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Journey's End

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Journey's End

Journey's End

by Courtney Gray

Title: Journey's End
Author: Courtney Gray
Pairing: M/K
Category: romance, angst
Rating: R for adult themes
Disclaimer: XF and its characters are officially owned & abused by CC and 1013. Summary: Mulder finds his truth at last.

Journey's End by Courtney Gray

"The heart has its reasons, of which the mind knows nothing." --Blaise Pascal

Mulder looked down at the bright yellow daisies in his hand, his breath frosting in the morning air. He walked through the tombstones, pausing to turn up the collar of his overcoat. His nose was running and he sniffed, feeling the cold pressing against his face, biting at his eyelashes.

He stopped at last beside the small white marble headstone and stared down at the carved letters. *Samantha Mulder. Beloved sister.* Below the inscription were the dates that marked the life and death of an eight year-old girl.

He crouched down and placed the dew-covered daisies in the holder at the base of the stone. He removed one of his gloves and ran his fingers along the marble, slowly tracing the letters of her name.

"I'm sorry, Sam," he whispered.

When he finally stood up, his fingers were chilled and his eyes burned. He gazed at the gray landscape around him and at the heavy, lumbering clouds above. His eyes were drawn back to the small grave before moving on to two particular gravestones several rows away. He could just make out the names on the dark marble: his mother and father. Ironically, they were closer in death than they ever were in life. A twinge of bitterness still stirred inside him but it was dull and worn. He only wished the graves were further away.

A cold drizzle filled the air. Winter was lingering this year.

The gravel crunched under his shoes as he left the graveyard and walked across the road to the Lariat rental. He paused as he saw that Krycek seemed to be asleep in the passenger's seat, his dark head thrown back against the headrest.

The inside of the car was warm as he slid in behind the wheel. He glanced at Krycek's sleeping profile and closed his own eyes. The silence was comforting. He let the lingering warmth from the heater seep through him. Perhaps he might've even dozed for a few minutes. He opened his eyes and blinked at the leaden sky.

"Are you all right, Mulder?"

The husky voice made him turn his head. In the dimness, Krycek looked like a ghostly shadow with his dark clothes and hair and his pale skin. But the green eyes that stared back at him were bright and intense with life.

Mulder turned away to look out at the gray-wrapped landscape and thought about Krycek's question. Suddenly, he saw the image of his mother's face, the stark emptiness of her expression and her cold, forced smile. He saw his father's hard, unforgiving eyes. And the sunny, yellow daisies at the base of Samantha's grave. "No," he answered. "But I'm better now."

Krycek's smile was slow and almost a little shy. Mulder smiled back and steered the car towards the main road.

They drove for a while with only the quiet hum of the engine and the low whoosh of the heater. Mulder caught the movement of black leather out of the corner of his eye as Krycek turned a little in his seat.

"Why am I here instead of Scully?"

Mulder sighed. He briefly wondered why it had taken Krycek so long to ask the question.

"Because I want you here. I need you here. You know that as well as I do."


"Scully has the baby to take care of. She has a chance to build a new life without my fucking it up for her. She deserves the chance to live the way she always wanted."

Mulder could hear the smile in Krycek's voice when he replied.

"So you'd rather fuck up my life instead?"

Mulder shook his head. "Too late there. You managed that all by yourself. Same as me." In the silence that followed, he thought that maybe his remark had cut too close, but then he ventured a quick glance at Krycek and met a calm and pensive, green-eyed stare. "What?" he asked, turning his attention back to the road before them.

"I'm sorry about your sister, Mulder. Sorry it all led you to nothing but a cemetery."

Mulder swallowed hard. "She was lost a long time ago. I kept her alive because I thought I could prove something. I guess we all got lost along the way, didn't we?"

"Yeah. A long, dark road."

It was a whisper, tinged with disillusion.

"As quixotic quests go, mine wasn't a total loss though." Mulder managed a grin before he continued. "In the end, I did find my way. Had to suffer all the slings and arrows that Outrageous Fortune happily slung my way first. Seems I always had an aversion for the easy route to anything."

Mulder settled back in his seat and began the drive to Chilmark.

