn’t plead, didn’t challenge. It was her call, just as he’d promised in the note. But she knew that if he gave her his story, what he saw as the truth, he’d expect no less from her. But maybe that was okay. Maybe they couldn’t afford not to anymore.

“I want more than fine, Mulder. I’ve earned more than fine.” Her voice was quiet and firm.

He made a noise—something between a chuckle and a sob. “You’ve earned more than I’ve got, Scully. More than I’ll ever have. And you’ve definitely earned an explanation, a rationalization, whatever the hell this is. But I’ll warn you now, it’s a long story.”

She nodded. It was an undetermined time in the middle of the night of some unknown day. Time seemed different here, less important. Not nearly as important as this. “I like long stories. You’ve told me long stories before,” she whispered.

“Not like this. I don’t even know how to start this,” he said, his brow knitted in frustration. “I’m glad I didn’t die. The videotape I made sucked.”

She glanced up to see if he was joking and found his expression was serious, anxious. Something she found disturbing, yet somehow endearing. “I’m glad you didn’t die, too.” She gave him a small smile and laid a hand on his arm. He put his other hand over hers and gave it a quick squeeze of appreciation before pulling away.

“I know you think that I trusted Diana because she used to be my wife,” Mulder said and she nodded. “But that’s not it. Not exactly. That should be the reason, that’s part of it…” He stopped, as if suddenly aware that he was babbling. He took a deep breath. “I trusted Diana because she saved my life, or so I thought. No, she did. Her motives were different from what I thought they were but she saved my life.”

Scully felt a bitter ache in her chest. “So it’s two in five billion, huh? Still not bad, I guess.”

He looked at her, a stricken look on his face, his eyes misting over. “No!” His tone was adamant. “Just you. Only you.”

“She saved you. I saved you. That’s two, Mulder.”

“No,” he repeated. “She saved my life, Scully. She helped me keep my heart beating and keep breathing. But you saved me. Before you came into my life, there was no me to save.”

He paused and Scully wondered if he expected her to make a comment, and the lull in the conversation was awkward to her for she didn’t know how to respond.

He gave her a gentle smile. “We hardly know anything about one another, do we? I mean, really know. I don’t even know how you came to be Agent Scully and I’ve never told you how I came to be Agent Mulder. Seven years.”

He down to his hands resting in his lap and Scully followed his gaze. He was moving the fingers of both hands in odd patterns. “That’s just a little less than sixty thousand hours.”

“How do you know that?” she asked, astonished.

He raised is hands before them and smiled. “Finger math. My dad taught it to me when I was a kid. It’s a system for working with numbers using your fingers. Seven years is 59,930 hours, but that doesn’t take any leap years into account. I never use a calculator.”

“Is that why your expense reports are the way they are?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Hey, the math part is always okay. It’s the justification part that sometimes gets a little creative,” he smiled briefly. “But seriously Scully, I bet if we examined it, we’d find that we’ve spent a lot of those sixty thousand hours together. Wouldn’t you think in all that time we’d have talked about why we chose to do what we do? I bet Kinsley and Stonecypher have talked about it.”

“And what scintillating stories those would have been,” she replied dryly, recalling their traveling companions to the seminar they’d almost attended in Florida.

“Riveting,” he agreed with a weak smile. “But the point is, if you asked Stonecypher why Kinsley joined the FBI, she’d be able to tell you. We can’t. I don’t know why you’re here with me now instead of chief of pathology at a major hospital somewhere.”

“You never asked,” she said softly, slightly wistfully.

“Neither did you,” he answered. “I don’t know why you didn’t ask but I know why I didn’t. Because then you’d expect me to tell you why I was here. And you’d have said something about justice and duty and honor as the reasons you joined. And I’d have had to lie to you or tell you that I joined hoping to kick a seven-year drug habit.”

She stared at him in stunned silence, at a total loss as to how to respond, not knowing even if she could. A drug habit? No, simply not possible. She wouldn’t have guessed it in a million years. Her mouth firmly refused to form words.

“Well, that was a conversation stopper,” he said with a strange soft bitterness.

She was trying to recuperate, to regain the use of her wits. “I… I don’t know what to say, Mulder.” Her voice was quiet and shaky and she wasn’t quite able to meet his eyes.

“Know what you mean. But it was a big problem for a long time.” He swallowed hard. “Remember way back on our first case in Bellefleur? When I told you how Sam’s disappearance destroyed our family?”

Scully nodded, her heart filling with anguish about what Teena Mulder had told her. She knew more about that time in his life than he thought she did. But she only knew what it had been to his mother, not what it had been to him.

“Well, when I said it destroyed our family,” Mulder continued. “I was painting a rosier picture than what actually happened. There are worse things than destruction. At least with destruction, it’s over. Sam’s disappearance… it wasn’t really like destruction, it was more like… like it gnawed at us. A constant gnawing for years and years that never stopped. Samantha wasn’t dead. We couldn’t bury her and go on. She was just gone, missing. And I was the one who was there and I couldn’t tell them anything and I didn’t try to stop it.”

“Mulder, you were just a kid,” she protested, her hand reaching out to touch his face.

“No wait, Scully.” He stopped her hand, pressing it between both of his and drawing it to his lap. “I know. I was just a kid and it wasn’t my fault. I know that now. Rationally, I know it. But the only way this might make sense for you is if you know what it was like at the time. And I need this to make sense for you. I need you to understand why all this happened.

“We weren’t the Cleavers even before Samantha was taken. But then, who was? My dad worked a lot, was away from home a lot. Most of my friends’ dads were away a lot. We lived on Martha’s Vineyard and lots of dads worked in Boston. But when he came home, he did dad stuff. Played ball, took us swimming, looked at our homework. We went on vacations. I know now that he and Mom weren’t close, but at the time they were just Mom and Dad. I didn’t have anybody else to compare them to. At least they were still married. Lots of kids I knew had parents who were divorced.”

He sighed. “Anyway, after I lost… after Samantha was gone… I didn’t go back to school that year. I was in seventh grade. After it happened, I had to go to a hospital for a while. A month, maybe. I was never sure. They said it was for my own good. After I got out, they didn’t make me go back to school. Dad hired a tutor and I worked at home. It was okay, I didn’t much care either way. The tutor talked, I listened, I did what he said, Mom cried, and Dad disappeared. That’s what happened in the Mulder household the first year after Samantha was taken.”

“Mulder, I know…” Scully began.

“Scully, please,” he interrupted. “The only way I know how to do this is to plow right through it. This is so hard.”

She nodded and laced her fingers through the hand that was beneath hers. She’d tell him later. Not now. He was hurting enough now. And so was she.

“I had to go back to school the next year. It was bad, like I knew it would be. I was the kid whose sister disappeared. That was bad enough to keep most of the kids away. A little while later, some of them started saying that maybe I’d killed her myself.”

“Oh, Mulder, no.”

“They were kids, Scully,” he said with a weary grimace. “You know kids say the first thing that falls out of their mouths. The teachers for the most part were okay, although I think there might have been one or two who thought maybe there was something to the rumors. Chilmark was a very small place. Kids just didn’t disappear and I was the last one to see her. The worst part was that I couldn’t tell them for sure that they were wrong. I had absolutely no memory of what happened that night. They told me I got the gun out and didn’t fire it, so I knew I didn’t shoot her. But other than that, I didn’t know what happened. I’d see my mom looking at me, waiting for me to come up with something, anything that might help them find her. And my dad…”

“I know,” she said softly and he nodded gratefully.

“Let’s just say he was disappointed in me. Anyway, this goes on for a few years, till I turned sixteen. Mom and Dad got me a car for my birthday—a brand new blue Trans Am. Never let it be said that Bill and Teena Mulder’s son didn’t have stuff.” His tone was caustic and sardonic. “At least the car gave me somewhere to go besides school and home. I did okay in school as far as work goes. Eidetic. Read anything once and it was always there, so I didn’t have to study much to get good grades. So mostly I just drove around the island. The Vinyard was beautiful, Scully, but it’s pretty small. Used to skip school sometimes. Take the ferry to the mainland and drive up to Boston. Nobody ever said much about it. The school never turned me in to my parents as far as I know. Or maybe they did and my parents just didn’t say anything. I showed up when there were tests and to hand stuff in. I got good grades and people left me pretty much to myself.

“So I’d drive around the island, go up to Boston, anywhere to keep from having to go home. Started hanging around in the area around Boston University. Usually I’d park and just walk around. There were always lots of people, nobody paid too much attention to me. Found a club where they weren’t too careful about who they served. Met a few people, people who didn’t know anything about me, who didn’t think I killed my sister. We’d have few beers, go out into an alley somewhere and smoke a joint. And it made things okay. Things were funny, there were people to laugh with. Shit, there hadn’t been a decent laugh in our house since Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. So I kept going back, driving home from Boston loaded to the gills. I have no idea how I kept from wrapping that car around a tree on some of those road trips. Got any tea left?” He made a dry, smacking noise with his mouth.

Scully looked at the cup still in her hand. “It’s cold,” she said, handing the cup to him.

“Doesn’t matter.” He tipped his head back and drank the last of the tepid liquid. He took a deep breath, rolling the empty cup back and forth between his hands. “So eventually my new friends told me how I could get dope, too. Guess I looked like a prime target—kid with a nice car, no friends, money. I had a lot of money pretty much all the time. A lot for a kid anyway. My dad would cap off a forty-five minute tirade about what a fuck-up I was by giving me a couple hundred dollars. Mom would leave fifty for me on the counter with my breakfast before I went to school. There was this big long period where she and I only talked by note. I’d wake up, find the money, eat my breakfast. Then when I got home, there’d be a note telling me whatever meeting or social thing she was at and what there was to eat in the refrigerator. I’d eat something, write a note about whatever mythical friend I was supposedly spending time with and split. By the time I got home, she’d already be in bed and the whole process would start all over again the next day. She gave me money to be invisible. But with my dad, I had to work for it. No bucks unless I made myself available for mental abuse. It was like a job. Other kids had paper routes or worked at the Sack ‘N’ Save. I got paid better.” His tone held an aching bitterness that tore at her heart. And she wished she could tell him that he’d misinterpreted what happened. That his pain had amplified and distorted what he had been feeling. But she knew the truth of what he said from what Mrs. Mulder had told her.

“So one day at school, I decide to sneak back behind the field house and smoke the joint I’d taken to carrying around in my wallet. To my surprise, I found that there were other kids there with the same idea. At first, they didn’t trust me. I was the honor roll kid who may or may not have killed his sister. By that time, the honor roll thing pissed them off more than the possibility that I’d killed my sister. But after a while, they saw that I pretty much always had primo smoke and, voila, instant friends. I finally actually did have friends to write notes to my mother about. So I’d make the run to Boston, sometimes with my new buddies and a couple of girls, and we’d bring back the goods. Before I know it, I’m selling the goods to my new friends. Unfortunately, this gets me in trouble with the only real drug dealer in Chilmark because I’m undercutting him royally. I wasn’t in it for the profits. I just wanted to win friends and influence people. So this drug dealer guy catches up with me and beats the snot out of me and tells me to quit undercutting him. I figured, what the hell, it wasn’t worth getting my balls cut off for. So I quit selling dope and started buying it from him, too. And surprisingly enough, he had higher quality product.”

Scully hated the mordant nonchalant tone he’d adopted, but he continued, not recognizing her despair.

“Well eventually I graduated, top of my class. Gave the valedictory speech so high I could barely find the podium, but the stoners—the ones who graduated—were on their feet. For them it was like local boy makes good. I was like a mascot or something. So I applied to BU and got accepted. I already knew people there. Spent the next two years partying—a lot. I went to classes most of the time. It wasn’t much harder than high school and the reading material was better. They even gave less of a shit if I showed up and I think that might actually have been what made me go. Anyway, I’d go to classes, spend an hour or so with the books, then party into the small hours of the morning. I learned that you could get going after a hard night with just a little snort of coke in the morning, a refresher during the day, a little more with drinks at night. Then if I smoked a little dope, I’d get hungry enough to actually eat and then I could sleep some. Money might not be able to buy happiness, but it can buy all kinds of numb. And sometimes that’s enough.” He tried, unsuccessfully, to smile at her.

“I’d go home for a weekend to see Mom every five, six weeks. Mostly to sleep off the rest of my life and detox a little. I’d get home real early on Saturday morning—drove back after the clubs closed. Then I’d sleep for like fourteen hours. Get up and take Mom someplace for dinner. Then I’d sleep another ten hours or so. Wake up and Mom would cook something. While we ate she’d ask how my studies were going. I’d tell her fine, help her clean up the dishes and drive back to Boston on Sunday night. Start partying again the next night. Every now and then I’d hit a weekend where Dad was home. He’d express the opinion that he was sure I was just fucking off and wasting his money—which was true—give me some money and send me on my way. But he must have been on time with the tuition payments because they didn’t kick me out of school.

“Declared psych as a major mainly because I didn’t have any better ideas. And maybe because I thought that I could learn something that would help me remember what happened to Samantha. Even with everything else, I got good grades and won a fellowship to Oxford at the end of my junior year. Three years. It was a big deal, a prestigious fellowship. And somewhere in the fog of my brain this voice says that this could be a chance. I was so sick of my life, Scully. The drugs, the people—the friends I had as long as I had dope, feeling like shit all the time, the obligatory visits home. The drugs made me feel like shit, but they made everything else at least bearable. It was like I was handcuffed on a treadmill set at a speed just slightly faster than I could run. Then the fellowship came along and I thought maybe if I got away, got to a different place… I went home that weekend to tell Mom and Dad about it, for some reason thinking they’d be proud. Mom managed a that’s nice, Fox and Dad didn’t even look up from the newspaper when he asked when I’d be leaving. That pretty much clinched the decision to go to England.”

He looked down at her and saw the sorrow and pain she knew must be written in her expression. “Scully, don’t look at me that way. It’s just something that happened. Listen, I’m gonna go in and get something to drink. You want anything?”

“There’s some orange juice in the fridge,” she said. “A glass of that would be nice.” He started to get up but she stopped him with a hand on his arm. “I don’t mean to look at you in any particular way, Mulder, but it hurts me to know you were in so much pain.”

“I know. But I’m not telling you this to… This is part of why I couldn’t tell you this. It’s so fucking pathetic. To be so stupid, so… weak.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him he wasn’t weak. But even though she believed that with all her heart, she knew that saying it would sound like some kind of automatic dismissal. And an off the cuff denial from her would not eliminate the belief on Mulder’s part.

“You don’t have to keep this up,” she said softly. “Not for me. Who you were then isn’t as important as who you are now. Don’t think you have to do this for me.”

“You’re the only one I’d do this for,” he replied simply. “When I was in the hospital, I swore to myself that I’d tell you everything if you’d let me. It’s still your call. But I don’t know any other way to explain Diana to you than this. I promised you an explanation and this is all part of it.”

“Do you want to?” she asked.

“What?” He looked at her, perplexed.

“Are you telling me this because of a promise you made in a letter or because you really want to?”

He looked down at his hands as he thought about her question. “Yeah,” he answered looking up at her again.

“To which part?” she asked. She didn’t know why this was such a vital question to her, but it was.

“Both,” he replied, standing up. “I’m probably way past the statute of limitations on the promise. And I am a sorry son of a bitch that it took this to get me to this point, but I want to keep it. I promised you and right now there’s nothing more important than that. But it’s gotta be what you want, too. I’ll be right back.”

She watched him go back into the cabin, his bare feet making little splatting noises on the wood of the deck, and she thought about what he’d told her. And about what she might yet hear. And suddenly she realized that this wasn’t about Diana, and maybe never was. Yes, she was curious about her, but the idea of her existence didn’t sting nearly as much as the fact that Scully hadn’t known about it. But now, sitting here under the stars, it wasn’t so much Diana she wanted to know about as Mulder. And how she, herself, fit into this sad, dark tale—the tale he was tearing from his soul to give to Scully.

At the same time, it scared her, too. What if what he told her changed her belief in him? What if he wasn’t who she believed he was? She’d stayed at his side for seven years—had seen things, had lost so much—in part because of the man she believed Mulder to be. Could she take the risk of allowing him to say something that would completely invalidate everything that had happened to her?

Yet he was tearing it from his soul to give it to her. How could she not accept it? She needed to hear it and maybe, just maybe, he needed to say it just as much.

Mulder came back a few minutes later with two large tumblers filled with orange juice. Handing one of them to her, he sat beside her and touched his glass briefly to hers. She drank deeply, relishing the cold tartness of the juice, then set it on the table beside the glider. Setting his glass aside, he turned to her taking a deep, shaky breath.

She could see his determination not to look away, to face her while giving her the worst of his life, to lay it out before her. And she knew how difficult that was for him, how difficult it would be for her when her turn came, as surely it must. She reached to the back of his neck and pulled his head toward her to touch his forehead with hers. “This isn’t an interrogation, Mulder, and nothing you say will be used against you.” She touched his cheek gently, then turned and leaned against him, drawing his arms around her. “So Agent Mulder, whatever made you decide to join the FBI?”

+++++

Chapter Three

Turning slightly, he moved to shift her more closely against him, wrapping one arm around her waist and the other across her chest to pull her to him. He felt her hands come up to grip his forearm and he swallowed past the lump in this throat. She would listen, would forgive him, wretched and blessed as he was. If he were to search for evidence of a Benevolent Being, Scully would be the only plausible proof he’d ever seen. And she was a pretty convincing argument in favor. Her continued presence in his life—her compassion, her strength, her love—should probably qualify for miracle status. She’d saved him yet again. He could tell her.

“More than a thousand times,” he whispered, his voice steady and low next to her ear and she gave his arm a squeeze.

“I went to England and for the first year or so, I stuck to my resolve. I wasn’t using, only went out for an occasional beer, went to class, actually studied. I was doing work in abnormal and criminal psychology. It was interesting and I was doing well. But I was so lonely I thought I’d go out of my mind. I didn’t know anybody, living in a drafty third floor walkup. I… I didn’t know how to make friends who didn’t want me to give them dope. Christ, I even started missing those fun-filled weekends at home.” Her fingers were tracing light patterns through the fine hair on his forearms, slow and random, and the motion was soothing, almost hypnotizing.

“I guess I was just going stir crazy but I decided that it would be okay to go to London, check out a club or two. I felt like I had a handle on it. Who could have known that I’d meet Phoebe Green that night? You’ve met her, you know what she’s like, so I can spare us both a lot of ugly detail. I’d never known anyone like her. At least no one who would have given me the time of day. She was incredible to me then, wild and irrepressible. But she made it clear from the start that I was not the most important thing in her life. I didn’t expect to be. I’d never been the most important person in anybody’s life. Wouldn’t even have known how to do it. It was enough that she let me be there. She was like an event, you know? Funny, she was studying criminal law yet she seemed to know every drug dealer around and places you’d never believe existed. She knew about Asian opium dens and one time she took us to this upscale shooting gallery—where the well-to-do junkies went. Luckily for me, some last ditch survivalist instinct kicked in and told me that heroin was probably not something I should consider taking up. She didn’t do any that night either. So we just walked through, stoned on one thing or another, and watched other people shoot up. Freaked me out, Scully. Scared me straight for almost a week.

“I don’t even remember how it happened, but we ended up living together my last year at Oxford. If you could call it living together. Couldn’t depend on her for shit. She might come home at night, maybe not. Those nights away, I knew where she was and what she was doing. She never made any secret of it, or why she did it. She said she loved me but that I wasn’t… enough. I didn’t… I didn’t satisfy her all the time. But it wasn’t like that all the time. Sometimes things were good between us, and we’d laugh and talk. She was so bright. But then, all of a sudden she’d be off again and most of the time, I didn’t understand why. She was unpredictable and exciting and didn’t ask anything of me, which was perfect because I had nothing to give. But still it felt like something. There was somebody there at least some of the time. I liked having her stuff around—stockings hanging in the bathroom, little bottles of nail polish all over the place. They made me feel real somehow, like I had a life. I got that feeling from her stuff but never from her.”

She was so quiet he could barely hear her breathing. He had no idea what she thought about what he was telling her. His arms were still wrapped around her shoulders, crossed in front of her. But her hands now rested, folded and still in her lap. But as wonderful as she felt, warm against his chest, he wished he could see her face, her eyes. Had she chosen this seating arrangement on purpose, so that she wouldn’t give her feelings away to him? She hadn’t asked him to stop, so he supposed she wanted him to go on.

“I was back to the same old routine—get loaded, go to classes, get loaded, find whatever party or club looked promising, get loaded, and go home. Sometimes I’d get phone calls from my Dad—at different times of the day and night, almost as if he couldn’t figure out the time difference. Usually he was tanked, which was okay because I was pretty much always tanked, too. He’s the one who told me about the divorce, and sometimes if he was loaded enough, he’d tell me how he felt about it. Sometimes it was almost like we talked during those phone calls. Sometimes it seemed like he missed me, but I was never sure it wasn’t just the booze.” He felt her nod against his chest.

“And Phoebe? I wanted to be enough for her, but I didn’t know how. I mean, where do you learn…? Even with my new chummy drunk buddy father, I couldn’t… The nights she was gone would make me crazy. But I couldn’t blame her, either. I wasn’t enough. So on the nights she was gone—and believe me, there were plenty of them—I started renting tapes. Shit, I hadn’t had that many experiences before Phoebe. Loaded gropings mostly. It just started as a way to see what I was doing wrong.”

“Purely educational, huh,” Scully said and he could hear the smirk in her voice. She moved her hand from her lap and gently grazed the skin of his leg, her nails raking the wiry hair there momentarily before returning to rest on her own leg. He shivered at the sensation, not knowing quite how to interpret the gesture.

“At first,” he responded quietly. “And it seemed to help some sometimes. Other times she just laughed and told me what movie I was borrowing from. But sometimes it worked. Enough so that I kept watching and trying. The guy at the video store knew me, started saving the good ones for when I came in. One day he gives me one that he was supposedly made locally and pretty hot. Imagine my surprise…” He paused, amazed at how much this still hurt, how much he still didn’t want to talk about this.

He felt her become rigid against him and gasp with realization. “Oh God, don’t tell me…”

“You guessed it, Scully. The star of this locally made, pretty hot vid was none other than Phoebe Green. Wearing a necklace I’d given her so that I couldn’t even delude myself into thinking she did it before we met. Hey, at least she had the decency to use a fake name. But I was fairly certain it wasn’t to spare me any embarrassment. More to try and protect her inheritance. Just another adventure for the bored little rich girl. So I watched the video and she was so into it, making faces, making noises like she never made when we were together.”

“Mulder,” Scully interrupted. “It’s not like the people in those movies are really having the time of their life. I can’t imagine that they’re an accurate gauge of sexual satisfaction.”

“Don’t wreck the illusion, Scully,” he said with a bitter chuckle. “No, I get that now. But at the time I was twenty-four years old and watching a porno movie starring my supposed girlfriend doing the horizontal bop with a pretty amazing variety of strangers, and looking and sounding like I’d never been able to make her look or sound. Then there’s the matter of how many other men had watched that video, seen and heard her doing things I’d never been able to make her do? But you want to know what’s really sick? I watched the video all the way through to see what it was I might be able to do that would be enough.”

Too much information! his mind screamed. You are so pathetic, Mulder. Isn’t she going to be overjoyed that she fell in love with you? He couldn’t help thinking she should reconsider, and he hated himself for his doubt—not in Scully because the part of him that knew Scully understood that she wasn’t reconsidering. His doubt, as it always had been, was in himself. He wished again that he could see her eyes, but he didn’t know if he could move them.

“So,” he continued because he didn’t know what else to do. “True to my nature as always, I didn’t bring it up to her. We never talked about her foray into film, not even whether it was a one-time event. Meanwhile, I’m doing major internal damage control in the rationalization area. After a while, I had myself convinced that it was a cry for help. That she just needed me to get her out of the kind of life we were leading. It was my last year at Oxford and I just assumed that I’d stay in England. Things were okay between us right then. Except for the porno movie thing, but I was going to save her from all that. Oh, and me being stoned all the time. But getting out would fix that, too. All I needed was a plan. Figured I’d find a job, she’d graduate the next year. We’d both have jobs then and we’d be able to afford a better place, get away from the low-lifes who inhabited our universe. No shit, I’m making all these plans. Stoned to the bejeezus, no idea what kind of good jobs we’re going to have, but making plans. So I go home one day to tell her about all these wonderful plans—a middle of the day surprise—and of course, find her in bed with some guy—and another woman. The only possible ending to this whole thing we’d had. She, being Phoebe, had absolutely no reaction to my discovery other than mild irritation at being interrupted.

