Shadows on the Sun : Summer by Abracadabra

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Shadows on the Sun by Abracadabra

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Title: Shadows on the Sun: Summer

Author: abracadabra

Rating: PG-13

Spoilers: S7

Summary: Second in the Seasons Series, sequel to Snowed Inn: Winter, but can be read as a separate story. Varying POVs. Mulder and Scully are called to Boston by Agents Mitchell Court and Joani Spark to help investigate a case. Although reading the first story is not necessary to understand this one, it is presumed that Mulder and Scully already have a relatively new, personal, intimate relationship. Disclaimer: They most certainly belong to Chris Carter, Fox and 1013 except for Agents Court and Spark and a few others whoare mine, mine, mine!

Thanks: I couldn’t ask for two finer beta readers. Even more than ‘reading’, they test logistics, flow and characterization. Thanks muchly to Lovesfox and Spooky’s Girl; you two are quite the team.

Feedback: You bet; I thrive on it!

Archive: Sure, just let me know, please.

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Shadows on the Sun by abracadabra

~~~~~

Wednesday, 5 July Washington, D.C.

The Reflecting Pool

I’m not sure why I’ve come here; it’s touristy, it’s not close to my home and it’s a holiday weekend. Lord knows there are other parks and pools that would have met my need for solitude. Maybe, ironically, I’ve been drawn here because it is the reflecting pool.

How terribly clichéd.

It’s sweltering, a typical D.C. day of blistering heat and over-the-top humidity. I’ve forgotten how long I’d been sitting here and almost pour the contents of my water bottle over my head instead of drinking from it. I woke up this morning, bleary-eyed after the late night of fireworks with my mother, my nephews and Mulder. They took to Mulder like, well, like most children take to Mulder, fast and furious.

I speculate on just what the specific quality is and I settle on the fact that it’s probably because they can spot one of their own. Mulder is a kindred spirit. His inner child is allowed free, uninhibited reign. ‘Acting his age’ or ‘behaving like an adult’ around children do not bother my partner. He also steers clear of the other common mistake I see friends make, looking down at and talking down to them. Mulder meets them where they’re at and gives them as much as they can take in. He gives them the space they need and the processing time to allow them to form the questions and understand the answers.

My mom had called me around noontime on the 4th. She was afraid I would be alone (I was; I wanted to be) and that I’d want something fun to do (I didn’t) so she invited Mulder and me to the fireworks. She actually left it up to me to extend the invitation to him, but where my mother’s concerned, furthering or, in this case, mending, our relationship is her full-time job.

She knew something had changed between us, that we had become ‘partnerly in new ways’, as she referred to our still-new relationship, since we returned from Connecticut about six months ago. She knew first because she has an unerring sense when it comes to her children’s lives. She knew also, because she took me to lunch a week after we’d been back. Mom is not one to beat around the bush and her questions started with, ‘So, Dana, you and Fox finally found each other, didn’t you?’ She was happy for us. Mom loves Mulder, as much as I do, he’s another son to her. And Mulder loves being a son to her, especially since his own family treated him more like an outsider.

‘New’ sounds strange when referring to our relationship since we’ve been partners now for about 7 years and our relationship turned much more personal; more intimate back in January. Actually, my mother was correct when she said we ‘found each other’. Sometimes what’s right there in front of you is the hardest to see for what it really is. When I finally allowed myself to really ‘see’ Mulder, I couldn’t want him more.

But, where we are concerned, nothing is ever standard, nothing ever follows the rules and regs of most relationships.

She was also right about our relationship. She has an unfailing, uncanny sense about relationships and particularly about Mulder and me. Most of the time, she is the one person I turn to, confide in and take comfort from. On occasion, I find her questions, her attempts to draw me out, stifling and I want to run from her and, curiously, from Mulder, as well.

She’d been trying, desperately I might add, to pull things back into perspective for me, for him. My mother is an equal opportunity meddler; she’ll go to the ends of the earth to gently mend and fix the relationship whether for me or for Mulder. But she also knows that sometimes that very involvement pushes me as far from doing the right thing as possible.

I have always been introspective and waged my own inner wars, some battles won, some lost and some put on hold until or if I was ready for them. I go just so far in my sharing with others and then retreat, one step forward, two steps back, close the gate, lock it tight.

Strange as it sometimes seems even to me, I do not wish to be ‘read like a book’. My independence has been a warm winter coat or my hard-earned summer tan. My mother has been allowed in by virtue of our relationship and by virtue of her deep and unconditional love for me. Mulder has been allowed in over our years together at different levels at different times.

As a partner, his openness to me early on, earned him my unflagging trust and abiding respect. As we encountered a myriad of situations over the years, we granted each other deep friendship. It became really very simple; we would give our very lives for each other.

As we began to do the sometimes fumbling, sometimes fancy, footwork of the progressing relationship, my need to be undiscovered, separate and sometimes closed off, reared its ugly head. I tested, I became testy, I pushed and I shoved and sometimes, I ran, as far away from him as I could.

And Mulder held on tenaciously, somehow knowing when to keep pursuing me and when to make himself scarce. Most of the time, that is. There were other times that I saw red around him, my anger flashing so hot that I was afraid I’d say or do something rash. It pains me to know that I have hurt him; we have hurt each other. And yet, he has come back to me, he is trying to make us, ‘us’ again.

He’s back now because he wants to be with me, but I’m not sure how ready I am for him to be with me; at least not as my life partner. Sometimes wounds are just too deep to heal without major scarring. Sometimes the gulf is just too wide.

And the most recent wound doesn’t seem to want to heal. I’m finding it very hard to move past what happened between us. I hurt and I find myself still angry from time to time. I know I should be able to ‘rise above it all’, ‘ forgive and forget’, ‘put it all behind me’, but cliches do not a sound and trusting relationship make.

Oh, Mulder, how did you let this happen to us? Why didn’t I see it coming?

~~~~~

Approximately a Month Ago

Monday, 1 June

J. Edgar Hoover Building

7A

Scully would want to get a picture of this occasion; I’m at my desk at seven in the morning and we have a nine o’clock meeting with the boss. She’s not here; I am. Sounds a little spooky to me. I couldn’t sleep, although that’s not a new thing. It was the phone call. When it rang at one in the morning, my first guess was Scully even though it’s usually the other way around; I call her at all hours.

Since our return from the Scouts case in Connecticut, we’d spent time at each other’s apartments, but also took time for ourselves. Still on the verge of our new closeness, finding our way. No plunging for either of us; heck, it had taken us how many years to get this far? What are another several months of discovery?

My sleep-fogged brain was having a hard time registering the voice on the other end, calling me ‘Fox Mulder’. Definitely wasn’t Scully. The voice was low and breathy, troubled; and not making much sense. I got up from the couch, idly stretching and headed into the kitchen to get some water, hoping it would shake loose some of the cobwebs.

After asking who it was several times, I knew I’d need to patiently wait until the caller identified him or herself. The static on the line and the softness of the voice made it hard for me to clearly distinguish whether the caller was male or female.

All I could tell with any certainty was that the caller knew me and needed my help.

I was able to find out that the caller was in Marblehead, a quaint town on the coast north of Boston, Massachusetts. An address was given to me and I was supposed to show up. Just like that. I tried having the call traced, but ended up getting the same address I’d been given. So I knew the caller knew me, needed me and didn’t lie about his or her whereabouts. That and a nickel wouldn’t get me a cup of coffee at this hour.

My instincts told me to leave right now; I could book a flight and be there later today. Some little part of whatever professional code lived within me told me bolting prior to our meeting with the Assistant Director would probably do nothing to further endear me to said boss…not to mention my partner who would be furious with me.

I laid my head down on my hands and replayed what there was of the conversation, ‘Fox, Fox Mulder, it’s me…need your help…come see me…Seaside Park Playground, at midnight… Don’t tell anyone; come by yourself…please, Fox.’ ‘Please, Fox.’ Not many people called me, ‘Fox’, and the few that did were either no longer speaking to me or dead; which I guess also falls under the ‘no longer speaking to me’ category.

I heard her heels first, clacking on the tile floor, walking briskly toward the office. Still too tired to lift my head, I lay there. “Mulder?” The surprise in her voice was worth picking my head up for.

“What, never seen me resting in the office before, Scully?” I got up and walked over to her. Her eyes reflected her concern; she could read me, tell something was up. “What happened, Mulder? What’re you doing here so early?” She placed a hand on my jacket sleeve, her head tilted slightly to one side.

Part of me wanted to share the phone call with her; get her perspective. The part of me that would regret it later decided not to share it with her. “I couldn’t sleep last night, figured I’d come in and get some work done before our meeting.” Her eyes wandered over to the desk where no signs of any ‘work’ lay and then back to me. Obviously deciding she wouldn’t push the issue, she shrugged and dropped her hand from my arm. The question still in her eyes, she busied herself at the files.

“Skinner mentioned something about being called in to assist on a case?” I wasn’t sure what she was looking for since we didn’t yet know what the case was, but I guessed she was just buying herself time to figure out whether to ask me again about what I had been doing here so early.

“What’re you looking for, Scully? Are you trying to divine our new case?”

She turned back to me, smiling, and closed the file drawer. “Are you sure you don’t want to tell me what really brought you here so early, Mulder?”

Insisting that it was simply my lack of sleep, I ushered her to the door, heading upstairs for our meeting with Skinner. Skinner looked mildly surprised to see us both and early on top of that. Even Kim had not done well hiding her mild surprise.

Skinner started talking before we had sat down. “You’re leaving for Boston tonight and you’re going to meet up with Field Agents Mitchell Court and Joani Spark.”

“Sir?” Scully recognized the names just as I had.

The two Boston Agents had been called in to assist us on the Scouts case in Connecticut back in January. The four of us had worked and gotten along well. While Scully and I had worked together with other Agents over the years, it was usually a very well-defined professional relationship, sometimes with a healthy dose of competitiveness and one-upmanship. We did what we needed to do, but we were already a strong, efficient team and having other Agents working with us often required us to use different tactics, methods. We preferred our own style although we respected the need to share our knowledge and resources.

Court and Spark were different somehow. Scully mused that they probably reminded us of a freer, more uninhibited ‘us’. They had an easy manner about them, they were good investigators and, most importantly, they functioned well as a team. They had gone a long way to save our skin and if we could repay the favor, we would do it. Skinner sat down, opening a casefile and flipping through the pages. “The information is sketchy at best, Agents. There are reports in and around one of the local colleges of ‘strange disappearances’. When pressed for further explanation, in each case, the witness tells of the person now missing literally ‘vanishing’ from site or vanishing into thin air.” Almost as if he could not bring himself to say the word, the A.D.‘s jaw set and his lips formed a straight line as he said ‘vanishing’. “The first few reports came from the M.I.T. Campus in Cambridge, the next one from Boston College across the Charles River and the last few reports came from the city environs.

They report no commonality in those missing; men, women, ages range from 19-50. I’ll leave the rest of the details for the two of you to read. You have reservations just outside the city at the Boston Harbor Hotel on Rowes Wharf. Questions?”

Before I had a chance to ask the few questions I had already come up with, my cellphone chirped. I excused myself and moved to the back of Skinner’s office. I could hear Scully asking a few clarifying questions as she began to flip through the file Skinner had handed her, occasionally glancing my way. Skinner had moved around to sit on the front of his desk.

And I heard the voice again, this time a little more clearly, clearly enough to know that I was in as much trouble as the person calling to ask for my help.

I flipped my phone shut and headed for the door. Scully stood, following me, her eyebrow raised in question. Skinner told us that Court and Spark would meet us at the hotel tomorrow at ten. I wasn’t sure that I would be there, but Scully would be going. Now all I had to do was figure out how to tell Scully. Actually, I needed to figure out what to tell Scully first…

~~~~~

Mulder was extremely evasive; more so than he usually was when a new idea hit him suddenly and he traipsed off without me. I guess some habits die hard and, in fairness, he really did understand how I felt about being left out, being left behind, but that didn’t always prevent it from happening.

I waited until we were in the elevator and saw him press the button for the parking garage. I hit the ‘stop’ button. “Mulder, what’s going on? We’re not ready to leave here yet, we have the file to go over.” I held the file up in front of us for emphasis. “Talk to me.”

He was clearly agitated and it had nothing to do with this case. I saw it when I came in to find him half-asleep in the office.

I didn’t know whether to be amused or exasperated with his behavior. Mulder can be very good at hiding, keeping secrets, when he wants to. That same annoying quality is also one of the very things I admire so much about him. If you confide in Mulder or need to share something ‘off the record’, you can rest assured it will go no farther no questions asked. Right now, however, I had plenty of questions and I was asking…

He couldn’t look me in the eye, a sure sign that I was about to get a half-truth or an diversion for an answer. His first response was an attempt at diversion. “What do you want to know, Scully?” Answer my question with a question…

“Mulder, you’ve been acting strange, okay, stranger than usual, since this morning. You get a call on your cellphone in Skinner’s office and all of a sudden you’re on your way out. Something’s wrong or something’s not right; however you slice it, it’s bothering you. Now out with it.”

I searched his face, trying to draw his eyes to mine. He met them briefly, but looked over my shoulder or at the floor otherwise. Not a sign that I was about to hear a truthful response.

I waited none too patiently. We were about to go out of town on a case and, at best, my partner was distracted.

“Ok, Scully, here it is. I have to leave ahead of you. I’ll meet you in Boston in the morning. I can’t say anymore than that.” And that was that.

I felt the color in my face, I felt the heat rising, I felt left out. And I was angry with myself for feeling that way. This was obviously something pretty big for Mulder. My mind started going through a mental checklist of what or who it might be: his family was dead, the Gunmen were ok, Skinner and I were ok. Everyone else I might consider was either dead or in another country. Not that either of those categories ever seemed to prevent people from showing up, but I was reasonably sure I still had no guesses.

I toyed with the idea of Mulder having a personal relationship I didn’t know about. It made sense. Although we were obviously involved, (such a sound byte) we each had parts of our lives that remained uniquely our own. I flip flopped back and forth, debating myself. We’re already rather seriously committed to one and other and he wouldn’t carry on another relationship without telling me. Or, I’ve misread the signals, he’s been upset for awhile now and has already become involved with someone. I couldn’t allow myself to believe that I didn’t truly know Mulder’s heart, but that still resolved nothing for me. While my rational mind accepted that fact, my emotional side was working itself into a real rage.

“You’re just going to leave now and you’ll see me in the morning? I s that it?” Why I felt the need to repeat what he’d just told me I can probably chalk up to the rage inside me. My voice had risen, something I rarely allowed myself. As if to try to assuage his own guilt and my anger, he leaned into me and kissed me chastely. Yeah, that was really going to make me feel better about whatever this was, make me forget all about the fact that our relationship, professional and personal, is based on mutual trust.

I took a deep breath and released it slowly, thinking about how unfair I was being. Mulder was obviously very upset about something or someone and all I could do was find new ways to question him and his judgment and play the hurt partner.

“I’m sorry, Mulder, that was uncalled for. Do whatever you need to do and I’ll see you tomorrow.” I gave him my best, ‘I’m-with-you’ smile and hit the button for the garage. Grabbing my arm, this time, he really did kiss me. So deeply that he made my head spin. And then he was heading for his car and I headed back to our office. I shoved back the lingering questions and doubts, somewhat angry at myself for allowing the touch of our lips to derail my questions.

~~~~~

Feeling like the biggest schmuck this side of the Mississippi, I started my car and headed out of the garage. I had relied on Scully’s trust in me and her unswerving willingness to support me whether she agreed with my motives or not. She was clearly bothered by this situation and I wasn’t doing much to dissuade her of her concern.

Heck, I wasn’t even sure I knew what I was doing. I was operating on pure instinct at the time. I kept replaying both phone conversations in my mind, trying to be sure of the voice. The second call on my cellphone was a little clearer and I thought I had placed the voice, but something wasn’t ringing true. The second call reiterated the desperate plea to arrive quickly, gave the address again, but said no more. When I asked for more information I was merely told to ‘please hurry, time is of the essence.’ I knew I was missing something here.

When my plane landed at Logan Airport, a Malibu rental was waiting for me, a nice upgrade from the usual Taurus. The drive to Marblehead would take approximately an hour and a half, getting me to the specified address around midnight. I stopped along the way at a Sub Shoppe and picked up a foot-long ham and cheese, some chips and a large soda. I knew I was also going to need coffee later.

~~~~~

I opened the casefile as soon as I got to my assigned seat; buckling myself in and preparing for take off. I suddenly realized that with a few exceptions, I rarely flew alone, especially not for work. The flight wasn’t full and the two seats on either side of me were empty.

I moved to the aisle and spread the papers out, trying to find some clues or patterns.

I had gotten no farther than rereading the same two pages when I started thinking about Mulder’s mystery calls. He hadn’t told me where he was going, but it had to be close since he was going to meet me in the morning at the hotel. I started to get worried for reasons unknown, but I also knew there wasn’t a thing I could do to help him out since I had no idea where he was going.

I’m not quite sure how thoroughly I thought about my next actions. I knew Mulder had a flight into Logan and was renting a car. While rental agencies don’t necessarily require the exact address of your final destination, I went on hunch that Mulder may have shared that information or asked for directions. I whipped out my cellphone and called Lariat’s main number in D.C., knowing Mulder would have booked his reservation. After some fancy explaining, I was told that Mulder was headed for Marblehead, but that they didn’t know an exact address.

That was that, I couldn’t afford to roam the streets of the town looking for him. One of us had to be the responsible Agent…

Somehow, knowing where he was, although it didn’t tell me why he was there, made me feel a little better. I guess it was because I would be able to find him if a problem arose. In all honestly, I was also operating from a selfish standpoint. I needed to know where he was.

I went back to the casefile and noted something I had not seen before. The latest victim had recently come to Boston from Marblehead, Massachusetts.

~~~~~

I pulled into a service station once I hit the Marblehead town line, asking for directions to the Seaside Park Playground. I was actually already close by and knew I’d make my midnight time. This person was definitely into mystery, and god knows what else.

Most playgrounds tend to be deserted on dark weeknights; making them the perfect place for clandestine meetings with unknown persons. Seaside Park was no exception. I drove along Atlantic Avenue, the coastline at my right. As the road veered eastward, I could just make out the lighthouse beacon on the dark waves I knew were there, but couldn’t quite see. I had the windows rolled down, the darkness and the ocean breeze taking the edge off the humidity of the day. The Park Playground ran about a fifth of a mile from Atlantic Avenue straight to the water’s edge. The asphalt roadway inside the Park was narrow, open grassy expanses to my left and right. Ball fields, brick grills, swings, slides, jungle gyms dotted the area. It was wide open with the occasional shade of oak and maple trees.

The Park was actually lit by quaint wrought iron street lamps with frosted glass globes. I had entered another little world here and was growing more anxious to find the mystery person in need of my help, hoping against hope that I was wrong in my attempt to identify her.

The voice had clearly sounded feminine during the second call.

And an image of Scully came to my mind, the full force of the image momentarily stopping my thoughts, making me slam on the brakes. I thought about how this must all look and seem to her. Sure, she was used to my focus, my need to go off on a moment’s notice, or no notice, but I was trying her patience, trying our new relationship.

I had sent her on ahead to our next case with nothing more than a ‘see you tomorrow, Scully’, as if this were the most natural way to begin the new investigation. I hadn’t given two thoughts to the casefile, leaving it all to her.

Regardless of the fact that I knew she was a damn good investigator, we were partners and that meant working together, watching each other’s backs, sharing, trusting. And I was right back to where I started. She trusts me; god knows I trust her. And I shut her out of this.

Maybe because I had a sickening feeling that when she learned what I was doing and with whom, that trust was going to be put to the ultimate test.

I took my cellphone from the seat of the car and speed dialed her number. I was about to hit ‘send’ when I stopped, seeing a shadow cross my headlights. I dropped the phone back onto the seat and shut off the engine, the headlights still on.

I had been right about the caller. There was also no way I could be right.

~~~~~

Midnight, 1 and 2 June

Boston Harbor Hotel

Rowes Wharf

Weary from my flight, my review of the casefile and my worry over my partner, I checked in to the hotel absentmindedly noticing that Mulder and I had connecting rooms on the 12th floor. The Desk Clerk, chipper even at the late hour, had mastered the art of checking me in while producing a litany of unwanted information about the ocean view from the shared balcony, free continental breakfast served in the lounge down the hall beginning at six AM, beachfront privileges, small health spa facility on the garden level (wherever that might be) and internet connections via phone line in each room. I thanked him groggily and took my keycard.

The room was actually very nice and said balcony did afford a nice view of the beach, not that I’d have the opportunity… I unpacked, mindlessly stowing away my luggage in the closet, then started removing my clothing.

I was tired, exhausted more like it, but knew that sleep would not come easily to me tonight. I had too many half-formed ideas floating around in my head and they were all vying for my attention. A bath was what I really wanted, but was too tired to even go through the motions, so I pulled on a tee-shirt over my panties and climbed in to bed with the casefile.

I grabbed the remote and channel surfed, settling on CNN. With the drone of the news in the background, I was more clearly able to review the facts I had started to piece together on the flight: The disappearances took place either in the very early morning, between five and seven AM or late at night; between eleven PM and midnight.

There was only one witness to each disappearance, although some of the locations were frequently visited sites, no one else happened to be present at that exact moment, possibly meaning that the perpetrator

had checked the areas in advance.

There were 3 women and 2 men who had vanished, their ages seemed unrelated. Their physical traits varied enough that I didn’t feel this was the work of a fixated person or someone trying to eliminate people who happened to ‘look like’ someone from their tormented life. Of the two that occurred on the two college campuses one male victim was a student and one was not, although the witnesses were.

With the exception of the latest victim, a male, all the others lived in and around Boston. Even the college students came from the surrounding, greater Boston area. The latest victim… The previous disappearances had happened in the last month, within two or three days of each other. The latest victim had gone missing two days ago, breaking the two to three day separation. He had vanished one day after the previous one.

Jason Fiske was described as a man in his late forties, an executive with a small, but fast growing, dot.com housed in the Prudential Building downtown. The woman he had been dating for almost a year was with him at the time. They were at Faneuil Hall Marketplace having a beer at O’Malley’s Pub, people everywhere, the noise level high and jovial for a Thursday night. They had toasted their upcoming home purchase. The closing was the next day out in Nahant.

Mirabel ‘Chiquita’ Banaros needed to find the restroom, the fruit juice spritzers always seemed to keep her running, especially since she became pregnant. He followed close behind and turned to kiss her outside the facilities.

The otherwise bustling area was strangely quiet and empty as he opened the door to allow her to walk inside the restroom. His hand still on her shoulder, she turned to kiss him again, a quick peck on his cheek. He smiled at her—and was gone. It was 11:30PM when she screamed and fainted.

He had been in Boston that day after meeting with a fellow ‘dot.commer’ in Marblehead at a home at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Chestnut Street, a nice residential neighborhood bordering on Seaside Park Playground.

I made a mental note to check out that location. I now had at least a few leads to go on when we met with Court and Spark tomorrow. Feeling ready to drift off, I cleared my notes from the bed and headed for the bathroom.

I turned the AC on high, climbing into bed and pulled the blankets up and turned off the bedside lamp. As I felt my body finally relax, I had a vivid image of Mulder and a woman I could not see. She appeared to be shrouded in shadow and darkness. I fell asleep with the distinct impression that no good could come of her contact with Mulder. And that I was not going to be happy about their contact.

~~~~~

Marblehead

Seaside Park Playground

12:30AM

I took a moment before getting out of the car, trying to shake some sense into myself and this situation. I was sure that my eyes were playing tricks on me; it was late, I was exhausted and I still had to drive into Boston to meet up with Scully, Court and Spark in the morning. Make that later this morning.

She walked across the headlight beams and toward my door, opening it, her hand extended toward me. I ignored the proffered hand, but got out of the car; a look of incredulity surely plastered on my face. She was almost my height, her wavy, dark, hair hanging to just below her ears in what Scully would have called a cropped bob; whatever the heck that means. Her blue eyes sought mine, the plea for my help evident even when her ample mouth didn’t give it voice. I blinked several times, a weak attempt at clearing my head and coming back to my senses.

Somewhere in that face, those eyes, were memories I had long buried and had no desire to resurrect, but her proximity was wrenching a jumble of conflicting feelings inside. She was a bit heavier than I remembered her to be and rather haggard looking, but, then again, death can have that effect on you. Her once imperious air was still evident in the way she tried to hold her head high, her shoulders back, but there was also something underneath it all. A desperation? A plan? I wasn’t entirely sure and even less sure I should be here to find out.

But I wasn’t walking away.

Dressed in baggy jeans and a long-sleeved tee that did nothing to hide her still leggy and curvaceous form, she shifted her weight restlessly. It was a subtle movement on her part, and I’d bet anything that she didn’t realize I picked up on it. She wasn’t entirely on her game in her current condition, but she was forgetting how well I once knew her. She was hiding something.

She took my hand, attempting to smile as she spoke, “Fox, you have to help me although you have no reason to, although I shouldn’t ask you to. But you are the only one who can.”

The sound of the waves crashing to the shore was probably the only thing that kept her from hearing just how hard my heart was beating.

And, at this point, it probably wouldn’t have been melodramatic on my part to take a long walk out into those waves.

~~~~~

Tuesday, 2 June

Boston Harbor Hotel

8AM

The sun shown brightly from my balcony, the rays jumping and sparkling on the waves on the beachfront. I took a deep breath, stretching and then wandered inside to shower and dress. Agents Court and Spark would be here at ten and Mulder should have been here already. I tried to push that thought from my mind even as I knew that he wouldn’t be here on time and might not be here at all. I had awakened to strange dream-like visions and Mulder’s face was one of those visions, but something; someone, much darker was there, too.

I had long since stopped feeling the mind intrusions and dreamlike visions of the Scouts from our case in Connecticut. A few incidents had lingered once we returned home, but their parlor show seemed to have a limited range. No, these visions scared me in a way even the Scouts failed to do.

I couldn’t shake this odd feeling, although it wasn’t the feeling I had so much as the fact that I was having a ‘feeling’. Which brought me back to Mulder who tends to operate on his feelings more often than not. The fact that said feelings often prove right on the money is nothing short of astounding.

I had to derail that line of thinking, fast. I dressed in cream colored capris and a matching cream colored, cap sleeve, fitted top; pulling my hair up into a high ponytail. I slid my feet into my red, canvass, sling-backs and headed over to the vanity to apply some mascara and a bit of lip gloss. It was already 80 outside and although the sky was overcast, it promised to be muggy. I went down the hall and grabbed some coffee and a bagel. I wanted tea, but I needed coffee.

It took every ounce of discipline to not go find my errant partner. Ok, admittedly, he wasn’t officially ‘errant’ just yet and I didn’t have a car…but I was determined and I couldn’t shake a foreboding feeling.

I took the USA Today from under the door out to the balcony with me. Placing the coffee and bagel on the small table next to me, I sat down and put my feet on the large resin table in front of me. It felt nice to temporarily shut out everything else. The view really was nice and the slight breeze coming off the Atlantic felt great. I grabbed the paper and started reading.

I almost didn’t hear the knocking on the door. I glanced at my watch and couldn’t figure out how ten o’clock had arrived so quickly. I was hoping against hope that it was Mulder, but sensed that it wasn’t.

I was right…it was Agents Mitch Court and Joani Spark from the Boston Bureau. I welcomed them and noticed them looking around, probably for Mulder. I explained that he had run an errand and would probably be running late, but assured them I would bring him up to speed. It really was good to see them again. Although we actually got to spend little time with them, I enjoyed their company.

“Well, we can get started on our own, then. Mitch and I have gone over and over the details of the case and are frankly coming up empty. We’re hoping you and Agent Mulder; well, you anyway, will go with us to interview each of the witnesses.” When I started to ask the question, Mitch responded, “Yes, the witnesses were each interviewed directly following each disappearance, but our AD wasn’t totally satisfied, so she’s asked us to follow up. We’d appreciate your assistance. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, this case is garnering national attention primarily because of the college students. It’s sent quite a ripple through campuses everywhere, heightening their security forces.”

I called down to the front desk asking whether there had been any word from Mulder regarding his check in time. The desk clerk simply told me that yes, Mr. Mulder had called in early this morning to say he would arrive this evening. I nearly slammed the phone down in its cradle. I saw red and I needed to get out of this room as fast as I could. He called in, but couldn’t be bothered to call my room?

Furious could only begin to describe my feelings.

I was torn between being overwrought with worry and a strong desire to tear my partner limb from limb for making me worry about him, yet again. This trip was going to hell in a hand basket, fast.

~~~~~

Seaside Playground Park

Marblehead

Early morning hours, 2 June

I had so many questions for her, not the least of which was how she managed to come back from the dead. I had to laugh at that one. Me of all people wondering how someone could come back, I must have seen at least a million examples of the years to write my own misguided book on the subject.

She wasn’t very forthcoming about anything except that she was in danger and, by extension, so were Scully and I. I wasn’t entirely clear on why she was in danger. She was almost incoherent with fear, despair and something else I couldn’t quite place although I used to know her. I realized with a sudden certainty that I no longer knew her and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know her now.

There was a small part of me that felt sorry for her, for how she had been manipulated by others as surely as she had manipulated them. But it was ultimately her betrayal of me that helped me gain insights I wished I’d never have to. And it was Scully who finally helped me recognize the betrayal for what it was.

I had trusted this woman, possibly even loved her once upon a time. The trust and later, the love, had grown from our shared interest in the X-Files. She was vibrant, intelligent and ready to advance her career. I admired those traits in a professional partnership. That partnership later moved to the personal level.

During training, we had been warned about keeping our personal and professional lives separate because of the ultimate effect it could have upon our ability to remain focused in the field. While there were no express rules against a relationship, we all knew it was frowned upon, at least between field partners. That didn’t stop me. Oh, I knew all the signs, hell; I’m a well-educated man. Well educated in all but possibly relationships…

My mind wanders first back to the times with this woman when all was right in our personal sphere. I am not able to stay with those thoughts for long, partly because I keep seeing Scully in my mind and partly because bits and pieces of this woman’s treachery rear their ugly head.

It shouldn’t have been any wonder to me that she believed. Of course she would have, she was working with the Cigarette Smoking Bastard from the start to ensure that the work of the Syndicate was furthered. She was helping him keep reign on me, cause tension between me and Scully.

How many times did Scully try to warn me? How many times did Diana smugly attempt to goad Scully? And, while I’m being retrospectively honest with myself, how many times did Scully ask me to listen to and believe in her, only to have me turn her down cold? Well, honesty’s a tough cookie to swallow and I choked.

The ultimate betrayal came when I was hospitalized while Scully was in Africa. Scully painstakingly plodded on, trying to piece together a puzzle in which she could not allow herself to believe. Somehow, through it all, Scully saw Diana’s role, again, with the CSM and somehow, at least at first, I did not.

I wince as I think back to Scully working with the Lone Gunmen to try to prove to me that what she was saying about Diana was for my own good, to help me see for myself exactly how I was being manipulated. Of course, I boiled Scully’s investigation down to nothing more than additional attempts on her part to discredit Diana in my eyes. And, while I could see no rational reason for Scully to do this, I railed against her ‘proof’. One more piece of Scully Irrefutable Scientific Proof and I did almost everything in my power to push her away.

That was one of the rare times when I saw the deep hurt and anger in my partner, as evidenced when she literally walked out on me. She had to have been the angriest I had ever seen her and that anger was directed at me. My lame excuse, rationalization for it, was jealousy on her part. I flatly refused to believe that it could be anything else. Because I was so angry at what I considered her stubborn attempts to convince me of Diana’s evilness based solely on what I thought was sheer jealousy, I let her walk. My pride watched her walk away, knowing how hurt she was.

I am one who has to learn from direct experience for the most part, sometimes stubbornly refusing to believe what I’m told unless I can try it myself. When Diana came to see me in the hospital, I had been slipping in and out of consciousness. But, throughout my changing levels of awareness, I had also discovered that I had the ability to know what was in others’ minds. My first awareness was a strong connection to Scully who I knew was moving heaven and earth to save me.

When Diana came to see me, to proclaim her love for me, she asked me to look inside her to see the truth. And ‘look’, I did. It wasn’t hard to do. Between my ability and her willingness to open herself to me, all barriers ceased to exist.

I don’t think she expected me to see that truth. Oh, I knew she did love me, in some warped travesty of trusting love, but that was not enough and did not make up for the fact that I also knew her to be a traitor, reluctant though she might be in the end. Scully’s warnings had seemed to slam into me then with blinding force. I had chalked up her concerns to pettiness.

When Scully told me of Diana’s murder, I was shocked, but strangely numb. I knew at that point that the one person I could trust unconditionally was my partner. Swirls of emotions raced through me, not the least of which, my earlier doubt about Scully’s reasons for trying to make me see what Diana was doing to me. If I could have blasted myself for what I put her through, I would have done so gladly.

But, in that way that only Scully has, she selflessly absolved me of all that came before, bringing us to the present, allowing me whatever grief I might have for Diana’s death. A more magnanimous soul I had never met before our paths crossed in the basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building all those years ago.

And I was risking it all, for what, for who?

So, now I find myself sitting at a picnic table in the middle of a dark playground by the ocean with a supposedly-murdered woman who once loved me and more times than I can count, betrayed me. And my partner and the love of my life has no idea what I’m doing or where I am. If my life could get any more complicated, I wasn’t yet aware of it.

When Diana did not speak for a few minutes, I decided to give her more time and call Scully. I took my cellphone from my pants pocket and dialed. Diana chose that moment to come out of whatever mood she had been in. She took my phone, turned it off and set it down next to her. “You can’t call her, Fox. She can’t be involved in this, with us.” I reminded her that there is no ‘us’, but she just smiled wanly in reply, an icy sparkle in her blue eyes that I could make out even in the dim lighting.

I asked her for the phone and was told that the only way I would get it back was if I promised not to call Scully. She almost spat Scully’s name although the smile that didn’t make it to her eyes never left her face… Funny how some things just don’t change with death…

I was getting angrier by the minute, angry at myself mostly for being here and not contacting Scully. I had plenty of opportunities to tell her. As my anger rose, so did I. I nearly screamed at her, needing some answers and needing them fast. “Diana, either you tell me exactly what the hell is going on right now or I walk. And you can rot in hell, again, but if you want my help, give me something to go on! By the way, I don’t care if you return the f***ing phone.” What can I say? When I’m angry, I don’t always make the most sense. I was shouting, releasing all of the pent up tension and tightly coiled guilt and self-doubt.

She smiled at me and for a fleeting minute, I was carried back to another time, another Diana who had long, flowing, rich dark hair, sparkling blue eyes and a quick laugh. A time when I felt the depth of her support for me—and that’s when the scene ended abruptly. That time hadn’t really ever existed. It was predicated always on her role in the grand plan to keep me in line. A childhood nursery rhyme fragment came to me, ‘…when she was good, she was very, very good and when she was bad she was horrid…’ Probably written expressly for Diana.

“Alright, Fox, you deserve to know what’s going on. I suppose you want to know how I died?”

~~~~~

2 June, 10AM

We decided to head over to Massachusetts Institute of Technology first, then come back across the Charles to Boston College. Both witnesses were college students, one in her first year and the other a senior. This plan made good investigative sense to me; talk to the earlier witnesses before their understanding of the facts were totally lost.

In actuality, I wanted to go to the Marblehead address first, only a slight interest in the most recent witness my reason.

The first interview would be conducted by Agent Court with Spark as his back up. I wanted to remain in the background on the first round to learn their style, but also allow them their jurisdiction in this case. While Mulder and I had equal authority since they had called in the home office, extending this courtesy was essential in setting the tone for the teamwork aspect of any investigation outside of our homebase.

We met the first year student, Lizzi Purplesse, in the lounge of her residence hall. She was taking summer courses, majoring in Computer Science. Originally from the United Kingdom, attending college in the States had been her dream. Mitch found her to be very easy to talk to, engaging and lively. He smiled at Joani and me as we all wondered where this petite woman got her energy. We could see the excitement in her eyes as she asked if she could see our badges more closely. Her tone oozed enthusiasm and the curiosity of one who has probably watched one too many movies with stereotypical Agents.

Lizzi explained that she was meeting a non-student friend from a store in town who she came to know from a recent shopping trip off campus. They met in the library on campus at 11P when he got out of work. As she recounted her tale, some of the excitement in her eyes and voice faded. She was obviously remembering the events of that night.

Joani moved a little closer for her, providing silent support for the sadness she was experiencing. Mitch asked her to explain exactly what happened.

“We met at the main circulation desk area, happy to see each other after a long week. He had worked almost 60 hours that week and my classes had been rough. We walked to the back of the library where they had some, um, more private lounge areas, just to talk, you know! Anyway, I saw some of my friends on the way back and introduced them to Bart.”

Lizzi had paused at that point, obviously replaying the night in her mind’s eye. She smiled briefly and then began again.

“We were sitting across from each other in the lounge chairs, just kind of talking. I leaned across toward him, you know, just putting my hand on his and I asked him if he wanted something to eat or drink, offering to go get us something from the little cafŽ area. I stood up, still facing him, and then turned to reach down for my knapsack. As soon as my hand touched my knapsack, I could tell something had happened.”

Joani asked her how she ‘knew’. “I don’t know, I just knew. And I was right! I barely turned my head for a second and he was gone!” Lizzi was becoming agitated and Joani moved to place one hand on hers, helping to ground her. It helped and Lizzi continued, explaining how she had first looked all around her, thinking maybe Bart was kidding her and had hidden behind the furniture, although she could see no reason he would behave in this way. Then she screamed. She went on to describe how other students and library staff came running to her. No one had seen Bart leave the library.

We thanked Lizzi for her time and watched her walk away. I wanted to see the crime scene, although all evidence had been gathered, such as it was. The labs had been able to identify hairs from both Lizzi and Bart; fingerprints from both were on the furniture. Other than that, they found nothing.

I snapped on a pair of latex gloves as we walked around the lounge area. I was assured by the cleaning staff that nothing had been moved since that night, the area had remain closed. Something made me stoop down by the chair Bart had been sitting in. I ran my gloved hand over the arm of the chair and paused. My eye was drawn to the floor under the chair, the metal chair legs providing me with an unobscured view. A milky half liquid, half dust-like residue came away on my finger.

Mitch saw what I was doing and produced a small, circular container and evidence bag. I asked them to have it sent to the lab for testing, wondering why no one had done so that night…

After heading for the main cafeteria for some lunch, we drove back into Chestnut Hill and headed for the BC campus where we would talk with Alonzo Marito, a senior marketing major. We had agreed over lunch that I would interview Alonzo.

We met up with him in the shaded park area outside the administration building. It had now reached the high 80’s and the slight breeze through the leaves made this a nice setting. Alonzo was a little wary of us, a common mistrust in government officials, I supposed… He and my still missing partner would certainly have something in common.

His nervousness and hesitation made sitting down on the nearby benches a fleeting thought; this was to be a standing interview. I suggested that we walk along the length of the park, telling him I really needed to move a little after a big lunch. The personal touch seemed to help him relax, along with the assurances that he was not a suspect in the disappearance of his running partner, Nick.

Alonzo explained that on that fated day, he and Nick had met, as usual, at 5:30AM outside their residence hall. He stopped, turned around and pointed out the area to me. Mitch and Joani were following close behind, listening as back up, but giving us our distance. His story, like Lizzi’s, was disheartening in that the available clues were sparse, the evidence even less so.

Nick had arrived a few minutes prior to Alonzo and was stretching when Alonzo joined him. They set off at a fast walk, heading to the road that circled the campus. As their pace quickened, they alternated between sprinting and steady pace jogging, one of the two taking the lead on occasion.

“Nick was slightly ahead of me during the last leg of our route. We end right over here.” He motioned to the statue in front of the fountain. “It’s a great place to cool down and stretch before walking back to our building. Anyway, I saw him heading for the statue and sped up to close the distance. He was right in front of me as he rounded the statue. I called out to him, actually grabbed his arm to make him stop. And then…then he was just gone.” As Lizzi had done before him, Alonzo started to break down. A hand-clap on his shoulder from Mitch seemed to help a bit.

Samples taken from the statue and fountain area revealed the same residue from the library. And we would find it following the other three interviews. Waiting for the results was driving me crazy, more crazy than it usually would.

The three of us were silent for a good part of the ride back to the Harbor Hotel. I was going to need to rent myself a car if Mulder didn’t show up soon. It was now almost five and I needed to gather my thoughts and type up the notes from our interviews and review of the facts.

Joani and Mitch declined my invitation to come upstairs, saying they had similar work to do, but would call me if they heard anything.

I leaned in the window of the passenger side to say good-bye and thank them when Joani whispered to me. “He’s going to be ok and so are you.” I smiled, hot, sweaty, tired and sad, wanting to believe her, but growing more anxious by the moment. I couldn’t tamp down the feeling that something bad was happening. I desperately wanted and needed to talk to Mulder.

I stopped at the desk to see if I had any messages, hoping against hope that I would either see Mulder checking in or have a message from him. I had tried his cellphone several times but either he had forgotten to turn it on or didn’t have it with him. When I got to the desk, neither of my hopes panned out and I trudged to the bank of elevators.

Once inside the room, I tossed my notes and files onto the desk and sat heavily on the bed. I mentally told myself that I had work to do, that I’d worked alone before. My emotions won out this time and I sulked and gave in to a sense of overwhelming despair, the likes of which I hadn’t known in a very long time.

I found myself drifting back to my Africa quest to find the pieces of code needed to help Mulder come out of his deep fugue. We were separated over a great physical distance, but we were so close emotionally. I ached for him, for him to be well again, to be whole again, to be by my side again. So close and yet so far from each other.

I tried to tell myself that I was being overly dramatic, that things were not as bleak as I was painting them, but the canvass of my mind was getting blacker with each stroke of color and I couldn’t find my way to the whitewash.

“Muhhl-derr, where are you?”

~~~~~

Seaside Park Playground

2 June, First light of day

I had managed to convince her that at least leaving a message at the hotel desk for Scully would give us more time to talk. In this way, Scully would know I was alive without me actually talking to her. Not that I harbored any illusions that she would ever allow me to speak to her again when this was all over… Our burgeoning personal relationship had probably just been trashed and I was sure she would request an immediate transfer after my very ‘unpartnerly’ behavior.

I was very ready to head into Boston at this point and take my medicine. I knew it would taste really bad, but I wouldn’t get better until I swallowed it, along with my pride.

Diana asked me if I wanted to know how she ‘died’. At that point, although I was mildly curious, all I wanted to do was find out exactly what help she claimed to need and why it had to be me. She had made many claims to me and about me over the years and most of them had been staked on a whim, on a vision of something that did not exist.

As I had surmised, her ‘murder’ was carefully staged, the details unimportant. It came as no great surprise since both Scully and I had seen each other’s dead bodies over the years. All that was required was for someone well-placed to make it appear that word of her murder had been ‘leaked’ to Scully, knowing full-well that it would get back to me right away. Who arranged it didn’t matter to me and Diana wasn’t sharing that morsel of information.

Oh, Diana, it’s nice to know there are some constants in life—you sharing only what you think I need, only what may keep me coming back for more. In this case, I already knew much more than I needed or wanted to know.

And, just for good measure, she had also made sure to try to further insinuate herself in Scully’s good graces. She had done so selfishly, wanting and needing to ‘save’ me. The gratuitous delivery of her key access card to the facility I was being held at and a copy of the Code Talker book was a vain attempt to paint her in a favorable light. I think she knew her days were numbered at that point. I also think there was some small place inside her that didn’t want me dead, but she also didn’t want me with Scully. Gonna have your cake and prevent anyone else from nibbling, huh, Diana? Sarcasm was a hollow attempt at helping me relieve some of my guilt.

Well, her murder had been staged and she claimed she had been held captive by forces unknown. Her theory was that it was by the Syndicate’s opponents. I tried hard not to laugh in her face, but could not keep the strange smile from spreading across my face. How ironic that she would be left alive only to have her loyalty to the bad asses of life take her down?

Who they were, I have no idea, but I pondered that they might be the aliens come to exact their revenge on anyone remotely aligned with the former Syndicate. She actually said they wanted information from her, information about me and about Scully. I was still finding it hard to control my laugh response when a pained expression crossed her face. She held her head high, a gesture so familiar it hurt, and she attempted to toss back long locks that no longer existed. With a bravado that was formerly hers, she told me about supposed torture sessions as her captors tried to pry information from her about me, about Scully.

While the Diana I knew years ago was a formidable opponent, a distraught, love sick and wasted Diana was unpredictable. It finally struck me just how true her claims about needing my help might be, especially if it would somehow protect Scully.

She told me she was now living in a house up the street from here under an assumed identity. She worked in a bio-technology company in the city where scientists and computer specialists were working on a ‘new technology’. I knew I was very tired when that statement brought another round of laughter from me. Such a generic term that usually means, ‘I’m not going to tell you what it is but it’s going to cost someone big bucks and someone’s probably going to get hurt’.

Which still left me hanging with what I was supposed to do to help her out. She pulled an aging, ripped, photograph from her pocket, unfolding it for me. “These men are part of the group that held me. They are all prominent in the business community working primarily between Boston and New York. You need to find them and destroy them, Fox, before they can further their agenda.”

I lost whatever weak hold on my control I had at that point. The situation she was describing was general enough to be true for many crooked businessmen and she was preying on old feelings. But most of all, she was cashing in on the fact that I would move heaven and earth to protect Scully, even if it meant leaving her to save her.

I tossed the picture down on the table and stood up, raking my hands through my hair. It was now almost 8 o’clock in the morning and I still had an hour’s drive ahead of me. “Look, Diana, you seem to be reasonably safe here, for now. I’m not doing a damn thing until I talk with Scully, that is, if she’ll ever speak to me again.”

That last statement drew a once-sensuous smile from her. “You tell your conservative little partner anything about this meeting and you’ll place her sorry misguided life in jeopardy.” Supposedly down-trodden and scared for her life, pompous, self-satisfied Diana reappeared. Before she could stand, I leaned forward. Her growing smile told me she had lost her ability to read my face. I slapped her hard, hoping to wipe that smile forever from her face. Whatever little control I thought I had over this situation slipped away; I felt it leave when I slapped her.

I walked away knowing the look on her face would be a nice mixture between physical hurt and sheer disbelief.

I knew I couldn’t head straight to Boston with the jumble of thoughts and emotions clouding my ability to think. Besides, I was afraid I might drive off the road from sheer exhaustion. I drove into Marblehead and took a room in a small motel. I barely managed to get my jacket off before I fell on the bed, asleep before I knew it.

~~~~~

2 June, 10:30AM

A quick shower refreshed my body. I didn’t think there was anything now except self-flagellation that would save my sorry soul. I drove to a convenience store for some cheap coffee and a sweet roll and got underway.

I tried to work things through before arriving at the hotel. I was almost thankful that Scully would most likely not be in when I arrived. I didn’t know if I could face her right away, while my meeting with Diana was so fresh in my mind.

Truth be told, I didn’t know how I was going to face Scully since I had no answers to give her. I replayed, resorted, reworked Diana’s words over and over and over again until I felt as if I were reciting lines from some melodramatic stage play. While I knew that the truth of the situation lay buried beneath layers of lies and misdirection, I also knew that she was probably right about the danger to me and Scully. The fact that her captors were highly placed and most likely, well-connected, strengthened that fact.

I knew resolutely that I would find these men, probably call in whatever chips I could to do so. I also knew that I could not risk telling Scully, thereby risking us… My thoughts went back to the picture, remembered that it was torn. Were people missing from the picture?

As I pulled into the Boston Harbor Hotel’s parking garage, I felt something inside of me come loose and my emotions roiled in my gut. I had precious few hours to figure out exactly what I was going to say to Scully and how the hell we were going to work on this case while I sought Diana Fowley’s captors.

Why they hadn’t just let her die…

~~~~~

Boston Harbor Hotel

2 June

5PM

I fell asleep for a few hours and woke to the sound of the phone. Hoping that it was Mulder, I almost tore it from its cradle. “Scully, it’s Joani. Mitch and I were wondering if you and Mulder wanted to join us for dinner? We’re heading into the Back Bay for some seafood and thought maybe you two would like to get out a bit?”

I knew I was feeling a bit more in control of my emotions when I was able to turn her down with a rather level tone of voice. “Joani, thanks so much for the offer, but Mulder’s pretty tired from his trip and we’re just going to stay in and go over the notes. We want to get an early start in the morning to head up and check out the Marblehead site.”

I was also a damn fine actor since I had lied yet again for Mulder. The truth was I didn’t even know why I was doing it. I had no good reason to cover for him. No reason other than I’d always done that for him, always trusted that wherever he was, whatever he was doing, there was some good reason or some equally sound leap of faith for his behavior and that in the long run, I would understand. That was implicit trust.

But that was when his vanishing acts had been rare and usually related to something we had started working on together or some tip he’d received.

I needed to do something and I probably should have gone with Joani and Mitch, screw Mulder. Instead, I changed into shorts and a tee shirt, gathered the case notes and started working on the first day’s report.

After about a half-hour of typing, I needed a break. Taking off my glasses, I grabbed a small bottle of white wine from the mini-bar and headed out onto the balcony. The rate my life was going, I’d probably

have to have the mini-bar restocked before tomorrow…

I polished the small bottle off in no time and was feeling a bit more relaxed, a warm buzz humming through my body quite nicely, thank you very much. The view was beautiful, the lights from the south shore blinking and winking in the overcast sky, a fog over the water. My breathing matched the rolling of the waves onto the shore twelve floors below me.

I went back to get the only other bottle of white wine and headed back to the balcony. I was just about to open the bottle when I thought I heard a door slam. I didn’t pay much attention since that’s a pretty common occurrence in a hotel. I opened the bottle and didn’t bother with the plastic cup this time, drinking right from the bottle.

Placing the bottle on the small table, I reached overhead to stretch. While my arms were in the air, I felt two large hands on my hips from behind. Although I was feeling rather languid and warm, my honed reflexes took over. I brought one arm down and back hard, jabbing my elbow into a rather taut midsection. I heard my partner’s unmistakable ‘oaf’ and his hands pulled away from me instantly. “Geez, Scully, is that anyway to say hello?”

His easy manner and teasing tone set me off. He reached out to me, trying to take my hands. I wrenched them away from his grasp and stepped back against the railing, furious with him and no place to go. His eyes searched mine, full of hurt, concern and something else that looked strangely like chagrin. And I wasn’t about to let any emotion other than pure, unadulterated fury appear in mine…

“Let go of me, Mulder. You’re just a little bit late to join this particular party.” Oh, yes, I was feeling the little bit of wine, probably because I had eaten precious little for lunch and hadn’t had any dinner yet. Not to mention how tired I was.

And damn Mulder for noticing. “You’re drunk, Scully.”