It took them a good part of the afternoon but they arrived just as sunlight filtered through the thinning layer of clouds. Mulder pulled the car into the driveway of 2790 Vine Street and turned off the engine.

His hands still clutching the steering wheel, he peered at the house before them. He drew in a breath and looked at Krycek. "This is it. Home, Sweet Home." He forced his fingers to let go of the wheel. "Come on, I'll give you the grand tour."

Mulder was already inside when he realized that Krycek wasn't behind him. Turning, he spotted the other man standing a couple of steps outside the open door, his hands tucked into the pockets of his leather jacket, shifting uneasily from foot to foot. "You're not going to see much from there, you know," Mulder told him.

"Are you sure you want me here?" Krycek asked again.

"Damn it, Alex, get in here already."

Eyebrows lifting and green eyes widening at Mulder's forceful tone, Krycek shrugged and walked slowly inside, gazing around curiously.

Mulder led him into the living room and stopped near the large picture window, suddenly drawn back in time by the echo of memories. He shook them off, not wanting the past to take hold of him. He rubbed a hand over his face and looked at the musty furnishings. "I, uh, didn't get much of a chance to excavate past the top layer of dust around here. Need to air out the place. I,uh, picked up some groceries the other day though. The kitchen's this way."

The kitchen had deep yellow walls with an abundance of pine cabinets. The linoleum was a worn, yellow and white check pattern. Krycek walked over to the small kitchen table and pulled out a chair for himself. White, ruffled cotton curtains that were a faded with dust hung across the two large windows that overlooked the back garden. Mulder drew the curtains aside to let in the struggling sunlight. He opened a window to a refreshing, cool breeze.

"You want something to eat?" he asked Krycek. "You can check out the provisions," he added with a nod towards the refrigerator.

With a slight shake of his head, Krycek got up and took a look. "Mulder, you've got nothing in here but a six-pack of Heineken and a loaf of raisin bread."

"'And thou beside me in the Wilderness'," finished Mulder.

Krycek shook his head again, this time with a smile. "You're a strange man, Mulder."

"So I've been told." Mulder pointed to one of the cabinets. "But I've also got peanut butter and Campbell's soup and a box of Cheerios in there, all the necessities for long-term survival, so I'm not that far gone."

"Oh, I don't know about that."

Mulder gave him a shrug. The breeze billowed the curtains on the window, making them seem as though they were breathing, in and out, in and out. He opened the back door and walked into the garden. After a few moments, he sensed Krycek behind him.

"You know, this was just about the only place I remember being really happy. Maybe that's why I decided to come back here." Mulder kicked lightly at one of the stones that bordered the flowerbed, his eyes gazing over the bare shrubs and bushes. "I really loved the summers when I was a kid...before Sam was gone. We'd have fun here, Sam and me. My mother worked on the garden almost every day. Roses, they were her favorite. This garden was beautiful in the summer, and this section was filled with roses. She had all the colors, shades of red, yellow, and pink. And these big, beautiful white roses that had a scent that lingered in the air like a good perfume."

He glanced back at the house, at one of the windows on the second floor. "I'd get up in the morning and look out here. Sometimes I'd see my mom and Samantha, cutting roses for the house. I could hear them laughing sometimes." He reached out and touched a gnarled, thorny branch. "It seems so long ago. Maybe it wasn't as good as I remember, but I remember the rose garden."

"I bet some of these will come back, with a little care. They'd bloom again in the Spring. If not, you can just plant some more yourself," Krycek told him.

"I don't know anything about gardening," replied Mulder, then added with a smirk at Krycek. "Do you?"

"Hell, Mulder, what do you think? It wasn't part of my triple agent-training regime. Hey, but I'm nothing if not a quick study." Krycek's dark lashes lowered, shading his eyes, his voice growing softer. "Maybe we could both learn."

"A rose garden, yeah, I'd like to see it again." Mulder nodded towards the flowerbed. "What color do you like?"

A cocky smile lit Krycek's face for just a moment as he answered. "Hot, flaming red. The color of passion." He glanced away and Mulder could have sworn that Alex was actually blushing.