“And I… I don’t know how to explain this. It really wasn’t so much that I was mad about what she was doing. It was more that I was mad that I should have been mad and really wasn’t. But anyway, she gives the you’re being annoying look and I start sputtering I thought, I thought… And she says—I’ll never forget this, she says—*What did you think, Fox? That we were going to have a house with a pretty little rose garden somewhere? Is that what you thought? Is that what you want?* And suddenly I realized that I didn’t have the first idea what I wanted. Not even a clue. All I knew in that moment was that I didn’t want my life the way it was. I got my stuff and went to the airport. Had to wait six hours at Heathrow to get a flight to Boston. Called my father from the airport and he said he’d pick me up. Isn’t home the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in?” He turned in his seat to rest his back against the arm of the glider, pulling her with him and nestling her into the V of his legs. One of his feet still rested on the porch and he used it to keep moving them slowly back and forth.

+++++

Scully looked behind her briefly to see him staring off into the distance, his eyes unfocused. He didn’t notice her scrutiny as he gently massaged her shoulders his thumbs rubbing drowsy mindless patterns on her shoulder blades. It felt exquisite, as she’d known it would every time she’d stared at his hands and allowed herself to imagine this, and she leaned into his massage with a sigh and listened as he continued.

“The father who came to pick me up wasn’t the schnockered old man I’d been talking to on the phone. This was my cold-as-the-light-of-day sober father standing just to the side of the group waiting for us to get off the plane, far enough away so that I’d be sure to see him when I came out of Customs. He’s standing there ramrod straight and I walk up to him—scrawny, exhausted, three days worth of beard, and nursing a withdrawal headache the size of Cleveland. He doesn’t say a word to me all the way to the car, all the way out of the parking area. Finally, he asked me if my mother knew I was home and I told him no. He said I was to call her and say I was still in England. Then he said that I could live in the apartment above his garage until I got myself cleaned up and some decisions made about my life, but that I couldn’t see my mother until I wouldn’t disgust her as much as I disgusted him.”

Scully recalled telling Mrs. Mulder that she hoped Bill Mulder was rotting in hell. She wanted to amend that sentiment, but nothing that she could think of would be a horrible enough fate for Mulder’s father to face for eternity. “Mulder…” she tried to interrupt him.

“Wait,” he said softly. “My father made a lot of mistakes, Scully, but in that case, he was right. I was nearly twenty-five years old and going to live at my father’s house, so strung out for so long that I was having those little withdrawal tremors—not the big ones like from heroin. Just those little ones you can pass off as chills. But the point was, I had no plans. Just a useless degree from an impressive university. I couldn’t practice. I couldn’t presume to give guidance to anyone else when my own life was so fucked up. And research? I think you know how well suited I would have been to that. I remember wondering briefly how much they paid at the Sack ‘N’ Save. Nearly twenty-five years old. It was time to stop blaming my past for what I’d become. It was time to get over it.”

She leaned to the side so that she could look up at him. “Get over it?” she repeated. “You’re were a psychologist—you are a psychologist. Where did you think all that pain you didn’t express was going to go?”

She saw a sad knowledge in his eyes that she’d seen there before, but hadn’t known for what it was. “I think we both know where it goes, Scully, and I hope maybe someday you’ll tell me.” His tone was wistful and completely non-accusatory. Her face still tilted towards his, he bent and gave her forehead a gentle kiss.

“Yes,” she whispered, sealing her part in the promise that Mulder had already begun to keep. He sighed and pulled her against him and she felt him rest his cheek in her hair a while. “What happened then?”

“So Dad lets me into the garage apartment and I don’t see him again for three days. Three days of sweating and shaking and sleeping and drinking gallons of water and taking aspirin by the fistful. Three days of wondering what kind of man lets a woman like Phoebe walk in and take over his life. Three days of wondering why I hadn’t been enough for her—never, right from the start—and why that had been acceptable to me. No answers, just hundreds of questions. And you want to know something really pathetic? I missed her. At least when we lived in the same place, I could pretend some of the time that I wasn’t alone. I had a lot of time to think between the shakes and the sweats. I knew… I knew that the people I’d caught her in bed with were probably just two more in a long chain of extracurricular partners. But sometimes it was me, she was with me. And maybe if I’d been better or more… But I didn’t know what to be better or more at, how to get to be enough. For her, for anybody. I didn’t know what was missing.” He sighed, frustrated with his inability to explain to her what he’d felt during that time.

Of course, he would have believed that the inadequacy was with him. And at the time, probably a great deal of it was. But he wouldn’t have been able to see Phoebe’s machinations for what they were, blinded by his own shortcomings. Scully had had Phoebe Green’s number from the first words out of her mouth. She hadn’t known Mulder for very long when Phoebe had come into their lives ostensibly looking for Mulder’s help on a case and Scully remembered wondering at the time how he could ever have been involved with such a condescending, manipulative woman. She’d chalked it up to the fact that Phoebe was long and willowy and Mulder was a man who appreciated those attributes. She hadn’t known him well then. At the time, Scully had bought into Mulder’s studied nonchalance. If she saw the same actions and expressions in Mulder now that she had seen during Phoebe’s visit, she’d have known that this woman from his past had meant more to him than he’d let on to Scully then. She understood now—he’d desperately wanted to prove to Phoebe that he’d grown, that he was competent, that he was enough. But even after all those years, Phoebe couldn’t let him do that. She brought him face to face with his greatest fear and he’d failed the test. Not just in front of Phoebe, but it front of his new partner as well. Phoebe was probably pleased as punch to have had the extra bonus of humiliating Mulder in front of Scully. She’d taken an instant disliking to Phoebe when she first met her, but now she felt a particularly vehement loathing toward her that was particularly pleasing to allow herself to feel.

He shook his head as if to clear his thoughts, and continued. “Anyway, my father came back about three days later with some food, which was just about the time I could stand to look at it. While I ate, he told me that I had two months to clean up my act. My father is probably the only person in all of 1986 to use that phrase. Clean up my act because in two months, I’d be entering the fall training class for the FBI. And that I’d better whip myself into shape physically, or the training program would kill me. He put a couple brochures on the table and left.”

“Your father got you into the FBI?” she asked with quiet incredulity.

“Yeah,” he admitted sheepishly.

“What about the entry process and all the interviews and stuff. What about the drug testing? It would have been longer than two months before you’d test clean.”

He shifted uncomfortably. “On the wall of my dad’s study in the house in West Tisbury is a picture of my father and George Bush—you know, former president, former Director of the CIA. It was taken at my father’s retirement party. At the same party were Ted Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, and Bob Dole. It’s where I met Senator Matheson for the first time. My dad played tennis with Bush a couple times a month. They went way back. It wasn’t too hard for him to get his errant son into the Bureau.”

Her eyes widened in shock. “Geez, Mulder. I never knew. You told me you were recruited in.”

“I knew you, what, three or four days when I told you that? What was I supposed to say? The guy who was vice president when I joined got me in? Way more information than I was ready to share with you at that point.”

“Understandable,” she conceded. “Then what?”

“I cleaned up my act. Bill Mulder had spoken. It was sort of like when a judge sentences a guy to either doing time or enlisting in the army. I didn’t have a viable alternative, so I figured, what the hell. So I ran, swam, found a set of weights in the garage and started using them. I ate all that crap you’re always on me about eating now. No drugs, no booze. I even planned my run routes to avoid passing any bars. And I got into shape. Went to see my mother and it was okay. Not exactly June and The Beave, but okay. I told her I was joining the Bureau, and she seemed pleased about it. I’d see my dad every now and then when I was out running and he’d drive by. I lived above his garage and I never saw him. Till one day when I’d been there about three weeks and he dropped by to give me some pointers on weightlifting. From my father that was an almost embarrassing gush of emotions and neither one of us knew what to say after that. I saw him watching out the window when the shuttle came by to take me to the airport when I left for Quantico.

“Quantico was what I needed, Scully, just the discipline of it. After Samantha disappeared, there wasn’t anything like a routine in our lives and my only goal was to stay invisible. But at the Academy, I had stuff to do, places to be at certain times, goals I had to meet and I had to do it. And the physical part didn’t kill me and I started to feel pretty good, but it was tough. But there were other people—men and women there from all over the country—going through the same thing I was. They didn’t know anything about me, but we had this incredible shared experience. I’d never had anything like it before. Academically, it was okay except for the section on profiling. That was incredible to me, that it was possible to figure out a person down to minute details just by careful examination of evidence and an understanding of human nature. Remember Romano from the Academy? Was he still teaching when you were there?”

“Yeah,” she answered. “He was one of my instructors for the profiling section. Very strange man, very intense. But then, that section wasn’t one of my favorites.”

“Man, Romano was great.” Mulder’s tone was soft and far away. “Incredible profiler, incredible teacher. He said things that tied together so much of what had confused me about abnormal psych in college. I asked and he gave me some old case files that had been solved by the profile and I read ‘em over and they all made perfect sense to me. Remember the unsolved case assignment?”

“Yeah, the one where they give everybody a copy of a case file on a case that was still pending and have them write a monograph on it. We got like five days to write it up, right? I remember how panicked I was when I hadn’t even started writing by the third day.”

Mulder chuckled. “Yeah, that one. My class got the Monty Props case. Romano hands out the files at the beginning of class. I looked through the file and thought it was some kind of mistake. I didn’t understand how anyone could be confounded by this case. I wrote the profile in class, typed it up that night and turned it in to Romano the next day. He read it, got it to the Behavioral Sciences guys and they got Props two days later. They got him before the assignment was due.”

She’d always wondered if the Monty Props myth were true, but had never asked him about it, and she wondered why she hadn’t. Or why she’d never seen the commendation he had received for his part in profiling the perp. Had he been so afraid of revealing the bad things in his life that he hid the good things? Or did he think he didn’t deserve the good things?

The swing creaked beneath them and it seemed to blend with Mulder’s soft and distant tone. It almost seemed to Scully as if he were talking to himself, yet at the same time, so close to her ear that it felt like he were inside her head. “After Quantico, I was assigned to Violent Crimes. It was okay, it was good. I came out of the Academy solid and they seemed glad to have me there. Just general field stuff at first but the brass considered me someone to watch. Used to watch me for good things. Jerry Lemana was my partner, working for Reggie Pardue. I guess it was during that time that I stopped seeing my job with the Bureau as a way station until I figured out what I really wanted.”

She looked at him, surprised. “That’s how you went into this?”

“Yeah,” he admitted. “I figured I’d join, stay long enough to make my father think I’d given it a shot, and buy some time till I could figure out what I really wanted. Then come to find that maybe the Bureau was what I really wanted. It was good. I’d gotten a hot assignment after the Academy—everybody wanted to be in DC. Work was new and interesting. I wasn’t Spooky yet, just Fox, and nobody even made much fun of that. Went out for a beer or two with my fellow agents couple times a week. Dated a few women here and there. Nobody long enough that they found out that I wasn’t enough. Up and comer and all-around fun guy.”

“Until John Barnett.” He sighed deeply and backed away from her slightly—an unconscious motion that Scully was immediately aware of. She understood. She knew some of this story, although obviously not everything there was to know of it. She knew how it had affected Mulder for years, probably still. Settling back against him, she was unwilling to let him move off into himself, and he tightened his arms around her as if she were what was keeping the past from swallowing him whole. “You already know the story, Reggie showed you the tape. You saw what happened.”

Scully wanted to tell him that it wasn’t his fault but it would be pointless because he’d been told that all along. Nothing that anyone had said had convinced him that he’d done the right thing in following Bureau procedures. And there was nothing she could say that wouldn’t come out sounding like a mindless platitude.

He continued. “I’d never been involved in anything like that before. I’d just been doing basic fieldwork. Never had my gun out of the holster outside of the firing range. They try to prepare you for it at the Academy—firing range, doing the Alley, simulations. But they just can’t. They can’t prepare you for what it feels like when you do it for real—when you’ve got your real gun drawn, going into a real dark place after a real guy who’s already killed a lot of real people. Know what I mean?”

She gave a weary snort. “Yeah, I think I have an idea.”

“Oh, God, of course you do. I wish you didn’t know it as well as you do.” He hugged her close, enfolding her in his arms. “Well this was the first time for me and I was scared shitless. All I could think was, What am I doing here? What the hell am I doing here? As I passed around the back of the truck to try and get in position behind Barnett, my heart was beating so loud I couldn’t believe Barnett couldn’t hear it. And I got up right behind him, Scully. Not more than six feet away. I had a clear shot. Once in the head before he could even move. But I didn’t take it and Barnett killed Steve Wohlenberg.”

Scully turned in his arms so that she could see his face, his eyes. “Mulder, I can’t tell you anything different than anyone has ever told you, but you acted in accordance with Bureau procedures. You did what they taught you to do. You don’t endanger the hostage.”

“The hostage was the accomplice,” he insisted.

“It doesn’t matter who the hostage is,” she shot back. “You don’t endanger the hostage. That’s the rules.”

“Yeah, that’s what everybody said and I wanted to believe it. But I knew the truth. I wasn’t standing there with the gun at Barnett’s head reciting the rules and regs to myself. I wanted to shoot him. The son of a bitch had already killed seven people and he didn’t care who he took out there. I was going to shoot him. And I froze. But nobody else seemed to see it that way and I could have let the by the book thing ride until I went to the funeral and saw Cindy Wohlenberg and their two sons—Chip was six and Bubba was four. And Cindy had had to tell them that their father wasn’t coming back. I couldn’t look at them and keep lying to myself. I couldn’t pull the trigger on the murderer and as a result, two little boys were going to have to grow up without a father. I froze and wrecked Steve Wohlenberg’s family just like I froze when they took Samantha and ruined my family.” His voice was thick with the memory of how that moment of realization had felt, still felt, and he lowered his head in a shame he hadn’t been able to escape for more than a decade.

Scully swallowed hard and tried to meet his eyes. “Jesus, what did they do to you?” she whispered, almost to herself.

“Scully, it wasn’t them,” he said tiredly. “It was me. I fucked up. I should have shot Barnett and because I didn’t, he killed Wohlenberg and Reggie Pardue, and he almost killed you. You. I saw him shoot you.” She felt him shudder and draw her closer. “I fucked up. I believed it then and I believe it now.”

His arms dropped to his side and she missed the contact. “And there were other things, too. I wondered if maybe I should have refused the assignment. I hadn’t been sleeping well and I wondered if that didn’t affect what happened. If maybe I was too tired to react well under stress.”

Scully’s brow knitted in confusion. “You already were having trouble sleeping even before Barnett?” He nodded. “How long?”

“It had been going on for quite a while,” he admitted. “Maybe even since Quantico. It’s hard to pinpoint when it started because it was such a gradual thing. At first it was just little episodes of waking up in the middle of the night but I’d be able to go right back to sleep. Started out just a couple times a night, but it got to as many as five or six. Then it got to where I’d wake up and my heart would be racing. I assumed they were nightmares, but I didn’t remember any of them when I woke up. Couple times a night, couple times a week. That’s about where it was when the thing with Barnett came up. Sometimes I woke up in a different place. I’d fall asleep in bed and wake up on the couch. Once I was in the back seat of my car. I felt okay, but I really wasn’t getting much solid sleep. I always wondered if I’d have reported it, seen one of the Bureau doctors…” His voice trailed off.

“Why didn’t you?” She pulled away and turned to face him, but his head was bent, his eyes downcast.

“I don’t know,” he said, bewildered. “It was like… I don’t know. I wasn’t worried about them finding out about the drugs. I’d been clean for a long time. As a psychologist, I knew the symptoms I was having could have been mental as easily as physical. But I still didn’t do it. I’d make up my mind to do it, but then I’d get these feelings—really strong—that I shouldn’t. That I shouldn’t go to a doctor, shouldn’t tell. It was so strong that I never seemed to be able to get past it. I wasn’t supposed to tell. So I didn’t.”

<<don’t tell. don’t ever tell. we’ll hurt them.>> Scully felt a chill of apprehension run down her spine at a memory she couldn’t quite recall.

“I held it together through the funeral, through watching Cindy hold onto the boys like they were the only things anchoring her to the earth. And they didn’t understand any of it. Why they had to sit still and stare at the box with a church full of strangers. I know they couldn’t have understood why their daddy wasn’t there. I understood, though. So I go through the receiving line after the service, my stomach tied up in knots, not knowing what to say to her, how to beg for her forgiveness. And when I get to her, she hugs me and thanks me for coming and tells me how much Steve liked and admired me.”

Scully had to bend to see his face as he continued to refuse to look at her. Although his eyes were closed against them, small flat renegade tears still escaped from the fringes of his eyelashes. As she touched one with the pad of her finger, he flinched as if he had been burned and she pulled her hand away quickly.

He looked up and noted her alarm, her distress, her own unshed tears. He snatched her hand back and brought it to his face, pressing small kisses into her palm. Another of his tears escaped and traced a path to land at her fingertip, where it rested against his cheek. “Oh Scully, I’m sorry. I don’t want you to hurt. I don’t want you to hurt for me.”

“I can’t help it, Mulder. I do. I hurt for you,” she whispered as a single tear slid down her cheek.

“Oh God, let’s just stop this. You were right, it’s pointless.” He pulled her hand from his face and gave her fingertips one gentle kiss before setting her hand back in her lap. “I hurt you and I make you hurt for me.”

She took his hand back and held it in both of her own on her lap. He didn’t pull away and she found herself looking down at it as she toyed aimlessly with his long fingers. He had beautiful hands—graceful and long, even for his height—and she wondered how many times she had wanted to be able to do this, to be free just to touch his hand.

She was quiet for what seemed a long time, trying to sort through the feelings that all of this was bringing up. Feelings she’d buried for years, only poking at occasionally, and quickly covering back up when she found she couldn’t deal with them simply because the pain of them was unbearable.

“Do you hurt for me?” she asked finally, softly.

Mulder had been staring at their hands, too—his face downcast, mesmerized by the languorous movements of her small soft hands over his. He seemed so enthralled by this wondrous sight that he barely heard her when she spoke. “Hmm?” He looked up at her face and she was almost taken aback by his fathomless eyes shimmery in the moonlight.

“Do you hurt for me?” she asked again, her eyes never leaving his. “Do you hurt for what they’ve taken away from me?”

“Yes,” he replied, his voice tight with sorrow, anger and guilt. “Every single day of my life.”

“I know you do. Because you love me. You hurt for me because you love me and I hurt for you because I love you. You hurt for me and I’m so grateful for that because… because so much of the time I can’t hurt for myself. Because there’s too much pain and I just can’t feel it all. I just can’t. I’d never be able to keep going. But there’s so much it just has to be felt. So you take it to your heart and you feel it for me so I can go on. You feel it with the depth it deserves. And that’s why I hurt for you, too. I don’t want not to hurt for you.”

“Is that what we are, Scully? The bearers of each other’s pain?”

She gave him a slight smile, her face contorting somewhat as she struggled to find the words to explain. “Yeah, Mulder, we are. That’s some of what we are. And I’m just beginning to understand what a remarkable thing that is. It’s why… it’s why we’re both still here.”

He looked at her, confused. “I don’t understand.”

She nodded. “For so long now, Mulder, my life has felt like some kind of endless endurance race. Endurance takes strength and as awful as it’s been sometimes, it seemed like the only thing I still had was my pride—my pride in being strong. Being strong, getting back into it time after time, was the only way I could say fuck you to them, to say that they didn’t get to beat me. But I couldn’t have been strong… I wouldn’t get to say fuck you to them if you hadn’t been there to bear my pain. And I’m going to say it someday, Mulder. But I couldn’t have felt all that pain and still be strong, so you did. And I’ve hurt for you. We’ve never talked about it. We take it on in silence and grief and guilt, but we let one another be strong. And we make one another strong. So let me hurt for you, Mulder. I can do it.”

“But there’s no need for it, Scully,” he insisted. “None of what I’m telling you has anything to do with what really happened. There’s some of my pain that you shouldn’t have to bear. The pain of being a complete and utter idiot should be mine. Hearing why I was an asshole doesn’t change the fact that I was.”

She sighed deeply. “If you don’t want to tell me about this because you can’t talk about it, or if it’s something you don’t think I should know, that’s one thing. But if you’re stopping because I hurt for you, that’s bullshit. I know what I can take. And I think we need this, Mulder. On a lot of levels, maybe more than I even know—as partners, as individuals, as whatever it is we become. I have to understand this. You accept that Diana was working against us all along, you know that now, right?”

His voice was cold and bitter. “I know everything about Diana.”

Scully gave an internal sigh of relief. At least that much had come out of this. “They’ve tried so many things to pull us apart, Mulder, and she was the thing that almost did it. I need to know why she was able to do that. I wanted this not to matter so much. I mean, with everything we’re facing… But I need to know as your partner and…” Her voice dropped almost to a whisper as she looked away from him. ” and as the woman you say you love.”

She heard a sharp, painful intake of breath from Mulder as he reached for her shoulders to turn her to face him. With two fingers beneath her chin, he raised her face seeking out her eyes, his brow knitted in anxiety. “Say? Do you doubt that I love you? Do you think I doubt it?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “No, I don’t. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have put it that way. It’s just that for so long I’ve had so many doubts—about myself, about my career, about my value in our partnership, and about you. And I could never figure out why you trusted her over me. I need to know why, Mulder.”

He looked at her, his expression a mixture of incredulity and despair. “I never trusted her over you. Never. I can see how you would think that, but it was never what I felt, I swear. And I apologize, I am so sorry, for all the things I did to make you doubt yourself or who you are to me. There was just so much I didn’t know, couldn’t stand to consider. But I always knew one thing. You are essential, vital, absolutely indispensable to our partnership, our work. I can’t do this without you. It’s not a want to or don’t want to thing. I just can’t. And you are essential, vital, absolutely indispensable to my life. You’re right up there with the big three, Scully—air, food, and water—the things I can’t live without. And I’d give up the other three in a heartbeat for you. I love you with everything I’ve got. I’ve loved you for a long, long time in ways I didn’t even know existed. And I’ll go to my grave loving you. And trusting you. I don’t know how to make it any clearer than that.”

Scully stared at him, not sure if she could speak, ecstatic and awed to see every bit of the love she felt at that moment reflected back to her in his eyes. He made absolutely no attempt to look away, just looked at her with an expression that mirrored his words—one of pure adoration and trust—and she realized what a gift he was giving her. With his words, he had laid bare his heart, had willingly placed it in her hands without hesitation, trusting completely that she would care for it, cherish it, never use it to hurt him. And the feeling of the dissolution of months of doubt was almost a physical thing. They were simply gone, leaving in their place a buoyant elation she’d never felt before in her entire life, a joy and radiance she never would have been able to imagine.

Raising herself slightly, she tucked her legs beneath her to kneel beside him on the glider. She needed to be at his eye level, wanted her face close to his, longed to give him words as beautiful as those he had given her. But she couldn’t. Not because she didn’t have them, but because there were too many words and none of them nearly adequate to express what she was feeling. Reduced to speechlessness, she could only rely on things more basic, more primal. She brought slightly trembling hands up to touch his face, her fingertips barely grazing the skin of his cheeks, stubbly once again with soft whiskers and watched as he struggled to keep his eyes from fluttering shut at her touch, desperate to keep looking at her. Her thumbs descended to lightly support his face as her index fingers traced a gentle line around his mouth, and she could feel his breaths coming shallow and faster. She shivered and her heart quickened as she felt his tongue touch the sensitive skin of her fingertips before closing his mouth around them, suckling them gently. Reluctantly to pull her fingers away, but unwilling to wait any longer, she moved her hands around to the back of his head to thread through the silky strands there, holding him steady as she moved to press her lips to his “I love you,” she whispered as her mouth claimed his.

