Perchance to Dream by Linda Howell & Linda Phillips

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Perchance to Dream by Linda Howell & Linda Phillips

Perchance to Dream cover

TITLE: PERCHANCE TO DREAM
AUTHORS: Linda Howell () and Linda Phillips ()
RATING: Mostly PG-13, although there’s a bit of NC-17 mixed in!
CLASSIFICATION: X-File, Romance, Angst
KEYWORDS: MSR, X-File
SPOILERS: “The X-Files: Fight The Future” (minor – it won’t ruin anything if you haven’t seen it yet); Through Season 5

SUMMARY: Scully and Mulder investigate a string of suicides, and discover more than they bargained for.
Timeline: Fall of 1998.

DISCLAIMER: The X-Files and its characters belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and Fox. Other characters in this story are fictitious, and completely from the imagination of the twin Lindas.

ARCHIVING: Parts 1 through 17 of this story may be posted at Gossamer. All others please ask.

A big THANK YOU to Sean Draine, Dawson Rambo, and Verite for their help in researching facts for this story.

Perchance to Dream

Sonnet 333 from “Canzoniere”

Go now, my grieving verse, to the hard stone
that hides my precious treasure in the earth;
and there call her, who will respond from Heaven
although her mortal part be darkly buried,
and tell her I am weary now of living,
of sailing through the horrors of the sea,
but that, by gathering up her scattered leaves,
I follow her this way, step after step,

speaking of her alone, alive and dead
(rather, alive, and now immortalized),
so that the world may know and love her more.
Let her watch for the day I pass away
(it is not far from now), let her meet me,
call me, draw me to what she is in Heaven.

—Petrarch

Part One

In a well appointed penthouse in Georgetown, a woman moaned in restless sleep. Turning to her side, she reached a slim hand across the bed, searching the empty sheets. Her eyes opened, and for a moment she was motionless. Then, slowly, she rose from the bed and pulled on an emerald green silk wrap, tying it around her waist as she gazed into the darkness. Moving to her dressing table, she clicked on a soft light as she sat down to look in the mirror. A face lightly etched with the hints of middle age reflected back at her. It was an attractive face, with wide brown eyes framed by dark lashes, resting above high cheekbones. Tentatively, she reached up to touch the image, cold glass meeting tender flesh. As her fingertips slid down the mirror, a tear traveled over her cheek and both met the cherry table top at once. Silently, she brushed her chestnut hair back and carefully tucked it behind her ears. The brown eyes stared calmly and deliberately into themselves as she applied a soft rose shade to her lips.

It was done.

The air was cool outside on the terrace, a light breeze blowing chill against her skin. The lights of the city shone like crystals in the distance, beckoning to guide her back to another life. But it was too late. She went to the railing and leaned against it, closing her eyes, breathing in the scents and sounds that she knew so well. Opening her eyes, she climbed on a chair and sat on the railing, swinging her legs over, her bare feet dangling. Without a word she pushed away, arms outstretched, and landed just as silently fourteen floors below.

FBI Headquarters Assistant Director Walter Skinner perused the files which lay in front of him. Five suicides in the last five weeks, all of them women, but not just any group of women. No, these were widows of high- ranking government and military officials whose husbands had all passed away of natural causes in the last two years. Voices at the upper most echelons of the American political system were calling for a resolution to this case, and after the last one, the FBI was called in. By extension, Skinner found himself once again on the hot seat.

The case was puzzling. Motives were unclear. There were no notes left behind or clues left to follow. Thorough investigations by local authorities had turned up no evidence of foul play. Hence, there were no obvious knots to unwind. Skinner could not fathom what kind of demons lurked within these women’s lives, and he knew that’s what the majority of criminal investigations boil down to: the unraveling of a tangled hell. And, in this case, he wasn’t even sure that there was a criminal to be found at the end of the line. Walter Skinner smiled ruefully at his own musings. This profundity of thought would surprise anyone outside of the FBI. Skinner was known as a loner. Few people could honestly say that they knew this man on anything other than a professional level. And the A.D. kept it that way on purpose. In his long years of military and government employment, Skinner had seen and done things most others would cringe at even thinking about. Instead he cultivated a façade that enabled him to get things done quickly with little argument or fanfare.

Four days earlier, Skinner was called into the office of the Director. The room, like most high-level offices, was decorated with intellect and power. The Attorney General as well as two Joint Chiefs were in attendance; Skinner smelled their frustration as it mixed with the stale residue of a smoked cigar. The meeting was brief, to the point. Five women, ranging in ages from twenty seven to fifty eight, had been found dead in their homes, all victims of apparent suicides. Military police had searched their houses, interviewed friends and co-workers, but came away more confused. Outwardly, it seemed that these women were stable, mentally capable human beings. Although they had suffered through tremendous loss, they seemed to have moved on and thrived in their separate lives. Two of them had already started romantic relationships with other men; life was progressing forward.

So the question remained: why did they kill themselves?

The police couldn’t answer the question, and now the FBI investigation, led by Walter Skinner, was expected to pull rabbits out of the apparently empty hats.

After careful deliberation, Skinner picked up the phone. “Michelle, call Agents Mulder and Scully. Tell them to come to my office immediately.”

“I refuse to take another vacation!” Mulder declared. He tossed the handful of colorful brochures that he’d been resentfully looking through onto his desk. His partner (and in her mind, occasional baby- sitter) eyed him dubiously. Scully recognized the petulant tone immediately, and instead of assuming a soothing tone of her own, she hastily remarked, “Go without pay, which by the way will lead to a lack of food, which will in turn lead to malnutrition, which will eventually put you on my doorstep, and that is unacceptable.”

“Why is that unacceptable?” Mulder leaned forward, resting his chin on his palms, looking for all the world like a studious lad who awaited enlightenment.

Scully knew better. It was an expression right out of the Mulder handbook of sarcasm. But over the past five years, she had become an expert at deflating his arrogant wit.

Without looking at him, she hid her amusement and replied, “Because I don’t have room for your video collection.”

The phone rang, interrupting the sharp comeback that had undoubtedly been on the tip of Mulder’s tongue. Scully turned her attention back to her laptop, only half-listening to the cryptic one sided conversation.

“…uh-huh …yes …now? Yes sir.”

Mulder rose from his desk and headed toward the office door. Leaning down as he passed Scully, his words sent a warm pulsation through her.

“You know, Scully, you shouldn’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.”

He held the door open and turned back to her with a smart-ass smile on his face.

“Skinner wants to see us. Coming… Scully?”

Both agents remained in quiet contemplation as the elevator ascended. The AD’s office was situated toward the end of a long office- lined corridor. The busy activity of the hall didn’t disturb their silent companionship. There was a muted harmony in the fall of their steps, as if they listened to an identical rhythm which only they could hear. Several agents stopped to stare as Mulder and Scully passed them by. The consensus of thoughts ran along the same lines, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Spooky are in trouble again.’ Of course, most of the agents recognized the respect Skinner granted the duo, and that fact created an undercurrent of hostile tolerance for the partners. As a team, Mulder and Scully were a double-edged sword. They solved the unsolvable; they caught the unattainable. However, with them came the promise of disturbing revelations. Their forays into the supernatural and paranormal aroused suspicion because so many times the unexplainable is, for the most part, better left that way.

Mulder and Scully remained unaware of these impressions as they entered Skinner’s office. Instead, the agents strayed off onto their own divergent trains of thought. Mulder reviewed a list of potential vacation spots he didn’t really want to visit, while Scully mentally revised a series of lecture notes she was in the process of compiling for an upcoming forensics conference at Quantico. Distracted was an appropriate term for their states of mind.

Walter Skinner, on the other hand, remained focused on the impending disaster this case promised to produce. At wit’s end, he decided on calling in his best, albeit most frustrating, pair of agents. He noticed their uncharacteristic lack of attention, and wondered if the long hours were getting to them.

‘Well too bad, agents,’ he thought, ‘you’re in for another bumpy ride.’

Pointing towards two chairs, he motioned for them to sit. Skinner waited as they positioned themselves at their customary posts. After a few moments, he handed a manila folder to each of them. They contained the same information: crime scene photos, autopsy reports, witness statements, etc. As they skimmed over the contents, he began, “This case was brought to the Bureau a few days ago. As I’m sure you will note, the deaths have occurred over the past several weeks, but due to the sensitive nature of the victims’ affiliations, the military didn’t want to bring us into it until they exhausted all their own avenues of investigation. Evidently, they ran out of avenues last week. I was asked…”

Scully interrupted, “Sorry, sir, but these reports say that the victims committed suicide. Why is this being brought to the Bureau?”

A tad frustrated, Skinner continued, “As I was saying Agent Scully, the Director designated this case to us because the women, as you will read, were widows of high-ranking government officials, and he feels….”

“…that it wasn’t suicide,” Mulder said, slowly looking up from the file in his lap. “Or should I say, he’s afraid it wasn’t.”

Skinner, used to his questioning agents, sighed hard before continuing with a hint of sarcasm. “That’s what you two are going to find out.”

Mulder leaned back in his chair and listened intently as the AD went on to explain the political ramifications of the deaths. People were starting to worry, and these were the type of people the FBI did not want worrying. If they became too agitated then inquiries would start, and with inquiries come blame, and blame, in the federal government, is the leading cause of unemployment. It is known as the cycle of disassociated responsibility.

While Skinner talked and Mulder pondered, Scully looked at the photos of the five women. They seemed so….normal. She hated herself for making an assumption based on appearance, but they just didn’t look like the type of women who would take their own lives. The faces in each photo smiled back at her, happily oblivious to the turns that their futures would take. The youngest victim, age twenty seven, caught Scully’s attention right away. She had red hair, cut in a style much like her own. The girl’s bright blue eyes reflected serenity and hope. Granted, it was a wedding picture, but it was difficult for Scully to imagine that there could be a moment when death could be a more suitable choice than life. Perhaps her numerous clashes with the darkness had instilled in her soul a will to survive, but Scully still found it hard to accommodate a death wish, no matter what the circumstances were.

Her eyes shifted over to Mulder…. Disturbing emotions leaped up inside her.

‘He’s been close to it,’ she thought. A chill racked her body. Two sets of eyes glanced at her. “Someone walked over my grave?” she said hesitantly.

Her joke fell flat. One set of eyes quickly slipped away while the other pair vanished into familiar gloomy shadow. Feeling guilty for the insensitive remark, her gaze dropped to her lap as she whispered, “I’m cold.”

Changing the topic, Skinner restated his attentions. “First, I want you to study these files.” Looking at Scully, “Agent Scully, the most recent body was shipped over to Quantico. I think you should go over there and examine it. Maybe there are some answers to be found which haven’t been looked for.” To Mulder he directed, “I told the MP’s you’d probably be out to talk to them later this afternoon. You should head over there before it gets too late; you don’t want to lose daylight.”

They sat there a few more minutes going over the details of the case before Skinner finally signaled their departure. He asked Scully to remain. He watched the silent exchange of glances between the two. Mulder didn’t leave until he seemed to receive the message he awaited. Skinner couldn’t interpret the sign; he didn’t want to. A part of him felt like telling the young agents that he could detain anyone he chose to, but it would be petty and unproductive. They were close; he knew that. Hell, everyone knew it. Some speculated that Mulder and Scully were lovers…. He was pretty damn sure they were, but he kept his mouth shut. As long as they were performing their jobs well, then he would stay out of it. That simple. If it became unmanageable, he would intervene. However, he had a feeling the problem would never come up.

As Mulder closed the door behind him, Scully turned back to her boss.

“Yes, sir?”

Trying to be as tactful as he could, “Agent Scully, you know I respect Agent Mulder.”

Uncomfortable with the possibilities of where this could lead, Scully remained silent as she nodded her head.

“And one of the reasons I do,” the A.D. continued, “is that Mulder can be persistent, even stubborn sometimes. But this is not a case for abrasive tactics.” Scully was about to say something, but Skinner put his hand up. “I am not arguing his abilities; they are immense. But his lack of discretion could be detrimental to this case. I had my doubts on whether I should bring the two of you on this case, but you are the best investigative team we’ve got. I demand cooperation on this matter, do you understand?”

Somewhat offended by the prospect of having to tie her partner to some invisible leash, Scully replied, “I understand, but shouldn’t you speak with Agent Mulder about this since he is the topic of our conversation?” With that, she rose to leave, but Skinner called to her again.

“I am not trying to insult you,” he said quietly. “But you and I both know that you are the reasoning half of your partnership. Before you say anything else, think about it. You ground him, and that’s good. He would probably be out of work, even dead, without you there. Partnerships are like marriages, Agent Scully. Each half brings to the table what the other half lacks; it’s called completion.”

She stood there not knowing how to respond. Fortunately, Skinner solved the problem. He dismissed her with, “Inform me of the results of your examination.”

The next morning Mulder found Scully in the office early, pensively biting on the end of a pen as she read and re-read the information before her. She didn’t even look up as he walked in.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Mulder offered as he hung up his coat. “You never know where that thing has been.”

“I don’t get it, Mulder,” Scully said as she swiveled in her chair to face him. “The autopsy on this latest victim showed just what you would expect after falling fourteen floors onto concrete. Massive internal bleeding, numerous fractures, head trauma, any of which was enough to kill her. There were no indications of foul play, as far as the autopsy was concerned. I have similar reports from all of the other victims’ autopsies, although there were different causes for each death.”

She flipped through pages as she recounted the facts aloud. “Overdose, gunshot wound to the head, overdose again, and one that slit her wrists in the bathtub. And now the jumper. None of them show any reason to believe that there was more to it than suicide.” She looked up at him again. “Yet they all happened within the space of five weeks.” She sighed. “What did you find out?”

Mulder sat down at the desk. “I went over the interviews with friends, families, neighbors, most of which told the same story. All these women had been happily married, and went through the expected grieving process after their husbands died. All of them seemed to be moving on with their lives and coping. But I found a couple of things that intrigued me.”

Scully listened attentively as he spoke. Over the years she had learned that those words usually turned into a solid lead.

“In their interviews, a close friend of…” he looked down at the page in front of him before continuing, “…Lynn Andrews, and a friend of Elizabeth Young’s, both mentioned that the victims reported having disturbing dreams in the weeks leading up to their deaths.”

“What sort of dreams?” Scully asked.

“Well, I called the women last night and spoke to them,” Mulder said as he looked up. “Lynn Andrews’ friend said that Lynn had been reluctant to talk about it, and only mentioned it at all because the friend told her she looked like hell and wanted to know if she’d been getting any sleep.”

“Apparently not.”

“The other one was able to give me a little more information. It seems that Elizabeth Young felt that her dead husband was trying to contact her from beyond the grave.”

“She was seeing her husband in her dreams?” Scully interjected.

“Not just seeing him, but she reported to her friend that he was trying to speak to her. The friend said that Elizabeth seemed more and more upset by this the last few days before her death, wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating, and generally behaving very ‘unlike herself’, as the friend put it.”

Scully leaned back in her chair. “Mulder, I hardly think that a woman having dreams about her husband barely a year after his death is all that unusual.”

“Maybe it wasn’t just her.”

Scully raised an eyebrow.

“I think we should talk to some of the friends of the victims again, see if any of the others mentioned dreams like that,” he said.

“You’re reaching here, Mulder.”

“Do we have anything else to go on at the moment?” he asked.

Scully sighed. “I guess not. Okay, let’s go.”

Part Two

Their car pulled up in front of Laura Wilde’s home at 10:48 a.m. The sky was gray and cheerless, with a disconsolate drizzle of rain the only movement in the air. Scully stepped out of the car and opened her umbrella, looking up at the dusky red brick house with an unsettled feeling. If truth be known, she did not exactly enjoy this part of her job. Following threads of evidence, finding the common denominator, motive, cause, purpose… the piecing together of this animate puzzle was stimulating, rewarding, and God knew that working with Mulder was never boring. Scully was aware that she was good at what she did, and she knew that she was able to make a difference. All of this kept her coming back day after day.

But it never got any easier to witness the grief of others. That was the worst part.

Mulder walked around to Scully’s side of the car and ducked down under the shelter of her umbrella. They started up the flower- bordered walk in silence. The front door opened before they could reach for the doorbell.

“Mrs. Wilde?” Mulder asked.

The woman nodded.

“I’m Agent Mulder, this is Agent Scully,” Mulder said as he held up his badge in her view. “I called you earlier this morning?”

Laura Wilde nodded again. “Yes, please come in.”

She led them to the living room and motioned for the two agents to sit on the sofa. Laura sat in an overstuffed chair across from them. “Would you like some coffee? Tea?” she asked, her voice giving away only a slight tremble.

“No, thank you,” the two of them replied in near unison. Scully took in the surroundings in her peripheral vision. Neat, orderly, decorated with a provincial rustic look so prevalent in homes like this. Her eyes settled on Laura. Scully guessed that she was in her upper thirties, judging from the fine lines that were settled around the outer corners of her eyes. She had a quiet elegance that spoke of high school beauty gone down a settled road in life. Until now.

“Mrs. Wilde,” Mulder began.

“Please call me Laura.”

Mulder nodded. “Laura, I know it’s difficult to talk about this.”

Laura swallowed hard and blinked. “I don’t know what I can tell you that I haven’t already talked to the police about. I’ve told them everything I know.”

“Yes, I know, and you’ve been very cooperative,” Mulder said. “But we have a few more questions we’d like to ask.” Mulder leaned forward. “You and Joanne Harding were close friends, is that right?”

Laura nodded slightly, a small smile turning up the corners of her mouth. “Yes, best friends.”

“I’m sure that losing her husband was a terrible blow to her, but from all accounts she seemed to be holding up very well, moving on with her life. That’s what makes this so difficult to understand.”

“Yes, I know. But Mr. Mulder, can you tell me why the FBI is involved with this? Has she done something… wrong?”

Scully spoke up. “Laura, there have been several deaths in the last few weeks with some similarities to Joanne’s. We are trying to find out if there’s any connection between them.”

“Like what?” Laura asked, a new concern suddenly coming over her face.

“We’re really not at liberty to go into details,” Scully began.

“Did Joanne ever tell you about any strange dreams that she’d been having recently?” Mulder interrupted.

So much for not discussing the details, Scully thought.

Laura tilted her head a bit, brows coming together. “As a matter of fact, she did mention something like that.”

“Go on,” Mulder urged.

“Well,” Laura shifted a bit uncomfortably in her chair. “She had asked me not to say anything about it – she was afraid people would think she’d gone crazy.” She let out a choked laugh, followed by tears. “I guess it doesn’t matter now.”

Scully found a box of tissues on the end table and handed them to Laura, who wiped at her eyes and took a deep breath. “She seemed reluctant to talk much about it,” Laura continued. “I came to pick her up the week before she… we have a Wednesday lunch date, every week, without fail. I rang the bell, and she didn’t answer. I rang a couple more times, and finally she came to the door in her bathrobe. At first she didn’t seem to want to let me in. I thought maybe she was sick or something, but she said no, she just hadn’t been sleeping well and was still in bed.” Laura paused a moment, looking down at the shredded tissue in her hands. The agents waited. Finally, Scully spoke.

“What is it, Laura? Please tell us. We want to find out why this happened to her.”

Laura looked up with watery eyes. “I should have known. I should have done something…”

“There may not have been anything you could do, Laura,” Mulder offered. “That’s what we’re trying to find out. Please go on.”

The tearful woman nodded and wiped at her eyes again. “She said that she’d been having bad dreams… no, wait… strange dreams, she called them. She told me she’d been having dreams about Jim, her husband. We sat down and had a cup of tea, but she seemed fidgety, nervous or something. Maybe she was just tired, I don’t know…”

Deep breath.

“Anyway, Joanne said she didn’t really remember much about the dreams when she woke up, she just knew that Jim would come to her. He would speak to her, but when she awakened she couldn’t recall what he’d said. Just that it left her feeling uneasy and then she couldn’t get back to sleep. That was the only time she mentioned it to me.” Laura looked pleadingly at Scully. “I called her several times over the next few days, and she sounded fine, she said she was fine…”

“You didn’t see her again after that?” Mulder asked.

“No,” Laura replied, collapsing into tears again. “We never made it to the next Wednesday…”

Half an hour later, Mulder and Scully bid Laura Wilde good- bye at her front door. Besides the crumb of information about Joanne Harding’s dream, they hadn’t been able to glean anything new from their interview. Scully was just closing the car door when her cell phone rang.

“Scully.”

“Agent Scully, it’s Assistant Director Skinner.”

“Yes, sir,” Scully answered, looking over at Mulder. She held her hand up to stop him from starting the car.

“I need you to go to Memorial Hospital to see a patient named Ellen Tierney. She was brought in night before last following a suicide attempt,” the A.D. said.

“And she may be related to this case?”

Mulder saw Scully’s eyes open wide as the A.D. replied, “Her late husband worked for the Department of Defense.”

“We’re on our way.”

The woman lay semi-reclined in the hospital bed, her skin and hair nearly as pale as the rough sheets beneath her. The brown leather straps that held her wrists securely to the bed were glaring shocks of reality against her ghostlike form. Her face was turned away from the agents as they entered her darkened room. Scully spoke up first as she approached the bed.

“Mrs. Tierney?”

The woman turned her head to face them. Scully squinted as her eyes attempted to adjust to the dim light in the room.

“May I turn on a light?” Scully asked gently. The woman said nothing. Scully reached for a dimmer switch on the wall and pushed it up a bit, then walked closer to the bed.

“Mrs. Tierney, my name is Dana Scully, and this,” Scully pointed to Mulder’s tall figure near the door, “is my partner Fox Mulder. We work for the FBI.” She was drawn to the woman’s eyes- drawn by them and disturbed by them. The patient continued to look at Scully, her face impassive and yet so obviously touched by the very essence of despair. Scully took a deep breath and continued.

“Mrs. Tierney.. Ellen… we’re here because we want to find out what happened to you, why you did what you did. Can you tell us?”

Ellen’s blue eyes stayed locked on Scully’s, and slowly they filled with tears and spilled over. She made no sound except for an occasional catch in her breathing as the tears fell. Scully pulled tissues out of a nearby box and carefully wiped the woman’s damp cheeks. Mulder moved closer and leaned over Scully’s shoulder.

“Ellen, we want to help you,” Scully heard Mulder’s voice in her ear. “Whatever… whoever… did this to you, you’re not the first. Just the first to survive. We’d like to know what happened so that we can keep it from happening again.”

Ellen closed her eyes for a moment, then turned away. When she spoke, her voice was small, distant. “There’s nothing you can do,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. “I couldn’t have stopped. I didn’t want to stop.”

“Ellen…” Scully began.

Ellen shook her head, refusing to look at them “No! Go away. Go away, go away, go away…”

Scully sighed and straightened up. She looked at Mulder, who motioned her away from the bed with a tip of his head.

“I don’t think she’s going to say much right now, Scully. Let’s try again later today.” Scully nodded, and with a parting glance at the still figure in the bed, she followed Mulder out the door. They were quiet as they walked to the elevator. Scully couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d had when she had looked into the older woman’s eyes. Sad, yes, but something more… she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. As the elevator doors opened, she turned to Mulder.

“Let me go in alone and talk to her again. I’ll meet you downstairs…”

Mulder didn’t have time to do more than open his mouth into a confused “O” before Scully turned and walked away. This time she stopped at the nurse’s desk first and brought someone with her to Ellen’s room.

The orderly looked at her dubiously as Scully paused outside the patient’s room and asked him to unlock one of the restraints that held the woman’s hands to the bed.

“I don’t know… I better check with somebody…”

“Look…” Scully squinted at the young man’s name tag as she produced her badge . “Look, Ed, I’m an FBI agent, see? I’m also a doctor. I will stay with the patient while she’s unlocked, I promise. Nothing’s going to happen to her.”

Ed screwed his mouth to one side for a moment. “Well… okay. But it’s my butt if something happens, so be careful!”

