Path of Thorns (The) by Smurf

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 Path of Thorns


Title: The Path of Thorns
Author: Smurf
Email:
Rating: NC-17 for graphic violence, language, and sexual content
Spoilers: Season six and seven up to The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati.
Category: S, R, & X
Keywords: Angst, MSR-UST, and RST
Summary: Through a tragic experience, Scully learns that the path of thorns cannot be walked alone.

Disclaimer: They belong to Surfer Boy and crew. ‘Sides, you actually think I am intelligent enough to have come up with these characters? Hardly, ask Briehan…

Archive: In the immortal words of Scully, “Sure, fine, whatever.” Just keep my name attached.

Notes: Oh dear, Smurfy’s at her angst again. Good thing though, no character death in this one. Other than that, just hang on for the ride.

*

In the terms of endearment
In the terms of the life that you love
In the terms of the years that pass you by
In the terms of all the reasons why

*

Part 1

I should have known the case would be unusual before I opened the folder. By the goofy grin on my partner’s face, I knew it had to be something. It was mostly my uncontrollable curiosity that made me even open the report. The first few official forms were barely filled out. Aside from the names of the special agents assigned to the case, there was really no information given on it.

I stopped after the second page, tired of seeing only blank documents. I clasped my hands on the cool surface of my desk and looked up at Mulder. He was leaning against his own desk in a classic thinker pose, with his chin resting in the crook of his palm. The fingers cupping his chin concealed the flagrant grin on his face.

I heaved out a slightly irritated sigh. “What is this Mulder?” I asked him, bracing myself for the full synopsis of the case. I prayed that it would not involve Mulder’s two favorite words: ‘cattle’ and ‘mutilations’.

Mulder let his hands drop to his sides and sauntered over to my desk. “This is,” he said extravagantly. “A murder case, serial murders actually.” His tone was the normal hint of contained exuberance. His mood was characterized with the same thrill a new case brought to him every time. If there is one thing I can say absolutely about Mulder, it’s that he loves his job.

This information immediately sparked my interests. We had been given a murder case, an actual run-of-the mill mainstream FBI murder case? “Mulder, are you feeling okay?” I questioned, arching my eyebrow at him.

He chuckled, knowing exactly what I meant by this case not seeming like our normal brand of X-file. “I know that’s what I thought too, it looks like it lost its way to Violent Crimes. Apparently, VCS is stumped too. They can’t make heads or tails of it. The murders aren’t really that bizarre, but it’s what’s occurred around them, and the history of the victims that makes it so odd.”

I leaned back in my chair; he had his introduction and now the synopsis would begin. “So what occurred around these victims?” I urged.

“First, all of the victims were female. They were all the same age, give or take a few years, and all had relatively the same social statuses. Other than that, they were all different, by looks, jobs, everything.”

I nodded, absorbing the information.

“Here’s where the bizarre part comes in.” he began, reaching for the opened folder on my desk. He picked it up and began leafing through it, searching. “All the victims were killed at precisely the same hour, on nearly consecutive nights. Just out of curiosity, I went digging in the records, and found similar murders in 1969, 1939, and sketchy records of murders in 1909. The victims were the same, the hour was the same, and style was the same. So far, thirty-eight people have been killed.”

He found what he was looking for and held out to me. I kept my eyes locked on his, trying to drain any bullshit out of him that he might be trying to drop on me. What he handed me was a black-and-what crime scene photograph. It showed the close-up of a slender woman’s hand, palm up. In the center of the palm, barely discernable under a pool of blood was the number 38.

“This is the most recent murder. According to the autopsy, it was carved into her hand by a sharp instrument before she was killed.” Mulder said, his voice suddenly losing its urgent, exuberant tone. Now he sounded like someone willing to take on a serious murder case. He thrust another picture in front of me. The print was older, and the cut number was smaller, 23. “This one’s from ‘69,” Another picture fluttered to my desk, “‘39,” and finally, an ancient photo, “1909.” He paused again, allowing me time to study the photos. “Each year ten murders were committed. No suspects were prosecuted or even named.”

I breathed out heavily, looking again at the most recent photo. The blood on the woman’s hand had trickled down her fingers, covering a gold wedding band. I thought about the woman. Who was she? What had she done to deserve being killed? Or was she just a random victim, never to be thought of again except as a number, a statistic? The picture imprinted itself in my mind.

“We have a flight for this afternoon at 3:30. We’re meeting with Detective Lucy Pacelli of the Chicago police at the latest crime scene.” Mulder dropped the rest of the folder back onto my desk to look at. He went around to his desk and gathered his things, and then began moving towards the door. “I’m going home to pack. I’ll pick you up around…2:30.”

I nodded, too involved to say a word. I didn’t notice when he left. By then, I had opened the autopsy report and was looking it over. It was all very interesting. Apparently, a shot by a standard thirty-eight millimeter handgun delivered the killing blow. The victim was shot in the head, and the bullet’s trajectory suggested an execution style killing. This woman, had her palms sliced, probably before her conscious eyes, and then was forced to a kneeling position before her attacker, to be killed in a most undignified way.

Flipping further through the case folder, I found a full-color crime photo of the murder victim. She had dirty blonde hair that must have hung long past her shoulders when she was standing. It was fanned about her head like a halo when she lay on the floor. Spreading like fine lace on the thick Oriental rug she was sprawled on was a puddle of crimson. It rimmed and seeped though her hair. Her icy blue eyes were open wide in an eternal look of fright.

I’m still not sure why, but it was that picture that really singed its image into my brain. Her eyes, oh, her eyes; I have seen some frightening things in my time, but those eyes had to be something of the worst. I closed up the folder and stuffed it into my briefcase, still seeing the haunting vision of those eyes before me. I locked the office and headed toward the parking garage. I saw the reflection of the eyes again as I looked into my rear-view mirror pulling out of my parking space. Those unseeing, crystal eyes; eyes that hadn’t seen all they wanted to see. They held a brilliant color, sky blue with an inner color of something like aquamarine, but not quite. Expressive eyes, pained eyes, dead eyes…my eyes.

*

Part 2

Not being one easily bothered by simple things like blood or other spilled bodily fluids, I wasn’t at all sure why the photographs had agitated me. Normally, I’m very able to control my emotions, not only on cases but also in my life. Clinical detachment was a skill so drilled into my sub consciousness during medical school it had become a way of life. If something makes me uncomfortable, I find it very easy to detach myself. And usually, I don’t even allow myself to get uncomfortable. But for some reason, this case and those pictures seem to be able to break down my defensive walls like harsh erosion and rotting decay. I immediately tried to remove myself and chalked it up to stress. I napped well on the plane ride, and felt refreshed and renewed by the time we arrived in windy, cold Chicago.

The most recent victim lived in a town house just outside of downtown Chicago. Her neighbor reportedly never heard a thing. Which struck me as odd considering the normally explosive sound of a gun, especially in a confined space. A gun silencer was added to the list of weapons.

When Mulder and I arrived at the late Jessica Sloan’s residence, Detective Lucy Pacelli was waiting for us. Momentarily breaking away from a small congregation of police officers, Pacelli found a moment to speak to us.

“Detective Lucy Pacelli, Chicago PD.” She introduced, flashing her leather-bound badge and extending her right hand. Pacelli had shoulder length, ashen blonde hair. Her eyes were a dark, striking green. She was tall; well, taller than me at least. Which doesn’t seem to take much. Still, she almost matched Mulder’s six feet, so I’m guess she was about five-ten, five-eleven. When she spoke, there was a noticeable Brooklyn accent hiding in her voice, but it had been worn out over the years. My first impression of her was that she was smart, quick, and pushy. She liked to get things done, when she wanted, and how she wanted. She talked like a cop, walked like a cop, and thought like a detective.

“You must be Agent Mulder,” She said, shaking Mulder’s hand. She gave him the quick once-over, twice. I could tell by the look on her face that he wasn’t at all her type. Her type was probably the burly, pro-wrestler, watch-what-you-say-or-I’ll-kick-your-ass-in-a- heartbeat type. But you can’t judge a book by its cover.

A wry grin tugged at Mulder’s lips. “Yeah, that would be me.” He poked a thumb out at me. “This is Agent Scully.”

Pacelli nodded at me briefly, and turned back towards the crime scene. Over her heightened shoulder, I could see camera flashes going off as one officer took some last minute crime scene photos. The body had been removed from the scene, probably even already transported and autopsied. I couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief about that yet, knowing I would probably end up doing an autopsy on this trip anyway. Where the body had been strewn was the infamous chalk outline in the silhouette of the body’s position.

The puddle of blood fringing the carpet had soaked into the fibers, leaving a stain that couldn’t be cut out. The rug would probably end up meeting the incinerator. Poor Mr. Sloan would probably throw it in himself, once the forensics team was through. Down by the rough outlines of the body’s hands, there were smears of blood streaking the carpet. Jessica Sloan must have streaked the blood from her hands to the rug when she collapsed. The forensic pathologist in me made a mental note to ask the local forensics team to ask if they had scoured that spot with a fine-tooth comb. It could hold some valuable hair and fiber particles. I shook my head and looked away from the body imprint, uninterested with my specialty at the present moment.

While Mulder busied himself by listening intently to Pacelli as she went over the case details with him, I took a look around the room. About two feet from where the body had been strewn, was a heavy, very expensive-looking, oak coffee table. As a stab in the dark, I guessed that either Mr. or Mrs. Sloan earned quite a pretty penny at whatever job they held. I hadn’t bothered to read the victim’s profile. Mulder had probably read it front and back, more than once. He was an expert on each and every victim, as part of his criminal profiler training taught him. He would fill me in on any important details about Sloan’s life when necessary.

Anyway, I nonchalantly looked through some of the things on the table. But first, I tugged on a pair of sterile gloves before I touched anything. Anything lying around this mildly cluttered room could be a clue to Jessica Sloan’s murder. On top of a small stack of living room magazines, was a framed photograph of Mrs. Sloan, and her husband. They appeared to happy together, arms holding each other for all eternity, gazing at the camera while smiling widely.

Letting my detaching barrier falter for just a second was all it took to get Mr. Sloan in my mind. If he and his wife were as inseparable as the picture portrayed, I could only imagine what he must be going through. His wife was dead, murdered in her own home, while he was away and unable to protect her. No one knew right now who had killed her or why, so there would be no peace for him. Even when they caught the criminal, and Mr. Sloan got his vengeance by seeing him convicted, it still would not bring back his soul mate. An involuntary shudder passed through my body.

When the weight of a hand settled onto my shoulder, I nearly jumped and dropped the picture from surprise. I gathered myself and looked up at Mulder, who must have either noticed my enthrallment with the picture, or the shudder. His eyes asked if I was all right. I could have said I was. I even thought I was. But in all honesty, I wasn’t. Of course I refused to admit that to him or even myself.

I averted my eyes from his and turned my shoulder towards him, dismissing the protective look he had suddenly achieved to give me. Looking back at the body outline, I decided to change the subject and ask him what he had learned.

“So, what’s the deal with Mrs. Sloan?” I asked half-heartedly, trying to sound interested in the case at hand.

“Well—” He began, taking in a long breath for a lengthy narrative.

“Yo, Pacelli!” Was called from down the hall from the living room, interrupting Mulder’s beginning interpretation and endless stream of early theories.

A large cop lumbered into the living room, carrying a plastic evidence bag. Perhaps I should reiterate when I say large. The word makes him sound fat or poky. No, this cop was the opposite. By large, I mean strong. He didn’t fit the donut-eater description of a cop at all, but more like the wife-beater description of a criminal. He had a bushy mustache covering his stout upper lip, and a dark mess of curly hair under his policemen’s cap. When he spoke, the thick Chicago accent on his voice was almost rebarbative.

Pacelli took a few steps towards the officer, meeting him halfway as he entered the bustling living room. “What have you got for me, Deuce?” Pacelli queried, holding out her hand in gesture to hand over the bag. He dropped the bag in her hand, letting her inspect it.

“The bullets from the last two victims. They all match.” He told her gruffly.

Pacelli nodded, thinking. Mulder and I began walking towards her, interested in the new information. She looked up when Mulder got her attention, absently waving her introduction. “Oh, Agents, this is Lieutenant Peter Stein, err…Deuce, as we all call him.” She motioned at him, and then explained who we were.

I watched Pacelli inspecting the gold colored slugs in the bag, until I felt eyes on me. Thinking nothing immediately of it, I looked up at “Deuce”. He was staring intently at me. I have always known I am able to draw a man’s eye, but am usually able to ignore it. This time however, I could tell by Deuce’s look that it wasn’t my body he was interested in, but something else. His eyes were cold, not emotionless, but cold. There were a thousand emotions there, but none that I could visibly discern. All I knew, was that his slate colored eyes scared me, and I had to get the hell out of there before I lost it.

Ignoring the inquisitive looks from the officers in the hallway, I walked briskly (actually on the brink of running) out of the house. A young cop narrowly tottered to the side of the concrete front porch to let me pass. I went down the cement steps and across the wet, post-shower lawn to Mulder’s and my rental car. With the bitter November air nipping at my cheeks and nose, I let a huge sigh escape my lungs. Some relief was breathed back into me with the Chicago wind, but not much. Leaning against the driver’s door of our gray Taurus, I let my eyes slip closed for a minute, trying to recompose myself.

Reopening my eyes, I saw Mulder standing before me. The knowing look in his eyes jarred me to immediate professionalism. Until I understood what had frightened me about Deuce Stein, I couldn’t let Mulder know anything was wrong. Mulder’s face showed concern, and I knew I wasn’t going to get out of this one without a fight.

“Are you okay?” he asked first, his eyes beginning soft and worried.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I told him, trying my best to avoid his intense gaze.

He didn’t speak again, only continuing to burn into my soul with his eyes. His hunt for the truth was more than just in his life’s work of finding his sister, it was in everything else hidden from him. God help the soul who tried to keep something from him. Unfortunately that soul was usually me.

I was powerless to do nothing but raise my voice and try to verbally discourage him from pushing me. I wouldn’t do anything physically harmfully to him, because that would only raise his determination. I’m not one to lash out violently, and if I were to shove him away, he would know something was wrong.

“I just had to get out, it was a little stuffy in there, it was getting to me.” I said, using my first defensive tactic, turning my shoulder to him and my face away.

Mulder stood his ground. “It didn’t seem very stuffy to me.” he said casually, refusing to give up. I remained silent for a few moments, still turned away until I felt the warmth of his hand gripping my upper arm. I looked him in the face again, still not speaking. “I think you needed to get out for a different reason.” He said more softly than before.

I shook my head stubbornly, continuing to defend my pride by avoiding his eyes. “I just needed some fresh air!” I exclaimed, shaking his hand off my arm.

Finished with the conversation, I turned to walk around to the passenger side of the car. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Deuce climbing into a patrol car behind our car. He was continuing to watch me with a fixed stare, even from inside the car. I avoided his eyes as well, thankful for the change in direction when I climbed into the car.

A few seconds later, Mulder joined me. At first, he said nothing. He just buckled his seatbelt and placed his hands at ten and two on the steering wheel. I heard a shallow breath escape him, but his eyes never wandered from a focal point outside the windshield. “Is something bothering you about this case?” he asked quietly, gently.

I pursed my lips. I knew by then that, yes, something was bothering me. I knew not what, but I knew something about the whole situation rubbed me the wrong way. It was an irrational feeling though, it had to be; I’d seen far worse things than this. And as for Deuce, I could hold my own around men like him. I still could never admit this to Mulder. I didn’t want his protection, although I knew it was what he wanted to offer. “No, Mulder,” I finally conceded. “Nothing’s bothering me. I just needed some fresh air, some room to think.”

Thankfully, he let it go from there, and we drove to the hotel in silence. I wish I could have told him then. I hate learning from mistakes.

··•*•··

Part 3

There was another murder the first night we were in Chicago. Mulder told me that very night that there would be one, at the exact hour of eight o’clock, just like the others. Forgetting about the little tiff we had at the Sloan scene, we dined on Chinese take-out in my room rather than going out to eat. Neither of us really felt like going out, it had dropped to fifteen degrees and they were calling for snow.

Did I mention how much I hate Chicago? In Chicago, there are two types of weather, hot and windy, and cold and windy. In the winter it’s freezing and it snows a lot. In the summer it can be scorching. Write it down. Chicago in November is not the place I want to be on a case. I wish we could once get a crackpot insurance fraud case in Maui. It may be a boring assignment, but at least the weather would be good.

Like I was saying, Mulder proclaimed that there would be another one of the murders that night. He didn’t have a hunch yet on where, or who a probable victim would be, but he knew this murderer was flawless and very consecutive. It would take a lot to interrupt this killing spree.

And Mulder was right. I hate to admit it when he is, but he was. At five o’clock in the morning, he received a call from Pacelli saying they’d found another body. Mulder woke me up, his face alive and bright, an evil all-knowing grin spread across his mouth. It’s a good thing we didn’t make a bet; I would have had to shoot him before I would fork money over to that smart face.

Myself bleary-eyes and tired, and Mulder upbeat and awake, we drove to uptown Chicago. The neighborhoods were refined, the people were relatively friendly, and the streets were paved with proverbial gold. This was not the part of town someone would expect to find a murder victim’s body in. I knew what would be on the front-page news tomorrow, providing the press got a whiff. By the vans parked in front of the Jane Austin Condominium Building, I knew that they had gotten a great big whiff. People around here probably couldn’t keep their mouths shut to save their souls.

The victim’s name was Marie Truesdell. She was an attorney who worked for the firm Bachman and Wilson. She was thirty-four years old, single, and no children. Her immediate boyfriend Jason Coffey had found her. Apparently he was returning late from a delayed flight out of New York. He was being questioned when Mulder and I arrived in Truesdell’s apartment. From what I saw, he looked shaken and afraid, answering Pacelli’s and another officer’s questions to the best of his ability. He had a mug of coffee in one hand, trying to control his emotional jitters before he spilled the hot liquid all down the front of his business suit. Relying on his looks alone, I concluded that he was most likely not a suspect. Pacelli’s expression seemed to be saying the same thing. Coffey seemed too near an emotional breakdown to have just murdered nine people, his girlfriend included.

The body was just being removed from the scene as we arrived. Mulder and I stood over it, inspecting what we could by the naked eye. Similar to Sloan, Truesdell had been shot in the back of the head, and her hands had been slashed. Not concurring with the murder style, Truesdell was lying on her back, suggesting she had been turned over after being murdered. Surprisingly, no fingerprints or fiber had been lifted from the bodies as of yet. Her eyes remained open too, unseeing and glazed over. I didn’t have to look at those eyes for long. The harsh ripping sound of a heavy-duty zipper filled the room, and the black body bag was sealed. Two officers lifted the body easily and placed her on a mobile gurney. She was wheeled out to the coroner’s truck.

Mulder busied himself with his evidence kit, scouring the area where the body had been for any tidbits of evidence. With the lack of forensic recoveries from the previous scenes, it was doubtful he would find anything useful. Allowing him to do that, I took a look around the room.

Truesdell’s apartment, for some reason, reminded me of mine. I don’t know why, her apartment was not only larger, but it was decorated in a style very different from my own. She had more of a modern style, with a weird looking black sofa, white carpeting, snake- neck lamps, and abstract art on the walls. The kitchen was clean and white. It looked nearly unused, save for the few dirty dishes in the sink.

From what I saw, Marie Truesdell must have been attacked right when she got into her apartment. There was still a pile of mail haphazardly thrown on the counter beside a chain of keys. I sifted through the mail, searching for any opened letters, or anything suspicious that someone might want her killed for. Nothing. But as I looked through her mail, something else did catch my eye. Lying near the inner edge of the counter, on the opposite side of the serving counter from where I was standing, was a single rose. I reached across the counter and picked it up. It was dried out nearly completely from sitting in the air all night. The once pure white petals had turned a sickly yellow. One of them broke free from the browning stem and fluttered to the floor. I suddenly remembered something from the Sloan scene. Beside all of the magazines and the picture on the coffee table, there was a white rose much like this one.

“Hey, Mulder.” I beckoned, turning away from the counter and in the direction of my partner. I didn’t know if it meant anything at all, but in my experiences, even the tiniest overlooked details could mean something that would blow the whole case wide open. The words ‘chantilly lace’ came to mind.

Mulder stood up and walked over to me. “What is it?” He asked.

I held up the rose to show him. “I’m not sure what it could mean, but I saw a rose exactly like this at the Sloan place.” I told him, rolling the rose between my thumb and forefinger.

Mulder’s brow creased as his considered it. “Could be that the murderer likes to leave gifts for his victims?” He mumbled, I think mostly to his own self. He scrubbed his chin with his gloved hand. “Or they all just have very thoughtful men in their lives.” He cracked.

I wasn’t amused. I never gave him the pleasure of outright laughing at his little innuendoes, although inside I always did.

He sighed. “This is definitely our murderer though. Ms. Truesdell is number thirty-nine. I wonder who lucky number forty will be.” He said.

“Hopefully we can catch whoever it is before there is a number forty.” I added.

Meanwhile, Pacelli and the officer she was with, who I now recognized as Deuce, finished up with Jason Coffey. He was lead out of the apartment, crying and shaking badly. They began walking over to us.

“Find anything interesting?” Pacelli questioned. She looked at both of us I presume, but I didn’t see it. I was too busy trying to avoid Deuce’s once again glittering stare. I absently tried to switch hands the rose was being held in to show Pacelli, and brought my finger down onto one of the many sharp thorns.

“Ow, shit!” I exclaimed, dropping the withering flower and proceeding to pull off my glove. Just as I thought, the thorn poked through my glove. A bead of blood seeped out of my skin.

Pacelli stooped to pick up the rose, very carefully I might add, to avoid the same injury I had just received. Mulder grabbed my hand, not violently but quickly and gently enough to keep me from pulling it away. He knew how much I hated him fussing over me, and even something simple like looking at the cut on my finger would set me off, especially in my present state. I let him take my hand and inspect it. He made a slightly concerned face, but passed it when my eyes hardened on him. It still amazes me the conversations we can have using nothing but our eyes. A lot of people notice the bond we share, some are offended by it (I don’t know why) and some take it totally the wrong way. If I had a nickel for every person that has mistaken us as a couple, married or otherwise, I would have more money than Bill Gates. After he let go of my hand, I stuck my finger in my mouth, noticing another drop of crimson slowly trailing its way down my index finger. The salty taste of blood settled on my tongue for a moment, leaving a sour aftertaste when I swallowed.

Pacelli handed Deuce the rose. “Deuce, have Arnie over there put this in an evidence bag.” She instructed. He took the rose, and began to turn away. “Oh, and have him gimme a call when forensics are finished.” She prompted. Deuce nodded and grunted his reply and walked away.

Although I succeeded in totally hiding my relief at the departure of creepy Deuce, I couldn’t stop from feeling the wave of relief. I wanted more than anything to breath a long sigh of that relief and wipe my forehead with a satisfactory “Whew!” Of course I couldn’t do that. That would definitely lead on to my agitation. If Mulder knew more about my unease than he already did, he would demand to know why I was bothered, then insist I go back to DC, and go after Deuce on nothing more than the grounds of his partner’s irrational worry. He overreacts sometimes.

*

After much running around, chasing Mulder’s dead-end theories, interviewing Mr. Coffey, and talking to witness and potential suspects, I went to the morgue in the basement of Cook County General Hospital, where the body of Marie Truesdell had been processed. Mulder made it certain that the body was not to be touched until I could look at it. As if I would be able to pull any more forensic data than the other trained employees. Oh yes, I forgot, Mulder believes I find it fun to dig through dead people.

I was surprisingly edgy about performing the autopsy on Ms. Truesdell, even though it would prove to be easy. Considering the entire back of her head had been blow away, it couldn’t be too difficult to determine the cause of death. Still, I found myself shaking as I pulled on gloves and stepped up to the side of the steel gurney, sharpened scalpel in hand.

In a swift motion, I pulled the sheet away from the body, letting it fall loosely around the corpse’s feet. I sucked in a tiny gasp when I saw her face. Her eyes were still open, just as they had been at the crime scene, just as the murderer had left them. I wanted to reach out and close those eyes, but I knew I couldn’t. Until I was finished with that area of the corpse, it had to remain in the same condition it had been found in.

But it was so hard not to become lost. Lost in the empty abyss that was those two deep brown pools. They were once full of life and inquisition, once able to display emotions and thoughts. Now they were dead, nothing but lifeless pools of color and nerve tissue.

I had to clear my thoughts. I had a task at hand, and it needed to be completed, my emotions couldn’t stand in my way. I leaned back on my heels, closed my eyes, and let a long ragged breath escape my lungs. When I opened my eyes, I saw blood.

It was droplets of blood that had splattered onto the grayish skin of Marie’s body. I watched in horror as another drop fell to the metal gurney and beaded to a tiny bubble. The blood was bright red, and fresh. Immediately thinking the worst, my deepest nightmares of relapsed cancer brought to the surface, I dropped the scalpel and began to bring my hand to my nose. The scalpel clattered to the gurney, filling the silent autopsy bay with its metal clang. The crosshatched handle of the instrument was covered in blood. As I was bringing my hand to wipe my nose, thinking that was the source of the bleeding, I noticed the crimson on the palm of my hand. I turned my hand palm up and looked. I could see blood filling the inside of the glove and squirting out of the center, but oddly enough I felt no pain. In a flash, I stripped the gloves of both hands and looked at my palms in mortal horror.

There were cuts in my palms, and as I swiped some of the blood away with my finger, I saw the shape the slashes took. 40.

Fighting the urge to faint, I swallowed through a very dry throat, and continued to stare in disbelief. My rational mind was telling me to get something to stop the bleeding, and not to panic, but fear was screaming over the voice of rationality. I could do nothing but stand in frozen bewilderment. My eyes slipped shut in an eternal blink, and when I opened them, it was gone.

All the blood was gone. There were no deep scarlet drops on the corpse or on the gurney. The scalpel lay on the edge of the gurney, still clean and sterile. I looked at my hands and saw that they too were bloodless, with no signs of there ever being any injury. It had all been my imagination. It still terrified me beyond belief. I saw that I was victim number forty, I thought of it as an intuitional peek into the future. A cold sweat drenched my body and I couldn’t seem to stop trembling.

Without hesitation, I turned and practically ran from the metal gurney, and those staring eyes. Those eyes that had sparked in me thoughts that in turn led to my deepest fears invoked. Bringing everything forward in a surge of visual imagery that was just enough to send me into a state of animalistic terror.

I rushed out of the double swinging doors to the corridor of the hospital basement, nearly running headlong into my partner. I was so surprised by his presence, I nearly screamed. He caught my arms to stop me from falling into him, and held me balanced, staring into my frightened eyes.

Luckily, he didn’t seem to notice the fear there at first. “Did you finish the autopsy?” He asked blindly.

I swallowed, blinked, and shook my head. “No,” I began shakily. Then I wriggled out of his grasp and stood firmer ground. “No, I didn’t finish it.”

He cocked his head a little, now detecting the hint of agitation in my eyes. “What’s wrong?” He asked.

“Nothing,” I said, avoiding his eyes. My mind was now telling me to quit the bullshit, and just tell him something was wrong. Unfortunately my pride was still in my way. But not too much, that it couldn’t be partially whipped into submission. “I can’t finish the autopsy, Mulder.” I told him, quieter this time.

He didn’t speak, but the communication in his gaze asked me why.

“I just…I need to distance myself from this case for a little while.” I managed to hesitantly explain. That was probably the most I’ve ever told him straightforward before. Well, that is an exaggeration, but like I said before, I never liked displaying my emotions.

Meeting his eyes with my own, I spoke again. “I’m letting it get to me.” I said. As best I could, I held up my rock solid façade, never once allowing Mulder to see my very vulnerable inner core. I knew that he knew just how to look into my eyes to see my emotions, which is why I wouldn’t give him my full gaze. Mulder and I have learned over the years that our eyes truly are the windows to our souls. No matter what one may display with simple body language and speech on the outside, it is usually the eyes that betray what the mind wants the other to see. We have learned how to find cracks in the outer shell and see the true emotions through the eyes. I cursed that ability then, so I did not let his eyes rest on mine for more than a brief moment.

The building tension that had formed before he reacted snapped when he spoke. “Okay,” He simply said.

I had to exert all my force to keep from breathing that relieving sigh again. “I should be fine in the morning.” I mumbled.

“Better to clear your mind now than let it get too bad.” He said in a tone I mistook for genuineness. If had been able to bring myself to look into his eyes, I would’ve seen the strain he was using. He was trying his very best to let me pass with that. I thanked him for it then, cursed him for it later, and blame myself today.

··•*•··

Part 4

I drove back to the hotel alone. Mulder explained to me on the way out of the hospital that he was going with Pacelli to question their potential suspect, a local florist of all people. By the time I pulled into the parking space just outside of my room’s door, it was dark.