“Well, aren’t you perceptive. Guess you really earned your degree, didn’t you, Mulder?” I was about as witty as a wet noodle. He walked toward me, slowly. And I tried to back up although the railing still hadn’t moved from right behind me. I wasn’t going anywhere.

~~~~~

I guess I couldn’t blame Scully for being angry with me. I was angry with me! It hurt me that she wouldn’t let me touch her, comfort her and I knew she needed to be comforted. Her eyes were wild with hurt and it was directed at me. I had to explain to her, but I had only a marginal plan developed.

I yearned to be able to come clean and tell her everything, but she had already tried and I had already lied. Now I was a f****n poet, too. I reached out to try to hold her hands in mine, I needed her touch so much, to ground me. But I didn’t deserve her touch. I moved away from her, sitting in one of the balcony chairs. “Talk to me, Scully.” I hoped that by keeping my voice low and calm, I could at least persuade her to listen.

Her tone was now equally low, but far from, calm. “What would I say to you, Mulder? Would I ask you where the hell you’ve been? Who you went to meet? Maybe I’d ask you why you never called me. Or, how you think I felt when I didn’t know where you were, if you were all right. I might even tell you how worried I’ve been, how I’ve missed you so much…”

She stopped there, her voice trailing off as she ran out of steam. I badly wanted to go to her and wrap my arms around her, holding her safe against me, feeling her small body snug with mine. I settled for waiting for her to sit down in the chair across from mine, watching her watch me like a bug under a microscope.

“Mulder, what’s going on?” <Yes, that’s really the question, Scully, isn’t it? The question I can’t answer.>

“Scully, can we order some dinner and continue talking? I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.” She reached for the small bottle of wine by way of response and started bringing it to her mouth. I gently took it from her hand, earning myself the raised eyebrow. It said that I was treading on shaky ground, but, in this case, would be allowed to live.

We agreed to order cheese and crackers and some fruit. The heat made the thought of eating anything more heavy unexciting. We sat in silence while we waited for the food to arrive, listening to the waves, listening to our own thoughts and pretending not to look at each other.

Scully stood up and moved to the railing again, looking out over the water. It was dusk now and the sun was setting behind us, but the sky was a combination of deep orange and purple. It really was a beautiful sunset give the earlier overcast sky and the low fog over the water. Remembering my times on the Cape, I knew that what they said about New England was true, give it 24 hours and the weather will change.

I got up and stood next to her at the railing, close, but not touching. She looked over at me almost shyly. She wanted to ask me the question again. “Mulder, please tell me what’s going on, where you were.” I turned to her and look into the depths of her eyes, her soul. I wanted so badly to share with her, but knew that I couldn’t.

She saw the hesitation on my face and looked away from me, back out at the water and the sunset. “You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

Her quiet words betrayed what I knew was going on inside. “I can’t tell you, Scully. It’s too dangerous.” I tried to let her see the sincerity of my words, but I could see the door closing, slowly, but closing nonetheless.

~~~~~

“It’s too dangerous for who? Since when has that excuse worked?” I was growing angry again. When I looked into his eyes earlier, I could see how much he was hurting too, how much he wanted to be near me. I still felt raw, but was drawing strength and comfort from his presence.

Then he did it again. He assumed I needed protecting, but wouldn’t even give me enough credit to tell me why and from whom.

“I can’t tell you that, Scully. You’ll just have to trust me.” <Oh, Mulder, I do trust you, but you’re pushing me, here.> “Trust you? You’ve been the only one I do trust completely. And that’s why it’s hurting me so much now that you won’t open up to me. I can’t do this.”

I got up and stormed into my room with Mulder right on my heels. “Get out, Mulder.” The pain was etched deeply on his face at that point and was probably mirroring what was already on mine.

“Scully, please, don’t—”

“Don’t ‘what’? I think it’s been done. Leave, please.”

~~~~~

Her last words were barely audible and rang with a sense of defeat. I had beaten her down and couldn’t stand myself for it. I offered to take the casefile and her notes to catch myself up before going to bed, but knew I’d get no sleep tonight. She handed me the information and turned away from me. As I walked to the connecting door, I turned once more, to look at her. “Scully?” She didn’t respond.

~~~~~

2 June, evening

The poor phone was definitely bearing the brunt of my emotional upheaval. I yanked it from its cradle and called the desk. I instructed them to have a rental car waiting for me in 15 minutes. I grabbed my bag, making sure the address in Marblehead was still inside and headed for the door, not sure if I would actually go to the address, but I wanted my options open.

What I knew for sure was that I had to get out of here and do some thinking. I couldn’t do it with my erstwhile partner right next-door. Even with the connector door closed and locked, he was still too near. It wasn’t so much that I was worried he would barge in on me, no… It was a case of me protecting me from myself.

I was balance beam walking that fine line between love and hate, pleasure and anger, right now. I couldn’t be sure that I wouldn’t go to him. When I teetered over to the love and pleasure side, I desperately wanted to be enfolded in his arms, crawl inside of him and be wrapped in his warmth, bask in his smile. When the hate and anger line was crossed, I was seething, wanting to rail against him. The problem was those emotions were all meshing together with his nearness. His presence was very nearly suffocating me.

The night air had a slight chill, which felt nice after the 80-degree temperatures. I pulled the black Grand Am out of the hotel lot and headed for the highway. As nice as the beach looked, it brought too many romantic notions. I had a desperate need to put distance between us and to do so at a fast pace at that moment. The car was a dream. I briefly considered how a hotel rental chain had such vehicles in stock, but was very glad they did. If I were going to spend the money (the Bureau would never agree to two rentals), a nice convertible was just what the doctor ordered.

I wound my way onto Route 93 and headed north. Somewhere around Woburn, I jumped onto 95 heading northeast. A part of me knew that Marblehead lay not far from here, but I knew I probably wouldn’t actually stop; not at this time of night. I was cruising at about 80 mph, the wind whipping through my hair. I was actually cold, but felt more alive than I had felt in the last 24 hours. I turned on the local rock station and turned the volume up to be heard over the rush of the air around me. The speed became an addictive rush. And, I was blissfully shutting out the committee meeting that had convened in my head.

I absently tuned in to the dashboard clock and saw that I had been driving for almost two hours, still heading north. I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and, more importantly, from my heart. I found a highway service stop to grab some mineral water and something to eat.

Taking the food back to the car, I watched the traffic race by, heading for who knew where. I finished the sandwich and set the water bottle in the holder. It was time for me to go back to Boston.

And back to Mulder.

We needed to talk and I needed to listen to whatever he could tell me.

~~~~~

Boston Harbor Hotel

2 June, later evening

Mulder’s room

I threw the file and notes down on the bed; scattering pages everywhere. I then swept them off the bed with an enraged pass of my arm, papers on the floor, sailing across the room. “Damn!” Probably not the tightest spot I’d ever been in, but who’s counting? I had boxed myself in and it was decision time.

I had a case to work on; I was being paid to work on it with my partner. Heck, we were asked to assist a Field Office and I hadn’t even managed to show my face for the first day. My behavior could get me censured, although I knew Scully would never report me.

Then there was the not so little matter of how I got myself sucked in to helping Diana Fowley. Well, that was easy enough; I don’t know when to say ‘no’. I just had a deep gnawing feeling that she would someone insinuate herself deeper and deeper into my life, tendrils curling out to infiltrate Scully’s life and, ultimately, our life together.

I couldn’t concentrate on the case or the notes. I needed to make things right with my partner. I went to the connecting door and knocked. Getting no answer, I quietly pushed it open a crack and called her name, thinking she might be asleep or out on the balcony. I stuck my head around the door and realized she wasn’t there. I was angry, knowing I had no right to be. She was probably trying to get some distance, from the situation, from me.

I went back into my room, not bothering to completely close the connector so I’d hear her when she returned.

We needed to talk. We were going to talk.

~~~~~

Scully’s room

After leaving the car with the parking valet, I went upstairs thinking about talking with Mulder. While I still wanted to find out what was troubling him so much that he felt the need to keep it from me, I was no longer in that dark place. I had high hopes for our talk and a nice evening together; what was left of it.

I went into the bathroom and quickly washed up, pulling my hair on top of my head. I changed into my pale blue, terry cloth romper and grabbed another bottle of water from the fridge. I then noticed that the connector door was ajar. I called out softly to Mulder as I approached, but received no answer.

That’s when I heard his voice. At first, I thought someone might be in the room with him, but I heard no other voices. I called out to him again and realized he was on the phone. I flopped into the side chair in my room, figuring I’d wait a few minutes. And that’s when I started picking up pieces of a conversation I was sure I was not supposed to hear.

“Why did you call me now? … No, she doesn’t know.”

“I promised you I wouldn’t say anything. Now tell me what’s next.”

Then there was a long pause during which I knew the caller was giving Mulder instructions. I had a brief pang of guilt for eavesdropping, even if it were unintentional.

“Look, you’ll be safe until I can get there. Yes, I do know who some of those men are, I know what they’re capable of… What do you mean, ‘others’?”

Mulder had started pacing. Although I couldn’t see him, I could hear the change in his loudness of his voice as he moved closer to and farther away from the connector door. He tended to pace when he was trying to work through a problem, make sense of the nonsensical.

I drew up my courage, reminding myself that I had wanted to go to him to support whatever he was going through, offer my assistance and let him know that we would be okay through it all. I reached for the doorknob, opening the door to the point where he would see me when he turned back around. As I was just about to walk into the room, the smile on face dropped away, my eyes wide and dark.

“For God’s sake, Diana! I promised you I’d be there. Yes, yes, it’s our secret, whatever, yes, uh, huh, ok. I’m hanging up—”

He had turned, one hand pushing his hair from his eyes, the look of exasperation changing suddenly to shock, surprise and then total incredulity as he saw me in the doorway. He dropped the phone and called out to me. “Scully. Wait.”

Having the wind totally knocked out of you has a major effect on your ability to speak or even utter, intelligible sounds. I started shaking, frozen in place, hand still on the doorknob. My other hand reached for the frame trying to stabilize my legs, which didn’t seem to want to support me. Time moved in slow motion. I backed up as Mulder moved toward me. I t was taking me way too long to get away from him. Our facial expressions slid back and forth between us, pain, hurt, hurt, pain and something else I was in no position to name.

I was shaking my head from side to side as if basic denial could erase the name I had heard him speak. It couldn’t be her, she was dead. Then again, I couldn’t figure out how many other ‘Dianas’ Mulder knew. And, it was the whole context of his side of the discussion, along with the fact that he was purposefully not telling me about her. ‘Secret’, ‘our secret’, he had said to her. No. I couldn’t accept this, not this. I moved through a thick oil slick that threatened to suffocate me, to pull me down.

And then, as intense, personally traumatic situations are wont to do, time then sped up, double time. Her name thudded inside me, my blood pounding and boiling between my ears. She was dead! She was murdered. Contrary to what my partner would have me believe, people do not rise from the dead.

And he was talking to her, providing her some sort of help? Protection? From what? From whom? Why? Why didn’t he tell me? How long had he known? The questions would not stop and I had to return to normal breathing or I would hyperventilate. Passing out would not help this situation… Mulder knew my feelings about her and we had come to terms with their once-upon-a-time relationship almost a year ago. Was that why he wasn’t telling me? Did he think me incapable of handling the information? Questions and more questions. Suspicions…

I pulled myself together and stepped back, pulling the door closed. Mulder had reached the door in just a few steps and was trying to open it. “Scully, we have to talk.” His voice was level, but I could hear the anguish in his tone. <Good, god dammit> When I did not respond, he tried again, this time the tone was anything but level.

“Scully! Open this door or I’ll force it open!” <Good Mulder, a show of brute force will make me forget the fact that you were talking with the formerly dead Agent Fowley> “You don’t understand. You’ve got to listen to me.”

I lost my own personal bet that I wouldn’t respond to him. “Damn right I don’t understand, but it’s you I don’t understand. The situation I understand very clearly, Mulder. I’m through listening, Mulder.”

It struck me next just how ironic it was that as partners; we function as a team, predicting each other’s moves. That’s exactly what led us both to the hallway at the same time. I felt confined in my room and I imagine Mulder thought he’d stop me.

xxx~x

Someone needed to put me out of my misery right away. The day from Hell was not yet over and it was going from absolutely the worst to beyond the worst in record time. I couldn’t blame Scully for being upset after hearing bits and pieces of my conversation with Diana. I imagined how the rug had been pulled out from under her finding out that one of the people she most despised was not only alive…again… but in contact with me. Scully is not a vengeful person and does not make snap judgments, but Diana makes her livid.

I knew we had to set things straight and I was ready to include her, regardless of Diana’s warnings, but she wasn’t giving me the chance. She was going to walk away from me and I couldn’t let her go.

When she closed and locked the connecting door, I had a feeling she would leave the room. She probably knew I would try to talk to her.

So, I headed her off at the pass, so to speak. She and I have a brief history with hallways. They have some special place in our lives together, as a passageway, as a conduit from one life point to another. In physical space, in emotion, in life altering events, they have played a role.

She stormed out of the room, barefoot and wearing this short little summer thing that looked like short shorts and a top all in one piece. I knew she didn’t intend to go far, or that maybe she wasn’t thinking clearly about where she was actually going. On the other hand, my path was crystal clear; I had to stop her from going.

She was just rounding the corner away from our rooms when I came into the hall. “Scully! Wait!” I seemed to be saying that too often. I just knew I had to stop her before it got any worse than it already was.

“Back off, Mulder.”

She had reached the bank of elevators and was stabbing at the panel as if her actions would bring a car any faster. I scanned the immediate area on either side of the elevators, noting a small alcove with a few upholstered bench seats and some tall greenery. I guess I was hoping no one else was around to hear our discussion. Although, at this point, it was much more one-sided than that. I couldn’t get her to look at me and I wasn’t about to leave her here.

I came up behind her and firmly gripped her shoulders. “Where do you think you’re going, Scully?”

I almost dragged her over to the alcove on our left.

“I fail to see how that’s any of your business, Mulder. Let go of me.”

I let her go and she faced me, her eyes brimming with tears, hot and angry, tears that she was desperately trying not to let me see. She pushed past me down the hall again. Even in the throes of anger, Scully is thinking. She took off at a run for the elevators at the other end. At this rate, I was getting a great workout. I also knew just how frustrated I was. My joking and caustic thoughts seem to increase directly proportional to my stress level…

xxx~x

Mulder was crowding my senses and I was alternately speed walking and running, barefoot, on the carpeted hallway outside of our rooms. In all honesty, I had no idea where I was going; I just knew I had to go. When I attempted to call the elevator, he grabbed my arms. His presence in my anger and hurt filled state of mind both enraged and aroused me. His touch was burning and possessive.

And I fled.

When I reached the other elevators, Mulder was right on my heels. He stepped in front of me, causing me to involuntarily move back into the wall. As I looked up at him, my tears threatening to spill, I saw the toll of whatever was going on deep within his dark hazel eyes. Damn him! I felt myself slipping into his eyes, an electric connection holding us to one and other.

I fought to break that connection; I averted my eyes, I moved sideways, but he placed an arm on either side of my head. He was breathing hard and I was very aware of just how much he towers over me in my bare feet. My hands moved to his chest, at once pushing him away and holding on.

“Scully, I couldn’t tell you…your life is in jeopardy, as is mine a nd I…” I saw the anguish, saw what it was costing him to tell me now, but the fight had not left me. “Mulder, you’re doing it again, making decisions for me, for my life. If you’re not confident in my abilities to take care of myself, then maybe I shouldn’t be your partner. We watch each other’s backs. Isn’t that the way it works?”

“Oh, God, Scully… is that what you’re thinking? It has nothing to do with my confidence in your abilities. It has everything to do with not putting you at risk; I couldn’t bear it.”

“But who the hell are you to decide whether I’m at risk? And even worse, who is she to decide? Isn’t that the real question Mulder?”

He let out a deep sigh, dropping his arms by his side, almost in defeat.

xxx~x

“You’re letting her push your buttons, Scully.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth I wanted to pull them back. No amount of fancy dancing was going to cut it here. “The details aren’t important here, but the fact that she needs my help, is.”

She was seething in front of me and I was amazed that she had stayed, amazed that we were having this ‘discussion’ in public. It was growing late and we were both exhausted. We also had another few interviews to conduct in the morning for the vanishing victims case.

xxx~x

“Mulder, tell me you have not forgotten everything this woman did to you, to us, before her death and…… rebirth.” She looked up at me beseechingly. “Oh, I could never forget, Scully, ever…” His voice soothed some of my anger. “I just cannot turn my back on…”

“On ‘what’, ‘who’? On someone who did her level best to deceive you, to break us apart? Don’t you see that she’s probably playing you again?” God, this emotional rollercoaster was going to wear me out fast.

And once again, Mulder didn’t or refused to see Diana’s role in this. He started to try to explain how her situation was different, how she really needed him. “Fine, you just go right ahead then. I’m not standing around to watch you crash and burn, Mulder. And I’m not going down with you.”

No longer in a rush to be anywhere, I ducked under his arm and turned to walk away, back to my room. I had gotten no farther than a few feet down the hall when he grabbed me, spinning me around to face him and pulling me to him up against the wall. Unpredictable Mulder. Desperate Mulder.

Always able to surprise me.

My face inches from his chest, I could feel his heat blasting me. Heat generated by frustration, anger, despair? He held me tightly and close, my arms bent and pressed up against his chest as I tried to put some distance between us.

Five fingers laced into my hair, at once gentle and forceful, pulling my head backwards. He leaned down to me, lapping at my exposed neck, murmuring my name, moving me. Moving his lips wetly over my neck, to my jaw and crushing my lips against his until I became just so much tingly and limp fury. I thought I’d fall if he were not holding me tightly.

Our kiss became desperate, as if we were drinking each other in after a long drought. My body moved of its own accord pressing, sliding, rubbing against him. Feeling his response only made hungrier, wanting to taste, to touch. His hands moved behind me, fingering the leg hem of my romper, skin against skin. As if reality suddenly dawned on me, I yanked his hand away, momentarily catching him off guard. I stepped back, indignant, but strangely forlorn. “What do you think you’re doing, Mulder?” I’m not sure exactly how my voice sounded to him, but my ears told me I was having a hard time with the ‘indignant’ part. I was about as confused as I could be; wanting to get as far away from him as I could and wanting to melt into him.

He read the look on my face and held still, barely even blinking. Even in my anger, I granted him a slight reprieve for giving me space at that moment when I knew what he really wanted to do was ‘love me out of’ my fury. “Answer me, Mulder. What are you doing; what are we doing?”

He didn’t know what to do with those long arms of his. Hands in pockets, arms across chest, finally dropping back by his sides. <Can’t catch that curve ball, can you Mulder?> He sighed deeply, twice, opened his mouth to speak and closed it again. I let out an exasperated sigh of my own and turned to walk away.

“Don’t go, Scully.” His words were low and soft, hanging over me and then settling deep inside me. I stopped, but did not face him. Mulder rarely misses his opportunity when he’s set his mind on something where our relationship is concerned. I felt his hands on my shoulders behind me and within two seconds, I was enveloped in those long arms that had found their purpose. He started planting chaste, little kisses on the top of my head, moving to my ear. When I didn’t pull away, and only god knows why, he moved to my neck. “Mulder, we’re in the hallway…”

I could hear the tight smirk in his voice, “Don’t you feel the need to correct our last few hallway situations, Scully?” Slowly, assertively, he two-stepped us toward the alcove by the elevators, pushing me against the wall. The discussion and actions of an earlier time seemed to have momentarily vanished, the present time becoming a fury of roaming hands and mouths and more hands and wet-mouthed kisses.

Somewhere deep within a portion of my brain that somehow managed to still think coherently, I wondered at our ability to slide back and forth across the simple lines that divide intense emotion, anger and joy. Yin and yang. Me and Mulder.

I knew that for a while, this wave of intensity would pull us closer again, allow us to talk this out. We were both mature, responsible adults…and understood what we were doing, what we were trying to erase for the time being. How long that while would be, I didn’t know.

Mulder, however, was the first man with whom emotionally charged situations were sometimes resolved with a physical intensity that left me awash in a sea of desire, lust and confusion. But, as I said, we were adults in this partnership of ours and entered into those moments with at least some semblance of our wits about us.

~~~~~

We somehow made it back to my room, the darkness now complete and the hours until daybreak so short that I wished we could be granted some type of time suspension. We still had some issues to deal with, not the least of which was our game plan for this case… A case Scully had already begun.

We were reluctant to break our physical contact on the walk back to my room, grabbing and groping like two lovesick adolescents in the infancy of their relationship, stealing some hidden, forbidden, moments. At one point along the way, I seriously questioned my ability to walk back to the room under my own volition.

My sedate and reserved-seeming partner, who had just mere moments ago been walking behind me, her two hands holding one of mine, suddenly lunged forward. Letting go of my hand, she molded herself to me, my back to her chest. Her hands reached around me and firmly planted themselves somewhere north of my thighs and south of my navel. And then she was in front of me, once again holding my hand with hers.

I pulled a hand from Scully’s to insert the keycard and then kicked the door open, smiling as she kicked it closed once we were inside.

I somehow knew this was but a brief interlude, a respite, from our earlier discussion. I also knew that talking, for us, was not the only way to come to terms with our conflict. And conflict was there, conflict of my creation, but there nonetheless.

The only light in the room came from the distant flicker of building lights reflected off the water and through the glass sliders to the balcony and the faint orange glow of the beside digital clock. I half-sat, half-fell, onto my bed, our hold on each other propelling her into my lap.

Her hands held my face to her body, allowing me to feel the racing of her heart. “What are we doing, Mulder?” Her question was asked so softly, I could barely hear her. I brought my hands up to cover hers and moved our hands to her lap. “Scully, let me explain everything, please?”

Our eyes were adjusting to the darkness, although I suddenly had a strange urge to ask her if she had her flashlight on her…

She looked at me with what looked like openness and understanding, her small smile widening my own. “Let’s go sit outside.” She took my hand as she stood, leading me to the balcony.

Breathing in the night air and finally letting our exhaustion lay over us like a cloak, we sat across from each other at the table. Scully leaned on the table between us, her head resting on her hands. “Ok, Mulder, tell me what this is about.” Simple request. Complicated answer. Honesty and directness the only way to go.

“Diana was never murdered, obviously. She was taken and held captive by a very powerful group of business men who wanted information from her about us.” Scully snorted with laughter at that point. I could see how this was going to go, but, in all honesty, she was having the same reaction I did. “Mulder, why contrive Diana’s murder to get information about you and me? It seems to me the entire world seemed has had us under surveillance during that time, probably still do. This makes no sense.”

I nodded at her. She was right; it made little sense. I went on to explain that Diana was working for a biotechnology firm conducting experiments on some unspecified new technology. This statement was barely out of my mouth and she was shaking head. “Scully, I’ll never get this story out if you can’t withhold your reactions.” I laughed with her; god it felt good to share a laugh with her.

“I’m sorry, but this gets stranger and stranger.”

“I know, I know, but think about it; what’s her motive? I mean, I think with Diana there will always be layers of motives, but why me and why now?”

“You actually have to ask that question, Mulder? The woman’s been after you since you left her. She’s vindictive and possessive. What other reasons does she need?”

I nodded slightly and went on to tell her about Diana’s fears that she was being watched because they were concerned she was trying to break away from them. Scully kept her face neutral, well, as neutral as she could where the formerly deceased Agent Fowley was concerned. “Why ‘you’, Mulder? Do you honestly have to ask that question? Yeah, I’m sure she’s in some kind of trouble and knows you can help her out, but when has Diana done anything without some self-serving ulterior motive?”

I ran my hand through my hair, sighing deeply. “Scully, I can’t say for certain, but something just feels different about this time.”

“Different this time, Mulder… Different than every other time you thought she was being sincere? Maybe you think that because she had a ‘near death’, oh, I’m sorry, ‘death’ experience, she’s changed her ways, wants to lead a new life? Yeah, ‘death’ has that effect on people… Why do you think she told you not to tell me? Since when is she concerned about my safety?” Scully was on her feet now, pacing, her direction changes punctuating her questions.

I stood up and stopped her mid-pace, reaching for her hand. “Scully, I need to follow through with whatever this is. I plan to keep you aware of what’s happening, but don’t ask me to drop it. I’m so sorry I kept this from you earlier, but let’s move from here. All right?”

xxx~x

I still had an awful feeling about how this would all go down and that awful feeling centered around Diana pulling Mulder’s strings, yet again, and hurting him in the process. Make no mistakes, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with that woman unless it involved taking her down, but I knew that telling Mulder to ignore the situation was futile. A man with a mission, Mulder would not let this go until he saw it to resolution. And I planned on sticking around to help him out, if he’d let me. I’m sure he was well aware of my motives and I didn’t care. I refused to give up on ‘us’ at this point, but I also knew that where she was concerned, Mulder was not always objective.

With at least an ‘agree to disagree’ decision, I knew we both needed sleep. With this in mind, I said good night to Mulder and turned to head for my room. Mulder had to be dead on his feet, but that didn’t seem to mean he wasn’t up for a little playfulness. “Scully, why don’t we go for a walk on the beach? It’s a beautiful night.” He was right, it was beautiful, but it was also almost two in the morning. “How about a rain check on the walk, Mulder. We have work to do in the morning and we’re supposed to meet up with Joani and Mitch at 11:00.”

Mulder reluctantly agreed to postpone the walk, but still had other ideas. “Where are you going, Scully?”

“To bed. I thought that was rather obvious.” He smiled, trying to turn me toward his room. “You can sleep, Scully, but how about in my room?” One hand on my shoulder, the other was running through my scalp, my head tilting back into his hand. The feeling was wonderful. As his fingers gently massaged my scalp, I was glad his other hand was on my shoulder. I felt as if I would float back into him.

Words tried to form to explain why I should go to my own room. My brain was attempting to remind my partner that we were officially on a case and protocol dictated we have separate rooms. It had been a few weeks since Mulder and I had been able to be together and right about now, it felt like just what the doctor ordered…

~~~~~

Boston Harbor Hotel

3June

8AM

I’m not sure which woke me first, the knocking on the door or Scully’s lips pressed to my neck, her warm, wet tongue tasting me. Either way, both were demanding a response and I had a feeling my partner would wait, so I went to the door. Checking the security viewer, I saw someone from room service. “Scully, did you order us breakfast?”

Scully drew the sheet over her chest, turning on her side to face me.

” I haven’t left your side all night.” She smiled at me in a way that made me want to ignore the door and jump back beneath the blankets. <Jump her>

When I opened the door, I was told that breakfast had been ‘sent’ to me. Scully wrapped the sheet around her and came over to me as the breakfast was wheeled in. “Who sent it, Mulder?”

I looked at the delivery person as he pulled a small note from his pocket. “I was asked to hand this to you, Sir.” I went in search of my wallet and handed him a five. He bowed slightly and walked out.

Scully stood slightly behind me on my right side, her sheet covered body leaning into me. I reached back with my right arm, trying to unwrap it from around her, as I opened the note. Although I knew she was dying of curiosity, she did not look up. Instead, she chose that moment to lean around, under my arm, and kiss my chest. Without taking my eyes from the note I had just opened, I gently tugged at her hair, pulling her away from me, causing her to whine. She went to the breakfast cart, pouring herself some coffee, using the only cup available. She took a sip and set it down.

I crumpled the note I had read and put an arm around her waist, pulling her back in to me and onto the bed. “Breakfast can wait, Agent Scully.”

“Mulder,” she squirmed in my grasp, “who sent you breakfast? I wasn’t aware you had friends in the area that want to feed you.”

I tugged at her sheet, again trying to unwrap her from her bed linens cocoon, hoping she’d forget the question. I knew I had an ice cube’s chance in hell of Scully letting it go, but I was going to at least enjoy the time I had. Finally wrestling the sheet from her, I pulled her now naked body on top of me, trying to kiss her as she laughed and pushed herself away from me.

She was going to go for the note. “Where’re you going? Don’t you want to work up a breakfast appetite?” I sat up and held on to her hips, bringing her back to the bed. “Just tell me who the note’s from.” She was still smiling, but had pulled my tee shirt over her. She was moving from playful to all business Scully and I preferred Playful Scully.

I couldn’t think of anything good that could come of her finding out that Diana Fowley had ordered me breakfast and told me I need to see her at four o’clock today at the New England Aquarium. However, in keeping with our recent conversation and subsequent agreement, she had the right to know.

I took a piece of melon from the fruit cup and brought it to her lips. “The note’s from Diana.” She almost took my finger off along with a bite of the melon. Probably not one of my smartest moves, timing-wise.

Sputtering and pushing my fingers with the remainder of the melon away from her, Scully started coughing. “Duh yana sent…the… cough note?”

I patted her on her back a few times and she shoved my hand away, sipping some water. “Give, Mulder.”

I told her the contents of the note and my plan to go to the Aquarium. Her look hardened. It was going to be very hard for Scully to support me, I could tell. But I also knew her well enough to know she’d do everything in her power to be there for me. “I’m going with you, Mulder.”

“You can’t go. Remember you’re not supposed to know about any of this?”

~~~~~

“How about we try nude aerobics? I can guarantee I’ll be at the my best form.” Mulder had a point; I had to concede that. However, I was not required to like it and I had never promised I wouldn’t follow him. “Mulder, we’re working on a case and I need your help. Remember that both of us were called in to help Joani and Mitch? You weren’t here yesterday and I covered for you.”

I was finding this ‘supportive’ stance a little hard to maintain. So sue me, I cannot stand Diana Fowley. As a matter of fact, I hate the woman with a passion. I don’t care how much she used to mean to Mulder. I briefly remember that I was raised to love and respect all.

Then I remember it’s Diana I’m thinking about and I start to forget, taking her decisively out of the ‘love and respect’ category. She is one of the few women who bring out my possessive streak around Mulder. I absolutely hate that characteristic in a relationship from men or women. But, where she’s concerned, I become positively territorial, wanting to pull up the drawbridge and stock the moat with Fowley-eating piranha…

I hate the way she makes me want to maim and claw and scratch. I want to yell, ‘touch Mulder and you DIE!’ I refrain, probably because I know that Mulder would enjoy that show of jealousy just a little too much.

My plan to follow Mulder to his meeting with Diana firmly in place, I again reminded him of our work on this case. Although I knew that he was not totally convinced that I would leave Diana to him, he asked me about the interviews. We dressed and had some breakfast, settling in to do a little work before meeting up with the Boston Agents.

We tried to identify the similarities and the odd points. The white substance found at each scene would hopefully be identified today. It was powdery and damp at the same time, a strange paste-like texture. The smell was somewhat bitter and metallic, another odd combination. I was frankly stumped.

Mulder puzzled over the little we had from the witnesses, first trying to find commonalities among the victims—and found little. Other than two being men, the ages, ethnicities and backgrounds didn’t match. Neither victims nor witnesses seemed to have crossed paths before.

~~~~~

This case was intriguing, something I could wrap myself around, but there appeared to be very little to go on at this point. Scully, Mitch and Joani had done well with what they had, but we needed to dig deeper. I was about to suggest a theory when I noticed a far away look in my partner’s eyes. I could almost hear her scheming and planning how she would meet with me and Diana. Guess I couldn’t really blame her, but there was no way I was going to let her interfere and risk her own safety. So call me Neanderthal.

I had decided that I would use today’s meeting to determine if what Diana was saying had any reality to it and assess the situation more clearly. I wanted to extricate myself now, early on, if at all possible. I could see where this was going and risking my relationship, professional and personal, with Scully wasn’t worth trying to save someone who had no altruistic feelings towards us.

Scully’s cellphone pulled me back to the present. It was the lab calling with the results of the white substance found at each scene. I looked over at Scully, my eyes questioning. And by the look in her blue eyes, I could tell that she was about to ask them to rerun the tests. Either whatever she was hearing made no sense to her or she refused to believe it.

Sometimes, Scully needed to run the tests herself to accept that her science could produce unexplainable results. It wasn’t a lack of trust on her part; she knew that the Bureau’s network of lab technicians and clinicians was highly credentialed. It was more her need to ground herself in logical, concretely defined, facts that sometimes made her skeptical of the results. And this time was no different. She thanked the caller and headed for the door telling me that the lab was faxing her the results to the hotel’s business center. Did she think she was actually going to make me sweat this one out and wait until she came back upstairs? I didn’t think so and followed her. “What did they say?” Even with my longer legs, I was really moving to keep up with her. “What they said doesn’t make any sense, Mulder. I need to see the print outs.” We were standing at the bank of elevators with a handful of other guests who looked as if they were off to spend the day sight-seeing or going to the beach. I wondered what it might be like to be in their sandals and tennis shoes right now instead of chasing after more results that might not produce any results.

“Why doesn’t it make sense, Scully? Tell me what they said.” She pursued her lips, one hand on her hip and pushed the hair from her face. I could tell she was getting antsy waiting for the elevator. “Well, part of the answer makes sense, the substance contains a silica base and ionized water, forming some sort of vehicle or base for the other supposed ingredients.” She looked at the other hotel guests, not really seeing them and then turned back to me, eyes focusing directly on me. “Mulder, there seems to be an unidentifiable, biological, organic component. At least that’s what the Director told me. He didn’t want to leave the tests to one of his Technicians, so he ran the tests himself.”

Now I knew what was bothering her even more. She couldn’t just write this off as the failing of some wet-behind-the-ears lab assistant. Director Todd Masur was highly acclaimed in the research field and had worked with Scully over at Quantico. She knew he was the best there was.

“So, just what else did Todd say?” I needed her to work this through and start to accept the possibility that the unidentifiable was possible, no easy pill to swallow for my doubting partner.

The elevator car had arrived and we walked to the back, feeling the gentle pressure of the others’ energy, off to start a day of summer activity. “Todd said that it needs further investigation, but it’s almost as if the component is a compound derivative being….” She stopped as one of the guests stepped back into her, knocking her into me momentarily. I steadied her, prompting her to finish her statement. “He said it appears experimental, but that he knows of no current science that could produce this compound derivative.”

And there we had it. Extreme possibilities. The car came to a stop at the lobby level and Scully couldn’t get out fast enough. She was striding across the lobby as fast as her tiny feet would carry her. Forgive me my lapse in professional partnership, but my eyes wandered to her form, especially her backside, as she moved with purpose. Focused Scully can be a seductive force.

She was already coming out of the Center with the faxed results in her hand when I reached her in the now crowded lobby. Tour buses were lined up outside boarding queued hotel guests. The smells of sunscreen and hot coffee floated over us. The sound of foghorns and buoy marker bells couldn’t be far off.

I took her arm and guided her over to a side lounge where we could sit and review the test results. I took the papers from her hand and pulled out my glasses. I looked at the words and numbers, nicely charted and listed and then looked over at Scully. We were going to need to talk to my buddy, Chuck, at the Bureau, the one man who was able to pull together fact and fiction on our cases in a cogent enough fashion to allow Scully to believe; almost…

Scully reminded me that Joani and Mitch were due to arrive any minute and we’d be leaving, so we headed back upstairs.

~~~~~

Greater Boston Area

3 June Noontime

Joani and Mitch were happy to see Mulder again and spared him any questions about his whereabouts yesterday. We brought them up to speed on the results of the lab tests and Mulder’s analysis of the interviews. We were basically only one step farther than the Boston Field Office at this point and desperately needed to move before the trail grew colder.

The only piece of information we had that led outside the city was the trip to Marblehead made by the last victim, Jason Fiske. We decided to first visit his wife, Mirabel ‘Chiquita’ Banaros, out on Nahant and then to drive into Marblehead to try and visit his business contact.

Mulder’s suggestion that we take two vehicles puzzled Joani and Mitch, but they simply nodded and gave us directions to Nahant. We drove about twenty minutes North of Boston and Logan Airport, following Route 1A to the General Edwards Bridge. The Lynnway and Nahant Causeway led us into the island community. The day was really gorgeous and the breeze off the water kept it just this side of too hot. I watched the white caps lapping along the shore, especially close on the causeways. I longed to just have Mulder pull over so I could walk barefoot in the damp sand, feeling the spray on my face.

Nahant is a small, 1.6 square mile, seaside community of slightly more than 4,000. We could see why Jason and Mirabel had chosen the town to build their home. It would be a wonderful place to raise their child, although we knew it wasn’t going to be easy for Mirabel now that Jason was gone.

Joani and Mitch pulled into the long driveway right behind us. It was now one o’clock, the time before Mulder’s meeting with Diana weighing heavily on me, and, from the look on his face, he was feeling the same. I had yet to figure out just how I was going to get to the Aquarium, but I was confident I’d have a plan in place before he left.

Mirabel welcomed us into her home. It was bright and airy, all blonde woods and whitewashed walls with large windows facing the sea. The ceiling fans and the open windows kept the heat at bay, the floor length, gauzy window treatments gently moving in the breezes.

Mirabel preferred that we call her ‘Chiquita’, she was just more comfortable with her nickname as it was a reminder of her relationship with Jason. He had given it to her after mispronouncing her last name, Banaros, as ‘bananas’.

Mitch took up the questioning. Since we had already covered the details of the night of Jason’s disappearance, what we really wanted was more information about his connection to the business associate in Marblehead.

“Chiquita, what can you tell us about Jason’s meeting in Marblehead that day?” She bit her lip and looked down at her hands. “Well, not much, really. I mean, Jason always talked to me about business deals, but, for some reason, he seemed to want to keep this one hush-hush. I thought maybe there was insider trading information going on, but he just told me vague bits and pieces.”

Mitch asked her if she could elaborate as Mulder stood and walked around the livingroom area. He had that look in his eyes, the one that said he was on to something, but needed some time to pull it together. He walked with his hands in the pockets of his tan khakis, his hair falling across his forehead as he looked seemingly at the floor. I knew from his movements that he was trying to ‘see’ connections where we had yet to make them. Every once in a while, he would run his hand through his hair and pause, his hands now on his hips. Puzzling, figuring, picturing.

Chiquita was explaining that Jason had met this mysterious man at a conference in Boston last year. He had returned excited about getting in on the ground level of a new technology that would effectively cross the barriers between biological sciences and something else she could not recall. She explained that it was going to require him to invest a rather large sum of money, but, in the end, he would come away with a piece of the company and well-placed connections in the computer field, his specialty.

Joani asked for information about the chief executive of this new company. All Chiquita could remember was that Jason had said the man had some nasty habit and was working with a sizeable group of partners. She knew little else about the potential venture. She paused, looking up as if recalling a previously forgotten detail. “What is it, Chiquita?” Mitch moved to the edge of his chair. “Well, it may be nothing, but when you asked me about the CEO, I remembered some habit of his, and still can’t recall exactly what it was. But, I think Jason mentioned something about the CEO not liking one of his associates.”

She shook her head, her brow furrowing, as she tried to pull the pieces together. Even Mulder had paused and was listening from across the room. she began again, slowly. “Let me see if I can remember… Something about the man’s birthplace, he was foreign, from some eastern European country. Damn! I can’t remember which one, but I do remember he was the only foreigner of the associates.”

Mulder and I exchanged furtive glances. From his place by the window, Mulder asked her if she could remember why the CEO did not like the foreign associate. Chiquita turned to him slowly and a smile spread across her face. “Yes! I do! Jason said that the CEO thought his associate was two-timing him, the company. He was working another deal, possibly with someone else in the company.” Mulder nodded at me and continued his travels. We had both filed the information away for further discussion tonight.

“Scully.” Mulder motioned me with a tip of his head. He was against the back wall of the house, is hand on a corner curio cabinet. By the time I reached him, he was asking for latex gloves. Joani and Mitch kept Chiquita talking for a bit, knowing that Mulder and I might need some time to further explore whatever he had found. “Look at this.” He ran his latexed finger along one of the glass shelves inside the cabinet and held his finger in front of me. It looked like the same white substance I had sent to the lab.

What was even more curious was the black substance.

I called over to Chiquita, asking her if she knew what the substances were or where they had come from. She didn’t hesitate to tell us that Jason had brought home the white substance from his visit to Marblehead. She opened the drawer of the credenza nearby and produced a small pill container that held more of the substance.

She did not have any idea about the other. Mulder had some of it on his gloved finger and brought it to his nose. By the look on his face, I knew the substance was odorless. He rubbed it between his thumb and index finger and we looked at each other. The texture was slippery.

Chiquita looked just as curious. I asked her whether she or Jason had brought any motor oil into their home. I asked the question, knowing the answer. If this had been motor oil, it would have had the accompanying smell.

Pieces of information were stacking up, but we still didn’t know the connection. And the slippery, dark substance added another variable. And added another element I didn’t want to think about. We checked with Joani and Mitch who, like me, clearly did not recall having seen it at any of the witness interview sites.

Chiquita had no idea what the white, pasty, substance was, only that Jason said it was part of his new business venture. I dropped the pill container into an evidence bag, sealing it as I removed my latex. Mulder wiped the rest of it off of the cabinet shelf and tossed the handkerchief into another bag.

XxX

It was almost three o’clock and I had to leave for the Aquarium soon. Scully was on the phone, setting up an appointment with Chuck for the two of us for tomorrow. Luckily, he was flying into Logan Airport on his way to London. We would meet him at the airport. Court and Spark thanked Chiquita and decided to visit the house in Marblehead.

That left Scully.

I had explained to everyone that I had another appointment back in Boston and would take the car. Mitch said that they could drop Scully off in Boston after going to Marblehead. The look in her eyes was unreadable to most, but they were telling me she was not happy that I’d forced her hand.

I was running off to see Diana and she, once again, was working with the others. I was ditching her. I empathized, really I did. But I also knew that I could not take Scully with me, not if I wanted to resolve this with Diana. Diana has always been just as obsessed with Scully as Scully is with Diana. I find myself between two women who share only that one trait…and the fact that they’re women. It’s never been clear to me exactly what Diana disliked in Scully; other than the fact that Scully was my partner in most ways at the time. Scully tried to tell me that men never understand how women can read each other in that way. I don’t know if I agree with that but, if Scully says it’s so, I guess I’m not going to argue the point.

Diana went to great lengths, tried everything, to keep me away from Scully. Subtle innuendo, not-so-subtle back-stabbing, direct nastiness. She talked to me alone, to Scully alone and jabbed at Scully in front of me. Diana was in bad need of reigning in and Scully saw it long before I ever did.

So, I’m a little thick sometimes, especially around women. I should say, around women as complex as Diana and Scully. Their complexities are different, though. Diana’s was (is?) about playing the game, discovering each player’s strengths and blind spots and using them to her advantage. I really want to believe that somewhere in her twisted head there was also a true ability to love me. At one time, I thought that to be the case. Somewhere along the way, as my beautiful, red-haired partner told me, that love turned to an obsession. Scully became Diana’s target. However, I don’t think Diana bargained for determined Scully. What she might not have in physical stature, she more than makes up for in determination and… she’ll hate me for thinking this… and protectiveness. One of my partner’s most endearing qualities is her ability to go to the mat for me, no matter what. Is that what I’m counting on here? Do I have the right to count on it?

Scully thanked Chiquita for her time and helpfulness. As I stood behind Chiquita, I was on the receiving end of a rather strong ScullyGlare. She is quite skilled at multi-tasking; be polite and friendly to witness, remonstrate and glare at partner. <No sense wasting time, Scully.> But, I deserved it in this case. More than deserved it.

I walked out the patio slider doors, hoping she would follow me. I needed to make this right with her before I left.

~~~~~

Mulder’s watched me talk with Chiquita. Damn him, but he purposely stood where I could see him. He wanted to be noticed? Fine. I glared at him. He’d been officially noticed. I love to watch him wither a little under my glare. Right then, it was good for the soul, my soul.

He’d been pulling all the strings in this situation with Diana and it was wearing thin. I wanted him to keep this appointment about as much as I wanted Donnie Pfaster to rise from the dead. And, I might just have found that preferable.

Mulder headed out back, giving us a few moments before he left. He walked through the shifting sand toward the water’s edge and I followed silently. I watched his hair blown by the sea breeze and his off white, linen, short sleeved, shirt billowing up and around his body. I wished Mulder would do casual more often. It was truly was a site to behold. One that I’d probably appreciate more if I weren’t so worried about his meeting. Worried and a goddamn angry…

He turned back toward me, beckoning with his eyes. Those hazel eyes that catch the sunlight. “Mulder, stop right there. If you want to talk, talk.” I was probably a bit harsher than I intended, but I was also frothing under the surface. He stopped, hands in his pockets, hair blown totally back from his forehead, squinting at me.

“You know I don’t want to do this”, he told me.

“Then don’t.” It was rather simple from my perspective. He moved closer to me, his hands coming to rest on my waist. “Scully, I won’t be gone long. Wait for me at the hotel, ok?”

<The whole damn situation isn’t ‘ok’ Mulder>, I thought, but I smiled wanly at him and nodded slightly. He walked away from me and I had an unbearable urge to either rant and rave or sit in the sand and let the tears fall hard and hot. I did neither, my plans finalized and galvanizing me.

~~~~~

New England Aquarium

Boston

3PM

I wondered if this place was always this busy during the day, but I guessed it was probably a pretty popular vacation destination. Not that I’d really know what that’s like since my last vacation seemed so long ago. The day was gorgeous, warm, but nice. Being right at the harbor provided a nice breeze, too. I walked through throngs of knee-high kids, teenagers in clothing I couldn’t quite explain, families and couples who walked hand-in-hand. I felt old…

Diana was nowhere in sight; she’d always been just about as punctual as me. Which meant she might show up in five minutes or an hour.

I stopped along the seal and penguin pool outside the main entrance, watching small children try to talk to the sea animals and mimic their choppy waddles. It almost felt good to lose myself in something other than Diana’s situation, the case and my inability to make Scully understand why I was doing what I was doing. Heck, maybe I didn’t know why I was doing it. Then again…

I sat on the stone bench next to a few particularly active penguins as they flapped their fins in the wading pool area. Some of it splashed me, but it felt good. Lost in their antics, I tried to profile myself. <Doctor, do not heal thyself…> I’m a reasonably intelligent man, maybe even a bit brighter than some. My smugness knows no bounds. I’m committed to finding my truth, loyal to those I care about. And, I just can’t let some things go even when the truth is smacking me in the head. I knew that I had no feelings left for a woman to whom I had given too much of my life.

Yet I was still waiting for her.

A small voice inside me begged for attention. When I decided to listen to it, I discovered a deeper reason for my willingness to meet with Diana. I’m curious and I simply cannot let go of a question posed, a mystery left unexposed, a deeper, darker truth. I needed to discover the answer, the solution and, even more, I needed to know just how Diana fit into this picture.

I felt her hand on my shoulder from behind before I heard her call my name. I shrugged her hand off and succeeded in moving it to my hand. “Let’s go inside, Fox.” I told her to say what she needs to say right here. I can handle whatever she needs to tell me in plain view of the penguins, the seals and oh, maybe several hundred people in broad daylight.

Tugging on my wrist, she led me to the entrance, showing the cashier at the turn-style a card of some sort. I wondered just how often she frequented the Aquarium. Somehow, she just didn’t seem the type to visit a creative display of sea life. Diana was more at home in high brow settings; watching and being watched, judging, assessing while rubbing elbows with those to whose level she would aspire. “Diana, where the heck are we going?”

She smiled, one of her famous, whole face, left, lop-sided smiles and her eyes bore into me. “You really have picked up some nasty habits since I’ve been away. The Fox I know would trust in me and want to help me out.” That stopped me dead in my tracks half way up this spiraling, carpeted walkway. The outer walls formed one gigantic fish tank with some of the largest sharks I’d ever seen. At that realization, I had almost burst out laughing. Here I was, walking with a much smaller shark. I knew I was anxious, even my inner jokes were poor.

“The ‘Fox you knew’ was lied to, manipulated and deceived, Diana. Why I’m even here, I don’t know.” She didn’t miss a beat. “You’re here because you allowed yourself to be deluded into thinking you didn’t care anymore, because you realize that deep down, some of what we once had is waiting and…because you know I need your help. You have been nothing if not concerned about your friends, Fox.”

I was speechless in the wake of her cocky self-assuredness. Delusion reigned supreme, even after all this time. Guess what they say about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks is true. But, sadly, I guess I’d have to say that for me, too.

We reached the top of the spiral walkway and the tank and she leaned over the open tank. The entire tank area comprised the full building height. There were attendants swimming with the fish, feeding them and waving to the human visitors. Diana skimmed her hand along the water and flipped droplets at me, smiling once again. “Your point?” I’d had enough and was about to walk off when she finally spoke.

“There’s someone in this group I work with who wants me dead; really dead this time. And you and your partner on next on the death list.”

~~~~~

Marblehead

2PM

We arrived at the house in Marblehead, Search Warrant in hand. I was impressed; the area was beautiful. The home was a true, weathered-beach property. Old style clapboard shingles in a colonial gray blue with white trim. A wrap around porch with ladder-back rocking chairs marked restful spots long the length of the porch. The contrast of the finely landscaped yard and the unbridled sea beyond was breathtaking.

And, unfortunately, I was not here to sightsee… Joani knocked on the front door as Mitch peered into the front parlor windows. After several minutes with no answer, Joani went through the drill, identifying herself, us, asking that the door be opened. When no answer was forthcoming, she held both her badge and the Search Warrant in front of her and tried the door latch. It opened easily and she motioned to us as she called out, ‘hello?’.

To our right was a front parlor with turn-of-the-century, leaded, glass windows that allowed plenty of natural lighting to brighten the room. All of the furniture in this room was draped in sheets, utilitarian white sheets. I walked through, running my gloved finger over the mantle of the granite fireplace. My finger came away clean. Mitch and Joani were across from me in the dining room. Suspended from the ceiling was a punched tin light fixture, its light globe covers decorated in what appeared to be hand punched hearts and pineapples, a quaint, but strange combination of New England early American design.

I continued to move past the covered furniture to the mahogany, roll-top, desk on the south wall. I pulled open two small cubby drawers, finding only odds and ends of an organized person or persons. It was when I opened the middle drawer that my breath caught in my chest and the bottom fell out of my stomach.

I remembered the torn picture we found at Chiquita Banaros’ home in Nahant. The picture I found here was also aged, black and white, but was also whole. I did not recognize many of the faces in the picture, but there were two I was upset to find out I recognized very clearly.

One was Diana Fowley and the other was the two-timer Chiquita said Jason knew about. I needed to get to Mulder, fast, but I also needed to help with this investigation. I pulled out yet another evidence bag and carefully placed the picture inside, making a record of the original location of the evidence, the date and time.

Mitch and Joani had moved upstairs and I joined them. I needed to figure out how to get to Boston, in a hurry. As I approached the back bedroom, they were going through the drawers of the bureaus and chests of drawers. Joani had hit pay dirt, finding a small vial with what appeared to be white past dust. The label on the bottle noted that, at one time, some had needed valium. That ‘someone’ was Diana Fornley. <So clever, Diana, so terribly clever>. I couldn’t help it; my sarcasm had gotten the better of me.

I filled Mitch and Joani in on this development and showed them the picture. They inquired about the identity of the people. Joani remarked that they all seemed to be well acquainted; their smiles and the manner in which their arms were casually slung around one and other making it look more like a group of friends commemorating a special event together than a group of business associates. I filled them in on the two I knew. The three of us speculated on the true nature of this group; friends or business associates though they may be.

Mitch and Joani wanted to take the picture to run identify traces on the others I had not identified, but I felt that the only way I was going to get Mulder to believe that Diana was up to no good was to show him the original. He would not accept a copy, passing it off as ‘manipulated’. The three of us agreed to stop by the local camera shop to have a rush copy made. They would then proceed into the city to the Field Office to begin the identification process. They agreed to drop me off at the Aquarium.