Ellen’s face was again turned toward the wall when Scully and the orderly re-entered the room. They approached the bed quietly, but before they could get too near Ellen turned toward her. Scully stopped where she was, transfixed. Ellen Tierney’s eyes held hers, and over the course of a few seconds Scully felt the torment in this woman’s soul. Finally, she broke her gaze away and motioned for the orderly to unlock the restraint nearest her. He did so and slipped out without a word.

“Ellen…” she said finally, finding her voice.

“You know,” Ellen said quietly. “You know.”

Hesitatingly, Scully asked, “What do I know, Ellen?”

For a moment Ellen didn’t speak. Then she dropped her gaze and the words came out in a hushed voice. “You’ve had dreams… someone calls you, and you have to answer. You have no choice. You have to answer.”

Scully moved close to the bed. “Who called you, Ellen?” She took Ellen’s hand in her own, squeezed it lightly. Ellen squeezed back, with a strength that was surprising. She looked at Scully again, and Scully caught her breath. The eyes…

“I had to go… you know I had to go…”

Suddenly, she recognized the expression in the blue eyes that seemed so familiar. She’d seen them staring back at her in her own mirror. Unknowingly, Scully put her hand up and gently clutched at the fabric over her heart in an effort to soothe the sudden ache that she felt. Dreams… dreams of Emily, of hospitals and drugs and needles and pain. Of her own cancer and the ‘cancer’ that had been viciously born into an unwitting child. Her child. An unspoken understanding passed between the two women, shared knowledge of an inner torment. ‘Am I that transparent?’ Scully thought. No, she knew she hid it well. But a soul in pain often senses another, though of course she would never go to the lengths that this woman had gone to to escape the anguish. Scully closed her eyes a moment as visions of her own tear streaked face in the mirror came before her. No matter how deep she thought she’d buried them, the feelings were so close to the surface sometimes. The desperation, the fear, the anger at the injustice of all that she’d been through… it would steal up on her when she least expected it. A chill ran through Scully and she opened her eyes again.

No. She was not this woman. She was a survivor.

“Tell me about the dream, Ellen.”

Ellen’s eyes stared off over Scully’s shoulder. Blank. Far away in a place reserved for demons and ghosts. Her mouth worked to wrap around the images, chasing after phantom sounds when, out of the agony, she grabbed the words.

“It starts out simply,” she began in a halting voice. “I am standing in my room, alone. He’s there-I can feel him just below the surface. It’s…it’s…oh my god, what is it?” Her tear choked voice stilled; her questioning eyes turned toward Scully. Quickly, without thought, Scully laced her fingers around the woman’s hand. A bond of strength for a weakened comrade.

“Go on, Ellen.”

She nodded before continuing, “It’s like a muted ray of sunshine, and I’ve lived in the dark for so long. Do you understand how much I miss him? There is not a day when I don’t think about his face, his smile. I ache to hear his voice again….just once, then everything would fall into place. Right? And there he was. An answer to a prayer.” Ellen reached out to touch the young Agent’s cheek, “You’ve seen it, haven’t you? The deserted landscape where nothing ever grows, a wasteland for the wasted. They take away a part of you and replace it with nothing, and you’re expected to accept it, to move on. But what happens when they steal your final breath? What happens when they leave you lingering in that last moment forever? Because every second I live, I move one second further away from him.”

Scully sat speechless. The air jumped alive with vague innuendoes. Her lungs filled with potential loss, and she could only fight for the strength to refute this madwoman’s meandering words. ‘She is sick,’ her mind raged. Yet, the ravaged planes of Ellen’s face attested to the verity of her grief, so much so that condolences seemed especially harsh with their vacant promises of endurance. Sometimes, pain survives on its own will. Scully was trying to understand it, but comprehension fled from her. That was until the unexpected vision of Mulder stole across her mind. What if he died? What would she do? Say? Would she turn into this shell of a woman who prayed for a ghost in the night? A candle in the dark?

‘No, Dana,’ she chastised herself, ‘not there…never there.’

“You know, I want him back?” Ellen asked to no one in particular. “I want to laugh at his stupid jokes and fight with him over little things that don’t matter much. I want to go back. Let me go back – please!”

They were getting nowhere. Ellen was still too wrapped up in her grief. Scully looked around the room, searching for something, anything with which to re-focus the woman’s attention on the matter at hand. Her eyes alighted on the bedside table with its potpourri of objects. A small, wallet size photograph lay there. It was a man. Him, maybe? Picking it up, Scully held it in front of Ellen. “Is this your husband, Mrs. Tierney?”

Ellen’s hand embraced the picture. Her thumb lightly tracing the outline of his image with a practiced hand, communicating with it on a level beyond Scully’s presence. Enraptured by the photograph, the woman paid little heed to her companion. Instead, the dream coalesced with the present, and this man, this paper facsimile of a waking memory, was real – at least for her. Scully removed the picture from Ellen’s fingers, extricating it with gentle persistence.

“Ellen,” she whispered softly, “tell me about the dream.”

Ellen shook her head as if denying the request. The word ‘dream’ held some profane meaning in her mind. It was wrong. Everything was wrong. He was gone. She was here. Her world was lost. Silently, without struggle, she fell back into the void, dismissing Scully with the simple closure of her eyes. Scully sat there for several moments, hoping Ellen would return, but it was no use. She stood up, slowly. It was an absurd gesture suggesting that Ellen might be disturbed by her movement. Highly unlikely. In fact, Scully would be extremely surprised if Ellen even remembered her later. She called for the orderly to fasten the woman’s hand back in it’s self protective lock.

Out in the hall, Mulder greeted her. “I found out a little more about Mrs. Ellen Tierney,” he began. “Husband died of a heart attack almost two years ago. She had been an English Lit teacher at a local high school until his death, then took a leave of absence and never went back. Her son interrupted her about halfway through the bottle of Nembutal she had stashed away.” He pulled a handful of sunflower seeds from his pocket and cracked one open with his teeth. “So, did she say anything?”

Of course Mulder was there, the earlier promise to meet downstairs forgotten in the hailstorm of a possible lead. ‘You just can’t resist it, can you Mulder?’ she thought. Walking ahead of him, she entered the elevator. Still, she said nothing. They rode in silence down to the first level garage. Mulder was impatient, but held his tongue knowing Scully would reveal what she found out, if she had found anything at all.

“The woman is delusional,” Scully offered finally, “and she’ll be of little assistance to us. Honestly, I’m not sure if her case is even applicable to the others, Mulder.”

“She fits,” Mulder countered, “the attempted suicide, the connection with her husband…it all fits. What makes you think otherwise? Was it something she said?”

“NO!…I mean no, not exactly. It’s just…she’s a sad, grief- stricken widow who believes her dead husband visits her at night. Is this what we’re investigating?”

Mulder turned to her. She was resting against the car door, placing a measured distance of physical space between them. Something was bothering her. He could tell by her tense posture-the stiff shoulders, the elevated chin. Mrs. Tierney bothered her for some reason, and he wanted to know why. Of course, with Scully, the why was a difficult expedition. He placed his hand on her shoulder. A live spark could not have made her jerk away faster. She glanced fleetingly up into his eyes.

“Maybe we should go back to the office. Look over the files again?” He asked her with that familiar placating tone of voice.

“Yeah, maybe we should,” she replied. And the voice inside her head agreed, ‘Anywhere away from that woman and her dreams.’

It didn’t take long for Mulder to realize that Scully’s mind was not on the work before them. They’d been back in the office for forty- five minutes and Mulder had seen Scully’s eyes wander from the pages in front of them at least four or five times.

“What’s wrong?” he asked quietly.

“Hmm?” The question seemed to startle Scully a bit. “Oh – nothing,” she answered, finally looking at him. “I’m just… tired, I guess. I’m sorry.”

Mulder reached out and smoothed his hand down her back. “Don’t be sorry, Scully. I just wish I knew what was bothering you.”

Scully’s thoughts remained hidden as a silent moment passed. Mulder stood and stretched, hiding his disappointment at the fact that, after all this time, it was still so difficult for Scully to confide in him.

“I say let’s call it a day, then,” he offered.

Scully glanced at her watch. “Mulder, it’s only a little after three.”

“Did we or did we not work late last night?”

“Well, yes…”

“It’s settled then.” Mulder walked over and retrieved both of their coats from the rack. “I have an even better idea. You go home and soak in one of those hot baths you’re so masochistically fond of, and I’ll bring over Chinese later. Whadda ya say?”

Scully closed her eyes for a moment. “Oh, that does sound tempting,” she said with a sigh.

Mulder handed over her coat. “Ahh, I knew you couldn’t resist. Is it the pleasure of my company or the Chinese food that made you cave in?”

Scully smiled as they turned out the lights. “Actually, it was the ice cold beer that you’re going to bring that really did it.”

Mulder closed the door, and they continued up the stairs, oblivious to Jerry, the maintenance man, working on the furnace ducts. Jerry peered around at them, and smiled to himself as he followed their conversation until it was out of earshot.

“Beer? Who said anything about beer?”

“Don’t get cheap on me, Mulder.”

“I am not cheap!”

“Says the man who still has the basketball shoes he wore in high school.”

“Hey! Those shoes are still good…”

Part Three

Scully was tying the belt on her robe when the doorbell rang. She opened her apartment door to find Mulder laden with aromatic white boxes and a six pack of Michelob Light.

“My hero,” Scully proclaimed, taking some of the load from Mulder’s hands. “Mmmm, this smells wonderful, and I’m starving. Let’s eat.”

“Wait just a minute! Don’t I even get a thank you?” Mulder asked in a mockingly peeved voice.

Scully turned and gave him a look that stopped him in his tracks.

“Yes,” she said slowly. “You do.”

Mulder reached out to grab a chair and missed. “Oops,” he said, the moment broken. He tried again and pulled the chair away >from the kitchen table. “Just gonna… sit down here,” he said, once again surprised at himself for this occasional awkwardness. Sometimes a simple glance from her made his mouth go dry and his knees turn to jelly. Scully, seemingly unaware of Mulder’s bumbling, brought out plates and silverware and joined him at the table. The voice of Billy Joel was the only sound accompanying their dinner for a while. Finally, Mulder spoke up.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you this rattled by a case.”

Scully looked squarely at him. “I’m not rattled, Mulder.”

“Oh. Okay. For a minute there I thought maybe you were a little unnerved, as am I, and that maybe we could talk about it.”

Scully looked away and sighed, her façade cracked. She was still for a moment, then she reached across the space between them and took Mulder’s hand. She turned it over and stared at it as she gathered her thoughts.

“That woman today, Ellen Tierney…” she began, then was silent for a moment as she bit on her lip. “When I see people in physical pain, I know that there’s something that I can do to help them. But the pain in her eyes, Mulder… I could feel it.” Scully met his eyes with a tender look. “And I couldn’t help but think about how I would feel if I lost you.”

Mulder stroked his thumb across her hand thoughtfully. What could he say? Assurances of a long life together would ring hollow, considering the business they were in, the enemies that they faced. The knowledge of how quickly it could end was always right below the surface, kept there by the memories of the many close calls that they’d already survived.

“The only thing I can promise is that I love you, Dana Scully. And that I will always be right here,” Mulder said quietly, reaching over to put his hand over her heart. Scully covered that hand with both of hers, feeling the life in her beat against his palm.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” she whispered.

Mulder pulled her to him and wrapped her in his arms. “Feel me, Scully,” he said in her ear. “I’m here. I’ll be here as long as God or whatever it is leaves me on this earth.”

Scully framed his face in her hands and smiled. In the five months since the first time they’d made love, she had never regretted filling that last space between them, as she’d thought that she might. She had been so afraid – afraid of that final connection, afraid of admitting what he meant to her. But, in the end, she had listened to her heart and had never looked back. She wasn’t about to start now. She lowered her mouth to his and kissed him gently. Mulder’s hands smoothed her hair and traveled down her spine, sending hot waves through her body.

“Mulder…” she moaned.

“I’m right here,” he whispered.

“Make love to me…”

He took Scully by the hand and gently drew her down the hall. Clothes were quickly discarded in a forgotten pile on the floor. Then they were in her bed, and his hands were on her, and his lips, but it wasn’t enough. She held him to her and kissed him hard until he moaned into her mouth, “My God, what are doing to me?”

Scully drew her head back and looked at him, tracing the planes of his face with her fingertips.

“I love you, Mulder.”

His hands tightened on her ribcage, then moved up to caress her breasts, her neck, the curve of her shoulder, every touch a keepsake of the commitment they shared. “It’s real…” she breathed, her voice betraying the lingering wonder that she felt.

He couldn’t speak.

Instead, he led her on a silent journey to the place where there was no hesitation, no doubt. The only sound was the resonance of their love for each other.

Later, as the wall shadows danced, the darkness opened Scully’s heart unto itself as it so often did. She lay quietly in Mulder’s arms and gazed out the window where a few defiant stars watched her through the clouds. His chest rose and fell evenly with quiet breaths, and she lay her hand there and watched it move with him. The frailty of human life never ceased to amaze her. It could all end so quickly, just like that. She’d seen it so many times. Too many times. One last breath, and…

She pulled Mulder closer, and he mumbled something unintelligible as his hand came up to cover hers. Scully loved him more than she’d ever expected to, so much more than she was able to say. In the light of day they still kept a buffer between them, an invisible but palpable shield that helped them both believe that life could go on without the other. But here that shield melted in the heat of their faith, and they slept clinging to one another, always touching skin to skin. Scully closed her eyes. She let the sound of his breathing lull her, and as she drifted off she hoped that there would be no dreaming tonight.

As always, the first blush of morning sun came and threw the cloak of reality over them with it’s soft light. Mulder reluctantly awoke with Scully’s alarm, turned on early for him. He reset it to give her a little extra time, and climbed out of bed. Dressing quietly, he sighed at having to once again leave the warmth of their private life for the studied detachment of the office.

Before he left, he leaned over and gave Scully a light kiss on the cheek. She made a soft moaning sound but didn’t awaken, and Mulder smiled at the sight of her silky skin flushed with sleep. He watched her for a moment before pulling himself away and gently closing the door behind him.

Outside the air was clear and crisp. Mulder breathed into his hands, rubbing them together against the chill as he got into his car and headed for home. The word forced a derisive grunt from him. ‘Home’ wasn’t exactly how he thought of his cluttered apartment, and he spent little time there these days. Most nights he was at Scully’s, but that wasn’t quite ‘home’ either. They had never yet spoken of the possibility of sharing one apartment, and Mulder knew that it was for more than just the obvious reason of not giving away their relationship to coworkers. They had so recently tipped the delicate balance of their union into this new direction, and it was a more complex adjustment to make than he’d anticipated. After all, he reasoned, they weren’t kids. They had both been alone for a long time. They each had their little idiosyncrasies, their own way of doing things. They still both felt the need for some privacy from each other at times, Scully more so than himself, he thought. And he understood that, he really did.

But it didn’t make these early morning drives back to his apartment any easier. And it didn’t keep him from feeling sorry for himself and lonely as hell when Scully sent out the signal that she wanted to be alone, and he went back to tossing and turning on that damn couch in his living room. He would lie there, thinking about all that he didn’t know about her yet, and how much he ever would. She loved him, he knew that. She said it, and he felt it. So why did he sometimes have the sensation that she was just out of reach?

She could be so close, right beside him, naked bodies melded together, and yet… she held herself back. It unsettled him, because he felt powerless to change it and so vulnerable because of it. He needed her – he didn’t think she would ever know how much. When they had finally come together he had encompassed her so willingly, so completely – she filled every empty corner. And while Scully looked at him tenderly and touched him hungrily and whispered words of love to him, at times he felt as if she remained an island unto herself – surrounded by an aching river that he could never quite breach.

Mulder blinked hard and shook his head to clear the thoughts. He could be a patient man when he wanted to be, and he couldn’t think of anything he would rather be patient for. And this life sure was a damn sight better than the one he’d been living before he had finally told Scully that he loved her. He smiled to himself as he turned the car in to his apartment lot. Yeah, he could live with it.

Later that morning, Mulder and Scully found themselves at the apartment of Beth Cassidy, Ellen Tierney’s best friend. Mulder knocked on the solid oak door. No answer. He checked the number again.

520-that was the apartment.

He glanced down at his partner beside him. She stood there looking back at him. It was her “exasperated” face; a familiar sight in his not-so-familiar life. He pounded one more time. Still, no answer. Nodding his head at Scully, he motioned for their departure. Just then, the knob turned and a woman of about forty stared back at them.

“Can I help you?” She asked.

Stepping forward, Scully produced her identification. “Mrs. Cassidy,” she said, “I’m Agent Scully and this is Agent Mulder. We were wondering if you could answer a few questions for us. It won’t take long.” Scully raised the badge higher for the woman’s inspection. During this small exchange, Mulder noted several things at once. First, the woman practically clutched at the door. Her fingers clasped and unclasped the handle nervously. Next, her clothes appeared slept-in. They were spotted with dishwater stains, wrinkled from use. Mulder recognized the typical “at home” look, but judging from the building she lived in and the income bracket available to her, he surmised that this was not Beth Cassidy’s typical attire. Finally, her eyes darted back and forth between he and Scully, and not once did she maintain continual eye contact with either one. She seemed intent on examining and reexamining his partner’s identification: a standard avoidance tactic.

Apparently assured that they were who they said they were, Mrs. Cassidy reluctantly invited them in. The interior reflected the woman’s appearance. It was a mixture of neglect and chaos. Books lay half on and half off a series of shelves along the wall. The television was on, but the sound was muted. Bob Barker called for another contestant to join him on that tacky orange stage. Mrs. Cassidy walked in front of them picking up empty takeout bags and papers. She cleared a place for the agents on the couch and motioned for them to sit, leaving them there while she went into the kitchen. Mulder took the opportunity to study more details about Mrs. Cassidy. Few people understand how much a home can relay about the people who live in it.

Behind the organized chaos, there was complex simplicity. Photographs rested on shelves all around the room. There were family pictures, the ones that require patience and perfect timing and usually include one silly face. There were intimate snapshots which captured stolen glances and heartfelt emotions. Private moments on public display. Then there were the pictures that most people decorate their coffee tables with: the staged, well-lighted representations of who they want to be. It was one of these that Mulder picked up to study.

The couple smiled up at him from their glass shield. The picture was a fairly new one, probably taken within the last two or three years. Mulder wondered where…..

A crash interrupted his thoughts. He looked up to see the woman glaring back at him from the kitchen entryway. “What are you doing with that?” She pointed towards the frame in his hand. Not letting him answer, she swooped into the room and grabbed the picture >from his hands. Placing it back on the end table, she turned back to the agents.

Scully was alarmed by Mrs. Cassidy’s overreaction. She was about to jump in when she saw Mulder signal for her to remain quiet. Bowing to his expertise in psychology, she withheld comment. She watched as Mulder leaned back against the cushion, relaxing his body. The position was supposed to seem nonchalant, but Scully understood it’s purpose. If Mrs. Cassidy perceived any aggressive or invasive actions from the agents, she wouldn’t cooperate with their investigation. Instead of apologizing for touching the picture, Mulder tried flattery, “It’s a nice photograph. Was it a professional job?”

Mrs. Cassidy smiled at the compliment. She touched the frame and nodded. “Yes,” she remarked, “Mark and I had it done about two years ago. For our twelfth anniversary.”

“Do you remember the photographer’s name?” Mulder asked.

“Why?” A suspicious note crept into her voice.

“Just curious,” he countered, “I was thinking about getting some pictures taken and I like the style in this one.”

Fortunately, this answer appeased Mrs. Cassidy. She sat down in the chair opposite the agents and asked, “What can I do for you today?” The sudden shift in moods allowed Scully to broach the original reason for their visit.

“Mrs. Cassidy, we understand that you’re acquainted with Ellen Tierney. Is that true?”

“Yes,” she nodded, “Ellen and I have known each other for some time now. Our husbands used to work together and we became close friends. After…after the deaths, we joined a support group for military widows, so we’ve kept in close contact.”

“Did you know Mrs. Tierney is in the hospital?” Scully asked.

The woman paled, “God, no. What happened? Is she all right?”

“Physically, yes.” Mulder offered. “But there are concerns regarding her emotional health. She attempted suicide three nights ago, and Mrs. Cassidy, there have been several other military widows who recently did the same thing. Because of such circumstances, the agency is eager to find any information that could account for this pattern, so that perhaps we can prevent another woman from hurting herself or somebody else.”

As Mulder continued to explain the situation to Mrs. Cassidy, Scully retrieved the manila file from her briefcase. Something the woman said struck a note with her, and she wanted to figure out what it was. She flipped through the file, perusing the small font with a practiced eye. Holding up her hand, she interjected, “Sorry to interrupt, but Mrs. Cassidy, you said that Mrs. Tierney was in a support group?”

“Hmm? Well, maybe ‘support group’ isn’t an accurate term for it. Really, it’s a gathering of military widows who want to talk and commiserate with each other.” She waved her hand, “The military offers aid, but some of us want to get away from the regulated environment of our husband’s lives. Usually, we meet at a local restaurant where we eat, drink, and just talk.”

“That must be why there’s no mention of it in our report.” Scully stated.

“Who else is in this group?” Mulder asked.

Mrs. Cassidy shrugged, “There’s a bunch of us, Agent Mulder. I can’t list them all right now. Why do you want to know?”

The threatened tone of voice warned Mulder not to pursue the topic any further. To change the subject, he returned to Ellen Tierney.

“When did you see Ellen last?”

She thought a few moments before answering, “About a week and a half ago.”

“Was there any change in her behavior that you can recall?” Mulder asked.

“Agent Mulder,” she retorted, “mood swings are common in the grieving process. You see my house?” She gestured towards the dirty cups on the windowsill, “I haven’t cleaned it in over a week, and I don’t feel like doing it either. Though by next week, I’ll probably have scrubbed every inch of every corner. It’s the nature of the beast.”

Mulder granted her that observation. “That’s true,” he agreed, “but the other cases have mentioned a drastic change in behavior, and even mood swings can be too extreme.”

Scully had been listening to their conversation and decided it was time to introduce another line of questions, “Mrs. Cassidy, there has been reports that some of these women were having disturbing dreams. We’re…” She let her words taper off when she witnessed the sudden loss of color in the other woman’s face.

“Mrs. Cassidy, are you feeling ill?” Scully reached out to touch her arm, but the widow slapped her hand away.

Jumping back, Scully looked over at her partner. His eyes widened in surprise. They both returned their attention to Mrs. Cassidy as she got up out of her chair and went into the kitchen. The sound of the faucet running accompanied her absence. She reappeared moments later with her face and hair damp. The partners didn’t know what to make of it. Scully was about to ask what happened when the woman strode quickly to the front door and opened it.

“I don’t know anything about Ellen’s dreams or anything else. I don’t want to seem rude, but I’m not feeling well right now, so I think the two of you should leave.” Then, as an afterthought, she suggested, “I promise to call you if I remember anything else about Ellen.”

They sat there for a second. Their eyes met and asked the same thing, ‘What happened here?’ Mrs. Cassidy opened the door wider. Scully followed Mulder out. As she passed by, Beth Cassidy whispered something. Scully whirled around just in time to catch the look of panic on Beth’s face as she closed the door.

“Scully? Scully?”

His voice. Mulder. Scully quickly shook the fog from her head. Turning around, she almost connected with his chest. They stood there for a few seconds, almost touching, but not quite.

“What did she say?” he asked.

Scully shook her head slightly. “I thought she said, ‘ No traveler returns’.” She looked up at Mulder and he met her gaze with a quizzical look.

“What? What do you think she meant by that?”

“I don’t know,” Scully answered. “I’m not positive that’s what she said. Maybe I was hearing things.”

He glanced back at the closed door, “Well, I doubt that she would repeat it to you. She was probably just mumbling to herself.”

Scully pursed her lips thoughtfully as she followed Mulder’s gaze. “Yeah, maybe.”

“Don’t worry, Scully. If it was important, she would’ve called us back.” Placing one hand on her back, Mulder led her out the entrance of the apartment building.