I had pulled my keys out of my purse, the room key ready to be jammed into the lock. Plans of a long, hot shower and a good night’s sleep were crossing my mind when I felt something underfoot. I lifted my foot from where I had stepped on the mat. There was a single white rose lying on the thin mat. I stooped down and picked it up, only vaguely thinking of the roses at the victim’s residences. This rose was fresh and new, only slightly bloomed. The stem and thorns were crisp and green, and a drop of water slipped out from between the petals as I lifted it up. It was really a beautiful flower, I wondered who had left it.

Thinking of where the rose had come from, and what it meant, I opened the door to my room and entered. I never even noticed that the door was unlocked and I hadn’t gotten as far as that.

Slowly, I began to put two and two together. One of these roses had been found at each of the nine crime scenes, so had Pacelli confirmed. The murderer was trying to communicate something to us in these toying little calling cards. Calling cards were precisely what they were, mementos of who this person was and what he had done. Was he waving it under our noses? That was what I couldn’t understand, why there was one on my hotel room mat. I was so blind.

My first thought was to call Mulder. I was convinced it was because I needed to tell him of my “break through” but it was really because I needed to hear the sound of another human voice. More specifically, I needed to hear his voice as something a comfort and reassurance.

I dropped my briefcase on the bed and shrugged my trench coat off. After tossing that onto the chair beside the little round table, I pulled my cell phone from my jacket pocket.

One or two rings went by and Mulder answered with his usual, less-than-exuberant, “Mulder,” I don’t know why I think of this now, but in all the years I have known him, I don’t think he’s ever answered on the first ring, or with anything other than his last name.

“Mulder, it’s me.” I said. Since I have known him, saying who I was, or greeting with ‘Hello’ had been stricken from my vocabulary as well. “Where are you?” I asked him. Just another normal conversation beginning for the two of us; last name greeting, and then a query as to where the other is.

“I’m with Pacelli, questioning Mr. Morrison, the florist.” He answered. I could tell by the background words and noises that he was most likely in the florist’s shop, and moving away from the central conversations. Following up with that conversation outline he asked, “Where are you?”

“I’m at the hotel, I found something very interesting.” I began, pacing towards the window and parting the blinds to peer into the inky darkness beyond.

“Really? I thought you were distancing yourself from the case.” He said in an off-handed accusatory tone.

I pursed my lips and shook my head a little. “I am, this found me. I arrived at my room to find a long-stemmed white rose on the doormat. Now, either I have a secret admirer, or our murderer is waving evidence under our noses.” I said.

Apparently Mulder had found out a lot more about those roses than I had, because he went quiet for a long couple of minutes. When he did speak again, his tone was hissed and nearly whispered. “Scully, you have got to get out of there. The rose is what—” Mulder continued speaking, but I stopped listening right there.

Making a lazy turn away from the window, and listening to Mulder, I hadn’t noticed the other person crouching behind the bedside table. The dim lamplight cast eerie shadows everywhere, making it easy to conceal himself. When I was still listening to Mulder, and talking myself, I didn’t hear him come out of the shadows. I didn’t know he was even there until I felt two strong arms of sinewy, bulky muscles wrap around my face and knock the phone from my gentle grasp.

I watched as the phone slid across the shallow carpet and underneath the table. I slapped and clawed at the hands and arms holding me hostage. But my attacker was too strong. With one arm, he managed to bring down my arms to stop my relentless nails from digging into his shirt. Using his other hand, he kept the scream building in my throat from escaping. The instinct for self-preservation was strong. I had had to get away so I did the only thing I could, I bit down on the latex-gloved hand covering my lips. He didn’t pull his hand away, but I did feel it flinch. I heard him mutter a word under his breath. “Bitch” I think it was.

With incredibly strong arms and hands like vices, he pushed me down onto my knees. My breath was coming in short, harsh spurts and my heart pounded inside my chest. I could fear tears trailing down my cheeks, more out of fear than sadness. He held his grip on my face still, and now I knew his face was near mine, because I could feel his hot, stagnant breath against my skin.

“You scream, and I kill you.” He said in a gruff, grunting voice I recognized.

As soon as he released the gag that was his hand, I jerked my head to the right to look at him as he stooped slightly beside and behind me. The room was dimly lit, but I could make out some characteristics of his face. He had a square jaw, and a bushy mustache. When he looked up from whatever he was doing, I could clearly see his eyes. His eyes were cold, gray, and heartless. After one look at those eyes I recognized him. It was Deuce. Before I could say anything, I felt the cold metal rings of handcuffs being slipped around my wrists, and the click-click-click of them being adjusted and locked. They felt loose, but I wouldn’t draw attention to that.

“Why are you doing this?” I managed to choke out.

“Shut-up.” He grumbled. He stood up and shuffled with something in his pocket. A small, pen-shaped object was brought out. It wasn’t until the light caught its tip that I realized it was a sharp, scalpel blade. He looked down at my face again. “Face forward,” he said.

I knew that I was in a hostage situation, although I had little hope for survival. I didn’t know I had no chance then, I thought I might be able to get of this alive. Survival being my first priority, I was willing to do whatever he said, provided it may open an opportunity for escape.

I did as I was told, and Deuce knelt behind me once again. Taking my right hand in a rough grip, he brought the blade down to it. I felt no pain as the act was performed, only the slipping sensation as it moved through my skin. After a few seconds, I began to feel blood trickling down the soft flesh of my palm. One hand done, he repeated the procedure in a few swift strokes on the other hand.

I needed to get away; I knew the end was drawing near. Please Mulder, please figure out what’s going on, was all I could think. Deuce stood up again, and took a few steps back from where I knelt. I heard him digging in his coat again, pulling out something else. A few seconds later was the click of a hammer cocking on a handgun. It is an unmistakable sound if you’ve heard it as often as I have.

“Für die Sünden der Vegangenheit.” He said in a perfect German accent.

Years of college German classes clicked in my brain. What the hell was this man talking about? There was something about ‘sins of the past’? Who cared though, I needed to buy some time. He didn’t know I knew German perhaps I could get him in a conversation. “Sünden? Welche sunden der Vergangenheit?” I asked, trying to lead him in. Besides that, I was working on my physical escape. The blood was flowing freely from my hands, and they throbbed in pain. I ignored the pain, but used the blood to my advantage. As inconspicuously as I could, I worked my wrists around in the cuffs, smearing the crimson moisture all around the inside.

Stein must have been surprised. I heard the shuffle as he shifted his weight from foot to foot, I guess trying to think of what to say. He had never had a victim respond to his ritualistic words before me.

Nearly out of the cuffs, using the blood as a lubrication to slip my hands free, I needed him distracted for a moment longer. “Ich verstehe nicht.” I told him I didn’t understand. My hope, a dim one, was that he would lapse into explaining what his ritual was. Hopefully he would do it in English, my German was a little rusty. He didn’t speak, but I didn’t really care. By then, I had freed my hand, but held it close to the other one, waiting now for the perfect moment to spring.

All of a sudden, interrupting my concentration, the digital chirruping of my cell phone rang into the room. I jumped a little, and looked over to my far left, where it had skittered off to. It had flipped shut in one of its bounces to the floor, hanging up on Mulder. That was probably him calling again.

I don’t know how, but I knew that it distracted Stein. It was a minute chance, but it was one I had to jump on. In a surge of adrenaline I was off my knees and onto my feet. But Deuce was quicker than I, at least in this instance. He whirled back, gun in hand. I never even had a chance to turn around.

I do not remember the sound of an actual gunshot, just the sharp whipping sound of a silencer. I do remember the feeling of the bullet hitting my lower back. There was no immediate pain, just a burn and the shocked blow that caused me to collapse. A bullet wound, feels like having a long, hot rod shoved into your flesh, leaving a hot piece of lead lodged somewhere in your gut. Of course I had never felt the rod thing, I was just making a comparison. There was no lead lodged in my gut though, the bullet entered in my back, and exited through my belly. I landed in a heap on the floor, not losing consciousness just yet.

The pain came when I landed on the carpet. The sharp throbbing, stinging, and burning pain I would come to think my friend before the harrowing psychological pain that would torture me later. I placed my hand on the growing dark spot on my blazer, knowing the hot blood was spreading too quickly. There was the coppery taste of blood in my mouth; the bullet had hit my stomach. Deuce loomed over me.

If he thought I would live, he would have put a bullet through my head then and there. Later I would think it would have been better that way, but now I know different. He must have seen the condition I was in and thought it was over. He knelt down beside me as I began to lose grip with reality. He closed my eyes with his thumb and forefinger, and then placed chaste kisses on my eyelids, all the while muttering something in German. The he got up and left, never giving a look back.

I stayed awake as long as I could, trying to keep the pressure on my abdomen. I even tried to reach the phone, but that was useless. I was bleeding out of my stomach and back, my hands were throbbing twists of pain, my body didn’t want to go on. I saw a white flash, and then it faded away to darkness. My final thought was that the abyss would swallow me forever. I prayed it wouldn’t.

··•*•··

Part 5

*

I knew you wanted to tell me
In your voice there was something wrong
But if you would turn your face away from me
You cannot tell me you’re so strong

*

I woke up in a hospital bed. I had no idea how long I was out, or even how I had survived. I was aware I was in the hospital before I even opened my eyes. When consciousness returned, I could hear the bleeping of the heart monitor, and droning voices around me. One voice I recognized as Mulder’s. I didn’t try to open my eyes when the voices were still speaking; I wanted it to be quiet when I woke up. I guess I’m just that way. As soon as the sound of the voices died away, I felt a hand larger than mine slip around my left hand. I could only feel the rough flesh at my fingertips because something was over my hands. Though the skin of the hand was rough and the hand was strong, the touch was gentle. I thought it was Mulder, and I knew for sure when he spoke:

“Hey, Scully.” He said softly. “Are you gonna wake up so I can see those pretty eyes of yours?”

You have got to love Mulder for working the charm whenever humanly possible. Of course under normal circumstances I would have given that remark a cold eye and a hasty retort, quickly changing the subject. But that was not a normal circumstance, and I welcomed his sweet voice and poor attempt at humor.

I felt his thumb run over my knuckles and then settle on the back of my hand. I responded by squeezing his fingers.

“Scully,” He said more urgently. “Scully, can you hear me?”

I tried to open my eyes at this point. Seeing only darkness for who knew how many hours, the light was considerably harsh. I opened my eyes a tiny bit, and then closed them. Again, I opened them a little more, letting the light slowly filter, and the pain ease away. When I opened them fully, and my vision focused, I turned my head a little and looked at Mulder.

He smiled and reached toward my face to tuck a lock of my auburn hair behind my ear. I have never told anybody how much I love that. I especially never told him. It’s just a simple little act that to an outsider would mean nothing. But to us, it’s something more, an act of intimacy far beyond the realms of a normal relationship. Relationship? Ha. We technically had no relationship beyond work and beyond friendship. And that friendship is probably the one thing I never denied, the fact that Mulder was my best friend. Other than that, there was nothing. Not that I didn’t want there to be nothing, it’s just…well, I’ll get to that later.

He moved his hand back to mine and spoke quietly. “Morning, Sunshine.”

I brought my hand to my face and rubbed my eyes. I noticed the bandage on my hand, on both hands. As if I had forgotten before, a flood of memories regarding what had happened returned to my conscience.

“Morning?” I questioned, immediately confused. The last time I was awake, it was eight o’clock at night.

“Yeah,” Mulder said, looking towards the window. “Actually, afternoon.”

I turned my head and looked. Sure enough, it was daylight. I couldn’t exactly say the sun was shining and the birds were chirping, because that wasn’t the case. The sky was cloudy and gray, promising either more snow or cold rain. I was momentarily glad I didn’t have to be out there.

When I looked back to Mulder, his eyes were cast to the floor. He flicked them up to me, trying to convey some form of calmness. “How are you feeling?” He asked robotically.

I had a sense he was hiding something from me. Perhaps it was nothing. “Um…” I muttered. “I’m okay.” I said. That wasn’t the truth. I was still waking up, and not fully aware of what really was wrong yet. “What’s my damage count for this trip?”

Mulder tried to pass off a small smile. “You broke my record.” He said. He let the silence hang for a moment, making it easier for me to realize something was wrong. “The doctors said you lost a lot of blood, and had some internal bleeding, but they stopped it. Nothing they couldn’t fix with a blood transfusion.”

I again stopped hearing what he was saying halfway through. More awake then, I realized something was indeed wrong. Something was terribly wrong. I moved my hand and touched my thigh. I couldn’t feel the warmth of my hand on my leg.

“Mulder,” I began shakily. “I…I can’t feel my legs.” It was like they weren’t even there. Panic was beginning to rise in my mind.

Mulder turned his eyes away from me and swallowed hard. He knew what was going on. The doctor probably told him when I was asleep. Then the doctor left Mulder to break whatever news there was to me. They never even stop to think how hard that might be on him. I could tell it was eating him up inside. And that whatever it was, he couldn’t bear to tell, or think about it.

“Mulder, what happened?” I asked more firmly.

He let out a ragged breath and gripped my hand a little harder. Not so that it was uncomfortable, but more snug, to set precedence for what he was about to say. “The bullet…” He began, then stopped and swallowed, trying to steady his voice, and then started again. “The bullet shattered your lower two lumbar vertebrae. The doctors said the bullet and the bone fragments cut up your spinal cord…” He paused and looked at me. I remained in a frozen numbness. “They saved what they could of internal organ function, but they couldn’t save your legs…”

Numb is the only word I can find to accurately describe my feelings then. I just half-sat in the adjustable hospital bed and stared at the wall and the ceiling. Mulder must have thought I was insane. I honestly didn’t know what to feel. I had just been told I was indefinitely paralyzed. I wouldn’t walk, run, swim, or do anything I had normally done again.

“They don’t know if it’s permanent or not.” He explained, breaking the silence.

I nodded slowly, not really aware of his presence anymore. So this was my fate. I would be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of my life. Never again to go on a morning jog, or walk in the rain, or dance. I was paraplegic. Another statistic of an officer wounded on the job. I wouldn’t be a field agent anymore. They would break Mulder and I up. Then they would either make me a fucking piece of office furniture, or release me to be forgotten. They would never have to worry about Dana Scully anymore. I refused to accept that as my fate.

“Scully,” Mulder said warily. “Talk to me.”

“What do you want me to say?” I asked coldly. I was only now coming to grips with a discernable emotion. An emotion I had learned to control but was rapidly growing beyond my barriers. Anger.

I was handed evidence that I was paralyzed. But I refused to accept it. I refused to believe that I would never walk again, that I would never be normal. It just couldn’t be what it seemed.

“I wanna walk.” I said, ignoring the choked sound to my voice. I grabbed a handful of blanket and sheet and pulled it away from my body. I was going to walk, no matter what anyone said. I was blinded by my own determination, and made ignorant by my own stubbornness.

I tried to move myself off the bed. My legs of course didn’t budge. So I tried to roll off the bed. I know that seems totally stupid now, but at the time it was a good idea. Like I said, I was being stupid. I was in shock and in denial.

“Don’t do this Scully,” Mulder said. He watched my antics at first, thinking I would stop on my own. When I didn’t and I slid off the bed, he caught me.

I pounded out the anger in bandaged fists against Mulder’s chest as he lifted me back to the bed. He never once told me to stop. I could not hit him hard, and I guess he realized I needed to let the rage out. The anger dissipated quickly, giving way to another emotion that I could normally learned to oppress. Fear.

Fear came as tears began to trail down my cheeks. I let a lingering, weakened blow fall against Mulder’s chest, and then began to cry. By the time he got me back into the bed, and the blankets covering me, I was racked with sobs. I buried my face in my hands and wept. Mulder sat beside me and put his arms around me, to hold me tightly against the rage and the pain. I gave up any hopes of hiding emotions long before then, and wrapped my arms around his back. I smothered my face in his shoulder, letting my falling tears soak the blue fabric.

Never before had I released so many emotions at once. I was never one to cry over anything, and just meet my fate with an iron will. But I couldn’t do it this time. I couldn’t do it alone. Mulder held me for the longest time; rubbing my back and rocking me like a child. He spoke in soft tones and tried to comfort my cries. I tried to lose myself in him, to receive the comfort he offered. The comfort and the courage I would come to know and rely on in the coming weeks. I needed Mulder around me.

··•*•··

Part 6

The doctor came in to see me a little after two in the afternoon. Mulder sat in protective vigilance at my bedside, no matter how many times I told him to go back to the hotel and get some sleep after he’d been up all night. He said he couldn’t go back there…not after what happened. He’d go get our stuff later and check into a different hotel. I didn’t argue with him, I was in no mood to argue.

Mulder was dozing at his bedside post when the doctor came in. I knew it had to be the doctor because he was dressed in green surgical scrubs with a white lab coat and a clipboard tucked under his arm. He wasn’t bad to look at with dark eyes, and light chocolate skin. He had well trimmed black hair and wire-rimmed glasses, and kindness reflected in his eyes. I guessed him to be in his early forties, a few years older than Mulder, but still shy of fifty.

He approached my bed and stuck out his hand. “I’m Dr. Williams.” He said, shaking my hand carefully. By that time Mulder was awake, sort of. He sat up in the chair and stifled a yawn with the back of his fist. He didn’t shake the doctor’s hand, instead regarding him with a nod. Obviously they had met earlier.

“How are you feeling?” He asked, checking my vitals and then jotting them down on the clipboard.

Why is it that doctors always ask this, even when they know perfectly well what is wrong? As a doctor myself, I know this is because they need to find out if there is anything wrong that they overlooked. But it still seems odd to me. It just sort of offended me then. I was ready to snap at him with something like, ‘How do I feel? Oh, fine, fine. I can’t walk, I can’t feel my legs, I have a hole through my torso, but I’m just feeling dandy.’

I didn’t say that, although I did say something a little coldly. “I don’t feel any pain, of course I can’t feel anything below my waist right about now.” I cringed a little afterward.

Dr. Williams nodded and looked crossed his face like he knew just how I took the news. No doubt he’d seen it before. “What about your hands?” He asked without missing a beat.

“A little sore.” I said more softly.

“Some painkillers should take care of that. I’ll have the nurse bring some in.” He told me, scribbling again on the charts. When he was finished he sat halfway on the edge of the bed with a serious look in his eyes. I had a feeling he was going to be explaining some things to me. Some things I may not exactly like.

“Ms. Scully, there are some things I need to talk to you about, regarding your injury and your condition.” He began. “You may want to hear them alone, and consider them.”

I looked at Mulder. He sat forward in his chair, resting his chin in his hand, attentive as ever. “No…” I said, returning my eyes to Williams. “I think Mulder should hear it, too.”

Williams nodded. He set the chart aside and clasped his hands in his lap. I suppose he was thinking of how to begin his speech, or remembering the speech he had delivered before. “Your injury is unique.” He stated. “The spinal cord was not cut cleanly through, but it was torn by the entry of the bullet and sharp fragments of the spinal column. Given these characteristics, we’re not exactly sure what ‘works’ and what doesn’t. Just because you can’t feel or move your legs now, doesn’t mean it’s permanent…”

I drew in a sharp breath. A seed of hope was planted.

“But,” He continued, “It doesn’t mean it’s not. We’ve already found that bladder and rectal operations are functional, but we don’t know what else. Provided that the feeling returns to your legs, you will have to relearn how to stand, how to walk, run, dance…whatever. However, there are no guarantees.”

I swallowed hard, finding my throat dry and sore. No guarantees. But it might not be permanent! That was something to lean on, right? It was, unless he was sugar coating it.

“Because of the extensive damage to the vertebrae, we’ve inserted something of synthetic vertebrae. Flexible metal plates that connect the remaining pieces of bone tissue and act in the same way natural vertebrae would.” He explained. “The next few weeks will be increasingly difficult. When you return home, you should have daily physical therapy sessions to help strengthen the muscles to help with rehab in the event you have the chance to walk. You’ll probably have live with caretaker until you’re able to do things on your own. You’ll be taught how to get around well in a wheelchair, etcetera.”

I sat in the bed; nodding blindly and listening to the doctor speak about physical therapy and wheelchairs. Reality was slowly sinking in. This was really happening. It wasn’t a totally temporary injury that would have me back on my feet in a few days. This could very well be how I lived the rest of my life. I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t want to be like that. A live in nurse to care for me was something of a nightmare. I was way too independent and self-controlling for that.

I felt a tear roll down my cheek. I tried to speak to the doctor, but my voice came out croaky and high-pitched with sobs that hadn’t come yet. “What are my chances of walking? Please tell me honestly.”

Williams looked at me solemnly. I could tell he didn’t want to be honest. He wanted to dance around the subject and try to raise my hopes as high as possible. It would make him feel fulfilled and keep the guilt off his chest. He knew I was a doctor though, he had read my file and knew I was too smart for that. “Slim.” He said finally. “It’s all going to rely on how your body heals. There’s simply nothing else we can do.”

More tears trekked their way down my cheeks. I swiped them away with the back of my hand. I wouldn’t give up hope so easily, but things were not looking too good. I was suddenly very homesick. I wanted to see my mother, and to have her hold me like she did when I was young and got sick. To have her soothing voice tell me things were going to be all right, and that every cloud had a silver lining, because this one certainly didn’t seem to hold any hope.

“I’ll leave you alone to think about this, okay?” Dr. Williams said, rising from his seat. “The nurse should be in later with painkillers and to change your bandages.” He took a lingering look back at me; a once stolid, professional federal agent with protective emotional armor no one could penetrate; reduced to a weeping, crippled woman with little hopes for her life back. It must have been sad for him. It was beyond sad for me.

Mulder moved from the chair in the corner to the side of the bed. “Are you okay?” He asked gently.

I frowned, choosing to ignore the tears on my cheeks. “I want to go home.” I said sadly. “I want to leave here.”

He took my hand and gently ran his fingers over my knuckles. I made no motion back. I just turned my face away and looked out the window. I wanted my life back.

··•*•··

Part 7

The next day, Pacelli visited to talk to me. I wasn’t exactly in the mood to talk, but I cooperated anyway. Hell, I wasn’t in the mood to do anything but lie in bed and feel sorry for myself, but that seemed to come with the territory.

She came in as dignified as ever, but there was unmistakable sympathy in her eyes. Alongside her entered a young officer, thankfully not Deuce. They didn’t know who committed the crimes and I did. But after this meeting, that man would be in jail, provided they could catch him. For all I knew, he could have left town or even the country. He wasn’t even remotely considered a suspect.

Pacelli sat in the chair Mulder had recently vacated; Mulder was turning to lean against the wall. Pacelli looked at me, then gave a backwards glance to her amateur companion, and then flicked her eyes back to me. After letting a silence hang over the room for a few minutes, she began with her song and dance about how sorry she was and how she offered her condolences. It just didn’t seem genuine though. How could she possibly offer sympathy when she had no idea what it was like?

“You know what we’re here for.” She began after the greeting card introduction. “We need to ask you a few things about what happened Tuesday night.”

I nodded. I hoped that perhaps that was all I had have to do, just answer with a yes or no movement of my head. Even if I answered her questions that way, I knew of a certain Assistant Director who had flown in that morning who would have questions of his own. Mulder delivered the news to me that Skinner had flown in along with a handful of VCS agents. Sorry Detective Pacelli, federal employees would overtake the case.

“Do you remember who shot you?” She asked blatantly. Her words seemed purposely emphasized, as if she were talking to a child. I don’t know, perhaps she thought a bullet in the back would affect my comprehension of the English language.

I nodded again. I knew that I couldn’t leave them hanging with that, so I had to name someone. The moment of truth had arrived and justice would be served. Not. Justice may be served, but I know vengeance is sweeter. But even that wouldn’t settle me. Even watching the public execution of Deuce Stein wouldn’t bring back what he had taken. These thoughts rummaged in my head as I opened my mouth to speak.

“Deuce.” I said quietly.

I could see the instant confusion on both Pacelli and the officer’s faces. Deuce? They were thinking. But he’s a cop he’s on our side for Christ sake. At first it even seemed that Pacelli didn’t believe me.

“Are you sure?” She even dared to ask.

“Positive.” I snapped.

She stared at me a moment longer, her green eyes locking on my blue ones. I didn’t care if she believed it or not, as long as someone caught the son-of-a-bitch.

Even if she didn’t believe it, Mulder now knew who committed the crime and he would be happy to cuff and bag the bastard himself. I saw the glitter of anger in his eyes when I spoke to Pacelli. If Mulder had anything to do with it he would have Deuce’s balls in a jar by the end of the week. Provided the bastard had any. Vengeance maybe a sweet fruit I have never tasted, but to Mulder it was like one of his many life’s goals.

Almost reluctantly, she turned to the officer. “Get Deuce on the phone. Tell him to drag his fat ass down to the station; he has some questions to answer. If he doesn’t answer, you get Tommy and John and go to his apartment.”

They wouldn’t catch him. And if they did, they couldn’t hold him. The only evidence they had against him was the naming by a crippled FBI agent. Even I knew that wasn’t enough. There was no MO, no hard evidence, not even a tiny accusation. Other than my own, that is. And any idiot lawyer could use the defense that I was “not in a stable state of mind.”

Pacelli stared at me for a long while after the rookie left. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to think of more questions for me to answer, or if she was angry because I named a man who was presumably one of her friends. She probably never thought in her wildest dreams that Deuce would be the murderer of nine women and the gunmen to one FBI agent.

She rose from her seat after a few minutes and stuffed her notepad into her trench coat. She didn’t utter a word as she headed towards the open door of the room. As if a final thought suddenly came to mind, she turned back to me and asked another question: “Did you know before? Did you know it was him?”

I couldn’t answer at first. I was so off-struck I really didn’t know what to answer. I suppose I always knew it was he in a way, from the moment I looked into his eyes. They were the eyes of a heartless serial killer, but I just couldn’t name it then. Guilt was overwhelming when I realized that I could’ve prevented all of this if I had just voiced my trepidation from the start. If I had simply told Mulder I was a little apprehensive about Deuce, none of this would have happened. I know it.

“I had a clue.” I said in a choked voice that was barely above a whisper.

Pacelli left without so much as a gesture of understanding. I don’t know what she was feeling then, nor do I think I really want to know. I had way too much of my own problems to think about. None of which I seemed to be able to handle alone. Even though I tried.

··•*•··

Part 8

It wasn’t until the end of the week that I was able to check out of the hospital if I wanted to. There was so much paperwork to be filled out heaven forbid the Bureau let me go anywhere. Dr. Williams continuously urged me to stay, claiming that the wound in my abdomen still needed time to heal. He also thought I might want to talk to a counselor of some type. I scoffed at the idea of that.

I suppose Williams was right about the wound. I could at least think of that rationally. I stayed more willingly until Friday. But I was restless. Actually I don’t think restless is the word I should use to describe it. I felt like a prisoner. I was trapped in this place meant to be for healing, but only feeling like it was a place of gloom. Everywhere I looked, all I could see were the pitying looks and sympathetic lies. The thing I didn’t know then was that the world around my home would be far worse.

Thankfully Mulder was on my side. He realized that the best thing for me would be to be in my home, around familiar surroundings to help me heal mentally. Williams didn’t buy it. He didn’t think that I was ready to be out of the hospital. Obviously he knew something was psychologically wrong with me that neither Mulder nor I could see.

I left Saturday against the doctor’s orders. The Bureau paid in full for all medical accommodations and supplies, including the manual wheelchair I was already beginning to think of as my “portable prison”. They also paid to have my seat changed on the flight so I could sit in the handicapped section. What fun that was.

Once I got into my apartment again, I felt a little better. More at ease I suppose, like the whole world was no longer watching me, no longer staring.

Mulder carried my single overnight bag and vanity case up, and held open the front door to the apartment, stuff like that. Normal, polite things he just does, he doesn’t even realize he does them; but they are the things that don’t bother me. They actually make it feel like nothing has changed. If there’s one thing I hate the most, it’s when Mulder doesn’t treat me normally, when he feels the need to be more considerate of me, when he wants to do everything for me, just doesn’t want to leave me alone. He did it terribly with my cancer, and he did it worse then. When I had cancer, it was obvious I could still do things for myself. I guess Mulder could fake himself out about it then, pretending it wasn’t real. But every time he looked at me in that wheelchair, he knew it was very real, and he would do anything to make me happy.

When attempted to push me through the crowd at the airport, I went off on him. I told him I didn’t need his help and that I could get through an airport by myself. I added a few more curse words in there, and yelled it pretty loud. Needless to say he didn’t try it again, and we didn’t speak the rest of the trip home either.

Mulder got a call on his cell phone as soon as he dropped my bags on my bed for me. I just sat on the living room sofa, listening to his half of the conversation. The only thing I had learned how to do so far was move myself from a chair or the floor to the wheelchair and back. And that still wasn’t easy. My upper body strength wasn’t great enough to move my weight that easily. The nurse in Chicago said it would get easier with time. I had a feeling the physical therapist was going to tell me the same thing when I saw her the next day.