Their total support and tacit understanding that my situation was off bounds to them caused me a good deal of guilt. Since I had arrived, they had been expecting a ‘pair’ of Agents. Yet, they worked with me for the most part and other than initially expressing their concern about Mulder, did not press the issue. I felt that I owed them some time of explanation. Especially now that some of the evidence for this case had become inextricably linked to Mulder’s whereabouts…

“Joani, Mitch, before we head out, I think I need to clarify a few things about Mulder’s behavior on this case.” Before I could begin to explain, Mitch held up his hand and shook his head. “Not necessary, Scully. It’s not our business.” I smiled. I really did like these two and knew that if I needed anything, they would be there to help out. “I know neither of you requires an explanation, but we were called in to assist you and you’ve only been getting half of the possible assistance. Mulder’s been called upon to provide some back up for a former Agent.” Even as I spoke the words, I felt the bile rise in my throat. Damn him, I was covering his sorry ass yet again. And for what reason? To save face for him? For me? For the Bureau? Yeah, that was it… At least that’s what I told myself. If it had been just Mulder I was covering for, I think it would have been easier. The fact that I allowed her to come into the equation really rankled.

“Look, Scully, Mitch is right. There is no need to explain. We trust you and your trust in Mulder. That’s all we need to know. Let’s get to the Camera Shop so we can get you to the Aquarium. Something tells me that this isn’t a little sightseeing stop.” Once again, I wondered just how transparent we were to others. Our connection seemed to stand out in front of us.

~~~~~

New England Aquarium

3:30PM

Joani and Mitch dropped me off by the main gate. Throngs of people were coming and going in and out of the Aquarium and along the wharf area. It really was a gorgeous day. Gorgeous except for the fact that I had to find Mulder, fast. I was glad I had the picture with me because I might have had a hard time recognizing Diana. I studied that picture for possibly the tenth time. She was in the midst of 8 people, 6 men, 2 women. With the exception of the dark haired man described as the ‘two-timer’, I didn’t even remotely recognize any of them. They all looked happy or, maybe it was more that they were pleased with themselves. They didn’t seem to have a care in the world.

Diana and the one other woman were standing within a smaller grouping of the six men, reveling in all the attention. The other woman was about Diana’s height and had should length dark hair. She looked as if she worked out quite a bit and…knew how to have fun. She was dressed all in black; tight, boot cut pants, cropped lycra halter, topped off with a black leather duster and high, chunky, heels that could rival some of my own. I wondered what would happen if the two of them were actually placed next to one and other. An image of fighting betas came to mind. I would love to see that play out…and

I secretly wished I might get to meet this other woman to ask her to indulge my little fantasy. I hoped that Joani and Mitch had luck identifying the sordid group.

After walking in and around the crowds and determining that neither Mulder nor Diana were outside the Aquarium, I headed inside. I showed my badge deciding there was no way on earth I was going to pay to find and save my partner yet again. A cursory walk through the lower level told me they were not there, so I headed to the circular ramp.

For some reason, the ramp seemed almost empty. I could hear voices echoing here and there, a child calling to his sibling, quiet murmurs of a new couple, a church group walking through. It certainly had appeared much more crowded from the outside and down on the gift shop level. As I neared the top level, I heard a voice I’d know anywhere even though it had been some time since I’d heard it last. The sound of her voice was like nails on a chalkboard or biting into tinfoil. It jangled my nerves and set me on edge. I froze, waiting to hear Mulder’s voice. After several seconds, I heard nothing although she was pausing, waiting for a response.

~~~~~

Aquarium, Upper Level

I was waiting for her to explain, fill me in on her ‘untimely, staged death’ when her cellphone beeped. She smiled at me, laying her hand on the back of mine. I drew back from her, unconsciously wiping it dry on my chinos. “I’ve got to take this, Fox. Shouldn’t be more than a minute.” She seemed entirely too composed to me as she walked away. And I knew she was making sure I saw as much of her swaying backside as possible as she moved over to the payphone alcoves across the tank opening from me. With the low ceiling and the huge water-filled tank I couldn’t hear a thing she was saying. She presented me with her back, probably more out of vanity than the need to keep me from lip reading.

I still had time; I could leave now and walk away from whatever I was getting into before doing any real damage. Although, I knew I was going to have to do some heavy duty talking when I got back to Scully.

But I stayed and I watched her increased agitation. She was gesturing, her left hand moving back and forth near her hair as she paced in short little lines to and fro. She turned her profile to me at one point and I saw the flames in her eye.

~~~~~

Aquarium, One Level Below

The words floated over me as if I were standing right next to her. And I wanted to pretend that I had heard incorrectly. I wished I had the presence of mind to carry my small recording device. Yeah, right, Scully. You would have known you were going to run into the Formerly Special Dead Agent Diana Fowley who would just happen to have a covert phone call directly within your ear shot.

She was getting angry and she was answering to someone. It was clear that orders were being questioned and changed. Some of what I heard was unintelligible, most likely because she was moving around.

The part I heard quite clearly indicated to me that I had to get to Mulder fast and get him out of here. I replayed the words in my head after she had disconnected from the call. “Listen, I’ve got it under control. Yes, he’s here now. I’ll convince him, I told you I would. Yes. I said, yes. She’ll buy it because he’ll buy it. They’ll be at the house within a week. I know the stakes, you don’t have to remind me you fool.”

The hardest part was yet to come. I’d been here before. I dreaded going down this road again.

~~~~~

Aquarium, Upper Level

As I approached the upper level, I took a few deep breaths in a futile attempt to calm and prepare myself. I no more wanted to see Diana than I don’t know what. Even glibness escaped me at that point. I had the picture, I knew what I had just heard and I banked on Mulder’s trust and faith in me.

We’d been through this once before and had come out of it stronger as individuals and stronger as a team. I knew Mulder had lost his belief in Diana some time back and that I had nothing to worry about.

So, there was no good reason to feel as nervous and scared as I felt at that moment. Panic threatened to seize my ability to move forward. I focused on my partner, on the love of my life and came up behind him. I give Diana some credit. She made a valiant effort to retain a poker face when she saw me. But it failed miserably.

“Why Agent Scully, I never expected to have the pleasure of seeing you again.” Her words dripped with sarcasm; a thin layer of saccharine over acid… and surprise. However, based on the bit of phone conversation I had overheard, I was pretty sure that her surprise was tinged with happiness that her plan might actually go according to plan. I didn’t pretend to show any such enthusiasm in response.

Mulder started at the sound of my name on Diana’s lips and turned toward me. “Scully?” I don’t think he knew what else to say and the look on his face would have been comical had the situation not been so ludicrous. I think Mulder would have referred to his current facial expression as his ‘mild panic face’.

Diana moved to stand next to him, her hand touching his elbow lightly, clearly staking her claim. The effect wasn’t lost on me and I winced inwardly hoping that my body didn’t betray me. I needed the strength of my convictions to keep me from resorting to very, un-Bureau-like behavior including, but not limited to; kicking, clawing, biting and scratching, the order of which was subject to change at the last minute.

“Mulder, I need to talk to you. Alone.” He looked puzzled, but thankfully, shrugged off Diana’s hand from his elbow and came with me. “What’re you doing here, Scully? I told you it’s dangerous for you. I would have…”

“Shut up, Mulder and listen to me. This is not what it seems to be. Do you remember that picture we found at Chiquita and Jason’s home in Nahant?” He nodded. “I found its counterpart at the house in Marblehead.” I pulled the picture in the evidence bag from my hip pack and handed it to him. He looked at it, closely, and then handed it back to me. “So, we see the rest of the group, what’s the problem? We both guessed at who the other person was and we don’t know the others.”

“Mulder, look at Diana in this picture. Look carefully. Does she look as if she’s being held under duress?” I could see I was starting to lose his attention. He had the ‘you’re grasping at straws’ look on his face. I had to work quickly to pull him back to my point. “Mulder, first of all, this combination, these two people working together cannot be good. Second of all,” I was ready to tell him about the phone conversation, “this is all a plot to snag us both.”

He smiled at me, that half patronizing smile that meant he was about to tell me that I didn’t really have all of the information and that he was about to enlighten me. “Scully, I know that! That’s part of why she needs my help. If I work to help her out, she gets out from under this group and you and I are safe.” I shook my head, partly trying to clear my head of all extraneous and competing information, but more so in disbelief. He was going to buy her manipulating and air fluffed explanations. Again.

“I heard her conversation earlier, Mulder. You are not helping her help us. You’re part of the plan to bring both of us to her colleagues. She has less than a week to accomplish the plan.” I almost added, ‘you’ve got to believe me, Mulder’, but refused. I had suddenly come to the conclusion that either he did or he didn’t. I wasn’t going to pull out the histrionics for effect.

<The moon is pulling at me

The moon is pulling at you

You swear to me it’s the sun that’s shining through

It’s hard to push for the truth and lies are easy to find

I’m left with, I’m left with, this trouble in mind

I’m left to counting the days, while my life drifts away

You come and go again like the tide

While on the shoreline I stand washed of my pride

And the truth I keep pushing aside is that it’s time to walk away>

He paused, seemingly to consider his next words. “Scully, if she really wanted to abduct us both, why ask me for help? Why not just hire someone to take us? What you’re saying doesn’t make any sense.” I repeated that I had heard those very words come out of her mouth not fifteen minutes earlier not twenty feet from where he stood. He actually started trying to explain how I might not have understood the entire conversation, might have taken it out of context because of where I had been standing.

He took my hands in his, the warmth of his touch soothing. We moved toward each other and he looked into my eyes as we both sought out each other’s thoughts, heart. “Scully, you know I would never do anything to hurt you or us. You have to believe that, believe in me.” A statement I did know he meant with all of his heart. And I did believe in him. But, with Diana in the picture, I felt a sinking feeling that he would not be able to stand by that statement and, that once again, would make a decision with far-reaching impact for us both.

<Big guns are pointed at me, big guns are pointed at you

Everybody’s waitin’ to see what we’re gonna do

You spin around and disappear under the floor where I stand

I’m left with, I’m left with, a bag in my hand

I’m left to counting the days, while my life drifts away

You come and go again like the tide

While on the shoreline I stand washed of my pride

And the truth I keep pushing aside is that it’s time to walk away>

Before I had a chance to respond, she was behind him, her hands on his shoulders, her mouth close to his ear. “Fox, I really must get that information to you. Time is of the essence. I’m sure Agent Scully understands.” Mulder’s hands dropped from mine as she moved them back one step. “Scully, I won’t be long. Just wait outside for me, ok?” His eyes conveyed what he really believed while mine spoke volumes to him. “Mulder, don’t do this…again.” My voice was low and I hoped, strong, but I felt the pleading in it and hated myself for it. Hated him for reducing me to pleading.

When he made no move to join me, I felt something inside me harden and lock down. I knew he saw it in the way that only one who knows me completely could. I turned and walked away, forcing myself to do so unhurriedly.

<Night closes in but I hear the water rushing in To his song, I’m a slave

I start to sink where I stand, I become part of the sand

He covers me like the sea, like waves

The road is turning for me, the road is turning for you

The light is red like a fire, but you drive on through

I stay behind and hear you call, ‘you shoulda known this from the start’

I’m left with, I’m left with, a piece of my heart>

I heard him call out to me, his voice settling in the pit of my stomach, stirring emotions I couldn’t fathom and I continued to walk. He had made his choice abundantly clear to me once again and I was nobody’s fool for a third time. I managed to make it outside before my eyes could no longer contain the tears that had threatened to spill earlier. Sitting on a bench by the docks, I pulled my feet up under me, shutting down, shutting out everything around me. Looking out over the water, I watched the yachts and other pleasure boats bobbing on the current, moored and awaiting their occupants. Farther out, the water was peaceful and a few sailboats dotted the horizon. I breathed in deeply, trying to put things in perspective. But I couldn’t, not this time.

A sudden resolve allowed me to focus more clearly. I looked around behind me to locate a taxi stand and headed for it. I needed to get back to the hotel. I needed to get as far away from Mulder as I could. As I hailed a cab, I turned to look back at the Aquarium… and saw Mulder running into the people now waiting on a long line for entrance, searching with a look of pure desperation painting his face. I quickly ducked into the first cab that stopped and slammed the door, giving the driver the hotel address.

<You come and go again like the tide

While on the shoreline I stand washed of my pride

And the truth I keep pushing aside is that it’s time to walk away>

<Song lyrics from: Time to Walk Away by Bree Sharpe>

~~~~~

I was in deep and I had caused it myself. I wanted to believe it was because Scully was jumping the gun again, because of her petty jealousy over Diana, but I knew better. I had allowed myself to be led around again by the former Agent, my former lover. The fact that Diana’s situation seemed fishier and fishier by the moment was a moot point. How long would it take me to actually hear my partner the first time she spoke?

I asked Diana if what Scully said was true and received one of Diana’s smug smiles in response. What had ever made me think she’d be honest with me? More importantly, what in this world, or any other, for that matter, ever made me doubt Scully…and trust Diana… again? I knew I’d consider myself extremely lucky if she would consider looking at me, let alone listening to my most-likely, too late, apology.

For all I knew, she was emailing her request for transfer at this very moment.

I was thinking that there just might be some things from which one cannot recover. And I sincerely hoped I was wrong. It had taken us too long to reach the point we had in January and I was watching us slip away from each other.

Diana had done her level best to keep me from going to Scully, reminding me how she had been used, been the unwitting partner to what she called, ‘this grand deception’. When asked to provide more information, her details were far and few between. She preferred painting a sweeping set of generalizations. And whom was I really fooling? How could Diana prevent me from doing what I had known I needed to do.

I wanted to believe that it was because of her claims about what would happen to Scully if I didn’t follow through. I admit that what she told me was far from rock solid as evidence, but there were enough details that only someone who had been watching her, watching us, would know. I felt crazed, trying to replay images from her apartment or mine, from our office, lunches together, frantically wishing I’d noticed the surveillance equipment, the recording devices. My mind was blank and would not focus. My normal abilities seemed to have taken a vacation; along with my sanity, whatever was left of it.

I had known one thing and one thing only; if there was the slightest chance that what Diana said about Scully being danger were true, I would follow through with Diana’s request. Within reason. With limits.

Coming to my senses, I wrenched myself free of her hands, really looking at her for the first time. No words were forthcoming from me, but she had other ideas, other needs. “Fox, don’t leave it like this, don’t leave me like this. You know that I’m speaking the truth as much as you’ve ever known it. You know that Scully has always –” It was at that moment that the connections from my brain to my body seemed to reconnect. I knew that if I opened my mouth to refute what I knew was coming next, I would have lost valuable time catching up with Scully. I also knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that whatever was about to come from her mouth would only be so much additional subterfuge.

She at least had the good grace to appear shaken by my hasty departure and she had not pursued me. I literally flew down the spiral walkway, glad that there seemed to be a lull in the visitor groups. I was operating in my ‘mindless’ mode, seeing only the final goal. Scully. I had only hoped she wasn’t long gone.

As I reached the main gate, I started calling out to her, frantically scanning and searching the area outside the building for some sign of her. And then I saw her. She was perched on a bench near the water, pulled inside herself, looking smaller than her petite frame allowed. As I headed in her direction, she looked my way and our eyes connected. What I saw there frightened and unnerved me more than I can say. Her eyes, even across the distance between us, were cold and empty, the mirthful light I had begun to associate with her gaze upon me, snuffed.

I called out to her again and she started, jumping off of the bench and making her way to a taxi stand. For a moment, I lost sight of her in the tour group lines that had formed as two buses parked at the entrance. Trying to peer over their heads, all I could see was the empty bench.

And the door to the cab as it closed. I ran for my Malibu as if my life depended on it.

~~~~~

The two found it difficult to keep track of both Agents’ whereabouts in the increasing crowds. The tall woman tossed back her flowing dark hair, her vivid blue eyes giving away none of the concern she felt, and moved closer to the dark haired man. He appeared amused at her perceived frustration. His emerald eyes flitted briefly in her direction before he covered them with his Ray Bans. Her subtle response to his humor at her expense was a knee to the back of his leg, causing him to nearly stumble clumsily. She could see his smirk even though he did not turn in her direction.

The situation was not yet out of control, rarely was ‘out of control’ as far as he was concerned. There were always possibilities, other options, Plans X, Y and Z. He moved in and out of new situations with ease and that was why he had been called in approximately a year ago. He enjoyed having his services in demand. Demand was good. Demand meant the stakes were high. When the stakes were high, so was his payback.

He did not work with partners, preferring to write his own rules and rewrite them as needed. A partner was someone to be responsible for, to weigh him down, to complicate matters. However, when he had been called for this assignment, the price had escalated to ensure that he would be ‘willing’ to work with a partner. She had been described as his female twin. He smirked smugly, having decided that he would be the judge of that. No one, male or female, deserved that distinction in his sordid book. She had passed the first of his many, subtle, ‘tests’.

He did his level best to push her out of his way, providing too little information, delegating to her the most menial of tasks, laying the best of his caustic wit upon her. And she met him push with shove, lack of information given with even less information returned, menial tasks performed with finesse and caustic wit zapped back in his face. He had found a partner. At least for the next 24 hours. Or so he told himself six months ago.

For her part, she was more than willing to work with him. His reputation had most definitely proceeded him and it was that reputation that garnered her interest.

She had been ‘recruited’ literally from across the globe through a circuitous route that would leave the most detailed mind baffled. The path of the recruitment had originated in the farthest northwest reaches of Canada, moving into the heart of the Goddard Space Center in Maryland, then across the Atlantic to the frozen Tunguska region and finally, southeast to her home country of Australia.

Her contacts needed her varied skills and experience. By day, an unassuming employee in the country’s Tax Assessor’s Office, her darker hours were spent on less mundane activities. Whether her other ‘jobs’ were merely covers or true avocations was not known, but her face had been spotted promoting a wide range of local and national bands and other musical groups, as well as, serving as a highly place Security Officer in the local clubs and bars. While she was highly sought for her finely honed knack with technological devices, most notably the skill to fly under the radar in the vast computer networks, she had other, less obvious skills the man’s employer knew made her the ideal choice. Her ability to hold her liquor was legendary in the wider circles of influence, allowing her to work and play among the high rollers, as well as, some of the denizens that were part and parcel of her chosen sideline activities.

Yes, they made a fine pair.

Their assignment to this particular case was priceless, a plum that had been vied for among the best of the bad. Whether they knew it or not, Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were still stumbling their way too close to the workings of the newer Syndicate; it’s latest incarnation, that is. The insertion of former Agent, former dead Agent Diana Fowley was a stroke of genius, playing off of old wounds. The tall, dark, man with the emerald eyes enjoyed playing off of wounds, old or new, didn’t matter. His accomplice enjoyed playing off of him as well as off of the wounds.

Sidling just a bit closer to him, her face giving away none of what she was thinking, she suggested they split to cover more ground. He shook his head imperceptibly, his eyes darting to their right. “They’ve separated which means Fowley did her job well.” Coming around to face him, she allowed only a hint of her confusion to show. “The plan isn’t to bring them in?” Allowing himself one, brief, public display, he tugged on her earlobe, letting slide a full wattage smile. “You think too much, my Aussie woman. Stop making things complicated. Of course we’re bringing them in.” Having summoned whatever reserve existed, she yanked his fingers off of her ear and stepped back, the small distance allowing her the luxury of a few deep, and hopefully, unnoticed, recovery breaths.

“We watch right now. I’ll let you know when it’s time to move.” He had moved toward the docks while she stood hands on hips watching him go. Over his shoulder, he called to her and still she remained where she was. Halfway out to the moored cabin cruiser, he turned toward her, removing his shades, squinting in the bright late day sun. “Are you waiting for an engraved invitation or do I come back there and drag you?” She watched the slightest upturn of his lips, vowing to remain unreadable. Under her breath she had muttered, “I choose the dragging option, Alex. Come back here and drag me.”

~~~~~

The report had gone as planned and the Superior was pleased. Only then did she allow herself a brief moment of unvarnished gloating. “I told you I could convince him. He’s never lost whatever connection we once had.” The Superior was not amused, did not suffer fools or the self-righteous easily. “You’re obviously underestimating his partner’s hold over him, Fowley. You’ve seen the tapes, the evidence. What makes you so sure that you’ve convinced him?”

She sat down next to him on the Victorian sofa, having removed the white sheets earlier. She slipped her feet out of the black leather mules and idly rubbed at her calf with the toes of her other foot. As she brought her long legs up under her, her cornflower blue cotton/linen sheath slid up her thighs, causing the Superior to cast a downward gaze. She ran her hand through his salt and pepper waves, brushing a lock back from his creased forehead. “I’m sure I have him for two reasons, two reasons you already know. One,” she whispered in his ear, “I’m an excellent judge of character. Who was it that suggested you hire the Australian woman to work with Alex? And two,” she bit his earlobe, wetting the slightly sore lobe with her tongue. “I know Fox better than anyone… much better than anyone.” She wriggled toward him, the lining of her dress and the friction of the furniture moving the hem up around her waist.

The Superior’s warm hand dropped onto her thigh, following the way of the hem of her dress. “We’ll see, Fowley, we’ll just see about that. In the meantime, while you’re being so damn cocky, why don’t you get over here and…”

~~~~~

Boston Harbor Hotel

3 June, 6PM

“Yes, I’m Agent Dana Scully in room 1214. I’ll be checking out in about 15 minutes because of…um, a situation that has recently developed. I’ll need a rental car, too. Is the one I used earlier available?” The Desk Clerk was courteous and when I flashed my badge his way, he very nicely offered not to charge me any ‘early check out’ penalty. In my current state of mind, the charge probably would have brought no small amount of wrath raining on him.

I had actually started breathing again on the ride back to the Hotel. I wouldn’t have described myself as ‘calm’, but I was less agitated, more clearly able to set a course of action. With the assistance of the friendly cabby who kept checking on me in his rearview mirror, I was able to locate another hotel in the area and book a room for that night. Using my cellphone, I booked a room at the Ramada Boston. I wanted to be safely ensconced in my new room long before Mulder returned. I knew he could not be far behind me. I carelessly threw my clothing into my suitcase and ran to the bathroom for my toiletries.

I silently blessed whoever remembered I had rented the Malibu before because I found it waiting for me. Too much in a hurry to deal with the pleasantries, I hefted my luggage into the backseat and jumped in. I called Joani and Mitch to let them know that they could reach me by cellphone, but that I had left the Harbor Hotel. Neither of them pressed me for my new location, or the reasons for the sudden change. I could only imagine what the two of them were thinking or wondering.

~~~~~

Boston Harbor Hotel, 7:15PM

I threw some bills at the driver and ran into the lobby. I toyed with running the 12 flights of stairs when the elevator seemed to take way too long. However, under my current level of stress, I considered the fact that dropping from a heart attack in front of Scully might not gain me any points. Heck, I doubted she’d even try CPR.

When I reached our floor, I tore straight for her room, pounding on the door, calling her name. I should have expected that she wouldn’t answer me. I went into my adjoining room and headed for the connector door, which was also locked, from her side. The patio door was my last hope, but she had seen to it, as well. Breaking the glass would only earn me the disdain from the management, not to mention my boss.

I called the Desk to see if there were any messages for me. I belatedly thought to ask if Scully had stopped by the desk. And that was when I discovered she had checked out, leaving no forwarding address…

“Damnit, Scully!” The mauve vase holding the silk flowers hit the far wall, shattering on impact. The Laurel and Hardy phrase, “Another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into’, floated around in my head until I didn’t know whether I might just continue to yell and send the lamps the way of the vase.

I chose, instead, to track down my partner. To mend whatever might be left of that partnership.

~~~~~

Ramada Boston, 8:30PM

I checked in under an assumed name, knowing that it would not take Mulder long to find me. I stood at the desk as the Clerk entered my data into the computer, my mind wandering. I had no doubt that my partner would search for me. He knew I was most definitely angry, angrier than he’d probably ever seen me. For someone who reads me so well, I was at a loss as to why he couldn’t see what his doubting my ability to work with him on this situation was doing to me, to us.

So many times, so many years, so many stops and starts to get us to where we were. Both of us tentative, hesitant, fearful of taking the first major step, fearful of what it could do to our friendship. Then, our decision made, the steps taken, the discovery that it had been right all along, would always be right. Would have been right…

I knew that somehow I’d make it through the case. He would, too. We were nothing if not the consummate professionals. But I also knew how hard it was going to be. Working side by side over the years had tuned us in to each other, allowing us to work seamlessly together. The give and take had been finely tuned so that words became almost superfluous. Now, I was afraid that words would be needed, but no longer possible, between us.

I considered working solo with Joani and Mitch. But I knew that Mulder would not leave the case anymore than I would. I briefly considered calling Skinner and putting in for an immediate transfer, but that would have required explanation; much more than I was capable of or wanted to provide. Thinking about what I would tell him made me laugh sardonically. <Um, Sir, I need a transfer right away. Oh, you want to know why? Well, Sir, it seems that Agent Fowley has returned from the dead and is intricately involved in a master plan that, by the way, may or may not be tied into our current case, but involves capturing me and Mulder. Um, no, I have no idea why, but, by the way, Mulder believes her. Yes, again, Sir. He won’t believe a word I have to say even though I have proof. So, you see, we can’t work together effectively anymore>

I decided it was time to allow my brain to shut down. I was exhausted, emotionally and physically and just wanted to escape my own thoughts. Ritual was what I needed; unpacking, placing my clothing into drawers, hanging them in the closet; getting undressed, showering, getting ready to call it a night. The familiar activities actually felt good, allowed me to forget. Until I lay down to read my notes.

When that didn’t work, I turned on the TV. I needed something to relax me and needed more activity, more distraction. I quickly redressed and went down to the hotel lobby for some hot tea in the cafŽ. The place was relatively empty with the exception of a few middle of the week businessmen. I sat facing the lobby, mindlessly watching visitors coming and going, their routine now helping occupy my mind, the warmth of the tea slowly making its way through my body, helping me shut down.

I found the Boston Globe on the adjoining table and started flipping through the pages. As I turned the page of the article I was reading, I felt a hand on my shoulder.

~~~~~

Pier 15, Boston Harbor

10PM

It was of only moderate size when moored among the other yachts. A cabin cruiser supplied to the partners in recognition of good work already completed and in hopes of better work to come. Furnished in cherry paneling with brass-outfitted trim, the luxurious ambience was not lost on Alex or his partner.

A personal staff of ten ensured that meals were prepared, snacks, apŽritifs and any other culinary delights were available round the clock; linens were changed and beds turned down, wood and brass shined and polished, and, the course charted. Ten highly trained professionals who were as invisible as they were efficient and silent.

“Are you coming in here, Alex or do I have to come out there?” Having shrugged out of her clothes in favor of a mere slip of a black, silk, sundress, she waited impatiently in the master bedroom. Ostensibly, they had planned to discuss the next step in bringing Mulder and Scully to Marblehead. Ostensibly.

No answer was forthcoming. She fumed, throwing the fringed pillow back down onto the Egyptian cotton coverlet and stalked into the living room. “You decided to join me, Carrie, how nice of you.”

“I was getting changed.” He eyed the change from her black capris, v-neck tee and long, leather coat. “Tell me, is black the national color down under?”

His question earned him a scowl. “I mean, how the hell do you walk around in the dead of summer in a leather coat? Your thermostat broken?” Flip question followed flip question. “You’re a fuckin’ wise arse, Alex. And you’ve never known summer until you’ve been through one in Australia.”

He walked toward and around her. “Yeah?” But, his new partner gave as good as she got. “If you’re so concerned about all the clothing I wear, why don’t you try ‘heating me up’ if you want to see me in less clothes.” Hands on hips, head tilted to one side, Alex snorted. “You’re really pretty amusing, Carrie, when you’re trying to be witty.”

The sarcasm irked her, but his smile quelled some of the potential wrath. “It’s true what they say about you, Alex.” She joined him at the port window, watching the twinkling of the cruising lights as they bobbed and dipped in the wake of heavier boats in the shipping lane.

“What do they say? Enlighten me.”

He turned to her then, gripping one wrist in his large hand, pulling her arm behind her back. “Ouch, damnit, that hurts!” He shrugged and quickly yanked her other arm behind her back, effectively molding himself to her body, his breath hot on her face. “I thought you liked it when it hurt. Has something changed?”

His hot breath had turned to his wet firm kisses. On her nose, on her eyelids, on her cheeks and roughly bruising her lips. Whatever may have changed was quickly lost against his lips and then his tongue. She surfaced briefly for air, half-heartedly asking for release. “You talk way too much, Carrie, way too much.”

He held her hands against her ass, his hands moving hers along the smooth, gossamer, silk lying against the curve of her.

~~~~~

Ramada Boston, 10PM

I jumped as I felt the hand on my shoulder, sure it was Mulder. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, I just thought you might like me to refresh your tea?” It was only the waitstaff. I had thought the tea had relaxed me, but, by my reaction, I knew I was far from serene. I thanked him and went back to my reading. To the casual observer, I would have appeared engrossed in my reading. I had actually read the same paragraph five times—and had not absorbed one word of it. I closed my eyes and felt the hand again.

Without looking up, I politely thanked the waitstaff and declined anymore tea. When he did not respond, I opened my eyes.

And saw Mulder seated across from me. My heart started pounding furiously, whatever calming effect the tea actually had vanished instantly. I stood, tossing the paper to the table, and tried to leave the cafŽ. “Scully; please don’t walk away from me. Let me explain.” I looked down at Mulder’s hand on my wrist and glared at him. “Let. Go. Of. Me. Mulder.” The words punctuated by my hand jerking, pulling from his grasp, they physically hurt as they came from my lips. When he still had not released his hold on me, I wrenched my arm free and walked away from him.

Mulder was nothing if not persistent when he had his sights set on a goal. Determined to not let him see anything other than my cold rage, I ignored the fact that he was right behind me. He moved to stand in front of me at the elevators. He was not about to make this easy on either of us, although I had absolutely no desire to make anything easy on him. I wanted one thing and one thing only, to make him suffer. To make him suffer as he had already done to me. If I had to live my vision of hell, then he was going to live it, as well. I wasn’t sure, but ‘do unto others…’ seemed to be a wonderful saying right about then.

“Scully, I don’t want to make a scene here, but you have to talk to me. How’re we going to work this case tomorrow if we can’t even talk?” I didn’t miss the pleading, the hurt or the tinge of fear in his voice. I didn’t miss it and I wasn’t going to deal with it. I was feeling selfish and I just didn’t care. This whole situation had been played his way, on his time…with her. Hell, I couldn’t even think her name anymore. I had nothing left to give him, to help him. And that was the saddest part of all.

“I don’t have to talk to you, Mulder. We did that once not too long ago, as I recall. And look where we are now. You’ve made your choices patently clear to me.” My voice was surprisingly calm, level. The elevator had finally arrived and I stepped inside. “The case, Scully.” His voice had dropped lower, the energy and passion gone now. “I’ll meet you, Joani and Mitch at the Bureau Office at ten. Good night, Mulder.” I let the door close.

As soon as it did, I had to grip the rails. Whatever reserve I had accessed to hold myself together had suddenly been depleted. I knew I’d barely make it to my room.

Once through the door, I collapsed with my back up against it. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so desolate, confused, hurt and angry. And that was just for starters. I attempted to pull myself together enough to get into bed. As I took my cellphone from my pocket, I noticed that the voicemail signal was lit. Mitch left a message saying the meeting had been moved to nine o’clock instead of ten. He had notified Mulder. Thank god… I had absolutely no idea how our suddenly-changed personal relationship was going to play out professionally.

~~~~~

Pier 15, Boston Harbor

Near midnight

Sated. Carrie noticed how the moonlight danced in Alex’s eyes. She sighed, letting her head fall, once again, to his chest. “We have to work out the next step, Alex.”

Voracious. Alex’s fingers wove their way into her long, dark hair, pulling her away from his body. Before the words could form on her open mouth, he sealed his lips over hers. Drawing back briefly to catch the expression on her face, he whispered, “I’m showing you the next step, Carrie. Now, either you shut up or I’ll make you shut up.”

“Make me.”

~~~~~

F.B.I. Boston Field Office

One Center Place, Suite 660

4 June, 8:30AM

“C’mon, Mitch, we’re gonna be late.” My sugar craving partner was wolfing down one more French Crueler with his black coffee. Although I had eaten breakfast before I picked him up, he just had to stop off at Sita’s Bakery. He explained that he had just ‘stumbled’ upon it when he was out for a run the other day. He fell in love with the place when we were in Connecticut. When my partner had taken up running, I didn’t have a clue, but figured it probably had occurred right after he discovered her treats locally and had to expend a little excess energy. Although, to look at him, one would never guess that one of his all-consuming passions was full of fat and sugar. The man never showed an ounce of fat.

I knew our meeting would prove interesting since he would be on an extreme caffeine and sugar high. “I’ll see you out at the car; get you butt moving, buddy.” He grabbed his travel mug and followed me out. Luckily, we were just down the street from the Field Office. I had visions of morning meetings with the ASAC, Mitch’s face covered in powdered sugar…

“What do you think is going on with Mulder and Scully?” His mouth still full of crueler, Mitch muttered something unintelligible that I knew told me he didn’t want to speculate on our colleagues. “I just think something strange is going on. When we were in Laurel Glenn, they were much more, um, can’t find the exact word, but I think ‘together’ would say it. They were more in synch with each other. Ever since they got here, something hasn’t been right. I’m worried.” I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had that Scully was covering for Mulder. It was really none of my business except that she seemed to be hurting, even though she tried to hide it and I had experienced some not-so-slight anxiety about how their lack of partnership might affect our work on this case.

Mitch wiped off the last remnants of doughnuts and turned to me. “Ok, make a note of this moment, Joani, because it’s probably the only time you’re going to get me to take part in a conversation about the personal lives of fellow Agents.” I swatted his arm, “Smart ass.” We had pulled into the parking garage and were headed to the elevators. “I noticed what you did. Heck, when we were in Connecticut, I was sure they were a couple. Their work is great, but something just seems off the mark to me. Let’s hope either we’re both wrong on this one or they get their sh*t together fast.”

~~~~~

Office of ASAC Kristy Whirll Suite 600A

“Good morning, Agents. Are our DC Agents with you?” I shook my head and Mitch and I had a seat at the conference table. The notes, reports and lab results from the case to date were neatly stacked in color-coded files lying in front of the four seats.

A.S.A.C Whirll was the picture of efficiency and knowledge, a powerful combination in the Bureau. A combination that had garnered her the distinction of being the youngest ASAC in any Field Office in the States. Moving from a Bachelor’s in political science and one in international relations with concentrations in the European Community, Peace and World order relations, and pre-law at Drake University, she had come to D.C. to intern at the capital. Within a few short months, she had been on the fast track, promotions offered and accepted. Within a year on the Hill, she was recruited for Quantico. Word traveled fast and a certain, surly and well-placed A.D. at the main offices noticed her record. She had been offered, but turned down, an offer to work in the home office. She preferred the intimacy of the Field Offices. Her wish was granted.

She sat at the head of the conference table, every strawberry hair in place, her blue eyes taking in each and every detail in the room; a once over. Her only concession to her annoyance, the index finger of her right hand drumming on the tabletop. She refused to glance at her watch. Mitch glanced over at me as Mulder was ushered into the office.

Alone.

“Well, Agent Mulder, I presume?” My boss’s smile didn’t meet her eyes as she gave him the once over. She did not suffer tardiness, but she did not say anything. Much. “I thought AD Skinner was sending two Agents?” Her eyebrows shot up, her only physical display to the curiosity she was feeling. Mulder shifted slightly and glanced toward the door. The ASAC’s eyes followed his. “I’m sure she’ll be here any minute, Ma’am.”

And damn if Scully didn’t come waltzing in right at that moment. Something told me that these two saved each other’s butts, literally and figuratively, more times than could be counted either wittingly or unwittingly. Scully showed none of what I was sure was going on between her and Mulder. She had let her hair fall in its natural waves about her shoulders, but that was the only exception to the perfectly spit and polish look. She wore a cobalt blue summer weight suit, the skirt boxy and short with a very fitted jacket that was cut low enough to be cool and stylish, but conservatively enough to allow her to go without a blouse underneath. The pair of Cole Haan leather pumps matched the suit exactly. And the look was stunning.

“I’m sorry I’m late, A.S.A.C Whirll. It won’t happen again.” Scully smiled at Mitch and me and studiously avoided meeting Mulder’s eyes. He momentarily looked, what I can only describe as, crestfallen, but recovered nicely.

This was not going to be a good meeting…

“All right everyone, I’ve had a chance to review the reports and other information to date. What are your next steps? What questions still remain; other than ‘did the butler do it’?” Whirll smiled then, and it did meet her eyes. I truly enjoyed the brief glimpses of her wry humor.

Mitch, not one to allow a silence of, say, more than ten seconds, jumped in first. “Well, it seems that more investigation into the white, pasty substance is in order since it appeared at all sites. We also need to make another trip to Marblehead to see if we can talk to any of the people from the pictures that we have. Joani, Agent Scully and I found no one home when we visited.” At the mention of the Marblehead address, I saw Mulder look across the table at Scully. His eyes searched hers, but hers were trained on the window behind him over his left shoulder. I was sure my boss would notice the interaction, or lack of interaction, between them.

“Agents Scully, Mulder, do you have anything to add to Mitch’s summation?” In answer to the ASAC’s question, Scully briefly exchanged a communicative glance with her partner. Although it was fleeting, she had spoken volumes; ‘I’ll handle this’. He nodded imperceptibly and looked to the ASAC. “We’re meeting with a specialist from the Bureau’s home office this afternoon at three o’clock. While we have the lab results on the white pasty substance, this man has additional, in-depth experience we feel would further our knowledge of the substance’s possible uses.”

Scully did a fine job of skirting what I was sure my boss had picked up on, but was willing to tread lightly. “Possible uses, Agent? Care to elaborate?” A silence fell over the room for what seemed like ten minutes, but in actuality was probably no more than sixty seconds. “I can’t elaborate at this point as it would require me to speculate. That’s why we’ve consulted with an expert.” The tension in the room had been thick, but the ASAC nodded and smiled.

“All right then, Agents, your itinerary for today will include a visit to Marblehead immediately. Court, Spark, I need you back here directly after your Marblehead visit. Agents Mulder and Scully will meet up with their ‘expert’ on their own and then report back here as well. Are there any questions?” Mitch spoke for us all, shaking his head.

We knew we’d need to take two cars. As we approached the three vehicles, obstacle number one presented itself. Scully headed for her vehicle while Mulder headed to his. They were parked side by side. Mitch and I stood by to watch. As both Agents opened respective, driver side doors, they stopped. Scully just shook her head and pocketed her keys, closing her car door. Mulder walked around to the passenger door of his car and opened it for her. Mitch looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. We got into our car, prepared to follow their lead to Marblehead.

I watched as Mulder waited to close the door for her. While I couldn’t hear the entire exchange, it looked as if she was ‘explaining’ that she could close her own damn door. Mulder hastily moved to the driver’s side and started the engine.

~~~~~

The Road to Marblehead

11AM

<God, Scully, cut me some slack here> She hadn’t said more than two words to me since she arrived at the Field Office. Worse than Scully Wrath was Scully Silence. It truly made me feel non-existent, insignificant to her, as if what we had built no longer existed. While neither of us would ever win any awards for openness when it came to sharing our feelings or dealing with emotions, we’d really made some headway. Walls had actually slid open, if not tumbled down. From our mutual inability to let the other in, came a strong bond that allowed us to find a new level of sharing.

I kept glancing over at her, my hands itching to reach over and take hers in mine. At one point, I had placed my right hand on the console between us, but she had just drawn farther into herself.

That was history at this point; just so much water over the dam. I wanted to go to that place where it was safe for us to talk about what had happened, to allow me to make it right somehow. I wasn’t even sure I knew if there was anything to make it right between us, but I had to try. The problem was that my attempts were being met with complete and utter silence. Hell, she wouldn’t even look at me.

I tried easy, light, topics. “So, Scully, how’s your hotel?” Silence.

I tried talking about the case. “Tell me a little bit more about what you, Joani and Mitch found at the house.” More silence.

I tried my sincere desire to talk about what happened. “Scully, please let me explain. I really want to make this right.” I did get a response that time.

But, I wasn’t so sure I wanted it. The words she spoke hit me hard enough, but everything was conveyed in the totally neutral eyes and sadly soft, flat, tone of her voice. She stunned me silent. “Mulder, there’s nothing left to explain, nothing to say, nothing to make right. Let’s just finish this case and then I’ll be gone.” If it were possible, she moved even further from me, physically, emotionally. She couldn’t even look at me.

I didn’t want to give up, but was at a total loss of how to get inside enough, again, to try to regain the trust she once gave me. I had that gut sick feeling reserved for life’s great tragedies. Hitting the steering wheel with the heel of my hand was not my brightest move, but, at that point, it was my gut reaction.

~~~~~

I didn’t know how I was going to make it through this case. My resolve to do my job, to assist Joani and Mitch, was strong and the familial admonition, ‘don’t be a quitter’, pushed me forward. But, was it strong enough to let me work with Mulder? His sadness was palpable and hung in the air around us thickly. I turned to look at him briefly, the hurt in his eyes plainly evident, but I had nothing to offer him. For once, I could not soothe his hurt… because mine was taking all of my energy.

Mulder made several attempts to get me to talk to him and I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t bring myself out of my dark place enough to meet him halfway. I was furious with my inability to find a way around or through this situation we were in. None of my coping mechanisms worked for this. For us in this place. I tried to hold on to what had taken us so many small steps and long years to nurture, to find some strength to remember that the man sitting next to me was good hearted, caring, giving and loved me unconditionally. I tried, but could not push Diana far enough out of the picture to let Mulder back in. Although I hated myself for thinking it, I could probably deal with Diana’s scheming. It was his lie of omission and his tacit willingness to believe in her instead of in me that cut like a knife.

I wanted to crawl out of my skin, out of this car, out of his life. But running away wasn’t my way. And I wanted to work this through, but could see no way to do so. <Damn you, Mulder! Damn you straight to hell>

I realized we’d have to speak to one and other, had to communicate on some level, if we were to work together. I focused on the work level communication. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. “Do you know if all of the people in the picture live at that address?” I picked the most innocuous question to enter us back into the realm of professional communication. And I earned a surprised look from my partner. Surprised and speechless.

“I thought you weren’t talking to me, Scully?”

“We’re not talking, Mulder; we’re working a case.”

“There’s a difference? Talking’s talking.”

“Believe me, Mulder, there’s a difference. Now are you going to answer my question?”

“I don’t know anything about the address other than it may be where the group’s headquarters are.” He paused very briefly, but I noticed, knew what he was about to say.

“It may be where Diana’s living.”

“Well, hopefully, someone will be home and willing to answer our questions.”

“What are our questions, Scully? You, Mitch and Joani had a look around the place, what’s missing, what do we need to know?” The conversation had lost some of its stilted tone as we fell into the pattern of investigating.

“Well, first and foremost, the connection to the latest victim; who’s this business partner he came to see? Who’s the two-timer within the organization? How does that tie into this substance found at each of the sites? Does the substance relate to the disappearances?” I had covered as much ground as I could, but Mulder had his own contribution.

“You forgot one question, Scully”, he turned toward me, his eyes seeking mine momentarily before returning to the road, “how did those people vanish into thin air? I mean, I think ‘science’ would say that’s not possible given the laws of physics.” He looked pleased with himself, a cross between a smirk and some other smile played at his lips, almost as if he were uncertain about whether or not he had permission to display witty humor.

At another time, in another place, his comment and look would have earned him a small smile in return and maybe even a wittier retort. Right now, right here, all I could give him was a verbal response. “Well, it’s actually more a matter of quantum mechanics, where probabilities take an important part of the actions of the subatomic world. The principle might bear out an explanation for where and how—”

Mulder looked over at me, open-mouthed, and then, not missing a beat, tried to counter my explanation, “The determinism principle states that if one knows the state to an infinite accuracy of a system, the human body in this case, at one point in time, one would be able to predict the state of that system with infinite accuracy at any other time, past or future. This could allow us to figure out how their physical bodies, comprised of electrons moving in a predetermined pattern, could simply exist in the present, but possibly in another location.”

“Mulder, that principle fell out of favor some time ago and wouldn’t apply here.” His right hand had dipped into a bag of sunflower seeds that seemed to materialize from nowhere. He brought one up to his lips and teeth. With practiced skill, he cracked the shell, spit it into his palm and chewed the morsel. In all the years we’d been together, I don’t think I’d ever gotten used to watching him finesse the small seed from its shell so efficiently. My mind briefly strayed from his words to their source. I had gone slack-jawed; my eyes focused on his mouth.

I caught him glancing at me out of the corner of his eye as he placed another seed between his lips. “Are you so sure about that, Agent?” The man was toying with me and he knew it. I knew I needed to focus on the information and I turned away from him.

“I’m sure.”

We turned the corner and pulled into the driveway. Mitch and Joani pulled up alongside us. There were no other vehicles in the yard.

~~~~~

House in Marblehead

Noontime

As soon as we got out of the car, Joani pulled Scully aside. I asked Mitch what was going on and that’s when my ‘little talk’ began. I guess I should have seen it coming and, in all honesty, they had every right to be concerned. Scully and I weren’t exactly demonstrating model Agent behavior. It could hamper the investigation, it could get others killed—or, make them disappear…

“Look, Mulder, this is probably none of my business—”

“But, you’re going to tell me anyway, right, Mitch? I know what you’re going to say and you’re right to tell me. Scully and I have to play nice and get this case going.”

Mitch laughed and clapped me on the shoulder. “Well, I wasn’t going to put it quite like that, but that’s the long and short of it. Joani and I really like working with you two. We don’t know what’s goin’ on and it’s not our place to meddle, but we’re worried about you two.”

Part of me wanted to talk to Mitch, get another perspective. Most of me knew we didn’t have time for that and wondered what Scully would think. Problem was, other than the Gunmen and a few of my hoops buddies, I didn’t really have any recent practice with male friends. Heck, who had time for friends period? Even with Frohike, Byers and Langly, I wouldn’t say we’d done a lot of emotional bonding. But, they knew me and Scully probably the best and we trusted them. I had only known Mitch for a very short period of time and we’d really spent no personal time together. Yet, there was something about his down-to-earth, non-judgmental manner that made me feel I could talk to him. It just couldn’t have been then. I needed to get things together on my own and told him so.

Watching Joani and Scully told me that similar discussion was happening. I knew that Scully felt similarly about Joani. The whole scene was strangely ‘otherworldly’ for me. We could even double date, of all things. Well, that is, if Scully and I were talking…

The four of us headed for the front porch and Scully knocked on the door. When we didn’t get an answer, I stepped up and knocked. Mitch and Joani went around to the large, porch windows, trying to determine if anyone was home. “Mitch, here.” Joani was at the side window scrunched down. “I can hear quite a few voices; male and female.” She pressed her ear to the window. “Some of the voices are raised; sound angry or debating.”

Just then, a single gunshot rang out. I motioned Mitch and Joani to the back of the house to cover that exit. They drew their weapons on the way. My glance in Scully’s direction told me she had already drawn hers and by a nod of her head, we framed the front door. I knocked quickly one more time, then, identified us and kicked at the door. The solid wood of the older home didn’t give the first time. Scully motioned me to step back, ignoring the question on my face. And then, she surprised the hell out of me by simply walking over and turning the knob. She mouthed, ‘gotcha’, and silently stepped inside with me at her back. I stifled a short laugh.

The voices Joani had heard earlier were strangely absent now. Mitch and Joani had come in through the unlocked back door and met us in the dining room area. Guns all facing upward, arms bent at our sides, we fanned out and headed for the stairs. I motioned Joani and Mitch back outside to watch the second floor ledges that formed the wraparound porch roof incase whoever they’d heard decided to make a run for it. Scully crept up the hardwood staircase on her toes with me right behind her.

We heard the voices again, two women, two men. Scully silently turned back in my direction, her eyes telling me that she recognized one of the women’s voices. Then the house went silent once again, completely silent. The staircase curved left to a landing that led to a long hallway. Closed doors greeted us along the hallway as it wound its way away from the stairs. I touched Scully’s shoulder to stop her progress and pointed at each of us and then the first door. I wanted her to know that we would explore each room together.

She nodded her understanding of the plan and stood to the right side of the door. A pattern was established; frame the door; count to three, open the door. Basic level one FBI training. Simplistic. Effective.

As we reached the third door, the voices began again in earnest, louder and much clearer. We could actually make out the words of a heated argument between the two women. Diana and someone whose voice I didn’t recognize. She had a strong accent, either British or Australian; I’d have to listen a little longer to place it exactly. Where Diana’s voice was loud and commanding with a harsh undertone to it, this other woman’s voice seemed to challenge. ‘Sass’ was the word that came to my mind; she was giving it right back to Diana as good as she got it.

Scully silently mouthed her question to me, ‘the men?’ She was right to question; we hadn’t heard their voices since we were downstairs. A number of thoughts, some of which were quite concerning, ran through my head. Looking at my partner, I could tell she shared them. The discussion in the room seemed to revolve around some business deal, but had more depth to it than the simple wheeling and dealing of corporate machinations. Since we hadn’t seen anyone leave the room and we were presuming that Joani and Mitch hadn’t either, the men had to still be there. It almost sounded as if the men were watching the women put on a show. But, for whom?

~~~~~

“Look, we already decided that; I know my job. You just pay attention to your own. Do I make myself perfectly clear, Ms… what did you say her name was?” I could tell that was Diana. Had the voice changed, it still wouldn’t have mattered; it was the inflection, the ‘I can do it much better than anyone else’ tone. At once imperious, at once belittling. But I wondered why she referred to this woman as ‘her’. Again, I had the feeling the men were still in the room.

“It’s Carrie, but I believe you already know that Former Agent Fowley. I have my orders and they’ll be carried out as I was instructed. I don’t take orders from you, so bugger off.” I silently rooted for this mystery woman, although, if she was connected to Diana’s work in any way, it was more like the lesser of two evils. And Diana ranked right up there with most of the evil.

Mulder and I listened to more of the conversation that seemed to carefully skirt any specific information. I also realized we hadn’t heard from or seen Joani or Mitch since they went outside. I assumed they were still covering the back entrance. Then, the silence returned, deep and profound. Not even movement was discernable. It was as if no one was in the room at all. The same strange sensation I felt while downstairs; sound then utter silence. There was something about that silence I didn’t like.

A creaking noise caught our attention and we turned to see Joani and Mitch at the top of the stairs. Mitch motioned us away from the door. “No one’s come out and there haven’t been any signs of movement since we split. I don’t like the feel of this.” Joani nodded in agreement. Great, that made four of us who didn’t like this situation. It was unanimous. And the silence surrounded us like a cloak. Time to take some action.

Joani and Mitch suggested that they head back outside to take up the slack when Mulder and I entered the room. No matter how we looked at it, we could have used a few more Agents for back up, but if we took the time to call them in, we risked losing what little control we currently had. There would be no assurances that the four, or possibly more, people in that room would stay inside until back up arrived. Having earlier attempted to review the most up-to-date floor plans for this house, we had come away with only possibilities. While most home plans were on file at the Town Hall, this ‘business group’ seemed to have cut through some red tape, leaving us only with the original set. If modifications had been made, we would have no way of knowing.

Therefore, we had only a vague idea as to the layout. We knew that some of the rooms in this hallway were interconnected, but had no way of knowing exactly which ones. Which meant that the inhabitants could make their escape without walking through the door or heading out the window.

The time was now or never. I looked to Mulder and counted down, preparing to make my entry with him as back up. Even after so many years, it still amazed me how finely tuned the wheels of our partnership were. We knew each other’s moves, strengths, communication patterns well enough to strategize efficiently, often without verbally uttering a single word. I watched him briefly search my eyes, some deeper question there. And while I ‘heard’ that question loud and clear, what we had here, now, was nothing more than our professional partnership. This was one time where my love for him was having a hard time working past what I still felt deep in my soul as betrayal and mistrust. I had compartmentalized it, tucking it tightly inside, keeping it there out of the way of our work. Looking back into his eyes, it threatened to jump out, just like a sneering clown from a jack-in-the-box. I couldn’t and wouldn’t allow that to happen. Masking my anger, I simply nodded at him and reached for the doorknob.