Part Four

Kendra Morgan brought the bright red and yellow mug to her lips and sipped, an involuntary wince crossing her face as the bitter brew met her palate.

‘Uh!’ she thought. ‘Must’ve been Tony’s turn to make coffee today.’

Leaning back in her chair she scanned the paper, her trained eyes looking for something out of the ordinary, something unusual that would make an interesting story. She had been with WRCW for less than six months, and was always on the lookout for a way to distinguish herself. Right now she was on the bottom rung of the seniority ladder at the small television station, but she knew she didn’t want to stay there for long. Kendra was a woman who knew what she wanted and went after it. She ignored sexual stereotypes and racial barriers – unless they worked to her benefit. She was a woman in a competitive business, a business still largely ruled by “The Old Boys Club”, or as she often thought of it, “The Old White Boys Club.” She had few women friends in the profession, because, in her mind, they were all competition. The make-up of a T.V. news team was meant to be “Politically Correct” – but only as PC as was necessary. Just enough minorities to satisfy and draw viewers who identified with those same faces, yet keep the majority comfortable.

As an African- American woman, Kendra was well aware of the outside limitations that were always waiting to be thrust upon her. It just sharpened her need to succeed on her own terms.

At this point, her duties were mostly relegated to behind- the- scenes research on stories to be aired, typical rookie stuff, but she also did occasional on-air “human interest” reports. So far she hadn’t been assigned anything more than “fluff” – a new tiger cub at the zoo, a seventy six year old man who belatedly received his Purple Heart – fillers, basically. But Kendra knew she was headed for something bigger and better. After all, she didn’t know too many thirty six year old women who had been through what she had and come out with their heads up, ready to take on the world.

As she was about to turn to the editorial page, a name caught her eye. She put her mug down and peered closer at the small print, reading aloud to herself. “Lynn Marie Fulton Andrews, age forty two, died on October 12th…”

That was over a week ago. And the funeral was just now taking place? Kendra scanned further down the small obituary until she saw another name that was familiar.

“… was preceded in death by her husband, Major Marshall Andrews…”

It was her. She pictured the last time she’d seen Lynn Andrews. It couldn’t have been more than a couple of months ago. She seemed in good spirits, looked healthy, her blonde hair pulled up on her head and fighting the same twenty or thirty pounds that many women her age were battling.

Jesus.

If she remembered correctly, Lynn had a couple of kids who couldn’t be more than teenagers. Kendra read the obituary again. No cause of death was given. AIDS? Suicide? Murder?

She sat back and sighed, shaking her head. That was a real shame. Lynn had been a kind, generous woman. Even though they’d been little more than acquaintances, she had been one of the first to offer help to Kendra as her husband lay dying of cancer last year. Kendra knew through the military grapevine that Lynn’s own husband had died not that long before of a massive infection. But that’s how military families often are; huddling their wagons together in a narcissistic circle, taking care of their own.

Kendra sighed again. Yep, that was a real shame.

Her arms would feel heavy. Her legs would be numb. If someone stood next to the bed while she was sleeping, they would’ve sworn she was dead. Her body was completely still. As composed as a marble statue. Every once in awhile an eyelash twitched, a muscle twinged, but no other movement occurred. And she remained that way for hours on end until she awoke from her sleep.

The process of awakening was painful. Her eyes opened wide in fright, her mouth issued a silent scream, and her arms stretched out to embrace….nothing. Then a profound sadness settled over her, and she would spend the rest of her day trying to recover from the night.

Yet Beth Cassidy wouldn’t change a thing, even if she could.

When she was alone, her experience didn’t seem so strange. Dreams were dreams. They carried little importance in the everyday world, but as the dreams started to take over her thoughts and feelings, she slowly drew away from the nonessential activity taking place beyond her windows. It was enough to stay at home and count the hours to bedtime. Beth had been striving to keep her nights secret, withholding information from family and friends around her. She went to work each morning. She showed up for appointments, meetings, and lunches with friends. To the casual observer, Beth was moving on with her life just like everyone else. Few people knew about the neglected house. Even fewer were able to discern the dark circles that lay beneath the carefully applied makeup around her eyes. The cloak of widowhood protected her from overly intrusive questions. What person wants to badger a woman who has lost so much?

The dreams began about three weeks ago, and today would have been her fourteenth wedding anniversary. They had started out innocently. He would come into her bedroom, lay down on the bed, take her into his arms, and recite an old fairy tale that she only half listened to. Then, she had the same dream the next night, and the next, and the next until it became the only thing she wanted to do. Beth found a cursed contentment in his nightly visits. They promised the security which abandoned her the day he died. She justified her increasing isolation by telling herself that his ghost was God’s way of compensating her for her pain. And like Hamlet, Beth repeated that age old proverb, “To sleep, perchance to dream.”

The day of her anniversary dawned like any other Friday except that Beth didn’t rise from her bed. She had called in sick right before the visit from those FBI agents. As soon as they left she had begun cleaning her house and setting things in order. She let the answering machine pick up all of the concerned callers. A compulsion held her like a demon, and by the time night fell, she was ready.

Beth lay down on the bed carefully. She pulled the covers over herself, the same linen that was on the bed the last day of his life, and she closed her eyes. Minutes passed until her body relaxed into the death-like repose, but when it finally did, the dream started immediately.

First, it is the mist. Perhaps, it is there to remind her that the dream isn’t real, not that it matters much. In the great scheme of things, one woman’s dreams can hardly compare to the memories she uses to decorate them. And that’s what the dreams are…..mere memories mixed up together to create a new world.

As usual, he appears. No prelude introduces him. No fanfare heralds his arrival. He just returns to the place she longs for him to be: close. Beth feels the comfort of his presence, and although she is not a woman normally given to so-called “psychic” experiences, Beth ignores her own doubts about the realm separating reality and everything else. A smile. A touch. A lingering caress. And it is like he never left. The seconds stretch into minutes and finally, he speaks, beginning their conversation the same way he has every other dream tossed night, with a line from her favorite song, “I want to paint you naked on a big brass bed with bright orange poppies all around your head.” It is a secret recognition, a private handshake of sorts, letting Beth know it is him and he is there.

Beth reaches a tremulous hand towards him, “Come to bed,” she whispers.

Standing just beyond the brush of her fingertips, he shakes his head sadly, replying with “You know I can’t.”

“I know,” her hand drops, “but at least you know I want you to.”

His eyes turn to look at the window. His gaze settles on the old rocking chair just beneath it; he pulls it closer to the bed and sits down. Like a gentle breeze, he rocks back and forth, but his eyes never leave her.

“Tell me the story.” Her words stop the chair’s motion.

“I can’t..no,” his voice breaks, “I don’t want to do that tonight.”

“Tell me the story,” she insists again. His silence answers her.

Angry for some unknown reason, Beth leans over the bed, almost within touching distance of him and demands, “Tell me the story, now.”

The slight drop of his head indicates his consent. Languidly, he stretches his body, giving himself a moment to graph the road between his thoughts and his words. But then, he begins:

“There is a story, not told often but well-known, about a man who returned from the land of the dead to retrieve his love. This man lived without name or ancestry; he simply existed. Until there came a day when he saw her. She was as beautiful as she was kind, as graceful as she was generous, and the man fell in love with her.”

He stops the story to look at Beth. Her eyes tell him to continue. Reluctantly, he carries on:

“In love, the nameless man found identity and peace. He belonged to someone, to someplace. To the place she lived and he pledged himself to protect and honor his love and her life. One day, war began in the world and the man, afraid for his love’s safety, decided to leave and fight the war. She stood by the door as he walked away, praying softly for his return. And he did return, many times, but war is like a tangled ball of thread. Just when one knot has been untied, another one shows up. But they were a team, these two. They were halves of a perfect whole.”

Stopping again, he stares at Beth. A lifetime of love could’ve passed through his mind, but Beth paid no attention. Her mind was enchanted by the story, leading her to say, “Go on. I want to know the end.”

He sits there a moment before getting up. Beth looks up in surprise. In all of the other dreams, he remained in the chair throughout the night. Tonight, however, he slides smoothly onto the bed, but still remains beyond her touch. A tear falls upon his cheek and his cracked voice begs her, “Don’t make me do this. Let it end here. Wake up, Beth.”

“No,” she shakes her head for emphasis.

An angry compulsion distorts his face and he asks again, “Please? Don’t you understand? The story ends and so do you. Wake up, dammit.”

She shakes her head again. Defeated, he does something he’s never done before. He leans in close, so close that she can almost feel the ghost of a breath. He stills his movements and remaining in this intimate position, he continues:

“Then one day, he didn’t return. But she already knew he was gone. On half knows when the other half dies; it’s a cruel deal nature offers lovers. She went on as best she could, but one night, he came back. The reasonable part of her knew that he wasn’t real, but how could she turn away from the possibility of a miracle? So, he visited her each night, keeping her company and telling her stories. He returned as he was: the man she loved.”

Beth notices the thickening air. He leans in even closer and says:

“One night, not long after his first visit, the nameless man told his love why he returned. Like a minstrel, he recounted the glorious tale for her. His eyes grew watery as he neared the end.”

Beth feels a drop of wetness land on her skin….

“And in a trembling voice, he tells her that the price for returning is the most precious moment of his life.”

His hands, which had been resting at his sides, move towards her. They hover barely an inch away from her hair. His eyes trace the strands he dare not touch, and he smiles into her slowly closing eyes before saying:

“And his love asks him what that moment was, and he, caught between a promise and a pact, said as his lips brushed hers, ‘Your kiss.’”

A heartbeat of light bursts in her chest. Beth senses some nameless event passing through her. Eyes meet hers, a breath takes hers. Something explodes.

Her ears echo with the sound of his voice. Swirls of emotions and sensations bombard her, but a part of her holds still just to listen to the last line of their monstrous tale.

“And his love died”

Part Five

1:14 a.m.

Scully sighed quietly as she glanced at the glowing numbers on the bedside clock. She had been tired when she went to bed tonight, exhausted actually. She’d lain in Mulder’s arms trying to decide if she had enough energy to even think about sex, but fell asleep before she made any conclusions. Now, two hours later, her eyes were wide open and would not close no matter what she did. She sighed again. Ah well, at least it was Friday night, and no alarm clock would interrupt her whenever she did get back to sleep tonight. With a practiced movement, she gently slid out of bed and walked noiselessly from the bedroom.

She went to the living room window, arms crossed over her light cotton nightgown. The moon was full tonight, a round circle nearly brilliant with it’s reflected light. It was hard to believe that November was here already, but the chill that now settled with the darkness made it hard to ignore. November. Soon it would be a whole year since Emily’s death. Scully wasn’t looking forward to Christmas this year, and she was afraid that it would be many more Christmases before the horrible memories of the last one faded.

She couldn’t help but smile as she thought of one thing that would make this holiday a little easier to bear. Her first Christmas with Mulder. Well, their first Christmas really together. She recalled the warm family gatherings at her mother’s home every year, and the thought of adding Mulder to the mix sent a chuckle stealing from her. Well, it should be interesting anyway.

The smile faded as Scully came back to the present. She was tired of this somber cloud that seemed to settle over her at will lately. There was nothing that she could do to change the past, and she usually wasn’t one to dwell on it. She was thankful for so many things in her life now: she was in perfect health, the cancer remaining in complete remission and no evidence of sequelae from the unknown virus that she’d been exposed to; she and Mulder had managed to remain partners and re-open the X-Files; and now, of course, they had each other to turn to as they both had wanted to do for so long. But reminding herself of all that was good about her life now didn’t seem to help when she fell into this mood.

A sigh escaped, and she hugged her arms closer. She was a smart woman, and even though she was a doctor it didn’t take one to figure out that it wasn’t only this odd case that had been weighing on her lately. Any armchair psychiatrist could see that she had so many unresolved emotions just below the surface, desperate to be shared, to lighten some of the weight that she carried. But she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She just couldn’t talk about Emily. There was too much that could never be brought out in the open. Her family knew only the most watered down essentials, and that’s the way she planned to keep it. There was no one in the world who could know all that she knew about that child – her child.

Except Mulder. And she resisted every attempt that he made to get her to talk about what was troubling her of late.

Unseen in the shadows of the bedroom, Mulder watched. He leaned his head against the doorframe, his heart heavy. When Scully lost herself in the world she was in now, he felt lost as well. She thought she hid it well, he knew. He’d found her like this several times recently, after she thought he was asleep. The truth is that he usually was asleep, like tonight. But he felt the loss of her when she left the warm bed, even when it was just to get a drink of water or use the bathroom, and he always awakened.

The first time Mulder had found her here, he had come to her and asked what was wrong. Nothing, she said. Just couldn’t sleep, she said. On other nights when he’d seen her standing in the semi-darkness with that look on her face, that look that said she was so far away, he had left her her privacy. Scully needed that time alone, that’s just how she worked things out. At least that’s what he’d been telling himself. The truth was that it hurt him that she still held so much from him, still kept so much of herself locked away, even now. He felt helpless. He wanted so much to take her in his arms and soothe that look from her face, make her give him some of the load that she carried. But she held it so tightly to her, and he was afraid to push too hard to get beneath it.

Mulder winced as he heard Scully sigh, the sound piercing him like a knife. Without thinking, he moved from the darkness and came up behind her. She heard the sound of his footfall and turned her head to acknowledge him.

“Hey,” she said quietly. “Did I wake you?”

Mulder wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, her back cool against his bare chest. “Uh-uh,” he replied, shaking his head. He nuzzled into her hair and breathed in the scent he’d come to love so much. “I just missed you,” he mumbled into her neck.

Scully smiled and leaned back into him, covering his arms with her own. “Sorry.”

He shook his head again. “No,” he began. “I don’t want you to be sorry.” He brought his hands to her shoulders and turned her to face him. “I want you to talk to me,” he said softly.

She hesitated a moment, then forced a faint smile. “What about?”

Mulder held her eyes with his, hoping she would see the wall between them. Finally, he dropped his gaze and turned away. Scully reached for him, her hand holding his arm.

“Mulder, what…? …wait.”

He turned back, and she could see the hurt on his face.

“Scully, what could be so terrible… so painful… that you can’t tell me about it? After all that we’ve been through? Don’t keep denying it! I see you out here, in the dark, night after night… ” His voice softened, and he reached out to stroke her cheek. “You are the strongest person I know. You can make it alone through anything, Scully. But you don’t have to. I’m here for the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t shut me out …”

Scully closed her eyes as tears burned behind the lids. How to explain to him what she didn’t really understand herself? If only she’d never touched the soft curls, held that small soft body against hers, smelled the child-fragrance that was more precious to a mother than the most expensive perfume. Learning that Emily was of her body was enough to knock her finely tuned senses into turmoil. But to have held her, cared for her for such a short time… to have watched her die… coupled with the knowledge that she would never have that again – how to grieve for such a thing? A child that wasn’t completely a child, made >from her yet not, longed for and at the same time abhorring the method of her creation… it was too much to put into words.

When she opened her eyes the denial was gone, replaced by a plea for understanding and patience. Her arms went tightly around him and he closed his own over her. She had unlocked the door at least, Mulder thought. It would have to do for now. When she was ready to open it, he would be waiting. He kissed the top of her head and lay his cheek against it. They stayed that way until Mulder broke the silence.

“Come back to bed, baby,” he said quietly.

Scully nodded, and they walked hand in hand back to a place where there was no room for barriers between them.

The small, oval pills were smooth in her hand, and Beth stared at them for a long while as she sat on the edge of her bed. It wasn’t fear that kept her there, or second thoughts; there was none of either. Just an odd sense of being out of herself, aware yet displaced, her movements that of slow motion underwater.

She reached for the water on her nightstand, and put the small handful of tablets in her mouth. There was an immediate bitter taste, but Beth barely noticed, and drank only a small amount of water from the glass. She tipped the brown prescription bottle up again, and five or six more pills rolled into her hand. Calmly she threw back her head as she dropped them in her mouth and followed with another sip of water. Twice more she repeated this macabre dance, until the bottle was empty.

Smiling, she lay down on the bed. He would come, she knew. And, finally, this charade of a life would be over.

Beth drew the quilt up beneath her neck as she waited. She was cold suddenly, so cold. Her body shivered, teeth chattering, and she bit her lip to make it stop. The room grew more dim, and the moonlight that radiated through the window waved and shimmered like a falling star. Then, as she felt him close his arms over her, her body warmed and relaxed.

“I knew you would come,” she tried to say, but she only heard the hum of his voice in her ear, soft and low and so soothing.

“Rest, now,” he said.

And she did.

Part Six

Kendra screwed her mouth into an annoyed frown as she read the new “human interest” story assigned to her. GIANT BEEHIVE SCARES NEIGHBORHOOD, screamed at her from the top of the page. “Hmmph!” she huffed aloud to no one. “The only humans who’d be interested in this story are beekeepers!” Procrastinating, she wandered over to Al Reed’s desk. The older heavy-set man drew back in mock fear as he looked up and saw her face.

“Uh, oh. Another dog-saves-master-from-fire story?”

Kendra dropped into a chair nearby. “No – worse. Bees- chase- kids story.”

Al bit his bottom lip in sympathy. “Hang in there kiddo, you’ll get there. You’ve got what it takes.”

Kendra was thoughtful for a moment. She believed she did have what it took to be a good investigative reporter, if she just had the chance. But time was not exactly on her side. She had only been at this career a short time, after spending most of her twenties as a clothing buyer for a high end department store in Atlanta. Then she met Lt. Colonel Tom Morgan, and her world had turned upside down.

He’d been eleven years her senior, a career Marine nearing retirement. Tom had been married before, with an eight year old daughter. Kendra’s parents thought she was crazy. But she knew it was right, they both did, and they were married after a true whirlwind courtship. She happily followed him to D.C. after his retirement, where he accepted a position with Smith-Holson, as head of security for their research labs.

Kendra quickly settled into their new life there, and for a time she enjoyed the role of housewife, decorating their new home and giving dinner parties for new associates. But after many disappointments, they learned that their new life would not include more children, and before long that old restlessness began to plague her. With Tom’s encouragement, she decided to go back to college. Her inquisitive mind led her on a track to journalism, and she received her degree two months before Tom was diagnosed with cancer last year.

His illness progressed quickly, his death a blow from which she was unsure that she would ever recover. Her survival instinct was strong, however, and now here she was. But she felt her years now. Tom’s death had added a decade to the age of her soul, even though it didn’t show physically. Kendra knew that she was still an attractive woman, and her years in the fashion business had taught her how to make the most of it. She was keenly aware, though, of the young wrinkle-free women who were years ahead of her in experience, and Kendra was not a patient woman.

“Kendra?”

She blinked and turned to Al. “Sorry,” she said with a laugh. “Just taking a trip down memory lane there for a minute.” Leaning curiously over his desk, she asked “So – anything interesting yet this morning?”

Among other things, Al monitored police radios for breaking events that might be worth sending a crew out after. He glanced at the things he’d jotted down already in the thirty five minutes that he’d been there this morning.

“Oh, nothing too exciting yet… let’s see, six car pile up on 295; a break in at a pawn shop; drive by shooting in Michigan Park a few minutes ago; a suicide victim in Arlington, been there a couple days, on Jordan Street…”

Kendra came around to Al’s side of the desk. “Where was that again?” she asked.

“Umm… 520 Jordan Street. I looked it up already, name’s Cassidy.”

“Beth Cassidy?” she asked, already knowing what the answer would be.

Al looked down through his bifocals. “Elizabeth… yeah. Why, did you know… Kendra? Are you all right?” Al stood and put his hand on Kendra’s shoulder. Her eyes were closed and her hand trembled over her mouth. “Kendra? Sit down, honey. Come on, sit down.”

She shook her head and opened her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she steadied herself. “I’m all right, I’m all right.” She walked to her desk and grabbed her purse. “I’ll be back, Al.”

Al let out a sigh and shook his head. She pushed herself too hard, that girl. Way too hard.

Death is a nasty business. Mulder acknowledged that not- so- brilliant observation shortly after beginning his career at the FBI. Investigating death is a grueling emotional roller-coaster. People want answers, and when the FBI can’t produce ready-made, pre- packaged ‘here’s whodunit’ scenarios, people get angry. Superiors call for more time, fellow agents demand reprieve, and the families and friends of the deceased can be counted on for two things: questions and more questions.

Over the years, Mulder had found that some of his most difficult cases to be suicides – because the natural human impulse is to blame someone else. ‘No,’ they would say, ‘she didn’t kill herself. No, that’s just not possible.’ Unfortunately, for them, it is. Even the ivy- league scent of his psychology degree didn’t give Mulder an advantage in counseling the survivors. After all, he’d been closer than he liked to think about. How can one explain the circumstances that would lead up to the moment when death appeared more suitable than life? Only the dead can do that and, well, they’re dead.

Not for the first time, Mulder wondered how Scully dealt with it. She was more intimate with the conclusion of life than anyone he knew, but working with it day after day seemed to leave her unaffected most of the time. Of course it was the intimacy that so inured her to the emotions of it – as a child who grows up in a war zone eventually lives deaf to the sound of guns and bombs. Or maybe she was just able to concede to its ultimate superiority? Everything dies, or so they say.

A pungent odor of decay in his nostrils reminded him that it was not the time or place to ponder philosophical thoughts. The smell originated from the white sheet on the bed, the one with the body underneath. Scully came in behind him and walked directly to it. She pulled the sheet back with gloved hands, studying the body soberly. Mulder made a face and put his hand over his nose and mouth.

“How long do you think, Scully?”

Scully leaned over and touched the discolored skin, then attempted to move the stiff joints with practiced hands. Her eyes roamed over the body quickly, taking in color, texture, translucence of the tissue.

“At first glance I’d say at least 36 hours, maybe more.” She straightened her spine and rubbed her back in anticipation of the long hours ahead. She looked at Mulder. “Guess I know what I’ll be doing today.”

Mulder nodded and looked around the bedroom. The FBI’s presence had already been felt here this morning as they collected the minute evidence that might lend the agents clues to this baffling case. He glanced down and fingered the plastic bag that held what was presumed to be some sort of suicide note found on the bedside stand. The handwriting was hooked and tortuous, wandering in ungainly rows across the unlined page.

To die, to sleep – The heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, tis a consummation devoutly to be wished to die, to sleep – to sleep: perchance to dream – ay, there ‘s the rub For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

Mulder recognized it as a passage from ‘Hamlet’, mangled punctuation notwithstanding. A sad, last grasp toward reality. He turned again to his partner.

“Quite a change from when we were here Friday morning, eh?”

“Yeah,” Scully agreed. “It looks like she scrubbed the place top to bottom. Not exactly the behavior you’d expect from someone who was being forced to commit suicide to cover up her own murder.” Scully shook her head sadly. “I just feel sick, Mulder. I mean, we were here on Friday! Was she thinking about it then? Planning it out as she talked to us? Is that what she was trying to tell me?”

Before he could answer, Mulder caught a flash of aqua out of the corner of his eye. He turned and saw a woman trying to push her way past the police guard at the front door. Scully quickly covered the body as Mulder hurried to the living room.

Mulder attempted to block her view, but it was obvious that the woman had already caught sight of the body through the open bedroom door. She stood there transfixed, staring past him, quiet now. Mulder sent a questioning glance at the officer, who shrugged indifferently and said, “Says she’s a friend. I told her she can’t get in here.”

The woman’s face remained impassive, oblivious to the two men, her large brown eyes fixed on the white sheet in the next room.

“What’s your name, Ma’am?” Mulder asked.

After a long moment she focused her eyes on Mulder’s. “Kendra,” her voice betraying just a slight quaver. “Kendra Morgan.”

Mulder waited for her to comment further, but she didn’t. He finally asked, “Were you a friend of Mrs. Cassidy’s?”

“Yes,” she said quietly, looking away. “Once upon a time.”