When Mulder’s call was finished, he came over and sat beside me on the sofa. “That was Skinner.” He said with a sigh. “He said they just got Deuce in custody. He turned himself in.”

I nodded slowly. Like I had predicted, the police didn’t catch Deuce right away. They talked to everyone he knew, and began to fear that he had crossed the state line. I still can’t believe to this day that he turned himself in, and I still don’t know why he did it.

“Skinner also said he would like my written report by Monday, but you can have as long as you need. But he does want you to come in at least once next week for a meeting. And he said that the Bureau is working on hiring a live in nurse, someone to just help you out around here until you…” He paused as if he didn’t know how to continue the sentence.

“Until I get back on my feet.” I finished coldly. I was against the idea of a nurse from the very beginning. I was way too independent to have someone live with me and do everything for me. I was bent on the idea that I could still do everything on my own, when I knew deep inside that I couldn’t.

I looked over at Mulder. He was staring at his hands in his lap. I felt bad for the way I’d been treating him, but I just couldn’t handle the way he treated me.

“I don’t want a nurse, Mulder.” I said after a few eternal silent minutes.

I heard a long breath escape him. This was the exact argument we had had many times over the past few days. He knew I needed someone here to help me out until I was able to live on my own, but I refused to see it. He had to be near wit’s end by then, but God bless Mulder for his relentless persistence. “You should have someone here.” He urged.

“I don’t need anyone here! I’m perfectly capable of living by myself, I’ve only been doing it for seventeen years!” Thoroughly fed up with the conversation as a whole, I moved myself from the sofa to the wheelchair. I seem to keep writing “the” wheelchair. I guess even now I refuse to think of it as “my” wheelchair, even though it was. The FBI bought it for my use, as sort of a federal gift. Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas, the government only buys you stuff to shut you up when you get hurt on their time.

Mulder didn’t say anything while I moved into the wheelchair. There is no way I can ever know what was on his mind then. Or how it must have felt to see his partner of six years now confined to a wheelchair. I don’t know how he viewed me before, but I know he viewed me differently then. And I also knew he contained the same pity I always tried to escape. I could see it in his eyes.

Once I was settled into the wheelchair, I maneuvered myself out to the kitchen, never saying a word to Mulder.

He stood up and grabbed his jacket. Moving towards the door, he broke the silence. “I guess this is where I go,” he said sullenly. He almost sounded reluctant to leave me, but I guess he was using the excuse that he didn’t want to be around me when I was so snappy. I don’t blame him. I didn’t want to be around me either.

He watched me a moment longer as I mused over how to get a glass from the high cabinet above me. I could open the cabinet, but I couldn’t reach the glasses, which were stored on the middle shelf, just out of my reach.

“Unless you want me to stay.” He said subtly.

“Just go.” I said, trying to figure out how to get a glass. All I want was a glass of water. There were none clean in the dishwasher, I made sure to put them away before I left for Chicago.

“Okay,” He conceded. “Call me if you need anything.”

But he didn’t go. I didn’t notice it right away, but he remained in my doorway.

The futility of trying to get the taunting glass from the cabinet hurt. It hurt that I couldn’t do something as simple as getting myself a glass of water. Perhaps I wasn’t as independent as I was before. The reality of this was jarring to me. Thinking Mulder had left, I didn’t try and stop the flood of tears.

Seeing my pain, Mulder couldn’t just stand in the doorway and watch anymore. He walked back into the room a little, not even trying to make up an excuse. “Scully,” He said. It sounded at first like a question, as if he was asking if I was okay. Now I know he was saying my name more to himself, he too realizing what this was all about.

I looked up, startled by his presence, and began to wipe the tears from my cheeks. I couldn’t get myself out of this one. “Mulder, could you get that glass for me?” I asked, sniffing back my tears. “I-I can’t reach it.”

‘I can’t’, was something that was very hard for me to admit, mostly to myself. Little did I know, “I can’t” would become “I won’t’” and things would begin to dip downhill more than they already were.

“Sure,” Mulder answered quietly, replacing his jacket and coat on the chair by the door and approaching the kitchen. He got a glass down and gave it to me. I thanked him and filled it with water.

And so Mulder stayed.

··•*•··

Part 9

My first physical therapy session wasn’t so bad. It was mostly meeting the therapists, my individual therapist, and some of the other patients. They claimed groups of patients with similar disabilities helped each other heal psychologically. I wasn’t sure if I bought it at first. And I wasn’t willing to give it a try.

My therapist’s name was Dr. Annie Chase. She was a well-built, thin woman with cropped brunette hair and kind brown eyes. Her first greeting was surprisingly with a lack of pity. I liked her immediately. I hoped she always stayed as clinically detached, I didn’t want to see that same lying empathy in her eyes that I did in everyone else’s.

Annie may have been clinically detached in those aspects, but she did act as though she tried to make friends with her patients. She told me that I could call her Annie, if she could call me Dana. I agreed. It was a way to ensure a comfortable bond a little beyond patient-doctor. The one thing different about her was she saw no sorrow. She only saw what could happen, and what she hoped to happen. She was well trained in the aspects of looking past the sadness and pain her patients carried. If only I could have looked past my pain as well.

She explained that the coming sessions would become increasingly difficult. Strict physical therapy consisted of rigorous exercise, both to strengthen my upper body, and keep my unused muscles strong in the event that I could relearn to walk. Along with the exercise, there was hydrotherapy for my legs and massages to ease pain and tension, also both in the muscles I felt and the ones I didn’t. She knew I worked out before, but she still assured me that exercises would be difficult to get accustomed too. They would leave me stiff and sore for the first few weeks, and then everything would get easier. I had been hearing that a lot. I braced myself for the worst. Three days a week I would have physical therapy, and I had a feeling I would be dreading it by the end of the first week.

Mulder picked me up after the session and drove me back to my apartment. After the first night, it became unspoken that he was welcome to stay with me whenever he wanted. I claimed out loud that I didn’t want him there, but I truly needed him to stay. He had no problem with sleeping on my couch, insisting that he was used to it. He even refused the guest bedroom. I stopped arguing with him about it after two rounds.

The truth was, I liked having him around. Not as someone to care for me; when he acted like that I hated him; but as someone to talk to, someone to keep the place from being lonely. But being with or without a companion was never my problem. My problem was always myself.

*

As Skinner had requested, I went into work on the second Wednesday after returning to DC. The date was December first.

I forgot to mention, it had been another Thanksgiving I spent out of town. In fact, a Thanksgiving spent in the hospital. But it’s not like Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday anyway.

I didn’t look forward to going into work. I hadn’t a clue what Skinner wanted the meeting for, and I didn’t know what to expect. My fear was that he was going to let me go, not that it would have mattered then.

Mulder parked in his normal spot on the third floor of the parking garage. He got out the folded wheelchair, which I was getting more used to seeing but not using, and unfolded it for me. In a good ten-minute process, I got myself out of the car and into the chair. I grabbed my briefcase and purse from the car and put them in the canvas bag hanging from the handles. Mulder stood and watched wordlessly, he was slowly learning not to offer help unless I asked for it.

I lifted the brake and in a hefty push to get the wheels moving, was on my way into the building. Mulder walked beside me casually, but I could feel his eyes on me, trying to interpret my feelings. He opened the door leading into the hallway and stepped aside so I could get through. Keeping my eyes locked straight ahead, I swallowed hardly and wheeled myself in.

After passing through security, we made a left down the hall towards the Assistant Director’s offices. As usual, the hall was milling with people. Agents, secretaries, and a tour group crossed back and forth between the offices and the elevators. Normally, I would storm confidently down these halls, shoulder-to-shoulder with Mulder, ignoring everyone’s looks. It was so different that time.

I kept myself focused on the destination as I maneuvered carefully down the hall. Though no one said anything outright to me, I could feel their stares and hear their whispers behind my back. Agents I had never seen or spoke to before watched me with unbelievable enthrallment. The composed empathy they displayed was simply masking the shaking heads. I bet they were all thinking along the same lines: Poor Agent Scully, crippled off on one of her partner’s alien chases.

Finally, three offices from the door and we were at Skinner’s. Again, Mulder stepped forward to open the door and then guided me in with a gentle hand on my shoulder. It was comforting and odd both at the same time. Normally that hand would be at its place on the small of my back. It was weird to feel his hand on my shoulder that way, yet the simple contact was a comfort.

Skinner’s secretary was on the phone, when she saw us enter she told the caller to hold please and then replaced the phone on the cradle.

“Agents, Mr. Skinner is waiting for you.” She told us.

Mulder nodded and headed towards the side door of AD Skinner’s office. I followed behind him; barely able to ignore the stare Skinner’s secretary was giving me. Skinner rose from behind his desk as we entered, making a motion to step away from it, but not following through.

“Have a seat,” he gestured to Mulder. I could tell by his face that he was trying not to say anything that might offend me. I didn’t know what was worse, people worried about putting their foot in their mouth around me, or the pity they tried to offer me. I moved up in between the two chairs close enough to the spot I would normally occupy.

“Can I get you anything?” Skinner asked. He didn’t specify a name, but I knew he was talking to me. Should have known, he was no better than anyone else, certainly no more professional.

I looked uncomfortably at the floor. “No thank you, sir. I’m fine,” I said, straightening the front of my navy blue jacket.

Suddenly realizing his impertinence, he resumed his seat behind his large pine desk. He nervously shuffled some of the papers on his desk and tidied the piles. Then he cleared his throat and looked up at the two of us. “I called you in for this meeting to tie up some loose ends involving the crimes committed by Deuce Stein as well as some medical paperwork for Agent Scully’s condition.”

My condition, whoa. That, surprisingly, was a new one. I heard them before, my handicap, my disability…everything. Usually people got up to the “my” but stopped when they couldn’t come up with a suitable noun.

“Agent Scully, I asked for your report if you could complete it.” Skinner said, looking to me again.

“Yes, sir.” I replied turning back for my briefcase tucked safely in the black canvas bag. I pulled out the brown leather-bound case in a hefty tug and placed it on my lap to flip open the top. After a few moments of sifting to find the right folder, I pulled it out and handed it to Skinner.

He looked at it briefly and then laid it on the desktop before him. He clasped his hands on top of the folder and looked at Mulder and I. “I received word from the two agents now heading the case in Chicago that forensics found some hard evidence against Lieutenant Peter Stein of the Chicago Police. On the rose that was found in your hotel room was a small amount of blood where Deuce had apparently cut himself. Also, some hair and fiber was found on your clothes. Blood matching yours was found on his handcuffs and the gun he tried to get rid of was the one that killed those nine women and shot you.”

Finally, some justice would be served. Now Deuce would be convicted and sent to jail for a long, long, long time. Maybe they would even fry the bastard. Like I said, vengeance is sweet and it can get the best of people. But even if Deuce did die for his crimes, it wouldn’t bring back my ability to walk. It wouldn’t even bring peace of mind. I think that’s what hurt the most.

“He’s to be indicted on December first with court proceedings beginning on the tentative date of January tenth. As far as I know, you both will be called to testify as witnesses.” Skinner continued. He opened his mouth to say something else, but was cut off by Mulder.

“Excuse me, sir,” Mulder said, “Have they found out was his MO was?”

Skinner sighed. “No, he hasn’t talked to anyone but his lawyer since he confessed and his lawyer isn’t saying anything to anybody. He keeps throwing that lawyer-client confidentiality bullshit at us. At this point we may never know.”

Mulder and I shared a glance. Although it didn’t seem like an X-file from the outside, Mulder had his theories about Deuce Stein.

“Scully said something before about him performing some kind of ritual in German. Could that have anything to do with it?” He asked.

Skinner was growing impatient. As far as he was concerned, this case was over and done with. Justice was served, the women’s killers and my assailant was in jail, end of story. “I wouldn’t know. But I can pass that information to our people in Chicago, maybe they can get him to spill.” he said tersely.

Honestly, I couldn’t care less at that point. I wasn’t driven by that truth like Mulder. He wouldn’t rest until he knew why Deuce killed. I was happy if I never heard that man’s name again. Well, not happy, better off.

Mulder nodded reluctantly. He wasn’t satisfied there. Personally it wouldn’t have surprised me if he went back to Chicago in search of answers. They wouldn’t let him investigate the case anymore though, as he would learn the hard way.

“As far as medical leave and such goes,” Skinner pressed on, changing the subject and looking to me. “You’ll have the six months paid leave and full compensation for medical expenses because you were injured on duty. In the event that your condition changes for the better and you are able to fulfill your duties as a field agent, you’ll stay with Agent Mulder. If not, I can talk to a few people and perhaps get you a job in forensics where I’m certain your expertise will be appreciated.” he explained.

I didn’t reply. I knew that was what he was going to tell me. I would be bound to that wheelchair and behind a desk for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to be that way. I couldn’t stand the thought of a desk job. And even if I quit the FBI, a desk job would be my only option. I couldn’t be a doctor now, not in a hospital environment where I wanted to be. The world had no room for those who couldn’t walk.

The rest of the meeting was discussion about the case. Mostly about what I saw and the autopsy I couldn’t finish. It was extremely difficult to give a rational explanation and not appear weak. There was no real explanation for why I left the autopsy, or even what I saw. I was scared. My subconscious was playing tricks on me. I didn’t exactly believe in that type of intuition, so I was unable to explain myself. I told them it was because I was getting myself too emotionally involved, and felt bothered by the autopsy. Skinner gave me the third degree on how I should have returned to DC if I couldn’t investigate. It was all very stressful…and upsetting.

He dismissed us around noon. I told Mulder to go ahead to the car without me, I would be there in a minute, had to use the restroom. I didn’t really I just needed an excuse to get away. I was slowly losing grip with my emotions and needed a moment to get control. I went into the third floor ladies’ room, and all the way down to the end stall, the wheelchair accessible one. The bathroom was empty, thank god. I locked the stall door and sat in silence, trying to hold back my tears and whatever other emotions might come forth. It was so hard.

A few minutes after I went in, I heard the sound of the door opening and two pairs of high heals step onto the tile. The two women were chattering a little, nothing I was worried about. But I remained silent. I would wait until they left before I did. Then I heard my name in the conversation.

“Did you see Agent Scully?” One of the women asked the other. I still have no idea who the two women were. They were probably a couple of secretaries. Even now, I don’t know many of the agents, especially none of the women. Partly because I wasn’t like them, I wasn’t one of their two types. Type one being the flirty, giggly, trying-to-nail- herself-a-G-man; type two being the married mother trying to make a name for herself. I was single, and my partner and I shared a bond none of them had. They saw me as cold, hard, and unfriendly. Different.

“Yeah, I did.” The other replied. “It’s a shame. I can’t believe she was shot like that.”

“Pity.” The other said simply. “I feel sorry for her.”

After a few more minutes, they both left.

It sounded like a simple conversation anyone would have in that situation. But it hurt badly. They felt sorry for me. That was great. They didn’t know what it was like, how it felt. Their pity was blind, a simple human reaction to someone else’s poor life. More than that, they were the same people that stared when I went down the hall. The same people that whispered rumors and sympathies behind my back. The same goddamn people who really couldn’t care less. And I didn’t want them to care. I didn’t want to be the subject of their rumors.

Everyone says they want to be individual, that’s why we all have our own distinct personalities. But none of us are so different, that we stand out in a crowd unless that’s what we want. In the event of persecution, any person can conform to the crowd. We want to be different, but we don’t want to be singled out. That wasn’t me anymore. I was different, and I didn’t want to be. Before, I could be one of them if I needed to. Normally I wouldn’t care because I was proud of who I was, and I knew that I could be one of them, but didn’t want to. Now it was like being on the outside looking in. I wanted to be one of them, but couldn’t. I was singled out in the crowd. I couldn’t conform. And all I wanted was to be one of those people again. I wanted to be normal.

··•*•··

Part 10

*

And I wonder where these dreams go When the world gets in your way What’s the point in all this screaming No one’s listening anyway

Your voice is small and fading And you hide in here unknown…

*

Rather than feeling as if a stressful weight had been lifted from my shoulders after going into work, I felt more burdened. For some foolish reason of mine, I hadn’t thought the world would be the way it was. I thought the pity in the hospital was bad, but the stares in the office were worse. I was no longer normal and it hurt.

People are so blind to how much looks can hurt. You know that saying about how “if looks could kill”? Well, I happen to know first hand that they can. If you let the little stares and the whispers get under your skin, they can kill you. And once they’re under there, they take a long time to get out.

I went home and then had to go back out, after changing, to physical therapy. I was there until Mulder got off and could give me a ride home. I hated having to rely on someone else to get me places; it was almost like being fourteen again. When I got home, I got in the tub to relax. Like Annie said, the therapy left me sore and stiff beyond belief. I would commonly go home and soak in a hot bathtub to get rid of the ache. Sometimes even that didn’t work.

One of the first things I learned in therapy and the “independent living” classes, was how to get in and out of the tub on my own. I have one of those huge white tubs with the big lion’s paw feet, so that made it a little easier. I couldn’t get in and out on my own at first, Mulder had to help me. He didn’t seem to have a problem with it, but it made me slightly uncomfortable at first. I got used to it, and then I didn’t need help after I learned the technique behind it.

That night after work and therapy, I was soaking in my bubbles fragrant of jasmine and lavender, letting myself slip away from my thoughts and reality. I was nearly into an exhausted state of half sleep when a soft knock sounded on the door.

“Hey, Scully,” Mulder called from behind the closed door.

Normally I would have been irritated by his interruption, but I was in need of human contact after that day. Especially Mulder’s presence, now that he was getting over the pity, he began to pretend everything was normal, which is how I wanted him to act. Yes, I wanted him to lie, for me. Lie about the fact that things were not fine and dandy, but I wanted them to be. That was my stability.

“Yeah, come in.” I called.

Mulder opened the door slowly and peeked his head in. I shook my head. Men. Once he saw that bubbles safely covered me to the neck he approached the side of the tub and sat on the floor. He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes.

After a few silent minutes, I began to wonder what he wanted in the first place, or if he was like me, just seeking company. “What did you want?” I finally asked.

He sighed and rubbed his temples with his fingers and thumb. “Something’s bothering me about the case.” He said.

I knew this was going to come up eventually, I just prayed I would be ready to talk about it then. But I wasn’t, and I never really would be. “I don’t wanna talk about the case, Mulder.” I told him straightforward.

“I know, but…never mind.” He was silent again.

He knew just as well that my curiosity would get the best of me. “What’s bothering you?” I finally inquired.

“How he targeted his victims.” He stated blatantly. “I just don’t get it…” He looked up at me. I was staring at the mounds of white bubbles floating about the tub. “Sorry,” he apologized.

“I’m okay.” I said in a voice slightly on the shaky side. “It’s just difficult to talk about the case.”

“I know, I know, I’m sorry.” He said again. There he went, blaming himself.

“It’s okay, Mulder, you didn’t know.” I assured him. He wouldn’t buy that, but he stopped apologizing.

We were silent again for a few longer moments. I leaned forward a little and arched my shoulders into my back, listening to the satisfying crack of my shoulder blades and upper spine. Then I rolled my head and heard my neck crackle. Relieved with that, I leaned back against the tub. That was one of those nights where even a hot bath wouldn’t relieve the tension in my shoulders and arms. They felt like the weighed a ton each.

“Does your back hurt?” Mulder asked. He’s the observant one.

“Little bit.” I said, letting my eyes slip shut again, content in the fact that he would probably get up and go watch TV, bored with my lack of conversation.

I heard him shuffle around, and then felt the weight of his hands on my sore shoulders. I opened my eyes and looked up at him. He didn’t meet my eyes, studying the skin of my shoulders and neck. He swept aside a few awry strands of red hair that had fallen from the clip gathering my hair to the top of my head. I felt his thumb move gently over the scar and barely noticeable bump on the base of my neck, the chip that had probably saved my life. If only a chip could let me walk… But then, we didn’t know a chip could cure cancer either. Stop it…I told myself when my thoughts wandered to that impossibility, just stop it.

Mulder’s right hand returned to my shoulder and he applied a little pressure forward. I leaned away from the side of the tub again. In firm yet gentle motions he began to massage the bunched muscles of my shoulders. As his fingers moved in tight circles, I closed my eyes and relaxed. His hands moved lower down my back to the base of my shoulder blades. He seemed to know just where the pain was located without me uttering a single word. Not that I could say any words at that point. This was how I was able to forget the demons I carried for a moment. It was the first time I truly lost myself, and I hoped it wouldn’t be the last.

*

That night was when the nightmares began. I hadn’t suffered a single nightmare, or dream for that matter, since the shooting. I don’t know what exactly brought them on, whether it was work or the fact that I wasn’t able to talk about the case with Mulder, but they began.

I cannot begin to describe what I saw in these nightmares. Once I woke up, they faded from my conscious memory like sand in the wind. I know that there was unimaginable horror, and monsters, and pain. Nothing like any of the nightmares I’d ever had before. Every time I had one of these dreams, it was like I was dying over and over. It was like I was all of Deuce’s other victims, the ones that hadn’t been so “lucky”. I knew it was bad that first night when I woke up screaming.

I don’t even know what it was that pulled me from the dream. I guess it just reached the point where my subconscious was no longer able to handle it, and awakening was my escape. When I say I woke up screaming, I mean it literally. Most of the time, when I wake up crying, I may have tears running down my cheeks and that lump in my throat associated with weeping. But this time I woke up mid-scream. Even after my eyes flashed open, another strangled scream managed to escape my throat before I realized what happened. After that, I was gasping for air and my body was racking with sobs. It was like I had been drowning and had just been pulled to the surface by a life-saving hand.

Only there was no one who had saved me when I broke through, I had saved myself, alone. Using my arms as levers, I pushed myself up to a sitting position. No matter what I did, it was beyond my control to stop my cries. My body was covered in a clammy sweat. I shivered with cold, but my skin was hot to the touch. The only thing I can think is that my body had been reacting to a terrible fright, but my mind couldn’t remember what had scared it so.

The next thing I heard was footsteps thumping down the hall towards my room. Mulder opened the door without hesitation and came over to my bedside. He was clad in a faded white Knicks t-shirt and dark cotton drawstring pants, his hair tousled with sleep. I wasn’t surprised that I woke him and he came to see what was the matter after I was screaming bloody murder at two in the morning. He switched on the light and sat down on the bed beside me.

“Scully, what’s wrong?” He asked in a caring manner. He had a hunch, but wanted me to tell him first.

I couldn’t speak. I just threw my arms around his shoulders and kept sobbing. Although they were beginning to subside, I still couldn’t stop.

He pulled me in tight, trying to comfort me. “You had a nightmare.” He said, not as a question but as a statement that he now understood. I don’t know anyone more familiar with nightmares than Mulder. His still plague him to this very day, and he has had to face most of his alone.

“I’m so scared, Mulder…I’m so scared.” I finally managed to whimper into his shoulder.

He rubbed my back a little. “What was the dream about?” He asked gently.

“I don’t know.” I sobbed. “I’m not scared because of the dream, I’m scared because of everything else.”

He didn’t reply but nodded to show he was listening.

“I’m scared of what’s happened to me.” I said. I couldn’t think of how to explain it. The nightmare had brought me to a harsh and sudden reality. My life was no longer in my control and it terrified me. I was afraid that I couldn’t control what happened to me, what happened in my life, and myself. I had some control before. I made decisions that affected my life like anyone else, and I could control what happened to some degree. But now I was spinning out of that control. And I was overwhelmed by the fear that I would end up doing something to myself, without giving it a second thought. Rational thought was a thing quickly erased by a mortal trauma. I had known so when I had cancer, only learning the hard way that drowning pain in deviance was not the way to go.

The thing is, Mulder understood all of this. He knew just what I was going through, not because he had that degree in psychology, but because he had been through it all before. He had lived with the nightmares ever since the night his sister was taken. He knew what it was like to lose complete control of life, and veer onto the dangerous path of a mental breakdown.

He pulled away from the embrace and looked me full in the eyes. He acted like he was going to say something, and then changed his mind. Instead he passed his thumb over my cheek, wiping away a trailing tear.

“I’m going to stay here until you fall back asleep, okay?” He said, peeling back the corner of the comforter and sheet.

I agreed with a meek nod. How could I refuse? I wasn’t myself. The truth is, I felt vulnerable and all I wanted was the warmth and comfort of a kindred spirit. Mulder seemed to understand what I was experiencing, at least with the nightmare, and knew that the only condolence he could provide would be in human contact.

He slid beneath the covers of the bed after I moved over a little. Then he pulled the warm blanket back up against the chilly night air and switched off the light. Shutting down all remaining rational thoughts of professional distance, I leaned into him and rested my head on his shoulder. He wrapped his strong arms around my petite body and held me tight. At the time it was a mutual comfort between two very close friends in a time of hurt and desperation. But it would amount to so much more in coming weeks.

“Don’t be afraid.” He whispered against my head just before sleep managed to reclaim me. Then he pressed his lips to my hair and rested his cheek where the kiss had lain.

Even with Mulder’s welcomed presence, the nightmares didn’t cease. No one could fend away my fears or stop my suffering. Not even I could do it. The nightmares weren’t only dreams. I lived with them day in and day out. I screamed through them at night, and cried because of them in the day. Terror and pain were slowly becoming the only two things I knew.

··•*•··

Part 11

The passing nights were very much like that one. I had at least one nightmare every night. Some nights were worse than others. A noticeable pattern even developed; with every dream I could remember a little tiny more, for a little bit longer. But they never lost any of their terrifying calibers. In fact, since I could remember more, they even gained some.

Mulder began staying at my apartment every night. He would begin the night on the couch, moving to the bed when he heard the telltale signs of another nightmare rearing its ugly head. Skinner agreed to let him have a few days off to collect himself and deal with what happened to me. He was just afraid of leaving me alone when he left to investigate a case. He didn’t tell me that, but I knew it was true.

By the second week of December, four weeks after the shooting, I was settling into something of a stable, rhythmic way of life. That actually makes it sound like something comfortable and calm. It was actually the exact opposite. I hated it. Every day, every week, was the same thing. Three days of physical therapy, then four days thrown in between of being either sore, bored, or both. It was, in a word, redundant.

When Mulder went back to work, I could at least provide my normal theories and logical arguments against his unorthodox explanations. Normalcy like that would make me feel a little better, a little. That is, I helped him when I was up to it. And that was rare. Some days I just wanted to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. I was slowly sinking into a deep depression, only not quite realizing it yet.

But I did try because I felt an obligation to be there for Mulder. He was never away for more than a night tops, always flying back if the case kept him longer. I always told him to stay, but he never listened. He always knew I could no longer get through a night without him, no matter what I told myself. We kept contact when he was on the field mostly via email. The problem was I had a laptop, and he didn’t. However, he managed to talk to a few people, and get one through the FBI. More expenses chalked up to Agent Mulder. He would send me medical reports, case photos, autopsy reports, forensic reports and such; the things I usually handled anyway. I told him my opinion on his case, and he didn’t listen. He explained his theory, and I didn’t believe it. Just like normal, right?

Then why was it everything still felt so different, so alien? Nice choice of words, I just told myself as I wrote that. But it fits exactly. Everything was alien. It wasn’t really right, no matter how much it seemed so. It was just a thinly veiled illusion of my beloved normalcy.

In my dissolving into a life of mediocrity, I had realized that there was something I had yet to do. With the arousing pressures from an upcoming major holiday, Christmas, and the fact that I wasn’t comfortable with keeping this secret any longer, I had to tell my mother what had happened. I know I should have called her when I was still in the hospital, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was so distraught, I couldn’t talk to her about it, much less have her drive to my apartment to fuss over me. There would be hell to pay when I told her how long ago it happened, but I didn’t care. This was something I needed to do on my own, taking the time I needed to do it.

There’s just something with me breaking serious news to people, especially when it comes to the subject of my health. You see, I was raised a military child by military standards. We didn’t cry if we fell off our two-wheeler, we got up and tried again. We didn’t talk about our problems. We got up and solved them. Sounds like a good philosophy doesn’t it? Too bad I seem to have taken it the wrong way.

Now I knew with Christmas approaching, I would have to tell my mother. It would be easier to break it to her first and she could prepare my brothers for when I showed up Christmas day for dinner. Charlie would probably handle it okay, but Bill would be another story all together. I didn’t even want to think about that.

I thought about what I would say to my mother all day. I even called her once or twice but hung up just when she answered. It’s a good thing she doesn’t believe in caller ID or Star 69. I chewed my nails to the skin trying to think of what to say, and how to say it. Finally, I just decided to wing it. I picked up the phone, and dialed her number.