~~~~~

I didn’t like the thought of Scully entering the room first. And I knew exactly how that would sound if I told her. She would clearly feel I was being overprotective. Other than my perfunctory title as Senior Agent, we were partners, colleagues, and equals where our work was concerned. Scully was completely capable of dealing with any situation. However, this wasn’t just ‘any’ situation. This involved so much raw emotion that it had already done what I’d hoped wasn’t irreparable damage to our personal relationship. I knew that given Scully’s emotional state around Diana, I could pull rank, but I thought better of it since I realized that were I to do so, I would be guilty of the same thing, emotional subjectivity.

When her eyes met mine just before she entered the room, I tried to ask her, to search for some sign that ‘we’ still existed; the ‘we’ outside of the professional, outside of the Agents status. I had no right to ask that of her, but I had a hard time operating on rational, logical thought where she was concerned, where I hoped ‘we’ were concerned. It was always like this before one of us walked into harm’s way; the need to assure the other that we’d both make it through, that we’d be back together after crossing the line separately.

What I saw in her eyes nearly shut me down.

There was acknowledgment of the plan, the work to be done, the steps to take. And there was nothing more, nothing other than a fervent hope, a wish that we each made it out intact. Not as lovers, not necessarily even as friends, only as two Agents watching each other’s backs, walking out alive. I watched her close herself off to me, mentally preparing herself for the task at hand.

As soon as she pushed the door open slightly, all hell broke lose. Things happened in rapid succession although I perceived them in agonizing slowness. Before I could alert Scully that I had a very bad feeling about what was about to happen, an unidentified male voice facetiously welcomed Scully and a hand reached for her wrist, dragging her into the room. Obviously, keeping the identity of those inside a secret no longer mattered to them as I was allowed to try to pull Scully back, effectively dragging me into the room along with her.

The element of surprise was clearly on their side and we were outnumbered. The woman with accent, Carrie, had grabbed Scully’s wrist and fingers tightly and with a quick downward snap, caused her to drop her weapon. Although mine was trained on her and Diana, they both knew I would never fire. Not with Alex Krycek’s gloved hand holding a gun to Scully’s head and another man I did not know yanking her hair back so her neck was exposed.

Diana moved in behind Scully, pinning her against her much taller frame, one arm bent around Scully’s throat, the other cuffing Scully’s hands behind her. “Well, well, Agent Scully, so nice to see you again so soon.” Diana’s voice in her ears had to be pure venom for Scully.

Scully didn’t stay still for one moment, twisting and writhing in Diana’s iron grip. While Diana’s eyes were mirthful and focused on me, Scully would not meet my eyes. I said her name softly, not caring who heard me, and sought her eyes. Diana was far from pleased when I called Scully’s name, but probably also saw the rift between me and my partner.

I knew Scully would read the sorrow and the despair in my eyes if she would only look at me. As her eyes widened in response to me calling her name, Carrie reached over behind Alex and, with lightening speed, drew a cloth out of a container and brought it to Scully’s face. She knew what it was, what it would do, and she tried to yank herself free.

Until now, I hadn’t noticed the brief wisps and curls of cigarette smoke filling the air. “You bastard! This was all a trap.” Wheeling himself into view, CBG Spender’s wrinkled face attempted to form a smile in my direction. “Mulder, you overstate the obvious. I’m surprised at you, however. You who appears to hold nothing but the utmost trust in your partner totally ignored her warnings. Now, I grant you, she’s always had a rather ‘hard’ spot in her heart for Diana, but when Diana became careless with her phone call,” he paused to shoot a glaring look in her direction and then continued, “You ignored Agent Scully’s admonitions. How sad for you, for you both. I imagine she wasn’t too happy with you?” I glanced over at Scully, expecting to see a deserved, ‘I-told-you-so’ look. Instead, she turned away from me completely.

I stepped forward, my gun still trained on I didn’t know exactly who since I was quite effectively outnumbered. Diana placed a hand on my arm and I shrugged it off. “Why?” I couldn’t manage anymore than that one word. I thought I saw just a hint of remorse or sadness in her eyes, but it disappeared as quickly as it might have appeared. “Why? Fox, you had your chance so many times, but you refused to work with me. We’re doing cutting edge work here and you can still be part of it. We’ve found your ‘truth’ and we’ve upped the ante, made them see it our way.”

I dropped my gun arm to my side, still refusing to let it go. Before I could reply, Joani burst into the room, weapon drawn and raised. Carrie’s Sig materialized at that point, as well. Joani informed me that an unmarked van had materialized out of seemingly nowhere. Mitch was checking it out, but she had needed to warn Scully and me. Joani quickly witnessed Scully’s predicament.

Diana chose that moment to press the cloth over Scully’s face. I watched as she unwillingly inhaled the chloroform, her eyes opened, first wide with fright, then with lids drooping in anger and finally closing in defeat. She slumped back against Diana and was then transferred to the other man’s waiting arms. Krycek used the butt of his gun to push Scully’s hair back from her face. I lunged forward attempting to wrest Scully from the man’s hold on her limp form, but was yanked back and restrained by the two women and another man who seemed to materialize from nowhere; and their weapons…

Krycek hefted Scully up and over his shoulder with a smirk and a sneer, commenting on her shapely form. The sight of her, my partner, my love, totally out of control, in a situation of my own creation and held by Krycek drove me nearly insane. I’d like to say that what happened next was against my better judgment, but I know that wouldn’t be true.

Joani ‘read’ my actions before I had a chance to consider signaling her. I also have to admit I probably wouldn’t have wanted her involved. Guess she’d been around me long enough to figure out what I might do. As the unidentified man followed Krycek, I surprised and jerked myself free of Diana, Carrie and the other man. I ran in front of Alex, hoping to throw him off balance. I grabbed at his jacket, shoving him backwards as hard as I could. Joani was right behind me, stopping between the women and Krycek. She understood that Scully might topple over if Alex lost his balance. Unfortunately, the best-laid plans don’t always hatch; or whatever that saying is. I saw Joani go down first, hit on the back of the head by Diana. Before I could do more than shove Alex, I blacked out. I vaguely remember something heavy against the back of my head and letting go of his jacket. Then…nothing.

~~~~~

I watched as Krycek, with Scully in his arms, another man following close behind, had come from a side exit. Joani had never come back from warning the Agents, making me certain that something had happened to them. Krycek had placed Scully in the back of the van and they had driven off faster than I could pursue them on foot. I noted the plate, model and make and phoned into the Field Office, notifying them of the unmarked, older, blue, Chevy panel van whose windows had been painted over. I then ran for the back door to the house.

As I reached the staircase, I heard a car backing out of the driveway and ran to the front windows. There were two women in a navy sedan as it sped away. Unfortunately, other than the make and model, I had been unable to get the plate, but it did look like a government issue. I continued up the stairs, weapon drawn.

I found Joani starting to rouse, blood on the back of her head, but otherwise semi-coherent. Mulder was also coming around with a similar gash to his head. Neither of them would be moving anywhere fast, soon. Other than a few groans, Joani was up on her feet, but Mulder was lying on his side, holding his head in his hands. I could hear him mumbling, but couldn’t quite make out the words. Leaving Joani with him momentarily, I checked the other rooms on this floor, making sure we were truly alone. I then ran back to my partner and Mulder who was now sitting up.

“Where’s Scully?” The first intelligible words out of his mouth. The three of us pieced together what had to have happened and he started recalling on his own. “I tried to get to her, but not hard enough.” Joani reminded him of the sheer numbers of people, of weapons, and the fact that rash behavior could have gotten them all killed. Mulder, on the other hand, was convinced that they had no intentions of killing any of us, that this was all carefully planned.

“Scully tried to warn me. She overheard a conversation Diana was having with, I don’t even know who she was talking to, but I’d bet it was one of the people here today. God, how stupid can I be?” I tried to cut him off before he really lost it. It was obvious the man was carrying a lot of guilt, and, from what I’d seen of him already, he was very good at that particular role. I suddenly also realized what had probably caused the rift Joani and I saw in their relationship, although neither of us knew the depth of the problem. It sure felt as if it were a matter of jeopardized trust. And something told me that Mulder and Scully valued their deep trust for one and other.

Joani and I pulled him to his feet, our plan to engage him in active pursuit. Luckily, we didn’t have to do much to get him started. He synthesized the information I had about the vehicles, the fact that I had already reported in and, most importantly, it seemed that Krycek had handled Scully with great care. It suddenly dawned on me that Mulder (actually, Scully!) was right, they had no plans to injure her, at least until she no longer suited their purpose. Something still told me that this group had something else in mind.

“Call your ASAC back, someone’s got to have found them if you called so soon.” Mulder paced and then headed for the stairs, moving at full speed. I still thought he and Joani should both be seen at the local ER, but neither of them would agree. Cut from similar cloth, my partner and Scully’s.

I assured him that A.S.A.C Whirll would call as soon as she knew anything, but that the back up was traveling from approximately forty-five minutes away. The three of us ran down the stairs to the two vehicles. Knowing the direction in which they were at least initially headed, we had a better chance of catching up with both the van and the sedan. I was thinking that we had a good shot at finding one of the vehicles with three of us working together when Mulder pulled a fast one. I can’t say I blamed him, but I hated to put truth to the Spooky stories I’d heard. Agent Mulder sometimes made rash judgments where his partner’s safety was concerned.

With little less than a quick glance in our direction, he took off for his car, sending gravel flying as he sped out in pursuit of Scully and her captors. Joani and I had little to do but pursue Mulder.

~~~~~

There was absolutely no way I was going to wait for back up, not with the closest assistance being almost forty five minutes away in the other direction. I sincerely felt bad about not giving Joani and Mitch any idea what I was about to do, but I also knew they’d understand my reasons, and probably back me up. Good Agents in the field just did that for one and other. Most of the time.

Although the van had driven off through the back driveway area, there was only one way to the main road from this lot, so I knew both vehicles had followed the same route, at least at first. Whether they were heading for the same location I did not know at this point. Parts of the roadway were washed over with sand. I wasn’t quite sure why since although the beach was very close, it didn’t look close enough to allow high tide to send any silt up this far. The sand, however, proved to be very helpful.

I was able to catch two very distinct sets of tire tracks through the next several intersections, showing me that they had not taken the highway. We were heading southeast toward the Causeway leading out to Marblehead Neck across the bay. I could make out the land beyond the causeway from my vantage point and it looked like a beach community.

I looked in my rearview mirror and wasn’t surprised to find Joani and Mitch right behind me. I saw Joani on her cell and assumed she was updating ASAC. Whirll who would most likely notify Skinner. I was very happy to put off discussing my ‘investigative field methods’ with my superior for a little while longer. Unfortunately, shortly after Joani put down her phone, mine rang. Not answering it would only delay the inevitable.

<Agent? I’ve just spoken with Field Agent Spark. Care to apprise me of your current location and that of Agent Scully?>

Direct and to the point. No sense wasting the taxpayers’ money on this call.

“Yes, Sir, I’m currently heading across the Marblehead Causeway in pursuit of Agent Scully’s captors.”

Without missing a beat, A.D. Skinner informed me that I had failed to work through a well-thought out plan, possibly putting myself, Agents Scully, Court and Spark in further danger. And, knowing that the horse was already out of that particular barn, he switched gears.

<Mulder, I don’t think I need to remind you whom you’re dealing with here and the unpredictability of their actions. Given the scenario Agent Spark described, it’s obvious that both you and Agent Scully are targets. You obviously realize you’re being drawn right into their hands?>

“I see it the same way, Sir and will exercise caution.”

<I doubt that, Mulder, but I sincerely hope that you’ll at least make good use of your back up. Now, stay in touch and get Agent Scully out of there alive. That’s an order>

I could hear Skinner clipping off his words, tersely giving orders in that way that is uniquely his. I could clearly see the clenched jaw, his lips minimally moving, the words clipped. Underneath the frustration he carried for my methods, I also knew he supported me, knew that my sometimes maverick ways also produced results, fast. His goal and mine were the same, get Scully out without risking anyone else.

I hastily dialed Chuck’s cellphone, knowing there was no way either Scully or I would keep our appointment with him at the airport. In his line of work, he clearly understood the variable nature of the job responsibilities. A good spirited, affable man, Chuck relayed what he knew from the lab results Scully had faxed him. Without spending a good deal more time together where Chuck could ‘spin’ his hypothesis for me, the most I could get was that the white substance was a catalyst, a chemical that could either initiate or further enhance an action. I thanked him and closed the connection.

As our two vehicles sped across the Causeway and onto the small outgrowth of land, I thought I caught site of the sedan far ahead of us. The view was unobstructed out here and I could see the Atlantic to my right. Hoping that was indeed the sedan, I followed it onto Harbor Avenue going north. Small, private homes dotted the landscape around me, little shops interspersed. This was a lovely summer get-away, yet another place I traveled to for the express purpose of an X-File rather than a much-needed vacation.

With the exception of a few spots of wildflowers and craggy, scrub brush vegetation, the area was relatively open which meant I needed to draw back so as not to alert Diana and company that I had followed them. Although, if the plan were true, they already knew that, had intended me to follow them. Either way, I had no choice but to follow.

As we approached Marblehead Light, I noticed some mid-sized pleasure craft, including a particularly spectacular motor yacht, moored along the beach. Both the sedan and the blue panel van were parked in the sand by the time we reached the lighthouse. I waved Mitch and Joani to park farther back. While I waited for them, I caught a brief flash of red hair. I moved as quickly through the sand as I could, coming around the side of an old, wooden shack of sorts. Using it for cover, I was able to signal to Joani and Mitch, as well as, observe the activity at the van.

The rear doors were open and Krycek and the unidentified man were on their hands and knees. I wished I had a pair of binoculars because at this distance, I couldn’t see the finer details. I did see Scully struggling which told me she was alive, but I didn’t know if she was hurt. Scully is a fighter, even in the most extreme situations, maybe because of extreme situations. And once again, the guilt washed over me. Scully was in the back of that van, probably restrained in some way, with Krycek as one of her captors because of me. I could not get past this point, its weight threatening to drag me down, pull me under. I physically shook myself, reorienting to the present situation. Joani and Mitch had joined me and we watched as Krycek grabbed Scully’s wrists, pulling her toward him.

She was gagged, but otherwise, unbound. Her hair, caught in the ocean breezes and fueled by her struggles, flew about her face like so many wild flames. The same breezes carried voices toward me, but not full sentences. Krycek’s voice was raised and directed toward my partner who continued to twist and turn in his grasp. His cockiness was only surpassed by his ability to underestimate Scully’s strength. At one point, she wrenched herself free of his hands, surprising him. However, he took a few long strides toward her and pulled her back, slapping her face hard. She turned away from him, hopefully easing the brunt of the blow in the process, but not escaping a cut lip and a bruise on her fair skin I knew would later appear. He literally dragged her toward one of the white yachts.

My idea to overpower them was hastily modified when a rather robust looking ‘crew’ compliment of ten joined the group already on the beach… The plan now became ‘follow’ instead of ‘overtake’. Joani informed me that she had called in to notify our back up of our location and that she assumed we would be in pursuit on the water.

I watched the two men carry a squirming Scully up the gangway, Krycek holding her underneath her arms from behind her head, the other man at her ankles. Once they had her aboard, I could see Diana and Carrie moving closer. As the group conferred, I made a dash for a rocky outcropping closer to the cruiser. I spied another gangway amidships, about 20 feet from the one they had just used. I checked back to find Joani and Mitch at the shack watching me, seeing me check the other entry point. They headed for me.

The pleasure craft had to be about sixty feet long and was a blazing, pearly white with a bold navy stripe through the mid-hull. Gold insignia and call letters marked the bow, but I couldn’t make out the words or symbols from my vantage point. Once aboard, I hoped Joani or Mitch would get the information and radio or phone it in.

Mitch pulled me aside, his hand on my shoulder. “You’re not about to do what I think you are, buddy, are you?” I smiled at him, but didn’t deny or affirm his question that wasn’t really a question at all. “Mitch, you and Joani get the information from the boat and…” Mitch gave me the look that said, ‘don’t/I know you will anyway’. “Is there any way I can convince you to let us accompany you?” I shook my head, but thanked him, told him I needed the two of them as my back up. I had gotten Scully into this and it was my responsibility to get her out, safely.

“Hey, you two, this a private meeting?” Joani leaned in between us and whispered, one hand on each of our shoulders. “I have a feeling I already know the topic of this meeting and I’m not going to like it. Should I even bother to ask?” Her response was two heads shaking in unison. I told them both I had to go, now.

~~~~~

The Silver Streak, Motor Yacht

Off the Coast of Marblehead Light

3PM

The discussion onboard continued, alternately argumentative and conversational. Scully looked as if she were about to pass out as she was supported non-too-gently from behind by Krycek’s hands on her shoulders. Diana and Carrie verbally sparred with each other, although it was hard for me to tell whether it was from two like minds enjoying the game or actual disagreement. I suspected the latter since, from what I had observed, Carrie seemed entirely capable of holding her own or possibly besting, Diana. The staff conferred with the unidentified man and then six of them departed down the gangway. Where they were headed, I had no idea. Four of them took the sedan and the others, the van.

That brought the odds down to, oh, one against eight. I’d seen those odds stacked much higher, although I couldn’t remember being overly successful, either.

As if suddenly remembering he had her, Krycek leaned in close to say something, his face very close to Scully’s. She managed to pull away from him momentarily, but Diana, with a snort of disdain used on a disobedient pet, grabbed Scully’s head and held her steady. Whatever he’d said upset Scully, greatly. From outward appearances, I doubted anyone else knew this. However, I could see the fleeting worry cross her wary blue eyes, only to be masked again to impassivity.

She flinched when Diana stroked her neck and pushed her auburn locks away from her ear. I knew how much that one gesture would upset and anger her. I imagined the loathing that my partner was feeling, being held against her wishes by two people she detested more than life itself and being humiliated by the woman she perceived to be a wedge between us.

I had to act before they pulled out into the harbor.

I waited until they were all closely focused on Scully and I didn’t have to wait long. Krycek appeared to be holding court, her body the object of his ministrations. The other staff had gone down to the galley, I presumed, and that left Alex and the two women. Diana continued to touch Scully, ostensibly to keep her accessible to Krycek, but it looked to me as if the formerly dead Agent was enjoying this situation a little too much.

Taking advantage of their preoccupation, I headed for the other gangway and had made it half way when Carrie decided to check out the view. I flattened myself to the sand directly next to the entry point. I could hear her boot heel scuffing the wooden planks, fidgeting, impatient. “Just get it the hell over with, Alex. For Krissakes, I don’t know what you’re waiting for.”

As she moved back toward them, I scrambled up the gangway and hid behind an engine housing. I next heard Krycek’s voice, low and throaty. I did not like the sound of it and, from the sounds coming from Scully, neither did she.

~~~~~

The Silver Streak

En Route to Cat Island

~~~~~

 class=”calibre1″>4:35PM

I heard the engines come to life and felt the increasing ‘thrum’ beneath my feet. I was starting to feel chilled. Somewhere along the line, Diana had removed and disposed of my jacket, leaving me in my white satin tank. I could feel the gooseflesh on my arms and my chest. Unfortunately, Krycek also noticed. “Scully, it would appear I’m finally getting to you.” I tried muttering exactly what he was doing to me through the gag, but had little luck. I’d have given anything to wipe that smirk from his face. Diana and Carrie decided to join us at that moment. My stomach turned as Diana approached me. I pulled my knees into my chest and thrust my legs toward her as hard as I could, hoping to connect with her midsection; actually connecting with any part of her would have given me satisfaction beyond belief.

Unfortunately, she neatly sidestepped, allowing me only a glancing jab of my heels into the fleshy part of her leg right above the knees. The other woman, Carrie, managed to grab my ankles. With Alex still holding my upper body and her holding my ankles, I twisted and turned, trying to throw one of them off. “Look, Scully, this will go much easier for you if you just stop all the thrashing. I’m not about to let you go until we’ve accomplished our tests.” Well, now we were getting somewhere, not where I’d hoped to be going, but Alex was giving me more information that could prove useful. I just had to bide my time and figure out where we were going and why. I also needed the time to find my way off the yacht, although, it appeared I was being given too much unwanted attention.

“I’m going below decks, Alex, it’s starting to get colder than a witch’s tit up here.” I turned toward Carrie, trying to suppress the sound I knew they’d correctly identify as laughter. Something told me she would not suffer kindly anyone foolish enough to laugh at her. It was so patently obvious that she had it bad for Alex.

And that she saw Diana as competition.

I knew otherwise, unfortunately. Carrie had nothing to worry about with that line of thought. Alex must have been looking her over from the silence and the corresponding, enigmatic smile on her face as she looked at him. “Go. Once I get her situated, we’ll ‘talk’.” The color rose in her fair skin so fast, it looked as if she was about to burst a blood vessel. That was one very happy woman. And one more person out of my way, one less person to restrain me.

My relief was short-lived, however. As Alex pushed himself farther back onto the cushioned bench seat, he hoisted me up with him until I was sitting between his parted legs, my back firmly against his chest. I reached back and pushed against him, trying to move forward. And that was when I heard the unmistakably familiar sound of the cuffs…being opened and secured around my wrists behind me. He pulled me back to him. “Dana, don’t try that again.”

His voice was soft, but I heard the threat.

“Alex, I really think we need to get her ankles. Those short legs can be dangerous.”

I wanted to show her just how dangerous my legs could be, perhaps scissored around her ugly little neck. However, she managed to grab my ankles and pulled my shoes from my feet. She tossed them overboard with glee. I was getting angrier by the moment, but refused to give her the pleasure.

The unidentified man joined her then, holding ankle manacles and chains. He smiled at her and then at me. What was he trying to do, make me feel happy at what he was about to do? He reached down to my bare feet, holding them in one hand. He slid the other up under my leg, running his fingers along my calf and shin. I tried to yank my leg away from him, but I had nowhere to go. Pulling away from him only served to push me more firmly against Alex—and he was enjoying that movement a little too much.

~~~~~

Approaching Cat Island

6PM

I had been trying to figure out the best way to get to Scully, but she was never left alone. We needed a way to distract or disable Alex, Carrie, Diana and the unidentified man in order to get to a few of the crew. From there, it would be a simple matter of taking the boat back to Marblehead Light.

Scully cried out behind her gag as the unidentified man’s hand continued its journey up her leg. Although I could see that she was trying desperately to kick him as she tried to pull away, he was much larger than her and had a firm grasp on her ankles. Krycek also had her firmly against him, his arm now over her shoulders, pulling her arms back toward him. My stomach turned when I saw his tongue in her ear, flicking in and out and then nipping at her ear lobe. Scully’s eyes were tightly closed.

Diana was enjoying the show immensely. She had Scully right where she wanted her. The unidentified man finally stopped his exploration and secured her ankles in the manacles, attaching the connector chain to the large eyebolt in the floor. Once he was finished, Alex dismissed him.

I saw my opportunity as he headed for the other end of the boat, separating himself from Carrie and the rest of the crew. As he passed my hiding place and went below, I followed him. I was going to have to be quick; there would be no time for a well-developed plan. I ducked to head down the stairs, wanting to give him some time to reach the bottom. As soon as he did, he heard me.

At that point, it didn’t matter because I was close enough to cold cock him with the butt of my Glock. Before he could turn completely, I had hit the back of his head. He went down like a very well muscled sack of potatoes, his head hitting the handrail as he fell. I stepped over him and, grabbing an arm and a leg, moved him away from the stairs. The area looked as if it was used for storage and, by the amount of dust and tarp covered items, had probably not been used recently. I dragged him to the far end of the room and dumped him behind a boxy piece of machinery that had been bolted to the floor. I wasn’t sure how long he’d be out, but I’d hoped it would be a while since he’d hit his head twice. After checking to see that he was still alive and breathing, I covered him with a canvass tarp and headed back up the stairs.

~~~~~

I had to be living my worst nightmare and it was so realistic that I was becoming sick to my stomach. I felt totally exposed and vulnerable, although I was completely clothed. Alex Krycek had me firmly against him and I could feel every inch of his very hard, hot and aroused body pressing into me. Each time I moved to try to pull away, I could hear his breath catch in my ear; I was inadvertently further arousing him. At that realization, I froze. His tongue was in my ear, his lips and teeth biting me, moving from my earlobe to my neck. His movements were almost casual as if his tongue was in my ear solely because of the proximity. It felt anything but ‘casual’.

To make matters worse, another man was pawing my leg as if he owned me, his fingers on my flesh sending cold fury through me. Once he attached my manacled ankles to the floor, Alex dismissed him, thank god for small favors.

However, my small consolation disappeared with Diana approached me. The woman was out for payback for whatever perceived wrongs I had done to her. She had me right where she wanted me, in more ways than one. She had me away from Mulder physically and emotionally. Mulder had played right into her hands, again, and given her half of what she wanted. I couldn’t tell who I was angrier with, Diana for whatever it was she thought she was about to do with me, or Mulder, for believing her. Believing her or not believing me, semantics, but an important distinction. I wanted and needed him here, now, but solely to get me out of this situation. Nothing more.

I’d decided that I was right all along where she was concerned. She’d moved from merely manipulative, devious and calculating to perverted. She straddled my legs and had moved closer so that I was now boxed in between her and Alex. He had moved to my other ear, to my neck, but still had a firm grasp on my arms. The man was smart, he knew that given the slightest opportunity, I’d slap, punch and claw the nearest skin. I tried to backwards head butt him, but he stayed just out of range. Diana, on the other hand, had complete accessibility. She helped him, first, by holding my head still. Deciding she needed some of the action, her much taller frame allowed her to kneel around my shackled legs. A hellish chill ran up my spine as her face drew closer to my chest. Between the cold breeze coming in off the ocean as we moved and Alex lapping at my exposed skin, my traitorous body was responding. And they could both see that.

~~~~~

I slunk back up the stairs and to my hiding spot. When I peered around the side, I felt the bile rise again. I took a few deep breaths to steady myself and figure out how to get to Scully. I could see Diana’s backside. I had to move to figure out exactly what was going on because I could no longer hear any voices. It was eerily silent on deck.

I found a cloth covered table and two benches and moved behind it. From this location, I could clearly see both Alex and Diana framing Scully. She was breathing rapidly, her chest rising and falling against her top. Her eyes were still scrunched, but I knew she was ‘seeing’ everything in her head. That image ripped at my gut. I knew what it had to be doing to her.

Diana leaned closer to her and I saw Diana’s mouth open slightly, her tongue licking her wide lower lip. As she ‘tasted’ the fabric of Scully’s tank top, Scully’s head wrenched from side to side. Her movements caught Diana’s attention and I feared what she might do to Scully. As she looked up from Scully’s chest to her face, my partner held her breath.

She was biding her time. Diana grabbed her shoulders and leaned in as if to say something. I saw it seconds before Diana noticed that the gag had been loosened enough to allow Scully to push it out of her mouth with her tongue.

Her mouth her only means of payback since both her hands and feet were bound, Scully waited until Diana leaned toward her left ear. She chose that moment to turn her head, bare her teeth and sink them into Diana’s jaw line. Her captor howled in pain and indignation, backhanding Scully as she moved away from her. Through what was probably a hot stinging, Scully managed to smirk.

Fueled by the obvious effect she’d had on Diana and sheer frustration for her predicament, Scully took advantage of the shift in Alex’s attention. I could almost see the wheels turning in my partner’s head as her shoulders bunched and lifted slightly. With a quick downward thrust, she rammed her fists back, connecting with a rather vulnerable part of Alex’s anatomy.

All hell seemed to break out. Diana was far from calm, holding her jaw, rubbing at what was sure to be the grandest bruise this side of the Mississippi. Fury blazed in her eyes as she reacted to Krycek’s explosive expletives. Scully had surely done some damage, especially to his pride. He pushed her forward momentarily, his hands grappling to ease his pain. I knew that was a futile effort. Nothing but time was going to help him…and I hoped it took a good, long time. However, even in his current state, Krycek’s hold on her tightened, one long leg coming up and over her lap. It was costing him dearly to keep her in place.

He verbally chastised Diana for her stupidity, her distraction from her job. Although his voice was no longer raised, anyone who knew Alex could tell the man was far from happy with her.

Diana finally pulled her hand away from her face when she felt the warm, sticky liquid on her palm. Disgustedly wiping her hand on her pants, she turned back toward Scully. Her attempt to backhand Scully was aborted when Alex reached up and grabbed her wrist, stopping her in mid-swing. “Get the damn gag back on her. Do one thing right, damn it.”

As Scully turned in my direction, I moved a little farther away from the table, knowing that both Alex and Diana were too occupied to notice me. I needed her to know that I was here and would get her out.

She sensed me. Her eyes opened and met mine. We told each other everything in that brief connection. The desperation, the anger, the fear and, I’d swear, the love. Maybe I was reading more into what I was seeing. Maybe I just wanted it to still be true.

I heard a sound, but couldn’t identify the source. After carefully looking around, I made my decision and ran toward Diana. I yanked her by the shoulders, spinning her around and off of Scully. Although I had not intentionally set out to do so, the momentum created by the force of my hands pulling her away, sent her flying into the engine housing I had used for cover earlier. She slammed into it with her shoulder, slid to the deck and hit her head on the way down. I was two for two with the head knock outs today. I badly wanted to make it three for three.

~~~~~

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, who I was seeing and I didn’t know I could be so happy to see someone. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Usually, Mulder is the one person who I’m always happy to see, and, that would be putting it mildly. I’ve never known anyone else who could so easily bring a smile to my face and to my heart. However, recent events were sorely testing our entire relationship and I was angrier with him than I’d ever been. That said, the sight of his eyes locked with mine, sent such a powerful surge of emotion through me that I was sure I’d give him away. Somehow, I managed to hold it together enough so both Alex and Diana remained oblivious to me, to us.

As I know lightening streaks will follow thunder claps, I had known that Mulder would find a way to come for me, and, as usual, he appeared to be alone. No sense in working with back up when they might slow my partner down. At this point, I didn’t care if he came alone or with the National Guard.

Diana had started tracing circles on my tee with her tongue as Alex continued moving his mouth along my neck. As she moved toward my left breast, I watched Mulder spring from behind the table and grab her by her shoulders. The combination of the speed of his move, his strength and the force of his swing sent her across the deck. Also in our favor was the fact that she was caught totally off guard and in a weakened position. I looked on, not without some large measure of satisfaction, as she careened into the object and ended up on the floor. The only thing better than Mulder knocking her out would have been me doing the same. I silently cheered him on.

By this time, Krycek was very aware of Mulder’s presence on board. And was very unhappy about it. Mulder reached for me, but Alex was quicker and already had me. He drew a bowie knife from I don’t know where and held it at my throat. Mulder froze in his tracks. “Look, Alex, you bastard, drop the knife.” He had drawn his weapon and had it trained on Alex.

“Ahh, brave man, former partner? Do you see where I’m holding the knife? It could slice quite well here,” he indicated my throat, “or here,” the blade tip nicked inside my ear. I stifled a yelp, not wanting him to have the satisfaction. Most of me knew that while Alex was dangerous, his needs were served better with me alive. The rest of me responded realistically. “Either way would produce results, but I don’t think you or lovely Scully would like those results, Mulder, so back off.”

Mulder, however, was determined, I’m sure believing that Krycek would not harm me. He stepped forward and to my left. My senses on high alert, the sound of the safety being removed was extremely loud. He reached up and grabbed a fist of Alex’s hair. I had this awful feeling that things were happening much too easily. I knew I was right when I felt the tip of the blade drawn back and down in a short slicing motion against the shell of my ear. In spite of myself, I yelped at the unexpected burning pain. It was then I decided to take a risk. As Mulder withdrew his weapon, Alex put the knife away. Mulder stepped forward and I lifted myself up just slightly, and then slammed myself down and into Alex, connecting squarely with his most aroused body part. He grunted loudly and let go of my arms. Mulder reached for me as I tried to lean into him. Right before the unidentified man clocked Mulder in the head and caught his body on the way down. I sank to the deck and passed out.

~~~~~

Marblehead Light

Dusk

While Mitch directed the team that was to join us, I pondered our current situation. Not unlike our time in Connecticut, I mused. Somehow, Mulder and Scully seemed to draw the dregs to them. I guess that wasn’t a very fair assessment; no one asks for what these two seem to attract. Although, when I thought about Mulder, I admit I wondered if the man had any restraining guide wires, any net to catch his many falls.

What I admired most was his ability to immerse himself in a quest, in a case, in anything that drew his attention, including his partner. Now, that was one interesting situation. Mitch and I had talked after the Scouts case. Mitch, who can sometimes be quite thick when it comes to noticing the patently obvious, was the one who brought their relationship to my attention. I, of course, had ignored him outright. How a man who exists for sugar, a sweet tooth the size of a small state, could have seen it, I’d never know. I just knew he was right. When I paid attention, when I watched them, I saw it.

It wasn’t just the obvious touching, the glances, the silent communication. It was the way they interacted professionally, too. A finely tuned machine, all the wheels turning simultaneously, moving them forward, together, seamlessly. Sure, there were the disagreements and the dismissals, but, in the end, there was the respect.

Something had happened to that respect here in Boston. Something insidious. Scully’s pain was palpable, although I know she was trying hard to hide it. I had a very bad feeling about what had actually taken place at the Aquarium. She had been edgy since she’d arrived, but wasn’t talking about it. I guess I hadn’t really expected she would, she hardly knew us and I sensed she was a rather private person. It was sad in more ways than one. I really wanted to be able to provide a shoulder for her. There was something there that I liked, felt we could have a friendship. Friendship is something I miss, having a few close women friends on whom I can rely, share, with who I can cry.

Mulder also seemed as if he were missing his spirit, that joie de vivre he carried with him when we first met. At that time, I could have pictured him as a child, carefree and buoyant. That Mulder was long gone.

If I had to make a guess, I’d say that another woman was somehow involved. Be stereotypical and call it woman’s intuition. I like to think it was just my gut reaction to them and how this whole situation was playing out.

Mitch shook me from my daydream musings to let me know that he had a chopper ready to head over to Cat and a few of the smaller islands northeast of the Light. A.D. Whirll had contacted A.D. Skinner to update him and was waiting for our report. Mitch had already sent one speedboat, but didn’t want to play this too heavy handedly. He and I were going to take a smaller cabin cruiser.

~~~~~

Cat Island, Off the Coast of Marblehead Light

8PM

I wasn’t sure if the darkness was the result of the large bump on the back of my head or the fact that night was falling. One thing was clear, we weren’t moving any longer, my head hurt like hell, I was thirsty and I had to pee something fierce. I stayed very still as I peered through half-masted eyes. I probably would have opened them further had it not felt as if someone was making a supreme effort to pierce my eyes from the back of my skull. My lack of movement was due to my training, check out as much as you can without giving away your position or strength first.

Silence was the rule. It hung over me heavily, but I thought I detected the thrumming of the ship’s engine, although it no longer seemed to be below or around me. I was in some sort of building. Only my hands were bound which told me that whoever placed me here didn’t have any concern about my ability to escape. I rolled back against the wall, catching my breath before trying to move about and find Scully. I hoped against hope that she was with me here—and that she was all right. I didn’t know what I’d do if she were hurt.

Hurt. Such a small word for such a large, encompassing meaning. Scully was already ‘hurt’, by me, again, and again. I didn’t think she was going to recover from this particular hurt anytime soon. All I could hope for was some sort of shared agreement. Agreement to do what, I had no idea. I couldn’t think past the huge hole in my heart. The hole I put there myself. They say that things always look worse before they get better. Well, at that moment, they looked about as bleak as they could be. I would help get us out of wherever we were. I’d make sure she was all right. I’d try to restore whatever I could of our relationship. But, I knew that if that didn’t work, if Scully no longer wanted anything to do with me, I’d be destroyed. By my own hands.

I tried to stand before the emotion rendered me totally useless. I pushed myself up against the wall and paused to catch my breath again. Moving along the walls first, I felt the surface for any breaks, potential routes out, even though I’d assumed that my captors would not have left me to find my way out.

So far, the walls were seamless. As I rounded the third corner, my foot hit into a body. I squatted down slowly, turning slightly so I could touch whoever it was. It was clear the person wasn’t moving. “Scully?” I whispered, leaning more closely. Although I got no verbal response, I did feel movement. I moved my hands along the body toward the head and knew it was her. I touched her cheek, gently stroking her, willing her to awaken. She stirred again, this time groaning, as well.

I sat down in front of her, my legs crossed. I wanted to be able to look at her and touch her. I stood again, bending forward. I wasn’t sure if this would work because of the length of my legs, but I reasoned that my arms were also rather long. I brought my cuffed hands down under my ass and lifted one knee up toward my chest, trying to slip my foot between my hands. I nearly fell onto Scully while one leg was between my arms and the other was still in front of me. I regained my balance and lifted the other leg up and over my hands, bringing the cuffs in front of me. My shoulders thanked me.

I sat down again, my hands lying on her face.

~~~~~

Everything ached, even my hair. The floor was very cold beneath me and my bare left arm was against the cement. I drew my knees into my chest, trying to breathe a little more deeply, idly contemplating that that position would only make it harder, but unable to stop myself. I didn’t know how long I’d been out, but my thoughts were somewhat fuzzy. I remembered being on deck with Krycek and Diana, god…Diana. I was being held, my ankles shackled and Mulder… Mulder had somehow managed to get on board and tried to… I played out the sequence as best I could recall it. Mulder tossing her aside, she hit her head, Mulder reaching for me, being hit on the head from behind. Then, everything dissolved for me into so much nothingness. I didn’t know whether I’d been hit, but I couldn’t feel a strike point.

I could see faintly, the room was dark, but someone was in front of me, touching me. I pulled back, initially afraid it might be Krycek or the other, unidentified man. His touch, however, told me otherwise. It was Mulder.

Could things be any more complicated? I didn’t see how. Simply put, I needed him to help us out of here and then I didn’t think I could be near him, didn’t want anything to do with him. He stroked me with a tenderness that only he was capable of and it tore at me, ripping me apart inside, my heart constricting painfully. I was sure I was crying and didn’t want him to know. So much emotion welled up in me and threatened to spill over the top.

How the hell could I deal with desperately wanting him and wanting to flee from him with equal desperation?

He called my name quietly, but I couldn’t bring myself to answer him. He needed to know that I was okay. He needed to know more, his voice betrayed him. There was so much in how he voiced those six letters, in the way he pronounced my name.

Had my hands been free, I would have covered my face, wanting badly to hide, from him, from myself, from this whole sordid mess.

Instead, I pulled farther into myself, moving enough so that he would know I was alive. I didn’t have the energy to speak to him. God, how cruel was I?

I tried to summon my usual reserve, think about my training. I assumed that Mulder had already done a preliminary assessment of our confines and was next assessing his partner’s condition. The next step would be planning an escape together. He whispered my name again, his face closer to mine, his hands awkwardly brushing the hair back.

I shrank from his touch.

~~~~~

“Scully, please tell me if you’re ok. Just let me know you’re not hurt.” I knew she could hear me because she was reacting to my touch. I could feel her breath on my hands and she pulled her legs into her body. But when I called her name, she said nothing. <Oh, god, Scully, please come back to me, let me help you> My emotions threatened to freeze me in the moment and what I needed to do was make sure she was all right and find a way out of here.

“Scully, if you can’t answer me, I need to just make a body check and be sure you don’t have any injuries. I’m going to get us out of here, but need to know that you’re not hurt.” Not expecting an answer, given how she had pulled away from me earlier, I nearly jumped when she spoke. “I’m fine, Mulder, no need to check. Best I can tell, I’m just bruised from my fall.”

I sighed with relief that she wasn’t injured, but the flatness of her tone chilled me to my core. There was none of the warmth to her response that usually served to quell my concerns, my fears for her safety.

This was a Scully so distant that I felt as if I didn’t know her.

I was at risk for becoming so emotionally paralyzed that I couldn’t think clearly. I formed words I didn’t feel inside and I moved with a mechanical quality born of a fight against depression. Assuring Scully that I’d find an exit, I stood and surveyed the remainder of the room, moving methodically inch by inch until I had the layout. While a door obviously existed, it was just as obviously secured and embedded flush with the walls. There were no handles or windows.

Scully was on her feet; her ankles no longer cuffed. She was shaky, but refused my offer to lean on me. “Scully, let me help you.”

She drew away from me again and backed into the wall as if she would rather become part of it than get anywhere near me. She spoke to me again, suggesting we both survey the room, giving us a distraction. I stayed as close as she would allow, trying to make sure she didn’t stumble. She discovered what I had in regard to any hope of exit on our own.

“I think we need to wait for an audience with our captors.”

Her sigh was audible in the dark stillness of the room, as was her slide to the floor. Thinking she had lost her balance, I lunged for her, my hands grabbing her by her upper arm.

“Let. Go. Of. Me, Mulder.” She had effectively confirmed what her earlier actions had told me.

I was the enemy as much as our captors were. Only I was the enemy who is known.

~~~~~

I couldn’t get the sound of Mulder’s voice offering to help me out of my mind as I backed away from him. My rational mind tried to take this situation in smaller pieces, figuring out how to respond, what to do next.

I started organizing and compartmentalizing; get out of room first, ensure neither of us is injured, return to mainland, finish case,… It wasn’t working because I was leaving out a major step, tell Mulder our relationship is over. Hell, I couldn’t even say it in my mind without shaking, how I was going to tell him?

It hurt physically to think about it.

My emotions threatened to take over. A part of me wanted and needed his comfort, the apology I know he wanted to offer, the touches he wanted to give. If I let myself sink into the feelings, I knew I’d lose myself and just crawl back to him.

I couldn’t. Couldn’t get past the fact that the man I loved with all my heart, with my very being, the man I trusted with the depths of my soul, with my life, had chosen to believe another over believing me, believing in me.

I was in tears again, tears that flowed freely, gut-wrenching, choking sobs.

~~~~~

<Awww, Scully, what the hell have I done to you, to us?> It was hard enough to be abducted and held, but to not be able to draw upon each other’s strength, to not be allowed to comfort each other, ate away at me like acid.

I wished she would be verbal, would yell, unleash her wrath, scream from deep within her. I wished she would direct her fury at me, pummel me with her small, strong fists. I’d seen those signs of her anger occasionally and, while I wouldn’t have ranked them up under ‘most fun times with Scully’, at least I knew where I stood, what was to become of ‘us’.

Scully silence and tears were devastating. I didn’t want to deprive her of her coping, her expression of her anger and her grief, but I didn’t know what to do to help her. I doubted she would take my help had I even known how to offer it.

I knew I was losing the one person on whom I’d based my life, to whom I’d given my heart, with whom I wanted to be for every moment of my life. And I didn’t know what to do about any of it.

~~~~~

I didn’t have to think about helping her cope for very long. Krycek, Carrie and the unidentified man put an end to that option. I wondered what had become of Diana, wondering if her fall had been serious. I wondered about her for as long as it took for me to realize that putting her out of commission could be a very good option.

They flung the door open wide enough to allow them all to walk in together, the bright light from whatever place lay behind them framing their dark silhouettes. A ceiling bank of mercury vapor lamps was turned on, the loud hiss and hum unnerving after our long period of silence and darkness. The lamps took a while to come all the way up, but they began to cast an yellow-orange glow to the room.

Scully cringed, covering her eyes. I stepped in front of her to give her eyes a chance to adjust.

“Look, Krycek, whatever you think you—” I never got to finish my statement. The unidentified man shoved his way past Carrie and strode purposefully toward Scully.

“Mulder, what I think is that you and Agent Scully, well, actually, just Agent Scully, is going to help us with our prototype.”

Scully had pushed herself away from the unidentified man and stepped in front of me. The slight, upward tilt of her chin, hands on her hips and braced position told me that she was angry and defiant. “What the hell are you talking about, Krycek? And what makes you think that we’re you’re test subjects?”

Carrie took a few steps into the room, Alex close on her heels. He stopped in front of Scully, reaching forward to place his hand on her shoulder. I moved forward, but was held from behind. I wrenched my hands easily from his, but he yanked me back by the cuffs, his fingers trying to pry into what little space existed between the frame of the cuffs and my wrists. Scully awkwardly reached up with her shackled hands and grabbed his wrist, removing it from her shoulder as if it were a snake. “Keep your hands to yourself, Alex.” She moved past him, seriously determined to end this stand off.

Dragging her back into the room, Alex told her more about the tests and admonished both of us against anymore foolhardy moves. Why I hadn’t heard the sounds outside the room when they first came in, I didn’t know, but it sounded like a small army parading around. “We’ve taken over where the former Syndicate left off, having their plan aborted by their own stupidity and lack of vision. They differ from us in that their goals were personal, self-serving.”

“Oh, and yours are altruistic? Wait, let me guess, you’re looking out for humanity?” She was on a roll now, sarcasm threatening to bite him in the butt, but she was keeping him engaged which meant keeping us from whatever ‘tests’ he was referring to. Buying us time. He moved back toward the door, probably surmising that Scully would make a run for it. “Never said I was altruistic. But, I’m smarter, know how to make things happen. We can do what they couldn’t. We can protect against the invasion.” Krycek smiled, very smug and self-satisfied.

“And how the hell do you think you’re going to accomplish that? They had more years to plan, more expertise. You’re nothing but a two-bit—” I never got the rest of my thought out of my mouth. The unidentified man still held me in check. Carrie was standing in front of me and I couldn’t remember seeing her move. Her hand was clamped firmly over my mouth, her blue eyes hard. “You don’t want to piss me off. Because, if you piss me off, you piss off Alex. I think you already know what happens when he’s mad.” I considered biting the hand that sealed my lips, but quickly thought better of it. She released me, wiping her hand on her leg, her look of disdain tinged with humor.

“You still haven’t told us why you’re so much better than the others.”

I was surprised to hear Scully include me in her statement. Krycek was only too happy to answer her, gloating one of his favorite pastimes. “I’m going to do you one better. I’m going to show you. Well, then again, I’m going to show you, Scully. Mulder will serve as the witness to our little test experiment.”

~~~~~

Alex was right, on most counts. By my assessment, these two were a piece of work. Something told me that Scully was about as angry with her partner as she could be. ‘Partner’, what a strange word to describe their relationship. Alex had told me very little about that part of their lives. Oh, I had facts and figures, could probably write their bloody profiles from memory. But he left out the underlying nature of their partnership.

I watched as Alex toyed with them. Now, Alex was an entirely different case altogether. Doing the devil’s bidding, whomever that devil might be, making his current subjects twist and turn in the wind as he saw fit. The man was thoroughly enjoying himself, enjoying their discomfort.

I had sized up Mulder pretty quickly, a pretty face, an emotional man of means, and a social child. He would never play in Alex’s league. The man had enough baggage to tie up the largest claim carousel. And he was so hopelessly in love with his pert partner that it hurt to watch.

Now, she was another story altogether. God, I hate rotting cliches, but she was so diametrically his opposite that I knew they’d make a fine pair, if they could ever co-exist in the same plane. This woman could be cold, icy, even. Alex described her as ‘brutally analytical’. But, one woman to another, there was a lot going on underneath her particular surface.

What I really wanted to do, was grab these two by their short hairs and throw them together, force them to fix whatever mess they’d made. But, that would take some caring and emotion on my part and frankly, my reserves were already tied up, thank you very much. Besides, something told me that Mulder had fucked up royally and was paying for it now. He’d be groveling for some time to come.

~~~~~

Cat Island Beach

Joani was sure they had to be in the square roofed building to the right, but I was sure they were being held in the complex off to our left, about 500 yards from the beach. “There are footprints leading to the right, Mitch.” I smiled at her. Sometimes, she took the easy way out. Guess that’s why she had me around.

“Sure there are, Joani. But, there are a lot more of them heading off to the left. Besides, take a closer look at the ones heading right.” She bent down, following my hand. She stood up, one hand on her hip, a smirk on her lips. Punching me in the arm, she headed off to the left. Guess she preferred to follow the Agents’ footprints rather than those of the local fauna…

~~~~~

Cat Island Testing Center

11PM

I had tried to stall Alex, give us a chance to run before he called in reinforcements. It hadn’t worked. It was that simple. Carrie had silenced Mulder before the rest of the staff arrived. And Alex had decided that he could handle me easily. The two of us were whisked away, dragged through the sand and rocky beach.

I suppose it would have been less painful had we moved willingly, but I was in no mood to help Alex Krycek abduct me yet again. The only blessing in this whole mess was that I had yet to see Diana. I sincerely hoped she was out of commission and would not be joining us.

We arrived at a cluster of oddly shaped buildings; some domed, some flat roofed and some that were so low slung, I was sure they were partially subterranean. Mulder was pushed and shoved to one of the domed facilities. When the men were a few feet from the metal door, the slammed him into it, sending him face-first into the sand. Before I could react, they reached for him and managed to rouse him. I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding as I saw him move on his own and struggle to stand. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

Krycek laughed a full belly laugh I didn’t think he had in him. “Move, Scully. Your partner’s going to be fine. He’ll actually be joining us in a little while, but right now, we have to prepare you both.” Although my treatment was nowhere near as rough as Mulder’s, I was pulled and pushed toward the low-slung area. I planted my feet for a brief moment, turning to look for my partner. The intense, warring emotions held me firmly in place. I looked at his bleeding lower lip and had a sudden urge to touch it, wipe the blood away with my finger as I brushed his hair from his eyes. He turned toward me as if he sensed me watching him, our eyes meeting, searching. I was being pulled into his gaze as he implored me to look deeper.

I let my guard drop, allowed him to push at some of my carefully re-constructed walls and then realized my slip, his face reminding me of his choice. His choice wasn’t me. My inner anger and deep sadness settled back in firmly. My relaxed and weakened posture allowed Alex to shuffle me inside.

~~~~~

I tried to hold her gaze, to lock it to mine, but she lowered her eyes and turned away. I had actually felt a momentary change, as if some part of her shored up reserve had shifted, allowing her to relax. We had been so close.

And then it was gone, the barrier between us solid once again.

I watched Alex nudge Scully through the doorway, out of my site, but not out of my heart.

Distracted, I was cuffed in the ear and thrown off balance. Carrie opened the heavy door and threw on the overhead lights, bathing the cavernous subterranean room in harsh white light. The unidentified man pushed me down the metal stairs. In my disorientation and the thrust of forward movement, I bit into my lip, forcing a much stronger flow of blood onto my chin and clothing. Carrie halted our progress with a hand to my chest. She braced me, her hand on my shoulder, as she wiped the blood from my lip with the hem of her shirt. She surprised me with an almost, but not quite, tender touch. “Pull yourself together Mulder or I might think you can’t fend for yourself.”