His hands had come to rest on her hips of their own accord as soon as she knelt beside him. He could feel the warmth of her skin through the thin cotton of her nightgown as his thumbs caressed her hipbones and she touched his face. Light as ocean mist, she ran her fingers over his lips and suddenly he could feel nothing else. There was nothing else anywhere in the universe but that sensation and it nearly overwhelmed him. He could breathe only because he told himself to, but not too much air, nothing to take away from the all the sensations of her. Touch was being overloaded as he moved his hands to her back to pull her to him. Some other sense had to help here. He listened to her, the sound of her sighs, and would almost swear that he could hear her blood coursing through her veins. Or was it his own? Taste, he needed to taste her, and he bought his tongue greedily against her small warm fingertips, his lips following to capture them for himself, forever. But then he relinquished her fingers to receive her kiss. An excellent trade. And her taste—sweet and tangy and brand new, though he knew he’d known it for all time. Too much and not nearly enough, he tasted her again and again. He touched her hair and he knew the feel of the sunset.

She felt his hand bury itself in her hair, his fingers rasping against her scalp at the nape of her neck, and she shivered in delight at the little moaning sounds he was making. His other hand traced the ridges and valleys of her spine, rubbing, kneading, caressing, claiming. Pressed against his chest, she could feel their hearts beat, first his then hers, racing frantically as if trying to catch up with one another. His tongue beckoned and she followed it into his mouth, loving his flavor, his warmth. She’d never kissed, been kissed, like this and it banished all other kisses to positions distant in her memory.

Finally, goaded by their bodies’ biological imperative to breathe, but barely able to stand to do so, they pulled apart a little. Their eyes, dark and glittery, met and held and neither of them could, or wanted to, stop the slow smiles spreading across their faces as their chests heaved, seeking the air that their oxygen-starved lungs had almost given up hope for. Scully hadn’t been aware of the pain in her knees from the hard wooden seat until Mulder pulled her to sit in his lap and she settled in, her chin resting on his shoulder, her cheek pressed against his. He loved the feeling of her snuggled up against him, her warm breath playing through his hair.

“Wow,” Mulder whispered, still trying to regulate his breathing. “The earth really does move. Makes me want to test out all those old cliches.”

“That was fairly incredible,” she agreed, the grin still plastered on her face.

Her smile faded somewhat, though, when she began to think about the fact that he still hadn’t answered her question. He denied not trusting her, he’d told her what he felt. But he hadn’t explained why she would have come to the conclusions she had about them, why Diana had been so important that she’d almost broken them. Scully’s first impulse was to bury the feeling of disappointment, to not let him know about it. But she didn’t want to fall back into that habit. If this was going to work, they had to start saying what they felt, what they needed, no matter how difficult. He had given her so much of himself, but not what she needed. She was about to speak when he beat her to the punch.

+++++

Chapter Four

“I promised you an explanation,” he said, almost as if he could read her thoughts again. “You want me to go on.”

A small shudder of apprehension passed through her and she pulled away slightly. Could he? Could he hear her again? “Did it come back, Mulder?”

“What?” he asked, confused.

His response was her answer and she gave a small sigh of… what? Relief? Regret? “I thought… When you said I wanted you to go on… When you said it, I was thinking it. I thought you could hear my thoughts again. That maybe it came back.”

“No,” he replied. “Still not. Nobody here but me right now, but I wouldn’t have to be the Stupendous Yappi to figure out that you need an explanation. I’d sure as hell want one.”

He lowered his head and she watched him struggle to adopt a mien of grim determination—a look she could only associate with standing outside the confessional awaiting her turn with the priest. She remembered that feeling, apprehension and a vague sense of dread, and she didn’t want that for him. Too many other people in his life had made him feel that.

“This isn’t just about Diana,” she said, raising his head to face her. “I don’t think it’s even mostly about her. I want to know about you, Mulder. It’s time—for both of us.”

He nodded and moved his hands to her hips to coax her off his lap. She knew what he was doing. She wasn’t sure if it was conscious or unconscious, but he was trying to distance her from him during his tale, almost as if he weren’t worthy to touch her. “Don’t,” she protested, refusing to budge. “My ass hurts from sitting on the wood.”

He laughed, relieved that she wanted to stay where she was. So relieved, he could play along. “Like mine doesn’t hurt.”

“Yeah?” she said. “Well, live with it ‘cause I thought of it first and I’m not going anywhere, G-Man.” She snuggled closer and he brought his hands loosely around her waist, rubbing his cheek against her hair. “Next time, you can sit on my lap,” she whispered in his ear and he smiled.

They rocked in a companionable silence for awhile, Mulder trying to formulate words and Scully waiting patiently for him to do so. Finally, he spoke. “They had an official review the day after Steve Wohlenberg’s funeral, like they always do when an agent is shot in the line of duty. Not only did they not put the blame for his death on me, they actually put a letter in my personnel file about my exemplary performance under pressure. I couldn’t believe it, how blind they were, although I was too tired to really analyze the whole thing. I’d hardly slept at all since it happened. Every time I fell asleep, I’d see it playing like a movie on my eyelids. Steve getting shot in the face and falling back—in slow motion, over and over again. Barnett shot his face off, Scully. The Academy can’t prepare you for that, either. And the dreams… the dreams about his family. And the others, the ones I couldn’t remember.” He shuddered and she held him close, rubbing her forehead against his temple.

“On the way home from the hearing, I stopped at a liquor store and bought three bottles of scotch and went on a four-day bender. I told myself I was just going to have a few drinks to help me sleep. But who buys three fucking bottles as a sleep aid? I didn’t make it to work and finally Reggie showed up, dumped what was left of the bottles and got me cleaned up. Said he’d write up my absence as stress leave—nobody would question that—but that I had to see one of the employee assistance program psychologists. I agreed, but only because Reggie insisted. I didn’t want… I couldn’t go in and tell some Bureau shrink what was going on. He’d probably insist on some course of regular therapy and I didn’t want… I’d decided to make a career with the Bureau and I thought it wouldn’t be good for my record to show that I needed therapy not even two years after joining. My record used to mean something to me.” He laughed bitterly.

“Was that the only reason?” she asked quietly. “Your record?”

“I thought so at the time. That’s what I told myself then. I couldn’t operate any deeper than that, Scully. That was as far into me as I could go. So I went to the Bureau shrink, which was fairly pointless. My degree was bigger and newer than his. I knew the questions he was going to ask and the answers that would get me out of there never to return. I answered correctly and he authorized my return to active duty. So I went back to work, regular field stuff with Lemana. But there was this pall over everything, you know? Wohlenberg was gone and everybody missed him so much. And I knew it was my fault even though nobody said anything. And I…” He hesitated, lost in the memory. “I was… I was scared pretty much all the time. Every time we went out, I wondered if we might get into another scene like the one with Barnett. What if I froze again? If it came to gunpoint, whose life would I ruin next? Lemana’s? Somebody else they were stupid enough to pair me with? I thought about it all the time. And it scared the piss out of me. I began to hate my partner. Not really Lemana, but more the idea of having a partner, somebody I was responsible for.

“Pretty soon I was trying to find ways that he and I got only the most mundane cases. Ones that made our fertilizer cases look like high intrigue. This was pissing Lemana off royally because he had ambitions. He was looking for that one fast-track case that would get him a promotion and a transfer to where the action was and I was looking for cases where they wanted us to get cats out of trees. All this time, the sleep thing was going from bad to worse. I was having nightmares—the Barnett thing over and over and the other ones, the ones I never remembered when I woke up. It was a rare night where I slept all the way through. It was hell on my social life. By the time I’d scared a couple of women out of my bed, I pretty much gave up trying. Not that it made much difference. Nobody stayed around long enough for me to care anyway.” He toyed absently with her hair, but Scully had the feeling he wasn’t really aware she was even there, as he looked inward to his past.

“One day Lemana says we have to talk about what’s going on. So after work he drags me to some bar downtown and we first agree that whatever we say stays between us. We then proceed to drink and talk. He tells me about what he wants from his career and I agree and pretend to want the same things. So we’re drinking and I’m pretending because otherwise I’d have to tell him that I didn’t know what the hell I wanted from my career anymore. The Barnett thing changed everything. So he’s wondering why, if I want the same things he does, we’re not getting better cases. He’d been in a couple years longer than I was but he’d heard the “golden boy” stories about me and hoped that would help us get good cases. And we drink some more and I finally reach the point where I’m drunk enough to tell Lemana that I’m nervous about getting back in the field. Even drunk, I couldn’t tell him that nervous really meant scared shitless. And he gives me this inebriated tirade about how everybody is nervous and getting back up on the horse after it throws you. And I’m grinning and agreeing and we’re getting drunker and louder. Finally the bartender cuts us off and calls a cab and I manage to get into my apartment and fall down on the couch and sleep for six hours straight.

“I woke up the next day and actually felt pretty good. No hangover and six hours of real sleep. It had been weeks since that had happened. I stopped on my way home and bought a pint of scotch and had a couple of shots before I went to bed. Slept straight through again. I knew where this could lead and I really tried to keep it in control. Just a couple times a week. I’ve never needed much sleep but everybody needs some. I figured just a couple nights a week and I’d be okay. Never had more than a pint in the house at a time. No more three bottle benders. I don’t know if I was stupid or desperate believing that I could keep a handle on it. I’d seen what the booze had done to my father and my own history should have told me something. But sometimes I just got so fucking tired.”

“You must have known you needed help, Mulder.” She pulled away from her warm cozy spot tucked under his chin to look into his eyes.

He nodded. “I knew. But sometimes you just get frozen with fear. Hell, in my mind I was famous for it. I was afraid to ask for help, Scully. Didn’t even know how to start to ask for it. I thought about going to my doctor and seeing if I could get a prescription for sleeping pills. But I was afraid to do that because I didn’t want to need them. It was like trading in booze for sleeping pills. And I was afraid to go to a shrink because he’d try to make me talk about things I just couldn’t say out loud. At that time, I couldn’t even think them. I was stuck.”

“How long before drinking didn’t work anymore?” As a doctor, she knew that his tolerance would have increased over time to a point where a couple of shots wouldn’t get him to sleep.

“Quite a while, really. I was doing okay till I got transferred to Behavioral Sciences,” he replied quickly. Then he thought about it and shook his head. “That’s not true. I was drinking more and sleeping less, but I still thought I was doing okay. I got to work, I did the job. About a month after Lemana and I had our talk Reggie comes in and tells me I’ve been transferred to BSU with a promotion, working as a profiler. He said it was because of the Monty Props thing, that the higher ups said my talents would be used better there. And I wanted to believe him, but I always wondered if maybe Lemana had requested a new partner, or they wanted to keep me out of the field because they knew I hared out in the Barnett thing.

“But I was relieved, too. I wanted to be out of the field because I’d hared out on the Barnett thing. I’d just do profiles. Field agents would come to me. I wouldn’t have a partner to be responsible for. Profilers work alone. That’s how it works. I mean, there were a whole bunch of us up there on five. We worked in the same proximity but we didn’t work together. So I profiled and it was like it was at the Academy. The Props thing wasn’t an accident. I was good at it right away but being good at it came at a high price. It does to every profiler. Everybody brought us their monsters, the uncatchable ones who did unspeakable things. Bill Patterson used to say at the Academy that you had to get inside their heads. But that wasn’t how it worked for me. I never felt like I was inside them. It was always like they were inside me. Their voices, their thoughts. And sometimes I couldn’t get rid of them. Lots of times. I’d go to a crime scene and know things about a perp just because I could sometimes still hear echoes of him. I’d talk to victims and hear the perp’s voice in their eyes.”

“Hear the voice in the victims’ eyes?” Scully looked at him, confused.

His brow furrowed and he nodded. “I’ve never told anyone about this,” he whispered. “I don’t know how else to describe it. The victims… the ones that survived the monsters and might be witnesses… I’d go to see them and that’s where I learned that sometimes it’s better not to survive the monsters. I’d go see the victims. Seemed like it was always in the hospital and they were in pain and they were absolutely terrified. Of everything. Especially the kids. Sometimes I’d go in and they’d give me these looks of complete and utter terror. Other times, whatever happened to them was so awful, so unbearable that they simply shut down. But I didn’t need them to talk. I just needed to be with them for a few minutes, to see their eyes. And when I did, I knew things the perps had done, had said. I could hear their voices in the victims’ eyes.

“But once I let the voices in, I couldn’t get them out. I’d hear their thoughts constantly, all the time. I really didn’t know that that wasn’t the way it worked for the other profilers. But the only way to get the perp’s voice out of my head was to catch him and start another case—let someone else’s voice in. Start with new crime scenes, new victims. And sometimes the victims’ voices would be there, too. Crying, screaming, begging for mercy. I learned quick in the game that I couldn’t let them in, couldn’t let them be people to me. Sometimes seeing them would feel like I was having my guts ripped out, and their voices, their cries, were to me. I’d leave them and sit in my car for a while, shaking and hearing their screams in my mind. Sometimes the screams would drown out the perp’s voice and I’d miss something and he’d strike again because I hadn’t been fast enough. I couldn’t keep letting that happen. It was tearing me up inside. The victims had to stop being people to me and become tools. It was the only way I could help them, the only way I could stop the voices.” He shifted Scully around on his lap. Thinking that her weight was becoming uncomfortable for him, she tried to move, but he just held her close. She was happy to stay.

“By this time, I could hardly sleep at all between the voices all day and the dreams all night. Two shots before bed wasn’t making it anymore, not even seven or eight. I decided maybe some sleeping pills might help, but I knew my doctor wouldn’t prescribe them without a lot of questions I couldn’t deal with. So I went to this other doctor I heard about—one who didn’t ask a lot of questions—and he kept pills right there on hand. Didn’t even have to go to a pharmacist who’d ask a lot of questions. They seemed to help some and as long as I kept the cash coming, the doctor kept the pills coming.”

“What were you taking?” she asked. Doctors working on the wrong side of the law weren’t above passing off illegal substances they’d made themselves or seriously outdated versions of once-legal drugs that had been removed from the market.

“Didn’t know, didn’t care. They were little, they were blue and I they helped me sleep. After a while, though, one pill wasn’t cutting it anymore. So I started taking two sometimes and I’d wake up the next day feeling like a steamroller had plowed over me during the night. I’d get to the office, feeling like shit, and when I got there I’d find six or seven pending files and agents from all over the country waiting to see me. All of them with some kind of “Spooky Mulder” line and all of them with some kind of maniac they couldn’t get a handle on. So many of them, especially the old timers, thought of profilers as a step above tarot readers, but they were down to their last shot. Sometimes it felt like everybody wanted a piece of me and for every case I solved, there’d be ten more monsters waiting in the wings. I know the exact week I started back on cocaine again. Working eight pending cases, horrible sick mutilations, murders, serial rapists. All unrelated—eight separate cases and the brass wanted them solved and stopped like yesterday. I was working with eight different crime teams, barely sleeping, voices in my head all the time, and everyone from the Director down to ambitious SACs on my ass. I’m going to crime scenes, trying to talk to witnesses and victims. One day I was at three different crime scenes in three different states. Burning up my laptop on planes, then back to DC for debriefings and crime team meetings. After three straight days of this, Mike Warner takes me aside, says I look a little frazzled and that he has just the thing to fix me up.”

Scully’s brow knotted in concern. “Mike Warner? Didn’t he…?”

Mulder nodded. “Committed suicide about three years ago. I bet if you did a historical analysis of profilers, you’d find they have a suicide rate right up there with air traffic controllers. If you don’t get out, the monsters eventually get you. Like they did to Bill Patterson. Warner didn’t get out in time.”

“So Warner took you aside and gave you cocaine?” Scully asked softly, trying to keep her voice neutral and failing miserably.

“Don’t blame Warner, Scully. He didn’t shove it up my nose. He was there, he had it. But if it hadn’t been him, I’m pretty sure I would have ended up there anyway. I was out of ways to cope. And I took back to it like a baby to a bottle. That first hit and I couldn’t even remember why I’d stopped doing it. And suddenly, there was this clarity that just hadn’t been there. I was alert and everything made sense. Went back in and wrote up my profiles. Solved six of the cases over the next four days—exactly the wrong thing to have happen at that point. If I had screwed up the cases, I might have blamed the drugs and maybe gotten some help. The way it was, I credited the cocaine for my success. And I was golden at that point in time. Commendations out the ass. Sleeping pills got me through the night, cocaine got me going in the morning and kept the voices in line. I’d go out with some of the other guys sometimes for drinks, maybe a few hits off a joint. Hell, everybody wanted to be around ol’ Spooky.” He gave a bitter, caustic chuckle.

“And more people wanted a piece of me. More and more agents insisted that only I could work on their cases with them. Even the other profilers would bring me the ones they got stumped on, which surprised me because that was a matter of pride. To admit there were psychos they couldn’t profile… It just wasn’t done. So everybody’s coming at me with files in their hands and monsters in their closets. And nobody seems to notice that Spooky is getting spookier. All the signs were there. Dragging my ass in in the mornings, sudden boosts of energy after coming out of the bathroom, shakes because I couldn’t seem to get warm. And nobody seemed to notice. Nobody except Lemana.”

“Lemana?” Scully repeated.

“Yeah. A couple of months after my “big week” as the boys in the BSU were calling it, Jerry Lemana came by to see me. By that time, he’d already had the incident with the missing evidence that ruined his career and he was doing scut work out of the DC field office. You know, background checks, wiretap surveillance, errand boy.”

She snorted. “The kind of stuff they give you when they’re hoping you’ll quit. Yeah, I’m vaguely familiar with it.” That earned her the briefest of smiles from him and for even that she was grateful.

“So he stops by,” Mulder continued. “And I’m up to my ears in case files, as usual. He takes one look at me and physically drags me away to go have lunch with him. We get to this diner and I’m trying to choke down a hamburger. Cocaine doesn’t do much for your appetite and I’m trying to convince him that there’s nothing wrong with me. But it isn’t working because Lemana is right on me. He can see I’m using and using big time. And there was nothing gentle about how he confronted me about it. I believe he called me a shit-for-brains with my head up my ass and that I better get some help before it killed me. And I unceremoniously invited him to get the fuck out of my life and get back to the urgent Bureau matters he had been assigned to. I accused him of being jealous of me because he had screwed up so bad.”

“Jesus, Mulder.” Scully’s tone was hushed and solemn. Try as she might, she could not imagine Mulder’s voice wrapped around those words. The man he was describing was a stranger to her. Not her Mulder, whose empathy for the victims in the crimes they investigated moved and even frightened her, for it was sometimes too deep. Not her Mulder, who—she knew—saw their partnership as a sustaining thing in his life, despite problems they’d had during the course of it.

“I told you I was an asshole,” he said, his voice strained with shame. “Christ, Scully, he was my partner. I still thought of him that way. He was the only partner I’d ever had and I treated him like shit. The evidence thing wasn’t even his fault, and a judge got killed because of it and I had to rub it in that his career was in ruins.”

Scully nodded in understanding. “That’s why you didn’t say anything when he stole your profile and passed off your ideas as his.”

“Yeah,” he said with a sigh. “I owed him at least that much. After I finished yelling at him, he just stood up and told me I knew where I could find him if I wanted help. Then he paid for lunch—both lunches—and left. Hell, I’d gotten two promotions and three raises since I’d worked with Lemana and he paid for lunch. After he left I thought about what I’d said and it literally made me sick. I barely made it to the alley behind the diner before puking my guts out. But once my stomach settled down, it was disgustingly easy to convince myself that he was full of shit. I didn’t need any help. I was the top Bureau profiler and I had a handle on things. I never saw Lemana again until he came looking for my help on the Wilczyk case. The case where he got killed.”

“Mulder, even you can’t blame yourself for that one,” Scully said softly. “There was no way that was your fault.”

“No, it wasn’t,” he agreed. “Just the final example of Jerry Lemana’s piss-poor luck. He didn’t deserve the things that happened to him. He was a good man and he tried to be a good friend. Unfortunately, I wasn’t ready to have or be a friend in return. Especially to someone who thought I should give up the only thing keeping me going.” He sighed deeply and Scully watched his Adam’s apple bob as he tried to swallow past the lump in his throat.

“So whenever things got slow enough in BSU, some of us would go out after work—Mike Warner, Ricky Ramirez, a couple of the other guys. Club crawling, looking for women. Though I gotta admit, I wasn’t looking too hard. A two-year bout of Phoebe Green, combined with an almost nonexistent self-image and a burgeoning drug habit didn’t do a hell of a lot for my libido. But I went, I got lucky occasionally, though most of the time I could barely remember the women’s names by the end of the evening. Hell, at that point I would have considered it getting lucky if I could have a decent conversation with a woman who didn’t want to show me crime scene photos. Anyway, that’s how I met Diana. It was winter, late November of 1988, right around Thanksgiving.”

“Hold it,” Scully interrupted. “The Gunmen told me you’d dated her after you got out of the Academy.”

He laughed. “I don’t remember ever telling the guys how I met Diana. Wonder how they came up with that one?” He hesitated, looking at her curiously. “When did you ask them about her?”

Shit, busted, she thought, remembering that she hadn’t told him about her initial conversation with Frohike, Byers and Langley. “When she first came back,” Scully admitted. “I had some stuff on Gibson that I wanted them to look at, and I asked them if they knew Diana. Frohike told me she used to be your chickadee when you graduated from the Academy, that she was around when you discovered the X-Files. I shouldn’t have gone behind your back, but I didn’t feel like I could ask you about her. Things were pretty shaky between us then. And suddenly she just appears out of nowhere…”

“Wait, sweetheart,” he interrupted her and she looked at him amazed at the endearment. “You don’t have anything to apologize for. Believe me, I know how things were between us and I don’t blame you for going to the guys to find out things that you needed to know. I should have told you then what I’m telling you now. Hell, even before that. I’m the one who should be apologizing.” He shook his head and lowered his eyes, ashamed to look at her.

But Scully was having none of that. Pressing two fingers beneath his chin she raised his face to make him look at her again. “So tell me now.” He nodded and she prompted him to continue. “So you met Diana in a club…”

“Yeah, some dance club downtown. Loud music, watered down drinks. One of those places where the tables are about a foot in diameter and they expect you to seat eight at the table. The other guys had scoped out their targets for the night and were on the dance floor and I was sitting there wondering if they’d even notice if I left. I was down to my last two cigarettes and didn’t have any change for the machine and I was just plain tired—physically tired, tired of the whole tired club scene.”

“You used to smoke?” Scully asked, surprised.

“Sure,” he replied. “It was just part of the whole abuse my body thing. Guess I could have skipped the cigarettes and just breathed the air in those clubs. Smoky as hell, but I think they meant it to be part of the ambience. So anyway, I’m just about to leave when Diana comes up to the table, cigarette in hand, looking for a light. God, I must have been stoned not to see how cliche that was. But I lit hers and the second to the last of mine and waved to her to sit down. We both do the dance club screaming introduction thing and I signal to the waitress to bring us another couple of drinks and we sip them and lie to each other about how we never go to places like that. Yadda yadda. She was pretty and had a nice smile, so I asked her to dance. We did that for a while, then she looks at her watch and says she has to go, but gives me her number and tells me to give her a call if I ever feel like going someplace quieter. Then she was gone and I left shortly after that.

“Couple of days later, the guys are planning to go out, but I just couldn’t face it again and I wussed out on them. But I didn’t want to go home either, so I ended up calling Diana and she agreed to meet me at a bar in Forest Heights. Quiet, just like she asked for. It was one of those places where they have little furniture arrangements meant to seem like living rooms or something. A post-fern bar fern bar. So we sat there and had a few drinks and actually talked. The lighting in there was different and I could see that she was a few years older than I was—probably five or so—but that didn’t matter. She was smart and funny and actually seemed to want to have a decent conversation without showing me any crime scene photos. She told me she was in the middle of getting her Ph.D. in conventional psychology, but she was just using that to get her into doors where they wouldn’t normally let her in so that she could continue her research in parapsychology. Amazingly enough, I wasn’t so stoned that I just laughed in her face about the parapsychology and the fact that a seemingly intelligent woman would be taken in by that kind of bullshit.”

“You’re so skeptical, Mulder,” Scully kidded him. “No wonder the Stupendous Yappi kicked you out when he was investigating.”