“Hello,” She answered sweetly. My mother is the kind of woman who is portrayed as the all-American mother. She married a naval captain and raised a rough-and-tumble bunch of four children, two boys, and two girls. Home, for us, really was where we hung our hats. We moved so often from base to base, sometimes unpacking seemed a waste of time. Many times she had to explain to us kids why we had to move all of the time. She wiped the spilled tears over missed friends, and was always the wall that we leaned against. I have actually seen more of her strength in the past few years than in most of my childhood. Between losing Dad, my sister Melissa, and my near fatal cancer, she had always remained strong and fervent in her beliefs. She renewed my strength with the faith I had thought I lost. I have always had a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for her.

“Hi, Mom.” I managed to say in a constricted voice.

“Dana!” She exclaimed like she was surprised it was I. Now that I think about it, she probably was. “It’s been so long since you’ve called me. How are you?” She asked casually.

The only thing I could think to say was, “Um…” How was I supposed to reply to that? I wasn’t fine, far from it. And if I told her “not so good” she would have been all over me trying to find out what was wrong.

“Actually, I’ve got something to tell you.” I began carefully.

“What is it?” She asked promptly. Then, more of as a side note, “You sound troubled.”

“Well, um…four weeks ago I was involved in an accident.” I explained.

“What kind of accident?” The previous glee in her voice when she greeted me had drained away, replaced by a frightened wariness.

“I was on a case with Mulder in Chicago, and I was…I was shot.” I stumbled.

This didn’t come as a surprise to her. She understood well the risks I was involved in every day, and was very familiar with handling them. Besides, it wasn’t like I hadn’t been shot before. “Are you all right?” She asked finally.

Again, another question I just couldn’t meet with an honest answer. “Mom…” I took a long, deep breath. “I’m…paralyzed.” I blurted. There, it was out. I let out the breath I held, and waited for her response.

It was without missing a beat. “What?!” She exclaimed, sounding almost frantic. “You’re paralyzed?”

My breaths began to come in more shallow gasps by then. “The bullet shattered two of the bones in my lower back and cut my spinal cord. The doctors don’t know…if I’ll ever walk again.” It was like telling myself the news all over again. There was just something different about saying it in your head, as opposed to saying it out loud. It was just harder to accept. I was near tears by then.

She was silent for a long time. I suppose she was trying to let it sink in, and then trying to think of what to say. “Oh my god.” She said in a breathy, stunned voice. “I don’t know what to say. Why didn’t you tell me before?” She asked, not angrily though. She was too stunned to be angry. That wouldn’t last long though, and then she would be mad at me for keeping this a secret from her. The same thing, again, happened with my cancer.

“I don’t know.” I said, barely able to maintain a steady voice. It was so hard to tell this to people. I hated it, especially when I saw the faces of my loved ones. It made them sad, and sadness brought pity, and pity brought depression…

“I’m going to come down there.” She said quickly, jumping into an action other than sitting still with her jaw open, as she had probably been before. “I’m going to come down and see you. I need to see you before Christmas.”

I could have argued with her, I could have told her that she didn’t have to come down, that I was fine. But I didn’t. In all truth I wanted to see her. I needed her to comfort me. I needed to hug her, and tell her everything that had happened, and cry openly in her arms without worrying about professional character. That was something only my mother could provide.

“I’m leaving today. I’ll be there sometime tomorrow.” She said hastily. Then she paused. “My poor baby,” She said. “I love you, Dana. I’ll see you soon.”

I was crying by then. “I love you too, Mom.” I was barely able to say without sobbing.

Then we said our good-byes and hung up. I sat in the sofa where I had been watching television for the past hour, trying not to cry. There was no one to keep from crying in front of, but I didn’t want to do it. Why was it that I was always the bearer of bad news? I had to hear those words and see the faces of my loved ones before, and I felt a part of me die every time. Why was it that I had to see those tears of grief spilled? It wasn’t fair.

*

Mom didn’t come to see me. She called back a half an hour later after the information had time to process. We talked for over an hour, about everything that happened, and the possibility for recovery. I know I sounded utterly hopeless about it all, already sloping into a depression no one could save me from. She, however, was hopeful. She knew I had it in me to heal, and tried to convince me of that. But I didn’t believe her.

I asked something of her though. An obligation I would normally never place on her. I asked her to tell my brothers. I couldn’t just surprise them when I came Christmas Day. I would never be able to handle that.

I especially would never be able to handle Bill’s reaction. If there is a way to love someone too much, my older brother Bill has perfected it. All he wants to do is protect me, and I wouldn’t (and still won’t, at least willingly) allow anyone to protect me. And it has gotten so much worse since Melissa died. Now he feels as though he must protect me, or I’ll die too. I suppose a normal person might say that is the best form of love, but they would be wrong. The thing is, whenever something does happen to me, it’s Mulder’s fault. Everything is Mulder’s fault to Bill. My cancer, Melissa’s death, the reason I even became an FBI agent in the first place, all Mulder’s fault. And I actually have a certain hate for my brother for claiming such things about my best friend.

So Mom promised me she would break it to them, so they wouldn’t cause a scene at dinner. I wish I had known it wouldn’t matter. Bill has to cause a scene at family gatherings, or it’s just not the same.

Christmas overall was so depressing that year, I don’t even want to talk about it. I didn’t do anything Christmas Eve. I didn’t want to do anything Christmas Day. In my experiences, Christmas is always the saddest, most depressing time of the year for me. I have grown a certain resent for what used to be my favorite holiday over the years, and this year was no better. In fact, it was worse.

Christmas dinner started on a bad note. My mother has a front porch on the house that has no way up other than the stairs. Stairs and wheelchairs are not a good combination. Mulder of course drove me up to my mother’s house, and then agreed to come inside for a few minutes to say hello to her. We had to go around back to the patio that had no stairs and enter through the kitchen door.

My mother’s kitchen smelled wonderful, as usual. As soon as Mom opened the door to let us in, I could smell the roasting turkey and ham, and the pies cooling on the rack. Normally my mood would have changed for the better at the scent of Christmas food cooking, and the sound of family I had not seen since the previous year laughing and reminiscing. That just wasn’t the case then.

Mom greeted me with her ever-loving, warm smile, but there was that undeniable pity in her eyes when she saw me. She bent down to hug me, and I could barely keep from crying. But she didn’t openly display that pity. She didn’t start blubbering about how I was her poor, poor baby. That wasn’t her. She did it over the phone out of shock. Now that she saw I could get around okay, she seemed fine. I wished I could take it as strongly as she could.

I moved away from the door so Mulder could close it, sending the bitter air back outside. He smiled sweetly at my mother, and she met him with a hug.

“Merry Christmas, Fox.” She said, gleeful laughter in her voice. She looked at the two of us and then motioned towards the living room. “Come on, come on,” she ushered. “Everyone else is in the living room.”

I began to follow Mom, and Mulder followed me. I was nearly overwhelmed by nervousness and fear. Already resenting the idea of telling the story of what had happened again, for people slightly less understanding than my mother or my boss, I didn’t want to have to face the first stares they would give me when I entered the room. My only hope was that Mom told them all, so it wouldn’t be too hard on any of us.

I slowly pushed the wheels on the chair, allowing myself to roll carefully into the room. We were greeted immediately by the dominant sound of my older brother loudly telling some joke, and the equally boisterous sounds of the children playing some game in the front foyer, just outside of the family room where the adults were gathered.

“—So the duck says, ‘I dunno, I was talking to the pig!’” Bill exclaimed, delivering the last half of the punch line. The few adults in the room; who consisted of three aunts, two uncles, and their children, and Bill and his wife; all laughed hysterically. Apparently the joke, which we had narrowly missed, was quite humorous.

Bill chuckled too, as if the joke he had probably told a thousand times still entertained him. However, his chuckles faltered and faded when he saw me. I could see the pity, and then the anger slowly begin to fill his eyes. He stood from his seat, the joke audience now spectators to a dramatic play. Then he walked across the room towards me and tried to pass off a warm smile. He also bent down and hugged me. I welcomed the warm way he greeted me, silently praying the rest of the evening would go so well.

“Merry Christmas, Dana.” He said. His voice sounded altogether sweet and heart-felt. But I could hear the strain he was exerting.

“Merry Christmas, Bill.” I replied, also using a similar amount of strain to keep my voice the tone I wanted.

Charlie greeted me in a similar, but different way. Charlie was a little more eager to accept new ideas, and a little less over-bearing. I guess that’s because he is my younger brother, and didn’t assume the same role as protector after Dad passed away. He arrived last, a few minutes after us. Mom announced that dinner was ready, and we all piled into the spacious dining room to eat.

Mulder made a gesture with his eyes that he was going to go. He never really had felt accepted with my family. It is because we are all so close, and he never really was with his own. After his sister was gone, his family fell apart. And twelve years really isn’t adequate time to learn how to bond with the family. I’m sure he has aunts and uncles and grandparents, but he wasn’t involved with them after Samantha disappeared and his father left.

“Fox, do you have somewhere special to be today?” I heard my mother ask him from the kitchen entryway. Uh-oh. I thought. Rule number one, Bill and Mulder do not mesh well. More than five minutes together, and hell breaks loose.

“Not really,” Mulder answered. Wrong answer, I mentally winced. “I’m probably going to go home and go over some case files for Monday.” Even worse answer, it made him seem pathetic, like a little puppy dog that had lost his way. My mother adores pathetic.

She grinned. One couldn’t help but wonder what brilliance was working in her head, what little plans she had for him. There is one thing that must be known about my mother, family is her priority. Her family’s happiness is her eternal goal. In her mind, family equals happiness. I was her only child with no family of my own. No children, no husband. Therefore, she could clearly see that I was not happy. But there I was, working closely with a single, attractive man, whom she obviously was very keen on. With all we had been through, she probably thought of him as something of her adopted son, only without the proper connections. So I was saying, one wonders what gears were turning in her mind.

“Why don’t you stay and have dinner with us?” She gestured towards an open seat at the table. “There’s plenty to go around.”

He looked at me. I was seated beside the head of the table, in one of the dining room chairs rather than my wheelchair. I shrugged. Bill glared. He was adjacent to me at the head of the table, assuming the role of man-of-the-house.

“Why not?” Mulder said with a smile, throwing his hands in submission. He knows very well that I take after my mother (more after my father, but that’s a different story) and like me, if she wanted something she was going to get it.

Mom smiled widely and pulled another fold up chair from the living room for her to sit in. Mulder took the seat beside me.

Dinner began without a hitch. Bill carved the turkey and food was passed generously around the table. Everyone shared stories about the past year, everyone save for the three people at the end of the table, Mulder, Bill, and I. We kept our mouths shut; little did I know Bill was merely waiting for the right time to make his move.

Mulder was involved in listening to the conversations of the table. Once and a while a question was tossed his way, and he answered quickly and without detail, never wanting to be the center of attention.

Meanwhile, I was looking around at my family. Partially involved in the conversations, and partially divulged in my own thoughts. I mostly watched the children in the kitchen. As with many families, there was no room for the many children in the dining room, so they occupied the table in the kitchen known as the “Kiddy Table”. I remember holiday dinners as a child, always asking when I could sit with the adults. Even at the ripe old age of nine, I was convinced I was no longer a child. My dad’s answer to my inquiry was always, “When you’re no longer a kiddy, Starbuck.” I never quite understood what he meant by that, and I suppose I never will. Still, thinking about my dad was a little hard. I missed him a lot, and he would know what to do in a predicament like the one I was in. He could solve my problems and help me like he did when I was young.

“So, Dana,” Bill began, breaking my train of thoughts. I shook my head and regained consciousness of the world around me. “Why don’t you tell us exactly what happened in Chicago?”

I was more than alarmed by his straightforwardness. It wasn’t unlike him, but that didn’t make it comfortable. I had trouble talking about the events with only Mulder, the one person I trust most, I could never tell the story steadily to a dozen family members.

“Bill, I really don’t think this is the time or the place to talk about this.” I told him firmly.

He dropped his fork onto his plate, sending a crystal tinker through the room. All conversation stopped. “On the contrary,” He said with a humorless, cynical chuckle, “I think this is the perfect time and place. We never see hide nor hair of you any other time of the year, and I think your family has a right to know what happened that left you paralyzed.”

I frowned. I opened my mouth to say something, and then changed my mind and shut it just as quickly. I chose to try and ignore him, hoping maybe he would let it be. I looked down at my half eaten food, my appetite suddenly nonexistent. I poked at the lukewarm mashed potatoes with my fork, and waited for someone to speak.

“Dana,” Bill said.

“Bill,” Mom said sternly, snapping off whatever he might say next. “Let it be. We can discuss this later.”

Bill snorted like an enraged bull. He pushed away from the table, making sure that everyone’s plates and glasses jingled. “No, it cannot wait until later. I want to know what she was doing that left her like this. I haven’t been told anything!” He nearly yelled.

“I was shot.” I managed to say relatively steadily.

“You were shot?!” He exclaimed. For some reason he found that very hard to believe, even given the fact that he knew well what my job entailed, his was as dangerous, if not more.

I didn’t say anything. I just wanted it to go away.

“What were you doing that you got shot?” He asked harshly. “Where was he during all of this?” He threw an arm towards Mulder, and continued insulting him like he wasn’t there. “Out chasing little green men? He’s going to get you killed one day!” Bill was beyond control by then. Charlie pushed away from the table too, ready to jump up and tackle someone into submission if need be.

“It wasn’t Mulder’s fault.” I said quietly. “It could have happened to anybody.”

“But it didn’t happen to anybody, it happened to you. Because of him!” He argued adamantly.

During this time, Mulder too had put down his fork, his food long forgotten. The rest of the family had again become the spectators. No doubt this would live on in holiday gossip for years to come.

“How long is this going to go on?” Bill said, his tone still on the verge of an all out yell.

Mulder’s part in all of this started calmly, he remained controlled even as my brother ignorantly insulted him. It was a surprise to me I was certain Mulder would jump up and punch Bill. “Just leave her alone, Bill.” He said.

I didn’t want him to say anything though. If he had kept his mouth shut, things may have been okay. I normally would have told Mulder to stay out of it, I sure as hell could hold my own against my brother. But in all truth, I couldn’t. I didn’t really want to defend myself, and I didn’t really want to argue. So I stayed quiet and watched as the shit hit the fan.

“What?” Bill hissed.

Mulder turned his head and looked Bill full in the eyes. “Just let it go. She doesn’t want to talk about it right now.”

“I don’t think you’re in any place to tell me that. For all I know, it could be your fault.” Bill replied. “As a matter of fact, I’m not sure it’s in her best interests to be around you. All you’ve ever caused her is pain.”

“Bill,” Mom said, tired of listening and watching this go on. “It is not your place to decide this. And this is not the time to talk about this.”

That was it.

I couldn’t take it anymore. It had to stop. They were arguing about my life like I wasn’t in the room. I was slowly being pushed over the edge, and I didn’t want to go. I shook my head and clenched my jaw.

“Stop it,” I said relatively quietly. They continued arguing, not hearing my demand. “Stop it!” I yelled louder, and when I was sure I had their attention, “Just stop it! This is my life, none of you should be arguing about it! You have no idea what this is like, you don’t know what this pain is!” I was in tears by then. It all seemed so hopeless. “None of you know anything about what you’re saying!” I yelled. I was on an unstoppable roll now. I wouldn’t shut up until I had my say. “You have no right to try and control my life! I don’t need to be defended, and I don’t have to stand for this persecution!”

At that point, the most dignified thing to do would have been to flee. I needed to escape, to get out of there, to find some room to breathe. Of course I couldn’t just get up and storm out. I sat still, controlling any angered sobs with a pounding heart and heaving chest. I messily wiped away the stinging tears that had fallen, and looked at Mulder.

I didn’t have to say anything. He stood up and pulled the wheelchair from the corner, and then pushed it up next to my seat. My family watched, dumbstruck, as I slid into the chair and rolled away. I managed to ignore them all, Mulder, Bill, Mom, everyone. I couldn’t care less anymore.

The children stared as I moved hastily out the kitchen door and into the dark, cold evening. I had no coat, only the thin fabric of my blouse covering my arms. I rolled away from the warm light seeping out of the door and down the stony path that lead around the house to the driveway. In the spring, short rose bushes and delicate petunias lined this pathway. Now in the middle of bleak winter, nothing was on the sides of the path but dirt. I stopped near the corner of the house, already beginning to tremble in the cold. My breath puffed out before me in a white cloud when I sighed heavily. This had all gone to hell in a hand basket. I knew my family was chaotic, but I didn’t really think it would be that bad.

Letting my eyes wander to the black, clear sky, I felt another hot tear trail down my cheek. In a way I almost feared it would freeze that way. Millions of stars twinkled in that sky, even though it was only around six o’clock. Stars weren’t a common sight in the bright lights of the city, so the image was captivating to me. I wished I could become lost in that sea of stars. So I could fly where others walked, and be watched in awe instead of pity.

I didn’t notice when Mulder came out of the house until he draped my coat over my shoulders, startling me out of my reverie. I proceeded in pulling my coat on in the proper way, never saying a word to Mulder. I swept the back of my hand across my cheeks and sniffed back any tears that might follow.

Mulder let out a long breath and shuffled his feet a little. “I’m sorry I ruined your Christmas Dinner.” He said. “I know how important these holidays are to you.”

I was silent for a few minutes. Faintly, I could hear the muffled sound of my mother yelling at Bill in a room away from the kitchen. Behind that sound, there was the resumed chatter at dinner table. I was certain of what the subject was.

“It’s not your fault, Mulder. They just…weren’t ready to accept it…and I wasn’t ready to tell.” I said in a steady voice that surprised even me.

I saw Mulder nod. He didn’t know what to say about what had happened, and neither did I. It had shocked him as much as me. My family doesn’t come off as the chaotic type. We have always seemed the perfect example of American domestication. But like they always say, looks can be deceiving.

Rather than try and say anything, and then subsequently put his foot in his mouth, Mulder just put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it affectionately. By then, I was looking at the stars again, continually renewing my wish of being able to twinkle and fade like them. I brought my left hand up to my shoulder and rested it on his to return the gesture. It seemed to me that in these past few weeks, we really were growing a stronger bond. But the more our bond strengthened, the more the world bit down. It was like for every step taken forward, we were knocked three steps back. And it would only get worse.

··•*•··

Part 12

*

And I tried so hard to reach you But you’re falling anyway

And you know I see right through you When the world gets in your way What’s the point in all the screaming You’re not listening anyway

*

It was Christmas that gave me that last shove in the wrong direction. Over two months since the shooting, I should have been healing, if not physically, then psychologically. But I wasn’t, I was actually getting worse. Only I didn’t know it. And since I didn’t see anything wrong, I wouldn’t get help.

By “getting worse” I mean my depression. I was slowly and steadily delving into a deep, dark pit of depression. The pit was a place I could go to in my mind, like a forced nightmare I didn’t want to escape. The place was shadowed and cold, but to me it was comforting. In the darkness, no one could see me, and I couldn’t see anyone. This pit was like my grave, and I was digging it myself. With each passing day, I was buried a little more.

If Christmas didn’t have me sunk, it was New Years’. They were both about the same as far as the depressing factor goes. Except for the fact that I didn’t go anywhere. I watched Dick Clark and his show when the ball dropped, and then panoramic view of thousands of people laughing and kissing and welcoming the new millennium. It was the end of one era, and the start of another. To them, it was a time of celebration and joy, a time to take hold of the new, and remember the old.

For me, it was just a grim reminder that I was starting this proclaimed “New Millennium” as a cripple. I drank a little champagne, more as a way of escape than a celebration. Don’t take that the wrong way though, I didn’t use alcohol as a way to drown my sorrows, I didn’t need it. I could run from them on my own.

Mulder was on a case, so he didn’t see the sad state I was in that night. About ten minutes after the stroke of midnight, I began to cry. I cried for the past year, the past few months, and for myself. I just let it all go. I cried myself to sleep on the living room couch and endured the torture of my nightmares.

Before I go on, I must add that the tentative court date for Deuce’s prosecution was pushed back to March. I’m not sure why, something about problems with the jury. That said and done, I can continue.

I know now that Mulder knew something was different with me. Now that I think about it, you have to have never known me to not realize something was terribly wrong. I had told him everything was fine, trying to reassure him enough so he would leave me alone. He constantly asked me if I was talking to a psychiatrist. I wasn’t. In fact, I had avidly avoided speaking to one even knowing it would have been in my best interests. I didn’t want to face my problems, much less talk to a strange doctor about them.

The tension was strong between us. With me not telling him anything, and him pressuring me to do so, something was bound to happen. I remember I could sit for hours and just stare out the window, in a state like conscious catatonia. Mulder decided that he needed to get to me if I was ever going to get better. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it that way.

I was in my bedroom, sitting in my wheelchair and staring out the window. Snow had been falling steadily over Georgetown since early that morning, and continued to do so even as the afternoon grew to evening. I was watching TV for a while, but cheap entertainment just didn’t seem to do it for me anymore. It was too fabricated, to fake, it didn’t portray the pain and grief that life really brought. There was nothing I wanted more than to be gone. Not necessarily dead, just gone, disappeared. In a way I guessed that if I imagined that dark place for long enough, I could go there.

I didn’t hear Mulder knock on my open door frame, or hear him asking what I felt like eating for dinner. He let himself in, probably thinking something was wrong.

“Scully?” I finally heard him beckon when he was little more than a few feet away.

I didn’t acknowledge I heard him at first, not turning my head to look at him, or even pulling my eyes from the snowflakes fluttering softly to the ground.

“Are you alright?” he asked, coming closer to my side in hopes of seeing my face. I couldn’t let him look into my eyes and see the pain. He would first try and make me feel better, which no one could do, and then bring my misery down upon himself.

“Fine,” I replied simply, continuing to stare at nothing.

He didn’t believe it, but he didn’t push it. “What do you feel like eating tonight?” He asked casually, sitting back on the edge of the bed.

“I don’t care.” I sighed. Depression and apathy go hand in hand. One of my most common answers to questions was “I don’t care”.

I heard Mulder exhale exasperatedly. “Okay,” he said. I thought he would get up and leave, but he didn’t. “Are you sure everything is all right? Is there anything you want to talk about?” He asked attentively.

“No, I’m fine.” I said. After another few minutes, he got up and left. I know that my reply hurt him. I just couldn’t bring myself to explain what I was going through. For me to let someone in on the agony I faced day in and day out, I would have to open it up to myself. It would be like letting a tornado out of a jar. Only suffering could come from it, no good.

After carefully planning my next move I decided I should go out and tell Mulder he could eat whatever he wanted, I wasn’t hungry. Hunger, like rationality and caring, had slowly been pulled away from me. I was never hungry. It’s not like I pushed away food, but I just didn’t want it. I ate, but I mostly poked at my food like a discontented child. I never felt like I was hungry, just like I never felt I cared about anything.

Just before I left the window, the phone began to ring. I remained still, knowing Mulder would probably answer it. It rang once, twice, and then a third time before it stopped and Mulder answered, using his sir name of course. Phone “etiquette” was one of the few things that had not changed.

I left the dim confines of my bedroom and started down the hall to the living room, where I heard Mulder’s voice coming from. Near the corner of the wall joining the living room to the hall and the kitchen, I stopped. I peered into the living room, lit by a table lamp and standing lamp, and watched Mulder as he paced back and forth while talking on the phone. I don’t know what compelled me to stay there in the shadows and listen instead of going out right away, but I did. If I had gone out while he was still talking I wouldn’t have heard what I did.

“…I don’t know, the last abduction tape you had turned out to be some kid’s lost science project.” He said skeptically. By his side of the conversation, I could tell he was most likely talking to one of the eccentric Lone Gunmen.

“Yeah, go ahead and order the pizza, I’m gone hang here tonight.” he said. Then he chuckled like someone had probably said something humorous. He stopped after a couple of seconds and listened as the caller spoke.

“She’s all right,” He began, all good-natured humor drawn from his voice. “I guess.” He added, and then paused. “She won’t tell me anything. I’m really getting worried about her. She’s not talking to anyone about it, not even me. I think she’s starting to suffer from clinical depression.”

It didn’t take a genius to figure out he was talking about me. Clinical depression. Those words don’t seem like they shouldn’t have sunk in, not the way I was feeling then, but they did. It was like after putting my emotions into a scientific diagnosis, something you could see and interpret, I accepted it better. I accepted it, but that didn’t mean I thought I was suffering from it.

There was a long pause, during which Mulder settled onto the couch. When he spoke again, his voice was softer, “I’m afraid I might be losing her.”

Losing me? He was afraid he was losing me? I wasn’t going anywhere, not physically, not mentally, nor anyway else. I should have taken this as heartfelt, human concern, but I didn’t. I was offended.

A few minutes later, the last few sentences I had missed were over, and so was the conversation. Mulder remained sitting on the sofa after hanging up the phone. I wheeled out of the hall and around the couch to the edge of the living room. I was angry. I was angry at him for thinking something was wrong with me. In fact, I was angry with him for even caring. I didn’t want anyone to care. I wanted the entire world to be as impassive as I. Care, love, and affection, they all ended with sorrow.

“You’re not losing me.” I said almost sternly, surprising him to my presence.

He cocked his head a little and passed me a slightly untrusting look. “It doesn’t seem that way to me.” He said coldly.

Not only was I taken aback by his remark, I was infuriated by it. “Nothing is wrong with me. I’m fine and I’m not going anywhere.” I said coolly.

He stood up, his eyes blazing a fiery green. “Nothing is wrong with you?!” He yelled. “I’ve never seen someone stare out into space for three hours on end, don’t you think that’s a little hint to something not normal?”

I clenched my jaw. “Where do you get off telling me I’m not normal, Mulder?” I snapped. My rage had a way of twisting around his words to use them in my own argument.

He dropped his arms to his sides, his voice fading from a yell. “That’s not what I meant, you know that’s not what I meant, Scully.” He flopped back down on the couch.

I moved around to face him as he sat. “Then what do you mean?” I asked him in a stony voice.

He sighed and leaned forward to rest his chin in his palms. He didn’t answer my question, but came back with something for me to think about, “What happened to you, Scully?”

I shook my head and pulled my eyes away from him. I understood what he meant, but I couldn’t come up with a reply.

He put his hand on mine to get my attention back. “What happened to the Scully I used to know?” He asked earnestly. “The Scully who was tough and collected, who wouldn’t take any shit from anybody. Where’d she go? Is she in that place that you go to all the time? The cold, dark, place where no one can find you?”

I looked at him; his eyes were intense on me. How did he know about the dark place? I could feel the tears of confusion and frustration beginning to build up behind my eyelids. What did happen to the person I used to be? I thought for a moment, never letting my gaze slip from Mulder’s, but allowing the first tear to be spilled. The conclusion to the inquiry was sudden and harsh. It came into my mind like a dagger, or a gunshot.

“She died.” I said softly. “She won’t come back because the world killed her. There’s nothing you can do. You can’t save her.”

It was Mulder that dropped his eyes to the floor. He nodded to himself, as if he too had come to a conclusion about something. Then he slowly stood up, walked over to the coat hook, and put on his coat.

“Where are you going?” I asked him, turning my chair to see him.

“Out.” He replied quickly. Then he opened the door and left.

He had given up on me. No one could save me from the abyss now. It would swallow me for eternity. This time, I prayed it would.

··•*•··

Part 13

*

Life is bigger It’s bigger than you And you are not me The lengths that I will go to The distance in your eyes Oh no I’ve said too much I set it up

That’s me in the corner That’s me in the spotlight Losing my religion Trying to keep up with you And I don’t know if I can do it Oh no I’ve said too much I haven’t said enough I thought that I heard you laughing I thought that I heard you sing I think I thought I saw you try…

*

Mulder didn’t return that night, nor did I hear from him the next morning. I can’t say I blame him. I seemed to have passed the point of no return. The waves had pulled me too far out to sea, the sharks were circling, and no one could rescue me from drowning in my own self-hate.

I was always trying to escape the world, and myself. I didn’t hate the world, more like I was tired of it. I was sick of how I was viewed in society, I was sick of what I had become. The blow to my soul as well as my body had weakened me. And it seemed as though the wounds would never heal. Reality, as I knew it, was slowly slipping out of my grasp. Remember how I said before that I felt like I was beginning to spin out of control? Well, by then it didn’t just feel like I was, I really was on a downward spiral to an inevitable breakdown.

Around noon that next day, I found myself at church. No, not my church, that one was too far and there was no one to drive me. There are two churches not far from my building, in opposite directions on a jogging trail. Both were Catholic churches, with remarkable architectural designs and stained glass artwork and beautiful paintings. I never went to either to worship, but to admire the sheer beauty. After the happenings with Philip Padgett, I never returned to the one. The one I went all the way to was Saint Mary’s.

I had been doing a lot of thinking since the argument Mulder and I had the night before. Because of my strong roots in faith, I got to thinking about God. I figured the best place to get some answers would be a place of worship. So I wheeled myself the near half mile to the church, in the cold. It gave me a little extra time to do some thinking.