This woman was an enigma, an endless enigma. I could see why Alex was drawn to her—like a moth to a flame.

I wondered what they were doing to Scully. I still couldn’t believe that Alex would kill her. He probably wouldn’t even seriously hurt her. The man was a bastard and couldn’t be trusted, but I somehow knew that much. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t make her suffer, make our lives hell, as he played whatever games lurked in his mind.

We needed to get out of here, fast.

I was herded into a room filled with machinery I couldn’t begin to name. Several were connected by what looked to be air filtration hoses. Across from them were holding chambers of sorts, similar to those I had seen years before… The heavy, low thrum could be felt under my feet through the cement flooring. In the far corner a large rectangular portal sat atop a wide, black, granite-looking ramp. The portal pulsed and glowed green around its perimeter, casting a strange, eerie glow in that end of the facility. The area inside the green glow was a dark mist. I didn’t like the look of this room, especially that portal. At the same time, I was fascinated by it, inexplicably drawn to it.

Two other men appeared and moved toward me, grabbing my jacket and tugging it from me. “Geez guys, if you wanted me to be comfortable, I could’ve done that myself.” Unfortunately, these men didn’t appreciate my fine wit. Each one holding an arm, they escorted me closer to the portal area. I could make out an elaborate staging and lab area off to one side as we drew closer. Someone was spending quite a few bucks on this operation, whatever it was. I remembered Diana telling me about the business end, the ‘cutting edge’ technology. I wish I had pursued that line of questioning with her earlier. My mind veered off, wondering what had happened to her. I knew I had shoved her hard and that she had hit her head during the fall. I also knew that she’d probably been through worse. Like being dead? Somehow, though, I just didn’t think she was dead; again. I had this nagging feeling that she was going to drop back into my life at any moment. Somehow managing to further destroy whatever shreds might be left of my relationship with Scully. Maybe it was unfair to lay that responsibility solely on Diana. Maybe I’m the one who deserved to shoulder the blame. As ready as I was to take the blame, I still couldn’t help but feel that Diana had been partly right in her initial warnings to me; Scully and I had been taken. But, Scully would assert that Diana had been part of that plan, this trap, all along.

And Scully would be right.

I was rudely brought back to reality when I found myself sitting in the staging area, in a solid metal chair, bolted to the flooring, the glass booth of the lab just behind me. Inside, a number of green lab-coated technicians moved around soundlessly, adjusting slide controls, pushing buttons and monitoring an array of screens and monitors. Your basic, sci-fi channel lab set up. And it looked damned impressive, but caused me a bit of worry, too.

At least ten men and women in green jumpsuits made their way to the staging platform. I looked around, wondering why they felt they needed so many as I was the only one sitting there. Two men cuffed my hands behind my back, securing them to the metal frame of the chair, but did nothing else to restrain me. This was one very strange set up.

It became even stranger when I saw three things happen simultaneously. First, a woman approached me, holding a vial with what suspiciously looked like the white pasty substance we had found at the Marblehead home and the crime scenes. Next, Alex, the unidentified man and two others brought Scully out from a side room across from me. She, too, had her jacket removed, but appeared otherwise untouched, although she was also cuffed and looked a little

ragged and I could clearly make out the bruise from her earlier slap. And, lastly, just for added effect, Diana sauntered toward the staging area. Had I actually been in the mood for wit at that time, I might have intoned, ‘bring it on’, but words seemed utterly superfluous given the situation at hand.

Some of the white substance was placed, by latex-gloved finger, on my forehead, centering on the skin between my eyes. From there, it was spread bilaterally out from the center toward my brows. At first, I felt nothing but the wetness and texture of it. However, unlike I’d have expected from a paste-like substance, this one did not seem to dry or cake. As a matter of fact, it felt warm at first and then began to tingle like so many, hot pinpricks. She recapped the vial and walked away from me.

Scully was ushered to a seat beside me, although she kept her gaze trained forward. Her tense, coiled air was palpable. I couldn’t shift my chair to face her. Alex hovered between us, then removed a similar vial from his leather jacket pocket. Scully drew back from him, knowing instinctively what was about to happen. With one hand, he held her head back, pushing her hair from her face, and with the other, he spread the paste on her as had been done to me. Although she wouldn’t turn my way, I could see by the change in her expression that she was experiencing the same warmth and tingling sensations. Alex left the staging area to confer with the staff dressed in green.

“Scully, what do you think this is?” She turned to me after what seemed like minutes, composing her mask-like face. “Well, I’m guessing we’re about to experience whatever happened to the earlier victims. And I’m guessing that rather large archway figures into it, too.” She faced forward again, partly because of the odd angle required for her to face me, but, I’m sure, more because of the even odder emotions required to talk to me. “Hey, Scully?” I waited a beat before continuing, wondering if she were actually listening to me. “Yeah?” She didn’t try to look at me, but I had her attention. “I don’t know what’s going to happen here, but I want you to know how sorry I am.” I felt my gut in my throat, threatening to make my voice crack. “About all of this.” Although there were literally almost one hundred people all over this area now, the silence was deafening to me. She looked so defeated, so tired, so very far away from me. “Mulder—”

Her response was abruptly cut off when she saw Diana heading our way. Scully’s entire body drew up tighter and her gaze turned stony. “Surprised to see me Agent Scully, Fox?” She insinuated herself between our chairs, taking Scully out of my line of vision. Diana’s hand on my shoulder was unnerving. “Fox, that wasn’t very nice of you. I could have been more severely injured, even killed.” I heard Scully’s derisive snort loud and clear. I said nothing to Diana; afraid I’d get myself tangled in a conversation with nowhere to go but down.

She turned her attention to Scully, knowing it was a surefire way to provoke me and further anger Scully. Moving to stand behind Scully, allowing me the full view, she placed both hands on her shoulders. I could see her wince, although she tried hard to remain completely still. “So, Agent Scully, Dana. ‘Agent Scully’ sounds so formal between two people who know each other so well, don’t you think?” Scully’s jaw was set, her eyes, daggers, but she did not respond and did not move. “So, Dana, you finally get to help further our cause. Oh, I know you never asked, but I could tell just how interested you were with all of your investigating and the visit to our humble home. A few of our test subjects didn’t quite ‘finish’ their test, but that’s why it’s called, ‘testing’. You, as a scientist, understand that, don’t you? I tried to let Fox in on the project, but he seemed to have some doubts.” She had become unglued and she moved around in front of Scully at that point, but looked at me. Her look wasn’t lost on Scully.

~~~~~

Diana was pulling out all the stops on me and I was damned if I was going to let her have the desired effect. But, no matter how hard I tried, it was happening anyway. I knew much of what she said and how she behaved were strategic moves on her part. Moves set to unnerve me and pull Mulder and me farther and farther apart. Well, no problem with the last part; we were about as far apart as we could be. And, although I hated to admit it, even to, especially to, myself, she was getting to me. I watched without turning as she reached out to him, almost idly letting her long fingers play around the shell of his ear wistfully dragging the backs of her fingers across his cheek. He wrenched and tried to pull from her touches but he had nowhere to go.

I was becoming sick to my stomach, almost nauseous, and the tingling on my forehead was becoming more pronounced. The tingling turned to an ever-growing heat that seemed to penetrate into my brain. I wasn’t sure if the nausea was connected to the paste or an added bonus for being in Diana’s presence.

Mulder fidgeted beside me, squirming and wrenching himself around to try to make eye contact with me. He kicked at the chair in a blatant show of pure frustration, but Diana now knew better than to be in close proximity to either of our unfettered limbs. I knew he didn’t like what Diana was doing and that telling her to ‘stop’ would have no impact on her behavior.

At that moment, the dark swirling inside of me became unbearable. I almost wished Alex would come back and take me somewhere else. Diana was easy to hate and had been for some time. But, she never pretended to be what she was not, at least not with me. Mulder she manipulated and used even though I still believed that somewhere deep inside she wanted him. It was my partner that surprised me the most.

‘Partner’… I continually ran that around in my mind over and over again. It had defined so much of who we were professionally and personally for so very long. While I knew it to be a useless exercise, I tried to fathom what it was about her, her over me, that drew him to her, made her requests so enticing, made my explanations so empty to him. I didn’t want to believe him to be weak willed. I had rarely seen that in him, unless she was around. When all other possibilities slipped away, all that was left was that he wasn’t, never had been, truly in love with me. My faith in observation fell, crashing at my feet. What I thought I knew about the man I still loved, was no longer true; may have never been true. Somewhere along the line, the absolute trust he claimed to have in me had evaporated like just so much rain on a hot summer’s day. One more personal experience to show me why I should never open myself up again. <Ah, Mulder…how did we ever reach this point? Why didn’t I see it coming?>

I must have sighed or muttered some part of my thoughts aloud because I found two sets of eyes on me, questioning. Diana was mildly amused. Mulder wore his despair openly. Diana progressed from mere annoying touches on his face to open displays of physical affection. Since she knew that I could not possibly see her completely if she remained behind him, she moved around from behind him. I silently thanked her with as much dark venom as I could summon given my current condition. Once in front of him, she slowly leaned forward, her hands framing his face. I turned away violently, partially in reaction to the now extreme heat between my eyes and more so in revulsion and unexplained sadness. I could only too clearly picture what would follow.

I heard Mulder spit and somewhere deep inside, I smiled, but it was short-lived. Like a cat drawn to chase a rat, I turned back toward them as she smiled and wiped the saliva away without a care. She tightened her grip on him and her open mouth met his closed lips. I felt my heart racing, pounding so hard in my chest that I was afraid I’d collapse. The tight feeling served to block my senses; I couldn’t hear or see anything, thankfully. Darkness closed in around me.

It grew eerily quiet and I strained to hear even the constant thrumming of the machinery. It was at that point that all eyes shifted toward the door across from the staging, to the right of the portal. The Superior entered the room, wisps of smoke curling around his face, his wrinkled eyes scrunching closed as if he were in ecstasy. Diana’s attention had immediately turned to him and she started to head his way, Mulder and me totally forgotten. Before she could leave the staging, Alex raised a hand, halting her progress. Instead, it was Alex who was summoned to his boss.

We could hear nothing of their interaction, but, by the alternating smirks and furtive glances in our direction, I grew more and more concerned. To make matters worse, the hot tingling had now changed to a very tender and searing heat. I closed my eyes, trying to will it away, to lessen its effect, to no avail. I let my head hang forward, suddenly feeling it too heavy to be supported by my neck. Mulder called out to me, but I didn’t have the energy to utter hollow reassurances. The truth was, I had no idea if I was ‘fine’ and had even less desire to quell whatever anxieties he might have. I felt as if I were somewhere else, outside this room…

Startled sometime later by his groan, I turned to see Mulder grimace, his head falling into a similar position, his chin to his chest. I had no energy to even attempt to call out to him.

~~~~~

Cat Island Beach

~~~~~

 class=”calibre1″>12:30AM

We had updated both A.D. Skinner and A.S.A.C. Whirrl, as to our progress and the fact that help was on its way. Only to find out that the chopper we had seen heading in our direction had been caught in updrafts and strong winds, sending it back. A storm had come up over the bay and headed straight for us, making additional water or air approach treacherous. While Joani and I were set for a rescue, the odds were more than lop-sided. They were fool hardy.

Skinner’s most recent radio contact with the Coast Guard indicated at least two more hours before more than one of their support vehicles would be possible. We both knew it was a bad sign when the Coast Guard waited. That combined with the fact that they seemed to be so far out to sea already made it bad. Neither of us had seen anything like this in the recent past and we were both used to the mercurial nature of the waters of the Atlantic. We were also in the midst of high tropical storm season and, while the Atlantic was anything but tropical, we were often in direct storm paths.

The winds were coming at gale force and we sought cover up close to one of the low slung buildings. Both cells set to ‘vibrate’ alert we hunkered down to wait it out.

Not one to allow any silence between us unless in the midst of a stakeout or other work situation, she called out to me, trying to be heard over the sheer force of the wind. “How the hell are we going to get them out of there?” After several, ‘whats’ and ‘can’t hear yous’, she leaned in closer, her mouth to my ear. Now I’d heard her, but had no answer.

Why it hadn’t occurred to either of us sooner, I tugged on the door. She looked at me questioningly and then nodded, understanding. The winds threatened to lay us both out on the sand. I grabbed at the door and yanked. It opened, but was almost ripped from its hinges. We dove inside and the two of us together pulled it closed again. I hoped that no one had heard us enter.

We could hear the whistling and slamming force outside us battering the structure like so much kindling. We could see brighter lighting at the bottom of the long staircase in front of us, but we could also hear throngs of angry sounding voices. Shaking the sand out of her hair, Joani motioned to me to follow her. I drew my pointed index finger across my throat telling her to forget it. Something just didn’t feel right to me. There had to be more guards nearby and I wasn’t about to allow either of us to walk into a trap.

~~~~~

“What’re you talking about, Alex? I thought she was part of the plan.” I paced in front of him, willing him to give me an answer; a ‘straight’ answer, fully realizing I’d be lucky with something a bit more circuitous. He glanced toward Diana across the room and back at me.

“She’s expendable.”

I gasped, pissed that I allowed him to see my surprise. This was a man who got off on keeping others off guard. “Look, she let herself get too tangled with Mulder, again. She’s allowed them to call for back up and she’s seriously jeopardized this whole operation. Besides, I just don’t trust her anymore. She plays too many sides.”

Like he didn’t. Yet, I was learning that Alex had his own code of ethics…and I liked his code.

I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked, I had known what I was signing on for when I agreed. I really could’ve cared less what happened to that b*tch. She’d shown me nothing but her snide, competitive ways since I’d arrived. He11, could I help it if Alex liked my style? Besides, she had it bad for Agent Mulder, although he didn’t seem to want to give her the time of day. Why the hell couldn’t she see that? The woman had such a damn high impression of herself that she risked a big fall. A big f*ckin’ fall. And it seemed as if there was no shortage of people willing to shove her over the top.

I nearly missed Alex’s hand waving back and forth in front of my face. “Earth to Carrie. You really should try to stay focused. There’s plenty of time for a little entertainment later.” We had been standing close, facing one and other. At his sarcastic comment, I reached between us and gave him a little tug where it could hurt, just a bit. The surprise registered briefly on his face and then he laughed, a full throttle, no holds barred, laugh. I smiled and turned on my heel, leaving him to ponder that.

I rejoined Diana at the staging area. She smiled smugly, seemingly pleased with herself. “They’re ready for the test. The paste is having the desired effect.”

I glanced over at the two Agents, noting that they were aware of what was going on around them, but seemed to be ‘slowed’ somehow. I knew nothing about how this paste worked, hadn’t yet been privy to its mechanism and really didn’t have much interest in it, although I was mildly curious.

“We’ll let Alex be the judge of that.”

She continued to fawn over Mulder who used whatever residual motor ability he had left to check on Scully. His action wasn’t lost on Diana who appeared nonplussed.

She leaned in closer to him, probably whispering her idea of sweet nothings in his ear, so many hollow promises. His scrunched features told me just how much she was getting to him… <Buy a clue, Fowley, the guy’s so over you> Somehow I doubted perceptiveness was within the realm of possibility for her.

Scully seemed to rouse at the sound of a large group of staff heading for the staging area. I knew something was about to go down, but didn’t know details. Alex had been very clear up front about just what I would know. Since I would be extracted later, I could not afford to take much information with me.

Alex led the group, Diana smiling that wide mouthed, lopsided grin, thinking she was about to have a major role, here. <Guess again, Diana> Having no idea what was about to happen, Diana stayed close to Mulder, stroking his hair, his neck, idly glancing in Alex’s direction. Damn if she didn’t think she was ‘performing’. But for whom?

Scully’s face registered alarm. She somehow sensed it was show time. She glanced over at Mulder who had also started to move back toward consciousness, although more slowly.

~~~~~

Although I felt physically tired, my mind seemed to be working clearly. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t felt this sharp in the recent past. And I was frankly puzzled. A brief rest having revitalized me? A by-product of the paste? If only I’d been able to keep our appointment with Chuck.

Mulder was moving on his own again, looking around. And leaning into Diana’s touch. I know he saw the pure venom in my eyes. As surely as she did. Part of me knew that his reaction was nothing more than a stimulus response and that he, too, had recently been in a semi-sleep state. The rest of me nearly shouted at him to get a hold of his damn hormones. He was doing nothing that would convince me that he’d meant what he’d said to me not an hour earlier. He did not look like a man who wanted to make things better.

He was beginning to look more and more like a man I did not know anymore. I turned away and swallowed hard.

At that point, the staff had arrived on the stage and I tensed. I was sure they had come for us. However, before Diana could do much more than ‘squeak’, and yes, she did actually ‘squeak’, they had surrounded her. At first, she wasn’t sure what was going on. I could tell because she moved away slightly, as if to aid them in removing our cuffs. When she realized that they were not heading toward either of us, she started babbling.

I considered the possibility that whatever they were about to do might cause a spontaneous breakdown. She had been through a lot over time, heck, she had caused a lot in her life and, in some ways similarly to Alex, she had manipulated others. I had no idea why my mind decided to find a way to justify Alex’s behavior over Diana’s. Lord knows that the only seeming difference was that Alex hadn’t tried to separate me from Mulder. I decided that heading down that road was probably not wise.

“Come quietly, Diana, or I’ll have to drug you.” Alex grabbed her short locks and wrenched her forward toward the stairs. “Alex! I can help you get them into the portal. They’re prepared. We’ll have better results.” Her tone bordered on pleading. Yes, she was heading into dangerous psychological territory. “Take her.” The staff nodded to him and took her from the stage toward the portal.

<Oh, God, they were going to use her as a test subject!> My heart jumped into my throat. And I was sick to my stomach. I was speechless, realizing at that moment exactly what they also meant to do with Mulder and me.

~~~~~

The room swam, bright lights swinging overhead, as I neared the surface of consciousness again. It felt good, oh so good. Soft hands, fingers in my hair, whisper light touches on my face. A soft voice calling my name. Full lips grazing mine, becoming more demanding. <Schullleee>

It was Diana.

As I lifted my head, I could see Scully fully alert. Watching Diana stroking me. Whatever concern for my wellbeing might have existed recently was gone again. I mused sardonically that there was probably nothing I could do or say now that would make this situation any better. I just hoped that the same were true for making it any worse.

I watched as Diana was pushed and dragged toward the portal, torn between trying to talk to Scully while we had some time alone and wanting to find out what part the portal played in this game of Alex’s. Diana was wailing loudly as she realized what was about to happen. How ironic that she was all too happy to probably shove Scully and me into the portal, but was kicking and screaming like a child in full tantrum.

“Damnit, Alex, I don’t have any preparation. You can’t do this! I thought we were going to send them,” she hooked her head back in our direction, “through. They’ve got the paste already and it’s working.”

She had worked herself into a blazing fury, but she was also scared. I knew her well enough to see the rare fright. Not much could produce that fright in her…

Alex was thoroughly enjoying himself. At least that’s what I read on his face, eyes glinting, his cheeks rosy in a brilliantly white, teeth-filled smile. He moved in behind her and whispered something to her that seemed to silence her. The man was vermin, but he knew his job. He stepped to one side so he could see her face as he walked with her, inches closer to the portal that had started to pulse as the green glow increased by half. The unidentified man and the Superior took their places behind her, Alex still at her side.

He leaned in and kissed her full on the lips, his hands holding her head at the desired angle to deepen his touch. I could see her chest heaving even from where we sat. I turned to Scully who seemed to be holding her breath as she watched, her attention rapt. “Scully?” I was worried now. She didn’t even acknowledge me and didn’t appear to be ignoring me. She began to pant rapidly. “Scully! What’s happening? Are you alright?”

Nothing. No response.

As Alex broke the kiss, I heard the Superior thank Diana for her service in the past and for furthering their efforts to save humanity now. The three men shoved her into the portal easily. She was clearly weakened and thrown off balance by Alex. Her screams of pure hell and pain reverberated throughout the cavernous facility. She loudly intoned every deity, along with my name, Alex’s and Scully’s.

She didn’t sound particularly happy with any of us.

And I couldn’t have cared less.

~~~~~

Diana was gone. <Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead> Or, so I sincerely hoped. Although we’d all seen evidence of just how final death was where she was concerned.

I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t focus. Someone was calling my name, talking to me and I couldn’t understand a word. Maybe it wasn’t Diana who was headed down the road to a breakdown. I knew the signs.

Alex had motioned for a few of the green-suited staff to come to the portal area. They all donned latex gloves and moved closer to the portal. The pulsing glow had quieted. One of the staff knelt down and ran his gloved hand over the floor. The white glove came away black. As he rubbed his thumb against his middle finger with the black substance, I guessed that we were seeing the black oil we had found at Chiquita Banaros’ home.

I had little time left to ponder or return to the land of the sane and the breathing. I belatedly realized that Mulder had been talking to me and I turned to him. I’m sure he had seen the totally puzzled look because that’s exactly what I saw looking at me. I wanted to be able to tell him something, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what that was. I hypothesized that a possible side effect of the substance was muddled thought processes. Unfortunately, I probably proved my theory correct as I couldn’t finish that thought.

Mulder was now regarding me with open curiosity. We might have remained in that shared pose indefinitely if it hadn’t been for the hands releasing us from the chair, but leaving our cuffs on.

As had Diana before us, we were led to the portal which had begun to pulse and glow again. I attempted to shake off whatever had come over me, to grasp at reality for whatever minutes we both had left. Was this the point where I was supposed to atone for my worldly sins? Leave my slate clean and clear? Watch scenes from my life flash before my eyes? I was numb once again but found tears in my eyes as my mother’s face wavered in my mind. <Oh, Mom… How did I ever get here? I need you, Mom. I love you, Mom>

~~~~~

I was mesmerized by the glow of the portal. It was even more beautiful up close.

But nowhere near as beautiful as my partner. She seemed more with it, now, but for what purpose? To be really aware of her demise? She was struggling with something; I could see it in her eyes. Her eyes that kept her from connecting with me. <Scully, what the hell have I done? I can’t let us go like this. I can’t let us go> Calling to her had as much effect as trying to really see her. Absolutely none.

We were no more than ten feet from the point where Diana had been pushed through. The unidentified man stood in front and between us and uncapped the vial once again. He dabbed a bit more on our foreheads and then stepped aside. The warmth and tingling returned and I shook my head to try to keep it clear. I watched Scully do the same.

The other staff cleared the area, leaving only Alex and the unidentified man with us. I had to try once more; couldn’t let us walk into this ‘experiment’ without touching her in some small way. “Scully, I do love you, you know. No matter what. Don’t leave me.” She looked to me as if she was meeting me again for the first time and I nearly lost it. The depth of the pain and the sorrow in her eyes was palpable. And then she faced forward again. I had no way of knowing how much of her reaction was her inability to focus due to the effects of the paste and how much was due to her own choice.

I had briefly wondered what had become of Carrie. My thoughts ended there as we were moved forward, our ‘guides’ still pushing, but from off to one side.

At that point, all hell broke loose. Carrie appeared out of nowhere with Joani, Mitch and a few dozen Coast Guard and local law enforcement personnel. She charged up onto the portal area and shoved the two of us back and away, sending us to the floor. The Rat bastard seethed pure poison in her direction and I doubted she’d be getting anymore in the near future. At least anymore of anything she might enjoy…

I inched toward Scully, pulling my legs into my chest and pushing off with my cuffed hands behind me. I had to make sure she was all right. She was breathing, but had pulled herself into a tight ball. Joani and Mitch now had a clear path to us, thanks in no small part to Carrie’s efforts. I could see Alex being cuffed by the locals, but Carrie was nowhere to be seen. I had a feeling that I may never know what happened to her. I silently thanked her for both of us.

~~~~~

Boston Medical Center

5 June, 4AM

A.D. Skinner had explained to me that his two star Agents spent so much time in hospitals that they could qualify for frequent patient miles. I think he was also secretly concerned that they would be solely responsible for increasing the medical insurance premiums for Bureau employees.

I learned a few things about the Bureau, about Skinner and his style and about the meaning of a work family that early morning in June.

I had known when I signed on that it was a rough walk to the top and that discipline, dotting the ‘I’s and crossing the ‘T’s were important. I knew my rulebook as well, if not better than, the next A.S.A.C. I had also learned that an effective team is one that is most times understanding and often compassionate.

Maybe that was why I had chosen a Field Office to get my start. A reality was that life in the Bureau could be trying even for the best female Agent. A woman showing stereotypical ‘female’ traits would not survive long. Although my Agents were sometimes overheard explaining my gritty exterior, they also talked about my understanding and sense of humor. I truly valued their view.

Well, I had likewise heard tales, some taller than others, about Skinner. The words that came to mind included: tough, terse, surly, uptight. Now, if the list were to stop there, I’d have been worried. But, it continued: fair, supportive and, dare it be uttered in a male dominated profession…‘caring’. The A.D. literally went to the mat for his Agents and these two had him down for the count. This was surely a well-worn mat.

“Can I get you anything, Sir?”

He turned, running his palm across one cheek and then pinching the bridge of his nose. “It’s ‘Skinner’, please. And no, I’m fine, just tired.”

He strode toward the Nurse’s station, his dark trench coat billowing around his large form.

“How are they?” I really hoped everything would be all right. This man looked worried about losing his best friends.

He navigated the corridor with a familiarity born of too many late night/early morning visits for Mulder or Scully or both. “They’re both going to be ok. They’re running a tox screen on the paste, but other than low blood pressure, neither appears to be injured. They’re going to keep them overnight for observation.” He sat, no; he dropped into a bright salmon plastic chair against the wall; elbows on his thighs, head in his hands.

“What can I do, Si—, Skinner? If you’re going to stay, why don’t you let them give you a room? I’m sure that would be possible.” I was about to go ask when he reached out and gently pulled me to sit next to him. “I’ll do that, but first I want to get in to see them.” I patted his hand and sat there with him, waiting until he was allowed to assure himself that both Mulder and Scully were truly on the mend.

It wasn’t five minutes later when the doctor approached us. Skinner stood slowly probably wishing he hadn’t sat down earlier. He was so tired that he had to haul himself up. I almost offered my arm, but somehow knew that he’d never admit to needing it.

Dr. Shari Spookiez shook our hands, announcing that she was the doctor on their cases.

“Well, I want you to both know that Agents Mulder and Scully will be released tomorrow.”

Skinner nodded and immediately wanted to know the tests results from the blood work and tox screens.

“Well, their actual pressures were rather low. From their past records, that’s highly unusual for either, although Agent Mulder does seem to have had his fair share of strange medical conditions. The tox screen had a very peculiar finding, however.”

She trailed off at that point and I couldn’t tell whether it was the time of the night or the actual findings. Skinner wasn’t about to wait for my decision.

“Look, Doctor, with all due respect, it’s late, I want to see my Agents and I’d like the findings.”

Dr. Spookiez nodded, agreeing. “The reason I said they were strange was because there is definitely something there, but our labs weren’t able to identify the substance.”

We both inhaled sharply, but I was the first to remember to exhale. Skinner wanted to know what Spookiez meant by ‘…weren’t able to identify.’ He argued that if it could be detected and show up on the screens, it had to be identifiable. Spookiez smiled at the understandably simplistic view of the scientific and medical processes, but also realizing she was dealing with a man of great intelligence and life experience.

“I’d be happy to forward the substance and the findings to Quantico if that would set your mind at ease.”

Holding back barely contained anger and frustration born of worry, Skinner told Dr. Spookiez, “My mind doesn’t need to be eased, I need to know what this ‘unidentifiable’ substance is and if it can cause further problems. Please do forward it to the labs at Quantico. Thank you.”

Skinner’s tense posture made me ache. He trudged down the hall after asking for their room numbers. I thanked the doctor and asked her to make sure the results from Quantico were delivered to us immediately. Then I went to join Skinner.

~~~~~

Somewhere

5 June

Wee hours of the morning

I knew my ass was just so much grass after my attempt to free Mulder and Scully. And I sincerely wished I could erase that stupid saying from my vocabulary. A few of the Americans I’d been in contact with seemed to use it frequently, too frequently. God, it would be good to be home again where they spoke the language properly.

There was one little bit about my trip I was going to miss, but I figured he got around a lot, and that our paths might cross again. However, given his mercurial nature and my recent actions, I didn’t know if my oil and his vinegar were about to try to mix again soon. No, I had no illusions about exactly what he’d like to do to me if he got his hands on me anytime soon. Although what I’d like to do with him… Well, I had more practical matters to consider at the moment.

I thought back over the events of the last month or so, from the time I’d been contacted until earlier today. The experimentation had been fine with me, hell, how else did you further your cause without testing? And, I’m sorry, but lab rats just don’t convince me that something’s safe for human consumption. Call it splitting the hairs of my moral ethics, but the thought of allowing one’s personal feelings to dictate the test subjects isn’t a good idea.

I knew there was definitely a love/hate relationship between Agents Fowley, Mulder and Scully; Formerly Fowley loving Mulder and hating Scully for loving Mulder who loved Scully. It just got too damn convoluted. And, from what I could tell, Scully had some bloody good

reasons for hating Diana.

Maybe that was the crux of my decision, I hated Diana, too. The woman was a sniveling, whimpering, self-important fool. From the research I’d done on her before arriving Stateside, I knew she was quite intelligent and well-traveled. However, along the way, she had somehow allowed other personal issues to cloud her judgment. Guess it sort of served her right to end up the subject in her own experiment.

I had decided that I’d need to cut my ‘visit’ a little short since my services would no longer be required. ‘Required’? Who was I kidding? I was sure that a certain handsomely dark and deliciously dangerous Russian would make sure my services were no longer available if he ever caught up with me. I operated under no misinformation when it came to the abilities of one Alex Krycek.

Having watched him taken into custody before I had fled, I was quite surprised to feel his hand on my arm in the dark catacombs of the testing area. I knew it had to be him since very few of us knew of their existence, and one of those ‘few’ had just stepped into some nether region, hopefully never to return. I froze, whether from fright or arousal, I wasn’t sure. Hell, the only difference in those feelings was the end result. Sometimes.

“What’re you doing down here?”

His voice was dark, thick, honey in my ears, but the hold on my arm tightened, almost a grip.

“I’m reviewing my life story, what does it look like I’m doing?”

He pulled me from my sitting position, his chest against my back and his arm casually slung around my throat.

“You don’t want to be flip with me, Carrie. You can’t afford it.”

The man was a study in contrasts. One of the only people I knew who could send erotic shivers down my spine while scaring the sh*t out of me.

“Just let go of me, Alex.”

I pulled at his wrist, but he held firm. His lips were so close to my ear and I waited with anticipation to see what he would do next. I know he noticed my hyper state, my chest was heaving from my efforts to ‘look calm’. And I was anything but calm. I had not doubts about what he was capable of but I’d also seen him exercise great restraint. The man lived and worked and played on the edge.

“I don’t take kindly to traitors.”

His lips touched my ear.

“You are a traitor, Alex.”

Such brave words from someone who was in no position to defend herself.

“But there’s a difference, Carrie. I’m the one holding you right now, so I call the shots. Just tell me what the hell you think you were accomplishing up there?”

He removed his arm from my neck, lowering it to the area between my shoulders and my chest, his other arm around my waist.

“I don’t owe you any explanations, but I will tell you exactly what I think of your ethical code.”

He laughed! He laughed so loudly that I thought for sure he’d summon whomever it was that had held him upstairs. Realizing that I wasn’t about to flee, just yet, anyway, he released me, pulling me to the stone bench set into the arched overhang.

“You knew exactly what you were getting yourself into when you signed on with me. You said you liked the idea of furthering science and helping stave off the coming invasion. I think those were your exact words. So, what’d you do, have a sudden attack of fuckin’ conscience? Your line of work doesn’t exactly inspire ethical platitudes.”

My eyes had finally adjusted to the very low lighting level. I could tell he was actually attempting to figure out my turncoat behavior.

“I was told sh*t when I signed on. Something about an experiment that would allow the human race to ‘hide’ from the aliens but be able to literally work behind the scenes to end the invasion. I had no idea that ‘behind the scenes’ seemed to mean, ‘another dimension’ through the use of an untested catalyst chemical with otherworldly or alien technology. Geez, Alex, what the hell did you expect me to do? And why did you need Mulder and Scully as your test subjects?”

I had gotten out my questions and he had known exactly how I felt about his little plan.

I heard doors slamming above us, large, metal doors, and knew that the troops were about to arrive. We had to get out of here, although I held no hope that it would be together. Things in my world just didn’t work that way.

“Mulder and Scully wouldn’t have been hurt and they would have been returned. Do you actually think I’d be stupid enough to further their cause? If I’d made them disappear, I’d have been brought in so fast my head wouldn’t have had a chance to spin. We’re there, Carrie, right on the edge. We just needed a few final tests.”

“Tests like the last three where the subjects never returned?”

He shrugged palms up, and a smirk graced his gorgeous face.

“What can I say? That’s why they’re called, ‘experiments’. The white hadn’t been tweaked as it is now. We only found that out when we got wind of the black oil residue after the Jason Fiske debacle. Our scientists realized that the reaction that produced the oil was directly related to the imbalance in the white configuration. It only took one subject to tell us that, not bad odds against all that will be saved in the long run.”

I smacked his face, hard. And he smacked me back! Although I probably had no right, I was indignant and furious.

“You bloody…”

His palm had materialized over my mouth cutting off the invective he knew was forthcoming.

“Don’t say anything you might regret later…”

His mouth replaced his palm, his lips and tongue moving until I thought I’d pass out from the surge of adrenaline and the lack of oxygen, a heady combination. His lips still close to mine he pulled out of the kiss and told me to get out of here fast.

All around us, boot steps grew louder on the metal stairs and the farther catacombs.

I hadn’t needed to be told twice.

~~~~~

Boston Medical Center

Room 807

Another nondescript room appointed with the standard issue bleeps and buzzes and pings. I’d been here before, too many times, both as a patient and as a visitor. I had more than my fair share of hospital memories. At least all I felt was tired this time. Tired and depressed.

I needed to get out of here, needed to see Scully. Instead, I saw Skinner and A.S.A.C. Whirll. Leaning to one side and propping myself on my elbow, I tried my best ‘there’s nothing wrong with me’ smile. Just as it never really worked with my partner, it didn’t work with my boss.

“Lay back down, Agent, and that’s an order.”

His words were direct, but I could tell he’d been extremely worried, I could see it in his eyes. People thought Skinner gruff upon first meeting. All right, upon many meetings, but Scully and I had been given the opportunity to learn more about him; his beliefs, his values, who he was underneath A.D. persona. It had taken us a long time to realize he wasn’t quite the enemy we’d originally thought, but that was behind us now.

Summoning my best innocent and charming expression, I asked him what was wrong with me. It looked as if he bit back a snide remark, but what he did share had me concerned.

“We’ll figure it out, Mulder. Right now, the doctor says you’re both fine and can go home later today. You need to sleep right now and get some food in you. A.S.A.C. Whirll and I will wait for the results and to take you home.”

“What aren’t you telling me? What did they find in our tests?”

At least that question had an answer.

“That’s just it, they couldn’t identify the white paste.”

Huh? I needed to know what he meant, but a look settled in his eyes, his jaw set and he told me he’d had the results sent on to Quantico for further scrutiny. I knew that if Scully were there, she’d be able to put the pieces together, figure it out.

Scully.

He was avoiding telling me anything about Scully; or so I thought. I did sit up that time, my legs hanging over the side of the wafer-thin mattress.

“Where do you think you’re going, Agent?” Skinner didn’t miss a thing…

“I need to check on Scully. If she were all right, she would have been in here already.”

A frown passed like a shadow across his previously calm face.

“What?”

He looked at his shoes, the other wall, could not meet my eyes. A.S.A.C Whirll stepped in.

“She’s doing as well as you are, Mulder. She just needs her rest right now.”

A nice way of saying, ‘she’s able, but doesn’t want to be with you’.

I sunk back into the bed, lowering it flat, and turned on my side. Maybe sleep wasn’t such a bad idea right now. Lots and lots of sleep.

~~~~~

Room 809

Our visit to Agent Scully’s room yielded some of the same results. I felt bad about lying to Mulder. We hadn’t even seen Scully yet, although it was true that she was doing all right…physically. He was hurt enough and didn’t need to try to see her.

I had no idea what had happened. Agents Court and Spark had been very circumspect when I inquired and I let it ride. I had been pleased with their work, overall, and didn’t want to tread unnecessarily. I was sure Skinner probably figured it out, but he wasn’t sharing, either.

Scully was lying on her back, hands on her chest, deep in thought… as if praying. She gazed at the ceiling looking for all the world as if she were willing divine intervention.

“Agent?” Skinner called to her as he had to Mulder.

“Sir.” Her tone was listless. “How are you feeling?”

She smiled wanly, but her eyes remained totally void of emotion.

“The doctor says I’m fine. I can go home today.”

Skinner didn’t respond right away, as if he were waiting. When Scully didn’t continue, he supplied, “Mulder’s doing fine, too. You can both go home.”

She neatly sidestepped the information about her partner, asking him instead, what the tests had shown. He quickly explained that the results had been sent on to Quantico for further analysis. That piqued her interest.

“What do the tox screens show? Did they identify the white substance? I’d like to see our charts.”

Skinner held off more questions with a shake of his head. And noticed that she did include Mulder this time.

“Did you read Court and Spark’s report, how the white paste was used?”

She pushed herself up, raising the head of the bed, facing us with intent eyes. “They weren’t inside when… when they put the paste on us.”

She shook her head, as if trying to dislodge the memory, banish it from her. Skinner knew more was coming, so he said nothing.

“I believe it’s a catalyst or enhancing agent, used to prepare the victim for transport. Without the paste, the transport may, uh, um, not be 100% effective. But transport to where or how is not known. Since we never had a chance for first-hand observation of a returned test subject.”

She watched us processing what she’d just told us. As if she had just recalled what she had been told earlier regarding Mulder’s condition, she thanked Skinner for the information and rolled on her side, turning away from us.

“Scully?”

She answered him, but remained facing the window. Skinner walked around her bed, stopping in her line of vision.

“I told Mulder he had to stay in bed. He wanted to come and see you.”

Other than the slight movement of her body indicating to me she was still breathing and listening, she could have been asleep for all of her response.

“Thank you for the information, Sir. I’m glad Agent Mulder is doing well. If you both don’t mind, I need some sleep.”

I started for the door. Skinner remained by her bedside, looking for the world like a lost soul.

“Agent? Your mother will be here to accompany you home. I explained that we’d take you ourselves, but she insisted.”

We had been dismissed. I could see the turmoil in his eyes as we made our way to the cafeteria for some breakfast.

“Can I help, Skinner?”

I liked this man more and more as I observed him with his Agents. He had that special ability to command respect and loyalty while allowing himself true emotion. I could tell he kept it strategically hidden, but it was there.

“Huh? What? Oh, I’m sorry. I guess I’m more tired than I thought.”

I shook my head, throwing off his subterfuge.

“Not likely. You know something’s not right with them. I could sense it and I don’t know them as you do. What can I do?”

He smiled and guided me into the cafeteria, his hand on my shoulder. “You’ve done it, A.S.A.C, you’ve already done it.”

~~~~~

Room 807

I waited for about ten minutes, hoping that would give Skinner and A.S.A.C. Whirll enough time to go to the cafeteria or back to the waiting lounge. Slowly testing my ability to keep my legs from buckling, I rose from my bed, grabbing the poor excuse for a robe. While I knew the main reason for the lack of expert tailoring, I hated always feeling underdressed. I could have wrapped and draped towels over me and felt more covered.

I slipped into the pseudo-paper slippers and pushed the door open partially. The staff seemed otherwise occupied, so I made my way toward the source of the most hubbub, hoping to find Scully’s chart. I needed to know her real status and find her room number. I tugged the robe and gown tighter since the hallway seemed to be decidedly more drafty than my room.

Luckily, the staff were all inside a windowed room, probably in some sort of shift change meeting. I managed to locate Scully’s chart. From what I could tell from the medical gibberish she really was okay. I made my way to her room realizing that we were just two doors down from each other.

I managed to make it to her room unnoticed and I pushed the door open and took a deep breath. She was lying with her back to the door, her legs bent in to her chest.

“Scully.” I called out to her, quietly announcing myself before I entered. When I didn’t hear a response, I at first thought she might be asleep. I called again, a little louder. She rolled on to her back, looking to the door.

Just as I was about to enter the room, I heard Skinner’s voice in what I would describe as a calm bellow.

“Mulder, you’re not supposed to be out of bed. Get back into your room.” I tried telling him that I just had to see Scully, but I think he knew that. He hadn’t looked surprised in the least when he saw me.

“Just let me talk to her.” As I turned to enter the room, I noticed that Scully had rolled away from me again. I couldn’t tell whether she’d heard me and never had the chance to ask.

And Skinner nudged me back to my sanitized confinement cell.

~~~~~

Going Home

Noontime

5 June

I knew I had a problem on my hands, but could only guess at the cause or causes. I had seen these two mad at each other before. Usually, Scully angry with Mulder, but occasionally, he left her in the dust. When the X-Files had been closed and he began to doubt his beliefs, he closed down on her, tried his hardest to push her away. And she persisted, finding her way back to him, helping him find his way back to himself. The difference in then and now was ‘then’ there was communication. Negative, maybe, but communication.

A result of this current situation was the absence of communication. They weren’t talking. This shouldn’t have been happening to these two… In all my time at the Bureau, I had yet to see a Field Team better suited for their work. And, a long time back I had grudgingly admitted, better suited for each other. They completed each other, it was as simple as that. Which made it all the harder to see them so distant.

My only clue was A.S.A.C. Whirll’s report that mentioned Diana Fowley. The last time that woman had come into their lives, Mulder had almost lost his and she had rocked the Agents’ relationship to its core. Mulder had let something other than his keen intelligence rule him and he had fallen under Diana’s spell, essentially leaving Scully out in the cold. I had never seen her in such a state of despair yet she doggedly hung on and seemed to move past her issues with Diana to ultimately save her partner. Their relationship as partners, in many ways, had been strengthened.

Somehow, they had found their way back together, stronger than ever, committed to each other as professional partners…and much more. Oh, they probably thought of themselves as discreet, clever, but I’d been around the block a few more times. I also knew them well. I knew there was much more there.

<God, Mulder…what happened? What does Scully think you’ve done?>

As if it had been orchestrated, two orderlies wheeled each of them to the exit. This scene couldn’t have been more comical or sadder. As the chairs moved parallel to one and other, Mulder instinctively reached his hand toward Scully’s arm. She turned to him, slowly moving her arm to her lap.

“Scully, I, I think we need to talk.”

I took it as a good sign that she didn’t turn away from him, but that was really the only good sign.

“I can’t talk now. I’m tired, Mulder. You probably are, too. You need to get some rest; we both do.”

The look in her eyes said she didn’t know when they would talk, but Mulder smiled at her, his eyes full of understanding and a profound sadness. Before she turned away, I know I saw the faintest smile mirrored in her eyes. And it was most definitely directed at him. What I didn’t know was whether that smile was genuine concern for him as her lover or as the object of Dr. Scully’s concern.

“Let me know when, Scully. I’ll be waiting.”

I had contacted Margaret Scully the night before, after A.S.A.C Whirll reported in. Scully’s mother had chartered a flight at the Bureau’s expense to be here for her daughter. I think I felt even sorrier for Margaret. She’d lost one daughter in a roundabout manner connected to the work of her other daughter and her partner. She’d been in and out of hospitals with Scully and Mulder over the years, as well. The woman was a pillar of strength and quiet resolve, often quelling raging emotions and rampant furies.

She pulled up outside and made her way into the lobby. Just a few inches taller than her daughter, she was nonetheless a commanding presence. She escorted her daughter and the orderly to toward the exit, stopping to talk to Mulder.

“Hello, Fox. I’m so sorry to hear about your, um, well, at least neither of you sustained any threatening injuries this time.”

Margaret Scully actually got a chuckle out of Mulder. It was obvious she had a deep fondness for him. She was also perceptive where Scully was concerned. She knew things weren’t right between them.

Not wishing to prolong the tensions she felt from them both, she took just a minute to lean closer and whisper in Mulder’s ear, “Fox, you take care. When you’re feeling up to it, you come over for some home-cooking.”

She smiled at him again, her hand on his shoulder, and turned to her daughter. Scully hadn’t even looked back.

A.S.A.C Whirll and I took Mulder to the airport. The usually banter-prolific man sat mutely for the entire trip.

~~~~~

Georgetown

6 June

11PM

Friday night. I had the weekend ahead of me, two full days to try to figure out what I was going to do. I had wanted to tender my resignation to Skinner when he and A.S.A.C. Whirll came to visit. At the time, I knew I’d have been acting rashly, so I waited.

Being home again had afforded me a little more clarity, but only professionally. I would not resign over this, although a transfer or temporary reassignment might be best for both Mulder and me. Occasionally, I would have a mind’s eye view of us working things out, of me moving to a place where I might accept his apologies, but I also knew he would crowd me and cloud my sensibilities. We needed to be apart.

I shoved the top sheet back, moving to the edge of my bed. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to get out of bed, lay back down or…neither. I was bone weary, but sleep eluded me. Thinking that maybe some chamomile tea would help me relax, I headed to the kitchen. I left the lights off, letting the light of the full moon wash in from the living room, bathing me in its cool warmth. I put the kettle down in the sink, drawn by the light and walked over to the window. The air conditioning sent a chill through me, my tee shirt providing little but cover. I hugged my arms around me, my fingers absently caressing the soft, worn cotton of Mulder’s favorite gray tee.

And a chill of another kind flooded me. I didn’t want to think about him, couldn’t think about him, yet I needed to make sense of that which made no sense.

The harsh ringing startled me, interrupting the beginnings of an inner conversation I knew I had to, but wasn’t sure I was ready to, have. I considered letting the machine pick up, but I knew who it would be and knew without a doubt that he would continue to call until I answered him. My arms dropped to my sides, tugging the hem of the shirt and then worrying the fabric, causing sympathy wrinkles with those I felt around my eyes. How the man seemed to always know when I was thinking about him, of him, I didn’t know.

“Hello.”

<Scully>

Silence

<Scully, it’s me>

As if I would have expected anyone else at this hour.

“I know, Mulder.” I knew I was making it very hard on him and was truly torn between feeling that he deserved to bear out my silence and that I at least owed it to him to hear him out.

<Talk to me, Scully>

“I don’t know what to say.” That much was the solid truth. My intellect, my training, my experience couldn’t help me then. I was at a loss at how to proceed.

<Just say you’ll let me come over and talk this out>

~~~~~

Arlington

~~~~~

 class=”calibre1″>11:30PM

If I dragged my hand over my face one more time, I feared stubble burn. I had tried to sleep, laying on my side, still clothed, the TV droning, the light stabbing at the darkness. Who had I been kidding? I’d survived on less sleep over longer periods of time.

But that night, I had actually been tired, really wanted to sleep, really needed to sleep. I had needed an escape, someplace to hide. <‘Nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide’…> I sat up, untwisting my tank from my torso and stared. Stared at the four walls, contemplating my existence.

I pictured Scully. The picture brought a smile to my face and I reached to the coffee table, lifted the blond wood frame, squinted at the scene I knew by heart. Scully and me bundled up in our winter gear outside the Inn just six months ago. Faces fresh, skin glowing from the bracing cold. I traced the frame, turning it toward the light from the window, saw the faint outlines of us, hand in hand, goofy smiles, mugging for the Yarlow’s camera, knowing Eddie had been making faces to get us to smile. He hadn’t had to do that. We were truly happy already and it showed. I had wanted to kiss her right before the picture was taken. Had pulled her toward me, watched her clear blue eyes search mine, loved the curl of her lips as she had smiled up at me. Laughed as she shoved snow in my face. And that was when Eddie had called to us and the picture had been taken. I loved that picture. I loved the woman in the picture. I had deeply hurt her.

I stood, grabbing my keys, headed for the door. And stopped dead in my tracks, unsure of the reception I would receive. I’d often shown up at Scully’s late at night, especially since we’d grown closer. But, even before that time, she’d usually welcomed me with relatively open arms. I knew that would not be the case that night.

I had called her seeking permission, needing to hear her voice.

~~~~~

Georgetown

~~~~~

 class=”calibre1″>1:00AM

She opened the door, stepping back more than enough to allow me entrance. I smiled when I noticed what she was wearing, but I tried not to let her see me. I headed straight for her couch, sitting in the corner. Some habits die hard. I had been comfortable here; we had been comfortable together here. I didn’t want that habit to die.

I wasn’t sure what to say or how to say it. I would have spent at least ten minutes thinking it to death, but Scully jumped in, halting my thoughts. “You wanted to talk, Mulder.”

Maybe I needed more time to think after all. Maybe I should have waited until the next day or the next week. I took a deep breath and doled out my exhalation sparingly. Sitting off to my side, Scully watched me intently, her look ‘daring’ me to continue. I was sure she was ready to pounce if my words weren’t what she expected. I decided simple honesty was probably the best, the only, thing.

“Scully, I know I’ve hurt you badly.” Jumping in with both feet, I continued. “Believing in Diana’s words while only listening to part of what you —”

Scully was on her feet instantly, hands on her hips, hiking my favorite gray tee shirt up to expose a slight bit of skin. In spite of myself, in spite of our situation, she was turning me on. If I were continuing my honesty, although I would never let her know, the combination of her anger and her state of undress were powerfully stimulating to me. I squelched my desire, knowing I would only anger her further and muddy the already murky waters.

And then she spoke. “You didn’t listen to a word I said about Diana, Mulder. Not years ago, not mere days ago. Tell me why.”

Such a simple question. With no easy answer I could fathom.

“I don’t know why. All I know was that I had to ensure your safety, Scully. I knew that group was planning something.”

Her quiet tone was followed by full-blown, indignant rage. “She was part of that group, Mulder. She was planning right along with them. Hell, you were part of the plan to bring us both in. She drew you in knowing you’d want to ‘save’ me. I thought we were past your need to save me,” she paused for a breath and then zinged me, “She played you, damn it, she played you, Mulder, and you fucking let her. How the hell could you do that?”

Her fury scared me. I’d seen her in a rage before, but rarely directed so heatedly in my direction. Rarely with such pain.

And I deserved every word. Every inch of my being wanted to take some action, knowing that my words couldn’t have fixed anything. I half rose then, thinking that I should have shown her how sorry I was, but I had been hesitant, afraid that touching her then would only have succeeded in pushing her from me.

The tears were hot and wet and I refused to let them fall. I denied myself, then, not because I was ashamed to let her see me cry, but because I knew that if I began, I might never be able to stop. She had no illusions for herself and cried openly, body wracking sobs. She pulled the sleeve to her face, trying to wipe them away. I still wanted to pull her to me, surround her with the love in my heart, love her with my body. I let my indecision render me immobile again, allowing her enough time to pull inside herself further.

“Go home. I can’t do this anymore.”

Her words were intense in their simplicity and I needed clarification. Was she saying she wouldn’t talk to me anymore? Anymore tonight? Anymore forever?

Those words galvanized me into action. I stood, trying to hug her to me, but she fought me.

“Get out, go home, Mulder.”

I heard her loud and clear, but refused to leave without some sort of indication as to when or if we’d talk again. I held her arms, willed her to look at me, to really see me. She shrugged me off and pulled away, but I reached for her again.

“Scully, I’ll go. I don’t want to, but I will. First, I need to ask you something, please.”

She had stopped crying, her body still quaking slightly under my touch. “What?”

“I need to know that we’ll talk again. Don’t shut me out, Scully. I couldn’t handle that. I love you, I hurt you, but I want us to be ‘us’ again. Scully?”

She had looked away, but I gently turned her back toward me. She shrunk back from my touch. It wasn’t abrupt, but clear enough to tell me she didn’t want my closeness. Her voice was so soft that I had to lean in closer to hear her.

“Did you ever stop to think, Mulder, that this might be about what I want, what I need?”

The tears stung my eyes and her words stung my heart. “All the time, Scully, all the time.”

She walked to the door, opening it for me. She held the knob, but would not look at me as I walked out.