Mulder wondered how a friend would know to come here. His suspicious mind began to take note of several things about ‘Kendra.’ Judging from her shock, she wasn’t lying about being acquainted with Beth. He studied her for a few seconds while she gathered back her scattered wits. Her clothes told him that she was a successful woman. Business suit, expensive shoes, lightly applied make-up. Enough to notice but still natural. A very attractive woman.

He was about to ask when “once upon a time” might’ve been when Scully tapped him on the shoulder. She nodded at Kendra, which was Scully’s tactful way of greeting and dismissing all distractions, and she pointed down towards her left hand. A brown prescription bottle, probably full a couple of nights ago, rested in a clear evidence bag on her palm. The pair moved away from the door as Mulder squinted, but he couldn’t make out the words on the label. It was getting harder and harder to read that small print without his damn glasses, and he looked back up at Scully. She immediately knew the problem and read the label to him.

“Seconal, 100 milligrams. It seems this was her last refill. Both literally and figuratively,” Scully said. Then she motioned back toward the front door. “Who was that?”

“Says she was a friend of the victim’s.”

“Did she say anything?”

“Not yet,” Mulder said. “Let’s go talk to her.”

Kendra had moved away from the front door and was leaning against the wall in the hallway, her head down, eyes closed. She looked startled as Mulder called to her.

“Ms. Morgan?” Mulder asked quietly. “I’m Agent Mulder, this is my partner, Agent Scully.” The two of them held their badges up nearly simultaneously.

“FBI?” Kendra asked, her eyes widening. “What the hell is the FBI doing at a suicide?”

Scully stepped forward. “How do you know it was a suicide?”

Kendra closed her eyes again and pinched the bridge of her nose. “I was with a friend of mine… when I heard it on his police scanner.” She opened her eyes and looked sadly at Scully. “Is that what happened?”

“How were you connected with the victim, Ms….”

“Morgan,” Kendra volunteered again.

“…Ms. Morgan?” Scully continued.

Kendra sighed and leaned heavily against the wall again. “We… were friends… until a few years ago. We had a… falling out. I haven’t seen her in about three years. It was about something so stupid.” She closed her eyes and sighed again. “I didn’t even go to her husband’s funeral.”

Mulder spoke up. “To your knowledge, did Mrs.Cassidy have a history of mental illness?”

Kendra shook her head, looking from Mulder to Scully. “No! Not at all. I just don’t understand this.” Suddenly she picked her purse up from where she’d dropped it on the floor. “I… I have to go- I have to get to work.”

Scully pulled a small pad of paper and a pen from her pocket. “Wait a moment – where can we reach you if we have more questions?”

Kendra distractedly rattled off her address and phone number as she backed away from the agents. With a last flustered look she said, “I have to go… have to go…”, and she hurried down the hall. Scully gave Mulder a raised eyebrow before they turned and went back into the apartment.

Kendra made it downstairs before the tears started. She steeled herself against it, ordered herself to stop, but the trickle soon turned to a flood. Dropping down on the bottom step, the past months and years fell away and the wounds of loss were as fresh as the salty wetness on her face.

Part Seven

The giant beehive story came off without a hitch. Kendra interviewed neighbors who complained about the lack of assistance >from local authorities as several teenagers danced around behind them, trying to get their faces on camera. By early afternoon her story was in the can, and as she watched the final tape she was amazed at how normal she looked while her mind was reeling. The image of that FBI woman throwing the sheet up over Beth’s body kept floating before her like the last ghostly reflection on a television screen before it fades to black. All she had seen was a pale arm and hand, nails perfectly manicured as always, before the sheet settled over the outline of Beth’s still form.

Kendra well remembered the last time she’d spoken with Beth Cassidy. A late night at a party, after too many glasses of wine had been had by all. Beth had been straight out drunk, there was no other way to put it. She’d been under a great deal of strain at the time, having learned a few months earlier that her husband Mark had had an affair. Beth and Mark had separated for a short time, but then seemed determined to work things out. Still, Kendra remembered that the air was tense between them that night. Beth had been one of the first friends that Kendra had made when she moved to D.C. Having long been an “insider”, Beth was a popular fixture on the social scene with her outgoing personality and biting wit. She had taken Kendra under her wing immediately, and over time they’d become close confidantes. Then Mark Cassidy had to screw it up.

Completely by accident, Kendra had found out about Mark’s affair several weeks before Beth did, and had agonized over what to do. She counted both Beth and Mark as dear friends, as did Tom. Her rational side told her to stay out of it, that they would work it out on their own. Her heart told her to spill the beans. But by the time she’d decided what to do, Beth had discovered Mark’s secret.

Kendra never let on to either of them that she had known, but she had made one mistake. She had discussed her torn loyalties with a third person. Someone she thought she could trust. The night of the party, she’d found out different. Unbeknownst to Kendra, that same “friend” was having a tête-à-tête with Beth in another room that night. It was painful to remember the look on Beth’s face as she walked toward her – instantly, Kendra knew.

“I wanna talk to you!” Beth’s voice slurred slightly as she spoke. Kendra looked around as several pairs of eyes turned toward the two of them.

“Okay, Beth, keep it down…”

“Keep it down?” Instead, Beth’s voice rose in intensity. “Keep it down? You tell me, right now, did you know about Mark?”

“Beth…”

“Answer me! Did – you – know?”

Kendra stood mute for a moment, then nodded slightly as her heart sank. Beth’s face paled as the truth sank in, her eyes tearing.

“Beth, listen to me…”

“Fuck you, Kendra! I thought you were my friend!” She turned away and hurried out of the room before Kendra could say anything else, Mark close behind.

She had sobbed on Tom’s shoulder all the way home that night, and Beth had never spoken to her again.

Kendra sighed and leaned back in her chair as her mind was flooded with memories that had once been so neatly packed away. Her heart ached as she wondered what Beth had been going through that could convince her to give up. Kendra squeezed her eyes tightly again and shook her head. She knew all too well how easy it was to let the shadows of grief block out all light, how it took Herculean effort sometimes to smile, to go outside and mingle with strangers and not scream at them for being indifferent to your anguish. But the Beth she had known was not a quitter. It was nearly impossible to reconcile the two in her mind.

And of course, there was the added question as to why the FBI were involved.

Obviously there was a criminal element implicated, but what in God’s name could that be? Had Beth been under suspicion for some wrongdoing? Had she strayed that far from the woman that Kendra remembered?

Suddenly, Kendra opened her eyes and sat up straight.

Maybe it wasn’t suicide.

Maybe it had just been made to look like suicide.

Jesus.

And Lynn Andrews? Two suicides by military widows within the past two weeks – coincidence? Her body sagged again as she sighed and thought, ‘Kendra, you are letting your imagination run away with you, girl.’ She was so tired. Sleep hadn’t been coming easily in the last few weeks – she’d been having such weird dreams lately.

But now her curiosity was piqued. It wouldn’t hurt to make a few phone calls – one of the advantages of having been in the military circle was the inside connections that she had made over the years. As she picked up the phone at her desk, Kendra was hoping to find some answers to soothe the sharp questions in her mind. But in her haste to get to the truth, she’d overlooked one thing.

What she would do if she found it.

Much later that day, Kendra sat in the darkness of her living room. The sun was long set, but she hadn’t bothered to turn on the lights. Less than an hour ago, she had received the final phone call of the evening, and was still trying to digest the information she’d gathered that day.

Not just Beth Cassidy. Not just Lynn Andrews. There were more, two that she knew of for certain. All widows of high level military or government employees, all supposedly committed “suicide”, all of their cases now under investigation by the FBI. A division known as the “X-Files” had been assigned to the investigation, said division made up of the two agents she had met at Beth’s apartment. A little more digging had only clouded things further – the X-Files agents were apparently most well known for their explorations into paranormal activities and otherwise unexplained cases. According to Kendra’s sources, the pair had only the most grudging respect granted them by their peers, due to their high solve rate. Otherwise, it seemed they were regarded as more of an inside joke. It was rumored that their division only existed because of contacts that they had within the government. Why would these two be investigating Beth’s death, as well as the others? But that was not even the biggest question that lay on Kendra’s mind right now.

She wanted to go after this story. And she wondered how she could want that and still look herself in the mirror.

Beth was dead. Mark was dead. So were Lynn and her husband. Some screwball porkbarrel department was investigating. It stunk to high heaven, and Kendra knew bone-deep that she could not let it lie. But who might she hurt by following her instincts on this? She told herself that she wanted the truth for truth’s sake, for Beth’s sake – but the words rang hollow in her own ears. She smelled a cover-up, and like a cat on a rat’s trail, her nerves were humming with the urge to jump on it.

She already knew what she would do. She’d just have to avoid mirrors for a while.

Scully was distracted as she walked down the front steps of the FBI building, her mind on seven women who had thought that death proved a more suitable existence than life. Mulder was several yards behind her and beginning to veer off in another direction. The two of them often spent their lunch hour apart, an unspoken agreement to allow for some breathing room. They each had separate errands to take care of today, and planned to meet back at the office afterward. Neither of them took notice of the woman headed toward them, or they may have recognized her.

“Agent Scully, can I speak with you a moment?” Scully looked up as the woman from Beth Cassidy’s apartment came within hearing distance.

“Ms. … Morgan, was it?”

“Yes, Kendra Morgan. From WRCW.” Kendra noticed over Scully’s shoulder that Mulder had turned in their direction and had quickened his pace. She also noticed that, almost imperceptibly, Scully’s demeanor changed from guardedly friendly to completely business-like when Kendra mentioned her affiliation with the media.

“What can I do for you, Ms. Morgan?” Scully asked.

“I’ve come to learn that you and Agent Mulder are investigating not only Elizabeth Cassidy’s death, but several other similar deaths as well,” Kendra said, her senses tuned for any clues that the two of them may give away. “I can’t help but wonder why the FBI is involved in a string of supposed suicides.” Pausing a moment for effect, she added, “Unless of course, they weren’t suicides.”

The two women regarded each other in silence for a moment before Scully spoke.

“We are not at liberty to discuss our investigation with you.” Scully took a step to walk away, Mulder at her side. But Kendra wasn’t ready to give up just yet.

“Agent Mulder, why would a unit such as the X-Files be investigating these deaths?” She asked loudly. “Is there some ‘paranormal’ link here? Aliens? Ghosts?”

Mulder stopped and turned back toward the reporter. Kendra walked up to face him, stopping just a foot away. “Why, Agent Mulder?” she said, her voice now low and intimately curious. “Could it be that the government actually wants to see some money well spent >from your department? Some tangible results?”

“Ms. Morgan,” Mulder began through clenched teeth. “When we have information that is able to be released, we’ll let you know.”

Kendra cocked her head slightly as she regarded the pair. “You leave me to draw my own conclusions then, Agent Mulder. Conclusions based on the facts that I have available to me about the X- Files.”

Scully’s firm grip on his arm kept him from saying more. “Come on, Mulder,” she said quietly. “Let’s go.”

He turned away reluctantly, his jaw set. He didn’t have a good feeling about this. Not at all.

Part Eight

The long piece of steel slipped easily into the lock. ‘Like taking candy from a baby,’ he thought as the bolt clicked. He pushed the door in slowly, keeping his ears attuned for any noise. Once inside, he crept through each room, making sure he was the only one in the apartment. Finding no one, he quickly removed his leather gloves, revealing the thin latex gloves beneath.

“I wish Ernie had come. Damn, why’d she have to go into labor tonight?” he wondered aloud, pushing an errant strand of dark hair from his eyes. But he knew he shouldn’t worry. Everything had checked out. His intended mark was at a friend’s for dinner and he knew that as soon as she left there, one of the guys would give him a head’s up. But still, something didn’t feel quite right this time. He shook his head, “I ain’t here to question, just to do.”

He pulled the small metallic box out of his jacket. Ducking into the bedroom, he took a quick visual survey of the room. There was a Queen size bed, two bedside stands, a long chest of drawers with a vanity mirror, and a various assortment of trunks and nicely decorated boxes. It was very feminine. He folded his long legs and sat down on the floor in front of the night stand with the artfully arranged crystals pieces and picture frames, the one that looked like it was used for nothing more than a knick-knack shelf.

The box was wrapped in layers of cellophane that took him a few seconds to remove. When he finished this task, he felt underneath the stand, checking for tears or splits which might crack the adhesive he’d brought with him. He found none. Applying the transparent glue quickly, he fastened the box to the belly of the table, flipping the small switch on its face as he finished. He stood and walked back across the room, pausing to glance back at the table. ‘Perfect,’ he thought. ‘She’ll never notice it.’

With a practiced eye, he scanned the room one last time to make sure that nothing appeared disturbed – it was necessary that he leave no trace of his visit. Ernie called him ‘anal’, but they both knew that, in this business, one mistake was death. Once he assured himself that the place was clean, he headed out. In the hall, he took off the latex gloves and reached inside his jacket for the compact cell phone. He pushed a button and waited for an answer at the other end of the line.

“Is it finished?” The voice crackled into his ear.

“Yeah,” he said quietly. He pushed the button on the elevator and waited for it to open. “It’s finished. Now, we wait.”

“It shouldn’t be too long. Dr. Girard built a timer into the device.”

The elevator doors opened. “Well, the only worry we have now is reconnaissance. We have to recover it before the police find it.”

The voice was mute. He stared at the decreasing numbers on the lit board. 5, 4, 3….then garage. The door beeped and opened again.

“Hey, are you still there?” he asked as he walked toward his car.

“Yes..I was just pondering our problem. But I think I have a solution. I’ll tell you more when you arrive.”

The phone clicked dead. He sat behind the steering wheel for a few moments and the thought that had haunted him for years suddenly arose again.

‘What have we done?’

‘Relax…

relax…

relax…’

The word repeated itself again and again, accompanied by slow exhalations as Scully willed her eyelids to stay closed. But, once again, her mind was set on its own course and her body had no say in the direction that it went. She began to lift her head enough to see the clock, but changed her mind and let it sink back into the pillow. What difference did it make whether it was 2 a.m. or 4 a.m.? It didn’t change anything, and she wouldn’t get back to sleep any faster.

Carefully pulling away from Mulder, she began to slide out of the bed. She had almost made it to the edge when she felt his hand around her wrist.

“Stay,” he said quietly. “Please.”

Her eyes could barely trace Mulder’s form in the darkness. She sat there, unmoving, feeling his pull on her. He waited silently, his hand still lightly around her wrist.

“Mulder…” she finally said, and tugged gently against his grip.

He tightened his hold on her. “Please, Scully.”

Scully’s heart began to pound in her ears. She felt trapped, panicking at the feeling of his hand on her, holding her here. She wanted to tell him to get the hell out, leave her alone, the anger building on the tip of her tongue. But she couldn’t open her mouth. Unexpectedly he let go, and they stared at each other for a long moment in the darkness.

“Please,” he said again.

Please.

Please come to me.

Please let me help you.

She saw the glint of Mulder’s eyes, a shimmer in passing. Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to be swallowed up by those eyes, covered and heavy and safe. She reached a hand to him, and he wove his fingers into hers. He waited as she inched slowly back and lay against him without a word. They lay that way for a long time, silent, Mulder stroking her hair as their entwined hands lay against his chest.

He waited.

Finally, he felt her move against him, and her words came hushed and soft.

“I keep thinking about it… I – I don’t understand why,” she began.

He waited.

“But sometimes I can even smell her, feel her hair. I know it’s just my mind playing tricks on me… But I imagine… what it might have been like… if things were different.”

Mulder squeezed his eyes tight. He’d had no idea that this was what had been weighing on Scully’s mind. Jesus, his heart ached for her.

“I think of what she’d been through in her poor little life, and I feel so angry, so… helpless. I could have kept her safe…” She pulled her hand from Mulder’s and covered her eyes. He felt warm tears on his chest, but still he waited.

“She was mine, Mulder! I know I said that she was never meant to be, but… she’s all I’ll ever have…” A choked sob escaped and Mulder held her tighter. His own failure to see her pain gnawed through him.

“I’m so sorry, Scully. God, I’m so sorry…”

She cried her tears of sorrow, and he hid his own of regret. When it was spent, they slept. In the end, nothing had changed – except that another drop of their blood had mingled, another fragment of souls shared. A little bit of life redeemed.

Wednesday morning found Scully clad in familiar green scrubs, topped with a white lab coat to ward off the morgue chill. She moved the mask up over her nose, then donned a double set of latex gloves. The body before her was long dead, having been exhumed by court order so that she could search for something, anything, that might have been missed in the first autopsy. This was Rachel Martinez, the second suicide related to this case, but at the time she’d been found there was no ‘case’ yet. Just a sad young woman who apparently became so depressed over the death of her husband that she decided to put a gun to her head.

As she re-opened the previous autopsy incisions, Scully couldn’t help but wonder about what had gone on inside the mind of this young girl. She chuckled to herself. This ‘girl’ was twenty seven years old. Funny how the older she got, the older that cut-off was. But this woman did look so young to be so terribly sad. The face was perfectly preserved, and Scully had to pull back the hair just rear of the right temple to see the neat entrance wound of the bullet. It was unusual for a woman to kill herself this way, which in itself was a puzzling fact about her. Women generally chose the less violent forms of suicide. What demons had been raging in her mind to cause her to go over the edge?

As with the other dead women in this odd case, Rachel’s history showed nothing unusual given the fact that her husband had died of a brain aneurysm just two years after they were married. Friends and family told a by-now familiar story: Rachel had a good support network, she had gone back to work, was going out with friends again, gave no indication that she was so depressed, everyone was shocked. It just didn’t make sense.

As she went through her routine, Scully made note that the previous autopsy seemed to have been done by the book. The proper specimens had been taken, organs removed and examined, everything done according to what they knew of the victim at the time. With this exam she went a little further, collecting specimens that were not always routinely checked. Vitreous humor, bone and marrow samples, fat, and more blood samples all made their way into collection containers. The internal organs were partially decomposed, but Scully gathered specimens where she could. After several hours she re-sutured the incisions and stepped back from the table, exhausted.

The visual exam was unremarkable, no tell-tale signs that had been missed the first time around. Her hope for a break lay in modern technology now. Between advanced toxicology screens and some high- tech microscopes, she prayed that she would find some answers.

Meanwhile, Mulder was delving further into the private lives of some of the victims. He was sure that the key to unlock this case would be there, if he only knew where to look. He’d already run through the basics time and time again, only to come up against a brick wall, but he continued the litany in his mind as he hoped for a clue: The women had all committed suicide, were all widows, had all been married to military men. They had widely varying backgrounds, and as far as he’d been able to discern only a few of them knew one another. A few of them were reported to have had unusual dreams in the weeks before their deaths. There was one surviving victim, who so far had been able to tell them very little except for some vague details of a strange recurring dream that she’d had. After the evidence collection team had gone through, he and Scully had been over Ellen Tierney’s place with a fine tooth comb and turned up nothing – nothing that pointed anywhere but to a woman who had tried to take her own life.

Mulder had not found any evidence of suspicious financial activity in these women’s lives – no unusually large bank deposits, no gambling debts, no financial worries of any kind, in fact. In every case, the woman was left very well provided for by their husband’s insurance payoffs. There were no greedy families that he had found fighting over the women’s wills. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

But he had a theory. Obscure as it was, at least it was a starting point. These women knew something. Or someone thought that they knew something. And they could not be allowed to live with that knowledge. And the dreams? Some kind of drugged hallucinations, he guessed. Someone was setting them up to look as if they had gone over the edge and kissed the world goodbye.

Mulder gripped the steering wheel harder and leaned back in his seat. An exasperated puff of air escaped between pursed lips. ‘Wow – crack detective work, Mulder,’ he told himself. ‘We’ve had this case for a week and that’s the best you’ve come up with?’

Sometimes he hated this job.

His back ached from sitting all day; driving, poring over records and more records, taking notes…

….and getting nowhere.

A run. That’s what he needed. A long, sweaty, heart pounding run – until his legs turned to rubber and his lungs burned and those dead women were far behind him. Then a hot shower, food, and Scully. Yeah. But maybe not in that order.

Part Nine

Mulder hummed quietly with the radio as he scooped strands of spaghetti onto two plates. He was starving, and his stomach growled angrily as the aroma of tomato sauce wafted down to tease it. He had run four or five miles, full out, letting his mind relax and wander. By the time he made it home the knots in his shoulders had eased, and he felt lighter than he had in days. A quick shower, a stop at the market, and Scully was in his arms before he knew it. All was right with the world.

Afterwards, he realized he should have known better.

The phone rang, and he heard Scully’s muted voice in the living room as she answered it. He ladled steaming marinara sauce over the pasta, then topped both with fresh Parmesan. Quite pleased with himself, he picked up both plates and turned to set them on the table. As he did, he caught sight of Scully standing completely still, phone in hand, eyes on him. The look on her face told him his dinner creation was about to go to waste. He set the plates down and quickly went to her as she clicked the phone off.

“What is it?”

“That was Skinner,” she replied. “He just finished watching Kendra Morgan do a story on the news about our little department, and it wasn’t exactly flattering.” Scully sighed as she sat down heavily in the nearest chair. “He said he’ll get a copy of it for us to see tomorrow.” She dropped her head in her hands. “Shit, shit, shit, shit!”

Mulder knelt down beside her and pulled her hands into his own. “Don’t get yourself in a tizzy yet, Scully. Maybe it was no big deal. She works for that little rinky-dink station, there probably wasn’t a handful of people who watched who even care.”

She looked up at him. “Mulder, Skinner saw it!”

“Well, okay,” he acquiesced. “Besides him, then.”

Scully pulled her hands away and clenched them closed, open, closed, open. “Don’t try to make me feel better, Mulder. This is not good, and you know it.”

“Scully, so she nosed around! It’s not like our department is a secret, even though I’m sure most of our colleagues wish that it was.”

“It’s not that I’m worried about, Mulder! I’m not ashamed of what we do. But if she starts snooping around in our private lives, who knows what could happen?”

He took her hands again and looked in her eyes, and couldn’t help but smile a little at her overreacting. “Scully, let’s not worry before there’s even something to worry about, okay? We’ve got enough to be concerned about with this case, now don’t we?”

Scully took a deep breath and closed her eyes as she blew the air out slowly. Opening her eyes, she looked at Mulder again. “Okay. You’re right. It’ll probably amount to nothing.”

“Good. Now come and eat. I’ve got my special marinara sauce that I personally poured from the take-out container and heated, which I then lovingly placed over a bed of steaming angel hair pasta, which I simmered myself, burning my finger in the process. See?” He lifted his left index finger to her view, displaying the small pink blister that was forming as he spoke. Scully chuckled and shook her head slightly.

“Mulder, is there anything that you can’t make fun of?”

He pursed his lips and thought a minute. “Hmm… ‘Melrose Place’. Way scary.”

Smiling, Scully leaned in toward him. “Kiss me, you fool.”

“Mmmm, I thought you’d never ask…”

Another morning, another cold drive to a cold apartment.

Mulder walked quickly to his car, wrapping his coat tight around him. He fumbled for the keys, hands stiffened from the chill. The air was still and quiet in the morning half-light, but it wasn’t unusual for cars to be moving in Scully’s neighborhood this early. He wasn’t sure what made him look up as the dark blue car passed by the drive. But he did, and he could swear that he saw Kendra Morgan looking at him from behind the wheel.

‘She was right. This is bad.’

Such was Mulder’s first thought as he turned off the VCR. Stone faced, Skinner had given them the tape he’d acquired of Kendra Morgan’s news report on the X-Files. He had at least given them the dignity of watching it in their own office before going to discuss it in his.

Mulder bit his lip and turned to Scully, who was sitting silently in his chair. Her only movement was that of her fingers digging into the armrests. Finally, she spoke.

“Jesus,” was all she said.

“Yeah, I’d say praying wouldn’t be a bad idea right now,” Mulder added.

Scully stood and walked from one end of their small office to the other, her stride quickening with each step.

“Wasteful, she says…” Her arm gestured angrily in the air. “Chasing ghosts, she says… I can’t believe her! She is compromising our investigation with this bullshit! All she has is some crumbs of information about a couple of these women, and she thinks she’s gonna break a big story wide open!”