Mulder stared at his one-time nemesis and reflected on the fateful, twisted road that they had traveled. In the end, all he could summon was a smile. "We'll start with red then."

Scully watched her baby sleep. Every movement of the small curled hands, every twitch of the little pink toes, and every soft puff of breath from the baby's mouth still seemed like a miracle to her, even though months had passed since William was born. She realized she would always feel that way. His very life would always be a miracle to her. He had changed her very existence. She had not believed herself capable of loving another human being so unequivocally until she'd had the baby. She'd tried to give him up, thinking it was for William's safety, but she couldn't go through with it. She'd taken her son back.

She brushed the side of his small face with the back of her fingers as she rose from her crouch beside the crib. A glance at her wristwatch told her she'd lost track of the time again. She still had to finish her final case report today and make calls to Agent Doggett and A.D. Skinner. A glance back towards the crib only strengthened the decision in her mind.

She was leaving the Bureau. There was really nothing left for her there anymore. Perhaps if Mulder had stayed... She shook the thought away. Mulder couldn't have stayed. The world had changed for them both, though she couldn't help but feel that she was the lucky one. She had gained where he had lost. His quest had taken them both down a road of strange and, ultimately, inexplicable discoveries. The only response left for them was...acceptance.

She knew how hard that acceptance was for Mulder because it meant he would never have all his answers, never find what he had lost. Yet for Scully, acceptance meant setting aside the skeptical scientist within her and embracing a miracle. To have William in her life, she knew she could do it easily, gladly, and gratefully. Though she still wrestled with the occasional nagging doubt that there were vestiges of the Alien Conspiracy still operating somewhere out there, Scully's intuition told her that they were finally safe, that her baby was safe. She also felt that she had Mulder to thank for it. There would always be a special place in her heart for him, and even now, when she thought of him, she couldn't help but worry about where he was and what he was doing.

With a sigh, she settled herself at her desk and turned on her laptop. Then with a determined pursing of her lips, she reached for her phone and dialed Skinner's office.

Mulder watched as Krycek pulled off his leather jacket and carefully laid it over the back of a chair. He watched Krycek's hands...both hands. Long-fingered, strong, graceful. A cascade of images and feelings crosssed his mind: images of the Alien ship, of being tied down and screaming; the seemingly endless pain. The awful sense of not understanding. The helplessness. Then, amazingly, there was the sense of being made whole again, the tumor in his brain gone, all the physical scars and damage of a lifetime, gone.

They'd done the same for Krycek, too.

And Mulder had saved Krycek as Krycek had saved him.

Perhaps, in the end, that was why the Aliens had left. Perhaps they simply discovered that the human psyche was too unpredictable, too complex...too flawed to control with accuracy. The variables were always changing. The outcome was never guaranteed. Humans were simply too much bother.

Ah, but what a super soldier the Aliens would have had in Alex Krycek had they succeeded.

"How's the arm?" he asked aloud.

Krycek flexed his left hand and wiggled his fingers. "Good as new."

"That's because it is new."

"Sounds like they let you keep the same old, weird brain though," returned Krycek with a crooked grin.

"Cleaned and polished, but otherwise in its original container." Mulder gestured towards the room. "Hope this is all right for you. It was my parents' bedroom."

"Are you sure about this, Mulder? Do you really want me to sta-"

"Yes, and stop asking me that." Mulder looked down at the floor and swallowed, "I...I..."


Mulder wished he could just say it, but the words, for once, eluded him. As the silence stretched, he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up into Alex's calm, green eyes. Suddenly, the words seemed to tumble out. "I hated wanting you. Loving you. I guess I fought it as much as I could, for as long as I could." Mulder shrugged, trying to make it sound casual in spite of what his eyes revealed, knowing the words weren't quite right, feeling the emotion tighten in his chest.

A frown grew over Krycek's face, deepening the line just above the bridge of his nose. He exhaled softly and seemed to gather himself for a moment. "Oh Mulder." It was hardly a whisper, little more than a drawn out breath.