He smiled back at her, and she was relieved to see that it was genuine and unforced. “I was then. But I listened and didn’t make fun of her, even though I think she knew I was dying to. But we talked about a lot of things for a long time. She was charming and well-spoken, we’d read a lot of the same psychology stuff, and I only made one trip to the bathroom for a quick hit of coke, which was pretty good for me at the time. So we talked for a long time and when it was time to leave, she said she lived in the neighborhood and had walked over and I walked her home.”

She interrupted him. “I think we can skip the next part, Mulder.” She could do without details of their sex life, thank you very much.

He nodded, understanding. “We started seeing each other regularly. Work kept up at its usual insane pace and a lot of the time I wasn’t very pleasant company, but she never seemed upset by it. Just sat quietly and waited for me to talk about it which, being me, didn’t happen. But still, I appreciated what she was doing. She became like this little island of normalcy in my life. I was still doing drugs, but never around her and I was pretty sure I was covering myself okay in that area.

“After we’d been seeing each other for a couple of months, I had to go out of town for a week or so on a horrific case I’d been assigned to. Serial murderer of teenagers—both boys and girls—but he’d torture them first. Make little tiny cuts all over their bodies with razor blades, then pour household cleaners, disinfectants, over the cuts. Trying to purify them. He’d do it for days, opening old cuts and adding new ones. None of the cuts were fatal in themselves but eventually he’d do so many that they’d just bleed to death. Fourteen in three midwest states. Eventually we caught a break and found one girl before she died. It was awful. I was awake for days, a madman’s voice in my head, and the victims screaming for mercy. For justice. We got him eventually but I felt like I’d been through the wringer. Worse than usual. Got back to DC and forgot that I was supposed to meet Diana at this bar I usually went to after work. I don’t know if I got the days mixed up or just plain forgot, but I was in the back room with the other regulars and just fixing a line of coke on the table when Diana walked in. Ned, the bartender, just sent her back there when she’d asked if he’d seen me. He didn’t know that she didn’t know. Guess he figured that anybody going out with me would have to know about the volume I consumed. So Diana walks into the back room, and I’m sitting there about to put a fast food straw up my nose when I see her out of the corner of my eye. And she was livid. I didn’t even know she had that kind of anger in her. She comes up to the table and sweeps the whole pile of coke onto the floor—two hundred dollars worth—smacks me across the face and turns on her heels and leaves the bar. I ran after her, I think maybe to yell at her for dumping my coke. And she let me have it—verbally this time—and said it wasn’t fair to expect someone else to care for me when I didn’t care for myself.”

His voice dropped to a tone barely above a whisper. “Her words just stopped me short. I realized that I’d never—not since I was twelve years old—expected anyone to care for me. And I realized I wanted someone to care for me, wanted it so badly I could barely breathe. Right there before me was an attractive, bright woman who, for some reason, wanted to care for me. And she would if I would just let her. All I had to do was ask. I knew what the alternative was. My body and my head couldn’t stand to live the way I was for much longer. So I asked if she would help me and she did. She drove me back to my place and had me call in sick for the next day. While I was doing that, she went through the apartment and dumped everything—the booze, the sleeping pills, the coke, even the two lowly joints I kept in the back of my desk drawer. Cleaned out my stash and sent me to bed alone. Said she couldn’t have that kind of relationship with me until she was sure I was serious about changing my life. The next day, she had me call Blevins before the shakes got too bad and arrange for a leave of absence, at least two weeks. He was pissed, but I told him I needed some time off and it was either that or I had to quit. So he approved it, grudgingly. And the next ten days or so were sheer hell, just working the drugs out of my system. My head felt like there was a jackhammer working on my skull twenty-four hours a day. She’d try to make me eat or drink and I’d puke, then she’d try again later. Once I started keeping stuff down, she’d make me go for walks with her around the neighborhood. It was January and cold as hell, and I already couldn’t get warm even in the house. And the dreams were starting to seep back in. After five or six days, she made me start going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, NA. At first, she’d drive me there and wait in the car till the meeting was over to make sure I actually went in. Till I got used to it, till I went on my own.”

“You went to NA?” This surprised Scully as she didn’t see Mulder as the type to spill his guts in a group setting.

“I still do,” he replied. “A couple times a month. More if I’m feeling stressed about something. I’m an addict, Scully. I will be my whole life. It doesn’t just go away, you know that. It’s like alcoholism.”

“That’s where you kept disappearing to when we got assigned under Kersh. NA meetings.”

He nodded. “It was the only way I could keep it all together. I was so angry I could barely see straight. And so scared. We were so close to finding out what was going on, and they took away our access to the truth.”

Scully looked up at him in sudden understanding. “That’s why you won’t take the painkillers the doctors try to give you when you get injured.”

He nodded. “It would be so easy to fall back into it. I’ve been clean for ten years and it still scares me sometimes. It’s so fucking seductive, when you start, when you go back to it… No, when I went back to it, I always felt like I could handle it, could keep it under control. But I couldn’t, I can’t, so I always have to be aware of it. I have to control it so it doesn’t control me.”

She felt a sudden chill at his story, the impact of it starting to make itself known to her. Would she have been able to tell him all of these things if they had happened to her? Would she even still be here if all of those things had happened to her? She couldn’t conceive a life like the one he’d led. And suddenly, so much made sense to her. She could almost fill in the blanks to his story from here. He’d fallen in love with the strong and lovely Diana, married her, found his life’s work with her, then she left him, breaking his heart. And then she came back and he wasn’t sure how he felt about her. He didn’t have to go on with this.

“I think I understand, Mulder.”

“Understand?”

“About you and Diana,” she said. “I mean, the love of your life, who you thought was gone, comes back…”

His brow knitted in momentary confusion, then he shook his head, placing his fingers gently across her lips. “No, that’s not it. Diana helped me so much, I never doubted that she saved my life. But she wasn’t the love of my life, and that was a big part of our problem. Maybe she could have been if I’d known the first thing about love at that point in time, and she’d really been who she pretended to be. But the point is, I didn’t know anything about love. I hadn’t had a single solid example of it in my whole life. Not how to give it, not how to accept it. But I seemed to know instinctually how to take it. And that’s what I did. Not out of meanness or a desire to be cruel, but just out of… I don’t know… need, I guess. Not knowing any better, maybe” He seemed disconcerted by his inability to explain his feelings then.

“Maybe I don’t understand,” Scully said.

“There’s still more to explain,” he replied. “Okay, so I’m on leave in serious detox mode and sometimes going to three NA meetings a day just to hang on. Diana’s got classes and stuff. She was trying to get her Ph.D., and she was skipping all the classes she could but she had to go to some of them. I told her not to worry about me, to go to class, but the truth was, I was scared to be alone, scared I wasn’t going to be able to make it out one more time but I never told her. So she went to classes, I went to meetings. We’d spend evenings and nights together. Eventually my two-week leave was over and they were chompin’ at the bit to get me back, because there was a huge caseload backlog going on. When a profiler is out, there’s nobody to fill in because it’s not something just anyone can walk in and do. So I decide against asking for another week and go back after two weeks. Big mistake. One of the things I learned at NA, or was supposed to have learned, was if you take drugs as a reaction to stress or frustration, do everything in your power to eliminate the source of the stress or frustration. I should have resigned, found another job. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I would have, but I guess it doesn’t do any good to wonder because I didn’t do it.

“I thought about it, though. I talked to Diana about it. She asked if the job was something I thought was fulfilling and the answer, honestly, was yes. She said it was an important job to do, if I thought I could, and it was. It was important. I remember the night we talked about it. Just on a whim, she asked if she could run a test of psychic ability on me and I said okay. We did the one with the symbols on the cards and she said I scored a very high normal—highly intuitive but not psychic. She said that was probably what made me so good at what I did and that not many people would have the ability to do it. So if I found it fulfilling and was good at it, maybe I could find a way to channel the stress and frustration. She sounded perfectly reasonable and convincing to me then. Except if I’d have thought about it, just from a professional standpoint, no psychologist would have talked someone in the condition I was in then into going back to work—especially the work I did.”

He ran the fingers of one hand through his hair, grabbing a fistful at the top of his head and giving it a small tug. “I wish I’d have told you this a long time ago. Not just because I should have, but because if I’d told you before I knew what I know now, I might not have felt like such an ass.”

His voice was tight, full of self-recrimination and while it tore at Scully’s heart, she couldn’t contradict him. He should have told her.

But he didn’t seem to expect reassurance from her as he continued. “So I went back to work, slipped right back into it. Nobody said anything about the fact that I was gone for two weeks or that I looked like I’d spent them in a concentration camp. I just got back to it. At first, I tried to make myself go slower, easier, but it just didn’t work. There was too much to do and it was still the same. Their voices in my head all the time. Till I found what would catch them, stop them from what they were doing. Then that voice would go and I’d get more cases and it just kept on and on. And without the drugs, they were so much more intense and sometimes… sometimes there were other voices, too, not just the perps’. Sometimes I’d be working, concentrating on something, and I’d hear what sounded like one of the other guys. Then when I’d look up, they’d be busy, too, not even looking at me. Sometimes it happened with Diana, too. But the things I’d hear them say didn’t make sense, they were things I didn’t think they would say.”

His voice dropped to a whisper. “Sometimes I was certain I was going insane.”

She pulled away to look at his face, tired and anguished in the moonlight. He’d been talking for hours and the moon had changed positions in the sky. “And still you didn’t get professional help, Mulder?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “It was… I don’t know how to say this. The voices… sometimes they were so loud and there were so many, I could hardly stand it. But…but they weren’t telling me to do horrible things—shoot up a post office or take hostages. They were there and they helped me stop people from doing horrible things. Scully, my solve rate at that time was running just under ninety-five percent and it would have been higher but a some of the bad guys offed themselves when they realized they were close to busted, so I didn’t take credit for the arrests. I found ninety-five percent of all the slimeball psychos they sent me after. So even though I could hardly stand it, it was like a gift, too, in a way. And it…” He hesitated.

“What?” she asked, wondering what his uncertainty could have been about after all he told her.

He closed his eyes tightly, his brow knitted in concentration. “I don’t know… I just… I knew most people didn’t hear voices. Good or bad, hearing voices was not a good sign. But I’d only been clean for a couple of months and I just wanted… My life had been so screwed up for so long. I just wanted a little bit of time where… Diana and I had been getting closer and she started talking about maybe getting married.” He looked at her intensely, wanting desperately to make her understand what he had been feeling then and not knowing if he could do it because he wasn’t sure he understood it himself now. And he definitely hadn’t understood it then.

“Do you remember when we were driving to Roswell and you asked me if I ever just wanted a normal life?” he asked softly.

“Yes,” she answered, just as quietly.

“Back then,” he said. “At that point in time, I wanted a normal life more than anything in the whole world. I hadn’t had anything close to that since Samantha was taken, and I wasn’t sure it was all that normal before she was gone. I wanted a normal life, I craved it. I wanted it so badly I was willing to substitute gratitude in the place of love. I was willing to believe gratitude was love. Scully, it was like… I thought… For the first time I could actually see a way to make my life normal. If I could just hold it together, I had a job that I was good at, really good. If I could just hold it together, I could have a career. I was almost twenty-eight then and well on the way. Diana wanted to get married. She’d been there for me through the whole thing—supportive, caring, but tough when she needed to be. It was good to have her in my life. At the time, I thought that that surely must have been love. I mean, why wouldn’t I love an attractive woman who’d done as much for me as Diana had? I had no idea what love really felt like. I’d gone over half my life without it. I figured what I felt for Diana was good, so it must be love. It was a long, long time before I found out how wrong I was, before I found out what love feels like.” He cupped her cheek gently and she pressed her forehead against his.

“So we got married. It was early April, April seventh. We went to a Justice of the Peace. Nobody from my family, nobody from work. It was just the two of us. Hell, I didn’t even know if she had family. I didn’t find out about her family till I was in the hospital. Diana was there all the time while I was locked up. I heard her thoughts constantly and found out everything. And believe me, it’s suitably ironic. But I didn’t know then.

“So there I had it. A wife and a successful career—the life of a normal twenty-seven year old man. I was a normal twenty-seven year old man who didn’t tell anyone I worked with that I’d gotten married. A normal twenty-seven year old man who had the voices of maniacs and madmen in my head and night terrors so severe that I rarely slept more than two hours at a time. Diana never said anything about the nightmares, so I figured she was just one of those lucky people who could sleep soundly. And since she didn’t say anything, I didn’t say anything.” Mulder shook his head sadly.

“About a month later, they gave me a file on a woman named Susanne Modeski. Just the fact that she was a woman was strange enough. You know for yourself what a small percentage of violent crimes is committed by women. Anyway, the file said she was a chemist at an Army research facility in Whitestone, New Mexico and that she’d blown up a lab there, killing four people, and escaping with top secret information about chemical weapons, probably with the intent to sell it on the international terrorist black market. She was supposed to be headed to the Baltimore area and they wanted me to find her.”

Scully nodded. “Byers told me all about it a couple of months ago. When they lured me to Las Vegas under false pretenses.”

“You never really told me about that,” he said, looking at her curiously.

She shifted uncomfortably in his lap. “I will,” she said simply. “Some other time.” She really didn’t want to get into the fact that there was something strange about those days—a big period of time that she just didn’t recall.

“Byers told you about the ergotamine-histamine gas I was exposed to?”

Scully nodded. She wanted to tell him about the drops found on the pillowcase from his bed, but she also didn’t want the conversation to digress. She wanted to know about then. There would be time later for later events.

“You know what the effects of that would be,” Mulder said and she nodded again. “The gas was stored at a warehouse I followed the guys to. I’d met them earlier at an electronics convention where I’d been told Susanne Modeski would show up. I flashed their picture and the guys said they hadn’t seen her. But I knew they were lying.”

“You heard it, didn’t you?” Scully asked.

“Yeah,” he admitted. “It was just a matter of following them and getting into the warehouse first. Anyway, there was a lot of shooting and I jumped behind these boxes of supposed asthma inhalers that were really filled with the gas. It sprayed all over me. I breathed it in, lots got into my mouth. The next real thing I remember, I woke up in a hospital in Baltimore in full restraint with a plainclothes detective from Baltimore PD standing at my bedside. When I finally was able to convince them of who I was and the fact that I was okay, they let me go. I got back to HQ to talk to Reggie about the status of the case and he told me Susanne Modeski was still missing but that the case was now closed. She was missing, but suddenly she wasn’t a fugitive murderer and seller of government secrets. She was just gone. I went back to the warehouse and it was all cleaned out, but I remembered what I saw there.”

“What you saw,” she repeated, not understanding.

“I was sort of semi-conscious when the clean-up crew got there. They were grays, Scully. I saw EBEs.”

“Mulder, with an ergotamine-based drug in the kind of dose you got… It would have been very unusual for you not to be hallucinating.”

“No, no, no.” He shook his head, searching for a way to explain. “I knew they were hallucinations—not when they were going on, but later. I knew that what I was remembering was a hallucination. But, it was like… It felt like it had happened before. Like the hallucination touched on an earlier memory, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. And I couldn’t get it out of my head. And I thought about Susanne Modeski, about why they would close a file when it wasn’t resolved. The only thing I could think to do was try and find those guys. So I went back to the convention center and they were all there, huddled together and you could see they’d had the shit scared out of them. They told me everything she’d told them about the chemical weapons being developed and how she’d just been trying to get away. And that she’d told them to find the truth and get it to the people just before she was taken away. And when I heard their story, I knew I’d been used. They used me to track her down so they could get her back into their corral, so they could use her to develop things they were bound by treaty not to develop. They used me, they used Susanne, and I started to wonder who else they were using and for what purposes.

“I went back to DC and told Diana about what had happened. I didn’t tell her about the hallucination about the grays, though. It was nuts. Who’d believe something like that? It wasn’t normal. And normal was still the big goal. I went back to my regular duties, but with every case I started to wonder in the back of my mind if they were having me track down someone else for them to eliminate. And I started hearing from the Gunmen, who were getting more and more heavily involved in tracking down government conspiracies. They’d call me to meet with them with some strange information they wanted me to see if I could get a handle on. I figured, what the hell, they were basically harmless, so I started looking into the rumors and things they’d heard. I did it in my spare time—after work, weekends, stuff like that. And I was finding out that a lot of what they’d heard and suspected was true. Byers resigned from the FCC. Frohike and Langley had some money saved up from selling pirate cable signal stealers and they got together to publish The Lone Gunman and the rest is history.” He gave her a smile of fondness for their friends.

“Meantime, I’m working hard at profiling, voices and all. But it seemed like I was getting a handle on the voices, like I could use them just when I needed to. So my caseload was, of course, overwhelming. It was that way for all the profilers and in every minute of spare time, I was running down stuff for the guys. What I was really hoping to do was exhaust myself in the hopes that I could finally get some sleep. The nightmares were escalating with every night that passed. It finally got to a point where Diana was complaining about them. But I couldn’t talk to her about them because I still didn’t remember what they were. She told me I’d be crying out for Samantha in my sleep, and I hadn’t even told her that much about my sister. I still had no conscious memory of that night and I never had shaken the fear that I might have done something to her—something so terrible that my mind simply refused to accept it and that’s why I couldn’t remember it.”

“Mulder, you had to have known that you didn’t, couldn’t have done it.”

“I wanted to believe that but I didn’t know for sure, I couldn’t remember and it was ruining my life. Had ruined my life. She said that if I really wanted to remember, she knew someone who might be able to help me, if I was willing to try it. She knew of a doctor, Heitz Werber, who specialized in regression hypnotherapy to recall repressed memories. I agreed just because I didn’t have any other ideas. And if something didn’t give, I had the feeling I was going to be spending more time in restraints. I almost never slept, and people just can’t live like that. But I was scared, too. Did I really want to know something that was so terrible that my mind had blocked it out completely? But I couldn’t not know anymore, either. So I agreed to try it.

“We had a couple of preliminary sessions that I don’t remember too clearly, but he said I was blocking and that we needed more intense therapy than what he could do for an hour in the office. He wanted me to check into a small clinic he ran for a week of daily sessions. The nightmares had intensified since we’d started the preliminary sessions and Werber said that wasn’t unusual since we’d stirred things up, but that they would keep getting worse if I didn’t remember what happened. The nightmares getting worse was not an option. Diana said she thought that I should do it. So I arranged for a two-week vacation and checked into the clinic. I was scared and Diana was there supporting me and after the therapy, I remembered that Samantha was taken by the grays. That’s why I had hallucinated them in the warehouse. She was taken and one of them had told me she would be all right. That she’d be returned one day.”

Scully nodded. Mulder had allowed her to listen to that tape a few months after they’d started working together—the tape from June 16, 1989. A lump formed in her throat as she remembered the tone of his voice on that tape—young, childlike, afraid. No, not just afraid, terrified. But somehow hopeful, too. I want to believe.

“I remembered,” he said quietly. “You can’t imagine what it felt like finally to know that I hadn’t hurt Samantha. To actually be able to say I didn’t kill her, even if just to myself. I’d wanted to believe that for so long, but I could never be sure. It was such a relief, it was almost like a physical weight was removed from my chest. One that was there for so long it felt like a part of me. I was so relieved, so fucking grateful to Werber and Diana for that. Diana helped me get my life back, Scully.”

No wonder he couldn’t believe that Diana could possibly be working against him. She’d helped him kick his drug habit and recover the memory of an event that had haunted him almost his whole life. Until he’d understood her betrayal, he would have seen her actions as devotion to him, as love. The only love he’d known since childhood.

“But it wasn’t long before I realized that even with remembering, I wasn’t much better off than I had been. How could I go to my parents and tell them that I remembered Samantha being taken away by aliens? How could I expect them to believe that? How could I believe that? Yet once it was unlocked, the memory was clear and detailed. It had to be true because I saw it happen. But who could I tell? Neither one of them, Dr. Werber or Diana, was very surprised, though. Werber said he’d had patients who recalled abduction experiences during regression hypnotherapy. Diana said that she had encountered abductees during her paranormal studies. She said that even though I was skeptical, there were literally thousands of people claimed to have been abducted by beings from other planets and that many of them were respected people whose stories could not be disproved. But still, how could I tell my parents?

“I went back home, still not knowing what I was going to do. The nightmares were gone. I was sleeping better, but not great because I didn’t know what to do. The only answer I came up with was to try and find her. If I could find her, everyone would be so glad to see her they wouldn’t care about the hows and the whys. I didn’t have the first idea how I was going to do that, but I had to find a way. If I could just find her, I could fix everything.”

“So they’d forgive you.” Scully’s voice was laced with pain.

He nodded and his eyes filled briefly with tears that he managed to blink back. “And maybe I could forgive myself. I had to find a way to get her back for us.

“I went back to work the next week. My vacation was up and I was no closer to the answer. I started working the cases again like before—going to crime scenes, talking to witnesses and victims—but something was wrong. I couldn’t do it like before. I chalked it up to being distracted about Samantha, but it wasn’t working right.”

“The voices were gone?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said wearily. “But not just that, the memory of the voices was gone. This is so strange, Scully, but I didn’t remember about the voices till I was in the hospital. When I found out from Diana that they’d destroyed—or thought they’d destroyed—the God module. Like my father thought he’d done when I was hospitalized after Samantha was taken. But I didn’t know that then, I just knew that something was different. I still did profiles. I was a good profiler, but it wasn’t a desperation thing anymore. I still worked the crime scenes, still had intuitions and hunches that seemed to come out of nowhere, but I wasn’t fighting to get voices out of my head because they weren’t there anymore and I didn’t remember that they ever had been. My solve rate dropped to about eighty percent, which was still way above average. But I just wasn’t driven anymore.

“Instead, I became driven with finding a way to get Samantha back. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding alien abduction. I asked Dr. Werber if I could talk to some of his patients, but he wouldn’t let me. Violation of patient confidentiality. I talked to the guys about it and they said they were running into a lot of UFO people in their investigations. They put me in touch with all the standard organizations we’ve come to know and love so well—MUFON, NICAP, SITU, UFOCCI. I’d find things out and have the guys run them down, and in exchange, I’d use whatever government access I had to run down their rumors. It was a match made in heaven.

“Unfortunately, that and my job took up all my time. Diana told me she knew how important it was to me and volunteered to help out just so we could spend some time together. She was done with her studies and was just waiting for her degree to be granted. I told her about the guys and that I wanted her to meet them so they could show her how to find out some of the stuff they did. She said it would probably be better if they didn’t know we were married. They might tell her things they wouldn’t necessarily tell her if they knew she was my wife. I didn’t know the guys very well at that point, so I trusted her instinct on it and we didn’t say anything about being married. What the hell? I hadn’t told anyone at the Bureau that I’d gotten married. So we all started digging around in a lot of different areas—abductee accounts, UFO accounts, rumors of weapons development, technological and medical advances. They were digging, I was talking to anyone I could whenever work didn’t get in the way. Evenings, weekends. I worked and I looked for Samantha. Diana and I didn’t even get to spend that much more time together because I was always running down leads, staying what always seemed one step behind shadowy informants. Lots of dead ends and hoaxes and getting my ass kicked. I seemed to have a knack for pissing people off. But sometimes we’d hit on something that was—or at least seemed—real, legitimate. And I’d get my ass kicked and warned on those. The day my wife received her Ph.D., I was in a hospital with a separated shoulder and a broken jaw because I got mugged in an alley waiting for someone to get to me with information.”

He reached for what was left of his orange juice and handed Scully her glass so she could finish what remained. “I talked to people with convincing stories who told me they’d been investigated by people from the Air Force, the CIA, the FBI, but that nobody had followed up after the initial visits. Men had come to talk to them, sometimes taking away things those people had as evidence. Then they’d never hear from them again. I started checking some of those stories against the FBI database. The names never showed up when I did computer searches. I couldn’t think of any plausible reason that all of those people would have lied to me. Some of them, sure. You know we tend to find the nut cases. But not all of them. So if they were investigated, where were the reports? There had to be paper on these things somewhere. So on a whim, I decided to make the acquaintance of Debbie, the custodian of the hard copy files, records clerk extraordinaire.”

“Debbie,” Scully said. “I don’t believe I know her. Do you still have her acquaintance?” A contact in records would be a good thing, but she wasn’t certain she liked the idea of an acquaintance with somebody named Debbie.

“Yeah,” he admitted. “I still take her to dinner once a month or so.”

Scully realized with somewhat of a start that she didn’t know much of what Mulder did when he wasn’t with her. “You take her to dinner?”