“There’s more, Scully,” Mulder said quietly, his heart sinking. She stopped pacing and turned to him, a ‘what-else- could- happen’ look on her face. “I saw her driving past your apartment this morning as I was leaving. I think she was watching for me.”

Scully turned away and sighed, arms crossed in front of her. “Great,” she moaned. She sighed again and turned back to him. “Well, we might as well get this over with. Let’s go see Skinner.” Mulder nodded mutely.

The sound of Mulder’s knuckles on Skinner’s office door synchronized with the pounding in Scully’s ears. Despite the stoic façade, the in-your-face attitude she could muster when she needed it, she didn’t like being on the defensive with Skinner. His opinion of her meant more than she let on, and right now she felt like the naughty daughter who was out of favor. A little ashamed, but not sure why. She hated the feeling – it made her angry. Skinner knew nothing about the private life she had with Mulder, and their work continued to be intense and productive. The news report on the suicides they were investigating was nothing more than that, she reasoned. Kendra Morgan had a few facts and a few assumptions, that was it. They’d certainly been scrutinized before. So what if the woman had seen Mulder leaving her apartment? It proved nothing.

So why did she feel like she was going to throw up any minute?

Mulder’s face was impassive. He knew Scully was upset, but he was determined to keep this in perspective. Nobody knew about the two of them. This was about a case, and they’d done nothing wrong. Suddenly the door opened, and the A.D. motioned them in. They crossed the room silently and sat down. Skinner returned to his seat behind the desk. He took a deep breath and began.

“You’ve seen the report.” It wasn’t a question. They both nodded. “This is an extremely sensitive case – more sensitive than you may know. I’ve got a lot of pressure on me from above to get this thing finished quickly and quietly. That translates into pressure on you two. But now, it’s pretty obvious that that this is not going to be resolved quietly.

I have faith in both your professional abilities – that’s why I asked for you on this case. What I need now is an assurance from the two of you that everything will be ‘by the book’ – as clean as you can make it. Even if that reporter never utters another word about the X- Files, you’ve got the spotlight from above on you now. Unfair as it is, you have to prove that woman wrong – show that your department isn’t a waste of money and man hours -” Skinner looked directly at each of them for a moment as he added, “- and for the time being anyway, your personal behavior must be beyond reproach.”

Mulder spoke first. His voice was even, but a muscle twitched in his jaw as he talked.

“Our investigation has been thorough and completely ‘by the book’ thus far, sir. You know yourself that our record…”

Skinner held up a hand and stopped Mulder in mid- sentence. “There’s no need to argue that with me, Agent Mulder. Just remember what I’ve said. That will be all.”

Never one to let things rest, Mulder opened his mouth again. “But, sir-”

“That will be all, Agent Mulder. Continue on with your work.”

With that, Skinner stood and strode to the door. He opened it and waited expectantly as Scully and Mulder rose and looked at each other. Scully’s expression clearly asked Mulder to let it go for now. He nodded imperceptibly and they turned to leave. Scully avoided Skinner’s gaze as they exited, but Mulder glared at him as he passed by. Skinner closed the door behind them and leaned back against it, shaking his head with a sigh.

There were seven messages on Mulder’s answering machine when he arrived home that night, all from reporters. He stood at the window, watching the last hues of pink and orange fade to darkness as he listened to their pleas for interviews. When they were done, he jabbed the “Erase” button and swept them away.

Below him was the shadowy parking lot for his building, slowly filling with cars as people came home from work. He pressed his nose against the cold window for a moment, watching as a tenant from the first floor got out of his car and walked toward the front door. He didn’t know the man’s name, just as he didn’t know many of his neighbors in the building. But Mulder had seen this man enough to know that he was married, his wife being a tall brunette who often left their apartment wearing green scrubs. He’d seen them leave together in the evenings sometimes, hand in hand, talking and laughing. He would pass them and smile and nod, and they would say hello and continue on. Before he and Scully had become lovers, he hadn’t thought about them much more than that. But lately, sometimes when he would pass them in the hallway he felt a little twinge of – what? Envy, perhaps? Even though he and Scully seemed to deliberately avoid the topic, Mulder often thought about what the future held for the two of them, as he was sure she did too. Did she see them together in five years, he wondered? Ten? Thirty? With his dismal track record in that department, it had taken some time before he could see that far ahead.

But now, he did. He wanted to see what she would look like with gray in her hair. He wanted to walk down a dirt path with her as vibrant autumn leaves rustled on the trees above. He wanted to take her swimming in the lake near his family’s summer house, the one he and Samantha had cooled off in on so many searingly hot days. He wanted to hear all the stories of her childhood, reliving it with her as she reminisced. These past several months of shared dinners and weekends together and waking up next to someone he loved had re-awakened in him a craving for a home, a family, even if it was just he and Scully. He’d begun to hold onto that. But now, inexplicably, he felt it slipping just a bit. Just enough that it made him want to hold on tighter.

“We’ll get through this,” he said aloud. The words gave him little reassurance.

He quickly changed his clothes and headed to Scully’s. Scully kissed him at the door, as she always did. But she wouldn’t hold his gaze when he looked at her. She hastily turned her back to him and finished emptying take-out containers of Thai food onto two plates. Mulder sniffed the air and filled some glasses with ice water.

“Mmm, smells good.”

“Yeah,” Scully replied, and gave him a quick smile

A quiet tension pervaded the air as they ate. Scully picked at her food in silence. Mulder managed to eat a little more, although it was an effort to swallow. Afterwards, she washed the dishes as he dried and put them away. As she scrubbed the last fork, she spoke without looking at him.

“Mulder, I think we should be careful for a while.”

He stopped where he was, hand in mid-air, putting away a glass in the cupboard. He turned to her slowly, not wanting to hear what he was hearing.

“What do you mean, be careful?” Mulder asked, knowing exactly what she meant.

Scully dried her hands and came to him, laying her hands on his arms. “That woman, the reporter… she’s drawing a lot of heat our way right now. I think we should… lay low for a while.”

He stared at her. “You mean, stay away from each other.” Mulder shook her hands off and turned away.

Scully stayed where she was. She knew it would be useless to try to soothe him.

“Mulder, we knew this wouldn’t be easy. We knew there would be times when we would need to… be apart.”

He nodded, staring at nothing, her words hanging heavily in the air. H felt her hands, small and strong, on his back, his shoulders, squeezing his arms. The nearness of her made him catch his breath, and his heart squeezed into a painful knot.

“It’s only temporary, Mulder. Only temporary,” she whispered.

“You seem to be okay with the idea,” Mulder said through clenched teeth. He felt her hands drop away, and he turned to face her. She looked hurt, and surprised.

“I’m not okay with it, Mulder, not at all.” Her voice assured him that it was true, but anger and uncertainty surged to the surface, and it showed in his face. “Mulder…” Scully shook her head a bit and blinked. “Do you think I like this? The hiding and sneaking around? Not being able to say what I feel anywhere but here?”

“I don’t know, Scully, sometimes I think maybe you do. It’s kind of convenient for you, isn’t it?” He kept going despite the pain in her eyes, wanting to stop but unable to halt the crash landing he saw coming. “You get to keep your life separated into nice, organized pieces. No need to deal with what comes after this, because, for all we know, there may not be an ‘after this’, right?”

Scully leaned back against the kitchen counter, eyes wide, her hands in a steel grip on the edge.

“I think you should leave now, Mulder,” she said quietly.

He watched her for a moment longer, then grabbed his coat and left without a word.

Part Ten

Kendra jumped at the knock on the door, tea sloshing over the edge of her cup and leaving a reddish-brown stain on her pink robe.

“Dammit!”

Quickly reaching for a napkin, she blotted the spot as she glanced over at the clock. Who the hell would be knocking on her door at ten thirty at night? The knock came again, more insistent this time. Kendra threw the napkin on the kitchen table and went to the front door. Her anger turned to apprehension as she looked through the peephole and saw who it was.

“Agent Mulder,” she said through the door, her voice betraying a slight tremble. “Has there been another suicide?”

“No.”

“What is it, then?”

“I need to speak with you. About… a personal matter.”

“Agent Mulder, it’s late. I was getting ready to go to bed. Can’t this wait until morning?”

“No. Please… I’ll only be a minute.”

With a sigh, Kendra opened the door and motioned him in. Mulder stepped inside – barely. Closing the door behind him, he leaned against it and took a deep breath.

“I know that you saw me leave Agent Scully’s this morning.”

Kendra felt her heart skip a beat. ‘This is it, kid’, she thought. ‘Now we’ll see what you’re made of.’ She willed herself to remain calm, crossed arms her shield. “Have I broken some law? Am I under suspicion for anything? Because if not, I’d really like to go to bed.”

“Ms. Morgan, let’s not play games. I know that you’re digging around for information on the X-Files. You’re a reporter, I understand that. You want a story. You’re looking for an edge.” Mulder’s voice dropped, and Kendra caught her breath as his eyes bored into hers. “But I’m asking you, please don’t get personal on this. What I do in my private life has nothing to do with what you’re looking for.”

Kendra raised her chin and stared back. “Like you, Agent Mulder, I am an investigator. But unlike you and your government allies, I know that I have an obligation to the public. I think the taxpayers have a right to know if their money is being squandered on FBI agents who specialize in chasing ghosts and aliens.” They watched each other for a moment before Mulder turned away and laughed bitterly.

“Government allies, huh? Oh, that’s a good one.” He chuckled again and rubbed at his eyes. Kendra looked at him warily. Finally he sighed and turned to her again, the self-mocking humor replaced by a face that was weary and drawn. “Ms. Morgan, have you ever loved someone so deeply, that you’re not sure if you would want to draw your next breath if they weren’t there?”

Kendra’s hand went to her throat, and she didn’t trust herself to answer. After a long moment, Mulder opened the door and turned to leave. As he stepped into the hall, Kendra found her voice again. “I’m only looking for the truth, Agent Mulder. I’m sure you can appreciate that.”

He stopped, slowly turned back. “Sometimes it’s not worth the price you have to pay, Ms. Morgan.” Then he closed the door and was gone.

The darkness somehow eased the empty feeling – it swallowed her, encased her like a cold womb, and she sat shivering in its center. A mind that seemed numb to elective thought traced his last words over and over, although she wished it otherwise.

“You get to keep your life separated into nice, organized pieces,” he had said. “No need to deal with what comes after this, because, for all we know, there may not be an ‘after this’…” What did Mulder want from her? Blood?

She’d even given that. Obviously, it wasn’t enough.

Yet, as much as she wanted to blame him, as much as she wanted to fault his insecurity and unnamable neediness, she felt singed by the element of truth in his words. Any normal couple would have used that argument as an opportunity to discuss their relationship – where it was going, what it meant to each of them. But, of course, they weren’t any normal couple. Scully choked out a laugh as a tear fell.

“Understatement of the year,” she mumbled. Nothing she’d read in any novel, self help tome, or psychology textbook could have prepared her for Mulder. The rules and principles that had guided her past relationships with men all flew out the window in the face of those haunted hazel eyes. She closed her eyes and leaned back in the chair, pulling her knees up tight against her. It had all happened so gradually, she thought, so slowly. By the time she admitted it to herself, it was too late. She loved him. She needed him. In Mulder’s arms Scully felt something she had never known with any other man – complete acceptance of who she was. It was a feeling more intoxicating than anything she’d ever experienced.

At first Scully had fought with herself, tried to convince herself that it was crazy, that it could never work, they were too different. But by then she and Mulder were already two halves of a whole, connected in ways that she couldn’t even describe. When she had held him there on the ice, unsure of what had even happened to them but realizing that they were about to die, an extraordinary calm had come over her. She was not afraid. She had held him to her and whispered soothing words in his ear, her own soul content with the knowledge that they were together in the end. She had closed her eyes, and the world became still and far away.

When next she awakened, she was in a hospital bed. She was warm, and clean, and alive. There were hands holding each of hers. Maggie Scully’s face came into view, and Scully smiled as a warm hand stroked her forehead and her mother’s tears wet her own cheek. Then suddenly, in a panic, she remembered.

Mulder.

Turning her face quickly toward the other side of the bed, she’d seen him sitting there, silently watching her. She squeezed his hand, her throat still too raw to speak. He bit his lip as a single tear slid down his cheek. Scully let go of his hand and reached up to touch his face, to reassure herself that it was really him, they were really alive. He leaned over and rested his forehead against her shoulder, and in that moment, she knew. There was no changing it, nothing that would or could keep them apart. Until now.

“No,” she said aloud as she shook her head. A part of her panicked at the thought of she and Mulder losing what they had – a big part of her. But then there was that little voice, that goddamn little voice that never completely left her alone. The one that said, “it can’t work.” The one that urged her to get out before it all came falling down and she was buried alive. Or dead. She hated that voice and tried to prove it wrong every chance she could. But still, it whispered to her when she was least expecting it. And she knew that Mulder could hear it too.

She would not let this tear them apart. Disease, betrayal and blackmail hadn’t done it. Continents had not been able to separate them. The lies and deceit thrust on them had only strengthened their commitment. They would weather this storm, as they had so many others, and when it was over that voice would be stilled for good.

The next morning Mulder arrived early at the office. He shuffled papers and files on his desk, glancing at each but not really seeing anything. After half an hour of this fruitless activity he leaned back in his chair and sighed. His eyes burned from lack of sleep, and he rubbed them hard. ‘Get a grip, man,’ he told himself. They still had work to do, and if there was anything about Scully he was sure of it was her dogged work ethic. She wouldn’t let a little thing like the implosion of their personal life get in the way. He rubbed his eyes again, and when he brought his hands down this time, she was standing in the doorway. Their eyes met and locked for a brief moment before Scully looked away.

Silently, she hung up her coat then moved to her desk to put her briefcase down. After rustling through a few papers, she looked up.

“We have work to do, Mulder.”

He stood up. “Yeah, we do.”

“Any ideas where we should start today?”

Mulder looked away, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Are we going to be able to do this, Scully?” Then, unexpectedly, he felt her hand on his forearm.

“Yes, Mulder. We can do this. These souls are crying out for our help, and maybe we can save someone else in the process. That’s what we need to concentrate on right now.” He looked at her, at those blue-green eyes that were asking something of him. Asking him to understand. He didn’t know if he could. But he could do this much. He nodded.

“Let’s get to work,” he said.

They spent the day on the road, going over the homes of the last three suicide victims, including a re-working of Beth Cassidy’s apartment. The FBI and police had done their job of collecting evidence, but Scully and Mulder were looking now with different eyes. A crime never goes completely unmarked – the evidence is there, somewhere. Sometimes the tiniest thing, unnoticed before, would be the frayed string that could unravel a case. A paint chip, a scrap of paper, a scratch on furniture… but after a long and exhausting day, they came up with nothing. They returned to the FBI building with nerves on edge.

“Just drop me at my car, Mulder,” Scully said with a sigh.

He looked at her with a practiced eye. “Are you okay?”

She spoke through slightly clenched teeth, her eyes straight ahead. “I’m fine! I just want to go home and eat a whole box of cookies and soak in a hot bath.”

“Well, you don’t have to bite my head off!”

Scully sighed again and turned to look at him. “I’m sorry, Mulder. Of course I’m not okay. We’re getting nowhere and I’m frustrated as hell.” Her eyes closed as she leaned back against the headrest. Instinctively, Mulder reached up and rubbed the back of her neck, realizing his misstep when she tensed under his touch. Mulder glanced quickly around the parking garage, but found no one. Dusk was settling over the city, and most of their colleagues had already left for home. There was no one to see them.

“There’s no one around, Scully.”

“Mulder, I miss you too, but we can’t. You know that. Don’t make me the bad guy here.” His hand fell away and landed on the seat between them. He shook his head, an angry frown turning down the corners of his mouth.

“Jesus, Scully! I mean, even friends are allowed to touch each other.”

“Mulder, please.” She sighed deeply as she opened the car door. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, and stepped out of the car without looking back. Mulder leaned back and gave a disgusted sigh. He watched as Scully got safely in her car and drove away, then left the parking garage himself. But instead of heading home, he pulled up in front of Gianelli’s.

The place was quiet, even for a weeknight – just a few couples dining and several men sitting at the bar. He found a corner table and ordered two tall ones and some manicotti. Both beers went down quick and hit him like a wall as he waited for his food. He relaxed, leaned back, and studied the other patrons in the restaurant. The guys at the bar were dressed in D.C. regulation dark suits and all seemed to know each other. A stop after work, Mulder guessed, taking their time getting home, nothing to hurry them. He watched as they laughed and joked, and a sadness washed over him unexpectedly, as palpable as a warm rain. He didn’t want to be like them anymore. He wanted something to go home for.

He ate his meal in silence, not really tasting it but knowing he needed to eat something. Dropping some bills on the table, he rose to leave, with one more glance at the men on the barstools. They were quiet now, glasses in hand, staring ahead at the mirror behind the bartender. Mulder remembered that feeling well. Suddenly he felt sick, and walked quickly out into the cold night air.

Part Eleven

Scully looked around as a verdant forest encircled her. The landscape was so green, vibrant and intimidating in its immensity, that she could swear that her skin glowed with the same vivid shade. Feeling the urge to move forward, Scully walked until she came to an open stretch of the green, green grass. A large group of people mingled about in the field. Some of them she recognized, others she didn’t. >From the milling crowd, a young girl emerged. Scully’s heart stopped beating. Short blond hair. Sad blue eyes. Emily.

Scully didn’t take the time to think. Instinct pushed her forward. She headed toward the girl but her momentum was stalled by another familiar face. A large, masculine body obscured her view of the child. Scully looked up into his eyes. Where once a smile lived, a frown took its place. She resisted the impulse to back away. She knew this man, no reason to be afraid. He was Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. He was the person who taught her how to fish and tried to teach her how to drive. He laughed at her jokes and fed her cookies when he wasn’t supposed to. Scully associated his face with some of the happiest times in her life.

‘Remember, Dana,’ an internal voice intoned, ‘he died being disappointed in you.’

‘No, he didn’t.’ She snapped back. But this place contradicted her thoughts. The evidence of his disapproval stood in front of her, frowning down upon her like some disgruntled god.

“Ahab?” Her voice echoed through the valley, returning to call him again and again.

He shook his head. “Starbuck, why have you wasted your life like this?”

“But I haven’t, Daddy.” The sound of the word “daddy” rung strange in her ears. It tasted bitter and cold and alien.

“Yes, you have. Get away from him. Look what he’s done to you.” And with that, his arm pointed across the field, sweeping past the image of her sister, accentuating each lost soul she had ever encountered, until it finally came to rest on Emily.

Scully covered her eyes. “No, no, no. That’s not what happened. It’s not. It’s not.”

“You’re blind to your own fall. Get out before it destroys you.” The light shifted around him, and the facsimile of her father faded into the background, but Scully still heard the once comforting voice repeat, “Get out before it destroys.”

She slammed her hands over her ears in an attempt to block out the warning, but it was inside now. She couldn’t stop it no matter how tightly she covered her ears or how hard she shook her head. A silent scream burst from her own lips to merge with his words. Scully tried to hold it in, but the cacophony wouldn’t subside. Caught in this vortex of noise, she was startled by the muted sound of a child’s laughter. Opening her eyes, she stared down at Emily. The girl was giggling at her; one hand pointed at Scully’s face while the other wrapped around her tiny midsection.

“The monkeys,” she said and continued to laugh.

Scully moved her head in puzzlement. ‘What monkeys?’ She silently asked. “Hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil. You’re all three.” As soon as she declared her astute observation, Emily began to fade into the crowd. Scully reached out to grab her, but the mob seemed to blur, upsetting her sense of equilibrium. Scully was assaulted by a sudden sense of dizziness. The green swirled around her; she felt like a glass top spinning faster and faster. Just when she thought she would die from the motion, Scully felt the world stop and she fell to her knees. The sun beat down into her eyes, its glare making her squint until her lids almost touched. The sky came into focus slowly, and right in the middle of it stood Mulder. But not her Mulder. This man was dressed in some ancient armor from some long ago war. Scully raised her eyebrow at the image. No reaction. ‘Definitely, not my Mulder’ she told herself. Scully attempted to get up, but the vertigo-like sensations pushed her back down to the ground. She was stuck there, at the mercy of warrior Mulder. She opened her mouth to speak, but found that he was already talking to her.

“…..Right?” He asked.

Scully tried to shake the cobwebs from her mind, “What? I didn’t hear you… I… I don’t understand…”

“Scully, every quest has its sacrifices. You know that, right?”

She stared at him in amazement. What could she say? Was she a sacrifice, or were these her sacrifices? Was her father right? The sound of a church bell made her look up. The forest was losing its shape. She turned back to Mulder, but he was gone. The bell got louder and louder. Its harsh melody pierced her eardrum. Her arm flew out >from under the blanket. She picked up the receiver and spoke into it, “Why are you wearing armor, Mulder?”

The voice on the other end asked, “Agent Scully?”

It wasn’t Mulder. Suddenly, everything became clear. She was not in a forest or a field. She was in her apartment. It was 3:36am. She was awake and not in a dream. Mulder was not here. He was at his place. They were “apart.” Her father was dead. Emily was dead. And a stranger was on the other end of the phone. Scully pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to focus. She brought her fingers across her eyes, hoping to wipe away the bizarre images that hung like shadows in the darkness. She did her best to compose herself before raising the phone back to her ear.

“Yes?” She asked the caller.

He didn’t say anything. Maybe he hung up, she thought.

“Agent Scully?” He repeated again.

Then again, maybe not, she decided.

“I have something you need,” he said.

Scully was not intrigued. It was such a common line for a prank caller that she almost laughed. Almost. She leaned over to hang the phone up when she heard the man speaking again. A word caught her attention, “…dreams.” The receiver came back to her ear. “What about the dreams?” she asked.

The man laughed derisively, “I thought that would get your attention.”

“What about the dreams?” She repeated, irritated now.

“Meet me at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at 4:45 and I might tell you,” he offered.

Scully wasn’t falling for it. “I don’t know you, and frankly, I think you’re full of crap. So good night.”

“Wait.” He said, “I have information that will shed new light on your investigation. You should consider this before you reject me: Do you know what’s happening, and if you don’t know, like I suspect you don’t, then how many more women will die in order to get the answers you need? Think about that.”

Scully didn’t reply. She was suddenly, sharply, fully awake. Her mind was quickly calculating the risks of his offer. He interrupted her thoughts with, “If you want the information then be there in an hour, and don’t bring any accessories. That includes your partner.” The dial tone echoed in her ear. She placed the receiver down and stared at it for a moment.

“Well,” she said finally, “I guess it’s time to get up.”

Scully looked down at her watch. It was 5:50am and still no sign of her early morning caller. ‘I’ll give him ten more minutes,’ she told herself. In an effort to pass the time, she surveyed the Washington skyline. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, one had a nice view of certain indelible landmarks, most notably the rectangular slab that rose gleaming from the ground.

“The Wall,” she whispered aloud.

Those two words had an ominous resonance; they denoted pain and loss, war and death. Scully recalled the night she and Mulder were summoned there to meet another one of her partner’s “reliable sources.” The man was some Russian scientist, or so he claimed. She winced at the memory. That night, in hindsight, was the beginning of a terrible period in her life. It was a time filled with cancer and regret, anger and denial. And Mulder was oblivious to all of it. Scully remembered the hurt in his eyes as she accused him of taking her for granted, and that’s what the desk argument was about ‒ his continued dismissal of her skills as a partner. At the time, Scully only wanted validation, some form of acknowledgment that she was taking the same journey, but Mulder wasn’t equipped for such a proclamation. It hurt her. So in an un-Scully-like act of spite, she struck out with sex and booze. A couple of nights later, after the tattoo and the one- night stand >from hell, after the disastrous conversation with her still obtuse half, Scully returned to “The Wall.” As she had stood there counting the endless lines of dead names, she cried. Her tears soaked the dried out rose petals clutched in her hands, and with a mixture of gratitude and dread, Scully scattered the dampened remnants upon the ground. The click of heels roused Scully from her melancholy reflections. A brief glance down at her wrist revealed the time as 5:57am.