When I got there, the place was deserted. There wasn’t a single patron to be seen, nor was the priest. The large hall was still and quiet. It was almost unnerving. White sunlight shone into the large stained glass window depicting the followers of Jesus weeping over their king’s demise as they took him down from the cross. The window illuminated most of the hall, aside from the white candles on and near the organ and altar.

I went to the front of the hall and to the handicapped area where the end of the pew reaches to the aisle before the rest, leaving an open area that was wheelchair accessible. I sat there for a while, just staring at the flickering candles and the window. After a few minutes, I let my eyes drop to my hands. My hands were on my lap, palm up. Quite distinguishable in the light, were the scars crisscrossing my palms. Upon closer inspection, it was clear the scars were in the shape of a number. That number was one that haunted me every day. Every time I looked at my hands, I saw a grim reminder that I was victim number forty.

I looked up again, at the other picture of Jesus Christ, the picture of Him holding the hands of his meek and poor followers. It was the picture of Him bringing the love and hope of God to the innocent and pure.

“Why?” I asked out loud. “Why me?” I swallowed the lump in my throat and blinked back my tears. “I know it’s been a long time since I prayed, but why do I deserve all of this? Is there a reason why you think you need to punish me? You have to take away my family, and send me through hell and back? What is it that I have done to deserve it?”

By then the tears began to spill. I messily swiped them away with the back of my hand. I had done a lot of thinking, about God. I couldn’t understand why He felt the need to punish me. I didn’t know what I had done. And if everything I had suffered through was punishment, why did I have to suffer? Why didn’t he just strike me dead where I was?

“Is there something you want me to do to atone for whatever sins I have committed?” I asked, my voice slightly more choked.

I have always been raised by the belief that God does things for a reason, whether it was to teach us a lesson, or punish us for a sin. But that was where I was confused, I didn’t know what the lesson I was being taught was, or what the sin I had committed. There was no one I could talk to about it either. My mother, my priest, everyone who would know anything would all say the same thing; perhaps I wasn’t supposed to know what I was being taught yet. I needed to know though, I needed to know because that was the last stable thing I had; everything else was slipping away. I didn’t get any answers.

I sat in the church for another half an hour I think. I went home in more confusion than I had come in. I found my apartment empty. Mulder hadn’t returned yet. There was no message from him on the machine, no voice mail through my cell phone.

I was truly beginning to believe he had given up on me. The thing is, I was starting to give up on myself. There was no one left for me to turn to for help. Mulder was gone. God seemed to have turned His back as well. My mother and brothers were out of the question. I wanted to get away.

I went into the bathroom, all rational thoughts blocked by something I can’t quite describe. Fear, I think it was, fear and chaos. Sitting in front of the sink, I observed myself in the mirror. My face was red and tear-streaked, and dark half moons hung under my eyes from a lack of sleep. My eyes seemed distant, even to myself. My mouth, that hadn’t smiled in who knew how long. I couldn’t stand what I had become. What Deuce had done to me to become like this. There was only one solution that came into my mind.

I opened the mirror to the medicine cabinet. There were various colors and shapes of bottles of antibiotics, prescription drugs, cold medicines, painkillers, everything you could think of. After a moment of pondering, I pulled out an orange bottle of fast-acting prescription sleeping pills and a bottle of aspirin.

I slammed the cabinet shut and began fumbling with the lid on the sleeping pills. My hands were shaking by then, and I couldn’t get a good grip to twist off the cap. Finally, the bottle clicked open and the white cap toppled to the floor. The prescription was for the long, sleepless nights I sometimes had. The pills were highly concentrated, for someone my body weigh, half a pill and I could sleep the night through, a whole one and I could sleep for a day. I dumped the contents into my hand; what didn’t land in my palm poured into the sink where the bottle had also fallen. After a moment’s pause, I downed the pills, over a half dozen of them, dry.

I repeated the procedure with the aspirin, swallowing about a half dozen of them dry. Then I sat, staring into my reflection and the eyes of a woman with a broken spirit. Two minutes passed, two more, and then another five. My mind was cloudy with fear and pain, and I was beginning to feel dizzy and lightheaded. The end wasn’t far.

Suddenly, a single though shattered through the fog covering my rationality:

What have I done?

Oh my god, I’m going to die. I thought. I’ve just committed suicide. But this isn’t me. I have to stop this.

In a surge of motion, I lunged out of the wheelchair and onto the floor in front of the toilet. I gripped the toilet rim and gagged. My stomach lurched and emptied its toxic contents into the toilet basin.

I fell backwards and lie sprawled on the bathroom floor, the foul taste of bile still in my mouth. Dark spots began exploding in my vision, gathering into a pool in my head. My vision blurred, and I tried to focus it. It was too late. The pills had quickly dissolved into my bloodstream. It was then, as I lie on the brink of unconsciousness, that I had a revelation I should have had long before. I needed help. But none would come. My eyes slipped shut and the world went dark.

··•*•··

Part 14

*

What do you say in a moment like this
When you can’t find the words to tell it like it is
Just close your eyes and let your heart lead the way
What do you say…

*

They say that people who survive attempted suicide come back with a new leash on life. You always hear the sappy stories about some pathetic soul who tried to kill his or herself, and now have hopelessly devoted his or her time to helping others. They take nothing for granted, and live their lives to the fullest. They claim God wanted them to live, and gave them a second chance.

This may be so, but it’s never as sweet and good as it seems. You do not just wake up after attempted suicide and see the light. You do not just immediately think, hey, that was wrong. I’m going to start over!

You wake up feeling like hell. Then you see the faces of your loved ones as they pity you more, and try to figure out why you tried to leave them. They become angry with you for not thinking about them. They tell you suicide is selfish. None of them ever realize that is them who made you try and kill yourself in the first place. This is why so many people who attempt suicide and fail, continue to try.

But this is not exactly how it happened to me. I know it sounds cliché, but I got the good ending. A long and hard path would fill it, but I got the good ending. And it started with seeing the light. The light was Mulder.

I realized I was still alive when I felt the sharp throbbing in my head. As I slowly regained consciousness, I could hear the faint beeping of a heart monitor. Other than that, the room was quiet. I was in a hospital, I knew. How I had gotten there, I didn’t know. The last thing I could remember was thinking that I was going to die.

I gradually allowed my eyes to open. When they were fully open, I could see dark, blurry spots before me. I blinked a few times, and cringed against the wave of pain in my temples. It felt like I had been hit upside the head with a sledgehammer.

I heard the small rustling of clothing and looked to my right. It was Mulder. He was sitting in a chair against the wall, his head resting on the wall behind him. His face was solemn, almost completely devoid of emotion. There was something in his eyes, they were too darkened and cast to the floor for me to tell what.

After a few moments, his eyes flicked up from the floor to me. I could see now that his eyes were filled with something I had never seen in him before. Disbelief. He sat there, still and quiet, knowing I was awake, but making no acknowledgments about it. He just watched me, trying to make heads or tails of what was going on.

“Mulder,” I said. My voice was barely audible, almost not even a whisper. My throat was incredibly dry and sore. I swallowed, trying to moisten the walls of my mouth.

He exhaled and leaned forward. He handed me a paper cup brimming with water, which I drank slowly, my stomach suddenly feeling upset again. They had probably pumped my stomach in hopes of getting any remaining drugs out of my systems. My headache was probably a side effect of leftover drugs in my bloodstream.

“How did I get here?” I inquired, finding my voice a little stronger.

He scrubbed his chin with his left hand. “I came back to your apartment and found you on the bathroom floor. I found the pills in the sink, too.” He paused and looked away. “I was so scared you were already dead.” He continued quietly. When he looked back at me, his eyes were drowning in sorrow. “Why?” He asked.

I knew what he meant. I know it sounds funny, but I was always the stronger one in the partnership. I was always there when he needed someone to talk to about his sister, or what he was going through. He tried to do the same for me, but I never opened up. Now he couldn’t understand why I was suddenly so weak, and wouldn’t let anyone help.

“I was tired.” I said, staring straight forward at the wall. “I was tired of all the stares and the whisper’s behind my back. Everyone’s pity…” I stopped and looked at him. “I was tired of my mother’s pity and my brother’s hate…” I paused again and let my eyes drop from his gaze. When I spoke again, my voice was nothing but a whisper. “I was tired of life.”

Mulder was quiet. After a few moments he moved from the chair to the edge of my bed. He looked at my hand, and then took it in his own. “Listen to me,” He said, moving his eyes back to mine. “I know what you’ve been going through. You may not think so but I understand. Granted, I’ve never been through something like this, but I know what depression is like. And I also know that you are a very strong woman, and if you don’t want to do something, you won’t do it. That includes wanting to live. So I know I can’t make you learn to love your life again. I can’t make you stop feeling the way you do. I can’t make you do anything.”

He paused and broke the gaze for a moment, but brought it back just as quickly. His grip on my hand tightened, and by the soft, delicate tone in his voice when he resumed speaking, I knew what he was saying was something utterly important. “I can ask you to stop though…for me…because I love you.”

Those had to be the most beautiful words I had ever heard. I was so stunned by them I almost didn’t know what to do. I heard those words from him before, but never, ever with so much emotion behind them. How could I ever deny them as anything but genuine?

I sat up (a task that had become easier in the past weeks) and embraced him. I was already beginning to cry, something I was hardly able to help anymore. My emotions finally came forth in words. I suddenly found it easy to tell him everything I couldn’t say before.

“Mulder I don’t know what to do anymore.” I whimpered into his shoulder. I felt his hand move up my back to my neck to hold me closer as I talked and cried at the same time. “I feel so lost. I feel like everything I do is wrong…” I paused for a moment, so comforted sitting there with his arms around me, and his scent enveloping me. “But no matter how far I wander away from the path, you are always there to lead me back. Even when I don’t want you to…I still always know you will be there for me. Thank you.”

Yes, I thanked him. But what you have to understand is that the thank you was one of the most heartfelt things I had ever said. I have told this before; I’m not very good at talking about my emotions. Mulder took it the right way. No, I didn’t tell him I loved him. I didn’t because it wasn’t the right time for me to confess those feelings. It was the right time for him to tell me, but not for me to tell him. That time would come soon, but it wasn’t then and there.

*

They released me from the hospital after speaking to a doctor from the psych ward. He did his song and dance about how important it was for me to talk to a psychiatrist. This time though, I actually listened. I assured him I would talk to one as soon as possible. Little did he know I had my own psychologist: one who I felt more comfortable talking to now than ever before.

With a little persuasion from Mulder, the doctor’s signed me fit to go home. He explained to them that the hospital wasn’t the best place for me to be. I needed stability and familiarity to heal. I needed to feel comfortable to be able to talk about my feelings. It may have been true, but at the time I complimented him on his bullshitting techniques. I was released within four days of my arrival.

I had another dream the first night I was back at my apartment. It wasn’t a nightmare like before, but a good dream. The first I had since before the whole incident with Deuce Stein.

In my dream, my sister came to me. I remember I was sitting in my bedroom, looking out the window like I had the day before I tried to end it all. I was just staring out at window at nothing, until I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and saw the face of my deceased sister. I turned around in the wheelchair and hugged her. She was smiling. Her eyes shimmered with an inner beauty, and her hair hung to her shoulders in curly red tendrils. Her face seemed to glow with an angelic light. She was dressed all in white to match.

“Dana,” she said. Her voice was sweet, and almost seemed to echo like she wasn’t there at all. “Dana, you know that you’ve got to stop.” She told me. “He loves you so much, can’t you see? You don’t know what would happen to him if you left. You’re not supposed to die yet. You know that. You are supposed to get up and walk. For him and for yourself.” She paused and smiled again. “God loves you, Dana, and I love you. But I don’t want you here with me. I want you to stop doing everything you are and take a good, hard look at your life. I want you to make things right. Do you understand?”

I nodded. She bent over to hug me again, and I closed my eyes so I could remember everything she told me, and the feeling of her hug. When I opened them, she was gone.

I awoke the next morning with another revelation. I was going to stop feeling sorry for myself. I was going to stop letting what other people thought about me break my spirit. I was going to smile and laugh and love. I was going to run and dance. Most of all, I was going to walk.

··•*•··

Part 15

I’m going to make a huge time jump here, from the beginning of January to the middle of February. It’s just that not much happened during that time that can’t be summarized. I’m finding that I need to write about the important events, and not the obscure little details. Ten years from now, if and when anybody reads this, they are going to want to know the major events, not what I ate for dinner every single day.

It was during those weeks that tiny, but noticeable, progression began happening towards my healing. Physically healing I mean, not psychologically. Psychological healing would take a lot longer; in fact I’m still not fully healed.

The healing of one’s body after a spinal injury is so slow and progressive, you truly aren’t even aware it’s happening until someone makes you aware. It started when I had muscle spasms after being under some kind of physical stress. This was usually during or after my physical therapy. Because I was spending so much time not caring, I hadn’t realized my legs had been doing this since the beginning of January.

The next step was the actually feeling in my legs. The touch sensation started at my toes and slowly crept up my legs. You have no idea what it’s like to actually feel your foot being tickled after months of no touch at all. It’s amazing, pure and simple. By the first week of February, I could actually move my legs to some degree.

Into the beginning of February, Annie was very confident that I would be walking again by summer. I can clearly remember the first day Annie said I was ready to start relearning how to walk.

She had me going through the exercises, lifting my legs, bending them, exercising them with different weight machines. My legs still felt a little heavy, and numb at times, and my reflexes were slightly on the sluggish side.

“It’s never really too soon to start bearing weight on them. The basic motor functions are some of the hardest things you’ll have to relearn. Coordination, balance, endurance; they’re all things that have to be learned again.” She told me. “But I think you’re ready to give it a try.”

“If you think so.” I said. I still can’t believe it, but I was reluctant. It was because I scared. I don’t know what I scared of, but I was. I think it was a fear of the unknown, or a fear that I would fail myself.

Annie offered me an encouraging smile. “Follow me,” she said. She started to the room adjoining the examination room where we had been working. The adjoining room was the exercise room; it half resembled a gym like at the Four Seasons, with weight lifting equipment and such. The equipment that didn’t fit looked like things taken from a school gymnasium or playground.

I followed Annie to a piece of equipment similar to the parallel bars of a gym. Actually they were just that, bars running parallel to each other coming straight up from the ground to about waist height on an average adult, and then running parallel to the ground before going back downwards. These were wrapped in blue foam padding to prevent injury. Foam mats padded the floor beneath as well.

Annie stood between the bars and motioned for me to position the wheelchair just at the beginning of them, so I could stand up between them.

“Now, get a good grip on the bars and use them to stand yourself up.” She instructed, standing a few feet away to allow me some space.

I leaned forward and gripped into the foam. Just as she had said, my arms had become considerably strong, and I was able to lift my own body weight. I relied heavily on the strength then to lift myself up. Once I was “standing” I moved forward using a combination of arm and leg movement, so I could be more centered on the bars. I was putting most of my weight on my arms, and they were beginning to feel sore and strained.

“Don’t use your arms so much, try and put some weight on your legs.” Annie said, watching my movements closely.

I did as I was told and relaxed some of the weight off my arms. As soon as the weight shifted from predominantly my arms to my legs, they buckled from underneath me. They were still too weak to hold the weight. I caught myself before I tumbled to the ground and held again with my arms. I looked up at Annie sheepishly.

She smiled. “It’s all right, Dana, it’ll get easier. Trust me. Keep working at it.”

For three more weeks I kept working at it. My progression seemed to slow down. Nearing the end of February, I still couldn’t stand without holding onto something. Hope was subsequently beginning to fade again, but not in the dramatic degree it had been before.

One night, Mulder and I were sitting in the living room watching TV. Well, Mulder was flipping channels, I was watching. He stopped momentarily at a football game. Nope, his team was losing, moving on. A couple of clicks more and a crude movie involving two people rolling around in bed and grunting, a pause here. No, he had probably seen that one as he kept flipping. Further on were all the children’s channels, cartoons and such. This was where Mulder stopped and put down the remote.

“Cartoons!” He exclaimed childishly. He then stretched on his side in front of the couch, propping his head in his hand. For some reason, he seems to favor the floor rather than the furniture.

“Mulder, how can you watch this?” I asked after seeing the opening credits of a show called ‘Two Stupid Dogs’.

He turned and looked up at me. “Hey, I don’t ridicule the shows you watch. That dumb ‘The Practice’ crap.” He cracked a grin and then turned his attention back to the television.

That earned him a bashing from the pillow I was leaning against. Along with my physical progression, and air of altered normalcy had returned to our lives. We found it easier to joke around like we had before. Though I still didn’t all out laugh at his little comments, I found myself able to retort them again. It felt good.

Once the show cut back to a commercial after the first scene, Mulder turned back to me again. “So,” he began casually. “How goes the physical therapy? Other than the sore part, I mean.”

The sore part: that was a good one. Because of the increased amount of strain exerted on my arms when I tried to stand, my shoulders were left more stiff and sore than ever. Shoulder and back rubs became a frequent evening activity. Not that I’m complaining or anything. Mulder gives a very good massage.

“I don’t know,” I sighed. “I try, and I try, and I try; but I just can’t do it. It’s like my legs don’t want to walk. I’m starting to wonder if this is the most I’ll even be able to do. What if I just don’t heal enough to walk?” I said, pouring out my entire reserved thoughts in a few sentences. Something else that had become easier was talking to Mulder.

Mulder cocked his head. I could tell he was planning something. He switched off the TV, and then got up. Then he stood before me and took both of my hands.

“Come on,” he said, tugging them and beckoning for me to stand.

I sat still on the sofa. “Mulder, I can’t.” I told him.

He looked at me confidently, still holding onto my hands. “Yes, you can.” He said firmly. “You can, and you will.”

I shook my head slowly. “I’ve tried.” I whispered.

He leaned forward, his face a straight expression of courage. “I want you to close your eyes,” he said softly.

“Mulder,” I said skeptically. I felt ridiculous.

“Close them,” he commanded.

I did.

“Stop thinking with your mind, think with your heart. Let your heart lead the way.” He said. “Now take a deep breath and say, I can walk.”

I opened my eyes and shot him another skeptical look. I still didn’t believe it.

“Say it,” he said firmly.

I shut my eyes again and sighed. “I can walk.” I said robotically.

“Good, now say it like you believe it.”

I heaved a deep breath into my lungs and spoke again, more convincingly this time. “I can walk.”

“Do you believe?” He whispered into my ear.

“Yes,” I whispered back.

He gripped my hands harder and tugged me up to a standing position. My eyes flashed open. I was relying on his support, but I was standing more on my own than before. Mulder was smiling with pride when I looked up at his face.

“Try taking a step.” He encouraged.

I lifted my right foot and moved it forward, landing it just ahead of the left. My balance was incredibly off, so the step was very careful and well placed. That foot down, I repeated the procedure with the left foot. I continued on, using Mulder as a crutch as he held onto my hands to keep me from falling.

“Look, Scully, you’re walking.” Mulder whispered.

I was. I really was walking. Slow baby step by baby step, I was progressing across the room. I again looked up at him; he was still smiling ear to ear. With such an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment and happiness, I began to cry. I had achieved what for so long I thought to be the impossible. I did what they at one time told me I may never do again. I walked.

“Don’t cry,” Mulder cooed. He released on of my hands and wiped away my tears with his thumb. “No more crying.”

I smiled. For one of the first times in months I smiled. I realized I could never have done any of it without Mulder. He gave me the strength that I needed to stand up and walk again. With all we had been through together, our bond had become unbreakable. We had been subjected to every test of strength and faith and had passed. We had been to hell and back. I was always there for him when he needed me. And now more than ever, he was there for me. We were there for each other, as someone to lean on, as someone to cry with. And I loved him with every bone in my body.

I let go of his hand, now carrying the confidence that I could stand without help, and threw my arms around him.

“Mulder, I know I’ve never told you…but I just want you to know…that I do love you.” I whispered softly to his ear.

He pulled out of the embrace a little so I could see his eyes, and he could see mine. What I saw in those hazel eyes (and I still don’t know why I never saw it before) was love. His eyes were filled with limitless love and caring. I heard that love when he spoke those words to me in the hospital, and I felt that love in what he did next.

He hooked his finger under my chin and tipped my face up. Without hesitation, he dipped his head down and captured my lips in his own. After only a few seconds of timid kissing, we gained more boldness. I opened my mouth more and leaned closer, allowing him to deepen the kiss. Our tongues found each other for blissful moments of dancing. His arm snaked around my lower back to pull me in closer and support me should I fall in the midst of it. My arms remained around his neck, my fingers entangling in his hair. The kiss probably would have lasted forever had it not been for the lack of oxygen.

I kept my eyes closed for longer than needed after the kiss was broken, wanting to remember every detail about it. The taste of him, the feel of his lips against mine, that indiscriminate warm feeling deep in my belly. All things I hadn’t felt forever, for one reason or another. I didn’t want to forget any of it.

I moved my arms down to his waist and rested my head against his chest. His arms stayed entwined around my back and his chin resting against my head. I cannot describe what I was feeling then. The only word that comes to mind is peace. That had been the first kiss we ever shared. In seven years of partnership and ever-increasing sexual tension we had never shared something as innocent as a kiss until then. Because we knew that a kiss would be far from innocent when it happened between us. And if it happened, neither would ever be able to deny the true feelings we had for each other. So it would have to happen once we were sure of those feelings. It was at that time, we both knew. Even now, I cannot think of better circumstances under which I would have kissed Mulder. There have been times I wanted to, and times we almost did, but I’m very glad we didn’t. If we had, things wouldn’t have turned out the way they did.

··•*•··

Part 16

*

I need some distraction Oh a beautiful release Memory seeps from my veins Let me be empty and weightless And maybe I’ll find some peace tonight In the arms of an angel Fly away from here…

You are pulled from the wreckage Of your silent reverie You’re in the arms of an angel May you find some comfort there…

*

Possibly the largest obstacle I had to face after the shooting and the serial murders of Deuce Stein, was the court hearing. Yes, relearning how to walk was number one on hard things to do, but nothing measures up to facing the fear that had buried itself in my soul all those months. Memories of that night were terrible, and the dreams were worse. Most of all, they were ceaseless. Any number of things could send me shaking, stricken by the memory of Deuce’s eyes on me, the feel of the blade cutting through my flesh, the gruff sound of his voice before he left me to die. White roses were perhaps the worst things that could bring back those flashes. The sound of a gunshot as well, even though I didn’t hear a shot when the bullet brought me down. I still couldn’t bring myself to talk about it either. I could talk about what I was feeling, but my nightmares and my forbidden memories were out of the question.

Mulder and I were flown back to Chicago on March first for the trial of Stein versus the state of Illinois. Now, I’m not going to bore anyone, namely, myself with the details of the exact court proceedings. In all truth, I can’t even remember everything that was said and done. On the first day of trial, the District Attorney (William Dorsey) and Deuce’s lawyer made their opening statements. Also, the first two state’s witnesses were sworn in. I was not one of these witnesses. Detective Lucy Pacelli and the county Medical Examiner were the first two. The roles both Mulder and I played that day were to sit in the audience directly behind the DA and look like the high and mighty Federal Agents we were.

The day itself was all in all pretty boring. Aside from the rush to the hearing from the airport after the hour snow delay, the hours dragged by slowly. The most interesting surprise was when we got to the hotel. Our normal places to sleep when in the field were at cheap, roach eaten, road-side motels; courtesy of the US Government. This time however, it was Illinois that paid for our room and board, and they graciously gave us a fine hotel in which to rest. Does the name Ramada ring a bell? No? Well, let’s just say it is a much better place to stay than the Econo Lodge or the Davy Crockett Motor Court. All right, Sam Houston Motor Lodge…whatever. My theory is that any place we stay that has the words “motel” “road” or “lodge” in it, bites.

It was actually a rather pleasant surprise to both Mulder and myself. Once we entered the lobby to the hotel, with its fine fire-placed lounge, dry bar, restaurant, and indoor pool, the first thing either of us thought was “Wow”. We checked in at the front desk, and a bellhop carted our bags and took them up to the rooms.

Even though it had been a month since I took my first steps back into the world of the walking, I had to be in the wheelchair. Slowly but surely, my natural sense of balance and coordination was returning to me. Yet I still couldn’t walk long distances by myself, without some kind of crutch or cane. The wheelchair was actually easier to get around in than the using old man’s cane with the constant fatigue and soreness that followed. I knew I had to work my legs as much as possible, but in places where I knew I would be moving around a lot, the chair was just better. Besides, I think I hated that cane more than the wheelchair.

After a brief elevator ride to the fifth floor, we found rooms 519 and 520. Just before I jammed my plastic-tagged key into room 519, the door opened and the bellhop appeared. He was pimply-faced young man, probably a local teenager. He looked at us nervously and scratched the back of his head, further tousling his already unruly dirty blonde hair.

“I uh…I didn’t which room was which so I just put the bags in here.” He explained, holding the door to what was deemed my room open.

“That’s fine,” I said dismissively. I began to move carefully around him and through the door but paused half way in. I dug into my purse after pulling it out of the knapsack and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. I had never tipped a bellhop before, so I wasn’t quite sure at how much to give him. I handed him the bill and watched him nod a hurried thank you and then turn to walk away.

Mulder shrugged and followed me into the room. “I would have tipped him.” He said, picking up his single bag from where it rested on the queen-sized bed.

“I know,” I replied, stretching my legs and standing, albeit a little shakily. “But your tipping skills are a little less than desirable.” I sat down on the bed and dropped my suitcase and vanity to the floor. Then I flopped down and toed off my shoes, letting them be discarded to the floor as my bags had been.

I craned my neck back to my right and saw Mulder looking around my hotel room; opening the bathroom door and having a look inside, picking up the TV remote and inspecting the various channels printed on the back, things like that.

“Mulder, what are you doing?” I asked him as he picked up the room service menu from the bedside table after replacing the remote control.

“Nothing,” he replied. He dropped his bag by the open adjoining door to his room (unlocked by his request) and came back around to my bed to flop down beside me. No matter how boring the day had been, it had still been a long one, long and exhausting.

“I can’t remember the last time I was ever in a hotel this nice.” He remarked, staring at the stiletto plastered ceiling above the bed.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been in one this nice.” I said, letting my eyes slip shut in a long blink.

“Wanna go check out the restaurant for some chow?” He asked, sitting up.

I sighed. “No, I think I’m going to call it a night.” I told him, sitting up as well.

“You’re going to bed?” He looked at me disappointedly. “It’s only six o’clock.”

I stood up slowly, finding the ease I could use sometimes to do so remarkable. “Yup,” I replied simply, replacing my suitcase on the bed.

Mulder stood. “All right,” He sighed reluctantly. “I’ll just eat room service all by myself.” He shuffled glumly across the room and picked up his bag.

I shook my head and smiled to myself. He was just trying to make me feel sorry for him, a boyish quality I actually always found quite charming. But a quality I almost never fell for. “Good-night, Mulder.” I called as he closed the adjoining door. I heard a grumbled response and then the sound of the TV in his room turning on.

I took a shower (another difficult task I had relearned how to do in the past few weeks) and settled into the enormous bed for a good night’s sleep. Yeah, right. I would sleep well until the nightmares came, and then I would sleep lightly, any tiny sound or motion waking me from my doze. And that would be considered a good night. A bad night would be one where I woke up screaming again, my body shocked and my mind confused. I would cry and shiver through the night, no hopes of any sleep returning. That’s where Mulder usually came in, on the bad nights. Before, he would join me in my bed at home after the nightmare had awoken me (and him). But since I began to walk, and the kiss we shared, and the confessions we spoke, he never even bothered to start the night on the sofa. Of course, we had separate rooms at the hotel, to keep appearances for one reason or another.

Being in a strange hotel room was no escape from the demons that haunted me. I had a particularly bad nightmare that first night. It’s not that it was worse so to say…it’s that I remembered it.

It is very hard for me, even now, to explain what was in the dream. In the nightmare, I was Deuce. I was Deuce when he killed all those women. I could feel their hot blood as it soaked his hands when he sliced their palms. I could see the fear in their eyes when he asked them if they were afraid of dying. He talked to some of the other victims more than he spoke to me. He whispered to them, holding the gun to the back of their heads, watching their tears stream down their cheeks. He told them they had to pay for the sins of the past, and that they should pray, they should pray for redemption. The thing he kept asking them was why. Why? Why? Why?

I didn’t understand at first. Why what? I looked on through his eyes in horror as he pulled the trigger, and then watched the woman’s eyes as she died. He liked to see the life slowly seep out of their blue eyes, just as the tears had. He liked to watch people die. And when he was fairly certain they were dead, he thanked them. He closed their eyes and kissed their lifeless eyelids, said a German prayer for their souls, and then opened their cold blue eyes again, to stare towards the heavens above.