He smiled at her. “Yeah, usually to a really nice place. I get a deal on her meal because of her senior discount. Debbie retired from the Bureau in 1990. She was counting down the days when I met her. It took some sweet-talking and cajoling, but every now and then I could talk her into running down a hard copy file in an unofficial capacity. I was running into a lot of files that seemed to be buried. Nothing electronic on them at all. I couldn’t take the files out and didn’t have much time with them, but even a quick read-through showed that the investigations had been handled sloppily, if they were even conducted at all. I started taking pictures of the pages whenever Debbie wasn’t hovering right over me. I didn’t want her to get into trouble that close to her retirement. Then I’d bring the film back to the Gunmen to process and they and Diana would start looking for any background they could get and I would ride their asses from the time I gave them the stuff. I was unbearable, needed everything yesterday.

“I kept working my regular hours, did everything I was supposed to, did my profiles, caught the bad guys. But my heart wasn’t in it. My mind was pretty much always on the search for Samantha. I needed the job to live. Diana was doing consulting work in the paranormal—running psi testing, assisting with research. But that was whenever it happened. It was my check we were living off of mostly. I had a small trust fund from my father’s mother, but I mostly used that to cover the expenses of our outside activities. So I had to be careful and not let my search for Sam jeopardize my job. But every waking minute outside of it was spent looking. Diana decided that as long as she was spending so much time with FBI files, she might as well join the Bureau. That way we would both have inside access.

“During that time, I also ran into Senator Matheson on my way to lunch one day. I hadn’t seen him since my father’s retirement party and he took me to lunch. Started having lunch with him every other week or so. We’d gotten along really well at the party—talked for a long time. My father had told him I’d joined the Bureau and was making a name for myself. He asked what if I was working on anything interesting and I found myself telling him about some of the files I’d run across. At the time he was on both the Senate Appropriations and Intelligence committees and he seemed to be surprised about the existence of these files. That was also around the time I first met Arthur Dales. The one who lives in Florida.”

“I remember,” she said looking at him strangely. She didn’t know, Mulder hadn’t told her about the other Arthur Dales, or the sister Arthur Dales. Or the goldfish.

“He told me about the X-Files. I mean, I knew about them, that they were unsolved cases. But Dales told me that they weren’t unsolved cases, they were cases that were designated unsolved. It wasn’t too long after that that I got a call from Debbie, saying it was her last day and she was sending me a little something to remember her by. A little while later, these guys from maintenance bring up two big file cabinets on dollies and hand me an envelope with keys and a note from Debbie saying she’d deny she ever met me if it got out that she’d sent me the files. I didn’t know what the hell to do with them. I just had a little cubicle in the fifth floor bullpen. No place to put those cabinets. Then I remembered the copy room in the basement. There was a little alcove and I figured I could stash the cabinets there and just keep the keys with me. Nobody’d even notice that they were there. So I did and they didn’t. That was toward the end of the year.

“Diana was entering the January class at Quantico right after the holidays. So while she was gone, I had a lot of time and started going over the files. I’d just do my job all day and when it was time to leave, I’d go down to the basement instead of home. Nobody ever used that copy room much. I mean, it was in the basement. Inconvenient as hell. So I was down there most of the time by myself looking through the files. Man, I’d never seen anything like what I saw in those files. Pretty soon I thought I needed just a little workspace and I brought in a small table and chair. Nobody seemed to notice that, either. Even when I had to move the shelving unit with the copier supplies into the hallway. I had collected a lot of information through Diana and the guys, too, and I started to realize I needed to have all that stuff together so I could cross-reference things. Since the files were FBI property, I couldn’t move them to my place, so I moved in another cabinet with my stuff. Things were getting pretty crowded and I really did need to have a real desk, so I moved the copier out into the hallway next to the supply shelf. Then I changed the lock on the door. And still nobody said anything. I guess they had some kind of reorganization or something because one day I came in and the photocopy stuff was gone. Never saw it again and nobody brought up the fact that I had a whole bunch of stuff in a room that only I had a key for.”

Scully’s mouth dropped open in surprise. “You mean you stole the X-Files office?”

“I prefer comandeered.” He grinned at her wickedly.

“All this time and it wasn’t your office either?”

He shrugged. “Well, I was never officially assigned there. But it was a tacit agreement thing, I think.”

She pulled away and sat beside him, still in the crook of his arm, but no longer on his lap. “I got a psychosis-inducing tattoo and a one-night stand with a homicidal maniac over a tacit agreement thing? Over your possessiveness of something that wasn’t even really yours?”

Mulder winced at the memory of that horrible time that just led into more horrible times. The office—*his* office—had been a sensitive spot between them that seemed silly and asinine to him now. But at the time, and even now, he didn’t fully understand what the tattoo episode was supposed to have meant. “I’ll admit to being a self-centered asshole, Scully. Then and now, I guess, because I still don’t get what that was all about. How could a nameplate and a desk have led to that?”

She exhaled a sharp breath through her nose, her lips pressed together in consternation. “I tried to tell you then, but you wouldn’t listen. I felt like you weren’t listening a lot of the time.”

He shook his head. “Not fair,” he replied, slight indignation coloring his tone. “You decide to start spilling your guts when I’ve got forty-five minutes to get to the airport to take a vacation that was forced on me?”

“They can’t force you to take vacations, Mulder,” she shot back.

“Skinner can. He called me into his office and said he’d noticed a lot strain between you and me. He gave me a choice. Either a vacation or one of us was going to be temporarily reassigned. The bitch of the whole thing was that I knew he was right and I got to thinking that maybe if we were reassigned, even temporarily, you’d decide not to come back. And since that alternative was completely unacceptable, I took the forced vacation. I had to take it.

“But Scully, if you’d been feeling like that for a long time, why didn’t you say something earlier? You could have said something even the night before instead of just wandering off. I know I said stupid, hurtful things to you but I was feeling distinctly ambushed right then. Why did you wait until I was walking out the door?” he asked.

“Would you have listened then either?” she questioned him quietly.

“I guess we’ll never know,” he replied. He paused as if considering whether or not to continue. “Scully, I can quote verbatim everything you’ve ever said to me. I’ve always listened. But sometimes what you’ve said… what you’ve said hasn’t spoken to me as much as how you’ve said it. It seemed like… it felt like you were… I mean, you started this hugely important conversation when you knew—you knew—I was going. It seemed to me like you started it because you knew we wouldn’t be able to pursue it. Like you were setting me up not to listen so that you’d be able to say I wouldn’t listen.”

Her first impulse was to deny his statement, but instead she paused to consider. “Maybe I did.” <Of course I did,> she thought. At the time, she’d already suspected she had cancer. Was she subconsciously so certain of it that she’d already begun cutting him out of her life? Why had she felt the need to cut him out? Had it been so that he wouldn’t have to see the end of her, or so that she wouldn’t have to watch him watch her die?

“Then when you came back, I tried to talk about it. I tried to tell you that I didn’t understand and you made it pretty clear that it was your life and…” He stopped and took a deep breath, surprised at how much hurt was still there. “…and I didn’t really have that much to do with it. I wanted to understand.”

“I know you did,” she replied sadly. Taking a deep breath, she expelled it slowly through pursed lips. It was time for her to come up off of some Truth, too. “There are things I didn’t tell you, too, Mulder. You’re right. I set you up as the bad guy in that scenario. I don’t think it was a conscious thing but I couldn’t seem to not do it. It was the only way I could keep denying… God, I was so scared. I suspected… No, I knew I had a brain tumor. No matter how much I tried to deny it, I knew I had cancer.”

“You knew even then?” he asked, astonished. That had been nearly a month before she told him.

She nodded and felt a slight shudder go down her spine. “Leonard Betts told me,” she said quietly. “Right before he tried to kill me. To get the tumor.” She grimaced and felt a larger shudder pass through her.

Mulder felt her shiver and automatically tightened his grip around her shoulder. “He told you,” he repeated dully. “After what we knew about him, he you that you had cancer and you didn’t tell me.” There was no anger in his tone, just profound, grief-filled disbelief.

She gave a shaky nod and though her eyes filled with tears, they never left his. “In the ambulance. Before I…” Scully closed her eyes as if trying not to see the memory and took a deep breath, sighing it out in relief as she felt him pull her closer still. “I didn’t believe in him, in what you thought he could do—didn’t want to believe it. I couldn’t tell you because that would have meant that I gave some kind of credence to what you believed about him. It was scientifically impossible. It had to be scientifically impossible because if he was right that meant… that meant I had cancer and my mind just couldn’t accept that as a possibility. But that night… I was dreaming, I think. I was dreaming about…”

A brief, intense flash of discomfort passed through her—not really pain, more like a kind of heat. She tensed with a dread chill and then it was gone. Mulder felt her movement and turned to face her full on. By the time he was able to look at her, it appeared as if her expression hadn’t changed. “What’s wrong?”

She looked at him, suddenly feeling somewhat confused. “I don’t know. It was like… It was like what my Grandma Scully used to call a goose walking over my grave.” Her tone was vague, as if she couldn’t quite recall the sensation.

He gave her a curious look. “My mom used to say that. You said you were dreaming about something that night. What was it?”

Her brow knitted. “I was dreaming about… I don’t remember. It must have been about him, I guess—Betts. But I woke up coughing, like something was caught in my throat. I turned on the light and I was having a nosebleed. The first one. There was blood on my face and on my pillow. It was late November, and it had been unusually cold and dry. I told myself that first time that it was just some nasal irritation. Lots of people get nosebleeds in cold, dry weather. But I knew. At some level I knew, but I just kept telling myself it wasn’t true, even when I got more nosebleeds. I couldn’t help thinking about Betsy Hagopian and those MUFON women in Allentown. If Leonard Betts was right, then I was just like them. And I was dying.

“That’s what the thing in Philadelphia was all about. It wasn’t about a desk or a nameplate, but… but that was part of it. It was about all the things I’d wanted for my life that never happened. It was about thinking I could have made a difference and instead having to investigate things like… Leonard Betts. And all the other things I hadn’t quite been able to prove weren’t true. It was about not being good enough to prove that all those inane, ridiculous things you kept shoving in my face were bogus. I gave up everything for science and I wasn’t a good enough scientist to refute the impossible. And it was about never getting the chance to be good enough. Not enough for my father, my brother, you. It was about you, Mulder, even though I said it wasn’t. The desk, the nameplate, they were just symbols to me of the fact that I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t good enough to do what they’d sent me to do, and I wasn’t good enough for you to see me as an equal—just someone to handle the scut work on a bullshit case while you were gone and only that with close supervision.”

“Not good enough? Scully…” he interrupted.

“No, wait, let me say this,” she insisted. “You were checking up on me.” He shook his head in denial. “Yes, you were. You called me from your vacation—from your fucking spiritual journey—just to make sure I was following your orders. You just took it for granted that I’d run off and check right into our usual place in Philadelphia. And I did. Good old dependable, predictable Scully. But you didn’t take it for granted that I could actually do what you ordered me to do. You were checking up on me.”

“No,” he protested vehemently.

“What else would you call it then?”

“I called it missing you,” he replied quietly. “I called it wishing you were with me, that I was anywhere you were. I missed you so much, Scully, but I didn’t know how… When I left, we were… I was testing the waters. Trying to figure out how things were between us. I wanted the case to be something—something big, something real—so I’d have an excuse to come up there and work it with you. I missed you and I hated the way we’d left things between us. I thought if the case was good and we could just work on it together, we’d find our way back to where we were before. Not that I was that crazy about where we were before, but it would have been better than where we were then. Come to find out that you’d just passed off the whole thing to the local field office. I was hoping it would fix us and you palmed it off on the locals. Then, just because my karma wasn’t quite bad enough, you had to tell me you had a date.”

“Which you scorned with disbelief,” she said. He started to reply, but she pressed a finger to his lips. “And that was part of it, too. You believed in vampires and extraterrestrials, but you couldn’t believe that I might have a date. A possibility too extreme even for you. And the pathetic thing was that I didn’t. I’d turned Ed down earlier when he asked me out to dinner. I called him back when I got off the phone with you. Because I was angry. Because I was scared, terrified. I was so afraid I was dying and I’d never really lived. I’d given up everything. I’d done all the things that everyone else in my life expected of me, and I was going to be dead within a year. It was about, just once, doing something that nobody expected of me. It was about losing control for once in my goddamned life. It was about being alone and scared and about maybe not being so scared if I could just find someone who wanted me.”

“Jesus, Scully,” he said, regret clearly written on his face. “It wasn’t disbelief. It was panic—full blown gut-wrenching panic. I never doubted that you could have a date. Any sentient hetero male would want you. I wanted you—so badly and for so long I couldn’t even remember when I didn’t. And all I could think of was that if you found someone else—someone normal, someone who actually deserved you—you’d never come back to me, especially after the way I’d treated you. I was on the next flight back to Washington and in the office at five-thirty the next morning trying to call you at the hotel. They didn’t say you’d checked out, they said you weren’t answering. I knew what it meant not to be home from a date at five-thirty and it felt like my guts were torn out and stretched all the way from DC to Philadelphia.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “Did it help, Scully? Did he make you feel less alone?”

“At first…” she began hesitantly. “At first it was different, exciting—something nobody would expect me to do. I was in this seedy dive with a total stranger, drinking too much and telling him everything I was convinced was wrong with my life. And he was listening to me like I was the most fascinating person he’d ever met and I started feeling that way. Interesting, intriguing, exciting. The tattoo thing was like a dare, a challenge. I was fairly drunk, but I can’t blame it on that. Suddenly, it was like I could do anything. I never thought once about dirty needles, or being in a neighborhood that scared me even though I had a gun, or the possibility that this man might be a psycho killer because it just didn’t matter. I was dying anyway. I was so scared and so numb. The pain from the needle was the only thing that got through and even that was exciting because it was something I could feel. I could finally feel. And Ed was… He was somebody I could please, somebody whose approval I could win just by getting a tattoo. And for a while, I wasn’t alone.

“Until we got back to his place. There was a bad storm that night and the hotel was far away, so we went back to his place, and I was still on such a high from booze and all the daring things I was doing. So we got there and…” Scully looked at his face, at the pain and anxiety there, and couldn’t say the words out loud, couldn’t admit what he’d surely always suspected, but she couldn’t deny what had happened, either. Not anymore. “Afterward, I realized I hadn’t known anything about really being alone at all—until then. In his bed, I was completely and totally alone. I didn’t even have myself anymore. I’d even failed me. What I’d done went completely against everything I believed was right. I was so pathetic that I’d done something incredibly stupid and dangerous—just to gain the approval of a complete stranger, then used him like… I don’t know what. I didn’t care anything about him—his sad, ugly little life. I didn’t give a damn about it. I kicked him out of his own bed and when I woke up, I couldn’t even really recall what he looked like. I’d never had anything but contempt for men who treat women like that, yet I’d done it without a second thought. And all because I didn’t have the guts to face what I felt about you, about us. And I was dying and would never have the chance to. And after what I’d done, I didn’t know how I’d ever be able to face you, and that was even before he went postal on me. I was so ashamed. I didn’t know how I was ever going to be able to make it right with you. I even called you, but I hung up when I heard your voice.”

“That was you? When it rang, I hoped it was you but when you hung up, I prayed that it wasn’t. I wish I’d have known. I wish I’d known about everything.” He shook his head in anguished disbelief. “You had all those feelings… You were dying for God’s sake, and you couldn’t tell me. I’d have done anything to make it right, but I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to get you a nameplate for the door. I did get you a nameplate for the door while you were still in the hospital in Philadelphia. But when I got to the office to put it up, I was afraid…”

“You were afraid that I’d think you were making some kind of conciliatory gesture to patronize me,” Scully said and he nodded. She wondered how they could know so little and so much about one another simultaneously. “You were right. It would have pissed me off.”

“So I put it in the back of my desk drawer for a better time.” He chuckled bitterly. “A better time. I was still waiting for that time when the office burned up. I’m sorry, Scully. It’s our office, it always has been. We’ll put your name on the door when we get back.”

She was quiet for a long time. “I think maybe we aren’t going to be able to go back,” she said finally, fear and something like sadness in her voice. In essence, she’d called the Assistant Director a liar to his face, abandoned her job when she took off for the Ivory Coast, and spirited Mulder away to an unknown place while he was in a questionable mental state.

“Maybe not,” he agreed, trying to read her expression.

“I think we can drop the maybe on this one, Mulder. We’re pretty much toast at the Bureau. Even if Skinner is on our side, I don’t know if he can fix everything I did. So I guess it’s just you and me on this one.”

“Has it ever not been?”

They both knew the answer to that one, so no answer was necessary. They rocked the glider slowly back and forth, both of them silent for a long time. She wondered if he would finish his story, and just as the thought passed through her consciousness, he spoke.

“Diana was at Quantico and would come home for weekends, since she was a local. I knew I should be doing something to make those weekends special, and I even gave it a half-assed attempt sometimes, but it was just as likely that I’d be gone when she came home. Off to interview some guy whose brother-in-law knew a guy who lived next door to a woman who said she’d been abducted. The files Debbie had sent me were jam packed with things to run down. I had everyone hopping. I know the Gunmen lived for the day that they could tell me to shove my attitude up my ass, but in the meantime they were loving it, too. They’d never had stuff like that to put in their paper before. Went from monthly to every other week and people were buying it. Diana’d come home and even when we supposed to be doing something together she could see where my mind really was. Finding Samantha was all that mattered and I hated wasting time at anything else. We’d already lost so much time. So we’d end up working the files even when we’d planned something different.

“She was all excited when she got home after graduation from the Academy. And as soon as she walked in the door, I was on her about giving me an outdated version of some information the guys had found with no problem. Literally screamed at her. Told her that if she couldn’t get me what I needed, not to even bother. I remember she just stopped dead in her tracks, looked at me for a second and went in and started packing her bags. And, complete clueless shit that I was, I asked what the hell she thought she was doing. Seems the reason she was all excited was the assignment they’d offered her. Anti-terrorism Unit in Berlin—a huge assignment for someone just out of the Academy. She said she’d wanted to talk to me about it, but since it didn’t have anything to do with Samantha, I probably wouldn’t be interested anyway. She said maybe it would be better to spend a little time apart. She’d take the assignment for a while and let us both evaluate what was important to us. And I didn’t stop her, didn’t even try to because… God, what an insensitive prick I was. Part of me was glad she was leaving because I didn’t want the distraction. Sometimes it felt like she was in the way.” He made this admission fast in a voice barely above a whisper, like a kid having to admit he was the one who hit the baseball that broke the window.

“She got to the door with her bags and I was just stood there watching her. I mean, what’s the proper etiquette? When your wife is leaving you, do you help her with her luggage? Before she left she told me she could have lived with my obsession, with my demands, if just once I’d been able to rise above the level of indifference with her, if I’d ever just once told her I loved her. Then she wished me luck and she was gone. I went to three NA meetings, back-to-back.”

Scully was astounded. “You never told her you loved her?” He shook his head. “Not even at your wedding?”

“The judge said something about it and I said yes. But I never said the words. I never told her. I just… I just didn’t know it was important. I don’t remember ever hearing my parents say it to one another and the only other long-term relationship I’d ever had was with Phoebe. And love was never a factor in that one. I pretty much had myself convinced that the I love you thing was made up as shorthand for movies and tv so they didn’t have to waste a lot of film time trying to establish relationships between characters.”

“Not too cynical, huh Mulder?” she asked with a small, sad smile.

“No,” he insisted. “I wasn’t cynical about love, Scully, just unaware of its existence. But don’t dismiss the fact that I was a completely self-absorbed asshole, either. That fact didn’t hit me until about a week after she left and I finally let myself think about it. I couldn’t believe how badly I’d treated her. I hadn’t made the slightest effort to find out how she felt about anything or ever let her know what I felt. And I found that I missed her, too, in an ambivalent kind of way. We hadn’t been in contact since she’d been gone—no phone calls anyway. She did send a short e-mail saying she’d arrived safely in Berlin and would be in touch. After a couple weeks of hearing nothing, I started thinking about maybe going to visit her, to see if there was any way we could work it out. I went to Blevins to see about vacation time and he said that that he was just about to send for me. It seems that Senator Matheson wanted official investigations of the X-Files and wanted me to be the one to do it. Blevins said the files could stay where they were and I could work from the basement until something more appropriate was located. Guess they never found anyplace else, huh? So instead of going to see Diana, I opened the X-Files office. I never saw or heard from her again until last year. The work became my life and my life was the work. Until you came along.”

“It must have been a shock for you to see her all of a sudden like that,” Scully said quietly. “It sure was for me, let me tell you.”

“Yeah, I was surprised,” he admitted. “But I was glad to see her, too, you know? The way you’d be glad to see an old college roommate or an army buddy. Someone you’d shared a significant experience with and then moved on. And I wanted to find some way to thank her and to apologize for everything I did and everything I wasn’t back then. And maybe…” His voice dropped down low again. “Maybe show her, try to show her, that what she’d done had been worth the effort. That I was a better person than the one she’d left all those years ago. To prove to myself that I was a better person.

“That’s why, Scully. That’s why… I couldn’t conceive of anyone who’d done so much for me working against me, against us. At that point in time, I saw her as someone who’d saved my life and then stepped out of the way to let me live it. I thought she’d loved me. I felt like I owed her so much and treated her so badly. I couldn’t distrust her, too, on top of everything else. She’d never given me a reason to distrust her. Can you understand that, Scully? It was never a matter of trusting her over you. It was a matter of feeling certain that I knew who she was. And based on what happened between us, I thought I did. Until I heard the truth in her head.”

The truth. Scully sighed and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. There’d been so many truths over so many years. But maybe everyone’s life was that way—with whatever truths that concerned them changing with experience, circumstances, time and perspective.

“It’s about the God module,” she said sadly. “It was then and it is now.”

He nodded. “Some of it. A lot of it, I think. But there are other things, too. I can’t make all of it fit together. Even with so many pieces. It’s never made sense to me, and I’d never have been able to make it make sense to you, Scully, because I just didn’t remember. They took away what would have made it make sense, given it gestalt. So much came back to me in the hospital. It was like waves and waves of memories. The God module. It was there when I was a kid, just like for Gibson. I think Samantha had it, too, but I’m still not clear on that.

“But I remember that night now. I remember what really happened. Samantha was taken by EBEs, but it wasn’t the grays, it was the rebels—the faceless ones. One of them put his hands around my skull and I could hear him. He told me that Samantha would be safe and that I’d see her again someday. They barely got her away before the grays came. They shot something at the house that made all of the windows blow out. I was already utterly terrified, but that pretty much pushed me over the edge. The ones who took Samantha didn’t have faces, but at least they looked vaguely human. But the other ones…” He shuddered. “I was cowering in a corner in a state of shock. I don’t know if they didn’t see me or if I just wasn’t important because they were only looking for Samantha, but they left me alone. Things after that are really sketchy, but I remember my father driving me to the hospital and I tried to tell him what happened to Samantha but he said I had to forget that. I could hear his voice in my head, Scully. I knew he was taking me to a place where they’d take it away—the gift. He knew I could find Samantha with it. He gave me to them and they did electroshock. Killed the God module and erased my memory of that night. Then the son of a bitch told me over and over again that it was my fault because I didn’t do anything to stop it, because I was too weak to remember what happened. I remember for a long time after that, strange men would come to the house and Mom would make me talk to them. I think they were checking to make sure I their handiwork had taken.

“They never stopped checking up on me and they began to get suspicious when I started profiling. Nobody has a ninety-five percent solve rate. That’s when they sent Diana in to check things out. She was trained to make that kind of assessment. But she couldn’t get a really accurate picture with me on drugs, so it was up to her to get me clean and sober. Remember I said she did the test with the cards, the test for psychic ability? I wasn’t high normal, I was off the charts—a hundred percent. When she determined that the God module was active, they decided to deactivate it again. But if something went wrong, they needed to have some kind of control over the situation. So she married me. As my wife, Diana would have say over my medical decisions, just like she tried to do when I was in the hospital this time. Till you came and saved me.” He gave her a gentle smile that somehow turned into a bitter sneer.