As the man approached, Scully took the opportunity to study him as he passed the floodlights. He was tall. She approximated his height at 6 feet with 2-3 inches tacked on. He wore a well-cut designer suit which was protected from the elements by a very expensive leather coat. The shape of the suit outlined a lean, well-proportioned body, but that was not his most striking feature. No, that honor belonged to his face. Scully was accustomed to seeing handsome men – she worked with Mulder everyday – but this man was different. He was beyond handsome, somewhere out in the region of beautiful. His jaw owned a slight angular dip that curved smoothly into his lips. From there, a straight, roman nose appeared only to be overshadowed by clear, crystal cut blue eyes. A mass of jet black hair completed the image. Warning bells went off somewhere in the vicinity of Scully’s reason. Discomforted by her initial reaction to the man, Scully assumed her coldest voice and observed, “It’s almost 6:00. Do you always show up late to meetings you arrange?”

“Agent Scully,” he said with a hint of a smile, “I assure you that I arrived just in time.”

Already tired from lack of sleep, her frustration increased ten- fold. She wanted to walk away, to tell the ass to stick his information you-know where and go home to her bed, but her professional curiosity held her back. Any lead was better than nothing, so Scully took a few deep breaths before asking, “You said you had some information about the dreams. What is it?”

“Direct, I like that,” he said, nodding slightly. He took a step in her direction, invading the five-foot personal space between them. He continued, “No intellectual duel. No attempt at an introduction. No foreplay whatsoever. You’re my kind of agent, Dr. Scully.”

A sudden urge to slap his face was repressed. Scully raised her eyebrows at him but did not reply. Unlike Mulder, there was no visible reaction to her gesture. So, she waited for him to speak, to give her the information he offered. Unmoved by her agitation, he stepped closer. He leaned down so that he was eye level with her, and two pairs of ice blue eyes clashed. She still refused to respond to his last remarks; he seemed to wait for her reply. When none was forthcoming, he shrugged. Turning away from her, he started to walk up the steps towards the memorial statue. With a gesture of his hand, he beckoned for Scully to follow. She did, but she paced herself a few feet back, trying to reestablish the physical distance between them.

The secret bearer stopped before he reached the top. Scully came to a stop beside him. He was staring up at the imposing monument with an expression full of both awe and disgust. She wondered at the odd combination of emotion, but her thoughts were diverted by his next words.

“Aren’t you going to ask me who I am?” He inquired as he slowly turned to face her.

“Why?” She countered. “You wouldn’t tell me the truth, so why ask you to lie to me?”

A nod of admiration greeted her response. “You’re correct,” he winked at her, “and you’re skeptical. Two more things I like about you, Dr. Scully.”

“I’m not here to flirt with you. Either tell me what you have or I’m going home.” Scully made a move to leave.

He reached out and touched her arm. She jerked back from his fingers, letting him know with her eyes that it was an unacceptable way to catch her attention. He removed his hand at once, and with it, motioned towards the statue.

“Do you know that this great historical figure is nothing but a figment of our imagination?” he asked. Scully didn’t know how to reply. He understood her confusion, so he answered his own question. “History deems the Emancipation Proclamation to be one of the greatest documents in American history: it freed the slaves from their horrible lives in the South. Yet history neglects to mention that Lincoln only signed that precious paper because it was the last line of defense to end a war he was losing. You see, Dr. Scully, Lincoln’s reality was war, not freedom. But our history deems it the other way around. And so, Lincoln is a hero.”

Scully wondered if coming here was such a good idea. Her informant was fast becoming a madman. She held her nervousness in check and asked, “What does that have to do with my case?”

He smiled at her. “It has everything and nothing to do with it,” he replied as his hand reached beneath his coat. Scully’s eye followed that hand while her own snaked behind her to reach for the gun nestled at the bottom of her spine. He noted her changed position and brought his hand out slowly, a large manila envelope in his grasp. He cautiously extended it toward Scully.

“My point was this,” he said as he laid the package in her outstretched hand. “Remember, the only difference between reality and history is that reality doesn’t have a conscience or an ego.”

Scully opened the envelope and began to pull out what looked like sheaths of research reports. She glanced up at him and noticed that his gaze was fixed somewhere on a point behind her head.

“What is it?” Scully asked quietly. She started to turn her head, but he motioned for her to stop. Quickly, she stuffed the papers back into the envelope and tucked it inside her coat. She stood there, waiting for him to indicate when he thought it was safe. Her cue came when he told her, “To you, I am Lucian. In a few days, I will contact you with further information. Tell no one about this meeting.” Meeting her eyes again, he repeated with added emphasis, “No one.” Then, he walked away, leaving Scully there in the shadows of the Memorial.

She punched the pillow hard. Twice. Laying down with the newly shaped cushion pressed against her neck, Kendra closed her eyes tightly. No good. In recent weeks, sleep had turned into her enemy. And the bathroom mirror told her that exhaustion was threatening to become her friend. Dark circles decorated the space under her eyes, emphasizing her continuous lack of rest. Still, she was at a loss as to what she should do.

‘It’s the anniversary,’ she told herself. Her gaze alighted on the framed portrait by her bedside clock. Soft brown eyes stared back at her. Their familiar sparkle sent a sharp pain spiraling through her – sometimes, she was thinking, it’s like he dies over and over again. Kendra tried to shake the sad emotions from her mind, but the approaching anniversary lay like a beautiful snow topped mountain before her – exquisite to gaze at, but so hard to surmount.

It’s amazing how one can replay a lifetime in a few short seconds, in memories stripped of gratuitous moments until all that remained were the important events, and usually, they were the most trivial events. Kendra smiled to herself. She loved the memories – they brought her peace when she needed it the most. Shortly after her husband’s death, Kendra had wished those moments away. The prospect of the pain they carried with them was too much, and in one of the darkest times of her life, she had found herself as close to death as she had ever been before or since. One day, about four months after the funeral, she had driven to one of their “places.” It was a small stretch of beach near the Jersey border. Even in memory, the detached emotions scared her. Kendra had never felt so lonely, and from that agony, was born a sick desire – to end her own life. She was so determined to die that day, but something stopped her.

The hem of her favorite dress had barely touched the water when an overpowering scent of pine assailed her senses. It reminded her of his cologne. And in that moment, Kendra felt the tidal wave of grief ebb inside her heart. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She felt dirty. The idea of sullying their love by killing herself was unforgivable, and to do it at one of the places that held the memory of their togetherness suddenly made her feel sick. The weight of it pushed Kendra to her knees and she cried so hard and so long that her body bucked in protest. But when it was over, she turned her back on the water, and never went back. It was a goodbye of sorts.

Kendra snapped into the present. She moved her eyes from the picture to the clock to see that it was 2:30am.

“I’ve got to get some sleep,” she told the empty room. With that, she turned over so that her back was facing the clock and the soft brown eyes in the frame.

A yawn escaped her lips, and Kendra felt the intimate descent of sleep wander around her. Relaxing into it, she let her mind go, refusing to focus on anything but the billowing curtains and the muffled sounds of the city outside. ‘No more sad thoughts tonight,’ she thought to herself as she slipped into the hazy world of dreams.

“…… and upon his head, he wore a crown of grass.”

Kendra glanced around at her surroundings. The sky was so bright it blinded her. She raised her hands to her forehead, shading her eyes from the light. The voice was familiar, the words odd, the setting peculiar.

“Tom,” she whispered to the figure standing before her. He looked as he did on the day they met. Beautiful and vibrant. The way she chose to remember him.

He smiled at her. “Hey, sweetheart. How’s life been treating you?”

She laughed. Same old Tom. Kendra knew this was a dream, but her heart played along, hoping to recapture a few of their happy moments together. “Not bad. How’s death treating you?” She countered.

“Well,” he said, “same song, different partner. Heavenly bliss, peace and joy. Blah, blah, blah.”

The laughter continued for what seemed like forever, and Kendra felt a comfort she hadn’t known in a long time. The place sharpened in her view and she recognized the oak walls of their favorite restaurant. Dishes and delicacies sat on the table that appeared between them, and memories of other nights like these blended together into her dream. Kendra felt it beginning to end. She reached out to caress Tom’s cheek, wanting to feel the experience as a whole, but her hand met thin air. He backed away suddenly, a coldness seeping into his words as he said, “Don’t touch. Never touch.”

Kendra didn’t know what to say. An alarm interrupted her thoughts, and she looked up sharply. Behind Tom, the room was on fire. She started to yell at him to get out when she noticed the red fire shaped itself into flashing numbers.

6:30, blink, 6:30, blink.

Heart pounding, Kendra reached out to hit the snooze button. She sat up slowly as images of the dream faded from her consciousness, leaving just a vague feeling of discomfort behind. Tears threatened just behind her eyelids, but she rubbed them away with fierce determination and a deep breath. Slowly exhaling, she blinked in the darkness, and wondered if this is what it felt like to lose your mind.

Part Twelve

Scully clicked on the wall switch in the dark office, sudden light illuminating the envelope she held in front of her. She stared at it a moment, then quickly shut and locked the door. Sitting down at her desk, Scully opened the envelope and pulled out the loose sheets of paper. She hadn’t had the nerve to examine them in the car – her immediate thought had been to get far away from “Lucian” and make sure that she wasn’t followed. Now she had a chance to get a good look at them.

They were copies made on a machine that was obviously on its last legs – the typed letters fading from dark to light gray as the sentences ran at a mild slant across the paper. Someone had been in a hurry when they’d copied these. Across the top of the first page was a cryptic phrase in small capital letters:

AUDITORY RESULTS

Scully read through the pages quickly. Her eyes widened as she began to grasp the meaning of the words before her.

“… involuntary subjects …repeated subliminal directives… delivered with high frequency acoustic stimuli …displaying desired responses …compelled into abnormal behaviors … completely unaware …readily manipulated to self injury…aggression … …unlimited potential …”

She knew all about research done with subliminal communication. It was documented that humans could be induced to unusual behavior, changes in fundamental beliefs, and even psychosis if the visual stimulus was prolonged and severe enough. But there was no evidence known to her to support the idea of long lasting effects from auditory subliminal messages. And to easily induce a healthy human into harming themselves, as this author asserted that he or she had done – well, it just wasn’t possible. Even a person with a severely bruised psyche has an overwhelming innate sense of self preservation. But whoever had written this paper had apparently conducted experiments to prove otherwise.

Scully folded the papers again and replaced them in the envelope. She sighed heavily. “Lucian” was obviously trying to tell her that the women who had committed suicide were somehow driven to do it by exposure to subliminal messages. But how? Where? These women held jobs, they had families, they functioned in society right up until the end. And the biggest question: why?

“Hey, what are you doing here on a Saturday?”

“Oh, Jesus, Mulder!” Scully bolted up from the chair and whirled to face him. She had been so engrossed in the unfolding answers before her that she hadn’t even heard Mulder’s key in the lock.

“You scared me!”

Mulder held up both hands in mock defense. “Don’t shoot!” Then he smiled and added, “Whatcha got there?”

“Oh, um,” she fumbled to find an answer. “It’s nothing.” ‘Oh yeah, that was good,’ she thought. Steadying herself, she thought quickly. “Um, just some stuff about my retirement account.”

Mulder watched her for a moment, then nodded. “Ahh,” he said, looking away. And in that “Ahh,” Scully realized that he knew she was keeping something from him. Forcing a weary smile, she changed the subject.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Mulder replied as he moved files from the seat of his chair. He sat down and looked up at her.

“Same here,” Scully said. Turning back to her briefcase, she opened it and tucked the envelope inside as she pulled out another sheaf of papers. “I have the lab results from Rachel Martinez’s autopsy – another big fat zero. Nothing abnormal at all on the labs, the tissue samples, anything. Have you come up with anything else?”

Mulder leaned back and rubbed his eyes again, yawning. “Only my conviction that these women were murdered.” He looked up at Scully again. “They knew something, Scully. Something that was important enough to kill for. The only thing they had in common was the husbands. I know that’s the key – if I could just find the right lock.”

Scully went to the coffeemaker and peeled the plastic lid off the can of French Roast. Turning to Mulder, she tipped the can upside down as a few dusty grounds fell out.

“It was your turn, Mulder.”

“Sorry. Slipped my mind I guess.”

“Well, I’m not going to survive long with no coffee,” Scully said as the can made a hollow ding in the waste basket. “I’m gonna run upstairs and get a cup. You want one?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Mulder nodded. Scully grabbed some change >from her purse and was gone. He stared blankly after her for a few moments, until he remembered. It sat there on the cabinet, mocking him. Scully’s closed briefcase, where she had quickly hidden something that was not for his eyes. Whatever it was that was so goddamned secret. It almost spoke to him, that little envelope. It said: “she doesn’t trust you.” Mulder shrugged it off, shaking his head. If it turned out to be important, she would tell him. He certainly trusted in her abilities as an investigator. There was no reason to even give it a second thought.

But he did.

His gaze was drawn again and again to the smooth black leather, well kept, the scuff marks regularly buffed out. She even had a special polish under her kitchen sink, just for that briefcase – he’d seen it when he went looking for dish soap once. Her life was so ordered – a place for everything, everything in its place. He couldn’t help but wonder sometimes: What was his place?

He could never remember a time when he suddenly knew that he needed Scully. That she was essential to him, a part of him. She just was. That first time that he told her he loved her – the words had tumbled out, he hadn’t planned it. Scully had just made an appearance in front of the OPR , her first since they’d returned from Wilkes Land. The X-Files was still closed. They both had decisions to make about their futures. And she had taken his hand as they stood outside in the bright sun and told him she was staying with him, with their work. He couldn’t sleep that night. Finally, at 4 a.m., he’d picked up the phone. She croaked a drowsy “hello” on the other end. He hesitated a moment. “Hello?” she repeated.

“I’m sorry I woke you.”

“Mulder?”

“Yeah… I’m sorry, Scully… I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

“No – wait. That’s okay. Is something wrong?”

“No… I just… I don’t know. It’s nice to hear your voice.”

He could hear her smile on the other end. “You too, Mulder.”

“I love you, Scully.”

He was taken aback by his own words, and was silent for a moment, as was she. Finally, he cleared his throat. “Um, Scully…”

“Mulder, come over.” Her voice sounded strange. It was impossible to tell if she was upset or pleased.

“Scully, it’s late. I shouldn’t have – “

“Please, Mulder. Come over.”

He’d gotten there in record time. He tapped quietly on her door at five o’clock in the morning, and she opened it on the first knock. She didn’t say a word, just looked at him. He walked in, closed the door behind him, and wondered what the hell he was doing.

“Scully…” he began. Then, finally, she spoke.

“Sshhh,” was all she said.

She came to him then, at first just putting her arms around his waist and laying her cheek against his chest. He buried his face in her hair and held her, wondering if she noticed his heart beating at breakneck speed. Then she turned her face up to his, and he kissed her like he’d wanted to do for so long, slowly and tenderly, with all the emotions that had been building for years. At first a little timidly, then with a passion that made him moan, she had kissed him back.

Right now it seemed a lifetime ago.

Scully held the edge of one cup of coffee with her teeth as she opened the office door with her free hand. Funny – she didn’t remember closing it behind her when she left. Removing the cup from her mouth, she announced “coffee’s here.” She looked up to see Mulder leaned back in his chair behind the desk, eyes downcast. Scully felt the tension the minute she walked in. He spoke without looking at her.

“We’re partners, right Scully?”

“Yeah, last time I checked.” She set the coffee cups down on a nearby cabinet, her hand trembling just a bit. Her body knew before her mind did, sensed it, and suddenly she felt queasy.

“And as such, we need to work together to solve cases, share information and opinions, right?” He still wouldn’t look at her. Scully nodded her head in agreement. Finally his eyes rose to meet hers. “No matter what else is out of our control, I thought we trusted each other.” The dark shadows beneath his eyes stood out like smudges against his pale skin, and in his eyes Scully saw hurt, and regret. He held up the manila envelope that contained Lucian’s secrets. Scully stared at him speechlessly for a moment, taken aback by her own anger.

“You went in my briefcase, ” she said finally, her voice disbelieving.

“Yes.”

“Mulder… what the… ” She dropped heavily into a chair, feeling violated and defensive.

“Why would you keep this from me?” he asked, shaking his head. “I don’t understand, Scully.”

“An informant, Mulder. An informant who required that I keep this a secret for now. I did what I felt necessary…” Scully stood, hands clasped in tight fists. “Dammit! Why am I on the defensive here? You purposely snooped through my things! Who do you think you are? Jesus!” She shook her head and began to pace the room, muttering. “I don’t believe this…what’s next, Mulder? You going to read my diary?”

Mulder stood and slammed his hand down on the desk, the sound stopping her short.

“What the hell were you thinking, Scully? I just don’t get it. This case has been a nightmare, and you get a lead that you’re not going to share with me? You meet an unknown informant without backup? Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

Scully’s voice shook as she said, “Excuse me, Agent Mulder, but I am not a child nor am I some college twit who doesn’t know how to tie her shoelaces. I’ve been doing this job for years, and might I remind you that there have many times when I saved your ass rather than the other way around. I don’t need your consent to meet with an informant, and I don’t need you baby-sitting me! And you have some nerve chastising me for not sharing information! I’ve always thought that someday, someday, you would finally accept me as an equal here.” She stared at him, daring him to contradict her. “But maybe it’s time to accept that that’s never going to happen.”

Mulder turned away and stared silently at the back wall for a moment. When he turned back, his voice was subdued. “What’s this about, Scully? What’s it really about? A power trip? First you put up these boundaries on our relationship, and now you get to play my part to another Deep Throat. Is that it?”

“His name’s Lucian.”

“What?”

She closed her eyes, opened them. “Lucian. His name. He gave me that information and promised me more on the condition that I’m the only one who meets him. So I agreed.” She sounded dispirited and sad. “And if you would have waited just a little, Mulder, instead of assuming the worst and putting up this macho bullshit, I would have told you all about it.” She sighed. “I can’t tell you how it makes me feel that you thought I wouldn’t.”

They stared at each other for a long moment. Scully finally turned away and clicked her briefcase closed. As she headed for the door she said, “I’m not feeling well. I’m going home.” She hesitated just for a second before she closed the door behind her. Mulder closed his eyes as he listened to the click of her heels fade away.

Part Thirteen

‘Not feeling well’ was an understatement. Scully was nauseous all the way home, and once had to pull the car over to retch what little was in her empty stomach. She felt as if she were moving in a fog, not quite able (or willing) to lay the pieces back together and see what had actually happened in the last two days.

She wanted to blame that reporter. She wanted to blame Skinner for giving them this assignment. She wanted to blame the alignment of the planets, solar flares, Mulder’s parents, or anything else she could think of besides what was staring her right in the face. This could not be happening… it could not. Not after everything they’d been through. It had taken over five years, thousands of miles, and gallons of tears for them to find their way to each other, and he was ready to throw it away over a case.

No. No. There was more here, as always with the two of them. Scully pulled into her parking space and wearily trudged to her apartment. There was a light snow softly falling, leaving a dusty sparkle in the morning sun. She stopped for a moment before entering her building, looked back at the sight. It was beautiful. Must be why my eyes are tearing up, she thought ruefully. Inside, she tossed her briefcase on the sofa, then after staring at it for a moment changed her mind. Marching into her bedroom, she shoved it under the bed as far as she could reach.

“It’s Saturday,” she said to no one as she stood up. “Weekend. You remember what that is, don’t you Dana? Day of rest. Day of fun. Day of no work.” Impulsively, she reached for the phone and dialed.

“Mom? Yeah, it’s me. Do you want to go Christmas shopping today? Great! I’ll come and pick you up. See you soon.”

There! she thought as she put the phone down with a flourish. I can so have a regular life!

By early afternoon mother and daughter were starving and laden with bags. As they dropped down on the lumpy bench seats at Maria’s, mouth watering from the aromas coming from the kitchen, Maggie voiced the thought that kept popping into Scully’s head.

“Oh, this was such fun! It’s too bad Fox couldn’t come.”

“Hmmph,” was Scully’s response.

Maggie raised an eyebrow at her daughter. Scully held up a hand to stop her.

“Don’t, Mom.”

Maggie nodded. She took out her glasses and looked over the menu. “Mmmm, the chicken enchiladas sound good, don’t they? Or maybe a salad…”

“Do they have Fox on a skewer?” Scully asked as she opened her menu. Maggie smiled and peered over the top of her glasses. The waiter interrupted them before she could comment. Maggie ordered the chicken enchiladas, and Scully said “I’ll have the same,” without looking at the choices. Both women were silent for a while as they drank their tea. Maggie spoke up first.

“So, Dana…”

“Mom, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“How do you know what I was going to say?”

Scully closed her eyes for a second and sighed. “Because you know me.”

Maggie nodded. “If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine honey.” She took another sip of tea. “Bill called yesterday, and he gave Matthew the phone – it was so cute! He was babbling away, biting the phone…”

“I just don’t understand him, Mom!”

Maggie sat quietly and waited.

“I mean, after all this time, everything we’ve been through… we’re still so far apart sometimes… ” Scully sighed again and blew her nose. “After that news report, well, it made us look bad, and Skinner said… I mean, we have to keep professional separate, right? That was the deal. So I told him we needed to lay low for a while… just for now, you know? Till this blows over. And he’s taking it so personally!” She reached for another napkin. “He acts like he thinks I’m doing this on purpose, like I don’t want to be with him!” Scully sat back in the seat, looking dejected. “I sound like a heartsick teenager,” she said with miserable laugh.

“Oh, honey, I only wish you had been!” her mother replied with a smile. “You were always so serious, so intent on your studies, we never had this conversation when you were a teenager.” Maggie leaned forward and looked into Scully’s eyes. “Dana, let me ask you something. You’re upset about this, and you say Fox is too. You’re here talking to me about it. Who do you think Fox is talking to about how he feels?”

Scully sat thoughtfully for a moment, then looked down at the table. “Probably no one,” she said quietly. “But Mom, I can’t be everything to him!” She looked up, eyes pleading. “There won’t be anything left!”

“Do you think that’s what he wants, honey?”

“I don’t know, Mom. I don’t know…”

Maggie nodded thoughtfully. “I guess that’s something you’re going to have to figure out if you can live with, Dana. There are no perfect loves, you know. I’ve seen a few that came close! But there are always trade-offs. Love doesn’t come free, no matter what those stupid songs say.” She paused as the waiter sat steaming plates in front of them, then speared a piece of chicken and popped it in her mouth. “Is it worth it, Dana? That’s what you have to decide. And of course, not to pressure you or anything…”

Scully laughed. “I swear, Mom, if you could adopt Mulder, you would.”

“He’s a motherless child, Dana. I have a soft spot for him, what can I say?” Maggie lay a hand on Scully’s, somber now. “He’s afraid, honey. He’s known so much hurt in his life. And he loves you so much.”

Scully looked at her mother, squeezed her hand. “I know, Mom.” She sniffled. “Damn! Hand me another napkin will you?”

Maggie reached over and dabbed at her daughter’s damp eyes, then handed her the napkin.

“Here, blow your nose like a good girl.”

“Mom!” Scully laughed and took the wadded up paper from her.

Maggie sighed. “Will you be happy living without him, Dana? That’s the question you need to answer.”

Scully stared at the tabletop for a moment. Slowly, she shook her head. Maggie patted her hand.

“Then, you’ll figure out a way. You always do. Now, let’s eat.”

Mulder pulled the collar of his jacket up to his chin, holding it tight against the cold. The wind was picking up, making the powdery snow feel like needles stinging his cheeks. Still, he walked on, bumping shoulders with holiday shoppers and cursing himself for coming out here on a Saturday. He had just wanted a hot cup of coffee, a quiet walk, and a paper to read. It had slipped his mind that Christmas was only a few weeks away, and the little shops in this neighborhood would be teeming with people anxious to heat up their charge cards.