I’m not squeamish. I can’t afford to be, not with my job. Yet when I was finally jolted back to reality, I had to really fight with my body to keep my stomach from wringing out its contents. I was so nauseated by my more than disturbing dream that I nearly lost it all over that nice big hotel bed. But I didn’t, I managed to keep it down, even between racking sobs.

The words I have written above about the nightmare do not portray the feelings justly. Words can only go so far to describe fear and pain…and evil. I understood everything as I sat awake in the hotel bedroom, trying to slow my breathing and heart rate, trying to stop shivering uncontrollably.

Deuce killed because he liked it. But it was more than that; it was in his blood to kill. Something had happened. Something in 1909 that scarred the Stein bloodline forever. I wasn’t sure what just yet, but it was something terrible, something that could be carried on from father to son. It was like a disease.

When I couldn’t handle my thoughts of the nightmare anymore, I threw off the comforter and slid out of the big lonely bed. Using the wall as a support for my weak legs, I made it to the adjoining door and found Mulder’s still unlocked. I turned the door handle and carefully opened the door. Mulder’s room was dark, and the sound of his soft breathing greeted me. Creeping across his room in the dark, I felt like a lost and lonely child, seeking refuge from the bitter world.

I made my way to the head of the bed, one similar to my room, and climbed beneath the covers on the opposite side of Mulder. The bed springs shifted with my body weight and it wasn’t long before Mulder stirred. He rolled over, groaning, and then opened his eyes. Once he realized that it was I who had disturbed his sleep, he sat up a little.

“Nightmare?” He asked as if he didn’t know.

I nodded meekly.

He lay back down and wrapped his arms around me, pulling me closer to him. I accepted the gesture and rested my head against his collarbone.

“Jesus, Scully, you’re in shock.” He said almost as soon as he had me in the tight embrace.

He was right. I had not even realized my body was still trembling harshly. Mulder pulled the blankets up higher and rubbed my arms, trying to regenerate my body heat.

“That was a bad one, huh?” he said, settling down with his arms entwining around me. “You wanna tell me about it?” he inquired gently after a few seconds.

I shook my head, unable to speak. I could feel the lump rising in my throat and the tears stinging my eyes. The dream was still fresh in my mind, traumatizing my emotions and thoughts. My lower lip trembled and I let the tears and the first pained cry come forth. I couldn’t help but to weep over those nine other women, all victims to one man’s sick desire. And I had to cry for myself as well, also a victim. Not even I was able to escape the evil of the world.

Mulder sat up and held me close against his chest while I cried. He knew that he couldn’t cease my sobs, for they were too powerful and beyond even my control. It was better that I just cry it out. The most he could do for me was hold me close and try and comfort me through the raging storm of my nightmares.

“I know,” he whispered against my head, stroking my hair and rocking back and forth in a soothing motion. “I know, Scully, I know.” He kissed my forehead just at my hairline and continued to ease my pain in the best way he knew how, with his love and his understanding. And that was what always worked; his mere touch could calm my fears to some degree.

Our relationship had changed since our kiss and my own words of love towards him. I guess I always knew a simple kiss could do that. But in a way, our relationship was different even before then. Ever since he first told me I was paralyzed things were different. If our friendship itself could have gotten any deeper and more affectionate without crossing the boundaries to something more, it did. After the kiss, we took another step towards the dive that would convert us from mere friends, to lovers.

We had not yet taken that dive though. I didn’t know when it would happen, but I knew eventually it would. Just as we eventually experimented with a kiss, we would eventually make love. It was just bound to happen. That night, we were still just friends, if you want to call us that. We always had a bond beyond friendship; beyond even any comprehendible, non-physical relationship anyone had ever seen.

The coming days would not only test that bond, they would strengthen it. As I have learned many times, both painfully and easily, nothing ever stays simple for long. Nothing.

*

The next day at court, Pacelli and the ME were cross-examined. The DA said he would probably put me on the stands either the next day, or the day after. He wanted to make sure the case was presented in full, and the criminal and medical perspectives had been covered before the introduction of FBI agents.

Deuce was pleading innocent by temporary insanity, and no plea bargain could be met. He didn’t want to go to jail, plain and simple. That was something else that was still an enigma. Why had Deuce actively confessed, even turned himself in, if he was going to do anything in his power to keep from going to prison? We were still in the dark where Deuce and his lawyer were going to do with the case. We had little argument on the aspects of his so-called insanity without knowing his motive.

Somehow, I needed to do some digging on Deuce’s history. With the addition of my nightmare, I knew his murders had something to do with his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather. But given no suspects to the previous murders thirty, sixty, and ninety years before, there was little I could go on.

The first place I thought to go was the Chicago Hall of Records. I went after court recessed for the day at 3:30. I told Mulder what I was going to do, and he offered to go. I agreed because I could use another pair of hands to sift through the mountains of dusty files bound to be awaiting us.

Most of the more recent files were on computer; the birth certificate, graduation certificate, marriage licenses and such could be found. We found numerous amounts of unneeded information on both Deuce and his father. But all files before 1960 were still in the basement, yet to be converted to the hard drives.

In the basement, we found the files on Deuce’s grandfather and great-grandfather. I read pretty much the entire file on his great-grandfather in full, certain it was where all the trouble originated. What I found was just disturbing:

Deuce’s great-grandfather, Peter Walsh Stein Senior, was an immigrant from Germany in (guess what year) 1909. That same year, a merchant’s wife murdered Stein’s wife, Leida. The merchant’s wife, described as being blue-eyed, thin, with ashy blonde hair, apparently had an affair with Mr. Stein. Stein Sr. had dumped her to reconcile his marriage and his lover had been infuriated. She kill Stein’s wife in a fit of rage. Two days later, she herself was found murdered before she could be put under arrest. No suspect was captured.

It sounded to me like a story of revenge and jealousy. With the death of Stein’s lover, it should have stopped there. But it didn’t. Every night afterwards, at the same hour his lover was presumably murdered, another woman was murdered in the same way. Each woman was between the ages of twenty and forty, with blue eyes, just like the dead girlfriend. No suspect could ever be placed at the scene of the crime at that time. Stein always had an alibi, his then five-year-old son Peter Jr. After the tenth woman had been killed in that manner, Stein Sr. was found dead in his Chicago home as well, apparently by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Peter Jr. went to live with his uncle, who also lived in Chicago.

I told all of this aloud to Mulder. He sat at the table across from me, pictures and police reports spread before him, thinking. He scratched his chin and then pinched the bridge of his nose in a frustrated gesture.

“Where does Stein Jr. and the his son and Deuce fit into all of this?” He asked finally.

“I don’t know…” I groaned. I dropped Stein Sr.‘s file and reached for Stein Jr. ‘s.

I read it silently while Mulder sat and chewed on a sunflower seed. I was scanning the blurb about Stein Jr. ‘s family when Mulder had his break-through.

He dropped his feet from the table corner with a thud, slapped the papers in top of the table and leaned forward. “I got it!” he said triumphantly. “I know the connection.”

“What connection?” A voice said from down the corridor towards the stairs. A few moments later, Bill Dorsey the DA came out of the shadows and joined us at the cluttered table where we had been slaving for the past few hours.

“The connection between Deuce and the other murders in sixty-nine, thirty-nine, etcetera.” Mulder answered.

Dorsey’s curiosity was sparked as he raised his eyebrows and pulled up a chair. Bill Dorsey was an older man with silvery gray hair, hazel eyes a few shades darker than Mulder’s, a pointed nose, and a sardonic sense of humor. He started out as a civil attorney and was promoted to District Attorney where he soon made a reputation of being good at putting the bad guys behind bars. He could talk fast and think faster. All in all, he was very good at his job.

“All right,” he said, crossing his ankle over his knee. “Let’s hear it.”

“How old was Stein Jr. when the murders were committed?” Mulder asked me.

“Five,” I replied, unable to see where this was going.

“At five years old, Stein Jr. had a hell of a life. His mother was murdered, his father was having an affair, and then his father committed suicide.” Mulder said. “On top of all that, before his dad died, he killed ten women, including his lover—”

Dorsey raised his hand to stop Mulder mid-speech. “It hasn’t been proven that Stein Sr. killed those girls, that wouldn’t hold up in court.” He explained.

Mulder nodded. “Let’s just say for the sake of argument that he did kill them. All of that can be very scarring for a five-year-old, right?”

Dorsey and I nodded, already interested in where Mulder was taking this.

Mulder seemed pleased that he had nabbed our interest. “How old was Stein Sr. when he killed those women?”

I picked up Sr.‘s file and flipped quickly to the birth certificate. “Thirty-five.” I told him.

“Okay, so Jr. was five when his old man of thirty-five killed ten women. Thirty years later, Jr. would be thirty-five, the same age his father was. Ten women are killed that year. I know it hasn’t been proven he killed those women either, but doesn’t that seem a little more than coincidental?”

I shook my head. “That’s just what anyone could say, it was a coincidence that those women were killed when Jr. was thirty-five.”

“Ten women were killed the year Jr. turned thirty-five. When his father was thirty-five, he also killed ten women in the same manner. It doesn’t seem coincidental to me. Not after you add this,” Mulder tossed another file towards me. “Jr. had a son, Deuce’s father. How old was that son when the 1939 murders were committed? Five. How old was Deuce when the 1969 murders were committed? Five. They were all the same age when their fathers killed those women.”

Dorsey shot him a look.

“For the sake of argument,” Mulder added to his last statement.

I moistened my upper lip with my tongue and drummed my fingers on the papers. “So, what you’re saying is that these men all killed ten women at the age of thirty-five because their fathers before them did?”

Mulder nodded. “And it all goes back to a jealous merchant’s wife.”

Dorsey looked at me, and then at Mulder. “Let me get this straight: In 1909 Stein Sr. had a little affair. He chose his wife over his girlfriend in the end. His girlfriend got mad and killed Stein’s wife to get back at him for ditching her. In revenge for that, Stein killed his girlfriend. Then something snapped in his mind and he killed ten other women just because they were the same age and eye color of his wife’s murderer. After that work was done, he ended his misery by killing himself. His five-year-old boy, very traumatized by these events, then killed ten women in the same way when he was thirty- five because his father did. This bloodline of revenge killings continued up to Deuce. And that is where we stand.”

Mulder nodded, a sly grin of victory crossing his face. Mulder loves it when he solves a case, even if no one else believes his theory as the truth. As long as he thinks it’s right, it is.

“I’m sorry to say this, but it sounds a little bizarre. I think we’d just confuse the jury, and then Deuce’s asshole lawyer would have a field day with us.” Dorsey said.

“Which is why we have to get Deuce to say something about it.” Mulder said.

“He won’t talk, we’ve tried.” Dorsey argued. “His lawyer is always present, and won’t let him answer anything.”

Mulder stood up. “I happen to have it on good authority that I can get Deuce’s lawyer away from him.” He said matter-of-factly.

Dorsey looked at me after Mulder had disappeared down the corridor towards the stairs. “How’s he gonna do that?” He asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know,” I said, “Mulder has his ways.” I collected up the files that I still needed, shoved them into my briefcase, and started towards the stairs myself.

*

An hour later, I found myself at the police station, staring beyond the one-way mirror to the prison conference room. At opposite ends of a short rectangular table sat Deuce and Mulder. They had not really begun talking yet, Mulder had just gotten Deuce’s lawyer (Arnold, I think his name was) out of the room. Mulder bargained with Deuce to get him to dismiss his lawyer by bribing him with cigarettes. Mulder somehow knew that Arnold wouldn’t let Deuce smoke, and neither would the guards. Being the chain-smoker he was, Deuce was broken by the cigarettes Mulder slid down the table. He was granted permission to record the conversation by sliding a couple matches along with it. Some people can be bought very easily.

I stood behind the glass watching their conversation, and listening over the intercom. I didn’t want to go in there with Mulder, and have to know Deuce could see me.

“We know about your father.” Mulder began calmly, watching as Deuce puffed on his first cigarette. “We know he killed those ten women.”

“Yeah, so did my grandfather and my great-grandfather. But you can’t prove that.” Deuce said gruffly. “I’m not stupid, Agent Mulder.”

Deuce may not have been stupid, but he sure had a short memory. Our first proof was on the tape, he telling us his grandfather and great-grandfather had both murdered ten women.

“Well then maybe you can tell me why you all killed those women?” Mulder said professionally.

Deuce laughed. “Fear.” He said. “An Irish philosopher, Edmund Burke, said that ‘no passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning than fear’. Fear is mysterious, it’s…fascinating.”

Mulder exhaled in a short sigh. “Thank you, for the history lesson.” He said sarcastically. “But you still didn’t answer my question. Why did you kill those women?”

Deuce took a drag on his cigarette and then exhaled the puff of gray smoke. The smoke hung before his face for a brief moment like fog, and then faded away. “When you can figure that out, Mulder, then you’ll know everything.”

Mulder crossed his arms. This had turned out to be a lot harder than he thought. “Why don’t you help me to figure this out?” He said invitingly.

Deuce didn’t answer, he just continued to stare at Mulder. Eventually, he took his finished cigarette from his mouth, and snuffed it out on the bare table, leaving a black singe mark in the surface. “Are you afraid of dying, Agent Mulder?” He asked quietly, his eyes intense on Mulder.

Mulder was staring straight back at Deuce. It was like he was captivated, or hypnotized. “I suppose we’re all afraid of death in some way.” He answered.

“You’re afraid.” Deuce told him. “I can see the fear in your eyes, just like I saw it in all the other women’s, like I saw it in Scully’s. That fear just before I killed those women, and shot your pretty little partner.”

“Are you gonna kill me?” Mulder asked, still locked by Deuce’s stare.

This is when I realized something was wrong. Mulder was going in too deep. And Deuce was pulling him. Deuce knew he could lead Mulder on, and he was using it to his advantage.

“Get him out of there,” I said relatively calmly, continuing to watch.

A few seconds later, Deuce looked over at the mirror. It appeared as though he was looking straight through the mirror at me. He had a look in his eyes that I can only describe as pleasure. An evil smirk crossed his face that said, “Watch this.”

Before I realized what he was doing, Deuce had leapt out of his chair and was running at Mulder. No one had locked the ankle shackles to the bolt on the floor. Even though a longer chain shackled his wrists and ankles together, he could still run in a lumbering way. He had been trained in how to still be mobile and dangerous in handcuffs as a police officer.

Mulder hadn’t anticipated the attack, and he couldn’t process a reflex in the split second it took for Deuce to be out of his chair and across the room. He was thrown to the floor when Deuce’s fist contacted his cheek. When Mulder hit the floor, Deuce landed a hard kick to his upper back and one to his upper arm. And then Deuce was on him, pinning him down and using his cuffs as a means to strangle Mulder.

“Get him out of there!” I yelled, moving towards the door of the viewing room as quickly as I could. Two officers burst into the interrogation room ahead on me. They were armed with nightsticks with one officer used to bash Deuce over the head with.

I got past the hysteria and to Mulder’s side. He was attempting to sit up when I crouched beside him. His right cheek was red going on purple and a small drop of blood dribbled from the sliver of a cut in the center. The entire front of his throat was red and bruised. After the two officers had dragged away Deuce’s unconscious body, I helped Mulder into the chair he had previously vacated.

He touched his fingers to the red line across his neck, making a pained hiss through his teeth. “Am I bleeding?” He asked me as I visually inspected his cheek.

“A little,” I said. I reached out and touched the outside of the bruise on his cheek. He winced and recoiled from my touch.

He brought his hand to his cheek and wiped away the blood. “Bastard,” he muttered under his breath. “He was planning on doing that the whole time. For all we know, everything he just said could be a damn lie.”

This was not as easy as he thought at all.

*

That night we both sat in my hotel room, just relaxing. The TV was on, but neither of us were really watching it, it was just on as noise mostly. Mulder was stretched out across the foot of the bed, nursing his bruised arm with an ice pack. I was leaning against the bed headboard, my feet barely stretching out far enough to touch Mulder. I had been sorting through the files in my briefcase a little, trying to find something that could help us. Bored with that, I put the files away and just sat and watched Mulder. Every time he moved a little bit, he cringed from the pain in his left arm and back.

“Mulder, come over here and let me look at that bruise on your face.” I said, patting the bed beside me.

Mulder rolled over and sat up, wincing in the process. He scooted back towards the head of the bed and I reached over to the bed stand where I had left my portable medical kit. I opened it and took out an antiseptic cream and a cotton swab. The bruise on Mulder’s right cheek was just below his eye and slightly behind his jaw. The swelling had gone down and the bruise was about the size of an American half-dollar coin. The cut was deep, now the dark maroon of dried blood.

“You’re lucky you don’t have to get stitches.” I remarked, squeezing some of the whitish cream onto the end of the cotton swab. I brought it towards his face. “This might sting a little.” I warned.

He held still, only flinching a little as I swabbed the ointment onto the cut.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had to do this, huh?” I said, meaning about doctoring his wounds. It hadn’t been since before the shooting that I had to doctor him. He hadn’t been injured too badly since getting out of the hospital in early November.

He smiled a little. “Damn bastard really did a number on me, didn’t he?”

I returned the grin. “It’s not too bad, you’ll survive.” I told him, fixing a butterfly bandage over the center of the cut. I reached up again to make sure the bandage was on right, gently brushing my fingers against the bruise.

Mulder caught my hand gently and brought them to his lips. He kissed my index and middle fingertips lightly, teasingly. His eyes locked on mine, he released my hand and then brought his own around to my neck. He moved my head up towards his and kissed my lips. The kiss, although brief, still managed to stir the sexual tension between us until it was electrified.

A few seconds later, the tension shattered and the moment became awkward and uncomfortable. I looked away from him innocently and then leaned back against the headboard. I inspected my fingernails like they were the most interesting things I had ever seen while Mulder laid stretched out on the bed again, his head resting on my pillow.

He sighed, letting the awkwardness pass as if it hadn’t even been there. Then he turned his head and looked up at me. “Scully, when I was in there with Deuce, did you know that he was going to pull something?” He asked cryptically.

I continued to look down at my hands. “You can never let your guard down on a man like Deuce Stein.” I said finally, as an indirect answer to his question.

Mulder looked away, not pleased with my evasiveness. He scratched his left cheek where his five o’clock shadow had formed. “When I looked into that man’s eyes when we were talking,” he began, “I saw something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in anyone. It was almost like he could control me with his eyes. I knew he could see the fear in my eyes, and he liked it.” He looked back at me to see the effect his story may have taken. “Did you see that in his eyes when he looked at you?” He asked me.

That was exactly what I saw. Seeing someone else’s fear gave Deuce pleasure. I knew it made him feel like he was superior that he could intimidate people so.

“Deuce kills when he sees the fear of dying.” Mulder said definitively.

“Deuce kills because he likes it.” I said very quietly, finally meeting his gaze. “He likes to see the look on people’s faces as they die.”

Mulder sat up again, knowing he had found out what he wanted from me so he could push me further. “I think you know more about Deuce than you’re letting on. I think you know from your dreams, don’t you? That’s how you knew to look up his great- grandfather.” He said gently.

I looked at my hands in my lap again. “I don’t need you to psychoanalyze me, Mulder.” I whispered, remarking about his words sounding too distant and fabricated.

He continued to persist nonetheless. He reached out and cupped my chin to turn my face towards his so he could capture my gaze again. He holds the most power over me if he can see into my eyes, if he can look into my soul. “Tell me about your dream.” He said softly.

“I can’t.” I said straight to him, tears beginning to fill my eyes. I just couldn’t do it. It hurt too much to talk about. It was just easier to bury it deep within me and try to forget about it. It was safer that way.

Mulder moved his hand from my chin to cheek and brushed away the first trailing tear with his thumb. “You have to tell me about it, Scully. No matter how hard it is you have to talk about it.” He said earnestly.

I shook my head slowly, moving my face away from his hand. It hurt just to think about it, that’s how bad the nightmares were.

Mulder put his hand back in his lap and leaned against the faux wood headboard. He sighed like he had given up trying.

I know I hate to admit it, but he was right. I did have to tell him what was in the dream; I had to get it out. It was easier to keep it in, but it was healthier to tell someone. Especially him.

I looked at my hands again, this time at those whitish scars on my palms. “I was him,” I began. “I could see through his eyes when he killed those women.”

Mulder looked at me again, his eyes urging me to go on.

“He killed them because he is fascinated by their fear of dying. He liked to watch them as they died. And then when they were dead, he thanked them. It was so horrible. He likes to see pain and suffering on people’s faces. He likes to cut open their hands and watch the blood flow.” By then, I was wringing my own hands until my knuckles were white. Tears streamed freely down my cheeks, but I continued, my voice unwavering. “He likes to see them cry and ask them questions about what it’s like to know they’re going to die. But he always says they all have to pay for the sins of the past, he says they need to pray for atonement. And he asks them why they did it. He thinks they’re all the murderer of his great-grandmother.”

Mulder reached over and placed his hand on mine, relaxing them. He offered condolence in his eyes.

“There was so much pain.” I said, barely able to speak past the want to cry.

Mulder didn’t say anything. He just took me into an embrace again, and held me against the fear. All I could do was cry.

··•*•··

Part 17

*

Sweet surrender is all I have to give You take me in No questions asked You strip away the ugliness that surrounds me You are an angel

*

Dorsey informed us the next morning that I would testify that day. He felt I was ready, and so was the jury. He had great confidence we would get a conviction, but he wasn’t so sure about how long Deuce would serve for his crime. He also wasn’t positive if Deuce’s lawyer was trying to get him off completely, or with temporary insanity. After what Deuce did to Mulder, it was assured we would at the very least get an assault charge, if it could not be proven he committed the other murders.

It didn’t take long for Dorsey to call me to the stands. I was nervous. No, I was beyond nervous; I was on the verge of a breakdown. Sure, I had been to court and testified before, but those times had never held such importance to me. I watched men put into jail that would never see the light of day again. I helped to convict some of the sickest dirt bags to ever walk the face of the planet. None of them; not Gerry Schnauz, not Tooms, not even Donnie Pfaster the god awful fetishist had hurt me as bad as Deuce Stein. If it was my testimony that allowed this man to walk, I would never be able to live with myself. So, I think I had a right to be nervous.

“Please raise your right hand,” The bailiff said as I stood before him, placing my palm on the leather cover of the bible he held out. I did as I was told.

“Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” He asked mechanically.

“I do,” I replied just as unemotionally.

“Please take a seat on the bench,” he instructed, stepping back to the wall in the front of the courtroom.

I sat down and gripped into the plastic armrests on the bench chair. The bailiff stepped forward again to adjust the microphone so it would record my voice better. I shot a quick glance at Mulder while Dorsey stood and made a flagrant act of walking towards the bench. Mulder’s comforting gaze told me to calm down. I took a deep breath and blinked.

“Ms. Scully, you are an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, correct?” Dorsey asked simply.

We had rehearsed all of his questions and probable cross-examination questions, as well as my answers, before. He hoped it would help me if I got too nervous and my speech stumbled to just remember what we had practiced.

“Yes,” I answered.

“How long have you worked for the FBI, Agent Scully?” Dorsey asked.

I opened my mouth to answer, but was cut off by a loud pounding on a wood table.

“Objection!” Moe Arnold, Deuce’s defense attorney barked, “Your honor, it is completely irrelevant how long she’s worked for the FBI.”

“Sustained,” The judge, John Caplan, said. He looked at Dorsey over his bifocal glasses. “Feel free to get to the point, Mr. Dorsey.”

Dorsey nodded, “Your honor, I’m just trying to introduce my witness properly,” he looked back to me, “Please answer the question.”

“Almost eight years.” I replied after a moment’s hesitation.

Dorsey turned away from the stands and faced the audience. “The point is, Ms. Scully is not an average citizen, or victim. She has been trained to make quick, visual interpretations of suspects she may have only caught a glimpse of.”

The courtroom was silent, save for a few lingering clicks as the court reporter typed away the events. Surprisingly, Arnold made no arguments.

“Now, Agent Scully, could you please state for the court why you were in Chicago on the date of November 15, 1999?” Dorsey questioned next.

“Yes, I can,” I replied, “My partner was sent the case file for the eight serial murders committed here in Chicago. The Chicago Police were unable to solve the case, as were the Violent Crimes agents. Detective Pacelli then called my partner and asked for his help. We flew to Chicago that Monday to assist the police in their investigation.”

Dorsey nodded and tapped a rolled paper he had in his hand on the edge of the witness bench. “And what did you find in Chicago?”

“Eight murders had already been committed. No suspect had been charged as of then.” I answered, my confidence slowly growing.

“Was a connection plausible between the victims?” Dorsey asked.

“Yes, all of the victims were female, between the ages of twenty and forty years old. They all had the same relative social statuses ranging mostly in the upper-middle class.” I said.

“Were the victims connected in any other way?”

I shook my head, “As far as we could tell, no, they were complete strangers to each other.”

“So, there was no obvious motive for murder?”

“Not at that time,” I said.

Dorsey paced back and forth, all the while tapping his paper on his hand. “Another murder was committed that night—” Dorsey started to say.

Arnold stood again. “Objection, your honor, he’s leading the witness.” He said calmly.

Judge Caplan nodded. “Sustained,” he said, “Watch yourself, Mr. Dorsey.”

Dorsey looked up at the judge, presiding high over everyone else. “I’ll rephrase my question.” He said, waving his hand in a processing gesture. He looked at me again. “What happened that night, the fifteenth?” He asked.

I cleared my throat, finding it much easier to answer the questions as my nerves died down. “Another murder was committed at eight o’clock, the same as the other murders.”

Dorsey turned toward the judge. “Your honor, permission to reference Exhibit C?” He asked of Caplan.

Caplan nodded, “Permission granted. Bailiff, please bring forth Exhibit C.”

The bailiff that swore me in pushed forward a cart with a slide projector atop it. Then he pulled down a white screen on the opposite wall to the jury. Dorsey approached the projector and turned it on. It projected a blurry image onto the screen. The judge called for the lights to be turned out and the picture was clearer.

It was of a woman’s body strewn on gray carpeting. A puddle of blood surrounded her head. Her hands were covered with blood as well. I recognized her immediately as Marie Truesdell.

“This is the ninth victim, correct?”

I swallowed hardly, again confronted by the fear that had shaken me when we were investigating all those months ago. “Yes,” I said firmly.

“Can you identify her?” He asked.

“Yes,” I said, “Marie Truesdell.”

Dorsey pushed a button on the projector remote and flipped the slide to an evidence photograph of one of the white roses.

“Can you tell me what this is?” Dorsey asked next.

I sighed a little. “It’s a long-stemmed white rose. One was found at both Marie Truesdell’s apartment and the previous victim’s residence.” I explained.

“Was there any connection between the roses and the murders?”

“We thought so, yes. At first we weren’t sure what though.”

Dorsey nodded again. “I’m going to change the subject a little bit here.” He proclaimed. He turned off the slide projector and thanked the bailiff as he came to retrieve it. Then he walked back to the bench in front of me. “When did you meet the defendant, Lieutenant Peter Stein?” He asked, gesturing towards Deuce who sat slumped in his chair, cuffed and chained, sticking out like a sore thumb in his neon orange prison suit.

“At the Sloan crime scene,” I said confidently, “He was investigating with Detective Pacelli.”

“And did you notice anything odd about Mr. Stein?”

Arnold pounded the table again in that familiar way. “Objection! Your honor, he’s leading the witness again!” He yelled.

“Overruled.” Caplan said calmly. “Please answer the question Agent Scully.” He said to me.

I nodded slightly and swallowed. We had rehearsed this question before. I knew what to say. “Not right away,” I said.

“Not right away,” Dorsey repeated as if he was letting it sink into his own mind. He scratched his chin, as he often did when he was about to talk about something important. “What happened that night? What was it that you found in your hotel?”

I shifted in my seat a little. It would be explaining these events that would be the most difficult. “I returned to my hotel room to find a white rose on the door stoop. Just like at all the crime scenes.”

“And what did you think about this rose?”

“Well, I finally figured out that it was a calling card for the murderer. I thought that he was waving the evidence in front of us.” I explained.

“What did you do with this new information?”

“I called my partner and told him what I thought.” I replied.

Dorsey faced me again, rather than the audience. “But something happened?” He asked.

Once again, Arnold objected. “Leading again, your honor!” He stated.

Caplan pulled his glasses off. “Overruled!” He barked, “Let the man do his job! One more time and I’ll hold you in contempt!”

Arnold sat back down, his fists tightened at his side.

“Thank you, your honor.” Dorsey said. “Please, answer, Agent Scully.” He told me.

“Yes, something happened. I was attacked while I was still speaking to my partner.” I said steadily.

“Describe for the jury what the exact events were.” Dorsey instructed.

I took a deep breath. “I guessed my attacker to be large male.” I began. “He forced me to my knees and then proceeded to lock my hands behind my back with handcuffs.”

“Did he say anything to you?”

“Yes, he said that if I screamed, he would kill me.”