“Nothing about her was true. She wasn’t a Ph.D. candidate, there weren’t any classes. It was all part of the story they’d invented for her so that I wouldn’t question her abilities or her place in my life. I got mugged in an alley the day my wife was supposed to get her degree because it was the day she was supposed to get her degree and there wasn’t any ceremony. I got out of the hospital and her degree was already neatly framed and hanging on the wall.” He shook his head in disgust.

“Werber did the electroshock the last time. That’s why they had me check into the clinic, because it incapacitates you for a while after they’ve done it. Then he hypnotized me and planted the memories they wanted me to have.”

“I don’t understand why they planted those memories, Mulder. Why didn’t they just have you remember a regular kidnapping or her running away? I don’t get it,” Scully said.

“There’s so much about this I still don’t get and Diana was never let in on the big plans. All the time she was in my head, and I never got the feeling that she knew really why they’d asked her to do what she was doing. Even the first time, she was in favor of the lab rat scenario. like they did with Gibson. As a parapsychologist, she wanted to know more about the God module. But her vote didn’t count for much against what her father wanted.”

“Her father,” Scully repeated dully. It wasn’t a question because she didn’t even need to ask. She just closed her eyes and waited for the response she knew had to come.

“CGB Spender, of course. Cancer Man, that lying snake bastard, was my father-in-law. Jeffrey the weak and sniveling was my wife’s half-brother. I told you it was suitably ironic. My whole life—my entire fucking life—I have been manipulated and lied to by my father and those other Geritol Nazis and I still don’t know why.” His voice was tired and defeated and bitter as gall.

“So Diana hung around long enough to make sure the God module was destroyed and to get enough information released to the right sources to lead me to the X-Files. I don’t know why that was, either. But once everything was in place and her part was done, she went tripping off, happy as a clam to be gone. She’d spent enough time living with a man she despised.”

“You got all of this from her thoughts at the hospital?” Scully asked and he nodded. “How, Mulder?”

“It’s hard to explain. All the while she was there, she’d stand outside the door or in the monitor room and talk to me in her head. Constantly, almost without stopping. Her voice was always there, telling me you’d abandoned me, that you were tired of all the things that had happened to you, that you weren’t coming back. And she’d try to tell me that she was the one I could trust, that she was trying to help me. But even after all the studying she’d done, she didn’t understand it at all. I could hear those thoughts and they almost drove me insane. But she didn’t understand that I could hear all her thoughts, her memories, everything. The whole story was there.

“She came back last year because of the Gibson Praise thing. Daddy told her that coming between you and me would be considered a plus, but she was there because of Gibson. They were pretty sure he had an active God module and she wanted to know about it. Finally get to study Gibson like she wanted to do with me. She was the one who arranged for the operations and tests they ran on him after they took him. The shooting just went wrong. She was supposed to be injured to cover them taking the kid, but their marksman must have been having a bad day or something. After she recovered and you and I were censured, Smoky arranged for his kids to have the X-Files and she thought she could find out how much we know from them. Jeffrey just went along on the ride for spite. He didn’t know jack about anything. And you know the rest of the story. You knew it all along.”

He’d been looking down at the deck as he told her about Diana’s real place in his life, cursing his own naivete. Finally, though, he looked up at her, his brow knitted in frustration and despair. “I don’t have words… There are no words adequate enough to tell you how sorry I am, Scully. And I don’t know how to ask for your forgiveness.”

Somehow over the course of the last few minutes, they had drawn apart, sliding to opposite ends of the swing. Mulder noted the distance between them with a weary sense of inevitability. He’d hurt her so much, so many times since he’d known her. He’d hurt her himself and caused her to be hurt. How much could he reasonably expect her to take? But if she would just forgive him one more time he’d… He’d what? Make it up to her? Give her back her sister, her daughter, her unborn children, the missing months of her life? Take away the anguish they’d all endured watching her dying of cancer? And if she forgave him, what then? More of the same ahead for they were in too deep ever to hope that they could just leave it all behind.

He rose from the glider and stood at the railing, his back to her. “The right thing to do would be for me to hope that you wouldn’t forgive me. To hope that you’ve finally reached the end of the line and get the hell out.” His voice was barely audible over the sounds of night in the forest.

No! Not after everything… She couldn’t even finish the thought. Unable to bear the anger and frustration, Scully sprang from her seat and grabbed his arm, turning him to face her. “Get the hell out and do what, Mulder? Go back to my little apartment and wait for whatever they have planned to play out? Read a good book? Write my memoirs? Jesus, I’m in this!”

“You don’t have to…”

She grabbed his arms and gave him a hard shake. “Listen to me. Watch my face, look into my eyes, Mulder, because we are going to do this one time.” She took a deep shaky breath, trying to calm the tremors she was feeling. “I am in this. I am in this with you. It has to stop, this guilt you wear like some kind of second skin..”

“Everything th…” He tried to interrupt her.

“Shut up!” She screamed and was dismayed to see him startle and try to move away from her. She moved with him and placed her fingertips lightly across his mouth. “No, wait, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Her voice dropped, her tone low and desperate. “But please, please listen to me. Leaving you, getting away from you stopped being an option a long time ago. I don’t know if it ever was an option. I could have requested a transfer anytime after we wrapped up the case in Bellefleur and no one would have blamed me. But I chose you. When Tom Colton told me that everybody at the Bureau calls me Mrs. Spooky, I chose that to his face. When I came back to work after being missing for three months, I came back to you. After the monsters and the fights and the cancer and your doubts and my doubts and a side trip to the South fucking Pole we are right here together. After I got back from San Diego, after Emily… after we lost Emily…”

She saw his face contort and his eyes well up with a pain she felt in her own heart. “She’d have been yours, too, Mulder. If we’d been able to keep her, there’s no way you wouldn’t have been part of her life.” Scully reached up and with a trembling hand brushed at a tear that slowly crept down Mulder’s cheek. She brought it to her own face where, though her heart was constricted in grief, her eyes were dry. Sometimes they were the bearers of one another’s pain.

She continued, her voice soft and steady. “A few months after Emily died, I talked to Charlie and he told me what Bill said to you when I was in the hospital. Bill confirmed it to me and I told him in no uncertain terms that he could keep his nose out of my relationship with you or get the hell out of my life.” He started to speak but she pressed her fingers to his lips again. “Ssshh, let me finish. The point I’m trying to make is that I’ve chosen you time and again—over my career, over my family, sometimes over my better judgement—and I can’t imagine any circumstances that would make me choose any differently. Now it’s time for you to choose. Months ago you asked me if I wanted you to make a choice. I didn’t know the answer then, but I do now. I want you to choose.”

“Between you and Diana?” He was confused and it was written all over his face.

She shook her head, slightly irritated at his lack of understanding. “No, between me and the guilt.” He started to protest, but she stopped him. “Horrible, unspeakable things have happened to me during all of this. But Mulder, you did not do them. I know you’ll say they hurt me to get to you and, you know, that’s probably true. But the point is, they hurt me. It was them. And every time they did, I chose to come back. And I need…” She hesitated, uncertain how to form the words to explain.

“What?” he asked with a quiet urgency. “What do you need?”

“I need…” She swallowed hard, her breathing slightly irregular. “I need you to honor my choices. I need you to try to stop feeling guilty about me. I know it’ll be hard for you, but I need you to try. I choose to be with you. I’ve chosen it from the start. I will always choose you. We’ve got enough problems. You can’t feel guilty for my choices.”

“But I do,” he replied softly.

She turned to face him. “Oh God, Mulder,” she said with a sigh. “There’s so much else. The guilt serves no purpose. It takes away from…”

Her fists were clenched in little balls at her sides in her frustration to make herself clear. “I don’t know how to do this… this…: She waved her hands in a small circle before her. “Us. I don’t know how to do us like this. I guess if I stop and think about it, I’ve never been sure of how to do us in almost any stage we’ve been in, but I really don’t know how to do this one. I want to know, though. I want to know more than anything because I want there to be an us.” her voice dropped to a tremulous whisper. “Christ, I’m babbling.”

She looked at him—really looked at him—for the first time since he’d finished his story, since he’d laid his soul bare for her. To someone who didn’t know him, his expression might seem devoid of emotion, neutral. He’d long since learned to construct that face at a moment’s notice, automatically and unconsciously, to keep an often-hostile world at bay. But Scully knew the barometer of Mulder, could read the apprehension in the gray color his eyes had turned, could see the hesitation in the slight clench of his jaw, could feel the tension in his body so close to her own. He’d given her his life—all of it—and wasn’t sure if she’d accepted it. She knew he needed a sign from her, as he had in his hallway the previous summer when he’d given her his heart. Again, as then, she stepped toward him and wrapped her arms around his waist. And, as then, his arms came around her in return and it felt like home, as if the only safe times she could remember had occurred right there. She tightened her grip and felt his hands tangle in her hair to press her face against his chest, his cheek resting on the crown of her head.

“Can you forgive me, Scully?” he asked quietly, not really sure he could stand to hear her response.

She was silent for a long time, uncertain how to answer. She wanted to pull away and look at him some more, but she was reluctant to leave the safe warm place she’d found leaning against him. Finally, she spoke, choosing to stay nestled against him. “I don’t know if this is about forgiveness, Mulder. I think it’s more about understanding. So much.” She squeezed him tightly to her briefly before pulling away to see his face. “You gave me so much of you. I need to process everything you’ve told me. I understand… I understand why you did what you did, as much as I can. But there’s part of me that…” She hesitated. God, this was hard to do, but she couldn’t be less honest than he had been. Taking a deep breath, she continued. “There’s part of me that still hurts about this. And a part of me that’s angry about this. It was incredibly stupid not to tell me about your addiction, Mulder. Incredibly stupid and dangerous—to both of us. I’m the person who has to give your medical history to the staff of every hospital you end up in. What if some treatment you’d been given was compromised by your history? What if Cancer Man and his cronies had used it against you? Just being your partner should have entitled me to know about it. So, yes, I’m hurt and I’m angry.”

She felt him tense in her arms and the fingers that had been lightly caressing the muscles of her back stilled. But he didn’t move away, rather he simply waited for her to continue.

“And I’m hurt and angry about Diana. No matter what you said about it not being about trusting her over me, the fact of the matter is that you didn’t believe me. I can understand why you didn’t want to tell me about your drug problem. It tears my heart out that you didn’t think that you could, but I understand it. And if I stretch, I can even understand why you didn’t tell me about Diana.” Her voice dropped to a whisper as she struggled to keep in under control. “But Mulder, none of that compares with how it felt to know that you didn’t believe me. After everything we’ve been through together over seven years—seven years! What would make you think I’d lie to you? When have I ever worked against your best interests?”

“Never, Scully. You never have.” he replied without hesitation. “And I did believe you—at least part of me did. After you left and the Gunmen finished tearing me a new one for how I treated you, I stopped and thought about what you said. At first, I just chalked it up to jealousy. I wanted it to be jealousy.”

“You wanted me to be jealous?” she asked in almost stunned disbelief.

“Yeah,” he answered, shame coloring his voice. “I guess I thought that if you were jealous, that might mean that you felt a little for me what I felt—*feel*—a lot for you. Don’t worry, that thought didn’t last for long. I dismissed it as impossible almost immediately. But if you weren’t jealous, that meant that you really believed what you told me about Diana. And if that was the case, I had to check it out. I went to her apartment to do that.”

“You checked out what I said and never told me? Do you know what it would have meant to me that you’d even considered what I said? Mulder, I left there thinking you completely disbelieved me, dismissed everything I said. If I’d just known you had even a little doubt…” She stepped away, missing his arms around her, but feeling stifled, trapped by all the pain between them.

He shook his head, his eyes squeezed shut at the memory of that horrible night. “I did doubt, but at the same time, I couldn’t doubt. I couldn’t tell you, Scully, because I was going there to prove you wrong. You had to be wrong. I wanted so much for you to be wrong. Because…” His voice trailed off to barely a whisper.

Scully felt her heart pounding in her chest. So much, it was all so much. Her first impulse was to turn and leave, just stop the conversation. She even began to turn toward the door, but found that she couldn’t. This, this was the explanation he’d promised her. This is what everything he’d told her led up to. The denouement of all that had happened to them, certainly in the last year and maybe over their entire relationship. And she had to know the answer. And to know the answer, she had to ask the question.

“Why Mulder? Why was it so important that I was wrong?”

His arms dangled at his side, his hands alternately stretching wide and balling into fists. “Scully, I didn’t know then what I know now. I didn’t know. I sat there in my car parked down the block from her apartment and I tried to look at it the way you did. I knew you and the guys wouldn’t have fabricated the information you showed me, that you believed it. And I tried to see it that way. But all I could see were images of her holding the basin while I puked and cleaning it up when I missed. Or her bringing me food, then bringing me more when I threw it across the room and screamed at her to leave me the fuck alone. Or her holding onto me while I had shakes so bad that anyone watching would have thought I was having seizures. Or her telling me she loved me and never getting angry when I couldn’t say it back. I sat there in the car remembering all that stuff, feeling like a shit because of how I treated her. I knew I’d never loved her, and that that was part of the reason I could never say it. By then I knew what love is. But I was sure that she had loved me. She said she did. Why else would she have done everything she did for me? And I was so thankful that she had, that she’d helped me make myself live. And you know what? Even knowing what I know now, I’m still thankful because even as horrible as it’s been sometimes, the years with you have been the best of my life. If she hadn’t helped me, I wouldn’t have lived to see them. So I sat there in my car, feeling like even more of a shit because I was going to break into her apartment. After everything she did, I was going to break in and spy on her.”

She watched helplessly as he turned his face away from her, wanting to say something, wanting to touch him, to bring him back to her and ease his anxiety. But she couldn’t quite make herself do it because her own pain was nearly paralyzing her. She fought back the bitter thought that his need to be right was so important to him that he could hurt her the way he did. No, that couldn’t be true, there had to be more. But he’d been quiet for so long. Would he continue? Could she stand it if he did? Could she stand it if he didn’t?

Finally, he spoke. “And so I told myself that I was doing it to prove you wrong. So I could live with not trusting her after all she did.” He paused again, his brow furrowed in a look of frustration. “But it was more than even that, Scully. I hoped to prove you wrong because of her, but I needed to prove you wrong because of me. Because if you weren’t wrong, that meant that I was. If you were right, that meant that Diana had lied to me from the beginning. And that couldn’t be, because she loved me. Back then, she told me she loved me. Nobody else in my life since Samantha was taken ever told me that. If everything she said was a lie, if she didn’t love me, that meant nobody ever had. And if nobody every had, maybe that meant…” His voice dropped away as his head lowered. “Maybe it meant that nobody ever could.”

The plaintive tone of his voice broke her paralysis and she stepped toward him, her arm outstretched. “Mulder…”

He stepped back, twisting away from where her hand grazed the skin of his forearm. “Don’t!” His whispered vehemence startled her and she jerked her hand back in alarm. “Not now. Not like this, Scully. Not out of pity.”

“Pity?” she cried, angry at his misinterpretation. “Jesus, Mulder! You make leaps of logic that no one else in the world does and you’re right most of the time. You see conspiracies under every rock and around every corner, and it’s looking like you’re right there, too. But you don’t see what’s right in front of your face. Nobody loved you? I was right there at your side, through everything, for seven years. Didn’t that say anything to you?”

Scully noted the trembling in his lip as he tried to smile. “It said what it’s always said. That you’re strong. That you’re compassionate. That you have character and integrity and a sense of justice. That you’re the best person I know and that I was the luckiest man in the world to have you in my life in any capacity at all.”

“Mulder, stop,” she said, feeling a tear escape her eye to fall down her cheek. “Don’t make me into more than I am. I can’t live up to that. I’m human. I’ve said and done stupid, hateful, hurtful things and I’ll probably do them again. I’m a person, no better or worse than anyone else. Don’t set me up to disappoint you.”

“You never could,” he said with quiet sincerity.

“I will if you don’t see me for who I am,” she replied, tears making her voice thick and heavy. “I stayed, Mulder. Through everything for seven years. Longer than anyone in your life. Lots longer than she did. You didn’t see any of that as my love for you?”

“You never said it, and you didn’t believe me when I did,” he whispered. “I didn’t even dare to hope that, Scully. I didn’t have any right to hope that. I knew that you cared for me, about me. And I knew that was way more than I was entitled to, especially after what I’d done and said.”

He took a deep breath and continued. “I picked the lock on her door and started looking around and hadn’t gotten very far when I was joined by another guest, one that was probably expected. Smokey showed up saying he was looking for his son and protege. Before I even had a chance to consider how strange it was that he was looking for Spender in Diana’s apartment in the middle of the night, he launched into his story. I told you what he told me and it all fit in so well with what I remembered that I didn’t even question whether it was the truth. Then he left and I couldn’t move. In fifteen minutes, he’d torn my entire life apart then handed me a piece of paper that would fix everything I cared about. I just sat there and thought about the whole thing. How I’d spent the last ten years of my life running around like some deluded lunatic trying to find answers to something I had no chance of doing anything about. How I’d dragged you into it and everything that had happened to you because of it. Everything you’ve lost, how many times you almost died, were killed. For something nobody could stop. But in my hand was the thing that could save you. I could save you, at least. He told me I could.

“I was still sitting there when Diana came home and I told her why I was there. She denied my suspicions, but she was acting weird, nervous. But at that point, it didn’t matter enough for me to question why. Because I could save her, too. I couldn’t leave her there, knowing what was coming—not after everything she’d done for me. I was… I could repay her and I wanted to. I wanted to save her because I owed it to her. But I needed to save you because there was no point in saving myself without you. There was no me without you. But in the end, as always, you saved me.” He gave her a weak smile.

“You never questioned her about what CGB was doing in her apartment?” Scully asked in mild disbelief.

He shook his head. “My head wasn’t exactly in any condition for analytical reasoning,” he admitted. “I don’t know. Maybe it was the last vestige of my self-delusion. I didn’t put it together until I saw the list of the victims, expecting to find Diana’s name on it. She should have been there and CGB, too, and when they weren’t, I didn’t really have much to base my denial on anymore, or my belief in Smoky’s lies. And I wanted to apologize to you, but what I’d done was so far past the boundaries of apologies, that I didn’t even know how to start. And I was afraid to bring it up. Afraid that if we started talking, you’d finally figure out all the reasons you should leave. Then we got the X-Files back and you didn’t request a transfer. I knew we weren’t together—not like real partners, not like we were before—but at least you weren’t gone. I didn’t know what that meant, but I was so damned grateful and so scared I’d say or do something that would make you change your mind. That’s when I started promising myself I’d tell you everything. That’s when I wrote the first letter I put in the safe deposit box. And I wrote it over and over and put each new version in the box. And I made the video so that you’d know even if something happened to me. But I wimped out every time I thought that maybe I could tell you. I was already enough of an asshole in your eyes and I couldn’t stand adding gullible, naive, stupid, and patsy to the list of adjectives I knew you already had running in your head. And I’m so sorry I kept all of this from you for the sake of my pride, Scully. I’m so sorry. But it truly felt like that was all I had left.” He stepped away from her and returned to his place on the glider, his head in his hands.

Scully suddenly became aware of the fact that her knees were shaking, threatening not to hold her up anymore. She went and sat beside him and reached a tentative hand out to touch his, relieved and heartened to feel him grasp hers in return. Edging closer, she relished the feeling of their hands clasped together in the space between them, their thumbs gently caressing each other. She watched his profile in the waning moonlight, realizing they’d spent nearly the entire night on the porch and that morning would be coming soon. His head was downcast and he wouldn’t look at her, although she could feel his grip on her hand tighten.

“Mulder?” she said softly and waited for him to turn and face her. “Thank you. Thank you for telling me. I wish it had been sooner, but I do understand. And I know it was difficult for you. So much, Mulder, we’ve been through so damned much.” She used her free hand to brush a lock of hair from his forehead.

She heard him take a deep, shaky breath and felt his trembling through their clasped hands. “It’s been too much, hasn’t it Scully? This is the part where you tell me you can’t take any more.” There was a sad resignation in his voice that tore at her heart.

She smiled at him reassuringly. “Some psychic you are,” she said, chiding him gently. “No Mulder, I already said I’m not going anywhere. Everything you talked about, we’ve already lived through. We got through all of that and we still ended up here together. The only thing that’s important now is what’s coming. There are still questions that it seems like we were destined to ask and I think the only way we’re going to get the answers, the only way we’ve ever gotten the answers, is together. And I want those answers. We’ve earned them. We deserve them. And I want there to be an us, Mulder. I want it as much as I want the answers.

“I’m glad you finally told me the whole story. It truly does make it hurt less. But I’d be lying to you if I said there wasn’t still some pain from all of this. But it’s something that I have to work through, Mulder. I have to work through it and dump it, just like you do with the guilt. Because we can’t afford to wallow in it. Not now.”

He nodded. “I know. This would be hard enough if it was just about us, but it’s not. So what do we do?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “I need some time. I have to think about this.” She saw him frown slightly. “It’s who I am, Mulder. I can’t do this any other way. I have to think things through. You know that about me.”

“Yeah,” he replied with a sigh. “Yeah, I do. It’s who you are. It’s part of what saves me. It’s part of what I love.”

She smiled, grateful for his understanding. “I know we don’t have much time, but I need a little. There are still things you need to know, things I have to tell you, and we have to try and figure out what’s going on and what we’re going to do. But I also know I have to understand what all that you’ve told me means to me, to us. Just a little time.”

He looked to the east where the sky was beginning to lighten. “Look,” he whispered. “Almost daybreak. Why don’t we make some breakfast, then I’ll shower and go for a walk or something. Give you some space. Give us both some space. Then you can head for the tub.”

She smirked at him. “Are you implying that I could use a bath?”

“No,” he said, with something approaching a genuine grin. “The bathtub’s where you go to think.”

She looked at him, astonished. “How did you know that?”

He gave her an indulgent smile. “I’ve traveled with you for seven years now, staying at places that, when we were lucky, rated slightly above sleazy dives. Thin walls.” She gave him the Scully eye-brow thing. “I don’t listen on purpose, but I’m not deaf, either. When we’re on mundane or boring cases, you take a shower at the end of the day. When they’re puzzling or disturbing and you need to think about them, you take baths. Really, really long baths.”

She smiled back at him, surprised and somehow pleased that he’d noticed that. “The Mulder powers of observation strike again. Come on. I’ll make omelets, but you have to chop up the stuff. We’ll eat what you made later. I don’t think I can deal with spicy chicken stew at sunrise.”

She took his hand and led him into the cabin.

+++++

Chapter Five

Steam rose off the water in feathery tendrils as Scully reclined in the tub breathing deeply, her eyes closed. She lay almost to her neck in water dappled with tiny purple flowers, their scent soothing and fragrant. A gift from Mulder.

After they ate the omelets Scully cooked, he’d showered and dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt. To her surprise, he made a genuine offer to clean up the kitchen, but she declined, saying that she’d rather do it herself. He nodded and headed for the door to take a walk, to give her space. Standing at the sink, she heard his steps echo hollowly on the wooden deck and descend the stairs. Through a far window, she could see his head, his hair shining a rich chestnut color in the morning sun as he retreated, rounding the corner of the house. She turned her attention back to the work of her wet, soapy hands, trying to fight a sudden pang of mild apprehension. Should they really be separated right now? They didn’t know where they were or really how safe they might or might not be. She shook the feeling off, watching the water and suds swirl down the drain. They were in the middle of nowhere and both of them were armed. Still, she couldn’t quite suppress a small shudder.

The dishes done, she was about to head for the bathroom when, through the window, she saw Mulder coming back to the cabin. There was a discreet knock at the door a few seconds later and she found it strange and sweetly touching that he would seek her permission to enter the space he had given her. She opened the door and stepped aside for him to enter, but he simply stood in the doorway, proffering a handful of some kind of purple wildflower and a lopsided grin. She took the flowers and gave him back a smile that was both curious and expectant.

“It’s lavender,” he said, suddenly feeling self-conscious. “There’s a rock garden kind of thing out back and I found this. My mother used to grow it in her garden when I was a kid. Every once in a while she’d send me out to pick some for her. For her bath. If you take the flowers off the stems and crush them a little bit, then put them in the tub while you’re filling it, it makes the water smell nice. That’s what she said.” He struggled to keep his eyes on hers, resisting the urge to look down and scuff his shoes against the wooden planking. Instant fifteen-year-old.