Alex took a step back. "I can be easy hate. I made it easy for you. I've done enough to deserve it." He walked over to the window, reaching out to finger the edge of the old lace curtain. His voice had a smoky, wistful quality. "At first, I did what I thought was right, then I only did what I thought was best. For me. Towards the end, I wasn't sure why I was doing any of it." He paused, raking his lip with his teeth as if the words pained him. "What I did to you is the only thing in my life that I truly regret."

"And now?"

Mulder watched as Krycek turned towards him, the pale sun filtering around him like an incongruous halo.

"I feel like the luckiest, hell-bent bastard that ever lived and didn't deserve to."

Mulder walked across the room to the window, just a foot of space between them. He gazed into the solemn green eyes. "I stood by and watched Skinner murder you. Stood there and did nothing. It was as if every emotion had been frozen out of me. So I just stood there...and watched."

"It wasn't me, Mulder."

Mulder felt a sudden dizziness and for a moment, it was as if the whole room was fading away, as if Krycek was fading away. He rubbed his hands over his face, wishing he could just reach out and pull Alex into his arms. And then he felt strong hands closing around his back, folding him into a warm embrace. He could smell the clean citrus scent of Krycek's hair, feel the silkiness of it against his face. "I know it wasn't," he continued, his voice muffled against Krycek's neck. "When you started to say all those things, it didn't make sense. You didn't make sense. It was as though you were egging him on. It was as if die."

"I did, Mulder. The aliens knew that."

Mulder pulled back suddenly, staring into Krycek's eyes, shocked by his words. "You wanted to die?"

"The replicant they made on the ship, that replicant that stood in that basement garage, he had my thoughts, my feelings imprinted in his mind. It was what I wanted, Mulder." Dark lashes lowered. "I was tired of being the Survivor, the rat, tired of playing the game. There was no more point to any of it. I'd lost it all. I'd Yes, I wanted to die, Mulder." The green eyes locked with his again. "The replicant only did what I would have if I'd been there. It only said whatever it took to make Skinner pull that trigger." A wry smile played over his lips. "I figured I owed Skinner that much anyway after what I'd put him through."

Mulder felt a shudder run through him and reached out to hug Alex to him again. "We've got a second chance, Alex. The Truth finally found me on that ship. I don't want to be Captain Ahab any longer. No more quests. No more extra baggage. None of it is worth carrying any more. That's over. You know it, too, now. You understand." He felt the dark head nod against his shoulder.

They drew apart, but Mulder still kept hold of Krycek's hand.

"Where are you going to sleep?" Krycek asked after a moment.

"Um, well, I have my old room down the hall."

"With a nice twin bed suitable for a pre-pubescent?"

"Um, yeah."

Krycek looked at their joined hands and then into Mulder's eyes. He didn't say anything, but the expression on his face was as soft and open as Mulder had ever seen. It filled him with a sense that anything was possible, even his most hopeless dreams.

"The bed in here is much more comfortable," conceded Mulder pointedly.

Krycek glanced towards the large bed. "Um, yeah, looks very roomy, too."

"Um, yeah, roomy." Mulder felt the laughter starting in his chest as the last of the brittle walls around his heart began to crumble. "Would it be too gauche of me to say that I'd like to expand our acquaintance in a more biblical sense?"

"Now, that's a come-on truly worthy of Fox Mulder."

"Did it work?"

They stared at each other for a moment before they both started to laugh, the world suddenly filled with a bit more light than before. Krycek tugged at Mulder's hand and led him to the bed, tumbling them both to the mattress. "Um, I think so," he finally replied as he slowly, almost reverently, touched his lips to Mulder's mouth.

Oh, but Mulder liked the taste of him. He liked it very much. Alex's lips were soft and warm, his tongue even warmer. Mulder played his fingertips over the side of Krycek's face, over his earlobe, palm resting to cup the back of his head. He pulled Alex on top of him, their mouths still locked.

It all seemed so easy. So simple. As if all the dark and labyrinthine complexities of their lives had somehow vanished.

Scully drummed her fingers against the steering wheel as she waited for the light to change. Her mind was still reeling from her meeting with Skinner. She hadn't been surprised when he had asked her to come into the office and see him. She assumed he would try to persuade her to remain with the Bureau. But, in fact, he'd questioned her resignation only perfunctorily, as if he'd already known she could not be dissuaded. She'd sensed that Skinner understood her decision, even if he might not like it personally.