“Why did you listen to what he said?”

I breathed heavily again. My agitation was returning and I knew that I had to calm down. “In the FBI, we are trained to do what we are told in a hostage situation. At the time, I thought I may be able to get away by listening to my assailant until I could gain power over him.” I said with as much firmness as I could muster.

“What happened after he cuffed your hands?” Dorsey asked, now standing right beside the witness booth and gripping the wood-paneled edging.

“He used a medical scalpel to cut my palms into a number, like on the other murder victims.” I explained, my voice considerably softer. I began unconsciously wringing my hands on my lap.

“Then what?” Dorsey pressed.

I hesitated, taking a few breaths to regain my nerve. I stopped wringing my hands and replaced them on the armrests. “He started speaking in German. He was talking about paying for the sins of the past. I tried to ask him what he meant, but he wouldn’t say anything.”

“What happened after he started rambling in German?”

“My phone rang. I knew it had startled him for a second, so I jumped up.” I said, and then paused, knowing I had forgotten a detail. “I had gotten one of my hands out of the cuffs after they started to bleed. The blood…made the cuffs slippery so I could get my hand out.”

“What did he do when you jumped up?” Dorsey asked, using a particular hint of carefulness in his voice.

I didn’t speak right away. I looked at my lap, trying to find my confidence. I hadn’t realized it would be so hard to bring these details to the light after being settled in the dark recesses of my memory for so long. I looked to Mulder and his face was encouraging. “He shot me.” I said finally, my voice just barely above a whisper.

“He shot you.” Dorsey proclaimed loudly, making sure the jury heard it. “He shot you, and the what did he do?”

“He left me for dead.” I said not quite as quietly as before. Dorsey had told me to leave out the part about the German prayer, for that question at least.

“He shot you and left you for dead.” Dorsey said again, staring at the jury. “Now, Agent Scully, do you know who it was that shot you?” He asked.

“Yes,” I said confidently.

“Is he sitting in this room today?” Dorsey asked, sounding very much like a motivational speaker, with an unwavering, powerful voice.

“Yes,” I said again.

“Would you please name him for the jury?”

“Yes,” I nodded. “Lieutenant Peter Stein.”

Dorsey turned back to me, not saying a word. His eyes congratulated me on a job done well. It was good to know one of us had some confidence. He looked up at Judge Caplan after a few minutes.

“No further questions your honor.” He said, returning to his seat behind the table.

“The court will now take a twenty minute recess before the cross-examination.” Caplan said, pounding his gavel.

The silence of the courtroom was broken by the voices and sound of people standing and filing out of the courtroom. I stepped down from the witness stand, still feeling very weak. Half of the hell I would have to endure that day was over, but the hard half was still to come. The cross-examination was where my testimony would either prevail or be roasted. It all depended on how I answered the defense’s questions.

Mulder got up and came straight over to me. He looked a little concerned at the way I was still hanging on the edge of the witness bench instead of walking towards the door.

“Are you okay?” he asked. He reached out and put his hand on my back.

“Yeah,” I said, straightening and shaking off lingering feelings of agitation.

“You did good, Agent Scully.” Dorsey said after collecting his papers and filing them away in his expensive leather briefcase. “You just do that when Arnold gets up there, and you’ll be fine.”

I rolled my eyes, disbelieving that it would actually be as easy as he liked to make it sound.

“Let’s go get some coffee, agents, my treat.” Dorsey invited, turning and heading for the door without waiting for argument or consent.

“Come on,” said Mulder, “It’s not often a lawyer’s gonna want to treat us to this much stuff in a week.” He offered a comforting smile and a tiny hug around my shoulders before letting his hand settle on the small of my back, where it was very missed I might add.

I attempted to return the smile. Only Mulder can ease my fears with nothing more than a touch and a grin.

We caught up with Dorsey just across the street at a coffee house, where most of the courtroom has also dispersed. Whoever had the brilliant idea of building a coffee shop across the street from a district courtroom, was a genius.

Dorsey scored us a table simply by showing his face. Twenty minutes really was not enough time to relax and nurse a quiet cup, but it would be enough time to down a quick caffeine fix and update our pre-existing game plan.

I sat across from Dorsey and ordered my normal double cream, no sugar, plain coffee. Mulder settled in beside me and ordered his coffee black. Then we were both silent, anticipating that there must have been something Dorsey needed to talk about.

Dorsey took a sip of his own coffee and leaned forward over the table. He took great lengths to make sure his tone could not be overheard. “All right, the easy part is pretty much over,” he told us. “We’ve run through basically what will happen with the cross-ex. After the cross-ex, we may have a rebuttal if needed. After that, I’ll call Mulder to the stands, probably tomorrow, and the process will repeat. That will be the end of our witnesses. Arnold will call his witnesses to the stands, most likely including Deuce. We’ll nail him with some of the information we discovered in the cross-ex. After Arnold is finished with his witnesses, we’ll have closing arguments and the jury will make their decision. Hopefully, they will be on our side and see that Deuce is not only a murderer, but a very sane one.”

Dorsey paused, taking a moment to sip his coffee. Mulder and I continued to sit in silence.

“Now,” Dorsey continued, “The questions Arnold will ask will most likely revolve around how you could have known for certain it was Deuce, and your emotional involvement. He’s going to try and break you, make it look like you aren’t certain. You just have to bite your tongue, look him straight in the eye, and tell him what we rehearsed.”

I nodded slowly, unsurely, drinking my coffee that had died down to lukewarm. This was going to be fun.

Less than ten minutes later, I was back in the witness booth, trying to remember what to answer and control my nervous jitters that were in part related to the coffee. Perhaps coffee wasn’t the best thing for Dorsey to treat me to after all.

“Ms. Scully,” Moe Arnold began his first question with. There was an unmistakable southern accent in his voice, and the way he carried himself also suggested he was one of those infamous patronizing rich southern lawyers. “You have a doctorate in medicine, correct?” He asked.

“That’s right,” I answered, confused as to the relevance of the question.

“So you are a doctor. You possess a doctor’s knowledge. Is that what you’re saying?” He asked.

I shot a look towards Dorsey, who also looked as confused as I was. He stood up calmly. “Objection, your honor, this is totally irrelevant.”

“Sustained, Mr. Arnold, where are you going with this?” Caplan asked.

“What I’m getting at, your honor and the jury, is that some doctors think they are superior over other people.” Arnold said. “Do you believe yourself superior to some people because you are a doctor, Agent Scully?” He asked me.

These were definitely not questions we had anticipated. I continued to watch Dorsey’s actions, hoping he could toss out another objection that could save me. “No…” I answered hesitantly after seeing no immediate motion from the good DA.

“Just what are you implying here, Mr. Arnold?” Caplan asked.

Arnold grinned eerily and turned towards the audience. His balding head glinted in the fluorescent lights of the courtroom like a glass ball. “What I am implying here, is that Agent Scully’s judgment on her attacker may have been clouded by personal issues.” He said.

He turned around and looked at me. His eyes were almost as evil as Deuce’s, but not evil in a heartless way, evil in a cynical, lying way. “Is it not true that you felt the need to separate yourself from this case the second night of investigation due to personal reasons?”

Oh damn, I thought. I glanced at Dorsey and Mulder; their expressions said the same. These were definitely not questions we had anticipated. I wasn’t even sure how Arnold had gotten the information. As far as I knew, Mulder was the only person who knew I was going to distance myself from the case, and that was only for the evening.

“Yes, it’s true.” I answered with a little sigh.

“And isn’t it also true the quote-un-quote ‘personal reasons’ were the fact that you were bothered by the aspects of the murders?” Arnold questioned.

“Yes,”

“Did Peter Stein also bother you? Something about his presence or personality? Something that bothered you before he was even a suspect?”

I looked again to Dorsey as he jumped up from his seat, throwing his hand into the air. “Objection!” He yelled. “Your honor, he is badgering my witness!”

“Sustained,” Caplan replied. “I suggest you be careful what you ask, Mr. Arnold.”

“Sorry, your honor,” Arnold sighed, shoving his hands into his trouser pockets. “Please answer the question, Ms. Scully.” He dared to request.

I hesitated. I hadn’t a clue what to say. If I said I was bothered, he would hang us with the next couple of questions. But if I lied, and said I wasn’t, he would nail Mulder with the truth, find out I did lie, and I would be charged with perjury. It was a lose-lose situation. I opened my mouth to begin to speak, but then shut it again, unsure.

“Please remember you are under oath, Ms. Scully.” Arnold said, pacing back and forth, fully enjoying his roast of a federal agent.

I looked at the floor. “Yes, I was agitated by his presence.” I said quietly, almost whispering.

“You were agitated by his presence.” Arnold repeated loudly.

I blinked, disbelieving this was happening. My eyes fell to Mulder. He was slumped in his seat, watching me, a worried frown creasing his face. Only one phrase could describe the situation: Crash and burn.

“You were bothered by the case and you were bothered by Peter Stein.” Arnold said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “What could keep you from putting the two together, and thinking your attacker was Mr. Stein?”

I didn’t answer. I didn’t know. There was nothing. The only way I knew it was Deuce was by the look in his eyes. I recognized some of the facial features, sure, but I knew it was he by that unforgiving glare. “I recognized his physical features.” I said finally.

“Did you?” Arnold questioned mockingly. “How well lit was your hotel room that night?”

“It wasn’t dark.” I said. “There was one light, by the door.”

“A single lamp.” Arnold reiterated. “So that little lamp probably cast a lot of shadows. Therefore, how could you be certain it was my client that attacked you? How can you be sure it wasn’t another man with a mustache like Mr. Stein, and that you said it was Mr. Stein simply because you were afraid of him?”

I shook my head. Dorsey was subtly drawing an imaginary line across his throat with the capped tip of his pen. He was trying to get me off the stands as quick as possible. “I just knew,” I muttered.

“You just knew.” He said aloud. What is it with that man and repeating whatever I said? “You just knew, how could you ‘just know’?” He let the pressuring silence hang for a moment. “Do you believe in psychic abilities, Agent Scully?”

Dorsey objected. “This, again, your honor, is irrelevant.”

“Sustained,” Caplan said for the hundredth time that day. “Mr. Arnold, I don’t have all day, get to the point.”

“I’m doing that, your honor,” Arnold said apologetically (if he was capable of a tone such as that). “If Agent Scully would answer the question, please.”

I sighed. “In some instances, yes, I guess I do believe in the theory of psychic abilities.” I said.

Arnold placed his hand on the corner of the witness stand and leaned against it, looking at my scornfully. “Do you believe you are psychic, Agent Scully?”

“No…” I said.

Arnold straightened. “So if you’re not psychic, and you couldn’t really see Mr. Stein, how do you know it was he?” He asked.

It was getting hopeless. Dorsey said he was trying to break me, and he was succeeding. “I don’t know! I just knew it was him, by his voice, by his face, by everything!” I exclaimed. I just couldn’t think of anything to help me remember.

“So you didn’t really know it was him, you just guessed it was! You used your fear, your agitation of him,” Arnold approached me, clenching his fist in front of him to represent the fear. “And named him as the man that shot you.”

“Objection, your honor,” Dorsey was standing again. “He is continuously badgering my witness!”

“Sustained, Mr. Arnold, I’m warning you, one more outburst like that and you will be held in contempt!”

“I apologize, your honor.” Arnold said. He looked at me, and then at the jury. “No further questions, your honor.” He said dismissively, returning to his seat.

“Your rebuttal, Mr. Dorsey.” Caplan said to Dorsey.

“No further questions for this witness, you honor.” He said, standing slightly.

“Very well,” Caplan said, nodding and looking to me. “You may step down.”

I stood up, walked off the bench, and back to my seat beside Mulder. His eyes followed me as I sat down, trying to give me some comfort and reassurance. It had all gone to hell.

*

It seemed like after my testimony, the days of the trial flew by. After the fact that I had been roasted because my emotional stability while on the case came back to bite us in the ass, it appeared to go downhill to me. Basically what Arnold wanted to prove to the jury with his cross-examination, was that I was not psychologically fit to make an accurate accusation. His goal in his cross-examination of both Mulder and myself was to say that I used my dislike of Deuce and the physical attributes of my attacker, and put them together so that I believed it was Deuce who attacked me, even though he was innocent. I have to admit I almost began to believe that was what happened. Almost. Until I caught Deuce looking at me, and remembered his eyes the night I was shot, or suffered through another nightmare.

Mulder’s testimony was almost an alteration of my own. He was asked what happened, his theories over the murders, and what happened to me. Arnold’s cross-ex was also frighteningly similar. He was asked about my emotional stability, what happened after I left the unfinished autopsy of Marie Truesdell, and my fear of Deuce. It turned out a little better than my cross-ex had, because Mulder could hold his confidence better.

The defense had three, and only three, witnesses. Dorsey guessed that Arnold hoped to gain his point in the cross-ex’s, and he did. Arnold’s witnesses were Deuce, of course, Deuce’s psychiatrist who had diagnosed him as mentally unstable, and Deuce’s wife who claimed he had not been acting like himself then. To me, they didn’t present a very believable case. Dorsey managed to back Mrs. Stein and the psychiatrist into a corner, but there was little he could do with Deuce. After giving it some thought, he deemed that the information on Deuce’s family was just too bizarre and sketchy for the jury to believe. We would just have to rely on the little physical evidence we had and that the jury did the right thing. Of course, that is what they said about a man named O.J. Simpson and…well…we won’t go there.

The last day of witness examination was a little over a week after the trial began. It was a relatively short trial so far as some criminal hearings go. The date set for closing arguments and a verdict was March tenth. The evening of March ninth started out being one of the most unnerving nights I ever had, and ended up being the best night of my life.

Mulder and I decided to stay in at the hotel after the court was called to recess for the evening, it would be better for the stress and to keep the press off our backs. I was doing anything to try and keep my mind off the trial; reading, watching TV, going over an old case report I found in my briefcase, surfing the Internet on my laptop, anything to keep me busy. Nothing seemed to gain my attention longer than fifteen minutes. A good part of the evening was spent turning the what-ifs over and over in my head. At least I had Mulder to talk to, until he got up and went to his room to take a shower. Then I was alone with my nerves and boredom.

I left my room and wandered down the hallway. I found the more I walked, the less I needed a crutch. Of course I still had the wheelchair with me, but I only used it once or twice on the whole trip.

I was just across the hall getting a bucket of ice (to drown myself in) and a small bag of chips from the vending machine when Mulder appeared at his door. His hair was still wet and disheveled and a damp towel still hung about his shoulders, but his face was clean-shaven. He wore a gray cotton tee shirt and faded blue jeans that fit his lean thighs just right. Hey, that was something the take my mind off the goddamn trial.

“There you are,” he said, leaning against the doorframe to his room, “I was wondering where you went.”

I straightened after retrieving my snack from the opening in the vending machine. “I’m still here,” I sighed, holding my chips and ice bucket in one hand and smoothing my hair away from my face with the other.

“What’s the ice for?” Mulder asked as he followed me into my room.

“It’s for the tequila I’m going to drown myself in.” I answered. I placed the bucket and bag of chips on the table and flopped down on the bed.

Mulder turned and shut the door. “I hate to cramp your plans but you don’t drink tequila with ice.” He informed me. He discarded the towel on a chair and sat down on the bed next to me.

“Who said anything about drinking it?” I joked suggestively, crossing my arms behind my head.

Mulder grinned and snickered. He ran his hand through his hair and stood up again. “You know what,” He looked at me where I lay stretched on my side across the bed, my head now propped in my hand. “I have a better use for this ice.” He started across the room to the adjoining door. “Wait here,” he said, giving me a ‘stay’ hand gesture.

I rolled to my back again. I used to wonder sometimes what the little suggestive jokes Mulder and I had really meant. It was always Mulder that made the sexual innuendoes at some inappropriate time to ease the tension. My response to these jokes was usually to just brush it off, sometimes with a little smirk. It was rare that I ever made a joke myself. I never really knew, and still don’t know, if the jokes were suggestive remarks about Mulder’s wants or if they were just meaningless sarcasm targeting at nothing more than a laugh.

By the time I was bored with contemplating the meaning of flirty jokes, Mulder had returned from his room. In one hand, he carried a dark bottle of wine and a corkscrew—in the other he held two wine glasses. He set the glasses on the table as well as the bottle and proceeded to unscrew the cork.

“When did you get this?” I sat up and asked him as he worked on pulling the cork out of the top of the bottle.

“Well,” He began, finally freeing the cork with a muffled popping sound. “I picked it up the other day while you and Dorsey were going over some of the case reports.” He held the glasses like an expert, filling them a little over halfway with the crimson liquid. He handed one glass to me and then sat beside me again.

“I figured we could have some tomorrow to celebrate, but it would be of better use to relax tonight. Now, what shall we toast to?” He asked casually, easily slipping past conversation about the trial.

I shrugged. It didn’t seem like there was anything worth toasting to then. After a second I held up my glass and looked at Mulder. “To…us.” I said finally. Anything else that was going on just wasn’t at all worth toasting. There was only one thing that was actually getting better and never worse in our lives, our relationship. Us.

Mulder let a small smile spread across his face. “To us.” He repeated, touching his glass to mine.

I sipped a little of the wine, letting my eyes wander to nothing in particular. The taste of the wine lingered on my tongue, sweet and satisfying. It was a good wine. It even surprised me for a moment that Mulder would have such good taste. Well, growing up in the Vineyard with the fine etiquette they practiced you would have to be a total idiot to not know a thing or two about wine. Out of curiosity, I reached over and picked up the bottle to look at the label.

“Merlot, Mulder? This stuff isn’t cheap.” I said, surprised.

Mulder shrugged sheepishly and took another drink. “I know. Like I said, it was to celebrate but it seemed more fitting to open it tonight. Especially considering how nerve- racking this is with how well the trial has gone.” Mulder bit his lip, realizing he had just let slip the subject we had been trying to avoid if at all possible.

I placed my glass on the bed stand and lied back down, remembering what I had momentarily forgotten. I covered my face with my hand and rubbed my temples, a headache I had also forgotten was beginning to return.

I heard Mulder put his glass on the table, and then felt the bed shift as he lay down beside me. “I’m sorry, Scully.” He said guiltily.

“It’s okay,” I said. My voice was muffled through my hand as it rested over my face and my closed eyes.

“You don’t have to be worried about this verdict, Scully.” Mulder said, trying to be as reassuring as always. “Even if the murder charge doesn’t go through, he’s going to get aggravated assault and assault and battery of a federal agent. Half a dozen cops, including you and his lawyer, saw him attack me in broad daylight. There’s no way that couldn’t have gotten to the jury and influence their decision. He’ll be in prison or some mental hospital for five, maybe even ten years.”

I moved my hand from my face. “You don’t understand.” I said hopelessly. “Wh…What happens when he gets out of jail?” I stuttered. I looked over at Mulder.

“Scully, the odds of you ever having to look at his ugly face again are slim. If he serves ten years, he’ll probably die in jail, he’ll have a heart attack or something. I mean he’s not healthy guy. He’s not going to live that long in prison.” Mulder argued.

I sat up again. “It won’t end.” I said definitively. “If he gets out of prison, if he walks, he will kill me.”

“How do you know that?” Mulder inquired strongly, propping his head on his hand.

I stood and crossed my arms, pacing across the room. I didn’t answer; I just shook my head stubbornly.

Mulder took his turn to sit up. “There’s something else you know, don’t you? Why do you keep hiding these things from me? If you know there’s a reason Deuce would come after you again, just tell me.” He urged.

I clenched my jaw as a burning tear slid down my cheek. “The cycle says that the guy kills ten women, branding all of them with a number.” I turned back toward Mulder. “After he kills them all, he kills himself. Whatever guilt or misery or pain he had to deal with after he murdered them, dies when he ends it.” I came closer to Mulder and held out my hands, palms up, so he could see them. “I’m number forty. Deuce has only killed nine women. He can’t end it until he kills one more. And he won’t just go for anyone. He wants the one he didn’t finish, the one that got away. I’ve already been branded. Don’t you see, Mulder?” I sat on the bed, fully ignoring the tears streaming down my face.

Mulder took my hands, massaging my palms with his thumbs like his touch would make the scars vanish.

“We play by his rules.” I murmured.

Mulder shook his head slowly, still holding onto my hands. “We play by no one’s rules.” He said. “You’ve got nothing to worry about. If you never ever, ever believe me again, believe me on that.” He cracked a comforting smile.

My lips turned up in a tiny smile. Since I couldn’t think of anything to say, I just leaned over and rested my head against Mulder’s shoulder. He put his arm around my back and squeezed me in closer.

“You’ve gotta learn how to relax.” He told me after releasing the embrace.

“Do I?” I said. I reached over and picked up my wine glass as Mulder moved his legs onto the bed and leaned against the backboard. I knocked back a heavier drink than my previous little tasting sips, emptying half the remaining contents. Noticing this, and remembering the long and most likely sleepless night that lay before me, I grabbed the bottle and topped off my glass.

“Isn’t there a rule about male and female FBI agents knocking back merlot in the same hotel room?” Mulder joked quizzically.

“If there is, I don’t care.” I said, taking a smaller drink than before, after jamming the bottle back into the bucket of ice. “I’m not on duty and I’m not driving. As far as I’m concerned, this is just a shitty vacation that I didn’t have to pay for.”

Mulder laughed. It amazed me how quickly we could go from worrying about the trial, back to playful joking. “Hear, hear.” He agreed, chinking his glass against mine.

Then he replaced his glass to the bed stand, and took mine and placed it beside his. I looked at him with a confused eyebrow raised. He grabbed my shoulder and tugged on it, adding a “C’mere,” in gesture for me to move from the edge of the bed closer to him. He tugged on both of my arms again, pulling me between his outstretched legs, so that my back would be to him.

Without questioning him at all, I relaxed when his hands rested on my shoulders and then began to move slowly in tight, massaging circles. I allowed my eyes to slip shut to enjoy the backrub fully. Mulder’s skilled hands easily worked the tense muscles in my back and neck, relieving the stress from a hard day with a mere touch. I reached back for my wine glass without opening my eyes and Mulder’s rhythm with one hand was interrupted as he handed it to me. I took another drink of the sweet wine, letting it swirl around my tongue. I reveled in the intoxicating mixture of the calming alcohol and the relieving back rub. A few long sips later, the glass was empty, but I was unaware of it.

Mulder again let up with one of his hands, continuing to massage the center of my back with the lingering hand. With the other hand, he lightly swept the hair away from my neck, in turn moving me to roll my head to the side, exposing the pale tender flesh of my neck. His hand stopped moving and slid to my shoulder. The bed shifted as he leaned forward and I could feel his warm breath on my neck. He hesitated for a moment, and then brought his lips to the soft curve of my shoulder and neck. His kisses moved in a line up to the sensitive skin below my earlobe. My hand went lax with the sensation of his mouth on my skin and the empty glass tumbled unnoticed to the bed. After a minute, he stopped kissing my neck and sat back, exhaling deeply.

I turned around from my cross-legged seat to my hands and knees so I could face Mulder. Normally the moment would have snapped when the kisses were broken, we would enter a few seconds of awkward silence over what had just occurred, and then continue on as if nothing had ever happened. And yet, something was different that time. It could have been the alcohol, or it could have been the high amount of stress we were both experiencing. I don’t know what it was, but there was this low, deep desire burning inside of me. As I gazed into Mulder’s eyes I saw a similar hunger there. Without taking any time for second thoughts, I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth.

As the kiss deepened, Mulder’s hands moved around my back, pulling my body closer to his. The kiss was momentarily broken after a few long minutes. Mulder folded his legs under him and then brought his lips back to mine. Gracefully, and using little power to move my light body, Mulder turned us both around and dipped me down so that I would come to rest on the bed. The kissing remained steamy for a few lost moments, and then we pulled apart to breathe.

Mulder brushed my cheek gently with his fingertips; his eyes never once leaving mine. “Before we go on,” he whispered, his index finger tracing a path down the delicate ridge of my jawbone. “I have to know if this is what you want. I—”

I ceased the words coming from his mouth with two fingers pressed against his lips. Mulder has a tendency to ‘ruin the moment’ by talking. His words can sometimes be like poetry, soft and sweet at just the right moment. But other times, he can shatter that moment by saying too much.

“This is what I want.” I whispered reassuringly into the silence that was only torn by our breathing. I moved my fingers, brushing his soft lower lip.

Happiness reflected in his eyes. He descended again and placed a long kiss on my forehead, than a much quicker one on the tip of my nose, and then a kiss swelling with passion placed on my lips. The kissing again heated up, our tongues resuming their sensual tango.

My hands passed around Mulder’s jaw and cheeks to his soft, clean hair, running my fingers through it and further mussing its already awry nature. I arched my back against the cushions of the bed, bringing my body closer to his. I brought my leg up around his lower torso, my thigh momentarily grazing the hardened form of his sex outlined in his fit jeans. This only increased my own arousal with the knowledge that I caused his excitement, and that it was for me and me only. It must have done the same for him because an involuntary pleasured groan escaped him. His hand slipped down my back and over the gentle curvature of my ass and down my formed thighs. He pressed my body against his, bringing us closer still, even with the barriers of our clothes separating us.

As leisurely and methodically as he had before, Mulder passed his hand back up the side of my waist to my chest. He hesitated, and then delicately brushed his hand over my breast. Even through my clothing, the touch made me shiver with delight. I released his lips from kissing and relaxed my body away from his. His eyes; dilated and burning green with arousal; focused on mine for a second, and then traveled down to the buttons of my white blouse that I had left on after court. I reached down to the bottom button of my shirt and freed it from the hole easily. Leaning on his knees to free his hands, Mulder gently moved my hands out of the way and began fumbling with the second button. The adrenaline coursing his veins brought his hands to shaking, making tedious work like undoing buttons difficult, but he proceeded to do it anyway.

He worked through each button carefully, slowly parting my shirt to expose the cream- colored skin of my belly beneath. I watched his eyes as he parted the buttons closer to my neck; they remained focused on the forbidden flesh slowly being revealed to him, only sometimes flicking to my attention to gauge my reactions. I sat up slightly and slipped my arms from the sleeves, exposing more of my body to the light. My blouse was tossed to the floor, becoming a discarded heap of fabric as the empty wine glass that had also tumbled to the floor became forgotten.

Mulder moved down and began kissing the line of my collarbone, his tongue sliding down into the dip at my throat. His hands found the intricate black lace of my bra, and his fingers traced the flowery patterns around the edging to the swell of my breasts. I was lost in the ecstasy his mouth brought my bare skin and was barely aware when his right palm rested on my breast more confidently, testing the weight inside its lacy cups.

I brought my lips to his again when they left my neck. In a strong kiss, I leaned forward even more so that I was half sitting and Mulder was back on his knees. His hands left my chest and traveled slowly around to my back, following the path that the bra strap made. But I interrupted his movement, reaching down to his waist and pulling his shirt up and over his head. I wanted to indulge in the feeling of his bare skin against mine, to touch and caress and memorize every nuance and scar on his body, just as he was doing with me.

His gray shirt off and discarded as mine had been, he continued around my back, unhooking my bra like any expert. He removed it from my body slowly, letting his eyes slowly wander from my eyes down to my naked breasts, which he had in all honesty seen before, but never like this. We had actually both seen each other completely nude, but never in a situation where we could affectionately touch and caress, or if you prefer, explore.

My chest was heaving with shallow, rapid breaths. When Mulder touched me again, ever so lightly, I trembled a little, more out of anticipation than fear. His eyes met mine briefly; they were reassuringly calm yet dancing and lively all at the same time. His right hand came back more confidently, his fingers brushing the sensitive nipple that hardened and tingled in response. I relaxed back down against the bed, Mulder leaning down on top of me, our bodies never once losing contact. He moved his head down to take the nipple between his lips, his tongue making light, teasing circles around it. My arms went around his neck and my fingers splayed against the bunched muscles if his shoulder blades. He dragged his teeth across the tip of my nipple, now so livened by touch it wasn’t painful, but it drove me crazy. I sighed and tightened my hands against his back, nearly unable to keep from digging into his skin. My eyes slipped shut as his mouth moved from my breast, back up my throat to my lips.

He passed his hand quickly over my cheek and through my hair that was fanned out on the pillow. He sat back on his knees again, straddling my legs. His warm hands moved lightly down my waist, causing me to take in a sharp breath. He smiled as his fingers reached the button and zipper of my jeans; they were undone and freed easily. He slid my jeans down over my hips and thighs slowly, leaving my panties behind. I kicked off my pants at the calves, sending them over the foot of the bed.

Mulder trailed his hands back up the sides of my thighs, to the last small article of silk and lace that covered me. His fingers moved lightly around the bottom edging, never hesitating to pass around the apex of my legs, tenderly brushing the aroused flesh. He went so far as to slowly slide his finger up the center of the silk, causing another shiver to creep up my spine and another glorified wave of moisture to rush from my body. He repeated the pass and I moaned wordlessly. Pleased with the control he had over me, he did it again.