She felt like her heart was dancing something fast and old-fashioned—a jig, a Virginia reel—and she couldn’t, didn’t want to, keep the delight from her face. “Do you know this from experience, Mulder?” she teased, feeling uncharacteristically giddy. Oh God, what am I? Fifteen?

And Mulder loved it, loved her expression, her smile. Pleased with himself for making that smile and flat on his ass in love. “Hey, guys can have Sarah McLaughlin nights, too.”

“Absolutely,” she agreed with a hearty laugh. “Scented bath, a few candles, some incense, a good cry. Fixes you right up.” She brought the flowers to her face, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply. They had a spicy, earthy scent that reminded her of her sister Melissa in a comforting, warming way. She opened her eyes again and gave him a fond smile. “You don’t have to ply me with gifts, Mulder. It’s fairly certain that you get the girl in this story.”

He smiled a smile she’d never seen before, a full thousand watt Muldersmile, and it nearly took her breath away, sending a shiver of delight down her spine. My God, he’s handsome. If he’d have given me that smile the day we met I’d have tripped him and beat him to the floor. But she knew he couldn’t have given her that smile then. That smile came from his heart

“I want to ply you with gifts. I want to do silly shit. Think up nicknames. Carve our initials somewhere. I want to write sonnets, for God’s sake.” He looked down suddenly, almost as if fearing he’d said too much. But not before seeing that his words had made her happy. “Look, I’m gonna go. I promised you some space.”

He turned to leave, but Scully stopped him with a hand on his arm. “Not too much space, okay G-Man?” Her voice was low and warm. “Don’t get too far away.” She placed her hands at his waist and was reassured to find a holster, covered by his shirt, clipped at his right hip.

“In case you need your back washed?” He leaned down toward her and she brought a hand up to caress his cheek. He turned his head and gave a small, open-mouthed kiss to her palm that sent a chill down her spine.

“Yeah, something like that.” She stood on tiptoe and pressed her lips lightly to his. “Thanks for the flowers, Mulder.”

“You’re welcome.” His tongue darted out over his bottom lip as if savoring her flavor and Scully felt her knees weaken a little at the gesture. “Have a nice bath.” Before closing the door, she watched him descend the steps again. In the kitchen, she pulled the small purple flowers from their stems, dropping them into a plastic bowl and grinding them with the rim of a coffee cup.

She hadn’t noticed in her previous journeys into the bathroom, but there was a large window across from the tub that looked out onto the rock garden where Mulder had found the lavender. The isolation of the cabin afforded it the luxury of such a lovely sight in a room that otherwise would demand privacy. The garden lie part in the sun and part in the shade of the cabin and was teeming with life—birds, insects, squirrels, and even a chipmunk family. The flowers were varied and colorful. Lavender, black-eyed Susans, daisies and lupines grew freely among several kinds of decorative grasses, with large and small rocks of different hues placed artfully about to mimic nature. Scully wondered again about Langley’s Dungeons and Dragons friend, whether he’d planned and planted the garden or had it done, why it might have been important for him to have it. She was glad he had because it was a wonderful thing to contemplate while in the tub.

There was something so exotic about relaxing in a bathtub strewn with fragrant flowers and it added to the feeling of unreality she was experiencing. Occasionally, she sighed deeply enough to ripple the water around her, causing the flowers to move and tickle her skin a little. It would be tempting, wonderful, just to stay in this isolated, timeless place—just bathe and eat and sleep and learn how to love one another. No, how to be in love. They’d loved one another for years. If they could only stay here.

But they couldn’t. Their lives were their own only if they chose to accept the inevitability of a plan that was started well before they were born, a plan that had touched their lives deeply and irrevocably. And accepting their inevitability was something neither of them was willing to do. They had work to do and, as always, they’d pick up the load and get to it. But Scully realized that their only chance at succeeding depended entirely on their ability to trust one another completely at every turn and to trust, it was vital for her to understand. As she’d told Mulder, she had to think things through—it was her nature. She knew that once she’d thought things through and was certain she understood, she was immovable—as steadfast in her knowledge as Mulder was in his belief. She needed to try and understand him.

She no longer doubted Mulder’s trust in her. He’d given her all of himself and left himself in her hands. She now knew his life, knew his pain, knew his heart and it was almost beyond her comprehension. The man he’d described in such heart-wrenching detail was so removed from the Mulder she knew—her Mulder—as to be almost unrecognizable. She’d known of his pain and guilt almost from the beginning, but had never realized the depth and scope of it. She would weep for a stranger whose life story mirrored his. It was nearly unbearable to her that someone she loved had lived it.

In fact, she’d retreated to the bath partly because she hadn’t been sure how long she could hold off her tears, knowing he would never tolerate her pity. It was one of the reasons he’d never before been able to tell her of his life—his fear of becoming an object of her pity. She wished she knew of a way to explain to him that it wasn’t pity at all, but an expression of her grief that he’d had to face so much. No, she would have to grieve Mulder’s life for him in private, as she had while the tub was filling, hoping that the sound of the water running would cover her sobs in case he was hovering within earshot. Her tears for his life would only hurt him more.

He hadn’t defended Diana all this time out of a lack of trust for Scully, or even out of an all-consuming belief in Diana. He hadn’t done it to protect his ego or his pride. He’d done it to save his soul—self-defense of the soul. To be able to keep on believing that someone in his life had loved him. The life he’d led was inconceivable to her—the idea of a life completely devoid of love, where people drifted in and out, tampering with his memories, blatantly using him without any regard for what they were doing to him. She knew he was outside walking around, thinking about what he’d told her, too. Cursing and berating himself for his weakness and gullibility. He didn’t, maybe couldn’t, see the evidence of his strength in the fact that he was still here, that he’d hung on through everything he’d done, everything that had been done to him.

Scully had always realized somehow that he was the most alone person she’d ever known. A solitary person herself, she’d never really considered or questioned why that might be. Her own solitude she’d always seen as a combination of things that she more or less had chosen and had control over. And it was never solitude without options. Her father and Melissa were gone, and she’d miss them forever, but love was always there. She still had her mother and Charlie, and—she knew in her heart—even Bill who all loved her. She’d been loved and wanted and accepted without hesitation her entire life, and she loved them back just as fiercely. So often in all the moving and transferring that happened while she was growing up, her family was all she was sure of. She knew, had always known with absolute certainty that for as long as she had family, she had love.

Mulder had had none of that, nothing to be sure of since he was a small child. He could never be sure of love or acceptance or even his own memories, left to fend for himself emotionally even before his voice changed. His drug and alcohol abuse was not only unsurprising it was almost inevitable. Her heart ached at the thought of all the years he’d believed that drugs were the only way to ease his life. Simple human nature seeks a way to ease pain by any means possible, acceptable or not. From childhood, his life had been like walking a tightrope without a safety net. Maybe with the drugs he felt like he could at least feel good if he couldn’t feel safe. She ached at how horrible it must have been for him and as much as she could, she understood the rationale behind the choices he had made. She understood and it saddened her to think that Mulder had feared that she wouldn’t.

But why wouldn’t he fear that? He’d lived a life without love. She recalled a sermon Father McCue had given a few months before, where he’d said that the absence of love is not hate but, rather, fear. Maybe that was part of the reason he rushed headlong into things without thinking about himself. He’d lived with fear from childhood, had probably become numb, so inured to it that it didn’t register as fear. That fear, and his shame at his own weakness, would have been a powerful combination. Powerful enough to keep him from telling her. There’s where the pain was. Not in what happened—although that caused an agony in her heart she could hardly bear—but in the fact that he didn’t tell her.

But lying back in her lavender-scented bath, a feeling began to gnaw at her, one she hadn’t wanted to consider, but now could not avoid in the face of Mulder’s honesty. She herself had enforced Mulder’s fear of disclosing his past. He loved her, had loved her for a long time. All the signs were there, had almost always been there, and she could see them now that she could allow herself to look. After a life without love, he’d come to love her and that must have been as scary to him as the lack of love had always been. How frightening it must have been to think, to believe, that this love that he was finally able to feel might be destroyed if he made a mistake, that love is tenuous and uncertain.

And she’d never encouraged any other belief, never given him reason to believe that he could safely give her any but the most mundane parts of his life. She’d never led him to believe that he could give her his hell, openly discouraging him from making anything but the most innocuous forays into her private life. And for what? What was so all precious and sacred about her life that she hadn’t been able to share it with him? Her life had been like the Brady Bunch compared to his. Had she given just a little, he might have, too. Was that what she’d been afraid of?

That and so many other things, for there was much to fear in loving Mulder, in being loved by him. The truth was, their enemies had hurt her to get to him and she couldn’t fool herself into believing that they wouldn’t do so again anytime it suited their purposes.

But it was more than that, she knew. She feared the loss of control that happens in love, the loss of strength. There was strength in love, certainly, but there was also extreme vulnerability. And the lives they led required her strength, her control, for their enemies would surely use her vulnerability against her.

And then there was Mulder himself—the most irritating, passionate, annoying, endearing, immature, intelligent, complex man she’d ever known. His passion, his needs, his determination, his love were intense and all encompassing. What if they consumed her, used her up and left her with nothing? What then? What if they won, if they exposed the truth and found Samantha? Would he still want her? Would she be enough for him when the dust settled and there was nothing more to be sought?

But then, who could know something like that? What was enough? Was anyone enough as long as they could become better? Even in the best of times these were unanswerable questions, and she knew in her heart that the best of times was a long way off. If it occurred at all. It was foolish to worry about whether she’d be enough for him later when there was every likelihood that there wouldn’t be a later. Unless they could figure out what was going on and what they might be able to do about it.

One more thing to be terrified about. What, if anything, would they be able to do about it? They were nearly alone, for who but the plotters themselves would believe what she and Mulder had come to know? Wasn’t that what they had counted on all along? Wasn’t that what had allowed the plan to move forward as it had, just the sheer unbelievability of it? Sometimes—almost all the time—it felt as if she and Mulder were tilting at windmills, buffeted about by something that was so big as to be almost insurmountable. There was fear in that kind of helplessness.

Could love survive all those fears? She sighed deeply and shifted to a more comfortable position. The answer had to be yes or there was no point in going on. If fear is the absence of love, didn’t it follow that love is the absence of fear? Mulder, who’d lived a life without love, believed that it did and was willing to bet everything he had and everything he was that that was true. Scully had told Kersh that awful, horrible day in his office that he shouldn’t bet against Mulder. Maybe it was time to take her own advice, time to embrace the strength of his beliefs. Mulder had shown his love by laying his life on the table as his bet, trusting that she wouldn’t let him lose it.

Even after a life without it, he was willing to bet on love. He’d never even told his wife he loved her. But he’d told Scully, he said it to Scully. And how many times had he shown it before he was able to say it? How frightening it must have been to give voice to a feeling he’d never experienced. “Oh my God,” she whispered, sitting up straight in the tub. That time in Florida, after the Bermuda Triangle thing. He’d told her he loved her. Maybe for the first time in his life he’d said the words. And she’d brushed them off, dismissing them as if they were meaningless, chalking them up to drugs he’d been given. After what she’d learned, she knew he probably had refused any drugs they’d offered him. He was lucid, had meant what he said. And in her heart, she’d known it then. She’d realized it at the time and pushed him away so she wouldn’t have to deal with her own feelings. He never brought it up again and she was able to convince herself that it really was the drugs. God, how she must have hurt him. Tears of shame and regret streamed down her face and she wondered how many other times she’d wounded him in her attempt to keep him away from her.

And for what? Had she kept him away to be strong? She was here weeping in the bathtub, for God’s sake, the strength she’d chosen over him nowhere in sight. And perhaps that strength she insisted on maintaining was another part of what had kept Mulder from giving her his story earlier. Maybe he’d felt that if she was so strong, he had to be as well. Truth be told, she had expected that from him. Depended on it.

Had she kept him away to maintain her identity, her independence? The last ten days had shown her about the fragility of identity. Dana Scully, for all intents and purposes, had disappeared to the rest of the world the day she removed Fox Mulder from the psychiatric unit. Fox Mulder was gone, too. Both of them vanished, at least for the time being. In their places were George and Georgia Hale, Meredith and Anthony Collier, four or five other aliases Mulder and the Gunmen had meticulously established for them—fictions binding them together in fact. Identity and independence. Independence from Mulder had brought her into precarious positions—in Maine, in Philadelphia with Ed Jerse, in New York with Agent Ritter, trying to find a way to get him out of the hospital. Independence from Mulder no longer seemed like a functional reality for her, just as attempts at independence from her on Mulder’s part had never brought anything but trouble.

Maybe to save their partnership? That had worked for a while, but had ultimately proved to be a fallacy, too. Now, faced with the very real possibility that they would never see the inside of the Hoover Building again, it all seemed so much clearer. They’d been pushing one another away in order to stay together. How could either of them have believed that would work forever? Maybe they hadn’t expected it to work forever. Maybe they’d both been afraid to believe that forever was a possibility.

The truth of the matter was that their strength had always been in their togetherness—their identities intricately interwoven, their interdependence both their blessing and their curse. It was time to stop pushing away, for both of them to stop trying to stubbornly hold onto who they thought they were instead of allowing themselves to become who they could be.

They could start right here with a clean slate. If she wanted to she could catalogue each and every time he’d hurt her over the course of seven years—from ditching her to careless words to misplaced anger and guilt. And painful as it was to admit, she knew that he could do the same for the times she’d hurt him, although he would probably believe that he deserved the hurt. Or they could choose to stop the endless circling she’d written about in her journal—the itinerant stasis. Wipe the slate clean and build from the strength they’d always found together.

And maybe, just maybe, she should be telling these things to Mulder instead of soaking here in personal space that seemed too big and too empty without him. She knew he was out there wondering about them and hurting. He’d given her everything and she’d pulled away again, though he said he understood. His offering deserved better treatment than this.

Sitting up straighter, she pulled the plug from the tub. She got out and dried off quickly, dressing in the jeans and t-shirt she had brought into the bathroom with her. A quick comb through her hair, a few swipes with a toothbrush and she reached for the doorknob.

+++++

Mulder paced the edge of the clearing wondering how people actually claimed to be able to tell time by the sun. He wanted to give her fifteen minutes but couldn’t determine how long that actually was. He even tried counting slowly to nine hundred, until his mind gave that up as a stupid activity somewhere around forty-three. He figured fifteen minutes should give her enough time to get settled into the tub before he could come back and sit on the porch for a while. He didn’t want to hover, but he wasn’t sure of their safety. The idea of him wandering off while she was alone in the bath—armed or not—just didn’t sit right with him. And maybe he did want to hover a little. So what? She bathed, he hovered. He knew he could sit on the porch for an hour or more. Scully was a marathon bather. Then he could go in and wait for her. He didn’t think she’d see that as invading her space, as long as he gave her a fair amount of time. There was a limit to how long he could be expected to commune with nature.

In the end, though, he found that he couldn’t wait on the porch for anyplace close to an hour. He had to go in, had to listen to her bathe. He’d told her about knowing how her day was by whether she took a shower or a bath, but he hadn’t told her he knew about the two different kinds of baths. Or that sometimes, sometimes he did listen on purpose. There were differences in how she bathed.

When Scully was simply puzzled or intrigued by a case, she splashed more, there were more water sounds. And he could imagine her lifting that little net thingy she used to wash herself and letting the water drip out into the tub over and over again, letting the sound of the dripping water soothe her racing thoughts and help her put them into some kind of order. Those were good baths and as he listened through the paper-thin walls of the cheap hotel rooms, he felt like he could almost hear the wheels turning in her head as she sorted through facts and perceptions and crime scene photos and autopsy results in her mind. Sometimes he’d sit and listen and hear her issue a triumphant “hah!” and it would make him smile to try and guess what insight or explanation she would bring to him regarding whatever case they were working on. He loved the “hah!” explanations because they were the ones she came up with as a last-ditch effort to explain something they both knew was unexplainable. He loved them because of the discussions between then that followed, with both of them standing steadfastly and vociferously by their view of the situation. He loved the debates when he was right and he even loved them when he was mistaken. And on those nights, he looked forward eagerly to the next morning when she’d bring them a new idea to play with and that smug little Scullysmirk he’d come to look forward to like a kid looks forward to Christmas.

But the other kind of bath was harder to listen to, quieter, sadder. Sometimes at the end of the day, she’d go into her bathroom and run the water to drown out the soft sounds of her crying. But he could still hear the tears she shed. Hell, he could feel them. After the tub was full and the water shut off, she rarely made a sound, save for an occasional small hitch in her breathing. He could picture her lying there perfectly still, not a ripple in the water, with large silent tears streaming down her face. He knew he shouldn’t listen, that it wasn’t right, but sometimes he couldn’t help himself. He’d sit quietly in his own cold, dry bathtub listening to her cry through the shared wall—hating that she had so much to cry about, relieved that she was crying at all, and praying that someday she’d share the tears with him. And he hated himself for listening. He tried to rationalize it by telling himself that that was the only way he knew what she was feeling, but still it left him feeling cold, as if he had stolen something from her. And the next morning she’d be the quiet, withdrawn Scully he’d seen more and more of over the last year—the one who was always fine.

Entering the cabin he moved about quietly but without any particular stealth. He didn’t want to startle her, but more, he didn’t want to feel as if he were sneaking around—although he suspected that he might be. He looked over at the unmade bed and had no idea how long they’d slept, but he liked the idea of clean sheets. A drawer in the armoire in the corner held fresh linens.

As he tore the bed apart, he noted that the walls were thicker here and he really couldn’t hear anything from the bathroom. And he was glad. Listening wouldn’t be right and he was desperate to do this right. It meant everything.

He changed the sheets and smoothed up the bedspread, unconsciously giving the pillows an extra fluff. He took the laundry to the kitchen, where he recalled seeing a washer and dryer tucked away in a small closet, and set them to wash.

Suddenly he was at loose ends, not knowing quite what to do. He thought maybe he should go back out. She asked for a little time, just a little, and he wanted to give her what she needed. It was difficult but he’d do it, he’d wait. He went out onto the porch, and sat down on the top step, his back against the banister post.

The sun beat down on his face and he realized he didn’t know how many days it had been since he’d actually felt its warmth. Or how many years since he’d appreciated it. Or the quiet. The only sounds were the sounds of daytime in the woods. Birds and insects, the sound of the wind in the trees. He breathed deeply, filling his lungs with fresh, pine-scented air and it felt as if he could inhale forever. It felt different. Breathing felt different now. Breathe easy. I’m breathing easy. His brow wrinkled slightly as he considered this new feeling. Relief was something he thought he’d understood, but hadn’t really before this. This was something completely new and completely amazing.

As awful as it had been, as stupid and gullible as he’d felt, he was glad he’d finally told Scully everything. He’d hated having that between them for so long. It was such a relief knowing that he wouldn’t have to weigh everything he said to her, wouldn’t have to see the hurt and questioning he’d seen in her eyes over the past year. His mind, his heart felt lighter. He felt empty. But not in the way he had for most of his life—like a hollow, bitter shell. He felt empty as in purged, clean and open and, for the first time since he was a child, he felt able to be filled. Even the bitter pain of Diana’s betrayal seemed less important somehow. Is this what she feels like after she goes to confession? If so, he could see the attraction of it, in being able to unburden your heart and be assured of absolution. But is the absolution as important as the unburdening? And does absolution happen if you can’t forgive yourself?

Scully said she wanted him to forgive himself, that she needed him to, that his guilt over all that had happened to her dishonored the choices she had made. She’d asked him to choose between her and the guilt. He didn’t think she’d meant that she would leave him because of the guilt, but rather that it was what could ultimately destroy them. And maybe she was right.

But the guilt had become an almost intrinsic part of him, instilled so young that he barely remembered a time when it wasn’t there, its roots a part of the entire experience that was Samantha in his mind. Logically, rationally he knew he was not to blame for what had happened to his sister. He’d learned that it was a situation that was decided—by his father and by others—and that there had been nothing he could have done to prevent it. And even if that hadn’t been true, he was only a child. And everything that he’d felt guilty about since that time was a result of that fallacy, including all the things that had happened to Scully. He knew all of that rationally. But so much of his life had shown him that rationalism is sometimes hard to come by.

But there were other, more complex, issues involved. There was comfort in the guilt. It was and always had been one of the few things he could count on. But it was more than that, too. His guilt was what had enabled him to continue on this horrible and wondrous journey. The passion and the drive were in the guilt. It had motivated him, kept him believing that if he just worked hard enough, he could fix everything. But they knew that, too—their enemies. They knew that what motivated him also left him open for manipulation, and he had been criminally manipulated, as had Scully. And it made him angry—outrageously, bitterly irate. As it always had.

No, not as it always had. Not the same. Like the breathing, the anger was different, too. He’d always been aware that the manipulation was occurring at levels that he couldn’t always identify. Though it appalled him, now knowing the full extent of the manipulation was somehow liberating, even though he didn’t understand the reason for it. Knowledge of its scope seemed to give the anger some focus, rather than the impotent rage he’d felt for so long. Now that the how was out, they could concentrate on finding out about the why. And with all of that, surely they’d have something to fight back with.

And he wanted to fight back. For everything they’d done to him, but more for everything they’d done to her. To his Scully—the woman who’d chosen to stand at his side. She’d told him she had to stay strong so that she’d get to say fuck you to them. And she’d been strong. Amazingly, incredibly, heart-wrenchingly strong and that fortitude had come at a high price. She’d lost so much. But still she paid the price over and over and still she came back. To him. For him. And for herself, too.

He remembered how he’d chided her at the Gunmen’s place for making this personal and the memory sent a fresh stab of pain into his heart. If he could take back one day in his entire life, it would be that one. From beginning to end, the single worst day of his life. Worse, somehow, than the day he’d lost Samantha because his memory that night was clouded. The memory of their confrontation in front of the guys was crystal clear and for the thousandth time, he felt himself burn with the shame of it. He made a vow right then never to hurt Scully like that again.

It was personal. It had never been anything else.

Now it was time to start getting a return on Scully’s payments and his own, too. He remembered her words to him from so long ago, sitting in her sister’s empty hospital room after Melissa had died.

<I’ve heard the truth, Mulder. Now what I want are the answers.>

But neither of them could find the answers alone, though both of them had tried. Nothing they did alone had ever worked as well as what they did together. And they weren’t going to get the answers with him on the porch and her in the bath.

He’d listened to her, he believed her, when she said his guilt could destroy them and he was willing to try and let it go. She’d been trying to tell him that the guilt takes up too much energy, that it takes away from what is really important. And she was right and he would do his best, would work on trying to get rid of it. To honor her choices.

But in return, she he needed her to stop retreating from him. He realized that she needed privacy and places to herself. Hell, he did too, although probably not as much as she did. But he’d given her everything he knew of his life and she was in there trying to sort through it, when she should be asking him about what she didn’t understand. He’d given her his life—warts and all. Warts, hell. Festering wounds and all. And although he should have told her much earlier, he had done it nonetheless. Didn’t that earn him the right to ask her to talk to him about it? She, of course, had the right of refusal but, damn it, he had the right to ask.

Pounding a fist into his thigh, he stood up abruptly to go back inside. He strode the distance to the bathroom door in a few steps and raised his hand in a loose fist, his knuckles poised to knock on the door.

+++++

Chapter Six

Scully turned the knob and opened the door. There was just enough time for her to register that Mulder was standing in the doorway before his knuckles crashed down on her forehead. “Ow! Shit!” she cried, stumbling back a couple of steps.

Mulder’s mouth dropped open in surprise and his eyes widened in horror. “Oh, Jesus! Scully…” He stepped forward and grabbed her around the waist just as her legs hit the edge of the bathtub. Catching her before she fell, he pulled her close to his chest. “I’m sorry. Oh, baby, are you okay? I’m sorry.” His hands threaded through the damp hair at the nape of her neck.

He smashed her face into his chest without thinking and she felt like she couldn’t catch the breath her lungs had expelled in surprise. She pulled away slightly, gasping in a quick breath, and saw the look of concern on his face. Baby? He’d called her baby? She wrapped her arms around his waist and burrowed her head back against his chest. Suddenly she was overcome with laughter, silently shaking with an uncontrollable case of the giggles at how absurd the past few seconds had been. He’d knocked her one in the head and called her baby. And the way he said it was as if nobody else had ever said the word before in the history of language. If that was what baby sounded like, then henceforth she would be baby. Sometimes.