He hated Christmas.

His family had made a few feeble attempts to celebrate the holidays after Samantha was gone, but gave up after two or three years. To this day, the memories almost made Mulder nauseous. His mother would make cookies and a big dinner, but alongside the fragrance of cinnamon and turkey the air was always filled with despair. They would sit at the table and force the food down, open a few gifts, then Mulder would disappear to his room for the rest of the day. When his parents divorced, that ended the tortured holiday celebrations. After that Mulder spent a few years shuttling between parents for the holidays, then was mercifully released to study in England. He didn’t come home for two years.

He’d actually begun looking forward to spending this Christmas with the Scullys, awkward as he knew it would be when brother Bill showed up. But Scully had made it clear to him that she didn’t care what Bill thought, Mulder belonged there with her, and that’s where he was going to be. He didn’t really want to think about what might happen now. Mulder shook his head and blinked, trying to clear the fatalistic thoughts. This was not the end, not by a long shot. Not after everything they’d been through. Face it, Mulder, he thought. You were a jerk. She’s just trying to be cautious, that’s part of who she is, part of who she’s always been. It’s part of why you love her. Then, what? Why had he reacted so… well, over reacted, really?

“A threat,” he whispered absently, and stopped where he was. A threat. From within, this time. He took a step, and another, then let his feet take him wandering where they would. Threats were nothing new to them, he reasoned. They’d faced threats from the minute they were put in the same office. And they had always come out on top. Well, they’d always come out, at least. But this was a new one. This one he couldn’t shoot, or con, or rescue her from.

“She’s been here for five years, man,” he said to himself. Five years. Through all the shit. How could he doubt her love for him? Because he was Mulder. It was part of who he was, who he’d always been. But maybe not a part of who he would always have to be. He sighed and jammed his hands into his coat pockets, then looked around trying to remember where he was. The crowd was thinning as he came to the end of the business district. Coffee – he needed coffee before he froze to death. Turning back on his heel, he nearly knocked over an elderly woman.

“Oh My God, I’m so sorry!” he said as he took her arm to steady her. “Are you alright?”

“Oh, I’m fine, I’m fine. Just be careful there, young man! Better quit daydreaming before you hurt someone,” she muttered as she walked away.

Too late, he thought.

Just then, something caught his eye. It was a small jewelry store, and in the window there was the usual array of rings and necklaces. In the right front corner was a bracelet, a simple circle of brushed gold set with six small diamonds. Mulder pushed open the old wood door and walked in. There was only one other customer in the store, and she was chatting with a young woman behind the counter. An older man approached Mulder and smiled.

“Vat kin I do for you today, sir?” he asked.

Mulder pointed to the window. “I’d like to see that bracelet you have out front, the one in the front corner.”

“Certainly, young man, certainly.” The man hobbled slowly to the window and removed the bracelet, then turned back to Mulder. “Zis is a beauty, no?” The man handed it to Mulder, who ran his finger over the lightly textured surface, picturing it on Scully’s slender wrist. He looked up at the older man.

“Can you put another diamond in it?”

The man tilted hid head to one side and pursed his lips. “Ah, must be someone special, eh? Six is not enough?” He took the bracelet back from Mulder, examined it again. “Ya, I kin do another, no problem. Ven do you vant it?”

“Today?”

The man laughed. “In a hurry, eh? I don’ know if I can do it so fast, this a busy time of year you know…”

Mulder leaned closer. “A hundred bucks, right now, if you can have it done by the time you close today.”

The man raised one eyebrow thoughtfully.

“Okay, okay… a hundred now, another fifty when I pick it up tonight.” Mulder gave him a pleading look.

“Is zis for love?” the man asked. Mulder grinned. “Ah, well, who can turn down such a thing for love, eh?”

Part Fourteen

Dusk was settling over the snow dusted landscape as Scully helped her mother carry packages into the house.

“Can you stay awhile, honey?” Maggie Scully called over her shoulder.

Scully set the bags and boxes on the sofa in the living room and took off her gloves. She paused a moment, then turned to her mother.

“Yeah… as a matter of fact, Mom, do you mind if I stay the night?”

Her mother gave Scully an exasperated look. “Dana! Since when do you need to ask if you can spend the night? Of course you can!” Maggie shook her head with a chuckle. “What a question!”

“Will you make me some hot cocoa?” Scully asked hopefully.

“Yes, dear, I’ll make you some hot cocoa!” Maggie laughed again. “Maybe there’ll be an old movie on… do you think they’ll be showing ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ yet?”

Scully wrapped Maggie in a tight hug. She started to say “I love you, Mom,” when the moment was interrupted by the ringing telephone. Maggie pulled away to answer it.

“Hello? Oh, hello, Fox.” Scully felt a sudden knot form in the pit of her stomach, and shook her head at her mother. Maggie looked at her questioningly. “Um, yes, she’s here, but she…can’t come to the phone right now… she just got in the shower… yes, she’s going to spend the night, a little mother-daughter thing, you know… do you want her to call you back? No?” Scully closed her eyes and let out a breath of relief. “Well, I’ll tell her you called, Fox. Yes, you too. Goodnight.” She set the phone down slowly before looking at her daughter.

“Dana…” Maggie shook her head in dismay. “I’m not a good liar, you know. I didn’t like doing that to him.”

“I know, Mom, and I’m sorry. I just… can’t deal with him right now.” Maggie’s eyes were concerned as she watched Scully slump against the wall. She looked so… sad. Lost. Like a girl who needed a mother. Her arm went around the younger woman’s shoulders.

“C’mon, honey. Let’s get that hot cocoa, hmm?” Scully leaned her head against Maggie’s shoulder as they walked together to the kitchen.

Mulder stared at the five water stains on the ceiling. Four of them had been there when he moved in, but the big one in the corner, the one that was shaped like a Volkswagen, was from two years ago when the old lady in the apartment above him started her bath water then had a heart attack. When the water was running from beneath her front door into the hall, a neighbor had broken the door down and found her. He had heard it was a huge mess, but he’d been in New Hampshire on a case with Scully when it happened. By the time he returned all that remained to mark the occasion was the big Beetle on his ceiling.

He hated that ceiling.

As a matter of fact, right now he hated this sofa he was lying on, the pillow beneath his head, and everything else that reminded him he was here and she was there. He wanted to be in Scully’s bed listening to her breathe softly as she slept – he missed that the most. He’d expected that, with her allergies, Scully would be a snorer. But, to his surprise, she slept quietly, and more than once he had watched her chest rise and fall for a few moments to make sure that she was still breathing. The memory of her still, pale form in the hospital bed, her strength and life being drained by the cancer, was still too close. So he would hold her as she was drifting off, and the rhythm of her breaths against his skin lulled him into his own peaceful sleep.

He sighed and rolled over to his side. She needed this, he reminded himself. She needed time and distance from him to recharge her batteries and, hopefully, forgive him for being such an asshole.

Mulder sat up and rubbed at his eyes in the semi darkness. He glanced at the clock – it was after two a.m. and he had yet to get to sleep. Switching on a lamp, he went to his desk and pulled open the drawer where he kept the small photo album that Maggie Scully had given him for his birthday. Inside were the only pictures he had of Scully, which he suddenly realized was probably very strange. He supposed most couples would have pictures of each other in their respective homes, gold framed and artfully placed beside photos of family members. But he kept his memories tucked away from everyone else. He didn’t want to share them.

He slowly turned the first few pages, smiling at the sight of the joyful little girl with red hair and Band-Aids on her knees. As he went on, the little girl grew up. The Band-Aids and braids disappeared, to be replaced by a shy smile and piercing blue-green eyes. But his favorite picture was the last one. It had been taken a few months ago at the Scully house, when Maggie had invited he and Scully to join her and some neighbors for a barbecue. Mulder was sitting at a picnic table, tearing into yet another piece of barbecued chicken. Scully was across the table from him, shaking her head in amusement at his appetite. Their relationship had so recently taken this intimate turn that they were still sometimes awkward with each other in public, and they had been hesitant to hold hands or kiss in front of Maggie’s neighbors. Maggie was still introducing Mulder as “Dana’s friend from work”. But, even without touching, the current between them was palpable. Scully had taken a napkin and reached up to wipe a smear of sauce off of Mulder’s chin, her fingers lingering just for a moment. She’d looked into his eyes and smiled. A chill had gone through him, and for a second he’d been tempted to drop down right then and there and say thank you to whatever God it was that had brought her to him. At that instant, Maggie had snapped a picture.

His fingertip traced Scully’s profile in the photo, smiling at the memory. Tomorrow he would grovel, crawl over broken glass, write his apology on a billboard – whatever it took. Mulder closed the book and laid it back into the drawer. Then, on second thought, he took it out and left it out on top of the desk. Open.

The “tick-tick-tick” of the old clock was what was keeping her awake, Scully was sure of it. She rolled to her side again, blankets now in a tangled mess around her legs. Finally, with an exasperated sigh, she got up out of bed. Pulling a blanket around her shoulders, she sat down in the rocking chair near the window and pulled back the curtains. The night was clear and cold, a bright moon the only light out here in the countryside. Stars by the millions twinkled against the black heavens. Not for the first time, Scully imagined what Mulder must see when he looked out at the same sky. He was a grown man when he’d undegone the hypnosis that convinced him that his sister’s abduction had been by something – or someone – that was not of this world. She remembered when she had scoffed so confidently at him and his crazy ideas. Back when she was so sure – of everything in this world and her place in it. Now…

Well, now she had an idea of how little she really could be sure of. Her hands ran the length of the wood arms on the chair, worn smooth by years of rocking crying babies and toddlers with boo-boos, real and imagined. She herself had vague memories of being in this chair with her mother, encircled in that feeling of security and love. That feeling she herself may never give. Sometimes her arms ached with the ghost of it.

She pulled her knees up and wrapped herself more tightly with the blanket. There was one who needed that touch from her. But somehow they were miles apart tonight – in more then physical distance. Scully leaned back in the chair and imagined his arms around her, the scent of him nearby. She closed her eyes and rocked gently, humming part of some long lost lullaby.

“Oh God!”

Kendra bolted up in bed, gasping for breath. She clutched at her chest with one hand, her other reaching out blindly in the darkness. There was nothing there. As the realization washed over her, she forced deep breaths into her lungs and struggled to slow her racing heart. She sat on the edge of the bed, focused on a shadow on the wall, and told herself;

‘Relax,

relax,

relax…

It was only a dream…’

Wasn’t it?

Jesus, she was going crazy. She’d felt him there, smelled his cologne, watched his eyes crinkle in the corners when he smiled at her. She would swear that the bed moved when Tom had sat down beside her. She touched her face; it was wet. She hadn’t felt the tears coming, they just flowed from the open wound in her soul.

“I can’t do this,” she sobbed aloud. What the hell was happening to her? She waited on the edge of the bed, rocking slightly, as her trembling body slowly calmed. Finally, she rose and made her way to the bathroom, where she started a bath with water as hot as her skin could stand. As the bathtub filled, Kendra took a prescription bottle from the cabinet, opened it, and quickly swallowed the two capsules she removed. She hesitated for a moment, then shook out another capsule and took that one as well before returning the bottle to the shelf.

The water stung her skin as she stepped into the deep tub. She immersed herself up to her neck, grateful for the undeniable reality of pain. Watching steam waft from the motionless water, she waited. It seemed to take forever before she finally started to relax, her breathing eased, and her mind started to drift. When her muscles began to feel like jelly, she stepped out, dried off, and slipped between the sheets naked. There was a soothing hum in her ears. She closed her eyes and prayed silently.

‘No more tonight,’ was her mantra. ‘No more tonight. No more…’

Mulder waited until 9 a.m. to call Scully on Sunday morning. He tried her cell phone first, with the same results that he’d had the night before:

“The cellular customer you are trying to reach is not available at this time. To leave a message…”

He hung up, then tried her mother’s house.

“Hello, this is Maggie. I can’t come to the phone right now, so leave a message after the beep.”

beeeeep

“Uh, Scully – Dana – it’s me.” He paused and cleared his throat. “I was digging around for some info on Kendra Morgan last night, and I found out that her husband was an officer in the Marines. He died last year. I was thinking I’d go talk to her, see if maybe she knew any of those women – maybe that’s what got her up in arms over this in the first place. Um, anyway, I’ll be here until about ten, then I’ll go over to her place. Call me if you get back before then.”

He waited until ten. Then eleven. Finally, at eleven thirty, Mulder grabbed his coat and slammed the door behind him.

Mulder rang the doorbell for the second time and waited. The car he’d recognized as the one Kendra Morgan had been driving the other night was parked outside – he hoped that she was home. After a minute or two, he knocked loudly on the door. Then again. At last he heard the lock turn. The door opened the two inches allowed by the chain anchored across it. Kendra Morgan peered out at him.

“What do you want, Agent Mulder?”

Mulder had obviously awakened her. She still wore a robe that she clutched around her neck, her hair disheveled, eyes bleary from sleep.

“Mrs. Morgan, I’m sorry I woke you, but I’d like to ask you a few questions – relating to a case.”

Kendra evaded his gaze as she said, “I’m not feeling well right now. Maybe some other time.”

“It’ll only take a few minutes…”

Suddenly her eyes snapped up to meet his. “I said I can’t talk to you right now! Go away!”

Mulder jerked back as she shut the door in his face. He stood there a moment, and thought he heard her crying on the other side of the door. “Are you all right?” he called, trying to keep his voice low.

“I said go away!” Kendra cried as she landed a fist against the door.

Across the hall, a door opened, and a middle aged man stared at him. “Is everything all right?” he asked, in a voice that said ‘you better get lost before I call the police’. Mulder backed away from Kendra’s door with one last look.

“Yeah… yeah, I was just leaving.”

The man watched him until he was out the front door.

Part Fifteen

At two thirty, Mulder tried Scully’s home number and cell phone again, with no answers. At three o’clock, he called Maggie’s house.

“Hello, this is Maggie. I can’t come to the phone right now, so leave a message after the beep.”

beeeeep

“Mrs. Scully, it’s Fox Mulder. If Dana is still there would you ask her to call me please? It’s about a case. Thanks.”

By four, he was dribbling the basketball against the floor – hard. In five months, they had never gone this long without talking to one another. He could only imagine what was going through her mind – and it wasn’t a pretty picture.

‘Hey, if she wants to call it quits, fine!’ he thought. ‘But the least she could do was answer my messages – I mean, we are professionals, we have a case to work on.’

The basketball bounced harder.

‘I mean, it’s not like I should’ve thought this could work. How could it?’

thump

thump

thump

‘We’re too different…’

thump

thump

thump

‘I was fine before we started this, I’ll be fine after…’

thump

thump

thump

‘It was stupid – stupid, stupid, stupid…’

thump

thump

thump

‘I’m not the kind of man she needs…’

thump

thump

Mulder reached helplessly as the ball flew past his fingers and into a lamp. As if in slow motion, the lamp teetered on it’s base momentarily, then went over with a crash.

‘Any minute now…’ he thought. He wasn’t disappointed.

Thud, thud, thud came the broom handle beneath his feet, followed by a voice that said something like “Op a top up air!” With a sigh, Mulder knelt down to pick up the shattered pieces.

The dry leaves crunched satisfyingly beneath Scully’s feet as she walked beside her mother. She took a deep breath of the cold air, her lungs smarting from it’s icy bite.

“Oh, Mom, I miss doing this.” She looked up at the barren trees, sorry that she had missed walking in the woods before the vibrant leaves had fallen. “Sometimes I just get so caught up in things… I forget what’s important.”

Maggie reached up and lightly pinched Scully’s red cheek. “Fall will be here again next year, honey,” she said, reading her daughter’s mind. “And you’ll be here to see it.”

Maggie stopped walking and touched Scully’s cheek again, gently this time. She smiled as her eyes misted over, recalling the times when her most heartfelt wish was just to see her beautiful daughter live one more day. A time not so long ago. Scully covered her mothers gloved hand with her own as their eyes met. Then, the moment past, they walked on silently. Gray storm clouds were beginning to gather overhead, making it seem as if an early dusk was upon them although it was still a few hours away. Scully pushed her hands down into her pockets thoughtfully. Maggie was lost in her own thoughts.

“Oh, Dana, your dad and I use to love to walk these woods like this! I know you probably never thought of him as romantic…” A sad smile passed over Maggie’s face as she sighed. “I still miss him every single day… the time went so quickly! We were married so young, and it always seemed like we had forever… and before I knew it, he was gone.” She shook her head. “It goes by so fast, Dana, so fast…”

Scully stopped and looked at her mother.

“Don’t waste time being afraid, honey,” Maggie said. “Time is so precious.”

Scully closed her eyes for a moment. “I can’t imagine being without him, Mom.” Maggie watched her silently. Scully opened her eyes. “He’s part of me.”

“A good part?” Maggie asked gently.

Scully smiled. “Yeah.”

“Are you happy, Dana?”

Scully thought of Mulder’s long arms around her, heard his laugh, saw the love in his eyes. “Happier than I’ve been in a long time,” she replied. She needed to see him – now. They had to make this right. She turned to her mother again.

“I have to go.” Pulling Maggie to her, she planted a kiss on her cold cheek. “I have to go… I’ll call you later…” Scully quickly jogged toward the house. Maggie watched her go, then closed her eyes and whispered a little prayer.

Rain was pelting the windows, the sound concealing the soft knock on the door. Then Mulder heard the jangle of keys in the lock. He turned off the television and waited. The door slowly opened and Scully stepped in. Mulder stood and looked at her silently as water dripped from her coat onto the dark wood floor. She leaned back against the door, closing it quietly behind her, the space between them charged with unspoken words. Finally, Mulder broke the silence.

“Are you sure no one followed you?” he asked. “We wouldn’t want that, would we?”

“Don’t, Mulder.”

“Don’t what? We don’t want anyone to know that you’re sleeping with the crazy guy, right? Imagine what everyone would say if they knew you were fucking Spooky.”

Scully had worked out an entire speech on the drive here, but suddenly her logical, planned words had fled. Mulder said nothing, simply stared at her across the vast expanse of a living room. “I’m not leaving,” was all she could think to say, and she meant it.

“Right.” Mulder turned away and faced the window, hands in his pockets.

“Mulder, stop it.”

“Scully, go home.”

“No.”

Suddenly, he whirled to face her. “I said, get out!”

She rushed at him and his hands came up in surprise, instinctively ready to block the threat. Scully grabbed his forearms and pushed with all her might, grunting as Mulder fell back onto the sofa and she landed against him. She quickly dug her knees into his thighs and pushed his forearms against his chest. He didn’t fight back. He waited, anger and frustration and pain seething from him like boiling steam.

“I won’t let this happen, do you understand me?” Scully shoved the words through clenched teeth. “I won’t let you push me away!”

Eyes locked together, inches apart, breaths overlapping in rapid bursts, a duel to the death of them – or the life. But Scully felt fierce now. She would stand her ground.

“I – will – not – leave, Mulder,” she said, each word punctuated by a sudden, powerful determination. Mulder swallowed audibly, his eyes still hard, a muscle near his mouth twitching. More quietly, she repeated, “I will not leave.”

Scully moved closer, her mouth within a few inches of his ear. He could feel her warm breath against his face. “I believe in you,” she said, her voice a near whisper. She closed her eyes. “What I need to know now is, do you believe in me?”

Moments passed, hours it seemed. Scully loosened her grip on Mulder’s arms, and she heard him swallow again. His hand moved up >from its captive spot against his chest, and fingers lightly touched her cheek. Scully kept her eyes closed, her nose tucked into his hair, smelling that warm scent that she missed so much. Mulder stroked her cheek with an unsteady hand.

“I want to,” he finally said. “Oh, God, I want to.” He turned her face to him and kissed her, slowly, carefully. Mulder’s hands cupped her jaw, and he leaned his forehead into hers. Their breath mingled as words formed.

“I’m sorry, Scully… I’m sorry…”

“So am I.”

“I’m such a jerk sometimes.”

“Yes.”

A faint grin turned up the corners of Mulder’s mouth. “Now, of all times, you have to agree with me.”

“When you’re right, you’re right,” Scully replied, hiding a smile of her own.

They moved away from each other just enough for their eyes to meet. “I love you, Mulder,” Scully said. “Even when I want to kill you, I love you. You’re stuck with me. There will be a tomorrow, and a next day, and a next.”

He just looked at her for a minute, his eyes searching. Scully unwaveringly held his gaze. “What about the day after that?” Mulder finally asked.

Scully smiled. “Don’t push your luck, G-man.”

They watched each other in tender amusement for a moment, then Mulder’s smile began to fade. In a rush, Scully felt the lack of him, felt him wanting her. Freeing one hand, she lay her palm against his cool, stubbled cheek. She hadn’t realized how much she’d missed that in the morning, his rough skin against hers, the warm musky scent of him as he awakened. At the thought, a small flame ignited in her center and the heat spread quickly through her belly, over her hips, within seconds her body was melting at the feel of him so near. The same fire was in his eyes. He pulled her mouth to his again, this time hungrily. Scully’s hands roamed to places they had craved for days, and his skin seemed to become electric at her touch.

“Oh God, Scully…”

An observer would find it difficult to believe that Kendra Morgan was sleeping. Her breath came in irregular gasps. Her head turned from side to side, searching for, or perhaps fleeing from, the sights that held her captive. Beneath the lids, her eyes moved rapidly, lashes fluttering as she struggled. Fingers clenched and unclenched, muscles twitched, and an occasional guttural sound came from her trembling mouth.

To her, this was real.

Inside Kendra’s nightmare, this was as real as the man standing before her, the man whose cologne she could still smell, whose strong arms she sometimes still felt around her. He called to her.

“Kendra…”

“I’m here, I’m here.” Her body stilled somewhat as he sat next to her on the bed. She could almost feel the warmth of him.

“I miss you, Kendra.”

“Oh God, Tom, I miss you so much!” Kendra’s eyes grew wet, slow tears seeping from beneath the lids. She reached out to him with a trembling hand, but he pulled back.

“You know I can’t, sweetheart.” Kendra’s hand dropped to the bed, inches short of his touch. He looked down at her, his dark eyes soft and welcoming, his smile a mixture of sadness and love.

“Tom, please… I need you…”

“I know, honey.”

“Why do you keep coming here?” Kendra’s voice rose, almost angry. “It’s torture for me!”

“I know, Kendra. That’s why I won’t come any more.”

She sat up, panicked. “No! Don’t go, Tom!” Her hand reached out again as he stood up. “Tom, wait…”

“I love you, honey. I want you with me. But I can’t come back any more.”

Kendra crawled across the bed, reaching as he backed away.

“Tom! Please…”

“Come with me, Kendra.”

She stopped short and sank down on her knees. “What do you mean?”

“Come with me.”

“I… I don’t understand, Tom… How…?”

“Yes you do.”

Kendra sat kneeling on the bed, arms limp at her side, as fear rose in her chest. Her heart was racing and it was hard to breathe. Tom held out his hand. Her eyes locked on his as they pulled her, away from the loneliness and pain, toward his warm embrace. She moved slowly to the edge of the bed and stood near him.

“It’s the only way, Kendra.”

Yes, she thought. What’s holding me here? She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then opened them again. He was still there. She was still only inches away, with miles separating them.

“Wait for me, Tom.” He smiled and nodded.

She walked slowly to the kitchen, feeling weightless and unbound. Her eyes scanned the countertops, and came to rest on the drawer next to the refrigerator. Pulling the drawer open, she let out a held breath as the small box of razor blades came into view.

“I missed you.” Mulder’s words were more of a groan as he met her lips again.

Scully’s fingers blindly reached for his shirt buttons and released them, one by one. Her hands spread across his chest, pushing the offending material away as they kissed again, deeper this time. He wanted to disappear in her kiss, in her arms, but his mind wouldn’t rest. He wanted to make her understand. Pulling back just enough, he spoke.

“There’s this place inside me…” he whispered before her mouth nipped at his again.