~~~~~

Words in << >> borrowed without permission from Moby’s song, Porcelain from the CD, Play

Arlington

~~~~~

 class=”calibre1″>3:30AM

<<Bad, bad, bad…good-bye

In my dreams I’m dying all the time

As I wake it’s kaleidoscopic mind>>

What had made me think I would be able to sleep after seeing her? I couldn’t be, shouldn’t be, but I was more upset now than before I went to her. I had settled onto my couch, remote in hand, not even bothering to remove my clothing. I found a good old black and white movie on The Movie Channel. The perfect formula to put me to sleep.

Except it hadn’t worked. My eyes would close and her face would appear with an unbearable intensity and the feelings would rise to the surface, threatening to overtake me. I’d come out of my dozing, only to see shattered images of us, together, apart.

<<I never meant to hurt you, I never meant to lie>>

Just as I’d think I could put myself in her place, feel what she must be feeling I’d come right back around to having tried to hide my meeting with Diana to protect her. However, I knew what had hurt her more than anything was my failure to believe her at the Aquarium. Didn’t Scully, my lover, my friend, know that I would never, could never, hurt her? Didn’t she know that I’d never loved anyone before as I love her now?

<<So this is goodbye…This is goodbye…This is good-bye>>

Maybe what she was really telling me was that she didn’t love me anymore, hadn’t ever really loved me. But, I knew that couldn’t be true. What we had was forged on deep emotion, caring, trust.

<Ah, Mulder, your brilliant mind just can’t wrap itself around the fact that ‘trust’ is the issue here>

~~~~~

Georgetown

~~~~~

 class=”calibre1″>3:00AM

<< Tell the truth you never wanted me… Tell… me>>

As soon as I’d shut the door, the tears flowed again, hot and fierce. I let the wall support me, but even then, I could no longer stand. I slid to the floor, letting the emotions of the last three days wash over me, full force waves crashing against me.

How had I been so blind? How had I not seen this coming? Some small rationally functioning part of my mind turned itself on, allowing me to really see why it had taken us so long to come together. I had wanted this relationship more than life itself, wanted it so much that I was willing to read more into his words and actions than he intended. And, Mulder being Mulder, had given me what I wanted, not what he wanted.

<Oh, God, Dana, how could you have misread the signs?>

<<In my dreams I’m jealous all the time

As I wake I’m going out of my mind

Going out of my mind

Bad, bad, bad…good-bye>>

He had never really gotten over Diana. Why hadn’t I seen it when I watched them together? My mind was a jumble of ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs’. What if she hadn’t ‘died’ the first time? Would I have been his touchstone then? Why would Mulder pretend he loved me, go through the charade? I’d never known him to be anything but honest and sincere in his relationships. Mulder didn’t knowingly hurt others he cared about. But… he was often motivated out of guilt and I knew full well that he felt responsible for all the perceived hurts he thought he’d inflicted upon me in our years together. Believed he was responsible when he was not. Damn him for always twisting it back to him. But if he truly believed, and I knew that Mulder was a man of conviction when he truly believed, wasn’t it possible that he’d try to give me what he knew I wanted? And I badly wanted him.

I felt as if I was slowly losing my mind.

I climbed into bed hoping sleep would help me. But every time my eyes closed, I saw one of two faces; Diana’s or Mulder’s, and sometimes they were together. I tossed and turned, sweaty as if I had been working out and sat up in bed to clear my head. I became so tired that I knew I had to get some sleep, but the visions returned each time my eyes closed. I got out of bed, knowing it was futile.

It became clear to me that I needed more time and definitely more space. The thought of going right back to our office Monday morning created a panic attack. How could I pretend everything was ‘normal’? I didn’t think I could handle our daily routine, such as it was.

Short of calling Skinner at home, although I knew he wouldn’t have minded, I decided to email him. My emotions were so close to the surface that I feared all Skinner would hear was an earful of either venom and anger or choked back sobs.

<<To: [email protected]_b_i_.gov

From: [email protected]_b_i_.gov

RE: Temporary Leave &Transfer Request

Date: 6 June 2001 0300:00 EST

Good Morning, Sir:

I’m sorry to be bothering you over the weekend, but I have an important request. I would like to use one week of leave time, effective 8 June. When I return from my leave, I would like a temporary transfer from the X-Files. I do not want my request to in any way reflect negatively upon Agent Mulder. This request is motivated by an extreme personal situation that I hope to have resolved soon.

I would like to meet with you on Monday, 15 June, before I leave for my new assignment. It if it is at all possible, Sir, I respectfully request to work out of Quantico. I feel that my skills and training in the medical arena could be put to use on further exploration of the white substance from mine and Agent Mulder’s most recent case, as well as, assisting them with the incoming class of recruits. I know for a fact that they are understaffed. Please let me know if we can meet on 15 June.

Thank you.>>

Depressing the ‘send’ button had been a freeing experience. It had also been one of the saddest…

~~~~~

Maggie Scully’s Home

Baltimore, MD

Sunday, 7 June

I was truly worried about her, more so than I’d ever been in the past. That’s strange, feeling that way, given the number of near-death experiences my daughter has had. Yet somehow, this situation seemed more dire.

I took her to brunch after Mass, hoping that she’d open up and talk to me. It would have been obvious to even her most casual acquaintances that something was very wrong when I picked her up in Boston just a few days ago, but, as her mother, I knew someone vital was now missing from her life. Fox Mulder.

The rift in their relationship was gaping and I needed, wanted, to know why. I was under no illusions that this would be an easy discussion between us. While Dana and I are close, she is more like her father and holds her feelings close to her vest. I knew that I’d have to allow her to tell me what had caused this crisis in her own way.

We went to a small cozy bistro and found a secluded semi-circular booth in the back. I loved coming here because of the peacefulness. The heavy dark green velvet draperies and table linens brought a comforting warmth. Missy and I had occasionally come here during the last year of her life. Bittersweet memories washed over me as I thought of her. Being here with Dana helped ease them much as I hoped I could ease her suffering.

She was more quiet than usual as we sipped our Mimosas and nibbled on croissants, waiting for our omelets being prepared tableside. I could tell she was making a show of sipping her drink, glancing around almost shyly. She studied her croissant as if she were trying to divine some deep secret nestled among the many buttery layers. It was time for us to talk before she managed to push her feelings so far inside they’d weigh her down even more.

“Dana, what’s upsetting you so?” I let the question hang there for a few moments and reached across to hold her hand in mine. She didn’t pull away, but I could see the tears rimming her eyes and the struggle she made to keep them at bay. “It’s me, honey, tell me.”

“Oh, mom, I…” The tears spilled silently, rolling down her cheeks and she wiped them away with the napkin from her lap. Hicoughing away her tears, she smiled wanly, squeezing my hand. “It’s Mulder and me, mom. I don’t think we can be together anymore.”

The fact that I had been right gave me no consolation. I had never seen her happier than when she and Fox had finally declared their feelings for each other. I wanted nothing but the best for my children and felt that Dana had long deprived herself of a real relationship. I had grown closer to Fox over his years as her partner and while there were certainly times I was angry at him for allowing her to be part of such dangerous situations, I had also come to realize that Dana was in charge of her own life and made her own decisions.

As I got to know him, I found him to be one of the most forthright and sincere people I had ever met. He treated her with respect, dignity and an almost-reverence I personally found quite endearing. Dana being Dana referred to it as ‘treating her like a porcelain doll’ and scoffed at his behavior in that regard. I also discovered just how much he truly loved my daughter. While I had not heard him speak the words myself, his actions spoke for him. She, of course, rebuked me when I tried to tell her. She just wouldn’t or couldn’t see it for what it was, pretending so hard that it wasn’t there that she had actually managed to convince herself.

I wanted happiness for them both but looking at her tearful blue eyes told me that whatever had happened was much, much more than a lover’s quarrel. They both had tempers but were well-suited for each other. Their ability to cope with such a strange lifestyle and maintain a deep friendship told me they should be able to weather any storm. And that’s why I was so concerned now. This was not your average storm. Someone or something had sent a monsoon their way.

Our omelets were placed before us and for awhile we ate. However, I was not about to let her drop the discussion as I was sure she hoped I would. Ordering some coffee for us both, I asked her to continue.

“Well, to put it very simply, a former Agent we both thought was dead wasn’t. She’s alive and she was part of the plan that almost got us both killed.”

My mind cut to the chase. This Agent was a woman and must have been involved with Fox at some point. “Who is this Agent, Dana?” I was not going to let her off the hook because I felt she really needed to talk this out.

A noticeable change settled in her eyes. The look was hard and hurtful, not at all what I was used to. “Diana Fowley.”

I refrained from the ‘Ahh’ that was on the tip of my tongue. While Dana hadn’t gone into a lot of detail with me about her last encounter with Fox’s former partner, I had learned enough to know that where this Fowley woman was concerned my daughter would not have anything charitable to say. I couldn’t say I blamed her, either. While I didn’t like to entertain the thought of people who’s existence seemed to be based solely on manipulating others, the signs were all there. I had witnessed how professional Dana had striven to be at the time, her only concern for Fox. They had come through that time much closer and I had secretly been happy that woman had met her demise if that were the only way Fox and Dana would be free of her influence. To hear that she was back was disconcerting to say the least.

“But there’s more to her scheme, isn’t there.”

She looked at me and her anger was briefly overshadowed by a deep sadness. “Yes.”

I smiled at her and then ate the last of my omelet, giving her a brief respite to do likewise. “Dana, do I have to pull it from you? What did this woman do, or should I ask you what Fox did that has you so angry and so desperate?”

I could see the tears threatening yet again. It was probably for the best, but I knew what it was costing her. I also had a feeling that it was costing Fox dearly, too. I made a mental note to try to check in with him, if he’d allow it.

She took a deep breath and pushed her plate away from her. She poured us both another Mimosa and held her cup in both hands in front of her, almost as if she were warding off whatever lingering effects this woman agent had on her.

“Mulder believed her, took her word over mine again, Mom. I had proof of what she was up to, how it was a trap for us both and he chose her over me. And yes, I’m angry! How would you expect me to feel? I loved that man, I do love him, oh, I don’t know anymore. How can I love him when he doesn’t trust me? It scares me, Mom. I’m so scared.”

I slid over closer to her in the booth and put my arm around her shoulders, gently pulling her head to my shoulder. “Let it out, Dana, honey. It’s ok to be mad and it’s ok to be scared about your relationship.”

She didn’t need to hear that I knew Fox loved her desperately and would probably do anything to make this right between them. I could only imagine how he was torturing himself, absorbing the guilt (which in this case was probably justified) and worrying himself to death over Dana. I had not doubts about how many times he would try to contact her…and how many times she would push him away.

I also knew that there were some hurtful rifts so great that if they could be healed and closed it would take mutual commitment and lots and lots of time and patience. Right now, Dana wasn’t ready to try. What scared me was wondering if she would ever allow herself to try. I could see the signs of her shutting down, pulling further and further inside of herself and shutting out Fox.

I had to do my best to help her move toward resolving this with him.

~~~~~

Arlington

Sunday, 7 June

My plan wasn’t working. The plan to leave her. The plan that was supposed to free her from me so she could find someone better for her. I just couldn’t let go unless I knew that we had tried our best to put the pieces back together. I would do anything, even if it meant that in the end, we were no longer together, if she would just talk this out with me.

I tried calling her several times and got her answering machine. It physically hurt to hear her voice. Either she was out and hadn’t taken her cellphone or she turned it off.

Feeling like a caged animal, I suddenly decided that I’d go out for a run. Pulling on my black running shorts and gray tee, I headed out toward the park. I skipped my usual warm up walk and broke out into a run immediately, alternating my usual loping for my training sprint. I wasn’t sure whether I was running away from or to something, but the need to exhaust myself was overriding. It was quite warm, but it didn’t hit me as it usually did. My muscles took advantage of the heat, working efficiently and allowing me to drive harder and harder.

Once I’d hit my stride, my mind started working overtime. No longer seeing the familiar buildings, I zoned out. Diana’s face loomed before me, but not the latest incarnation. It was Diana from an earlier time, a time when I thought that she and I were cut from the same cloth. We functioned as one mind on the X-Files, mirroring each other’s ideas and thoughts. I had been fascinated by her, totally enthralled with her power and her quirky beauty.

I quickly sidestepped a couple walking their dog, smiling as the dog barked at me. Heck, he probably knew exactly what I was thinking. I’d heard that animals can read human’s thoughts.

I saw Diana in my bed, doing some of the most arousing things to my body with hers as I laid there, a willing recipient, an avid participant. I felt a dull ache in my shorts at the memories as the places changed; my bed, her bed, the couch, the office, the parking garage.

My smile faded along with my imagined arousal as I recalled her walking out on me, totally humiliating me in the process. Her voice once again grated on my ears as I heard her telling me that I was still no more than a sexual adolescent as far as she was concerned, unable to satisfy her as she deserved, that she needed more challenge professionally, as well. Impotent in our work and our bed, I had been devastated. This was the woman I had allowed to come back into my life with Scully.

And that hadn’t been enough for me, either. I had moved on, Scully was assigned to work with me and I was all set to test her to the limit. Why would she stay when no one else had? Although I had been sure that she had been sent to debunk my work, she had done anything but. She had helped me begin to feel validated again, as an Agent and as a person worthy of respect, her respect.

I stopped at the intersection only because of the screeching of tires and one of those horns that produced the ear splitting ‘arugah’ sound. Gulping air in my startled state, I jogged in place until I could cross without angering anyone else. I was about five minutes from the park.

I sprinted across the wide avenue and into the green. The people were just so many dots of color as I slowed my pace to a canter. As I rounded the benches near the fountain in the children’s wading area, Diana’s face loomed once more. This time when she reentered my life several years after her departure. She assumed she could resume where we had left off, conveniently forgetting why she had left, what she had cost me in the process. What Scully saw, what I turned a blind eye to, was her manipulation of me as a means to her ends. She toyed with Scully then, pushing her to her limits in an unsuccessful attempt to step into her place with me.

Diana succeeded, with my unwitting help, in hurting Scully, causing her to question her relationship with me. A relationship that, in hindsight, I believe had already grown beyond a strong partnership and friendship into something much deeper. I didn’t fathom the depth of her hurt or the reasons why, chalking it up to simple jealousy of my former partner. How I could have interpreted anything Scully felt as ‘simple’, I still don’t know.

Had Scully not been the true professional and partner I knew her to be, I wouldn’t have lived through my ordeal and we wouldn’t have taken the first of so many important, but small, steps toward sharing our love with each other.

Somewhere along the line I had turned around and headed home, a decision reached. I couldn’t leave her even if that was what she thought she wanted. I knew it wasn’t, that it couldn’t be. I had to find a way to talk to her, make her see that we had important things to do together, to be together.

~~~~~

Georgetown

Sunday, 7 June

Afternoon

I could hear my phone ringing as I came down the hall. Since I knew my machine would pick up, I didn’t increase my pace. The ringing continued. Stopping just outside my door, I heard the click and pick up of the machine and my voice telling the caller to leave a message. Silence. I unlocked the door and turned to close it when the ringing began again.

Since I had a feeling this would continue, I gave up on screening my calls. “Hello?” Silence again. I knew better than to feed a prank caller, so I hung up, heading for the kitchen to put on the kettle. I no sooner set it on the stovetop than the phone rang again. I ignored it, fairly certain it was Mulder.

My thoughts were confirmed when I heard his voice on the answering machine. I drew in a breath, forgetting to release it.

‘Scully, if you’re there, please pick up.’ Pause ‘Scully, please.” Pleading. ‘Ok, I can understand why you don’t want to talk to me right now, but we need to talk. Please call me back. I want to see you, but if that won’t work, let’s just talk over the phone. Please Scully.’

I couldn’t take the emotions his voice dredged up inside. I didn’t want to see him now. But I couldn’t stand to hear the hurt in his voice. I sat staring at the machine, hearing Mulder’s voice saying, ‘please Scully’, over the sound of the whistling kettle.

~~~~~

Baltimore

I could hear the desperation in her voice. Could even ‘see’ it in her eyes over the phone. Dana had tried to convince me that she would be all right, but I knew my daughter. She was in a bad place, huddled up inside of herself, wound tighter than I could ever remember her being. After what she shared with me over brunch, I could understand where she was coming from and feel the depth of her pain. <Oh, Fox, how could you let it get to this point?>

She told me she refused to see him and that she’d requested a week away before taking a temporary transfer from the X-Files. I could only imagine the lengths to which Fox would go when he found out. He was most likely expecting to see her in the office tomorrow and she would not be there. I promised not to breach my daughter’s confidence, but I also told her that she owed it to herself and to him to tell him of her plans. She didn’t think she’d be able to talk to him without breaking down or agreeing to see him.

She finally agreed to at least think about telling him of her plans and then coming to spend a few days with me.

~~~~~

Arlington

I don’t know what made me think she would talk to me. She had made that very clear the last time I saw her, but I needed to explain. Well, that’s not exactly right because I wasn’t sure what I’d be explaining.

Several little speeches played themselves out in my head: ‘Scully, I’m so sorry that I believed Diana over you, it won’t happen

again’; Not again after these two times that it happened already?

‘It’s not that I didn’t believe you, it’s just that…’ Just that what?

‘I didn’t really believe her, but I was so worried for your safety that I…’ That I what?

Nothing I could come up with seemed to work and I gave each of those options about a ten second life span once they came from my lips to her ears.

What I really wanted to know was if she felt we could ever move past this point, no matter how long ‘ever’ might be. That was the long and short of it for me. I knew in my heart that I would not be able to go on with my work, with my life if she left me, left us. She was my third elemental relationship, if I could even consider Diana and Phoebe in the same discussion, but she was really my only relationship of true substance and sustenance, the only person I would do anything for.

I knew I should sit and logically consider whether or not to call her again or just show up on her doorstep. If I called, she could decide not to answer. If I showed up, I risked angering her more and the strong possibility that she’d refuse to see me. I just didn’t think I could wait to ask the questions until we were in the office tomorrow.

Then, my phone rang.

“Hello, Fox.” I was not expecting Margaret Scully when I answered the phone because I had hoped Scully would decide to return my call.

“Hello, Maggie.” It was good to hear from her, but I hoped she didn’t hear the let down in my tone.

“Fox, can we talk?”

<Oh, boy…> For some strange reason, I felt as if I were about to be chastised by my mother. In the relatively short time I’d known Maggie, she had been more of a mother to me than my own.

“Sure, I can come over there if you’d like or we can meet somewhere.” As we talked, I started tidying up; magazines stacked on the coffee table, videos back into their jacket covers, cartons from this evening’s take out to the garbage. The strangest thing was I didn’t really think she’d want to come to my place.

She chuckled. I had forgotten how late it already was and just how far away we were from each other.

“We can talk on the phone if that’s all right with you.”

I stopped cleaning and sank into the couch. I didn’t know what to say, didn’t know what she wanted to talk about, although I had a pretty good idea. As much as I cared for her, I wasn’t quite sure just how ready I was to get into a discussion about Scully and me with her.

“I know this can’t be easy for you and I’m sure the last thing you want right now is advice from me, Fox, but you know how much I care about you.”

I did know that very well and I let her continue. “I’m worried about you. I know that whatever’s happened between you and Dana has got to be eating you alive right now. I also know that you’ve probably run through every possible scenario for how you could have done things differently, how responsible you are and how you will make it right.”

Those Scullys, they claim not to believe, but they’re mind readers. Scully never ceased to amaze me when she would zero in on my feelings or my thoughts and now Maggie was doing the same thing.

“Maggie, how you do it, I don’t know, but that’s exactly what I’m feeling. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do right now to be with her, to take away her hurt. You know that, don’t you?”

The question came out more like a whiney plea, but I let it hang there. Her answer was profound in its simplicity.

“I do know it so very much.”

I felt very tired at that moment, the psychologist in me telling myself that I was suffering from extreme stress fatigue.

She continued on a firm but soft note.

“You need to give Dana her space, Fox. I don’t know the ultimate outcome, but I do know she loves you, loves you very much. I’ve never seen my daughter so willing to give herself so deeply to another, but she’s also in a very bad place, much as you are. So please do yourselves both a favor and don’t try to force this now.”

It was her turn to plead. And once again, I didn’t know what to say in response.

All I knew was that I couldn’t promise her I wouldn’t try to see Scully. I didn’t want to lie to Maggie.

~~~~~

Georgetown

Sunday, 11PM

I had gone around the corner to pick up a few groceries feeling the need to get out. Staying in my apartment was making me claustrophobic, my moods shifting rapidly. After brunch with my mother, I had done the laundry and busied myself cleaning. The routine had managed to block out all else, at least for a little while.

I decided to make myself some tea and sit down with a magazine. And that was when it hit me hard. I don’t think I’d even realized I was crying until the tears plopped onto the glossy, colored pages, leaving splashes that magnified and diluted the images. I was angry with myself for not being able to hold it in although why I had to hold it in, I didn’t know. Crying wasn’t going to change the situation. I missed him almost as much as I hated him, as much as I wanted him in and wanted him out.

As the tears flowed, I let go, curling up on my side, trying to burrow further into the cushions. And then, just as suddenly as they had started, the tears stopped. Wiping my face with my hands I headed for the bathroom to throw cold water on my face. I was a wreck and it had been clear that I couldn’t stay home much longer.

Taking quick stock of the refrigerator and my cabinets, I headed out. The cool night air felt good and walking briskly felt great. I indulged myself, grabbing some ice cream and remembered being embarrassed when Mom had told me about her favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor. Ecstasy Schmekstasy. Knowing Mom liked it I bought a pint anyway. I was feeling like I needed to pamper myself.

I carried the one bag out of the stairwell and headed down the hall to my apartment. That’s when I saw Mulder sitting on the floor against my door. My very first thought was that I was glad he hadn’t used his key and let himself in. At least he’d had the good sense to realize he would not only have scared the hell out of me, but angered me even more. I knew the look on my face wasn’t the most welcoming, but I was totally caught off guard and wasn’t sure how to feel. I went with my gut reaction and told him to leave, hoping that my tone brooked no options.

“I’m not going anywhere, Scully, until you talk to me.”

He stood and walked toward me, trying to take the bag from my hands. My Mulder, chivalrous even when he’s being given the boot.

“Well then, I guess you’ll be sitting out here all night.” I wrested the bag from him and pushed past him, fumbling with my keys.

He let me brush past him, but stood his ground in the hallway. He had no intentions of leaving. I pushed the door open with my foot and took the groceries to the kitchen, assuming he’d followed me inside. When I returned to the living room, he was standing in the doorway, his hands high on the frame.

“Scully, we need to talk. Please.”

I met his look, holding his gaze for the briefest beat of my heart. His eyes never left mine, but they remained neutral, without challenge. Exasperated, I waved him inside and closed the door.

Trying to effect an air of indifference, I sat in the middle of my couch and watched him look around, trying to figure out where to land. Mulder went for the direct approach, sitting on the edge of my coffee table, facing me head on. He said nothing.

“Mulder, you said you wanted to talk.”

I was sure he must have heard the lack of sleep in my voice and probably the concern I was trying so hard to disguise, to bury. Sitting this close to him was too hard and I pulled my feet up under me on the cushions drawing an invisible line between us I hoped he wouldn’t cross.

“I can’t leave things like they were Friday night, Scully. I know you need some time apart, but I don’t want us to be angry while we’re apart. What can I do to make this better?”

I watched his restless hands as he tried to figure out if he could touch me or not. I had no desire to hurt him further; but hoped he’d see that his touch would only complicate things.

“I don’t know that there is anything you can do Mulder. Sometimes, it’s about just letting it go, just letting go.”

That was not the response he was looking for and I could see it in his eyes, the way his chin lowered just slightly toward his chest, imperceptible defeat. His hands settled on his knees.

“I don’t know if I can just let you go. I mean, we work together, see each other every day. And I want so much more for us.”

It was now or never and I personally wished it could be ‘never’.

“Mulder, I don’t know how to say this.”

I watched as he tensed, preparing himself for whatever he thought was coming. Knowing Mulder, I was sure he expected far worse than I was about to tell him, so I didn’t make him wait.

“Just say it.”

His look hardened and he drew back, creating more distance between us.

“I’ve asked Skinner for a week’s leave starting tomorrow.”

I searched his face, what I saw there so unfamiliar it was almost frightening. ‘Incredulous’ was my first thought. He didn’t believe what I’d told him or he didn’t believe I’d go through with it? Standing abruptly, he stormed to the door with me right on his heels. I didn’t want him to leave like this, begin our week apart with anger, even if I did understand why he might be.

I reached for his hand, but he let it slip from my touch, refusing to

face me.

“Look at me.”

Feeling much like the small child vying for her parent’s attention, I walked around him, trying to connect with his eyes, but he gazed down or up, anywhere but at me.

“All right, Mulder, make this hard on us both.”

He did turn then, completely and in a flash.

I’m making this hard?” He pulled my hand, dragging me back into my apartment, kicking at the door behind him. “Scully, I fucked up, really bad. I lied to you and listened to Diana.”

We were back to his refusal to admit this was a trust issue.

“You trusted her, Mulder. You did much more than listen. Why can’t you see that?”

“Oh, I do see it, Scully, believe me, I do. I just don’t get why we can’t deal with it together, why you have to run and hide from me.”

He had a point. I had no answer.

~~~~~

J.E. Hoover Building

8 June, Day One

~~~~~

 class=”calibre1″>8:00AM

Skinner had left a folder on my desk with some information. I skimmed it, for all the good it did, the words so much black ink taking up white space. The few words I caught told me I’d be flying back to Boston for the day. I swallowed hard and shoved back out of my desk chair, sending it careening into the filing cabinet. I was to attend a meeting with A.S.A.C Whirll and Agents Court and Spark. Some ‘unfinished case business’. All I could do was snort at the irony of this trip by myself. Maybe I could find another way to muck things up? Hadn’t I already done enough damage?

As I stood, I swatted ineffectually at the file folder and it ended up on the floor, just so many pieces of paper scattered like my life. <Your wit and wisdom are proportionate to your ability to realize just how screwed up your life really is>

I was pissed at the damn trip to Boston, the paper all over the floor…at Scully, at myself. I didn’t want to admit how angry I was because I was afraid I’d give in to that anger. I knew where the self-rage came from, but also knew I couldn’t undo what was already done.

<<If I could turn back time, If I could find a way, I’d take back those words that have hurt you, And you’d stay. If I could reach the stars, I’d give them all to you. Then you’d love me, love me, Like you used to do. If I could turn back time.>>

Cher couldn’t turn back time and neither could I.

What surprised me and caught me off guard was my anger with Scully. I didn’t think she was wrong to feel the way she did; there was no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when it came to feelings; they just ‘were’. What bothered me was the fact that I could do nothing to get her to talk it out, to vent her feelings on me or at me. I was very afraid that if we didn’t come to hash this out now, we’d never be able to move past what had happened. What I’d set in motion.

I wanted to pound the daylights out of something.

And that’s when the phone rang.

“Agent Mulder, I’m assuming you have read the information about your meeting in Boston today? And that you’re on your way to the airport?”

I grabbed my suit jacket and the file. “Yes, Sir, you caught me on my way out.” He simply hung up and I headed for the door.

~~~~~

Boston

Day One 11:00AM

The only thing worse than flying alone was flying alone without the possibility of Scully having been with me on this trip. By the way she tended to grip the arms rests during take off and landing, one might have thought she hated flying, but I knew better.

It wasn’t actually flying that she hated so much as not being in control or having the illusion of being in control of the plane like she thought she did with a car or a train. Scully once explained to me that although it might sound irrational, she didn’t like the fact that she was ‘trapped’ in just so much airborne metal, hurtling through the clouds thousands and thousands of miles above the earth. Should there be an ‘unlikely’ catastrophe, she couldn’t simply stop the vehicle and get off or get out. While she knew the statistics were stacked in favor of safe air travel, she just felt better being on the ground. Funny how the most logical, hard facts people could resort to pure feelings when necessary.

I gazed out the window across the aisle rather than notice the empty seat to my left.

The irony of how I was making this trip produced a rather sardonic smile. Scully had made this very same trip—without me—just about a week ago. It felt like so long ago, as if time had stretched out, moving at half its regular speed. As I was now, she had been forced to travel here on her own. I was making the solo trip now because she was otherwise occupied, just as I had been then. With one rather major difference… She wasn’t with me now because of the choice I had made the morning of our departure. The similarities were devastating in their poignancy. It was as if I was being made to live through her personal hell. And there was no reason why I shouldn’t.

I mindlessly signed for the rental car and headed out, not remembering even getting to the Taurus. The minute I was on the road, my mind started to wander. Actually, a better word for it would have been, ‘punish’ me. My sense of dj vu was very strong. Except this dj vu was all too real.

Thank god I was spared having to stay overnight. Being in another hotel without her next door for appearances’ sake or in my room, in my bed, for the sake of our relationship, would have done me in. As I hit the interstate, I thought back to our one night together when I arrived, how she had forgiven me and come to my bed, our bed.

She had been angry as I rarely saw her, but she had trusted in me and we had agreed to disagree.

And then I had allowed Diana to draw me in farther, leaving Scully outside our unholy team of two. I slammed the steering wheel; momentarily bringing myself to the present, not even recognizing how far along I was toward my destination. A quick search for road signs let me know I was getting close to the exit for the Boston Field Office and A.S.A.C Whirll’s office.

Wallowing back again, I realized that that morning when the note from Diana arrived and I decided to meet her, I had set the downward spiral in motion. And I had also stopped the spiral at its lowest possible point at the Aquarium. <Dear god, let me not have to pass the exit for the harbor>

My feeble attempt at a prayer was answered when I found the route 128 cut-off and headed to the Field Office. I found Mitch waiting outside A.S.A.C Whirll’s office. He smiled and grabbed my hand, pumping it with enough enthusiasm to rattle my teeth. The man had an infectious grin and I found myself naturally responding to him.

“So, where’s your partner? You send her out for French Crullers?”

He chuckled and then grew more serious. “Joani’s at another investigation site, doing some last minute research. I could ask you the same, good buddy; where’s Scully?”

He must’ve noticed the change in my expression; it followed the instant change in my mood. “She’s not working right now.” I tried to be as truthful as possible without going into details.

“Guess it’s just you and me, Mitch.” He smiled and we both headed into the A.S.A.C.‘s office. She nodded to me, not bothering to look any further. I was sure that Skinner would have notified her that it would be only me for this meeting.

~~~~~

Baltimore First Night

We had our moments during the day, a good number of them high notes, but others base and raw. I’d invited my daughter to stay with me to help her work through her anger and feelings of betrayal, to help give her some actual and emotional distance between Mulder and her, to…help…her.

Ensconced in her old room that first night, we’d spent countless hours reliving her youth, her adolescence through yearbooks and photo albums. I reverently cherished the precious portrait of her and Missy, posed, seated, their backs to each other, faces turned to the camera. Missy smiling beatifically, Dana managing a mirthful smirk as if she knew something the photographer would never discover about her. Dana wearing blue velvet overalls and a white satin blouse with a lace collar and cuffs, her one concession to ‘dress up’. Missy in the frilliest of pink froth, her hair swept up in a ponytail of soft curls.

Each of us with a hand on either side of the picture, we were joined in a memory of love and a poignant reminder of what she and I had lost. She gently took the slightly creased snapshot and held it to her heart, clutching it to her as a tear rolled down her cheek. <Oh, Missy, where are you when I need you? I know where you are and that I’m the reason>

I took the portrait from her and leaned over to kiss her goodnight.

~~~~~

Sitting around my apartment no longer seemed like such a good idea. The few videos held no attraction, I’d been ordered to ‘cease and desist’ on the practice dribbling by numerous neighborly complaints and there wasn’t a decent movie on. My hand stopped, poised in ‘mid-dial’ over the phone. I was about ready to do what I’d normally do when I was bored; call Scully. Actually, we hadn’t needed the phone much anymore once we’d started seeing each other. More of our conversations happened face to face.

Her face was everywhere in my head, my heart. But the face I now saw was the look of pure hurt and disappointment. Her eyes searching mine as I told her in just so many words that I had believed Diana and that she must be mistaken in what she claimed to hear. Was I destined to replay this scene over and over in my head until I died of abject stupidity? I let her walk from me the first time. Now, that face only made me want to hold her and take back my doubts.

I couldn’t stay here and I couldn’t go there. Grabbing my keys, I headed to the residence of the Lone Gunmen. I should have been used to the rigmarole to gain entrance to the lair of Byers, Frohike and Langly. Usually, the clicks and snicks of latches, deadbolts and chains only heightened the adventure of visiting them. My mood had me seriously pondering the efficacy of blasting through the door, dual weapons blazing.

“Mulder! To what do we owe this unannounced, but most certainly welcomed, visit?”

Frohike could always be counted on to provide comic relief, exactly what I needed. He ushered me into the apartment, and I use the term loosely, motioning me toward a relatively empty chair. Pushing aside a blanket and a baseball cap in need of an owner, I sat.

“So, what do you have for us? Anything that needs our expertise? Our attention?” Langly hovered, obviously anxious to be involved in the latest search for all things conspiratorial or at least unordinary. Unfortunately, I had neither for him.

He sat on the Wal*Mart special coffee table. Byers remained silent, but his furrowed brows and puzzled look spoke volumes. He knew something was up.

“Beers all around.”

The little man appeared with a tray that looked suspiciously like it had been recycled from the Hoover Building Cafeteria.

“Put it on my tab, boys.”

They had passed the tray my way first, probably sensing I was the one who was really in need.

“You’re all looking at me like the fools-turned-sages on the hill. Either that or you think I’m about to spout off some new theory on the cosmological qualities of the…”

I never got to finish. Byers had joined Langly on the coffee table and Frohike was perched on the arm of my chair. I was surrounded by the Gunmen Corral. The funny thing was, it felt good. I needed the attention and a few moments of comic relief from friends who wouldn’t judge me harshly.

They remained silent, Langly starting to look a bit uncomfortable. He was probably the most interesting character to me. Where Byers and Frohike were rather blatant in their differences, Langly remained a partial throw back to an earlier time with one foot firmly planted in the here and now. All three shared a sharp wit and keen intelligence; slightly out of the mainstream in Fro and Langly’s cases, but there nonetheless.

“Something’s wrong. We know it, man. You’ve come to the right place if you want advice on matters of the heart.” I snorted so hard I almost choked. Frohike giving me advice on matters of the heart.

“If you don’t mind, Fro, I think I’ll pass on the advice.”

“It would pay to give him a listen, Mulder. While Melvin might not appear to be the male Ann Landers, you wouldn’t want to underestimate his experience and knowledge.”

Byers defending Frohike’s love life experience? The night had taken a strange turn.

“Guys? There’s nothing much to tell. Scully and I aren’t exactly speaking right now.”

I downed the rest of the first bottle and it was promptly replaced by another, already uncapped. The cold sweat felt good in my hand.

Three very different sets of eyebrows rose in unison in a sad parody of Scully’s demonstrative expression.

“Ok, ok. Long story short; Agent Fowley’s back from the dead, Scully tried to tell me she was up to no good, I didn’t…”

“…Listen to her,” three voices finished my thought.

“Hey, cut me some slack, here. This is a tough crowd.” Their honesty was brutal and I was almost ready for another.

“We call ‘em like we see ‘em, Mulder. You know that, man.” Langly, the voice of understated reason.

Byers was the voice of a little more reason. “You’re hurting now, Mulder, but she’ll come around.”

He looked as if he wanted to say more in reassurance, but the slight color in his face was a dead give away to his embarrassment.

I brought them up to speed, almost chuckling at the changing expressions on their faces. Frohike offered his services as a go-between, but I turned him down. Something told me Scully wasn’t in the mood for his intervention, no matter how well-intentioned it would be. The Gunmen were quite fond of her, one more than the others and there was nothing they wouldn’t do for her. At that point, a companionable silence settled over us, bottles occasionally clinking, gulps and belches the only punctuation.

Sitting in the cool light of the bank of monitors lining what passed for their ‘living room’ wall, I watched Frohike round up the last of the empty beer bottles, almost making his shot into the metal wastebasket.

“S’wellll, another fine mess I’ve gotten us into,” he slurred as the bottles crashed into the side of the basket, against the floor and, lo and behold, inside the trashcan.

“What’re you doin’ here, Muller? Man you should be wit the realllllyeee hot Agent Schullleee. She give you a night off?”

<Yup, lots and lots of ‘nights off’> “Already been down that road, Fro hikkkee.”

I had stopped after the fifth or sixth Dark Horse Ale. Aside from it not being my favorite, I didn’t want to drive home with any more of it in my system. I lurched forward on the floor, carefully—in my semi-drunken state—considering exactly how to navigate the floor while pulling my legs under me heading for the standing position. It wasn’t working…and neither was my mouth.

“Look guys, it’s been fun, but I gotta go.” Grabbing onto the mockery of a torchiere lamp, I attempted to hoist myself up. Instead, I hoisted myself into Langley’s legs as he materialized in front of me. He was glowing. Or the lamp was glowing.

For some reason, he had decided to play ‘designated driver’ although we weren’t going anywhere. I tried not to ponder the mysteries of the Gunmen’s universe.

“Hey, man; Mulder, whoa, let me help you up. Where do you think you’re going? Byers, get his other arm.”

Two thirds of the Gunmen tried supporting me. I thought the other third needed their help more than I did, but my ability to argue with them seemed to have been numbed considerably. That was okay, too, because I didn’t feel much like arguing. I felt like going home.

“I’m fine. I’m just going home.”

I watched Frohike plop down onto the couch on what resembled all-fours, then tilt sideways and fall over on his side, passed out or asleep before he probably realized it.

“Mulder, you’re in no shape to go anywhere. Langly, let’s get him into bed, let him sleep it off.”

I was drag-walked into one of the bedrooms; or what passed for a sleeping room, that is. It had to have been Byers’ because it was neat as a pin.

“I can make it, guys, no prob.” Langly’s blond locks floated in front of my face as they sat me on the edge of the bed, pulling off my shoes and socks.

They somehow managed to strip me to my boxers and get me situated under the blankets. I wondered which one of them was going to tell me a bedtime story.

“Let’s go check on Fro.” That sounded like Byers.

“Sleep well, Mulder.” That I know was Langly.

“We’ll keep an eye on her for you.” Frohike had managed to crawl his way over to us.

“G’night, Scully, love.” I think that was me.

~~~~~

J.E. Hoover Building

9 June, Day Two

~~~~~

 class=”calibre1″>8:00AM

The humidity and suffocating heat of the day did nothing to help how I felt. I arrived at our office, not quite sure how I’d gotten there. My suit looked freshly pressed and I had definitely showered. However, a slight hangover seemed to have made the trip longer than I recalled.

Although I was used to getting little sleep, I usually managed to rest. Last night was anything but restful. It had begun as a drunken haze. Not so completely out of it that I’d passed out, not so blitzed that I couldn’t recall some of my thoughts when I awoke around three a.m. My makeshift ‘bed’ which also resembled a couch had not been the most comfortable.

My mind had refused to shut down, thoughts of how I’d left Scully’s apartment two days ago running over and over like a video stuck on rewind. Unresolved issues tried jumping the fence, but instead of floating over it like so many counted sheep, they crashed into and fell away from that fence. I didn’t like how we’d left things and now I had an entire week without contact looming in front of me.

Skinner had left a message that he needed to see me right away, not a good sign. I had visions of being assigned some new, wet-behind-the-ears partner or being chained to desk duty. I was sure that the look on my face would tell him my state of mind without my saying a word.

“Come in, Agent.” As soon as I was seated, he came around to the front of his desk and surprised me by sitting in the chair next to me, the one usually reserved for my partner.

“Scully told you about her leave, I presume?”

While he hadn’t wasted any time getting to the point, I could see by the look in his eyes that he was concerned about me, just as he was for her. All I could manage was a brief nod, afraid that if I tried to say anything now, he’d see just how close to the surface my emotions actually were. I simply nodded, finding a certain fascination with my nails.

“Look Agent, Mulder, look, it’s probably for the best right now.”

I must have glared at him because he hastily added, “I don’t know what happened, Scully didn’t say a word. I do know that you’re both hurting and I don’t like to see either of you like this. Give it a chance, Mulder. Give her some space for whatever she needs right now.”

I didn’t know whether to be surprised and just a bit embarrassed that he was being so personal with me or angry that he knew. Too many emotions, way too much time to indulge. Something that came easily for me. What I really needed now was less feeling and more doing. Unfortunately, with Scully gone my choice had been made.

~~~~~

Baltimore

Afternoon, Day Two

Mom had finally agreed to let me have some time alone. I had convinced her that I’d be fine, she could go to lunch and spend the afternoon with some friends.

The truth was, I needed some time by myself. I sat down in the kitchen, grabbing an apple from the fruit bowl. My mind wandered, blessedly focusing on absolutely nothing. The day was warm, a mid-June heat wave had settled in, seemingly for good. The only evidence of oppressive heat was the glare of the sun outside the window. The central air was working just fine.

The ringing of my cell phone brought me back to the here and now. I set the apple down, running my hand over the tea towel.

“Scully.”

The line was quiet and I panicked thinking it had been Mulder. I stabbed at the ‘end’ button. And it rang again. Attempting to control my overreaction, I flipped it open again.

“Scully? Is that you? Don’t hang up, it’s me, Joani Spark.”

I breathed a heavy sigh I’m sure she heard all the way in Boston. “Joani, how are you? Is something wrong? Something new with the case?” I realized I hadn’t given her any time to respond.

I heard her laugh and I smiled in response. God, it felt so good!

“Can you write down your questions and fax them to me? I’d be happy to reply on form 2OB.”

Her comic reply actually made me laugh.

“Ok, Joani, one question at a time. First, is everything ok?”

I could hear her getting settled in to talk, chair legs scraping the floor, a drawer closing. Still moving around a bit, she told me, “Sure, everything’s ok, but I was worried about you. Now, look, I know from our time together that you tend to like your privacy. That’s ok with me, Scully. I just, uh, get the feeling that you might want someone to talk to. I uh, um…Geez, I’m tripping over my words, being presumptuous thinking you’d want to talk to me and…”

Her words trailed off and I felt instantly bad. What was it about me that made people feel they had to back away? Couldn’t ask me personal questions? That I wasn’t willing to share? Well, maybe it was that I usually wasn’t willing to share and seemed to make that patently clear to anyone that knew me even slightly. I knew the reasons, knew how hard I fell each time I opened up and had my feelings ripped apart. It was easier to keep everyone at bay rather than try to figure out who should be allowed in. Especially after I had let in the one person I thought I could trust with my life…

“Joani, don’t apologize, really. Actually…no, everything’s not ok, but I’ll be fine. Just taking a little time off.”

I had copped out again; told her I was ‘fine’ when I was far from it. She had to know; she’d seen enough to tell her something was very wrong. I found myself considering talking to her, but was worried about crossing the professional lines. It wouldn’t be an issue if it were just my problem, but I felt uncomfortable talking to her about Mulder, especially since he wouldn’t have the chance to give his side.

I wondered if my mind was really an open book when she seemed to know my thoughts.

“If I can be so bold, I don’t think you’re fine, Scully, not at all. I’m just going to say this, get it out, and then you can tell me to shut up or hang up or whatever. I like you and I like Agent Mulder, a lot. Now I know we haven’t known each other too long, but I’m going to take a guess here and assume that the two of you are more than work partners.”

I tried to stop her there, but she was on a roll and nothing short of hanging up was going to derail her.

“Actually, it was Mitch who pointed it out to me.”

Now I was really surprised and a bit taken aback. Were we that obvious? Had we jeopardized our work as a team in their eyes?

“We’ve both seen some very successful work and personal partnerships that have worked rather well. But, that’s beside the point. You don’t need my justification, or anyone else’s for that matter. All I’m trying to say is that I think that somehow Mulder’s hurt you, hurt you badly, and you need to talk to someone about it. There! I’m done.”

Her breath whooshed out as if she had used up all her breath just to get that out. To be honest, I was both touched and amused. I had liked Joani early on in Connecticut. Her guilelessness and easy-going manner coupled with her sharp investigative sense were endearing. She and Mitch made a strong team. Not many people take the chance and speak their mind to me. “Joani, thanks.”

She chuckled. “For what?”

“Just thank you. Are you in Boston?”

“Um, uh, actually, I’m in D.C. A.S.A.C. Whirll asked Mitch and me to meet with A.D. Skinner. We’ll be here for two days.”

Now it was my turn to laugh. “Can you meet me at The Georgetown Deli tomorrow? It’s right across the street from the Hoover Building at the Pavilion.”

“I’d love to.”

~~~~~

J.E. Hoover Building

10 June, Day Three 8:00AM

“Come in Agent Mulder, A. D. Skinner will see you now.” Kimberly ushered me into his office and I took my seat solo in front of him. I had no idea why I was here and hoped it wasn’t for round two of the ‘just between us guys’ talk. I appreciated what my boss was trying to do and, in reality, I considered him much more than a boss to me. However, discussing my personal relationship with Scully, especially since it appeared to be non-existent at this point, made me uncomfortable. If anyone was going to work this through, it would be me, on my own. So, I said nothing, choosing to wait for him to begin. And he did, without preamble. “I’ve got a case for you, Mulder.”

Simple, direct, to the point. I was thankful for that, but wondered again whether he was about to assign me a new partner or ship me off to an empty desk. I nodded slightly, letting him know I understood and indicating he should continue. Skinner paused just briefly and I could feel his dark eyes scrutinizing me, probably looking for signs of my emotional state. Scully often told me that she could read my emotions, my feelings, in my eyes. Believing she was probably correct, I studiously held the most neutral look I could.

I figured that if he asked, I could assure him that I was holding it together. At least during the day. At least when I had to talk to him or anyone else. At least when I wasn’t alone. Other than that, I was doing very well, I thought derisively.

“Actually, it’s two cases back to back. The first is an assist for the local law enforcement. I’m sending you over to them on loan through the VCU. They’re working on an old unsolved case with a new victim at the request of a rather ‘high ranking official’.”

Although I tried half-heatedly to mask it, I’m sure he’d seen my eyes roll. “So, I’m being pimped for the political machine.” I know I saw the miniscule smile play across his lips in response to my statement. I also knew now wasn’t the time to acknowledge it.

“You’ll be working with Sargent Stillman at the 34th Precinct.

I was already to move on. “So, Sir, what’s the next case?”

He picked up a rather thick folder, almost an inch of paper stuffed between the manila covers. Laying the casefile on the desk next to him, he leaned back to his desk, his arms across his chest, his ankles crossed. I’d learned by observation that when he came out from behind his desk and perched on the front of it, he was about to go into more detail or, when it pertained to my case reports, ask more probing questions. In either case, it was as if he needed the physical proximity to verify the situation. I sat up straighter.

“You’re going under cover. The specifics of your role will be discussed with you shortly. This assignment is likely to require several months of time. It’s being split into an initial phase of intense research followed by role submersion. No one is to know of your involvement. That includes Agent Scully. You’ll be taking it on the road, so to speak, in the D.C. area for awhile. You’ll then be flown to northern New England, Burlington, Vermont, specifically.”

If he wanted my attention, he’d gotten it. While it was occasionally true, it was out of the ordinary for our cases to involve this much preparation. For both the case in New Hampshire and our time in Arcadia Falls, we’d spent the sum total of one or two very long days in preparation and then we were off. The fact that I was being asked to do some rather deep research and then assume my role locally first led me to a lot of questions; a lot, a lot of questions. ‘What was the local tie to my going to Vermont? Why me? Why couldn’t I tell Scully? Was this a supposed X-File?’ I hadn’t even realized I’d voiced the questions until I heard him calling my name.

“Mulder? I was about to get to the details just as you went off there for a minute. The case involves a local drug cartel with possible international ties. It seems to have migrated into northern New England, close to the Canada, possibly with ties across the border. We believe that a few of the kingpins are submerged in and around D.C., hiding in plain sight. However, this isn’t your textbook drug running cartel. From what we can tell, they’ve managed to draw in some other black market subsidiaries, forming an interesting ‘shopper’s mart’ which is drawing from some high levels of society.”

“If I may ask, Sir, you still haven’t explained why I’m being assigned. I mean, this sounds more like a case for the DEA and maybe even the NSA, even the special Drug Enforcement arm of the Bureau. I could be here doing—”

He stopped me in my tracks, clearly seeing right through my feeble attempts. “Agent Mulder, on what grounds are you questioning your assignment to this case?”

No amount of explaining was going to change his mind. “I’m only saying that I think you could use my services on more pertinent cases. This appears to be a straight case, not an X-File. I’ve got plenty of other cases open and could better serve the Bureau here.”

Skinner picked the file up, started to hand it to me and then seemed to think better of it, slamming it back down on the desk next to him. Several pages of a report fluttered over the side of the desk and floated to the floor. He was very carefully controlling his anger.

“Look Mulder, I know what you’re trying to do, but it doesn’t work that way, nothing will be resolved that way. Now, I’m going to say this once and only once, so try to restrain yourself from opening your mouth until I’ve finished. This is well outside the realm of our professional relationship. I am talking to you on behalf of the Bureau, but as your friend. Pull yourself together, Mulder, and focus. Take this assignment as instructed. If she’s meant to be with you, it won’t matter one iota where you are at the time or how long you two are physically apart. I know somewhere deep inside that quirky head of yours you know this to be true. Now, get your ass down to your office and contact Sargent Stillman at the 34th. Have I made myself clear?”