“I’m sorry, Scully,” he soothed, his hand rubbing comforting circles on the back of her head. “Please don’t cry. Are you hurt? Did I hurt you?”

She pulled away again and looked at his face, watching his expression go from concerned to puzzled as he realized that she was laughing. Finally, she had enough air in her lungs to give the laughter some sound, and it rang in the high-ceilinged room. “Jeez, Mulder,” she said when she could finally catch her breath before starting a new round of giggles. “I wish we had that on tape. That may have been our finest comic moment.”

“You’re okay,” he said with relief and a chuckle that still sounded uneasy.

“Yeah. It was just unexpected. You startled me. I’d forgotten that unexpected things don’t have to be bad. Sometimes they’re just surprising, sometimes they’re good.”

“Knocking you in the noggin was good?”

“No, that was surprising. You calling me baby was good.”

He looked at her, amazed. “I called you baby? And you didn’t hate it?”

“I didn’t hate it,” she said, suddenly feeling shy. And that was good, too.

Mulder smiled and ran his fingers loosely through her hair to raise her face to his. “Okay, baby. Come over here and let me take a look at this.” He led her to the bed and sat her down on the edge of it. Probing the area, he was alarmed to find a small lump forming at her hairline. “Jesus, I hit you in the head.”

She watched his brow crinkle in dismay and smiled at him. “Okay, Mulder. Listen, I’m going to tell you how to treat this.” Her tone was serious.

“Okay.” He looked at her intently, solemnly.

“Kiss it and make it better.”

He grinned down at her, that breathtaking smile from before. “I concur with that aspect of the treatment, Dr. Scully.” He pressed his lips against the spot his knuckles had met. “What else? Ice or something?”

“Now forget about it. It was an accident and I’ll live. Besides, that was the best laugh I’ve had in a long time.” She scooted back on the bed, sitting cross-legged, and drew him down to sit with her. He mimicked her position, facing her with their knees touching. “Now why were you at the door?”

“I missed you.”

Scully smiled at that. “Missed you, too. In fact, I was just coming out to look for you.”

“Yeah? How come?”

“Well,” she began.

“No wait,” he interrupted. “I lied. No, I didn’t lie. I really did miss you. But that’s not why I was at the door.”

Scully looked at him curiously, waiting for him to go on.

“I wanted to tell you… Jeez, this is hard. No wonder we never do this.” He took in a shaky breath. “It’s just… Suddenly it was like, you were in there thinking about me, thinking about us, maybe making decisions about us, and I was out there waiting. Not part of the process. Like waiting for white smoke over the Vatican. Haven’t we done that one enough now? Pulling away when things get too close to the bone?”

She nodded sadly. “Making rationalizations about each other in our own minds that may or may not have anything to do with real motivations, instead of just asking. Yeah, I think maybe we should start eliminating that as something that works. That’s what I was coming to tell you.”

They sat in silence for a while, both of them looking down at their hands folded in their laps, as if deep in thought. “This is hard,” she said with an uncomfortable chuckle. “But we both have to do it. We have to give each other real thoughts and feelings.”

“I can do it if you can,” he said, a soft challenge in his voice.

“Yeah, but how?” she asked. “Damn, they probably covered this very thing at that Team Builder seminar we were supposed to go to. We should have gone.”

He chuckled, shaking his head. “Scully, between us we have like forty years of formal education. I can’t imagine that they could have given us anything in a weekend that we haven’t already learned somewhere along the line. Besides, we’re talking mothmen here. You wouldn’t really have missed that for a crappy seminar, would you?”

“You’re kidding, right?” She looked at him curiously.

And he looked back in disbelief. “No. It was one of the coolest weekends of my life.” He noted her skeptical look, raised eyebrows and all. “Really. I mean, we’re saved from the worst car ride of our collective lives and certain death by boredom over the next few days when a real X-File drops into our laps. We got a nice walk in the woods. I got to see you all wavy haired and natural.” He smirked at her. “And we got real evidence that other people actually saw, thanks to you. You were so great.”

His voice was full of admiration and she felt herself flush at his pride. “Mulder, you could have been killed.”

“Nope,” he said simply. “You were right there. You’d never let that happen. I was never scared of that, even once.”

“That thing nearly ripped your arm out. You were hurt, you were in shock, we were cold, we were lost,” she reminded him.

“And you held me all night and kept me safe and warm. And you sang to me, Scully. Just because I asked you to.” His eyes softened at the memory. “Nobody else in my whole life would have done that. I’d already loved you for so damn long, and you knocked me on my ass again. Mauling by a mothman didn’t seem like such a high price to pay to get to lay in your arms all night.” His voice dropped, shaky with emotion. “You don’t know how many times I’ve dragged that memory out, just to get me through the bad times.”

She felt her eyes mist up a bit. “Yeah, I think maybe I do.”

Mulder gave her a small, hopeful smile. “You too?”

She nodded. “I think about that night a lot. How good it felt to be able to hold you, to be alive to hold you, knowing that you trusted me to keep you safe. In the last year, there were times I just didn’t feel that from you—a lot of times, I think. That night I really did feel like your one in five billion. And remembering it was one of the things that made me able to hang on. Just the chance that we could get that feeling back again. I couldn’t leave if there was even the slightest chance that we could have that.”

“Can we get it back?” he asked. “Can you forgive me for not telling you about Diana?”

He looked at her earnestly, waiting for her decision.

“It’s not about forgiveness, Mulder. There’s nothing to forgive. It was wrong that you didn’t tell me, but I can’t be angry with you for something I would have done myself. It was wrong that you didn’t tell me, but I don’t think I’d have told you, either. If the things that happened to you happened to me, I wouldn’t have told you. And I would have been wrong, too.”

“Still, I should have at least told you when she came back,” he insisted. He swallowed hard and went on. “But things were so shaky between us. I was so intensely grateful that you were going to live, and just as afraid you were going to leave the X-Files, me. You’d just gotten better. I thought maybe you’d cut and run while the getting was good. I mean, they gave you that disease to make me believe.”

“Oh Mulder, as soon as those words were out of my mouth I wanted to take them back.” Tears flooded her eyes at the memory. She’d seen something die in his eyes when she’d spouted those words in anger, in fear, in helplessness. And that something in his eyes stayed dead for a long time. “I’m so sorry.”

“Why? It’s what you believed. In a perverse sort of way I was glad to hear it. At least it was something you felt. And it made me move, Scully. It made me do something about finding something to help you.”

She shook her head. “You know, we could sit here and hold a post-mortem for every time we’ve hurt each other. We’ve hurt each other, we both know that. But, damn it, we’ve loved each other, too, and that’s gotta be stronger because we’re still here. Why don’t we just start over from right here? If you need forgiveness, Mulder, then ask me for it. But then you have to let me ask you for forgiveness, too.”

“Scully, you don’t…”

“Don’t,” she interrupted insistently. “Don’t make your hurt less than mine. We’ve both done things wrong here. It’s time to forgive each other. Work on talking to each other instead of hurting each other. Now ask me for my forgiveness.” She looked at him, giving him an encouraging smile.

And he smiled shyly in return and took her hands, his eyes never leaving hers. “Scully, I’m so sorry for the times I’ve hurt you. Will you forgive me?”

“Yes, Mulder, I forgive you,” she replied, giving his hands a squeeze. “And I’m sorry for all the times I’ve hurt you. Will you forgive me, too?”

“Without question,” he responded. He reached behind her neck and pulled her forward to place a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Okay, we start over from here and we talk to each other. We’re okay?”

“Better than we’ve ever been,” she reassured him. She scooted back on the bed and drew him down to lay beside her. His arms went around her immediately to hold her close and his lips sought hers for a kiss to seal their bargain and Scully felt the warmth and love and comfort in the kiss.

They lay nestled together for several long minutes, Mulder’s face burrowing into the side of her neck. “We have the worst timing in history,” he whispered after a while, regret dripping in his tone.

She nodded and moved her face away so that he could see by her expression that she shared his regret. “We’ve got work to do,” she said sadly. “Much as I would love to, we can’t stay here forever and there’s still a lot you need to know.” They both sat up and pulled apart a little.

“The artifacts,” he said, wonder and excitement tingeing his voice a little. “I still haven’t seen them.” He stood to go and retrieve the bag.

“No wait.” She stopped him with a hand to his arm. “There’s something you need to know even before you see them. Something I need to tell you while our promise is still fresh.”

“Okay.” He said uncertainly, giving her a worried look as he resumed his seat beside her on the bed. And nothing in the expression Scully gave back to him indicated that he was wrong to worry.

+++++

“I wish,” she said, hesitantly. “I wish I didn’t have to be the one to tell you this.” She paused again, as if trying to gather her thoughts. “But I wouldn’t want you to find out from anyone else, either. You need to know because I’m certain it has something to do with what’s going on now. And you also need to know just because it’s your life.” She rambled, almost as if talking to herself.

“Scully, you’re killing me here,” he said, anxiety coloring his tone. “Just spit it out.”

She nodded, her lips pressed together in determination. “I went to see your mother. Between coming back from the Ivory Coast and getting back to Washington.” She paused to see if he had any reply to that, but he simply waited for her to continue. “I was afraid they weren’t going to let me in to see you at the hospital. This was before I knew about the Power of Attorney. I thought your mother might be able to help me get in. She, at least, was family.”

“Well, obviously, that plan didn’t work,” he said with a caustic chuckle. “Let’s see. She couldn’t do it because of… Bridge club? Sale at Lord and Taylor’s? Brunch with the girls?”

“Mulder,” she said, barely above a whisper and there was something urgent in her voice that made him stop his bitter raving. “Please listen to me because I don’t want to have to say this more than once. I went to see your mother and she refused to help us. She told me she wasn’t your mother.”

Mulder closed his eyes, wincing briefly, his hands clasping into loose fists. He took a deep breath, alarmed at his own lack of shock or surprise. But even the fact that it didn’t surprise him didn’t make it not hurt. “Wow, disowned, huh? Shouldn’t there be some kind of, like, formal notification for something like that?”

Scully sighed in frustration. “No, that’s not what I meant. That’s not what she said. She told me… your mother… she said she didn’t give birth to you.”

He paused for a moment, considering her words, then shook his head. “No,” he said in flat denial. “That can’t be. I have a birth certificate.”

She took his right hand in both of hers, holding his fingers between her intertwined ones. “Mulder, you know that means next to nothing. How many birth certificates do we have right now? And they were easier to fake in those days. She said your father had come to her confessing an affair, that there’d been a baby—you—and that the other woman had died in a car accident. Your father told her he wanted them to raise you, that he wanted to raise his son. She said they’d been having trouble conceiving, that she’d wanted a baby for a long time and agreed to let your father bring you home.”

“She’s not my mother?” His voice was quiet, sad and confused. This was going too fast, he couldn’t concentrate on that she was saying. His mother had told Scully she wasn’t his mother. She’d told Scully. “She’s not my mother? he repeated.

“That’s what she said,” Scully answered gently, tightening her grip on his hand.

“But she said my father was my father,” he continued and she nodded. He stood and began to pace the small area, his mind racing. If his father had faked the birth certificate, maybe he wasn’t his father either. Even if he was, who had given birth to him? The convenient story of his father’s affair and the death of the woman who’d borne him—it was all too pat, almost absurdly contrived. Had his mother actually believed it? Had she ever really thought of herself as his mother?

“Tell me what she said.” Mulder looked down at her and the dark sorrow and anxiety in her eyes tore at his soul. Again, she was part of something that she shouldn’t have had to be involved in, and she bore his pain once more as her own.

She returned his gaze and he saw her discomfort and apprehension at the space between them. He understood, hating the distance as much as she did, and sat down beside her again, still feeling restless and on edge.

“She said you were two months old when your father brought you home and that he moved your family to Martha’s Vineyard right away. According to her, your father worked a lot of the time so I assume she just took care of you and waited for him to come home. She said you were a good baby, but that you spoke in full sentences at seven months and could read at an advanced level by two. And that you’d seemed to be able to do those things spontaneously.”

“The God module,” he whispered, a kind of awe filling him. He really had always had it as a child.

Scully nodded. “It would appear that way,” she said. “But she never specifically said that. I don’t think she knew about that. I think she just thought that you were an exceptionally bright baby. She said you used to ditch her a lot and she’d have to get the entire neighborhood involved in hunting you down. I’m glad that didn’t start with me, Mulder.” He smiled at that, and was profoundly grateful for the answering grin she gave him in return. “When Samantha was a newborn, you used to talk to her for hours at a time. Your mother said you just kept on and on and never minded that she didn’t answer you back.”

“I don’t remember that,” he said wistfully, wishing he could claim that memory. “Must have been early work on my slide show technique, huh?”

“Yeah, it must have been a shock for you when I came along and you got an audience who answered back,” she replied chuckling softly. “She said Samantha loved you more than anyone else in the world.”

He felt tears sting his eyes at her words. He’d known that, had known that Samantha loved him, but to hear Scully say that his mother had acknowledged it… It made the fact that his mother hadn’t almost bearable.

“Your father, according to her, was involved with some kind of secret project and was away much of the time. She said he occasionally brought home strangers with foreign accents and that he spent most of his time on the phone when he was home. She didn’t pay attention and didn’t get involved.”

“Her specialty,” he said, more bitterly than he had intended to. No, not true. The bitterness was intentional. He hadn’t wanted to express it, although that seemed inane now. Who was he hiding it from? Scully? She’d already heard much, much worse from him.

“Mulder, you have to remember, she was a product of her times. Things were more black and white then. She did what she was supposed to do—she raised her kids and kept her house.”

“Are you making excuses for her, Scully?” he asked.

“No,” she replied with a quiet anger. “There are no excuses for what they did. But I think we forget sometimes how different things were just a generation ago. Your mother, my mother—they had defined roles they were raised from childhood to fulfill. Your mother took care of her children and didn’t delve into your father’s business. Millions of other women were doing the same thing at the same time.”

He nodded, conceding her point.

“Your father started acting strangely during the spring before your sister was taken. She said he was angry and upset most of the time and that he kept insisting that she take you kids to Quonochontaug.”

He nodded, his eyes going wide as he dredged up the memory. “We stayed the whole summer. We’d never done that before. Usually just a couple of weeks. I was so pissed. I’d gotten on a great Little League team and they were going to move me out of right field, maybe third base. I had to quit because we were going to be gone the whole summer. Spent the whole summer moping, we never saw Dad, Mom was bored silly, I was nasty to Sam most of the time.”

“Your mother said CGB… She called him…”

“Carl,” Mulder finished. “That’s what Fowley calls him, it’s what Sam and I used to call him. I remember that now.” His voice was soft and distant. “They did argue that night—just like the memories I had…”

“When you let that son-of-a-bitch Goldstein drill a hole in your head and pump you full of animal tranquilizers.” Scully’s voice was bitter and angry, the anger he knew she hadn’t allowed herself to express or even feel at the time it happened. He’d scared the hell out of her while she was dying.

But another thought came to him. “I know what I did was stupid, Scully. But don’t you see? The memory was true.”

She sighed, her face contorted in grief. “And what does knowing that get you, even now? I had weeks to live, Mulder, and I was chasing all over the countryside after you. Using up time that I should have had with my family, that I should have had with you.”

+++++

He winced, the grief in his expression matching her own. “But that’s just it, Scully. You had weeks to live. I knew that, I knew how bad it was getting, even though you kept saying you were fine. I… I checked the wastebasket in the ladies room. I knew how many nosebleeds you were having. And I was scared to death.”

She looked at him incredulously. “You were checking up on me?”

And he returned her gaze without shame. “That’s why they put the I in FBI. How else was I supposed to know what was going on? You weren’t exactly providing me with regular updates. The point is, you were dying and none of us had found a way to stop it. Hell, you’d already given up. You were dying and I couldn’t stop it. The only thing I could think of to do was to try and give it some meaning, Scully. I thought… I thought maybe if I could just find the answers we were looking for, I could at least give you that. But there was so little time. I was desperate, Scully. I was scared and desperate and I did a scared and desperate thing. I’m sorry.”

Scully realized she’d never thought about that incident from Mulder’s side. At the time, she realized now, she had been preparing herself to die and hadn’t felt able to expend the energy to examine what she thought Mulder might be thinking or feeling. After her recovery, she’d never really given the incident much thought—she hadn’t wanted to. So much of that time was so painful that she couldn’t bear to think about it. Now she could see that Mulder’s actions then had been almost a survival instinct. Maybe if he could give her death some meaning, he might be able to live with himself after she was gone.

“Hey, clean slate,” she said. “Remember?”

“There’s a lot to erase,” he said and she nodded. After a while, he spoke again. “They fought that night, the three of them. I overheard it. Sam did, too and she was scared. They were screaming with their voices and in their heads. I couldn’t make any sense of it—there was so much anger, so much fear. And my mother was crying and screaming not my baby, not my baby over and over. And they were all afraid—my parents, Carl, Sam—there was so much fear to hear and they were all afraid of different things. I couldn’t make sense of the voices in my head. I knew I needed to get my sister out of there, so I took her to her room and tried to make her go to bed. But she said she couldn’t sleep unless I was there, so I spent the night curled up on the rug next to her bed and she slept the whole night with her hand on my head. When we woke up the next day, my father was gone. My m-mother.” He seemed to stumble on the word. “She was quiet, but not inside her head. I kept her thoughts out because I didn’t understand them, they were scary.”

“You could control it? How?” Scully asked. If he could do it then, would he be able to learn how to do it now?

“Mostly it was just keeping away from her, I think,” he said his brow furrowing somewhat as he tried to recall that time. “Easy in the summertime when you’re a kid. I think it’s a proximity thing, but I think then I could control it some, too.” She nodded. “What else did she tell you?”

“She told me about the night Samantha was taken.” Her words were soft and filled with pain.

“She told you that?” he asked, astonishment clearly written on his face. “How many times…? She told you? Why not…?”

She could see by his expression that he was trying to reign in his racing thoughts, trying to get them into an order he understood. “Mulder,” Scully said, her hand on his arm.

“Why did she tell you these things, Scully? She never told me and you’re almost a stranger to her. My mother would never say these things to a stranger. Why did she tell you?”

Oh God, she hated this promise! “She told me…” She paused, desperate to find the words that would do the least damage, that would hurt him as little as possible and still give him the truth. “She told me so that I could tell you after she disappeared.”

“My mother’s disappeared?” he asked, his voice full of alarm and anxiety. “Like Samantha?”

Scully almost wished it had been that way. Even that would have been less cruel than what actually happened. “No, Mulder,” she said with an anguished sigh. “Your mother wasn’t taken, she left.” He looked at her, confused. “When I got there, there was a Sold sign in the yard and when she answered the door, she thought I was the cab driver coming to take her to the airport or the train station or wherever she was going. She let me into the house… No, I barged into the house and asked her to help us and she refused. I figured out she was leaving and I convinced her to tell me what happened so I could tell you. So you’d at least have that.”

“She just left? Without telling me. She didn’t tell you where she was going?” Scully shook her head. “And you didn’t try to stop her?” His tone was more perplexed than angry.

“What was I supposed to do, Mulder? Handcuff her to the bench in the foyer? There wasn’t time. I barely made it to the hospital in time as it was. I’m sorry, but you were more important to me than she was.”

He brushed his fingertips gently across her cheek. “Oh, Scully, no. I’m sorry. This is just… this is just…” He fumbled for the right words.

“So much,” she said, finishing for him. “I know, Mulder. It was for me, too.”

He swallowed hard and took in a shaky breath. “Did she know? Was she in on it?”

“No, I really don’t think so,” Scully replied gently. “She found out about it in the spring, but your father told her he could stop it. By the time it happened, she thought the danger had passed. She said that she and your father had gone to the neighbors to play cards. I guess it was some kind of regular Friday thing they did. She said they usually didn’t play past ten o’clock, but that they looked up at the clock and saw that it was almost midnight. The neighbor lady, Mimi…”

“Mitzi,” he interrupted dully.

“Yeah, one of those silly, French poodle names,” she agreed impatiently. “Mitzi said… Your mother said she made a comment about not knowing where the time had gone, and that your father kind of went ballistic.”

“Missing time,” he said.

Scully nodded. “Almost two hours of it. But your father ran out of there like he was possessed.”

“He’d have known what missing time was, what it meant.”

“They crossed the yard toward your house and when she saw all the damage, your mother went on shut-down. She didn’t see anything, Mulder. She didn’t know anything except that you were in shock and Samantha was gone. According to her, the family doctor came and sedated her and she wasn’t sure how many days or weeks she stayed that way.”

He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. “Forever. She stayed that way forever, Scully. She never got better, never went back to who she used to be. I guess none of us did.”

“Mulder,” she said, her voice heavy with regret. “I’m so sorry…”

He put up a hand to stop her. “Did she talk about him? Spender? Was he…? Was he Samantha’s father?”

She shook her head. “She said she was never unfaithful to your father.”

“Did you believe her?”

“I don’t know her.” She shrugged sadly. “I can’t swear that anything she said was the truth, but I didn’t get the feeling that she was lying. What could she gain by not telling me the truth? I know… I know how many people have lied to us over the years. But she was disappearing. It seemed like she’d planned it all out. I just don’t know.”

Scully watched as he lowered his head somewhat, his gaze turning more and more inward, trying to absorb the information she’d have done anything not to have been forced to give him. She tried to imagine what he was feeling and knew that it was futile contemplation on her part, for there was nothing in the scope of her existence to base her imaginings on.

A sudden wave of apprehension overcame her. Could Mulder bear this, too, on top of everything else? Absolutely nothing he ever believed about his life was true. His father had arranged his sister’s disappearance and then blamed him for it, until he himself believed it was true. His wife had been assigned to him, sent to study him, manipulate him, then disappear. Even his mother, such as she had been, wasn’t his mother. Would this be what finally broke him? There had to be a limit to what he could take.

No, that couldn’t happen. Because all of his truths weren’t lies. She was one of those truths and she had to show him that. She reached out to touch his face, hoping he’d look up at her. He responded to her touch almost immediately, raising his face to hers and the expression she saw there was one she thought she’d never see again. She could see sadness there, could identify that individually, along with pain and anger. But they were combined with something else, something it seemed she hadn’t seen in a long time—so long she could scarcely believe it was there.

“You know what, Scully? This is enough. This is e-fucking-nough! This is the end.” His anger was intense, almost a physical thing between them.

Had she misinterpreted? Had that expression not meant what she thought? “You’re quitting?” she asked in disbelief.

“Oh fuck no!” he answered vehemently and she felt her heart surge in relief. “This is just the end of all the shit. I’m so sick of it, Scully. I’m sick of what they keep doing to me and I’m sure as hell sick of what they keep doing to you. For so long it just got more and more pathetic and I let myself get pathetic right along with it. Well, now I’m just pissed. You know what? I’m glad she wasn’t my mother. At least there was a reason for how she treated me after Samantha disappeared. No more.” His voice trailed off, the effects of the lump she knew was forming in his throat. Her hand, still on his cheek, caressed his skin with her thumb.

Finally, he continued. “No more, Scully. We both get to say fuck you to them. I’m gonna bring their asses down just for the pure pleasure of saying that.”

Yes! That was what she wanted, that was what she hoped she’d seen in his expression. It had been so long since she’d seen real determination in his eyes and she watched in excitement as they turned from the gray they’d been for so long to a sharp green-blue. She, of course, knew about the wildly varying color of his eyes, but had she ever actually witnessed the change in process? She fought off the urge to ask him to do that again as she thought about his words, and she felt a twinge of anger herself.

“Mulder, if I’m not mistaken, we’re going to bring their asses down,” she reminded him archly.

He smiled broadly at her, his grin conveying apology, and relief, and even in this painful time, something akin to joy. “Oh hell yes!” he replied without hesitation. “I wouldn’t do it without you even if there was any possible way I could. In the words of the immortal Rhymin’ Simon The only truth I know is you.” Tiny gold flecks appeared in his irises, giving them an iridescence like a black opal. Another change right before her eyes.

And for the first time in a very long time, irrational though the feeling was, she felt hope stirring in her heart.

END OF BOOK TWO

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