“… it’s so empty without you there…” Her lips were on his throat, his ear, his shoulder.

“… I need to smell you, your skin, see you smile…”

His long hands came up to frame her face, thumbs softly stroking her cheekbones.

“I need to touch you, Scully – to know you’re real, that I haven’t been dreaming this.”

Her eyes held him for a moment, in that tender gaze that still caught him off guard.

“I hope this does feel like a dream, Mulder.” Scully’s voice was soft, inviting as a down comforter on a cold winter night. “I want it to replace your other dreams, the ones you wake up from in a cold sweat, the ones that make you reach out for me and wonder if I’m still there. I’ve missed you so much… ” Her hands moved beneath the unbuttoned shirt and lifted the soft T-shirt above his waist, gliding over the lean abdomen and strong back. “You think it’s been easy for me,” she went on, “but you’re wrong. You’re wrong…”

With a quick turn, Mulder lay her back against the sofa. He stripped off his shirts in one quick move, then reached beneath Scully’s sweater and did the same. She reached behind her and unhooked her bra, tossing it to the floor, then leaned back. Her pale skin was luminescent in the faint light, and Mulder sat back and gazed at her.

“Scully…”

She knew. As always, she knew. She reached a hand up to him, and he interlaced his fingers with hers. The ache in Mulder’s groin was almost unbearable, but he hesitated to break the spell.

“I really do love you for your mind, you know,” he finally said with a smile.

She laughed and pulled him to her.

“Tom?”

Kendra’s gaze frantically scanned the bedroom, the tiny cardboard box clutched tightly in her damp palm.

“Tom?” Panic crept into her voice. He said he would wait! “Tom, please! Where are you?”

She dropped heavily on the edge of her bed as a few tears escaped. The razorblades fell to the floor, and Kendra after them, sobs now wracking her body as she lay curled up on the carpet.

“You said you’d wait… you said you’d wait…”

Fingers left trails of flame on skin, and wet tongues did little to extinguish the fire. Hot breath deliciously burned as memory of absence fueled the blaze. There was little talk – they wanted nothing as trivial as words between them tonight. The beat of raindrops against glass was the only sound. Mulder kneeled before the sofa and slid his hand beneath the waist of Scully’s jeans. She moaned softly as he massaged the tender flesh above her pubic bone, reaching ever lower. Soon a zipper was undone, and Mulder pulled the denim over her smooth legs, slowly over each foot, until the only thing that stood between him and all of Scully was a pair of blue satin bikinis. He caught her eyes for a moment and she smiled, reaching to tangle her fingers in his hair. His mouth went to her belly, softly nibbling the taut skin as she held her breath. He moved lower, slowly… lower… she opened her legs as he pushed his tongue on the polished satin, right against her firm clit. Scully’s breath released in a rush.

“Mulder…”

“Right here?” he asked in a low voice.

“Yes… Oh, God…”

He moved his tongue in tiny circles, the panties growing more and more wet. He could feel her against his tongue, breathe in the fragrance that was her, hear her breath quicken… his penis throbbed against the restraints of his clothing, and he left her just long enough to quickly shrug them off. He wanted to be inside of her so badly, but forced himself to wait… he wanted to watch her first, hear her call out for him. Pulling the panties off, he slid his tongue in against her flesh.

“Uhhhhnn….” A guttural, primitive sound came from her lips, a sound Mulder adored. He loved that he could make her let go, drop the guards that she so carefully kept in place. It was a part of her that was for only him, and he treasured it. His tongue flicked faster. Scully’s hand was in his hair, pulling, clenching, her other hand gripping the edge of the sofa.

“Oh, God… Mulder… Oh…Oh…”

She was close, so close. He quickly climbed above her, poised to enter. Her hands clenched at his shoulders, pulling him down.

“C’mon…” she gasped. “C’mon, Mulder… hurry.”

But Mulder didn’t hurry. He slid in slowly, carefully, savoring the delicious, warm sweetness. When he finally pushed himself all the way, she gasped again and wrapped her arms around him. He moved slowly and deliberately against her, wanting to take his time. It only took a few minutes to realize that it wasn’t going to work out that way.

“Scully…” Mulder’s voice strained as he spoke through clenched teeth. “I can’t…”

Scully’s head was thrown back, eyes closed, her breath coming in short gasps. He watched her luscious mouth and moved harder, faster, until she bucked against him, crying out over and over. He held her tightly as her breathing slowed and her body languidly melted into his. After a few moments she spoke, a whisper in the hushed night.

“I still feel you,” she said.

“I waited.”

“Why?”

“I wanted to watch you.”

She opened her eyes and locked them on his. Mulder felt her hips move just slightly against him, rocking again and again.

“What did you see?” she whispered.

What did he see?

His beginning. Adam born of Eve. A lump came to his throat, and he swallowed hard, blinking against the sudden dampness in his eyes.

What did he see? Everything.

“You,” he said.

Kendra blinked slowly. The carpet was rough against her cheek, but she made no effort to move. She simply stared at the spot where Tom had stood, the spot where no footprints had disturbed the thick nap of the carpeting.

She was going insane. But where else did she have to go?

Sleep, she thought. Sleep will bring him back. She closed her eyes and waited, but terrifying thoughts disturbed her.

He said he wasn’t coming back again.

But he will! she thought. He has every night for weeks. He’ll come. Or I will go to him.

She kept her eyes closed, and waited.

“Mulder…”

Scully brought her hand up to his cheek, stroking it with her fingertips.

“They can’t tear us apart, Scully.”

“No…”

Her hips moved forward and back, forward and back, drawing him in and stealing away. He felt as if he would explode.

“I can’t hold back…” he whispered.

“Don’t. Hold onto me, Mulder. Hold on…”

He felt her nails in the flesh of his back, heard her voice in his ear. Heart pounding, he was wide open, helpless.

“Mulder… I love you… I love you…”

With a cry from his soul he erupted into her. She held on, and he fell, and fell, and fell, into her waiting embrace.

Time seemed not to exist in its normal boundaries. Kendra didn’t know whether she’d been lying there, still and silent, for minutes or hours. Finally she turned to her back and opened her eyes. Her dark bedroom was intermittently illuminated by flashes of lightning, its thunder weak and far away. The rain made a hollow sound against the windows.

He wasn’t coming back.

She rose and walked to the window, pulling the curtain back. It was silly really, this pretense. He was waiting for her. What was she waiting for?

Everything that seemed so very important a few short weeks ago now blurred to insignificance. The job? She was expendable, could be replaced in moments. There were no children to miss her. Tom’s daughter lived with her mother, and hadn’t wanted to come and visit Kendra since her father’s death. There was no one who relied on her, no one whose existence depended on hers. No one whose life was changed one way or another by her being here. The only one who mattered lay behind that final door. And she was ready to walk through it as well.

Part Sixteen

Scully struggled to open her eyes as a familiar muffled ring pulled her toward wakefulness. She blinked, a few seconds passing before she remembered where she was. Then she realized Mulder’s arms were around her, and she smiled a little as she sat up.

“Wha…?” Mulder mumbled. “Scully? Where you going?”

“My cell phone – I’ll be right back.”

Mulder wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled. She chuckled as she fell back against him.

“Forget it,” he said and closed his eyes again. “Let it ring…”

Scully pushed his arm away and got up. “It might be important!” She jumped away, softly laughing as he tried to sneak his hand out to grab her. “I’ll be right back – keep my spot warm.”

Rifling through the pockets of her coat, she found her phone and opened it.

“Scully.”

“Meet me at the back of the Georgetown metro stop. Be there in an hour.”

It took a moment for her to recognize the voice. “Lucian?”

“Yes,” he said abruptly.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Just be there.” Then the phone clicked.

The sound of that name had washed all sleep from Mulder’s eyes, and Scully turned to see him sitting up on the sofa. She clicked the phone off and looked at him.

“Lucian,” she said.

“I heard.”

“He wants me to meet him.”

Mulder leaned forward and rubbed his hands over his face, then looked back at Scully.

“Scully… I know you don’t need me to protect you. If you don’t want me to go, then get someone else – I don’t care. But please, please take back-up on this.”

She reached for Mulder’s pants and threw them at him.

“I was planning on it,” she said. “Now, hurry up and get dressed.”

She had believed in God once upon a time. When she was young, she happily followed her mother and father to church every Sunday, sang in the choir, even taught Sunday school for a while.

That seemed so long ago.

Kendra knew that suicide was a sin. But what loving God would leave her like this? Broken, empty…

There was nothing left. Absolutely nothing. She had cried out to her long lost God, and heard only her own echoing voice in return.

Kendra turned away from the window. There were no angels left for her.

The station was practically deserted as they pulled up, with only the occasional 2 a.m. straggler passing under the bright round lights. Mulder walked behind Scully, trying to appear unobtrusive. They’d agreed on the way there to split up when they arrived, so that Lucian wouldn’t cut and run.

Mulder watched as Scully slipped around the corner of the building. He stayed a few steps back, but made sure not to lose sight of her.

It happened fast. A shadow passed his peripheral vision. It headed straight for Scully.

Her name burst from Mulder’s throat as he ran towards her.

“Scully!”

She snapped around at the sound of his voice. The shadow, which turned out to be a staggering man, slammed into Scully. She fell backward, hitting the pavement, sandwiched between the cold ground and a heavy body.

Mulder pulled his gun, pointed at the man and yelled, “Get up! Slowly, with your hands where I can see them!”

No response came from the man, but there was a slight moan coming from beneath him.

“Scully? Are you all right?”

The body shifted. The man was unconscious or dead – Mulder didn’t care. He leaned down and flipped the body off of her. Blood smeared the front of her shirt. Mulder glanced over and saw that it must have originated from a wound in the man’s abdomen. He gave Scully a hand up and pointed at the body.

“Lucian?”

Scully nodded. She knelt and placed her fingers on the side of Lucian’s neck, then shook her head.

“Weak pulse. We’d better call an ambulance.”

Mulder grimaced. “Or a coroner.”

Scully dialed 911, and as she did that, Mulder started investigating the perimeter of the alley. No obvious signs of struggle, but he did note a dark spot on the ground near the place shadow had emerged. Snapping on a glove, he walked over to it and dipped a finger into the steaming puddle. He brought it to his nose and sniffed. He may not be a doctor, but he knew the unmistakable scent of blood.

Scully was giving information over the phone as Mulder walked back to the body. A white spot against Lucian’s dark clothing caught his eye – it looked to be a corner of paper. Mulder bent down to retrieve it when his arm was suddenly grabbed upon.

“Scully?” The hoarse voice asked.

A chill ran through Mulder. He’d never heard another man refer to his partner by only her last name. The icy eyes stared up into his, and Mulder shook his head.

“No. I’m her partner. Agent Mulder.”

“Where’s Scully?” Lucian whispered before a fit of coughing seized his body. Blood trickled from his mouth. Mulder nodded towards where Scully stood. Lucian turned his head to look at her.

Scully closed her cell phone and turned back to the two men peering up at her. She moved closer and bent down to examine the wound, but Lucian’s hand pushed her away.

“It’s too late for me…” he said. Slowly, he moved his fingers into the breast pocket of his coat and removed a blood stained envelope. He handed it to Scully, glancing between the two agents before his eyes finally settled on her. “You can still save one,” Lucian murmured, then his face went slack and he was unconscious again.

Mulder gestured toward the envelope. “What’s in it?”

Scully opened it and unfolded the paper inside, her eyes scanning quickly over the scribbled handwriting. Her brows furrowed as she read.

“It’s a list of names, Mulder. A list of our suicidal wives, all of them dead now…” She looked up at him, her eyes wide. “…except for two: Ellen Tierney and Kendra Morgan.”

Mulder took the steps up to Kendra’s apartment two at a time, Scully close behind him. He reached her door and rang the doorbell, once… twice…

No answer.

Scully banged on the door with her fist, calling out – “Kendra? It’s Dana Scully – I need to speak to you right away!”

Across the hall a door opened, and the same scowl-faced man that had given Mulder a dirty look the last time he was here peered out at them. Mulder flashed his badge and took more than just a little pleasure in shouting at him.

“FBI! Get back inside!”

The man’s eyes went wide as he quickly shut his door. Mulder looked at Scully, who had already drawn her gun.

“Ready?” he asked as he pulled out his own weapon.

She nodded.

Mulder backed up and brought his foot against the door with everything he had. The lock cracked off the jamb and the door swung open with a bang. Scully was poised in the doorway in an instant, her muscles coiled like a spring as she swept her aim across the room. Satisfied that no one waited to take them out at the door, they moved inside, eyes quickly scanning with the points of their guns. Through the living room, kitchen, terrace, bathroom. The bedroom door was closed and Scully tentatively tried the doorknob. It turned easily and she pushed the door open, her stomach churning at what they may find. She squinted in the darkness, but Mulder was the first to see her.

“Kendra?”

Scully flipped on a light switch and saw the figure on the far side of the bed, curled into a fetal position. Kendra’s eyes were closed, and she clutched a picture frame to her chest. Scully pushed past Mulder and knelt next to the body, her fingertips immediately searching out a carotid pulse. Mulder watched, holding his breath. He finally exhaled as Scully glanced up at him.

“She’s alive!”

Scully turned her attention back to the still form before her. It wasn’t until she had pulled the frame from Kendra’s hands that she saw the blood.

“Oh, Jesus,” she whispered. Then louder, “Call an ambulance, Mulder!”

The blood was smeared across the front of Kendra’s dark robe, her hands, her arms… Scully struggled to pull off the garment to find the origin of the bleeding. She turned and shouted to Mulder as he was clicking his phone off.

“Help me!”

They removed the robe from the limp body, and as they did the razor blade that had fallen beneath her came into view. Scully grabbed the woman’s wrists and wiped at the blood with the filmy nightgown Kendra wore. Left wrist – nothing. But the right revealed a deep slit that still pulsed out blood with every heartbeat. Scully grabbed the robe and used it to put pressure against the wound. She leaned close to the other woman’s serenely still face.

“Kendra? Kendra, listen to me,” she urged. “You are not going to die, do you understand me? Come on – fight back! Don’t let them take you!”

A soft moan drifted from Kendra’s throat, almost too low to hear. Scully put Mulder’s hands on the compress, then lightly slapped Kendra’s cheeks.

“Come on, Kendra! Fight, dammit! Fight!”

Kendra’s eyes fluttered and briefly opened. Her lips moved. “I don’t…” she began, then her voice slipped away.

“What, Kendra? What? Talk to me!” Scully put her ear near the other woman’s lips. She felt a warm breath, and a whispered message.

“I don’t… want… to die…”

Scully blinked back tears as she gathered Kendra to her. “No…” she whispered. Mulder watched the two women silently as he held Kendra’s wrist tight.

Kendra opened her eyes, closed them again. “Just don’t… want to live…”

“I know,” Scully allowed quietly, squeezing her eyes tight. “I know…”

As the distant wail of sirens drew closer, Mulder had to look away.

Scully stood quietly at the large window as she watched the ambulance pull away. Behind her, Mulder and the police were already searching the apartment for clues to what had led Kendra on this path. Her mind somewhere else, she was unaware of Mulder’s occasional concerned glances her way. But it wasn’t long before he had to interrupt her reverie.

“Scully, c’mere,” he called. She turned to see Mulder kneeling beside the bed with the bedskirt pulled up. She followed suit, kneeling beside him, and ducked her head down as he pointed beneath the bed and handed her his flashlight.

“What do you make of that?” he asked.

The beam illuminated a sweater box, a book, and something small and square that was attached to the underside of the bed frame. She looked closer, and saw that it was some kind of metal box with what appeared to be a switch on the side. She righted herself and looked at Mulder.

“I think that I’m thinking what you’re thinking.”

Scully watched from the doorway of Kendra Morgan’s hospital room as the nurse finally brushed past her and left them alone. It was nearly 6 a.m. and Scully had remained nearby throughout the night, as Kendra underwent procedures and treatments in the ER and then here in the ICU. She was responding well, her vital signs were stable, and she was conscious but lethargic. Her limbs were carefully restrained, as procedure required for an attempted suicide, but Scully knew that they needn’t have bothered. Kendra was in no shape physically to try to get away or hurt herself again. She also somehow knew that death was not really what Kendra had been seeking that night – she was too strong to take the easy way out. There was only a need for… a closure of some kind, a balm for an ache that never seemed to be soothed. It was that damn device that Mulder had found under the bed, she was sure of it. Somehow it had been programmed to take advantage of that weakness in Kendra’s soul, and it pushed her to the edge. But Scully was also sure that this woman would heal. She would heal and she would go on.

The eyes of the motionless woman on the bed slowly opened and focused on Scully. Kendra opened her mouth as if to speak, but only licked her lips and closed her eyes again. Scully moved near the bed and took the dark hand in her own pale one. Kendra didn’t say a word, just squeezed her eyelids tightly as she wept.

“It’s okay,” Scully said softly. “It’s okay. I know…”

‘Silly platitudes,’ she told herself. ‘I hardly know this woman.’ She had only stayed with her because Kendra had no family that they could locate, and it didn’t seem right to leave her there alone. And Scully was exhausted – she knew that was the only reason she was so emotional right now.

Her own eyes welled up and spilled over, a salty drop landing unnoticed on Kendra’s arm.

She was just tired, that was all. Just so tired.

Miles away, a young man yawned as he tried unsuccessfully to unlock the door of the evidence room. He looked at his watch and let out an exasperated sigh. In 2 minutes he would be late for his shift, and he was this close to being disciplined for his frequent late clock-ins. He banged on the door.

“Jack?” No answer. “Jack! Come on – open up!”

His fist connected with the door again. “Jack!”

Something was wrong. Jack was getting up there – maybe he’d had a heart attack or something. But why wouldn’t this key work in the lock? He reached for the phone on the wall and called for help.

On the other side Jack lay still and silent on the tile floor. He was the only one who could identify the cold, cold eyes of the man who came to take back the metal box, and Jack would never tell.

Part Seventeen

Scully relaxed as the warm water soaked her hair, then let out a small gasp when it washed over her pink shoulders.

“What’s wrong?” Mulder asked from the other side of the shower curtain.

“Please remind me tomorrow – nothing less than an SPF 30!”

She heard him chuckle as he left the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

She opened the bottle of hotel shampoo and moaned ever so softly as the scent of coconut wafted up from the bottle. Pouring a generous amount into her hand, she slowly massaged it over her scalp and smiled.

‘This was such a good idea,’ she thought to herself for about the tenth time today. She had resisted taking this trip, as she so often resisted things that pulled her out of her settled routine. She’d had all kinds of excuses – there was the case they’d been working on, of course. And the money – she wasn’t one to spend on something so frivolous. And she’d been worried about her mother’s health of late, even though Maggie constantly reassured Scully that she was fine.

Then they had watched their ‘case’ fall apart in front of them: the mysterious metal box disappeared, they could glean no useful information from Kendra and Ellen Tierney, and ‘Lucian’ turned out to be a man without a past – or a present, for that matter. Every effort they had made to find his true identity hit a dead end, so to speak. It was as if he never existed.

Her final objection melted away when her mother invited she and Mulder to her house for dinner one night. The two of them were presented with a huge meal that no ailing person could cook, along with a pair of airline tickets. Finally, Scully had thrown her hands up in surrender. “Fine, fine,” she’d said, more than a little irritated at the idea of Mulder and her mother conspiring against her.

But the minute she’d stepped out of the airport last night and saw the palm trees swaying, and felt the warm tropical breezes on her skin, she knew Mulder had been right. And, this time, she didn’t mind it so much.

She finished her shower and rubbed her body with scented lotion, paying careful attention to her tender shoulders, which she knew would be even more sensitive tomorrow. As she dried her hair, she was pleasantly surprised by the face she saw in the mirror. A relaxed face, with freckles sprinkled across the nose and a flush of color on the cheeks. It had been years since she’d seen herself look like that. And she still had 6 glorious days of this ahead of her.

She slipped on a haltered sundress (another gift from her mother) that swirled in jeweled tones of emerald, gold and aqua, stepped into her sandals and out of the bathroom. She found Mulder on the terrace, and as he turned to her, his mouth fell open.

“Wow,” was all he said.

“Is that a ‘you-look-good’ wow, or a ‘you’re-not-wearing- that-are-you’ wow?”

He came at her with a hungry look in his eyes and slid his hands around her waist, pulling her close. Resting his forehead against hers, he whispered to her.

“That was a ‘you-are-beautiful’ wow.”

She couldn’t help but smile.

“I’m so glad we’re here, Mulder.”

“Me too,” he said, standing straight and holding her to him.

“I’m not going to think of anything for the next week except white sand, blue sea, sunsets, and us.”

“No work.”

“Nope – no work.”

Mulder sighed quietly. He knew that was a lie, for himself as well as her. They had both been frustrated and angry at the way their last investigation seemed to be impeded at every turn. But Kendra Morgan was recuperating, as was Ellen Tierney, which was at least some compensation for their feelings of failure on this one.

And, more than that, Mulder had sensed a change in Scully in the past few weeks – a good change. The restless thoughts that awakened her night after night seemed to have eased a little, and she’d been sleeping more peacefully than she had in months. She still kept the disquiet in her soul close to her, but at least now she would sometimes speak to him of Emily, and the bad dreams were fewer and further between.

“Dreams…” he said, drawing in a breath. Pulling back from Scully, he smiled gleefully. “I almost forgot!”

“What?”

“Close your eyes!” was all he said.

She sighed and gave him the you-know-I-hate-surprises look. “Mulder…”

“Just close your eyes – come on! You’ll like this, I promise.”

Reluctantly, she did as he asked. He ducked inside and opened his suitcase on the bed, digging in a zippered pocket until he found what he was looking for. Coming back to stand before her, he held the small silver box in front of him.

“Okay, you can look now.”

As her eyes opened, Scully’s expression of feigned annoyance was quickly replaced by shy delight.

“Oh, Mulder…” She took the box from his hand and held it carefully.

“I know it’s a few weeks until Christmas,” he said, “but I wanted to give this to you here, away from everything.” Scully bit her lower lip as she looked from Mulder’s face to the box and back again. He nudged her elbow. “Well, are you gonna open it?”

“Oh – yes, yes…” She slid the silky ribbon from around the box and pulled off the lid. Her hands trembled slightly as she lifted the gold bracelet from its bed of satin. She said nothing for a long moment, just ran her fingers across the diamonds and brushed gold as her eyes misted over. Finally, she sniffed a few times and looked up at him.

“It’s beautiful, Mulder. It’s absolutely beautiful.” Her eyes were drawn again to the shimmering gold, and she caught site of an inscription on the inside. Bringing it up close, she read the words aloud.

“To make dreams truths.”

Her eyes searched his as she touched his cheek. “You old romantic, you,” she said softly.

Mulder shrugged sheepishly. “John Donne.”

Scully slipped the circle of gold onto her wrist. “I love it.” She leaned up and kissed him gently. “And I love you. Thank you.”

“Aww, it was nuthin’, ma’am.”

She held her hand up again, admiring the sparkling diamonds as she turned her wrist this way and that. “Seven diamonds,” she mused. “Is that a lucky number?”

Mulder’s mouth went dry and his stomach flip-flopped. Suddenly he wondered if this had been such a good idea after all. It seemed to make perfect sense when he saw the bracelet in the jeweler’s window that day, but now… She seemed so happy – the last thing he wanted to do was remind her of sad memories. But it was too late now. He took a deep breath.

“Six Christmases together, and… one…” He hesitated. Should he make something up? A little white lie?

No. ‘To make dreams truths’, he told himself.

” … one for Emily.”

He braced himself for the tears.

But there were none. Not this time. He watched as her lips turned up in a faint, secret smile. Then she wrapped her arms around his waist and lay her cheek against his heart, as he gathered her in a gentle embrace. They stood like that for a long time. Long enough to watch the golden sun dip below the horizon, illuminating the sky with its enchanted hues of blue and orange and red, even after it was gone.

Finis

Thanks for hanging in there to the end.

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(Linda P.) (Linda H.)

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