All I could do was nod. Other than those times that Scully spoke for us, I don’t think our boss had ever seen me truly speechless. Although he probably wished for it.

~~~~~

Home of Maggie Scully

Day Three, 10AM

“Dana, why don’t you invite Joani here for lunch.”

As soon as the words left her mouth, we both laughed. She sounded as if she was asking me to bring my high school best friend home so we could engage in girl talk. Her hand on my shoulder, she just shook her head, smiling.

“Are you going to stop into the office?”

My mother was still able to surprise me, catch me off guard, “Mom, I’m on leave. There’s no reason to stop in.”

“I never asked you if there was a reason, Dana. It’s just that I know you. You’re serious, no, make that compulsive, about your work sometimes and you haven’t been to your office in a while.”

I didn’t want to think about her question because it would lead me places I didn’t want to go to. I hadn’t really managed to forget about Mulder, not at all. I wasn’t even sure that’s what I wanted to

do. I had some success pushing him to the background, to the quiet static zone where I often stored thoughts too painful to bring to the forefront until such time… Until I didn’t know when.

The nights were the worst. I had hours of silent darkness around me where my mind would engage itself, unfettered by anyone or anything else. It would start the same way; a swirl of images sometimes attached to feelings so strong that I’d feel profoundly sad, unbelievably joyful or frighteningly anxious. The images varied but remained constant in that they somehow featured Mulder or Mulder and me. It often became difficult to recall which were actual memories and which were scenes I wished were real.

<<The sun, sea and breeze of the beach at Nahant, Mulder’s hair caught in the sunlight and tossed by the breeze off the surf, holding his hand, warm and comfortingly large around mine, turning my face to his as he held the back of my neck with his other hand, gentle in his touch, loving in his look, our lips meeting as the salty spray is caught on an updraft, showering us lightly before his kiss becomes insistent and I’m lost in the sensations, lost in him. The depth of his love washes over my soul until I realize my body is flush with his, seeking his strength, feeling his arms fold me into him.>>

I rouse with a start; the loving feeling sliding away as the white froth of the waves washing the shore rush back out to the sea. I realize all too quickly that I’ve erased the actual scene from memory and supplanted it with one I prefer. One that speaks of all the time before Boston when he and I were in a better place, a new place. I roll over, burrowing into my pillow, biting back the sadness. I’m awake, then, and frustrated; frustrated and angry at myself, at Mulder. I want to rage at him, to clear the air between us, to give him the chance, but I can’t. I am frustrated at myself for how easily I have allowed Diana Fowley to come between us again and even angrier that I would absolve Mulder of any wrong-doing. I am too damn confused.

And I usually find sleep when the tears blur the images. So, that is why my mother cannot be farther from the truth at this moment. I do not want to go to the office, our office. I am still too raw, the wound too open, to potentially face him.

“Mom, I need to talk with her about loose ends from our last case. She’s in town; I’d like to show her around a bit. Thanks for the offer, though.” I kissed her quickly and went to get dressed.

Meeting Joani gave me a reason to put on regular clothes and get out of my hanging around the house shorts and tee. I pulled on a pair of off-white linen capris and a matching, cap sleeved, U-neck stretch tee. Since we’d be doing a little walking, I slipped on my low-heeled, red leather mules. Grabbing my keys, I headed for the car.

~~~~~

Washington, D.C.

Georgetown Deli

10AM

I had already found a table overlooking the busy street. I smiled as Scully climbed the short flight of steps to the raised platform seating and extended her hand to me. She was just a little surprised when I wrapped her in a brief, but firm, hug. I stepped back quickly; realizing she probably thought me a little too familiar since our relationship had been solely professional. I moved back toward my seat, giving her some space and indicated that we should sit.

For someone in the midst of turmoil, she looked relaxed, but I remembered just how well Scully could mask her true feelings. Her eyes were slightly puffy, whether from lack of sleep or tears, I wasn’t sure.

“So, Scully, shall we order something? What’s good here? I was hoping there would be a local Sita’s.”

She smiled at the last comment, hopefully not noticing my nervous rambling. She and Mulder had spent some time in the original site in Connecticut, but Mitch had become enamored of Sita’s French Cruller’s in Boston. Scully suggested the Dutch apple bagel with cinnamon cream cheese and some latte.

I glanced out the window, wondering what she was seeing. Crowds of vacationers and capitol city employees made their way hurriedly, darting in and out and around each other, a colorful stream of clothing caught in the vibrant mid-morning sunlight. The weather was cooperating today. I had experienced ‘summer in the city’ in Boston, in New York and in D.C. In my book, it was not my idea of fun. Today was picture perfect, clear, breezy and in the 70s. I had hastily pulled on my Anne Klein jeans skirt and red cropped top. I laughed inwardly when I noticed that except for the difference in color, Scully and I had both opted for almost the exact same pair of shoes. Well, great minds and all…

When Scully still hadn’t turned away from the window, I touched her hand, trying to get her attention. “Hey, you ok?”

She looked puzzled, as if she were seeing me sitting across from her for the first time. “What? Oh, yes.”

“Where were you just now?” The server set down our lattes and the bagels, cream cheese served on the side at our request. She bowed slightly and walked away. Placing both hands firmly around the warm, slender mug, she brought it to her lips, her eyelids lowering, trying to hide what she knew I’d seen in her eyes.

“Look, Scully, I already told you I don’t want to pry, but I got the sense that you wanted to talk. I want to listen. So… out with it.”

She seemed to brighten a bit at my words. I had tried the ‘beat around the bush’ style in the past and it didn’t seem to work well for me. My direct, albeit rambling style was more effective. She set her mug down, but didn’t relinquish her hold on it, an anchor to whatever she was fiercely holding onto.

“It’s not that easy, Joani.”

“That’s true. So, take your time.”

“So much has happened, so much has changed and I don’t know why, don’t know how it came to this.”

We both paused for more drink and food, the silence a brief respite. I took my cue from her, leaving her to speak when she was ready. She closed her eyes firmly, as if she were trying to will her memories away. And then she looked directly at me.

“An Agent from Mulder’s past, from our mutual past, has come back into the picture—”

Before she could continue, I supplied, “This Agent had a personal relationship with him, didn’t she?” <Yup, Joani, jump right into it with both feet>

Scully smiled, amused and then nodded. She then turned serious once more.

“It’s complicated, but each time this person has been involved, there has been deceit, lies and havoc. She and Mulder were in a relationship a long time ago, before I became his partner, but she has drifted in and out our work lives and his personal life more than once.”

Her face clouded over then as the server topped off our lattes. I tried to let her know that she didn’t need to continue if it was too painful, but she just shook her head, telling me she really needed to get it out.

“The last time resulted in her supposed death, but not before she drove a wedge between us. Oh, we managed to pull through, work it out, but she had him doubting me and placing his trust in her. She came back from the dead right before I arrived in Boston,” her voice broke slightly and she brought the mug up to her mouth although she didn’t drink from it, “telling Mulder she needed his help to keep us both safe.”

Her words came forth in a rush after that and her voice dropped into barely a whisper as she described the scene at the Aquarium.

I know my mouth was hanging open in sheer disbelief and understanding. All the pieces fell into place, their distance, her anger right below the surface, Mulder’s silent desperation. God, how was it possible for one person to so completely destroy others’ lives? I wanted to soothe her with words, words that would assure her that everything would be all right in the end, but I couldn’t do that. I knew that her relationship with Mulder had to have been formed on trust, respect and love; neither of them struck me as people who would venture into a relationship lightheartedly. But what she told me would seriously rock the most stable, long-term relationships.

I had tears in my own eyes, but bit them back. She had enough to deal with already. “I don’t know what to say, Scully.”

“You don’t need to say anything. It just feels good to tell it to someone.”

“What’re you going to do?”

“Now, that’s the 64 thousand dollar question, isn’t it? I honestly wish I could answer it. I think my leave and then temporary reassignment will help me get some perspective, but I know Mulder has to be hurting right now, too. He’s tried to apologize, several times already. Every time I think about accepting his apology and trying to work it out, I draw further inside myself, shore up my emotions, block him out. I don’t think I can be around him right now.”

She grew quiet, having drained her emotional and physical strength with her words. “I do love him, you know? I just don’t know if it’s enough.”

I was crying with her at that point.

~~~~~

Georgetown Deli

One half hour later

Scully actually laughed and caught us both off-guard.

“I can’t believe I’m letting this get to me so much.”

That said, her face was once again unreadable. I was amazed at just how fast she could hide her feelings. It was like watching a fast moving weather front. We New Englanders were familiar with them.

The server topped off our lattes and we sipped in silence for a few minutes. We found ourselves looking into each other’s eyes over the rim of the mugs. For some reason, that brought a shared chuckle and another round of laughter. Probably liberated tension…

“Maybe you just need the space for now, you know?” I wasn’t sure what else to say, if there was anything else to say.

“I really want to believe that the time apart will help us, but I can really only speak for myself. My rational, deal-with-this-logically side tells me that Mulder’s right about us needing to talk it out. He’s actually no prize in the open expression of emotions department, either, but, and it’s a very big ‘but’, he’s a lot more forthcoming than I am. I think we helped each other open up once we started our relationship in earnest. I just seem to have trouble letting go of my upbringing. I guess I take after my dad; he was a man of few words and even fewer expressed emotions.”

All I could do was nod and listen and that seemed to be all she needed from me.

“So, the side that wins out for me is the one that says to just tuck it away and I won’t have to deal with it. I guess I’m one pretty messed up woman right now. Some company I am, huh?”

I patted her hand and reached for my credit card. Mitch and I had our meeting to get to. Scully and I did the usual, ‘no-let-me-get-it’ word and gesture duel, but I ultimately won.

She had gone to the restroom while I walked to the register on the other side of the deli. I turned to watch for her and saw Mulder approaching her as she rounded the corner from the restroom. I wasn’t sure whether to interrupt or not, so I did the next best thing; I pretended I hadn’t seen either of them and headed for the exit where I could watch and listen, but not be seen. The place was small, but had some great hiding spots…

To his credit, he kept his physical distance from her, probably knowing she’d bolt if he came too close. A few people had moved in-between us and I could no longer see them. I quickly moved over by the ficus trees. So sue me, I didn’t want to leave her stranded. If I could provide an easy out, I wanted to be nearby.

I heard her say his name with the most heartfelt combination of surprise, confusion and sorrow. “Mulder?”

His reply conveyed his anguish and his hope. I imagined the look in his eyes that I couldn’t see. “Scully. I miss you.”

Her carefully held together mask started to crumble. Her eyes alternately searched his and studied her hands gripping the hem of her tee. When she finally looked up to him again, her words were halting, but her tone was once again firm. She was back in whatever last bit of control she had.

“I can’t, Mulder. I can’t do this now. Here.” She momentarily looked like she really did want to talk to him right now and right here, but that fleeting look passed quickly. Her voice however belayed her resolve. I hoped Mulder hadn’t missed the emotion that was still there, although she was trying hard to hide it.

He didn’t push her; instead he turned, his long arms by his side, to let her pass. I just about shattered watching his eyes…and his heart…follow her out the door while he physically stood his ground. This situation was just so darned complicated.

From Scully’s perspective, I could understand how she felt about the betrayal of trust and I could see how deeply she had connected with him. I didn’t think I would be able to forgive so easily, either. But, I didn’t know Mulder’s explanation, so I was reluctant to judge him too harshly. He struck me as a man with a good, if sometimes troubled, heart. Looked to me like someone with a dysfunctional home life as he was growing up. If Mitch could hear me now, he’d admonish me to stop with the pop psychology…

I don’t think he even saw me as I approached Scully and followed her out to the street.

She never looked back. And he never stopped looking after her.

~~~~~

34th Precinct

Day Three

2:00PM

<Well, it was progress> At least that’s what I kept telling myself about my chance meeting with Scully this morning at the Deli. Talk about fate. Or maybe it was coincidence. When I saw her walking toward me, I swear my stomach was in my throat. Not to mention the sweat I know broke out on my palms. She looked beautiful.

Beautiful in a hauntingly sad way.

Scully’s emotions play out in her eyes and what I saw in those eyes was so complex that I wanted to stand there and decipher every minute detail.

I was heartened that she hadn’t looked particularly angry, but that may have been because I’d caught her off guard and her surprise overwhelmed the anger. It may have also been because I was seeing what I hoped was there. And I was over-analyzing again…

I sincerely hoped she knew that our meeting was by chance. I hadn’t known she’d be there, but felt as if I’d been handed another chance to work things out. I left there hoping that she really did think there would be time for us to talk.

I also realized that my own anger had dissipated. I wasn’t sure why; it wasn’t as if we’d had a chance to talk nor had I been given any idea when we might talk. Maybe it was just seeing her, seeing all that I wanted and needed.

I thought I might be able to better focus on my next assignment now that I’d seen her. Might be able to quell the anxiety of not knowing what was going to happen or if I’d be able to talk with her. But, the truth was, I wanted to talk to her more than ever.

In the last few days, I had tried to call her several times at her apartment and on her cell. Each time I got voicemail or the ‘customer is out of range’ message. It hurt to hear her dispassionate tone asking me to leave my name and number. But I did, trying to keep the pleading from my voice as I asked her to call me, to let me know she was okay.

‘Okay’… a funny word when used to describe how someone who recently decided her partner no longer trusts her might feel. A very ‘Scully’ word, almost like her saying she’s ‘fine’. Woefully inaccurate.

I knew she had to have gone to visit her mother and thought about calling her there. At some point, my pride got the better of me and I refused to give in. I wasn’t in the mood.

And that lasted all of about ten seconds. I was a study in conflicting emotions, my psychologist’s mind supplied.

I had to call, had to know that she was all right, what she was doing. More than that, I just had to hear her voice. God how I’d missed hearing her modulated alto tones, sometimes sweet as a dulcimer, sometimes as commanding as the strains of a French horn, but most often, full of love and depth of emotion showered upon me. I basked in her voice, in her love.

I was on my way to the garage when my cell chirped. My initial hope,

that it might be Scully, crashed hard when I heard Frohike’s voice. Every time the damn phone rang, I allowed myself that one hope, although I knew better, especially after our unplanned meeting not three hours ago.

I was ready to speed dial Maggie when Frohike called. “This better be good, little man.”

I hoped he caught the fact that I had little patience for anything other than what I wanted to hear; he had somehow found Scully and convinced her to come back to me. The fantasy life of Fox Mulder, alive and well…

“It is, Mulder, it is. You on a secure line?”

“You called me. You tell me. The point, Frohike.”

“I’ve got some information for you about the case over at the 34th Precinct.”

The funniest part of this conversation was the fact that he was whispering. The man was probably at that den of inequity they called ‘home’. Unless someone had obtained access and had planted a listening device, there was no way anyone could hear him.

“I haven’t even told you about that. How could you possibly know? No, no, don’t tell me how. I don’t think I want to know. So, out with it.”

I had reached my car as I paused, waiting to here Frohike’s information. I knew that he and his cohorts could obtain information more easily than the government; heck they could scoop the world leaders with the access they had to ‘information.’

“Mulder, we shouldn’t talk about it here. Can you swing by?”

“Not now. I’m on my way to the station. Anything I need to know?”

I hoped he hadn’t heard the exasperation in my voice. I really owed the Gunmen a lot. They’d provided Scully and me with information and assistance over the years. Having to deal with a bit of paranoia, a bit more paranoia than I already had, was a small price to pay.

“Ok, buddy. Just do me a favor and be very careful with this guy, Stillman.”

“How the heck…?” He refused to say anything more. He’d somehow found out who I was going to meet and alerted me to something untoward with the officer.

I started the ignition and was about to disconnect when Frohike spoke again. “Mulder? You heard anything from Agent Scully?”

What could I tell him? “Yeah, I ran into her this morning in the Deli.”

“And?”

“And, I saw her in the Deli. Look I’m not being cryptic intentionally, but there’s nothing else to say.”

And he wasn’t going to let this alone. Scully had a spot in his heart; heck, she probably had more than a ‘spot’ elsewhere in his perverted mind and body. It was obvious he was worried about her, about the two of us.

“Ok, I can take a hint. I just hope she’s ok. And I hope that you’re trying to work this out.”

I had pulled out of the garage and was headed to the Precinct. I couldn’t help my reaction.

“I don’t know if that thing that passes for a mind can wrap itself around this thought, but try it anyway. It takes two. I’ve been trying to get her to sit down with me and just talk. I can’t make her. You know that.”

“That I do, Mulder, that I do.”

I’m sure he could probably ‘see’ my mouth hang open and then slam shut again.

“Ok, buddy, I’m heading for the Precinct.” I flipped the phone shut and headed out.

~~~~~

“You must be Agent Mulder. Sargent Stillman, Ben Stillman. Nice ta meet ya.”

Ben pumped my hand so heartily I thought he’d dislocate my shoulder. To say he was ‘burly’ would be an understatement. There wasn’t an ounce of flab anywhere on the guy and he towered over me by a good two inches. Jet brown eyes sized me up under twin furrows of wiry and course salt and pepper eyebrows.

“Yes, Ben, I’m Mulder.”

He slicked back a head of wavy dark brown hair that was graying at the temples as he ushered me into his office. Frohike’s warning rumbled to the forefront as I scanned the office. The typical accoutrements, a few awards, law enforcement books and trade journals lining veneer bookshelves and the requisite coffee table. The rest of the office told me he didn’t have a lot of time to spare—there was paper and more paper everywhere, stacked on any available surface.

He walked behind his desk and swept his arm out in front of him, indicating the requisite guest chair for me. “Sit, sit. Now, talk to me Agent Mulder.”

I was surprised. He was supposed to know I was coming and I was under the assumption I’d been sent to provide assistance from the Bureau.

“What exactly is it that you want me to talk about?” I decided to play it close to the vest, although I entertained the idea that the Gunmen could be wrong about Stillman. He seemed nice enough. However, for the sake of arguement, he was getting no more out of me than absolutely necessary. And that meant I needed to take some control over the direction of this conversation.

“Assistant Director Skinner tells me you contacted the VCU. Tell me about the case.”

He shifted side to side in his seat, the leather upholstery and the worn metal hinges groaning and creaking under his weight. “Well, yes, that’s right. We’ve got ourselves a pretty nasty situation here. Involves two or three initially reported missing women who turned up under mysterious circumstances. The case had been closed until we turned up another possible victim.”

Something wasn’t jiving. “Two or three women? Is it a matter of not being able to identify gender?”

He shook his head animatedly, waving one large hand in front of his face, just to make sure he knew I’d understand. “No, no, no. We know they’re women, but we’re not sure the third victim can be linked to the other two. Only some of the evidence is similar. That’s one of the things I need your help with. We’ve got some good guys here, but their expertise in this kind of case is limited.”

I was surprised. It wasn’t as if the city didn’t see it’s fair share of brutality. I had checked and most of the force here had been around for awhile. Something wasn’t setting right. “So, tell me about where and how the victims were found. Do you have the case files? Pictures?”

He grabbed three rather sizeable folders and set each down facing me. He then proceeded to open each file, allowing me to view the 8 X 10s of each woman. To describe them as brutal and savage crimes would not begin to do justice to what I was looking at. I wanted Scully here to interpret what I was seeing. She would give me a base, a starting point for my investigation.

“They found each of them outside of a local dance club; different clubs, but all similar in venue. Initial body scans and base level screens indicated no alcohol. The question of other drugs is still unanswered.”

I wanted to know why. Running tox screens was pretty standard in this type of case. I said as much, but his answer was evasive. “Well, the labs have been backed up. We won’t be able to get to that until Monday at the earliest.”

Now I was really stumped and growing more suspicious. “Why the long wait? Has the blood at least been drawn?” He gazed down at his desk and when he lifted his head, his eyes would not meet mine. Classic avoidance and hiding behavior if I’d ever seen it.

“Uh, well, that would be a big negative.”

Great, now we’d start talking in stilted cop lingo.

“Well, what can you tell me that would be a ‘big affirmative’?”

He smiled. I was relieved. It wouldn’t make Skinner happy if I’d pissed him off from the start.

“I can tell you that this is going to be one helluva case, Agent Mulder.”

I thought he was probably correct in that very professional assessment.

~~~~~

Hegel Place

Arlington

Thursday, 11 June, Day Four

10:00AM

I wasn’t sure why I’d decided to come. Every part of me said this was a bad idea, it was too soon, I wasn’t ready. And yet I got in the car and found myself driving to his apartment. It had only been a day since I’d run into him at the Deli. It seemed so much longer.

Twice, I decided to turn around and go back to my mother’s, but it felt too much like running away. I knew we needed to talk, I owed it to him to tell him how I felt to his face, to let him see my face. Although I’d wavered since that fateful day, I was no longer unsure.

Mulder had made his feelings pretty clear to me that day and, although I knew he was sorry for what had happened, I also believed he had made a decision for himself—and ultimately, for us. He couldn’t trust in me enough. If he did, he would have been up front with me initially and then believed what I had to tell him in the end.

The trust wasn’t there any longer, hadn’t ever been there…possibly. It was as simple as that. I would give him what he needed. His freedom. I felt as if there was nothing else in my life that had been this hard.

My mother had tried to talk to me after spending the better part of the week listening, encouraging and soothing me. I valued her point of view, I truly did, but she couldn’t possibly know exactly how I felt and how sure I was that I was giving Mulder what he wanted and needed. She wanted me to ‘not act so rash’, ‘give it more time’, wanted to know exactly what I was running from. And that was really the crux of it all. I would give her the fact that I had a history of avoiding confrontation when it came to my relationships, but I’d learned to do so while trying to work through some horrendous situations. Being the good mother that she is, she had patiently explained that Mulder wasn’t Daniel and he wasn’t any of the other men I thought I loved. She pointed out to me instance after instance of just how loving Mulder had been with me and I couldn’t disagree with her on those points. But I still kept coming back to the most recent situation. She had finally stopped; telling me that I would do what I knew was best.

I wasn’t sure why I suddenly felt so lightheaded, but also clear thinking now. I assessed my feelings toward him. I loved him, no question. What was questionable was the fact that I couldn’t stay with someone, even if the love existed, if I knew I didn’t have his trust in me. I wasn’t able to feel noble about what I was doing. ‘If you love someone, set him free.’ Setting him free would be the hardest thing I did, but I had to find myself again.

I was willing to give our professional partnership another chance if he would consent. Our time apart would give him a chance to decide.

As I pulled up to the red light several blocks from his street, I let my head drop to the steering wheel. I was exhausted and slightly dizzy and that was just from thinking about what I planned to do. Once again, I wasn’t sure if I could go through with this. I knew he’d be emotional and I just didn’t have it in me this time to tend to his emotions. I was feeling very needy right now, but I’d be damned if I let him see that.

The light changed and I covered the last few blocks, parking across the street. I didn’t see his car, but he might have left it at the Bureau. I parked across from his building, turning off the engine, leaving the keys in the ignition.

I was frozen; couldn’t move forward or back. I let my hands drop from the keys and the steering wheel, settling them in my lap. I felt as if I was waiting for some sort of divine intervention. At this point, ‘eeny-meeny-miny-mo’ would have worked just as well. o? Stay?

I shored up whatever reserve I had remaining, pocketed the keys and opened the door. Locking it and slamming it shut, I crossed the street quickly. I stopped at the main door to his building, reaching up to touch the cool lettering identifying the address as Hegel Place. “The real is the rational, the rational is the real.” From Hegel’s Philosophy of the Right.

It was funny how this quote came to me. One of the first times I had been to Mulder’s place was on our return from a very aggravating case. It was late and the extra distance to my place seemed too far to travel with both of us so tired. I had already started leaving an overnight bag in my trunk and in his just for this reason.

As we walked up the steps to the entry, Mulder had come out with that quote. I was so tired that I was ready to just ignore it. The man is intellectually brilliant and wont to spout off at both the most opportune and inopportune times, so I wasn’t surprised. However, he also decided to share with me the source of the German Philosopher’s quote. I pushed ahead of him, sure that if I lingered, he would begin a very cogent, if dull, narrative of the meaning behind rational and real and their interchangeability. An accompanying slideshow wouldn’t have been far behind.

Lucky for me, he was as tired as I was and chose not to wax philosophical on me at that time.

I entered the building and decided to take the stairs. I was wound with nervous tension I needed to relieve and was probably also buying more time, delaying the inevitable. I mentally ran through what I wanted to say, but also realized that unless he let me speak uninterrupted, it would never come out the way I intended.

After knocking several times and calling his name, I used my key. Despite the time, it was quiet and shadowy inside. Even Mulder’s retired neighbors seemed to be out for the day.

His leather jacket hung on the coat rack, its perpetual home, even in warm weather. As I brushed past it, the scent of well-worn leather and Mulder’s dusky essence filled me. It momentarily rendered me motionless, evoking emotions recently buried I couldn’t allow to resurface. I forced myself to move past it. Moving into the living room, I noticed that the Native American throw usually on the back of his couch was open and laying across the arm nearest the fish tank. I picked it up, holding it to me and then quickly folded it in half and replaced it over the back of Mulder’s leather sleeping place. I realized that I hadn’t stopped smoothing the blanket and quickly pulled back, moving away from the couch.

It had been clear to me that he wasn’t home from the minute I entered. However, I couldn’t stop myself from meandering. I had no purpose here now, but couldn’t seem to pull myself away. <Masochist> My eyes wandered over his belongings, the items I knew so well, the feel of the place where I’d spent so much time with him.

I walked over to his desk, parting the upturned slats in the blinds to gaze out at the day. It held so much potential, but I couldn’t draw any comfort from it. Letting my fingers trail over the warm glass panes, I smiled at the memory of the masking tape ‘X’s that graced this window so many times in our earlier years together, a beacon to those who would deign to share bits and pieces of information Mulder craved like a junkie.

Letting the slats fall back into place, I turned to my right and bent down lower to follow the sometimes darting, sometimes languid movements of his fish. I absent-mindedly recalled how we had spent one evening naming the then five tank mates. After a lengthy, and often rather humorous debate about whether or not names like ‘Spot’ and ‘Rover’ could be used for fish as well as dogs, we had taken turns. The only requirement was that we had to be able to recognize the fish we named, no easy feat since most of them were goldfish. Mulder, of course, swore that he could tell them all apart. Given his visual memory, I didn’t question him, but I had my doubts.

I had chosen ‘Fox’, ‘Queequeg’ and ‘Tofutti’. We were in a rare, silly mood that night. Mulder was a bit more predictable with his two choices, ‘X’ and ‘Alien’. Sadly, one month later, Queequeg was found floating at the top of the tank and received the ‘big flush’. Strange how I could not seem to keep any Queequegs alive…

I then wandered into the kitchen, aware that I was studiously avoiding the bedroom. I knew I couldn’t possibly go in there. Too many feelings. Too many memories of warmth and contentedness and nights of passion so hot they would melt the polar icecaps. I knew I would be overwhelmed if I ventured in.

I took a juice glass from the cabinet, turned on the tap and poured myself some water. After gulping the contents and setting the glass in the sink, I clutched the countertop, feeling distinctly faint. I took a few deep breaths, loosening my death grip on the counter’s edge and reached for the dishtowel. Wetting it slightly, I brought it to my forehead, allowing the cool wetness to steady me. My sleepless nights were taking their toll, or so I thought.

I found myself wondering how Mulder was coping. I’d seen him too many times in the throes of despair, sadness, deep soul-shattering fear to know that his fertile mind could keep him occupied with no time for rest. When I’d seen him in the Deli, he had looked worn, but not depleted. And I pushed that thought, that image, from my mind quickly.

Filling the glass from the sink, once again I downed more water. I suddenly couldn’t get enough and chalked it up to my worry. I needed to get out of here; I was becoming sadder by the moment. It was clear Mulder wouldn’t be back anytime soon and I knew that if I sat down to wait for him, my resolve would weaken.

I headed for the elevator since I wasn’t sure if my legs would carry me down the stairs.

~~~~~

Baltimore

12 June, Day Five

Mid-day

Dana had gathered her belongings early in the day, saying she wanted to get ready for Monday from her own home and do some laundry. I was going to miss having her around. I knew she needed her own space and more privacy, but it wasn’t often that she and I were able to spend this much time together. Even though the circumstances that brought her here were less than joyous, it made me feel good nonetheless that I could help her.

I was still very torn about how all this would play out for them. The problem, as I saw it, was that they were both right. Fox had hurt Dana very deeply and he knew he made a grievous error in their relationship. How they were going to fix it when she wasn’t willing to talk to him, I didn’t know. I did know that I’d done all that I could and it was now up to them.

~~~~~

Georgetown

There were many things I wanted to be doing then, not the least of which was disappearing without a trace so I could get out of going into the office on Monday. I had enough work to do on the case out of the 34th Precinct and the beginnings of my undercover work to keep me going for weeks. It could all be done at home.

And I knew Skinner would have none of it. And I would be running away, backing down from meeting this situation head on.

But, I was at an utter and total loss in regard to how to get Scully to talk to me. It was now almost two weeks since that day I had begun to think of as D-Day, as in, ‘Diana-Day’. It was alternately known as ‘Aquarium Day’. My mind’s way of trying to make light of a situation that was anything but.

I’d never seen her so mad and hurt at the same time and I couldn’t blame her for that. What had me completely thrown was her seeming unwillingness to even talk to me about it. She was calling all the shots and I had no say. I had thought our relationship was built on two-way communication, faith in each other, respect for the other’s feelings.

And I was obviously wrong, had misunderstood along the way, been led to believe that we wanted the same thing here. Why should I have thought that my ability to read this relationship would have been any

different than my ability in the past?

Maybe because I truly thought we knew each other…

How could I have been so far afield? This is the woman I love, want to spend the rest of my life with. And I couldn’t get her to talk to me. This was a side of Scully I had no skills to cope with. How could I have not seen this coming?

When I’d used up my indecision and questioning, I moved into anger. I vacillated between questioning her, questioning myself and then becoming so blindly angry with us both, I couldn’t see straight. The problem was, I’d been angry with myself since what I’d done finally started to sink in. Oh, I’d known that being with Diana in any capacity had the potential to enrage Scully. I could even understand and accept the fact that she had desperately needed me to believe her that day. What I still could not fathom in the way she saw it was why she thought that showed I didn’t trust her any longer.

The woman has my trust, my heart, my soul and I’ll be damned if I can find the way to show her or tell her.

~~~~~

J. E. Hoover Building

Monday, 15 June

8:00AM

To look at Agent Scully, I might never have known that she was dealing with a life event of great magnitude. Although she looked a little thinner and her eyes lacked their usual brightness, she had obviously gotten some rest during the week.

I wanted desperately to inquire into what had transpired between her and Mulder, but knew that line of questioning would have been met with silence. I was pretty sure that they were comfortable with my knowledge of their relationship, but we had tacitly agreed not to discuss it, especially while working.

“Come in, Agent.” She took her usual seat and glanced instinctively to one side, to the seat usually occupied by her partner. I wondered if she had even told Mulder about this meeting with me.

and Scully wasn’t one to normally engage in it, so we were off to a good start.

“I’m fine, Sir. About my request?” She had definitely been in a hurry. I knew she was trying to avoid her partner, but she had to tell him.

“I need something more to go on, Scully. I need to be sure it has nothing to do with the X-Files and that you plan to return.” I watched the one small chink in her otherwise solid armor.

“Um, I do plan to return, Sir. It has nothing to do with my work on the X-Files, I love my work.”

I nodded, processing what she wasn’t telling me. “How long, Scully?” She was going to work for this if she couldn’t tell me more. She had a way of holding back and not dealing with her real feelings. While I could most certainly relate and didn’t expect her to share them with me, I did want her to process it through.

“Two months, Sir. I’ve talked to Dr. Ashley over at the pathology labs and she could use me to help identify the white paste, as well as, to assist them with preparation for the incoming class.”

“Isn’t there a northeast meeting of the forensic pathologists organization coming up?” I had done my homework over the weekend when her email came through. I had already been aware of Dr. Ashley’s request to the Director, channeled down to me, as well as, the upcoming regional meeting in early September. We would all be served, Scully getting her needed time off and away from the Bureau. Quantico getting valuable assistance on the loose ends of the disappearance case and the Bureau reaping the benefits of Scully’s knowledge from the meeting.

“Yes, Sir, there is.” She looked puzzled. I’d caught her off guard with my research.

“Your request is granted effective on tomorrow, 16 June.” I stood and moved behind my desk as I let the other shoe drop.

“You’ll need to let Agent Mulder know of your temporary assignment and agree to share your findings on the paste and consult with him as needed on his cases. Are you clear on your new assignment and the conditions?” To her professional credit, she merely nodded and stood to leave.

She was no more than a foot from the chair when she stopped, reaching for my desk. I rounded the corner, holding her elbow to steady her. “Agent? What’s wrong?”

She took a deep breath, shaking her head, one hand at her mouth. “Scully? Let me call 9-1-1.”

“No, Sir, I’m fine, really. I just need to sit for a moment.” She allowed me to guide her backward into the chair. That gesture alone spoke volumes as to exactly how she was really feeling. I barked to Kimberly to bring me some water, not wanting to leave her sitting her by herself until I had figured out what was wrong.

As I had predicted, all the fuss was not sitting well with her and she waved me away after thanking me for the water. She stood, albeit a little shakily, telling me she needed to go talk to Mulder. And I was not about to let her leave just yet.

“Is this the first time this has happened, Agent?” I stood in front of her, between her and the door.

Her eyes told me she was about to dodge on the answer. “Really, it’s just a little spell and is already passing.”

Some color was returning to her face and her eyes appeared more focused, but I was still concerned. “How many times?”

With reluctance, she told me it had happened to her just once before and had ended as quickly as it had begun. She described a tingling feeling and then intense dizziness. I didn’t like the sound of this at all and told her so.

My concerns were met with a weak smile, an assurance that she’d see her own doctor and her reminder that I had asked her to talk with her partner. I made a mental note to check up on her again that evening and bid her luck with her meeting.

I wondered what the hell Mulder was going to do when he found out about her assignment and if she would tell him about her dizziness. Someone knowing she would not share her health situation out of some misguided need to handle things herself.

~~~~~

Basement Office

9:30AM

My resolve was wrapped tentatively around me like a slippery cloak, ready to slide off at any minute. I turned the knob on our office door, bracing myself for what I had to do. My earlier light-headed feeling had disappeared only to be replaced by a pit in my stomach.

Mulder was busy at his computer his glasses perched on his nose, his hair falling across his forehead. He glanced up as I walked in and his typing ceased. He looked as if he wanted to say something but the words never came. Finally, he managed a version of his usual, ‘Morning, Scully’, that was devoid of emotion.

I swallowed hard. I hated myself for how I felt and how I was treating him and realized that I needed to act now or I’d lose my nerve. “Good morning, Mulder.” I walked toward his desk, sitting in the chair beside it. I tried to meet his gaze, but was finding it difficult. I needed to get this out and get out.

“I have something I need to tell you.”

He removed his glasses and I knew his next action would be pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. He did not disappoint me. He set the glasses down and turned toward me, his hands on the arms of the chair. “Scully, I—”

“No, Mulder, don’t say anything. Let me talk.”

His brows furrowed slightly and then his carefully schooled neutral expression returned. He knew the gist of what was coming and was trying to prepare himself. For a fleeting moment, I had second thoughts. It would be easier to try to forget about Diana and let him love me through it. I could easily get up and walk over to him, touch his hands, look into the depths of those hazel eyes…and loose myself. There would be security there, his arms holding me tightly to him.

But that scenario wasn’t real life, wasn’t my life at this point. That scenario meant that I could forget, that my feelings weren’t real, that I had forgiven him for not trusting me enough to believe in me. I wasn’t ready for that. I had come to the conclusion that one day I might be, but that time wasn’t now.

I pushed away the companion thought; would he wait around until I decided? It wasn’t a fair thought and I couldn’t allow myself to go down that road now.

“I’m taking a temporary transfer to Quantico to help them with the identification of the paste substance and to work with the incoming class, possibly teaching a few courses.”

I expected his questions, but I didn’t expect his initial silence. When it seemed to stretch, I stood, thinking that he would not respond and, in fairness, knowing that he did not have to. He didn’t

owe me anything. I was the one leaving.

And how the hell did this all get so complex?

He reached out, grasping my arm harder than I think he realized, almost as if I was his lifeline to a safe harbor just out of his reach. “Can’t someone else work on the identification, teach the classes? What will I do without you?”

<That, Mulder, is the question, is it not? What did you already do without me?>

“Skinner tells me you already have a case to work on.”

“You are going to return, aren’t you, Scully?” He needed confirmation.

“I plan on it, Mulder, I just don’t know when. I’ll be going away to a conference in early September, so it won’t be any earlier than mid-September.”

His face fell. “That long?” And then he tried to regain his composure. To anyone else’s eye, he did a fine job. But I knew him too well and I could see a mixture of sadness and anger right below the surface.

He still had not let go of my arm and I hadn’t moved away. I didn’t know what to say or how to answer. What he really wanted and needed to know was if we’d see each other between now and then. I waited him out because I knew that he would decide what he was really asking me.

He then released my arm gently, one hand pushing into his pants pocket, the other raking through his hair.

“Can I call you, Scully?”

Oh, God, I didn’t want to hurt him anymore. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Let’s play it by ear.”

Whatever attempts at easiness had been there earlier had now disappeared. He couldn’t have been more serious if he had been made of stone. “Mulder?”

He returned to his chair, but didn’t sit. Instead, he looked at me and then walked around the desk again. He used the low monotone he usually reserved for his slideshows and our more intimate interludes when he responded. “Well, then, I guess we’d better get the last few case reports done before you leave.”

I was stunned by his calmness. Until I realized he was tamping down his emotions. Classic Mulder style when he felt either betrayed or unloved or that someone he loved was leaving him. And God only knew how many people Mulder had loved had left him. I was just one more person telling him he was unloved and that I was leaving.

I hadn’t fallen out of love with him. That much I knew. I would love this man until my dying day. However, what I’d thought of as ‘our’ love made me realize that all that had come before, at least for me, was not true.

I thought that what Mulder and I had was unabashed, openly shared, beautiful.

The only thing I knew now was that somehow I had to put much more distance between us. If this relationship was truly one-sided and he really didn’t want me, I needed to start facing that fact. If I had misread him and he really did care about me— I couldn’t think about that now and I wasn’t even sure there would be anything I could do.

I wasn’t young or foolish enough to believe that love also meant no mistakes, no hurts. We had both been down those roads in other relationships before. The truth of love meant that the relationship would survive the mistakes and the hurts.

If it were a strong enough relationship.

~~~~~

J.E. Hoover Building Monday, 15 June 10:00AM

I wasn’t sure if I should call and, if I did, what I would say. I only knew that I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to know more about this enigma in the form of a very self-directed, assertive, private man. A private man who sometimes seemed to wear his heart on his sleeve; at least where his two star Agents were concerned.

I didn’t know why I was having such a hard time picking up the phone and just calling him. Maybe it was just nerves, but I wasn’t usually one to stand on ceremony. Then it hit me; I could discuss my meeting with Mulder, Court and Spark.

And I was sure he’d probably see right through my ruse.

So I decided to do it anyway. It had been just an added bonus that I happened to be in D.C. at that time. He didn’t need to know that I was placing the call from the Director’s office in the Hoover Building, either. It seemed that A.D. Skinner had kept his word to talk to the Director about a transfer option. I was not entirely sure I wanted a transfer, wanted to give up the life of the Field Office, but I was pretty sure I needed to know more about this man.

Kimberly told me she’d put me right through. I held my breath waiting for the sound of his terse baritone. “Skinner.” One word just about said it all…

<It’s A.S.A.C. Whirll, Sir.>

I could almost hear the slight smile in his voice as he pointedly reminded me that I was to call him ‘Skinner’ and I rephrased my greeting.

“To what do I owe this call?”

My carefully rehearsed plan to discuss the meeting seemed a distant memory as I stammered, sure he was probably either laughing or drumming his fingers on his desk waiting for me to get to the point of the call.

<Well, I wanted to let you know that I think our Agents are on the road to making some headway in tying up the loose ends from their Marblehead case.> Emboldened by his silence, I rushed along the rest before I could allow myself to back down.

<Actually, I’m in your building right now, calling from the Director’s Office.>

There was barely a pause before he spoke again. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why are you upstairs when you could have just come to my office? I’ll see you in five minutes, A.S.A.C.”

With that he had hung up and I was left holding the phone, staring at the receiver. I thanked the Director for his time and headed straight for the restroom. I leaned into the sink for a little support, telling myself to get a grip. I was clearly behaving like smitten woman rather than a woman supervisor in the F.B.I.

Patting my face with a wet paper towel, I headed for the stairwell.

~~~~~

I was a little surprised to get her call—and from inside the Bureau. I was puzzled as to why she didn’t just come to my office, but I supposed it was just proper etiquette to call first. I found myself pleased to hear her voice. And with that thought, I reigned in my runaway mind.

It sounded as if my recommendation to the Director about the A.S.A.C.‘s promotion might be realized. I was happy for her; she was a good Field Supervisor and deserved the recognition. She’d probably get her own command here in D.C. And I realized I was quite happy about that.

Just then, Kimberly had buzzed in to say A.S.A.C. Whirll had arrived. When she walked in, I thought she looked a bit nervous, as if we were meeting for the first time. I found that strange coming from someone as forthright and self-confident as she was. True, we hadn’t spent much time together, but in our interactions she had always been rather sure of herself. The woman I was seeing now was just this side of shy. Maybe I’d hit the nail on the head; I was seeing the woman and I didn’t even know her name. I’d checked her file, but had never looked past her accomplishments.

~~~~~

I took in the scope of the office, his office. It was actually rather standard issue; the requisite public figure on the wall, the national and local accoutrements, the Agent grilling seats in front of his desk and the very prepossessing desk and chair. It was spacious, much more so than mine.

He grasped my forearm and shook my hand, all business and politeness, and then ushered me over to the mini-living room area. I sat with my hands folded in my lap, first smoothing my hair, then fidgeting.

“I want to thank you for speaking with the Director on my behalf. He’s offered me a post here in D.C.”

He colored slightly, the pale red color contrasting starkly with his starched white shirt. “I believe in providing good Agents with upward mobility when I can do so.” He paused a beat and then asked me if I planned to accept.

The problem was I didn’t really know. Part of me was very excited and didn’t really feel I had anything to consider further. Another part of me would miss working in the Field Office, miss my Agents. Heck, I’d worked with some of them since their early days out of the Academy. I’d watched them teethe on their first cases, awkward, but willing to bust their butts to do the work and make it right. But I also couldn’t pass up this fast-track option. They didn’t come along that often and they hardly ever came along for women.

I wryly thought about just whom I was doing this for. And that’s when I saw his look linger on me for a hair’s breath longer than what seemed appropriate. Might have been my imagination, but I wasn’t hired for my lack of ability to read people and notice all forms of communication.

~~~~~

I realized, belatedly, that I’d probably blown my cool exterior, but damn, she was getting under my skin. I tried to sit up a little straighter, pull back from the closeness of her and paste the look I knew drove my Agents to nervous anxiety on my face. The problem was, I could feel the heat creep up from under my collar and if I allowed it to go any further, the top of my head would look like a lighthouse beacon.

So, I decided to inquire about her meeting with Mulder, Court and Spark. She told me she was concerned about Mulder, that he just somehow had seemed off his mark. I concurred, but assured her that he knew how to work around extraneous situations. I didn’t bother to tell her that he could ‘usually’ work around them. Mulder was sometimes rudderless, but was able to walk the straight and narrow when he had Scully to reign him in.

Except now he didn’t have her, in any manner, shape or form.

She nodded, telling me about the follow up investigations that were beginning now. She then asked me about Scully. That was a little harder and all I could share with her were the professional facts, her leave and work out of Quantico. But, she already knew that when only Mulder attended the meeting.

She was just stalling for some reason.

“A.S.A.C?”

“It’s ‘Kristy’, please. If you continue to call me by my initials, I’m likely to start to feel a bit like exactly what it sounds like.” Now I knew she was nervous. Her wittiness had turned into comedy. I could tell she was embarrassed when she seemed to glow in concert with her red hair.

“Well, Kristy, call me ‘Walter’, please.”

She smiled and told me she had to be going. She had a meeting later with the Director. He was waiting for her answer. I escorted her to the door and had my hand on the doorknob when she turned to me. And sent a mild shock through my system.

“Any chance you could show me someplace good to eat in town tonight, Walter?”

I hadn’t gotten this position for my lack of manners. I told her I thought I could manage it and that I’d pick her up at eight o’clock.

~~~~~

Monday, 15 June 6:00PM

“Speak.” I figured it might be him, but I wasn’t taking any chances. Minimal responses put the caller on the defensive, made him surrender more information or just decide to hang up.

“What’s with ‘speak’? Is this something new I have to look forward to?” Yup, it was Mulder. He was wound tighter than I’d heard him in the recent past. Oh, he’d had his days, hell, he’d has his years, but the last year or so had been kind to him. Lord knows the man deserved some kindness in his life.

Well, except for that night just about a week ago…

I decided to cut him some slack. “Just something new I’m trying, man, nothing to worry about. What’s up?”

He wanted more information about Ben Stillman. Problem was what I had, what we had, wasn’t much, yet. The guy was into ‘stuff’. I knew Mulder took most of our information seriously, but I doubted ‘stuff’ was going to cut it. He needed more, much more. “Well, Mulder, the guy’s not what he appears to be.”

“That much I know, Fro. Tell me something I don’t.”

“Where should I start?”

“Start where you’re not a smart ass, I don’t have the time or the patience right now.”

Yeah, wound tight…

“Ok, why don’t you meet me?”

“I’m already on my way downtown to run an errand.”

He suggested we meet at the Witches’ Window Bar across town. Byers and Langly wanted to join me, but I thought it might be overkill. Let’s face it, the three of us can create quite the stir. I mean, Byers is just so conservative, he stands out like a sore thumb.

Mulder had a new look…and that was putting it mildly. I pulled the van into a tight spot on the street and leaned against the driver’s door watching him walk toward me. No, I take that back. Mulder wasn’t walking so much as he was strutting in an ‘I’ve-got-my-Harley-parked-over-there-damnit’ sort of way.

His hair had probably used the greater D.C. area’s gel supply and some of the spikes looked sharp enough to cut myself if I got within five feet of it. So maybe I exaggerated; I’d still never seen him with so much hair going every which way. The dark shades he wore completely hid his eyes as they wrapped their way around to sharp angles near his temples. The shades surprised me. I could count on two hands the number of times I’d seen him wear shades even in the most brilliant sunlight.

Then there was the facial hair. He’d never rival my dashing looks…

He wore black and I do mean black. V-neck tee, jeans, thick-heeled boots, leather jacket. Now the jewelry was a new one for me. The single silver chain around his neck sat in the ‘V’ of his shirt, but it was the very small diamond stud in his left ear that really threw me.

“Whoa, Mulder, what’s with the get up? Little early for the Halloween parties aren’t you?” He cuffed me in the ear. “And the leather jacket. It’s hotter’n hell out here.”

This time he just kept walking, knowing I’d follow him, but I could see the smug satisfied grin. I followed him into the Bar and we took a small round table in the back corner. He pushed his shades up into that hair. I knew they’d be safe there, the spikes would surely hold them in place.

I was a little surprised at his choice of meeting place. It’s not that Mulder was a stranger to some of the, shall we say, seamier parts of town, but this place was out there even for him. The biggest thing it had going for it was the large servings and the servers. We’re talking hot babes, luscious, delectable servers.

“If you can drag your attention away from the hired help for a minute, I’ve got a few questions for you.” Mulder grabbed his draft and literally belted it back. I knew he’d mentioned an undercover case and I was trying to figure out his angle. I knew he wasn’t about to fill me in. He set the mug back down and with no great show, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. I’m sure I must’ve given him a strange look because he actually smiled.

“Shoot; what do you want to know?”

“What’s up with Ben Stillman? What should I be watching for?”

“Well, we’re still digging, Mulder, but let’s just say he’s not tied only with the Precinct. His roots go a little deeper into the community…and beyond. I’ve got Byers running a few phone records and Langly’s into his business transactions.”

He downed the rest of his beer and signaled for another. This had nothing to do with Ben Stillman or his undercover role. I was sure he was drinking to douse whatever was still going on with Scully. I decided to ask him. I could tell that underneath his relatively calm exterior, he was still hurting or angry or both. I could only imagine how Scully was doing with all of this; whatever this was. They were probably the closest friends we had. Heck, they were probably the only friends we had. I figured the worst that could happen if I tried to get more information was that he’d walk out.

“Hey, Mulder, before we talk about Ben, what’s up with, uh, you know, with…” I couldn’t finish. The look in those eyes, even in the dim lighting, had changed, hardened somewhat.

“What’s up with me and the delectable Agent Scully? Is that what you’re trying to ask so eloquently?” The man was good; I’ll give him that. Guess he needed to be in his line of work.

“Don’t mean to pry. I’m…uh…hell I’m just worried about you two. You seemed to have something really good going. I mean after all those years having the hots for her you finally get it together. Looked to me like she was all over you. I know you said something happened with that Fowley woman, but I thought ‘this is it, Mulder’s finally got his special one’. It’s been a while. Haven’t you two gotten it all straightened out?”

He looked at me wryly, almost squinting his eyes, concentrating, forming his response. “You are prying.” He grabbed for some peanuts, tossing them into his mouth with one hand and reaching for the next handful before he’d finished the first.

“Look, it’s fine. Just forget I asked and we’ll talk about Ben.” I couldn’t tell what was going on. This was bigger than anything I’d seen between them. “If you decide you want someone one to talk to, you’re looking at him.”

I was being scrutinized and it made me downright uncomfortable. I had no idea what was running through his head. I think the only person that ever truly knew what was inside was Scully. It was friggin’ amazing to watch their ‘non-communication’ happen. They’d finish each other’s sentences and sometimes, seem to carry on entire conversations with nothing but ‘looks’. How they could let that get away from them, I was sure I’d never know.

I tried glancing away, but he pinned me with that unreadable look. “What is it?”

He just shook his head. “Nothing; it’s nothing. You’re just a big sap, you know that, Fro?”

Now, there was something I didn’t hear every day. I’ve been called much worse and much better, but a ‘sap’? I had to set him straight. “What the hell’re you talking about?” Okay, so we now had three rounds of questions between us. I wondered idly if either of us would answer any one of them.

“Thanks. Just thanks. That’s what I’m sayin’” His words were becoming more slurred as he gulped at his fourth mug in less than an hour. “You sure do know how to show a date a good time.”

“Maybe we should get you home, big boy.” I started trying to hoist him to his feet, but he swatted my hand away.

“No, no, no. I’m staying right here. Not going home. Staying right here tonight.”

Well, good thing I had no more information on Ben. Mulder wasn’t going to be in the right frame of mind to process it. The big galoot. How the hell I was going to get the drunken man out of here, I wasn’t quite sure.

Not until I saw the other two thirds of the Gunmen walk through the door.

“We tried to reach you…”

“…but we couldn’t get through, so we thought we’d…”

“…find you. See if you needed any help. Looks like we got here just in time.”

I swore they’d really been twins. It drove me nuts when they finished each other’s sentences. It was cute with Mulder and Scully. It was sickening with Langly and Byers. I’d have to work on that later. In the meantime, they were going to help me get Mulder home.

~~~~~

The Willard Room

Washington, D.C.

9:00PM

I was much too old for this, had been out of circulation for too long to remember the little extras that used to seem to mean so much. I held her chair and guided her and it to the table, watching the light play in her coppery hair. The elegance of the dining room suited her.

She was dressed in a simple sleeveless dress in a dark brown that looked like velvet coffee. I was impressed by the understated elegance of her, the neckline of the dress falling just to her collarbones, a small pair of diamond studs in her ears, some sort of hair ornament that also looked like diamonds. This was one classy woman.

As I sat down and moved the cloth napkin from my plate, she smiled at me. I had surely died and gone to heaven a long way from the Hoover Building. I wondered when it was that I had noticed her. She must have sensed that my mind was wandering because her brows furrowed although the upturn of her lips remained.

“What’re you thinking? You’re so pensive all of a sudden.” She leaned forward slightly, her elbows on the table, her chin resting on her hands. The pool blue of her eyes drew me in. Things were moving a little too quickly and I was being swallowed whole.