What she hadn't expected was what he told her about the death of Alex Krycek.

"Let's take a drive, Scully," Skinner had told her.

They ended up parked in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, the gray-blue Potomac visible just over the rise. Skinner never said a word during the drive and Scully sat beside him in silence, surreptitiously checking out Skinner's stony profile, her own anxiety growing. He was looking out at the water, at the small choppy waves. Finally, she turned in her seat, facing him.

"Sir, what is it you wanted to talk to me about? I assume it's not my resignation," she added. For a moment, she thought he wouldn't answer. His face looked grim, weary, as if a great weight was pressing down on him. He looked older, more careworn. Even his shoulders seemed to slump a little.

"Have you seen Mulder?" he asked her, his eyes still fixed on the river in the distance.

"Not since he left."

Skinner drew in a long breath, eyes unblinking. "I killed him."

Scully felt a cold jolt through her heart. For a split second, she thought he meant Mulder. No. No. Skinner would never do that. "W-who did you kill?"

His lips thinned out in a hard grimace. "Krycek. I killed Alex Krycek."

She could only stare.

"He was a killer. He deserved to die." But Skinner's voice was strangely hollow, the words said almost mechanically as if he'd repeated them too often to himself. He swallowed once before he spoke again. "He was wounded, wasn't even trying to get away. The rat bastard didn't even try to get away. He just kept talking." He turned towards Scully, anger and anguish in his eyes. "Why didn't he just stop talking?"

Her mind tried to take in the implications of what the AD was telling her. "You couldn't kill anyone in cold blood, sir, not even Alex Krycek," she replied automatically.

The pain in his eyes only deepened. "Mulder knows. He was there. He saw me kill Krycek." He turned away then, rubbing a hand over his face, head bowed. "God, oh god, why didn't he just stop talking?"

"Mulder was there?"

Seconds ticked by as Skinner struggled to pull himself out of some inner, dark place. He straightened in his seat and looked at her with a frown. "That's why I'm telling you this, Scully. I don't think he...expected me to...shoot Krycek like that. Mulder's reaction was...strange, distanced. After we left the garage, left Krycek lying there, I made a call to..." Skinner paused, blew out a soft breath. "I called someone to take care of Krycek's body. I wanted it checked. Wanted to make sure it was really Krycek and not some kind of clone. Maybe I was hoping--" he stopped himself, began again. "Mulder was with me in the office when I made the call. He seemed dazed, distracted. I...I tried to keep him there for a little while, but he left." Skinner paused again and looked away from her.

Scully waited, but as the minutes stretched out again, she sighed and spoke. "Was it Krycek?"

"Yes. The tests I had done confirmed the DNA samples." The strain was there in his voice.

"Does Mulder know that?"

"No. I only found out the following day. I had Krycek's body cremated." There was a sudden flicker of something horribly bleak in his eyes that his glasses couldn't hide. "I don't think anyone will raise any questions. I doubt that anyone would even care."

"Mulder seemed all right when I saw him last, when he saw the baby," she told him, focusing him back into the moment.

Skinner's answer was low, but firm. "He's not, Scully. Mulder is not all right. He watched me murder Krycek. I know that affected him." He gripped the steering wheel tightly, knuckles turning white with the pressure. "I can't change what happened. I'm not sure I'd even want to. I don't know. I don't know. That's what I'll have to live with, and I know that. I' with it." The chilling feeling that Skinner was a man losing himself to despair, to a horrible kind of personal defeat, washed over Scully as she listened to him. It struck her that Skinner would not be able to deal with it, that he was saying the words for her sake. She found herself swallowing back fear as he went on. "But Mulder, I think it did something to him, Scully. I think he needs help. I don't know where he is or how to reach him, but maybe you can. You have to find him."

Scully returned to the present as a horn honked impatiently behind her, noticing that the traffic light had turned green. She couldn't shake the image of Skinner's face and the emotional torment that seemed to have settled permanently in his eyes. Skinner killed Alex Krycek. She didn't want to believe it. Suddenly, the memory of another night years ago rose before her, and she saw herself standing in front of a drug-crazed Mulder, her weapon in her hand, watching as he raised his gun towards Krycek. She could almost hear the sound of her own gun firing as she stopped Mulder the only way she could.