“Mulder…” I mumbled, responding to the pleasure his fingers continued to bring. I could hardly control myself. I needed to feel his hands and lips everywhere on my body. I needed to feel him where I had never felt him before, where for so long I could feel nothing at all. My body was alive, and cried out for his touch.

He fell down to the bed beside me and I turned over on my side. My lips captured his, beckoning him to go on and not stop. His hands returned to my hips, now gently sliding down my panties. Once they too were off and thrown to the side, his hands traveled methodically back up my legs. He took his time touching my skin, memorizing every detail. There would be other times to explore and move about each other’s bodies, but this first time would come but once, and had to be taken slowly and cherished completely. Not to mention the fact that he knew it was driving me mad with anticipation.

I was naked for him then. Every touch was electrified and made my body tingle. I had never been touched the same before. No other man could make me feel the way Mulder did, not physically, not emotionally, in no way.

His hand moved almost hesitantly up my smooth inner thigh, the whole process making me glad I shaved my legs that morning, all though I don’t think Mulder really would have minded. With his other hand, he cupped my chin, continuing to passionately kiss my lips. His fingers finally reached the super sensitive, warm, throbbing tissue of my vulva. He moved gently through the fine red-gold hair there, slowly searching for the right spot to create the highest amount of stimulation. He wasted no time in finding my clitoris, and then began slowly moving his finger back and forth over it.

I moaned into his mouth, my hand clawing painlessly into his arm. I released his lips, my eyes remaining shut. Mulder’s hand moved in a rhythmic pattern, sending nearly overwhelming waves of pleasure flowing through my body. His mouth moved up my throat to my jaw again, his opposite hand returning the nape of my neck. My hands moved from his arms to his head, running through his mussed hair. I moaned wordlessly again as his tongue curved around to the dip in my clavicle, sending a million different sensory waves through my body. His hand began to move faster around my clit, tantalizing it and then plunging his fingers deep into me, spreading the warmth and moisture.

This motion continued to my climax. I moaned his name as I came, floods of ecstasy passing through every inch of my body. I didn’t care about how loud I might have been, about what the people in the next room could be hearing. I had never felt pleasure like Mulder brought me, and he knew just how to do it.

As my climax declined, Mulder moved his hand to my hip, our lips meeting for brief intervals and then pulling away just as quickly. I smiled provocatively, bringing my hands to his chest and his fine, toned muscles. My hands moved gently over his skin, touching every inch of it. I passed my thumb over the small circular scar on his left shoulder, the one that a bullet I shot had left. I brought my lips to it tenderly. The more I explored every nuance of Mulder’s body, the more I realized that he had acquired many scars over the years.

In truth we both had. They were battle scars, marks of experiences we had survived. Each had its own story to tell, no matter how painful that story may be. Mulder had many scars, but I had my share. I wasn’t interested in my scars though, I wanted to know Mulder’s, to touch them and memorize their shape. I knew the story behind just about each and every one, another sign of something we had survived together. My fingers moved through the light sprinkles of chest hair in the center of his pectoral muscles, and down the dissipating line to his belly button. I reached the waistband of his jeans and glanced into his eyes curiously.

I trailed my fingers up the hard flesh at the center of his jeans, sending a rumbling groan from him. I unbuttoned and lowered the zipper of his pants, then proceeded to slowly push them over the toned form of his hips and thighs. He helped them along at the calf, sending them over the edge of the bed to the floor. I brought my hands back to the waist of his black silk boxer shorts. Slipping my fingers just inside the elastic band, I looked deep into Mulder’s eyes, searching for the same passionate yearning I was feeling then. It was the dominant emotion in his intense gaze. I loved the way his eyes changed to a deep jade when he was aroused.

I moved my hand further beneath the waistband of his boxers, delving further into the warm confines between his hot flesh and the light silken fabric. This time without the barrier of the jeans, I again ran my fingers up the length of him. I did it very lightly, teasingly, barely brushing the taunt, smooth skin. I paused briefly at its tip, slowly brushing my thumb over it.

Mulder brought his lips to my ear, “Don’t stop,” He murmured in a low voice.

I smiled and licked my lips, swollen from the deep kisses. I hooked my thumbs over the waistband of his boxers and slid them down his legs. My hands quickly returned to the center of him, gently drawing my hands over and around his fully erected sex. I moved my hand down to his scrotum, swirling my fingers through the forest of dark hair and squeezing his firm testes. Bringing my lips to his to complete the gesture, I continued passing my hand up and down the length of his penis, occasionally rubbing my finger over the sensitive tip.

I ended the kissing briefly, allowing my forehead to rest against his. “I want to feel you closer,” I purred.

Mulder captured my lips in his again, resuming a deep, passionate kiss. My arms encircled his neck as he gained leverage, rolling my back to the bed and pillows. He was over me again, pressing me into the bedding with his body. I was too involved in the heat of the moment to notice any discomfort. I was intoxicated by the sheer knowledge that Mulder and I were finally that close, that we had finally taken that plunge. With my arms entwined about his back and neck, my fingers tangling in his soft hair, his hand returning between my legs to continue my full arousal—I was in complete ecstasy.

When he entered me it was fluidly, without a hint of inexperienced clumsiness. He filled me completely, nearly to the brink of being painful, but not quite. It was like our bodies had been molded to fit together. As if during Creation we had been melded to each other, but somewhere along the way had been separated, and now the two parts were joining again, making us whole. In actuality, we didn’t intercourse to know we had been joined again. Every time I look into Mulder’s eyes I see what makes me a whole person, just as I do to him.

His pelvis and hips came to rest against mine, his hand the only thing between us. In a slow rhythm of his own, his fingers pulsed against my clitoris, setting the beat for us to dance. After a brief pause mid-kiss to breathe, and then continuing into another, I began to move my hips against his in a rocking motion matching the pattern of his hand.

As the passion sparked and ignited even further, the pace quickened between us. Mulder’s hand left the joint of our bodies and went around my back. I curled my right leg around his torso, trying to press us even closer, as if we could get any closer without melting into one another.

The room had erupted with passionate, fervent sounds neither of us could hear. The motion between us became harder and more torrid. We rolled and moved about the bed, using the wide queen-sized expanse. It wasn’t long before I came again, calling Mulder’s name as my body was filled with a fulfilling pleasure I had never known before. I kissed tenderly along his jaw line, taking his earlobe into my mouth. When he climaxed, he moaned deeply, pressing his body further against mine. As his orgasm faded, the heated kissing continued for a few long minutes, but the passion was undoubtedly seeping away.

He pulled away, his body relaxing on top of mine. Our breathing slowed from the quick, shallow breaths to deeper, more exhausted intakes and exhales. He was tired, so was I. It had been a long, trying day; pure adrenaline and repressed passion could only carry us so far for so long. Don’t get me wrong, I was not disappointed, I even surprised myself under the conditions. Mulder may have only endured for one, but for that one he gave it his all. We lie for the longest time in silence, comforted in each other’s presence, trying to make heads or tails of any discernable emotions.

Mulder rested comfortably, his warmth and scent surrounding me, over me. I love the scent of Mulder. It’s not an odor, and not really a fragrance. It was sweet and salty at the same time, usually consisting of the perfumes of clean Ivory soap and aftershave. It was something comforting and familiar.

His head lie on my chest, as if it were a pillow; one arm loosely encircling my waist. One of my hands rested on the back of his head, near the nape of his neck, while the other began to trace lazy circles on his back.

“Scully,” Mulder said groggily.

“Hmm?” I mumbled back, my eyes already beginning to droop shut. My body was exhausted, but I really didn’t want to sleep. I wanted to stay awake and remember the night forever.

“I love you,” He said, moving off me some so that his head rested on my shoulder.

“I know,” I replied, stroking his hair, still slightly damp with sweat.

He chuckled softly, bringing his hand to my breast to tease and test the nipple.

“I love you, too.” I said tiredly, watching him wonderingly.

His hand slipped down my chest to my stomach, tracing the circular scar just below where my ribcage ended. An Agent Ritter, in a freak accident, shot me there. The bullet narrowly missed my stomach. Mulder’s fingers traveled further to the more jagged, whiter, newer scar below and slightly to the right of the other. It was the scar from the exit wound the paralyzing slug left. It stretched in a circle about three inches across my stomach like a grotesque web. Just a few more battle scars to add to my collection.

Mulder didn’t say a word about it. There was nothing he needed to know about the scars that he didn’t know. It was just more of that memorization thing. He grabbed the now untangled sheets around our legs and pulled them up higher over us. Then he reached across the bed and switched off the single lamp, suddenly bathing us in darkness. He sighed deeply and tightened his arm around my waist.

“G’night, Scully,” He said, planting a kiss on my lips.

I smiled into the blackness. “Night, Mulder,” I replied, kissing his forehead at the hairline.

I didn’t fall asleep right away, laying awake and watching Mulder. My eyes adjusted to the thin blue moonlight seeping into the room through a crack in the curtains. After a little while, Mulder’s breathing evened out, becoming deep and flowing. Using the last bit of consciousness my body had left, I thought about what had just happened, just simple, aimless thoughts about really nothing in particular. At the time I was too tired to have rational thoughts.

Remember how I said I wanted to dance? Well in a way, making love is like dancing. The best form involves two people, moving together in an intimate, passionate manner. It can be done to the beat and rhythm of music, or to the pure melody of the soul. The two bodies, intertwining, touching, caressing, knowing each other in a way simple emotions and words cannot. I wanted to dance, and I did. I danced with the one man I love most in the world. The only man I have ever loved. And I have one thing to say: Yo quiero bailar. I love to dance.

These dream-like, unintelligible thoughts in my head, I closed my eyes. Mulder shifted slightly in his sleep, bringing a small smile to my lips. For the first time in who knew how long, I was truly happy. My happiness was forged in the epicenter of a war, yet I cannot think of better conditions under which I would have wanted the events of the night to happen.

I fell asleep in happiness, entangled in Mulder’s embrace, content with the knowledge that no matter what, he was there to protect me. I’m not one for asking for protection, but I like to feel safe just like anybody. And it was in Mulder’s arms that I felt safest.

··•*•··

Part 18

*

Through the years I’ve grown to love you
Though your commitment to most would offend
But I stuck by you holding on with my foolish pride
Waiting for you to give in…

*

That was the first night since shortly after I had been shot that I suffered from no nightmare—no dream at all for that matter. It lifted a tremendous weight from my subconscious, that is, before I remembered what I still had to suffer through. But for the time being, before leaving to go to court, I was happy. My soul felt free from the entrapment that it had been condemned to for the past five months.

The one thing I wasn’t free from, however, was that tiny tinge of reconsideration. I wouldn’t go so far as to calling it regret over the night, just…contemplating the consequences, what could come of it.

I woke up in the early morning, way before I needed to be up. I don’t know what time it was, as there was no clock in the room that I could read in the dark. I lie still in the dark, not wanting to get up and put any clothes on for fear of disturbing Mulder. I looked over at him; listening to his deep, steady breathing, in sync with the rise and fall of his chest beneath the sheet.

A thousand thoughts raced through my mind all at once as I studied the man I had grown to love over the years. I did love him; I do love him, no doubt about that. My thoughts lingered on the consummation of our relationship. Did we do the right thing? How would it affect our relationship as friends? Would our working relationship be the same? Things would change, most definitely, but how much did I want them to change? I didn’t want things to be awkward between us. I suppose I was entitled to those second thoughts, but they would never burrow deep enough into worry.

I turned over, closer to Mulder, landing a gentle peck on his shoulder. His arm went reflexively around me. I put my arm across his chest and rested my head on his shoulder. He mumbled something softly in his sleep but didn’t wake. I smiled to myself.

This felt right. This was right, I finally concluded, letting my eyelids slip shut against the bluish moonlight flooding across the sheeted forms of our bodies. For the time, all was right with the world.

*

At nine a.m. later in that morning, the final hearing of Stein versus the state of Illinois was called to order. The entire courtroom sat in nervous anticipation, listening intently as the judge explained the coming events of the day, or the following days. Bill Dorsey and Moe Arnold would have their closing arguments, one final sway to persuade the jury to their side. Afterwards, the jury would be sent into a confined conference room behind the main hall. No one would enter or leave without the consent or knowledge of the bailiff, an armed, muscular African-American man with a very military demeanor. The jury would contemplate Deuce’s fate for hours, maybe even days. With a conviction, there would later be a sentencing trial, in which the judge (in consultation with the jury) would sentence him an allotted time of incarceration, or perhaps he would be sentenced to death, all depending on the verdict. If the majority of the jury ruled in Deuce’s favor, proclaiming him innocent of some or all of his crimes, he would be let free. In that event, he could not be directly tried for the murders again, known as double jeopardy. That would be bad.

Dorsey’s closing argument was like a sermon. He delivered in a way that could motivate the weak, and spellbind even the most skeptical juror. At least this was how I viewed it; I could only pray the jurors felt the same way.

Arnold’s argument was equally compelling. But not in a preaching praise-God-the-Lord- is-mighty kind of captivating, it was more of a haunting, frightening captivation. He could draw your attention with evil his eyes and voice, yet his words carried a weight you wouldn’t soon forget. He was persuasive, I’ll give him that, but he was trying to persuade a guilty man to freedom. Oh, excuse me—he wasn’t guilty until proven so. I had to watch my tongue about that.

Proceeding after the closing arguments, the judge explained to the jury, for the record, what their responsibilities were. They filed row by row out of the jury booth, and through the short corridor to the jury’s chambers. I watched them as they walked, sizing up their probable personalities in a mere glance. There were twelve jurors, an average- sized jury body, seven men and five women. Some walked with an air of confidence, these were the few that probably knew what they wanted to say, and what they wanted the outcome to be. The majority, however, shuffled along slowly, single file—with their shoulders slumped and their eyes downcast. These were the ones that felt the immense weight of a man’s fate on their backs—they were drawn down by the stress of the trial. The unreliable ones, they were. The others might easily clout them into their way of seeing things. They could be drawn to one side or the other, or worse, stuck forever in the endless circle of uncertainty, tempted by the pleasures of either decision, but always pulled away by their unconscious sense of principle. Those are the few that drew out the consensus process. Even with this rather pessimistic knowledge, I was hopeful that they would see the light, that they would see Deuce for who he really was. Forget all that ‘innocent until proven guilty’ bullshit.

Once the jury was squared away in their own sort of imprisonment, court was adjourned indefinitely until the jury made their decision. And we were all left, with our anxious nervousness and nothing to lean on other than the fact that we knew the jury was doing their best, or so we hoped. Nail biting, I assure you, was a common practice in that time of agitation.

*

Four hours later, Dorsey called us with the news that the jury had reached a verdict. Four hours is actually relatively short for a large jury to reach a conclusion, I have borne witness and provided testimony to trials where the jury’s decision took an entire week. I can tell you, that week was hell.

It didn’t take long for all attending persons to find their seats in the large courtroom. Only a few interested parties were phoned personally, including the lawyers of course. The lawyers then called the people important, or meaningful, to the case. Close friends and family made up most of the audience.

“All rise…” Was called, as the judge, with his black robe draping over his broad shoulders, sat at his high bench. He took a moment to pull his wire-rimmed glasses off and wiped them clean, then pushed them up the bridge of his Roman nose.

The tension in the room as the jury shuffled in was so thick it was almost palpable. I heaved in and expelled out long, shallow breaths. I was so nervous, I just couldn’t convince my lungs to take in an adequate breath. I felt like I had just run two miles in two minutes.

Mulder discreetly reached over to my lap and took my hand, holding it inconspicuously on our laps. He turned in head and looked at me as I tried to keep my poise and demeanor. If Deuce walked, I knew I would probably burst into tears right there.

“Relax,” He whispered directly into my ear, tightening his reassuring grip on my hand.

I nodded slightly, watching as the final juror took his seat. Judge Caplan acknowledged the juror nearest to the end of the bench, Juror number one.

“Have you reached a verdict?” Caplan asked professionally, again, for the record.

Juror number one stood from his seat—he was the acting representative of the jury as a whole. He held a crisp piece of paper before him.

“Yes, we have, your honor.” He answered confidently. This particular juror was a large man, with salt-and-pepper hair and mustache. His deep, tenor voice carried well in the echoes of the courtroom. He cleared his throat, bringing the paper closer to his face to read it.

“We the jury, of the state of Illinois, do here-by rule Mr. Peter Stein…guilty…on nine counts of first-degree murder, ten counts of breaking and entering, ten counts of aggravated assault, one count of assault and battery, and one count of attempted murder.”

I actually didn’t hear most of that at first. As soon as the word “guilty” was spilled from the juror’s lips, I had gone deaf to the rest of the world. The room seemed to breathe a unified sigh or relief. The judge was silent for a few moments as everyone got recomposed. I reached over and hugged Mulder briefly, smiling and barely able to keep from crying with happiness. Dorsey turned around in his chair and shook our hands, in turn receiving a congratulatory clap on the back from Mulder.

Caplan pounded his gavel a few times, regaining the attention for a few last minutes. He announced the formal case closing, and we were free to go.

We all stood up, merrily congratulating each other on a well-won and well-deserved conviction. A guilty man would be behind bars, and life would go on. During the midst of it, I couldn’t help but look over at the man who had just been convicted to the heinous crimes. He sat hunched over in his chair, a solemn frown the only expression on his face. He undoubtedly knew that he would either serve consecutive life sentences or be faced with death row. Call me uncompassionate, cold, and unforgiving, call me what you must; but as I looked at him, I did not feel the least bit sorry. He deserved what he got; an eye for an eye, tit for tat; or what have you. But there was also something else I felt as I watched him, or rather something I didn’t feel; fear. I felt no fear from Deuce Stein. Perhaps it was because I knew he could no longer hunt the innocent, or because I knew justice had been served. Whatever the reason, I knew that the fear had left me, once and for all.

We celebrated victory that night at a local bar. By we, I mean Dorsey, Mulder, a few friends and family of other victims, Pacelli, and a handful of other police officers. I knew it had to be hard for them to turn their backs to one of their own, a veteran officer of fifteen years, but they did it. Deuce had gone beyond being “dirty”, to betraying his friends’ and family’s trust. I don’t blame them for giving him the cold shoulder.

At six p.m., the television hanging over the end of the bar was turned on to the evening news. We were eager to see our success in the spotlight of the media, just as we would have been dismayed to see it if we had lost. But we hadn’t lost! I couldn’t get over it. For so long I believed that I would live in fear for the rest of my life, never knowing when Deuce would return to take what he left. And now I knew he was behind bars for what would end up being a very long time.

We crowded around and beneath the TV, most of us with a beer in one hand, watching as the brunette anchor began reporting the headlines.

“At the final hearing here in Chicago, former Lieutenant Peter Stein of the Chicago PD was found guilty of the nine counts of murder committed here last November.” The anchor reported. A mug shot of Deuce was flashed on the screen. “Peter Stein, as you may remember, reportedly killed nine women while in their own homes, finally striking FBI Special Agent Dana Scully investigating the case out of Washington DC. After naming Lieutenant Stein as her attacker, he was put under arrest and tried for the other nine murders. Lacy Chapman was there live when court was adjourned…”

Film footage appeared of the many people filing out of the courthouse. A podium was set up for the lawyers to talk to the press. Dorsey was behind the microphones answering questions as the camera panned on him.

“Hey, who’s that ugly dude?!” One of the younger officers called out jokingly. Everyone laughed heartily, including Dorsey. Obviously this was a common thing for the people of the case to get together and joke around after a victory.

The camera shot settled on a younger blonde woman, dressed heavily in a coat and scarf. “Dozens of people showed up this morning to bear witness to the final hearing of the Stein trial. Most of them were friends and family of the late victims killed in November of ‘99. No one was willing to talk on camera this morning because of the sincere doubt that the suspected murderer would be convicted. At three p.m. this afternoon the verdict was in and we managed to get a few words once court was closed.”

The shot changed to the reported with Jason Coffey, Marie Truesdell’s boyfriend.

“Is there anything you would like to say about Peter Stein’s conviction?” Lacy Chapman asked.

Coffey looked into the camera sullenly, but there was a twinkle of peace in his eyes. “It’s been a long trial, but I know that Marie can rest in peace now, knowing that her murderer is behind bars.”

Another camera shot, and I saw myself walking down the courthouse steps towards the car, Mulder close by my side, we had gotten cut off by the press trying to leave peacefully. I hate talking on camera, especially to news reporters—they are pushy and constantly annoying.

“Do you have anything to say about the conviction?” The reporter asked me hurriedly as the camera rushed to catch up.

I stopped walking and sighed. “I’m just glad it’s over.” I said exasperatedly.

“‘Just glad it’s over,’” The reporter repeated as the camera focused on her again. “The same as many of the friends and family of the victims, and even the victims themselves. Reporting from the district courthouse, I’m Lacy Chapman.”

The news cut back to the anchor as she continued reporting other things. Mulder looked at me and grinned, hooking his arm around my back.

Dorsey reached up and turned the TV off. “A toast,” He called, raising his Heineken into the air. “To the triumph of lady justice in putting the guilty behind bars. To the memory of those taken from us,” Dorsey looked at Jason Coffey and some of the other family members spread throughout the room, “May their memories last for all eternity. To life, prosperity, and the fight of living. No matter how hard you have to battle, no matter what you have to suffer through, or how much pain you endure; life goes on. Justice will be served, and the pain will ease away. Never give up until it is over.”

Everyone else responded with a “Cheers!” and drank. Evolving remarkably since earlier that morning, all of our lives had suddenly taken a new lighthearted tone. It was as if a tremendous weight had been lifted from all of our souls. We no longer carried that proverbial monkey on our backs over Deuce’s trial.

It was finally over.

··•*•··

Part 19

*

Did you ever know that you’re my hero
The only one I ever need
I can fly higher than an eagle
You are the wind beneath my wings

*

Conclusion

Chronicling these events had probably been what helped me heal the most. I’m not sure what possessed me to begin, to relive the pain I had learned to forget, but I’m very glad I did. I may not have healed completely, psychologically or physically, but with each word I have written about this past year I have come one step closer. My goal for this was not to get it published, not to achieve fame, but to understand what I went through. And some day, years from now, I may find thise in my attic or a box somewhere, reread it, and come to know myself and finally understand all that I felt and lived through.

It has been six months since the criminal trial of Peter Stein, but I can still remember the events of last November like they happened yesterday. I was not present at the sentencing hearing, but was the first notified by Bill Dorsey about the final decision. Deuce Stein was sentenced to death by lethal injection, tentative date to be September fifteenth. Today. Err…tonight rather. I’m not going to witness the execution. After the trial, I wanted nothing more to do with Stein, not even to watch him die. If I saw, I could only think of one thing to say: Burn in hell.

These past few months have been for change and for healing. There have been no set backs as far as my physical healing goes. My body continues to heal at its own pace. Each day I am a little stronger, I have a little more endurance, and a little more balance. There a still a few things odd, like if I sit too long, my legs are more apt to “falling asleep”, I also get these numb spots if I am still for too long. But it is getting easier.

A time of change. After the first night Mulder and I really slept together, I wasn’t sure I wanted things to change, but now I couldn’t live without the changes. Mulder and I are more open to each other. We still have our little arguments, over cases mostly, but things have never been better. Each morning when I wake up and look into his eyes, I fall in love with him all over again.

I went back to work in April, once I was certain I could get around on my own. I came back as if nothing happened. I no longer cared what people thought of me. Their whispers and remarks no longer burrowed underneath my skin. I was more aware that they were talking, not only about my recovery but about Mulder and I, but I didn’t care. I would continue to be strong and stolid, to them, uncaring; but I knew in my heart that I was more. That I could do anything.

Right now, Mulder and I are taking a much needed and deserved vacation. We rented a small house directly on the beach in Delaware. It’s very quiet and peaceful. We’re here for a week and it’s utterly heaven. It gets just warm enough during midday to not be cold, yet it isn’t hot enough to be crowded with summer tourists. We do nothing during the day, and nothing is good, I always took it for granted. You would be surprised how long you can sit in a chaise lounge and watch the dolphins breach the surface water far out to sea without feeling the slightest tinge of boredom. Having Mulder here just makes it perfect. Every night is spent making love and sleeping pleasant dreams in each other’s arms.

That’s right, pleasant dreams. I haven’t had a nightmare since March, and that in itself has been glorious.

I went for a jog this morning, just to prove to myself that I could do it. I left the little beach cottage just before the sun actually made its appearance over the watery horizon. Mulder wasn’t awake when I left, but I prided myself on the knowledge that I would probably be back before he roused.

Dressed in jogging shorts and a faded FBI Academy sweatshirt, I jogged out onto the sand where it is wet and packed down, and then began to jog north, along the low tide line where the water was just reaching.

I maintained a steady pace, far from as fast as I could run, but I wasn’t going for speed, I was after endurance. I wanted this to be the longest jog I ran since what we now simply refer to as “the accident”. I reveled in the refreshing sensation of cool morning air, white steam puffing from my lungs with each breath. My well worn running sneakers made a gentle plopping sound as the land in the soft, damp sand, churning up small rivulets of it in the shape of my footprint. My cheeks were probably flushed from the brisk chill, I know that my hair, bound in a ponytail, commonly brushed the sweat that was beginning to stand out on my neck, cooling the skin.

I jogged a long distance up the beach, past rows and streets of small beach houses, all with not a figure stirring in them. Once in a while, I would run by a few beach walkers, or run abreast of a lonesome jogger like myself. I ran past a young boy sitting in the sand with his dog, who took off in friendly trot behind me. He followed me a good distance along the water until his younger master called him back.

I kept the same pace until I reached a long, rocky outcropping blocking the contiuance of the beach. I could have turned around and begun the trek back, but I didn’t. I think it was am adolescent sense of curiosity and adventure that led me to climb up onto the rocks. I began to move down the long oucropping that slightly resembled a crumbled, ancient pier. The charcoal colored rocks were splashed and splattered with the colors of long dead plankton from the water and the bleached droppings of absent sea birds.

I jumped and walked from huge boulder to huge boulder until had nearly reached the end. Just out of reach of the crashing waves, I stood on top of a monstrous rock jutting from the center of the mass. All around I could hear the muttering and lapping of the waves breaking on the rocks. I was close enough to smell and taste the salty sea spray in the air, but far enough away to not get wet. I stood there, watching the horizon as the sun just began to peek over the water.

Standing there on the rocks, I felt as though I was looking over the edge of the world, watching the first sunrise ever. It was like a rebirth, a renewal of spirit. It only took a few minutes for a good part of the sun to be over the horizon, bathing the land and the ocean in its golden iridescence. I felt better than I ever had before, the ocean breeze in my hair and filling my lungs and the new sun warming my face.

This feeling, it empowered me. It made me invincible. I could never be defeated by anything. I took a deep breath and smiled. Life was good.

I jogged back to the beachouse in the same speed as before. I arrived there to find Mulder standing on the open wrap around porch, wearing a tee-shirt and drawstring pants, a steaming cup of coffee in his hand. He smiled as he saw me climb the porch stairs, his face lighting up and his eyes twinkling. I love it when Mulder smiled, he never used to do it enough.

I greeted him with a strong embrace a warm kiss on the mouth. The strong taste of rich hazelnut coffee laced the kiss. He wrapped his free arm tightly around me and kissed my forehead at the temple, where it always makes me tingle.

We stood for the longest time in silence, watching the red sun slowly drag its pregnant form out of the blue green ocean. There were no words we needed to share, nothing that couldn’t be spoken with words. His eyes and his hug and his kiss told me everything. He was proud of me, he was happy for me, and he loved me. I never doubted any of it.

It is because of him that I survived. I could never have done any of it without Mulder. He is what I lean on, he is who I talk to, the only one who I could ever trust or love as much as I do. He helped me to walk the path of thorns, because I never could have done it alone. And in walking that path, we grew to know and understand ourselves and each other. We grew to deeply love and show our affection. We hadn’t only walked the path of thorns, we had survived. And neither of us could ever have done it alone.

··•*•··

The End

··•*•··

Well? What did you all think? Feedback….if you will.

I have to thank everyone who read this as I write it for their patience and support during all my writer’s blocks and my constant self-bashing. Thank you so much, I love you all.

You may have noticed all the song exerpts in here from various places. Rather than bore you with the list at the beginning I decided to disclaim them at the end. I own none of these songs, I merely praise the singers and writers for them, they are beautiful:

“The Path of Thorns” by Sarah McLachlan “Acoustic #13” by The Goo Goo Dolls “Losing My Religion” by REM “What Do You Say” by Reba McIntyre “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan “Sweet Surrender” by Sarah McLachlan “Hero” by Bette Midler

I hope you enjoyed the story, send all questions, comments, flames to , but I warn you flames will be sent back with avengeance.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing

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