“Oh, just wondering what I want to eat…I mean what we should order.” And now I’d lost my usual self-control, too. Well, she may not have known me for long, but she’d already seen a few sides to me. I was beyond the point of needing approval. I knew I liked her, liked her company and, if along the way, we shared some humor, that would be fine, too.

“Do you have any recommendations?” She took the proffered menu from the server, opening it. Less than two minutes later, it was closed and set down next to her as the sommelier arrived with a wine list. I glanced her way, one eyebrow raised. She merely nodded back at me, ‘you decide’. I ordered a bottle of Champagne Louis Roederer- Brut Premier and we sat in a few moments of companionable silence. I had glanced down to the place setting and looked back up to see her gazing at me, her hands now in her lap.

I decided to steer the conversation to more neutral topics. “So, how long will you be in town?”

“Well, the Director wants me to talk with some of the staff tomorrow and I need a bit more information from Mulder, but then I should be on my way.” Her voice was carefully composed, soft, but animated. She ended her reply on an upturn, almost as if she were waiting for me to continue. Heck, I was waiting for me to continue, I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to say.

“Will you accept the transfer and promotion?” This was really what I wanted to know, along with about a hundred other things about her.

“I’m so torn. Honestly, it would be the best career move I could make and I do like the D.C. area from what I’ve seen. I just hate to leave my Agents and staff. We’ve kind of grown up together.”

“Why don’t you bring a few of them with you? As an A.D., you have some latitude in hiring. Were you thinking about Court and Spark?” I had really liked these two Agents. They did a nice job of complimenting Mulder and Scully and, in all honesty, were about the only Agent team my leap-first-look-later male agent had ever played so nicely with. They would benefit the home office.

“You read minds, too? Actually, I was thinking about bringing them, if they’d agree. They’re two of my best and work well together. I’ve often wondered if there isn’t something going on between them. If there is, it’s discreet and their teamwork hasn’t suffered.”

“They do remind me of Mulder and Scully in so many ways, although Agent Court seems much more grounded than Mulder.”

“Don’t be so hard on Mulder. First of all, Court and Spark really liked working with Scully and him. Second of all, he’s a bright man, very intelligent. I could see that underneath the, shall we say, need to jump to conclusions that aren’t necessarily grounded in cold, hard fact? But, it’s easy to see he was probably in the top of his class. Nothing escapes him. Frankly, the Bureau needs more Agents like them; trained well, but willing to use their judgment, their experiences, look further than what’s right under their noses.” She leaned back as the wine steward brought the champagne to the table. As he held it in the white linen towel and uncorked the bottle, he turned it label side up for my inspection. He then poured a small amount into the fluted glass and handed it to me. I sniffed and then tasted it, nodding at him to pour more for us both. As I handed her the flute, her fingers brushed my knuckles, causing us both to glance up.

A slow smile spread across her face, but this wasn’t the smile from earlier. This smile spoke to me in a language I hadn’t heard in some time. Although admittedly rusty in that particular tongue, it was like riding a bike, you can always get back on again. I returned her smile, hopefully matching hers.

I realized that I had never commented on her assessment of my stellar duo as she held her glass toward me, waiting for the standard ‘clink’. “To new opportunities.” I tapped her flute with mine. “Yes.” Her reply left me wondering whether she was just confirming my toast or telling me she was accepting the promotion and transfer.

It hung between us for a few moments and then she broke the spell by sipping her champagne. “You’re probably right about Mulder. I just wish he’d allow himself to join the rest of the Agents in following protocol even occasionally. I’m always feeling as if I need to reign him in although he is extremely bright. He and Scully are two of the finest Agents I’ve ever worked with. I’d tell you they both make me want to rip my hair out, but I guess you can see they’ve already taken care of that.”

She laughed, bringing her cloth napkin to her lips. The waiter brought our salads and mini-baguettes, along with a homemade relish tray. The marinated mushrooms, chow-chow, bread and butter gherkins and baby carrots looked mouth watering. “What’s the corn concoction?” I smiled at her question. It must have been a regional thing. “It’s called, ‘chow chow’. Now, don’t ask me for an explanation. A friend once told me the derivation of the name, but it’s lost to me now. Here, try some.” I took the small silver serving spoon and placed some on her bread plate. She tasted it, telling me it was very good.

After a few glasses of sparkling wine, our meals arrived. I was thankful because I’d had little to eat all day and the beverage was going to my head fast. She looked ready to attack her salmon steak and green beans jardiniere. My Boeuf Borgingone and new potatoes had my mouth watering. Both of us sharing the need to quell our hunger, we ate with no further conversation. I did notice her occasional glance or gaze. Try as I might, I couldn’t read much in her look.

Laying her knife in the tines of the fork and placing her napkin next to her plate, she signaled she was sated. Once I was also finished, we both sat back. The server cleared the table and then asked if we’d like to adjourn to the patio for dessert and coffee.

I pulled her chair out and took her elbow as she stood. I wondered if she felt the slight buzz and languid slowness I was feeling from the combination of the champagne, the fine food and the company.

The patio was lit with strings of tiny sparkling white lights set into the trees and shrubs. Soft chamber music swirled in the air around us. We found an upholstered banquette with a wooden trestle table in front of it and sat down. A gleaming silver coffee server was set before us and the dessert cart was wheeled to the table. She selected a tart d’anjou and I chose the napoleon. I added some Tia Marie to the coffee from the selection on the cart and we sampled each other’s dessert as we sipped the coffee.

The air had cooled just slightly from the earlier warmth of the day and I saw her raise her shoulders and then wrap her arms around her waist. She was getting chilled. “You cold?” I slid a little closer to her.

“A little, I guess, but it really is beautiful out here.” She leaned against me as my arm wrapped around her shoulder. “You know, I really have to thank you. This was very nice; it was very nice of you to bring me here.”

As I drew her just a little bit closer to me, I told her she was entirely welcome and that I had enjoyed our dinner, as well. Feeling a little more emboldened than I had all day; I took her chin in my hand and turned her face to mine. I watched in the dim lighting as she searched my face, her eyes landing on my lips. And that’s when I brought my lips to hers, softly asking her if she was beginning to feel what I was feeling.

Her lips seemed to indicate that the feeling was quite mutual.

~~~~~

J.E.H. Building

Tuesday, 16 June 7:00AM

I wanted to pick up some files from the office before heading over to Quantico, but I didn’t want to run into Mulder. While having a day away already had helped, I still found my emotions much to close to the surface. Seeing him, seeing him in our office, would only awaken that which I was trying so hard to ignore.

Even going through my usual routine of getting ready, driving to my usual spot in the parking garage and getting into the elevator was setting me on edge. I needed to shore myself up. There was a pretty good chance that I wouldn’t run into him since it was so early.

As the elevator settled on the basement level, I took a deep breath. As I moved down the hall, I was sure I heard voices, both men. I stopped, trying to figure out who might be down here at this time of day.

Mulder. One voice was his. I didn’t recognize the other.

Something made me stop short of the door. From this distance, I could hear only odd bits and pieces. The exchange was informative at first; Mulder sounded as if he were providing information based on the rhythm and cadence of his voice. The other man occasionally asked questions. I though perhaps he was providing information to Mulder for his new case.

My curiosity piqued, I walked right up to just outside the door. Things became much clearer…

<Look, Agent Mulder, I just need to know to what extent you want me to go.>

“Do whatever you have to do, I want her found, I need definitive information.”

This was no case. It sounded as if Mulder had hired a detective, but why?

<All right. Can you give me the details, starting with the exact date and circumstances of her disappearance.>

‘Her?’ I wondered about and then dismissed the idea that he might be talking about Samantha. Besides, it just didn’t seem plausible that he’d consider hiring a private detective after all these years and with the ‘other’ resources he had at his disposal.

“Diana disappeared into the portal on 15 June. The circumstances were strange, but let me tell…”

I couldn’t and I didn’t wait for him to continue answering the question. I leaned heavily back against the wall right outside his office, our office, feeling as if the wind had been completely knocked from my lungs. My mind kept the broken record going, ‘he hired a detective to find Diana’. I had to get out of there as fast as I could, but I was rooted to the spot, my legs rubbery.

Then I dropped by briefcase; the echo seemed as loud as a bomb in the otherwise silent hallway. I heard Mulder, man of extraordinary hearing, ask the detective if he’d heard anything. He must have shaken his head because they continued.

Under the cover of their voices, I drew up the energy I needed to propel me to the elevator.

I didn’t remember the trip to my car, but I relished the sound of my briefcase thumping onto the passenger seat and my door slamming shut. I started the engine, but couldn’t seem to focus enough to move the shift lever into reverse.

<Damn! What’re you doing, Mulder?> I had no answer. I didn’t have Mulder, either.

~~~~~

Unique Salon & Day Spa

Lafayette Park & Farragut Square

17 June, Wednesday

4:00PM

I’d prolonged my stay. Heck, I’d over-stayed my welcome is what I’d done and there really wasn’t any good reason for it. Well, at least not in the professional sense.

And I didn’t need any damn reason.

I needed time to get back into my head after this case. If I were being honest with myself, I’d probably say what I needed was to get Alex out of my head. There wasn’t room in there right now for me and for him. He was muddying things just a bit much. I needed to keep things clean.

Damn Russian Yank.

I had shown up at the Spa on the recommendation from a friend of mine in the States. She’d been telling me that I needed to relax, get some perspective. She’s into a lot of that New Age crap, but she did have a point. I drew the line when she also suggested I brighten my wardrobe; told her to back off. I held back some of what I’d really wanted to say because of the friendship. So, that’s how I came to find myself laying on the massage table covered with nothing but a dark green sheet, candles burning on the shuttered window ledge, some unidentifiable strains of music that were strangely hypnotic and lulling.

The staff at the desk had asked if I had a preference for male or female massage therapist and I had scoffed at the question. I politely told them to just get somebody in there before I changed my mind. They looked a little frightened and I wasn’t sure why. Hadn’t they ever seen someone who was a little tense for their first massage?

I didn’t even lift my head from the face cradle when the MT quietly walked in. I never heard his shoes on the carpet or the door closing behind him. He spoke in hushed tones, telling me his name was Eamon and explained his approach. He seemed nice enough. He inquired whether I preferred oil or lotion and I groggily told him that whatever slipped best against skin was fine with me. That got a slight chuckle out of the rather composed Eamon. I could hear him uncap the bottle. Moments later, his oil-warmed hands were on my shoulders.

Time seemed to have escaped me. The sheet was still up around my middle back, but it was my arms he was working on now. I could feel the tension flowing from them. When he reached my hands, he somehow laced his fingers with mine and then used his other hand to massage each of my fingers. The feeling was exquisite and I must have sighed quite loudly. Eamon asked in a very neutral voice if the pressure was all right. I almost responded that it was more than all right, but merely attempted to nod.

Some time later, he told me he was just getting more oil for his hands. I drifted in and out of consciousness, but when his hands returned, they were gently moving the sheet lower on my back. He used a little more pressure and it felt wonderful. His hands moved in opposite directions up and down my spine followed by his thumbs pushing into the muscles on either side of it. The air was literally whooshing out of my body as he discovered muscles I hadn’t known existed.

At some point I noticed that the pacing and feel of his touch had changed and that he had not spoken to me in awhile. The lack of talking was of little consequence to me since it only interrupted my ability to float. The change was not all together unpleasant but was sending shivers up my spine. The room was too warm and I was in too much of a drowsy haze for it to be temperature related.

He was now making lazy circles just at the base of my spine and then migrating slowly up to a point in my lower back that almost seemed to lift me from the table. As soon as that feeling subsided, his hands would move outward, stroking my hips and then he’d start again with the lazy circles. I was becoming intoxicated with the strokes. I called out to him once in question, but got no response. And I was far too sleepy to call out again. When the sheet moved lower still, he tucked it in around my thighs. His hands were now on my behind alternating between firm kneading and softer, gentler swirling. Just what the heck did they teach in Massage School here anyway? It felt so damn good…

And just as suddenly as he had moved the sheet down my body; he drew it back up to my waist. I started to turn over; thinking he was signaling the massage had come to an end, but he placed a hand in the middle of my back indicating there was more to come. I was thankful since I didn’t think I could have really turned over if I’d tried at that point. Somewhere along the way, I had turned into just so much jelly.

His hands moved to my neck, gently moving my hair out of his way. With my head in the cradle, my spine was in perfect alignment, allowing him to thread his fingers into my hair and massage my scalp. I know I moaned quite loudly at that point. And that’s when I felt his lips in my hair and on my neck. At first I did nothing. Well, nothing other than moan even more. Then I realized that this was not what I’d paid for. But, before I could act, I felt and heard a rather familiar voice in my ear telling me to relax and enjoy it while I could.

I’d know that voice anywhere and couldn’t decide whether to just let my arousal take over completely or sit up and belt him. I was forced into the first option since he didn’t let up with his words or his hands.

I called his name but either he wasn’t listening…highly likely…or he couldn’t hear me, my words muffled by the carpet beneath the massage table. All I knew at that point was that the things he was doing with his hands were delicious and dangerous. My head felt as if it were about to float free of my body, my scalp tingling like a thousand small points of white light. I knew he had to be able to see the goose bumps I felt.

I tried to reach my hands back to…to…I wasn’t sure what I was trying to do other than take some measure of control in this situation, but he took both of wrists in one hand and held them together in the small of my back. I pulled them from his hold and let them drift back to my side reasoning that if he had to hold them there, that would mean one less hand to roam my body. I was nothing if not practical.

I did not expect to find him straddling my hips and I could hear the well-braced wooden table creak and groan. My head shot up from the face cradle, wrenching and trying to turn.

‘What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?’ It was the first and last thing I said to him.

It wasn’t that I’d run out of words; that wasn’t usually a problem for me. It was the feeling of his upper body leaning forward over my back, his hand cupping my chin in an attempt to bring his mouth to mine. The position was awkward, to say the least, but the man knows no boundaries… For that I was particularly thankful. My skin was ablaze and hot shivers threatened to short circuit me from the mere touch of his lips on mine and then his words in my ear, simple, but no less provocative, ‘What do you think I’m doing, Carrie?’

He slid his body along mine, then, his legs spread, framing my hips, causing the sheet to slip down my body. I could feel what must have been sweats, the soft stretchy feel of the fabric doing absolutely nothing to hide the very male quality of him from my bare beneath cotton covered body. He held my arms, bent at the elbow, against my side as he kissed my back, my shoulders. And his body rocked steadily and then with increasing pressure, against me. In my totally prone position, I could do little to respond other than grip his hands in hopes of getting some leverage through the use of my arms pushed into the table. The small hip wedge Eamon had placed underneath me provided me some assistance, but I was otherwise powerless. As much as he was powerful. He was silent, oh so silent…except for his groans and murmured words I would swear were Russian. They sounded highly erotic and exotic when coupled with my name.

I briefly thought about how he probably was no longer angry with me over helping Mulder and Scully flee. Then again, knowing what I did of Alex, this was probably payback. And sometimes it’s very sweet. I did not expect what he did next. After backing up and off me slightly, he pulled my right hand underneath my body and placed it between my body and the hip wedge. Bracketing his knees on either side of me and lowering himself back against my hips and over my back, he gently started rocking again.

The effect was enough to make me cry out, all sense of ‘spa decorum’ having fled when he mounted the table.

‘Alex!’

“You called?”

~~~~~

Basement Office

Thursday, 18 June

10:00AM

‘Mulder’

<Mulder, it’s me>

The sound of her voice was like a mild shock to my system. The last time I’d seen her had been on Monday. Monday, the day she told me she had asked for a temporary transfer. It felt like so long ago. Coming to the office each morning, knowing I wouldn’t be bringing her coffee, not having her to talk to about earth-shattering and profound information as well as quipping with her about nothing, was driving me nuts.

Let alone all the nights I went home without her with no promise of a later rendezvous.

I would be working alone with the very real possibility that she may not come back from her extended leave. I didn’t know how I’d go back, how I’d be only her professional partner.

I had caught myself several times wanting to just talk, about nothing, about everything. I had wanted to take her to lunch or go to a movie after work. I had to relearn our relationship and I wasn’t so sure I was a willing student. I was trying hard to give her some space, but wondering if my earlier thoughts about really leaving her were really right. I didn’t know if I could remain where I clearly wasn’t welcomed any longer.

‘Hey, Scully. What’s new?’

<I’m finishing the second opinion autopsy on the Hapskah case and need more information>

She cut straight to the work, no time to answer my more personal question. I didn’t want to show her how such a small thing upset me so greatly.

‘Shoot.’

<Well, I’m reading the initial report filed by the M.E. in Alexandria, but something’s not making sense. Let me tell you what I mean. I’m faxing you a copy right now, but look at it with me>

I pulled the phone along with me to the fax machine, grabbing the copy as she continued.

<It shows all the pertinent information up top, but lists Hapskah as Male. That’s my first concern. If they couldn’t identify the sex correctly, what else is going on?>

<Now, if you follow along a little farther, you’ll note the ‘cerebellar’ cyst. Now, we know that the cerebellum lies beneath the cerebrum just above the brain stem and that it coordinates the body’s movements. With the information it receives from the cerebrum and with the information about the position of the arms and legs and their degree of muscle tone, it helps the body make smooth, accurate movements.

<It would seem to follow that if this person of undetermined sex, and I’m sticking with the original identification, Mulder, truly presented with a cerebellar cyst, then…>

She could have been reciting the alphabet, the periodic table of elements for all that I cared for all that I was truly listening to her words. I was trying to follow along on my copy of the report, mostly. But, I had fallen under the spell of her voice, the cadence and the tone. I loved Scully in her doctor mode, intent upon the victim’s demise, working steadily to arrive at the cause or causes unknown.

I didn’t even register the question she had asked and wondered why she had suddenly stopped talking.

‘Scully?’

<I’m waiting for your answer, Mulder>

‘Uh, can you repeat the question? I think I have a bad connection.’

She sighed as one would tolerate a small child who hadn’t listened to her or his parent.

<I asked if my supposition made sense to you given the misidentification>

I couldn’t risk asking her what the supposition was again. I knew she had been speaking for quite some time and telling her I had allowed myself to be lulled by her voice wouldn’t have earned me any points. The truth was, I had felt as if I were starving for her, to hear her voice. I took a risk, knowing that 9.9 times out of ten her suppositions panned out.

‘I’m sorry, Scully. Yes, it does make sense. It sounds to me as if you have enough disputed information to call in the Chief M.E. from Virginia and report a gross violation of ethical and medical practice.’

<All right, then. Thanks, Mulder>

Damn, she was about to hang up. ‘Scully, wait. Don’t hang up, please.’

She remained silent for what seemed like eternity. <Why not?>

‘Can you meet me for lunch? Now, before you just tell me ‘no’, I remember we’re supposed to be having some time apart to think, but it’s killing me, Scully. How about just lunch, nothing but lunch, a quick lunch at a very public place?>

‘Fine, Mulder. Meet me at the Georgetown Deli. You know the one? At the Pavilion on Pennsylvania Ave?’

Before I could reply, the phone went dead.

~~~~~

Georgetown Deli

12:30P

I was having second thoughts and knew I shouldn’t have agreed to this lunch with Mulder. I wasn’t ready to see him face-to-face, in the flesh. Mulder is way too much, over the top at times and eye candy in the looks department. He can overwhelm my senses.

I recalled something Missy had told me after meeting him for the first time. She told me she could somehow feel our connection, said it was very strong. She had gone into a litany about his intelligence, how bright and witty he is. Then, in a way only Missy could manage, she told me that he looked good enough to eat, not to mention looking at me as if I were his own personal, tasty morsel. I’d nearly died of embarrassment. She had a way of moving from the role of earthy New Ager to down and dirty Missy in the blink of an eye.

But, hindsight’s at least 20-20 and I smiled inwardly, thinking about just how much I’d missed seeing my own, personal ‘eye candy’. And I didn’t know if it would be just a bit more than I was ready to handle. I was at once determined but angry with myself. I had my own private war going on inside and the skirmishes were moving closer to the front lines. The problem was, no one was winning; one side pushed forward while the other retreated but then the advantage changed. This was getting me nowhere.

I decided to leave. I knew it was wrong, knew I would further hurt him, but I knew what tended to happen to me when we were close enough to live each other’s lives and I wasn’t ready to be quite that subsumed. Not yet, maybe not ever.

And then I saw him walking toward the Deli, the light breeze ruffling through his hair. It seemed longer than the last time I’d seen him, but that didn’t make sense since it had only been about a week ago. The slight scruffiness wasn’t lost on me either, although I couldn’t figure it out. Most of the male Agents were very clean-shaven and this was somewhere between five-o’clock shadow and a very stylized goatee.

I froze, then turned and walked back to the table. I couldn’t let him see me attempting to walk out. Taking a few deep breaths, I readjusted my jacket, tugging on it hard enough to strain the buttonholes. I quickly ran my hands through my hair, pushing it behind my ears. The deep breaths weren’t working, my heart pounded in time with some strange rhythm I couldn’t control. I took a sip of water as I watched him walk in the door.

His eyes sought mine from his location at the front of the store, skipping right over and through and around the furnishings and people between us. He casually glanced to his left, seemingly considering the various wares in the gleaming stainless steel display cases. I watched him, the glass still in my hand, poised halfway to my mouth.

He paused to chat with the guys behind the counter as if he knew them. While it was within the realm of possibility he actually did know them, it was more likely his affability with strangers. Mulder was usually able to do a quick read, allowing him to chat amiably with almost anyone from anywhere. The man handed him a large bowl of full sours. I idly glanced down to the bowl already on the table.

He walked toward me, his eyes never leaving mine and, as much as I tried to will myself to look elsewhere, it was impossible. I managed to lower the glass to the table without incident, but my heart had taken up its unpredictable drumming once again. <Deep breath, slowly>

He set the bowl down next to the other, pausing to smile what I could only describe as ‘impishly’. “Hey, Scully.”

“Mulder.” I couldn’t think of a thing to say other than his name. I willed my hands to stay in my lap, so nervous I thought for sure that I’d spill my water or topple the pickles.

I wanted him to wipe the smirk from his face or I was going to do it for him. For some reason, it was grating on me. Maybe because it was his playful look and I wasn’t in a playful mood. I kept my face composed and his smile slid, dissolving into just so much neutrality. A stand off.

“Let’s order, Scully.” He signaled to one of the waitstaff, ordered a huge, multi-decker, loaded-with-meat sandwich with fries and an iced tea. I couldn’t eat; my stomach so knotted that whatever space for food previously existed was now filled with a raw hurt.

“Scully, what do you want?”

The waitperson looked from Mulder to me and back to Mulder, his eyes questioning my partner.

“A plain bagel, dry and hot tea, black.” I was afraid to put anything more creative in me.

Mulder looked at me questioningly, but said nothing.

He took a pickle from the bowl and placed it on his bread and butter plate, slicing it into more manageable pieces. He gestured toward me, offering me a piece, but I declined. “How’s the work going at Quantico?” He was living up to his side of the bargain, so far. Light neutral conversation. Testing the waters. Treading.

We had already talked a bit about my findings on the white paste. I was still further away from a final report, but had confirmed that the unidentified chemical was most definitely functioning as a catalyst or enhancing agent. I had also been able to determine that the heat we had both experienced when it was rubbed into our skin was the result of that same chemical. I had yet to determine the length of the reaction and what might have happened had we not been rescued. I also had no information regarding the possible drowsy and lightheaded state I had experienced.

Mulder listened to my every word, nodding, encouraging me to continue. He was clearly fascinated by my findings.

Or was it me?

He wore his deliberate attentive expression he reserved for deep interest in and attention to something new and yet undefined. His eyes, however, went deeper, searching my depths. <So much for ‘nothing more than lunch, Scully’>

“Wow, Scully! You’ve been busy.”

Our food appeared and I realized I was hungry. I figured my statement of the facts had pulled my mind back to an easier place where I could function in science, cold hard facts.

“I’ll send the final report to you and Skinner.”

I really wanted to end this discussion of the paste as it only served to bring back more deep-seated hurt for me. I could only work on the paste with tunnel vision focus. To allow myself even a moment outside of that focus was a certain trip into what I was referring to as my, ‘Mulder Madness’.

And Mulder had a bizarre need to force me into it. Although, in some fairness to him, I don’t think his goal had been to anger me. I just think that the same passion he has for his various truths sometimes spills into other areas. His filters are not always well-honed, allowing him to leap before looking.

Unfortunately, in this situation, that was not one of his finer leaps.

Mulder had wolfed down half of his sandwich and a good handful of fries when he just put everything down, his hands reaching toward mine on the tabletop. I pulled back instinctively; wondering with no amusement how long ago that had changed. The feel of his hands covering mine usually sent shivers of anticipation and warmth through me. Now, it frightened and somewhat revolted me.

I couldn’t allow him to touch me.

He noticed, drawing his hands slowly back away from mine, not knowing whether to use them to pick up his sandwich or put them in his lap.

“Sorry, Scully.” Two words that had been sadly slipping from his mouth more frequently.

He switched gears, moving us back to business. “I look forward to reading that report. I’d also love to talk with you about some of my theories as to how that paste works. I’m also very curious as to what happened to Diana when they sent her through without it.”

~~~~~

I knew I had shoved my foot right down my own throat the minute I said her name. Scully blanched, her face draining of color completely as her hands gripped the tablecloth. The look she gave me brooked no discussion; the name was off limits. But I plunged on.

“I know you don’t want to talk about her, but aren’t you curious about the portal? I have an idea of what they were trying to do and where the portal goes.” She was looking at me, but I could tell she was trying very hard not to see me.

“I should get going, Mulder. I’ve got an autopsy scheduled for this afternoon.” Her voice was deathly flat with an edge that made me cringe. She stood as if to leave, but I couldn’t let her go, not now, not so soon, not before I had a chance to tell her what I’d come to offer her.

“Scully, please sit down. Let’s forget the paste and its properties and the portal. Please. I need to talk to you.” She looked at me skeptically, one eyebrow barely arching, the look she reserved for me when she wasn’t certain what I had planned, but certain I did have something… Roughly translated, it meant, ‘go on, Mulder, but watch where you tread.’ I read her loud and clear.

She sat back down and I remembered not to touch her although I needed to badly, especially with what I had to say. “Scully, I’ve been thinking a lot since you left, since I caused you to leave.”

When she didn’t make any attempts to interrupt me, I continued. “I know I’ve hurt you and you still need time to forgive me, ” the brow arched a bit higher, but she said nothing, “I know we can find a way around our problems.” I should have sensed it then, but I was so focused on trying to get my point across that I missed the color rising in her face, although she still didn’t stop me.

“I’m willing to leave, Scully. Leave the X-Files, leave you, if it will take away your hurt and your anger. I still haven’t been able to determine what’s become of Diana, but I want to give you some resolution so I’ll continue my investigation, trying to find her.”

When I mentioned Diana’s name, I saw the storm warning signs, but couldn’t stop fast enough. Her chest heaved and then she started hyperventilating, her eyes searing heat as they locked with mine. I had said too much. I hadn’t wanted her to know of the investigation because I’d wanted to prove to her that Diana was indeed gone for real this time, wanted Scully to know that Diana had no other opportunities to come between us.

She looked as if she wanted to speak, needed to yell, but she was held in such a blind rage that no words or sound were forthcoming. She slowly rose again, placing a twenty on the table, and calmly walked to the front door. She didn’t hurry, didn’t rush. She moved with purpose, as if she knew she was out for a casual stroll without another care in the world. I easily reached her outside the main entrance to the Pavilion nearly knocking into a few shoppers. Grabbing her arm, I turned her to me, not caring who saw or heard. “Scully, I’m doing this for us. I’ve hired a detective and I’m doing some of the background work.”

She yanked her hand from mine, seeming to take in the scenery around us. And then I had an almost eerie replay of her anger at the Aquarium. “It’s true then? I didn’t want to believe what I’d heard the other day.” She must have heard my conversation with the detective.

“Mulder, you don’t have to leave me, I’m already gone.” She started walking away again, having pulled her arm from my grasp.

I called out to her as she moved across the street to the bus stop. “Scully, hear me out, please!”

She continued, never missing a beat. “Why on earth would you leave the X-Files?”

And I couldn’t resist throwing it back at her. “Do you honestly think I could continue without you? Besides, this isn’t about the X-Files.”

She paused, noticing two people staring, so she moved a few feet away. She spoke in a quieter tone, but the vehemence had not diminished. “Damn it, Mulder, why are you the person to find her? She’s dead! We watched her go through the portal.”

I needed her to look me in the eyes knowing she’d see my sincerity, but she was pacing, her hands on her hips, her face a picture of exasperation and defeat.

“Even in her death, she’s got a grip on you so tight she’s still drawing you to her. This,” she waved her hand indicating us having gotten together for lunch, “was a bad idea.” She turned on her heel and huffed off.

~~~~~

J.E. Hoover Building

Saturday, 20 June

8:00PM

I couldn’t sit at home anymore. As usual, my apartment had become an extension of the office, files everywhere. I needed to look in the files for a correlation I knew was there. This case from the 34th was becoming stranger by the day and what I was learning from and about Ben Stillman was only adding to the odd nature of the findings.

It looked more and more like the case of an extremely violent serial killer. Not that Scully or I had ever actually dealt with a non-violent serial killer… Even her autopsy report, showing cerebellar cysts as a mitigating cause of death did nothing to erase the images I had of the Hapskah woman at the crime scene.

What had me considering heading for the office was some of the information about Ben and the possible connections to the drug case I was preparing for. I knew that Scully would make the same tenuous connections, but I didn’t feel that I could call her. At least not until I had more to go on. Besides, I was going to have to find a way to get her help without tipping my hand to my undercover role.

I hastily gathered the scattered files and shoved them into my briefcase. I changed out of my basketball shorts and pulled on my jeans. I was halfway out the door when I thought about taking my Knicks cap. ‘Having a bad hair day’ didn’t begin to describe what I looked like. Lucky for me, weekend nights in the office were blessedly quiet. Probably because no one in their right mind was home on a Saturday night.

I couldn’t recall the last Saturday I was home…alone, either. Other than when working on a case that required all of our waking attention, I’d really gotten out more. While Scully and I both loved spending time at either of our apartments ‘doing nothing’, it had been her that helped me remember how nice it was to go somewhere, do something. She’d even relaxed about what she called, ‘PDAs’, public displays of affection’. We held hands, walked with our arms slung around shoulders and waists, occasionally kissed. We were discreet about where we were, but there were times when one or both of us was just overcome with the need to shower the feeling of the moment upon the other.

The week before we were to leave for Boston, she had completely surprised me. She had dragged me, willingly, to the department store to buy a birthday present for a friend. Well, maybe ‘drag’ is too strong a word. I would happily go almost anywhere with her, couldn’t get enough of being with her. We were walking through what I had termed the ‘minor lingerie section’. ‘Minor’ being anything but the really slinky, silky, ‘let’s-get-naked’ stuff. I had pulled out the largest, fluffiest bathrobe, holding it up in front of me, my eyebrows raised in question, ‘how about this?’ She grabbed the robe from me and wrapped it around my shoulders and head, drawing me to her. Before I could ask her what she thought she was doing or try to calm down Mulder, Jr., she was licking my face with that hot, sweet tongue of hers. The robe fell when I managed to take her tongue between my lips and pull her into a not-so-discreet kiss in the minor lingerie department.

<Aww, Scully…>

I made it to the office somehow squelching anymore thoughts about where else I might be tonight.

I set the files out on my desk and turned on the computer. I wasn’t sure whether the information I was thinking about was in my archived files or in the cabinet. My search started on the computer, the glow from the monitor the only light other than my desk lamp. It cast an eerie glow over increasingly eerie subject matter.

Something wasn’t sitting right and I couldn’t put my finger on it. The easy part was the seemingly slow work by the pathologist and the 34th Precinct. There was also the manner in which Ben seemed to be taking it all, much too good-naturedly given the crimes. Also running through my head was Frohike’s assessment, what little I had gotten so far. I made a mental note to call him again, although knowing him, if there were new information, he’d be dying to share it with me.

I located only one document among my archived files. A case from two years ago that I’d been asked to assist on while Scully was working in Chicago. Something about incorrectly performed tox screens and subsequent unidentifiable and untraceable drugs. The references were loose at best, but the fact that the victim was also a woman around the same age as the three current victims gave me pause. I saved the file and sent it to print, heading for the file cabinet.

That was when I heard the ‘bing’ of the elevator coming to the basement. In the deep and profound silence of a late weekend night, any sound seemed magnified. I quickly switched off the desk lamp and the monitor light, although I wasn’t sure why I’d done that. Probably instinct.

I drew my weapon and moved over to the door, realizing I’d left it open. I was able to move to the far side so I’d be able to see who it was in the hallway lit reflection off the glassed in area on the south side of the office. My weapon held up in the air in both hands, I held my breath. Approximately twenty seconds later, Scully and I were leveling our weapons at each other.

I had barely caught her sight of her in the glass when she whirled around the door frame in a crouch, gun firmly directed at me. We froze momentarily before I called her name, reaching over to push the butt of her gun down toward the floor. we were both breathing hard, the realization of what we had just done sinking in slowly.

She spoke first, “Jesus, Mulder, what’re you doing here in the dark?”

“Certainly not expecting you.” I intended the comment to sound flip, humorous. Unfortunately, it didn’t come out that way. Even to my own ears, it sounded much more sarcastic than funny.

She reached behind her to flick the light switch, but her gaze never left mine. “Sorry to disappoint you. I’ll be in and out quickly.” Her response delivered to match my tone, she re-holstered her Sig and prepared to move past me.

“Scully, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that to sound the way it came out. You just scared me. When I saw it was you, well…”

I reached for her shoulder as she tried to move past me, but ended up catching the hood of her light sweatshirt. The effect was almost comical as she was caught up short by her hood in my fist. She took an unexpected step backward when I stopped her forward momentum and I saw her small, but noticeable smile.

“Mulder, if I could get my hood back?” The smile softened some, but I could also sense that whatever moment might have been there had passed. I released her, not knowing what to do with myself. She headed for the filing cabinet and I decided to go back to my computer. I turned the monitor back on and opened a few documents, but found myself turning to see what she was doing.

She was reaching up, standing on her toes in her white Keds. For some reason, Scully in Keds brought a chuckle I quickly suppressed. Her hair fell loosely about her shoulders and a bit of her abs was bared between the waistband of her jeans and the cropped white sweatshirt. I was staring…and I was risking a Scully tongue lashing.

“So, Scully, never did ask you what brings you here.” I stroked the keyboard a few times hoping she’d think I was still working as opposed to openly watching her.

Her words punctuated by the sound of her fingers rifling through the files, she explained that she needed some information from an earlier case we’d worked on for her current autopsy. She was having a hard time finding it by the length of time it seemed to be taking her.

I walked up behind her, pushing my glasses back up onto the bridge of my nose. “Here, maybe I can help. Which case was it?” I felt her body still, almost stiffen in place as I leaned over her, my arms covering hers.

“I think it was the Sarah Marigold case in Normal, Illinois.” I was so close I could feel her although other than my arms over hers, our bodies were still a few inches apart.

~~~~~

Coming to the office had seemed like a good idea. I was getting nowhere fast at home since I knew that what I needed was in the office. Although I hadn’t really wanted to go in, I knew I’d be thinking about the file I needed all night if I didn’t.

Not only hadn’t I expected to find Mulder there, but finding him with the barrel of his weapon pointed at me was not on the top of my list. Inexplicably, I then found myself almost smiling at the thought of this not being the first time the two of us had pointed our guns at each other, intent on our own reasons, never believing the other would fire, but having to protect ourselves all the same.

The initial adrenaline surge from facing his weapon only served to further unnerve me. The fact that he was doing his best to honor my need for time apart, to keep his distance from me physically somehow made our unplanned meeting that much harder, unsettling me, confusing

me.

Once past our mutual shock, I knew I needed to get what I came for and leave, knew that being there with him wasn’t the wisest course of action. As he accidentally snagged my hood, I knew for certain that I had to get out fast. It was such a small connection, really, but it dredged up so many feelings in me. His need to touch me, our sometimes comically clumsy actions born of a closeness that made us wonder where one began and the other ended. The closeness and…my need to touch him. To desperately want him to touch me was the hardest to avoid and the hardest to live without. I hadn’t realized just how much I craved them, his presence, being drawn against him until it wasn’t there anymore. I was finding that out…

He released me and I could sense him just standing there, awkward around me. It was imperative that I move away.

I resolved myself to getting the file I needed and getting out of here. Getting out before we both did or said something we’d later regret.

I left him to his awkwardness, heard him walk back to his desk, ostensibly to continue working. I knew that he could no more concentrate than I could at that point. Oh, he was going through the motions; I could hear the clacking of the keyboard, but I was sure that was just for show. His eyes were on me; I knew it without seeing it.

I had almost located the file in question when I felt him come up behind me.

Helpful. He was just trying to help me with the file. He wasn’t purposefully touching my arms with his; his palms weren’t covering the backs of my hands intentionally. And his cheek was only against my hair so he could see the files. My breathing hitched, threatening to force all the oxygen from my lungs only as a natural response to the heat of his body that hadn’t even touched mine…yet.

His voice was whisper soft in my hair, as he showed me the file I’d been searching for, the file that was already beneath my fingertips. I pulled it up and out from the rest with his hand still covering mine, burning my skin with his warmth.

“I’ve got it, Mulder, thanks.”

“I’ve got you, Scully.” Simple words, a simple caress of his hand on mine.

My mind was trying desperately to re-educate my body about the skills required to slip underneath his arms and walk away with the file. Walk away, out the door, away from him. My body was ignoring the lesson.

The weight of his arms followed mine from the drawer; his hands moving to oh-so-lightly hold my forearms.

“Scully? Please.” I felt his words before I heard them. This wasn’t Mulder begging or whining. He was gently assertive in that low, almost-fine sandpapery voice. The voice that unwound me.

I settled back against him in a swirl of dizzying sensation, my mind having shut down without my permission. I could feel his chest rising and falling as if it were my own; our breathing in unison as so many other parts of us used to be. But, for this moment, I wasn’t going to allow myself to think about anything other than ‘now’.

And that was much easier said than done. I didn’t try to talk, didn’t think I’d manage more than a word or two. The feelings, the emotions rose in me, clamoring for attention. I had tried not to think about him or Diana or the fact that we were no longer ‘we’ as far as I was concerned. I also knew that all I had to was say the words and Mulder would be with me again. All he’d wanted to do was talk things out, but that wasn’t working for me and I wasn’t even sure why not anymore.

He held me firmly, but with so much care that I felt fragile, as if he thought I might break. I was already broken at that point and wasn’t sure what it would take to mend the cracks.

All I knew was that being held, and, if I allowed myself to admit it, being held by him, felt good.

He rested his chin on the top of my head, still keeping me almost at arm’s length. He wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all me. I knew that out of his respect for my wishes, he couldn’t draw me flush with his body. He knew what I would find, that I would know just how aroused he was. I was glad he couldn’t see my face or the small smile that played on my lips. Part of me knew that Mulder’s reaction was simply biological, a normal male reaction to touch. More of me knew that he seemed to be in a near state of arousal around me quite a bit more of the time than could be explained away by mere biology.

His arms drew me in a little closer still. And I panicked. I was being subsumed by him, all that he is, all that he wanted from me, and I just couldn’t handle it. I wanted him, I wanted ‘us’ but I didn’t know if I was ready or able to talk about us without Diana entering the conversation. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wasn’t ready or able to talk about her.

A little more forcefully than I intended, I pulled his arms from me and moved away, not looking back.

“Scully? What’s wrong?”

<Such a loaded question, Mulder>

“I thought I could… I, I need to go, Mulder.”

The look on his face was nearly enough to shatter my plans to depart. “Don’t leave. We’ll talk.” He moved further away from me, sitting in his desk chair.

“I don’t know why I can’t do this now, I just know that I can’t.” With that, I left. I ran down the hall to the elevator although I instinctively knew he wouldn’t follow me, I half hoped he would.

It wasn’t until I reached my car that my mind and body caught up with each other. Pounding my open palm against the hood, I sent the file sliding first toward the windshield and then over the side, the contents fluttering onto the cement floor of the parking garage. The tears I tried to hold back from the minute I left the office fell.

I had held them in for so long, for weeks. Tears of anger, frustration, confusion, love. Why couldn’t I just talk to him? What was I afraid of?

What scared me most of all was the possibility that I would never allow myself to trust him again. What if Diana was not dead this time, either? Would our relationship hold up when she stepped into our lives one more time? What was the magic number?

And then the full force of it hit me; what had happened to his words, “…And even though my world was unrecognizable, …one thing remained the same. You were my friend and you told me the truth”? When had the truth I tried to tell him become unbelievable to him?

I was so consumed with the questioning tears that I never heard him approach.

~~~~~

When she pulled free of my embrace, I let her go. I honestly didn’t know whether forcing her to stay with me would have been the right thing to do. I just wanted to give her what she needed, although I wasn’t sure even she knew what she wanted.

And that sounded presumptuous on my part, but I knew Scully, probably better than I knew myself. And although it had been rare, there were times of such great distress for her that she wasn’t sure exactly what she needed, what she wanted. This seemed to be one of those times.

Since the bottom had fallen out of our relationship all I’d wanted to do was talk to her. I almost had that chance tonight, but once again, she withdrew. I was running out of ideas…

Figuring out the mysteries of the universe would have been easier…

I actually hesitated on following her when she refused my offer to talk. Feeling as if it wouldn’t matter, I waited. I watched her flee; saw the barely withheld frustration? Tears? And when I heard the elevator ascend, I knew I had to try again. The feeling of her in my arms was one of overpowering content and sadness. Sadness for what we didn’t seem to have; might never have again.

Refusing to further consider that possibility, I took off after her.

I heard the loud ‘whap’ as I approached, her open hand slamming the hood of the car. She folded nearly in half at the waist, her body prone on the metal, her forehead on her arm. I could see the sobs wracking her.

That scene twisted my gut…and my heart. She needed me and I wasn’t sure how to help. I took two steps toward her cautiously. I wasn’t always the best one to discern those times when she would accept my concern for her and when she would push me away. And sometimes my hesitation paralyzed me, rendering me incapable of giving her what she might want, but be unable to ask for. I wanted to give her room to figure it out first.

But before I had the chance, she had lifted herself from the hood and wiped some of her tears with the back of her hand and sleeve. When she squatted to gather the contents of the file, she put her face in her hands. <Scully…> I moved forward again, still out of her line of sight.

She straightened quickly; her hair whipping around as she turned to the car; opened the door and got in. Worrying me with the reckless look in her tear stained eyes, she threw the gearshift in reverse and wheeled the car back and out of the space. I stood rooted to my spot, a profound sadness settling over me once again as I heard the tires screech as she pulled away.

I had to go after her.

In my haste, I ran right by my own vehicle, having to double back, wasting precious time. I hoped to follow her to make sure she made it home or wherever she was going, safely. At first, it appeared that she was heading to Georgetown, but she then veered away from her exit, continuing on the interstate. But the highway afforded her the ability to pick up speed. <Scully, what the hell are you doing?> I closed the distance between us without coming near enough to check me out or think she was being tailed. Well, she was being tailed, but at least I was a friendly tail.

I was at a loss, having no idea where she was going. It was almost ten o’clock and she showed no signs of slowing or exiting. For a Saturday night, the roads seemed unusually empty, but, then again, most people were probably out somewhere, already having fun. It was too early to be going home; for most people… We weren’t ‘most people’ in so many ways. Sometimes I longed to be doing what they were doing.

I broke from my musing when she veered off the exit. I followed her through a quaint residential area shaded by oaks and maples in full bloom, their dark trunks and shadowed leaves outlined by the wrought iron street lamps. At the end of Tower Avenue, she turned right into the Park. For a short time, she just sat there, headlights on, engine running. I could see her head on her hands, resting on the steering wheel. I killed my headlights and waited her out.

Not five minutes later, Scully emerged, slamming the door behind her and walked away from our cars, her arms crossed over her chest. She seemed familiar with the area as she walked determinedly and quickly. I decided now was the time to follow if I didn’t want to lose sight of her. Even with her pace, my long legs allowed me to catch up with her in short order. I had tried to allow her the space she needed, but at this point, if a show down was what it took, then that’s what we were going to have. I knew that if we didn’t talk now, we probably never would. Whatever it was she was literally trying to run from was more than our original situation.

“Scully.” I didn’t want to startle her, but there was no way around it since she didn’t even seem to realize I had pulled in not far behind her. She stopped in her tracks, holding her hand to her forehead, squinting in the light from the overhead street lamps. Her other hand was at her hip, her semi-defensive slash defiant posture not lost on me.

I stopped, my hands on my hips. <Stalemate, Scully. I’m not going anywhere>

“What’re you doing here, Mulder?” I could tell she was trying to sound angry, but it wasn’t working. She was almost surprised to see me, but she stood her ground.

I looked around, spotting a few benches not ten feet from where we were. Approaching her before she could walk away from me, I took her elbow firmly and led her to the bench. “Sit down, Scully, and I’ll tell you.”

Her hands dropped by her sides and she sat, her mouth open, no words forthcoming for a few moments. However, not one to let things go easily, she was on her feet again, pacing.

Possibly with a little more force than I intended, I stood. I placed my hands on her shoulders and backed her to the bench.

“I said, ‘sit down’.”

The look in her eyes now clearly said ‘anger’, definitely ‘anger’.

<So be it, then>

I didn’t want to corner her, but damn it, I was tired of not knowing what I could do to get us to talk. “What’re you doing out here at this time of night?”

“Isn’t it obvious; trying to be alone, Mulder.” Sarcasm, true Scully Sarcasm, dripped from her lips.

“Fine. If you won’t talk to me, then listen while I talk.”

She leaned back on the bench, turning sideways to face me, but drawing her legs up, crossing them as she crossed her arms in front of her. Non-verbally telling me I’d better ‘make it good’.

“If you’re trying to wear me out, Scully, you’re doing a great job. And if you think I sound angry and frustrated, then you’re right.”

She started to speak, but I shook my head.

“Don’t say a word.”

I hoped my voice carried the edge I was feeling and, by the look on her face, I was assured it did.

“I have tried to figure out how to tell you just how sorry I am for what I did, for how I ignored your warning, for how I failed to listen to you. I know this is about the trust you feel I broke and I can see why you believe that. I cannot go back and take away my actions and your hurt, but you’re not alone in those feelings, Scully. Have you forgotten just how much I’m a part of ‘us’? How much I’ve invested in this relationship? …How much I love you?”

I wanted to hold her, but that hadn’t worked earlier, so I waited her out.

She looked away as if she were searching the heavens for divine intervention. No matter what her faith told her, I doubted she’d find our resolution up there. When she looked at me, I saw some of the anger dissipate; but it was replaced with her hurt and confusion.

“Mulder, I haven’t forgotten any of those things. How could I? It’s just that you seem to have forgotten something you told me not so very long ago.”

I was puzzled, but waited. I knew that in her own way, she would explain. And I didn’t have to wait long. She glanced down at her arms, as if deciding whether they still belonged crossed against her, between us. As she looked up at me again, her hands rested on her legs.

“After Africa, after Diana was supposedly murdered, when I came to your apartment… You told me there was a time when you didn’t know who to trust. You told me I was your friend and I always told you the truth.”

At that point, a ton of bricks couldn’t have stunned me more. But she wasn’t finished, although I felt as if I were.

“If that were true, how was it that you couldn’t hear the truth in what I told you that day? When did you stop trusting me, when did I stop being your friend?”

Although she sat very still, I could see the faint trail of tears as they tracked down her cheeks. Her voice was firm, but soft and full of disbelief.

At that point, I threw caution to the wind and pulled her to me. Stroking her hair, I murmured to her, telling her things would be all right, we would be fine, even as I knew she wasn’t looking for hollow platitudes or false assurances. While I meant every word I said, I knew she might not be able to believe me.

I moved back just slightly, enough so that I could bring her eyes to mine. The words poured from me and I couldn’t stop them.

“My god, Scully, is that what you’ve been thinking all along, that I no longer trusted you judgment, that I no longer valued our friendship? How could it have gotten to that point?”

I had to pause and swallow, hard. For some bizarre reason, I felt I couldn’t let her see my tears. It wasn’t out of any false need to not let her see me cry; god knows she’d seen my depths of despair often enough. I guess I just needed her to know that I really knew that this was about ‘her’, as she’d been trying to tell me for some time now.

“Don’t you know that I wouldn’t have it any other way than with you by my side? I made a major error in judgment and it cost us, cost you, a lot. I know that. I don’t know what else to say now. I have nothing left that can change what is done.” I let her go, sitting back, emotionally exhausted.

“I do know, Mulder, and that’s what’s made all of this so hard for me…and for you.”

I was surprised, pleased and surprised, that she actually voiced what I’d felt all along. I had been afraid that she didn’t know just how upset I was, how much I missed her.

“It’s just not that easy for me to forget, to not wonder if it can or will happen to us again.”

She was up and walking back and forth, but I knew she wouldn’t walk away any longer. I watched her, realizing that she was feeling the chill that had set into the late summer night. I stood, taking my windbreaker and putting it over her shoulders. She smiled at me briefly as she hugged it to her.

She also read the question in my eyes thankfully not making me voice it.

“I don’t know what to tell you and I know you want an answer. Does it feel to you as if I’m calling all the shots in this? I know it does to me. I just don’t know how else to be, how else to feel right now. I still need my time away to feel sure in who I am on my own and who we’re supposed to be together.”

Well, there it was. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but it was more than I’d hoped for. In Scully fashion, things were at least hopeful and I’d take it.

‘Thank you, Scully’ was all I could think of to say. Feeling decidedly awkward, I stood still, knowing what I wanted to do, but needing her to tell me.

She took my jacket from around her and stepped forward, leaving just inches between us. She reached out to give me the jacket, but I stilled her hand, holding her wrist. I took the jacket and placed it back around her, my hands lingering for probably more time than necessary, but less than I wanted.

She brought her two fingers to her lips and then, standing on her toes, one hand on my arm steadying herself, lightly touched them to my lips.

I watched as she walked to her car, got in and drove away into the late June night.

POST2

~~~~~

Washington, D.C.

5 July

He’s back now because he wants to be with me, but I’m not sure how ready I am for him to be with me; at least not as my life partner. Sometimes wounds are just too deep to heal without major scarring. Sometimes the gulf is just too wide.

And the most recent wound doesn’t seem to want to heal. I’m finding it very hard to move past what happened between us. I hurt and I find myself still angry from time to time. I know I should be able to ‘rise above it all’, ‘ forgive and forget’, ‘put it all behind me’, but cliches do not a sound and trusting relationship make.

I’m truly hoping that the physical distance between us will allow me to regain some sense of perspective, to focus on that which is truly important to me. As I know he is.

My mother has done her level best to show me the many facets to this whole situation, to try to refrain from taking sides. She’s done a great job in that respect.

But all the facts, all the cold hard science that I would usually fall back to for comfort don’t work here. Here in the realm of the heart. And that is where I am bereft and set adrift, my usual anchor gone or at least not responding to my need for grounding.

Oh, Mulder, how did you let this happen to us? Why didn’t I see it coming? Will I truly be able to move past this?

Finis

= Continued in “Falling Leaves” =

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