Alex Krycek hadn't been the one she was protecting.

She bit down on her lip as Skinner's voice echoed in her mind. "He saw me kill Krycek..."

As she headed for her mother's house to pick up her baby son, she knew that she had to find Mulder.

Mulder sat back on his heels and wiped his hands on his jeans, adding to the accumulation of dirt already streaking the worn denim. He glanced up at a sun that was shining valiantly through a blue sky streaked with clouds. It actually seemed as though Spring had finally won its fight with the long winter.

"How're you doing?"

He turned back towards the house and smiled as Krycek came over and hunched down beside him. They both looked at the mound of fertilizer piled around a bare rose bush. "I remember this one. It's called "Scarlet Knight."

"That eidetic memory of yours must be hell to live with," Krycek told him with a smirk.

"It has its uses." Mulder gave him a quick grin. "For example, Toblerone is your favorite chocolate bar. The semi-sweet, not the milk flavor."

"When did you pick up on that?"

"In what I like to call your Faux Nave Fibbie Period. You know, those ol' bad clothes, bad hair gel days." He smiled at Alex's grimace. "Whenever you opened your desk drawer, I could see a couple of those dark, Toblerone bars stashed away in there. You never shared any of them either, you little bastard."

"Hey, I fetched coffee for you like a damn handmaiden, Mulder."

"Yeah, I liked that." He reached out, grabbed Alex around the neck and pulled his face close for a kiss. The kiss turned into two, then three before they finally pulled away from each other with a little moan. "Mmmm, like this, too. Did you know that none other than Albert Einstein himself authorized the patent for the Toblerone brand in 1909? He was working as a clerk in the patent office in Bern, Switzerland at the time."

"Thank you, Professor Mulder. By the way, you're getting fertilizer on my clothes."

"Do you mind?"

Alex tilted his head to the side, as if seriously contemplating the question. Then, with a satisfied chortle, he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Mulder and kissed him again. Mulder moaned into the clever, moist mouth that covered his and moaned again as Alex's hands slipped under his sweatshirt and trailed up across his chest to play with his nipples.

Scully left message after message on Mulder's new cellphone number, the one he had given her after the Bureau had fired him. When he'd said goodbye to her and the baby that fateful day, he'd told her he would come back if ever she really needed him.

She waited. A day and then another passed by. He didn't call. She tried calling the old numbers to his father's house, his mother's house, but they had been disconnected long ago.

By the third day, she was more than concerned. Mulder should have, would have called her back. He'd promised her. She thought about contacting the Lone Gunmen to ask for their help. When the phone rang that evening, she assumed it was Skinner again. He'd called her every day, his voice edged with a growing depression. His pain was palpable over the phone line when she's told him that she hadn't reached Mulder yet.

She reached for her phone, steeling herself. "Hello?"

"Hi, Scully."

Relief rushed through her. "Mulder! Oh, thank god."

"What is it, Scully? Are you all right? Is William all right?"

She was clutching the receiver and took a breath, the words pouring out with her worry. "Y-yes, I'm fine. The baby's fine. Mulder, I just have to see you. Why didn't you call me? I've been leaving messages for days."

"I'm sorry, Scully. I turned off my cellphone when I drove up to see Samantha's grave. Then, I...I just got wrapped up in something else and I forgot to turn it back on until today. Scully?"

When he called her name, she realized she'd been silent too long and mentally shook herself. "Uh, yes, Mulder, I'm here. Mulder, can we meet somewhere?"

"Well, I' the middle of something right now--"

"I need to see you, Mulder," she told him firmly.

There was a note of hesitation when he answered. "Okay, sure, but--"

"Where are you?"

There was another pause and Scully bit down on her lip to keep herself from prompting him again. If there was one thing she'd had to learn in her years with Mulder, it was patience. She clamped down on the sense of dread that was wrapping itself around her insides since she'd heard him say he had gone to see his sister's grave.

"I'm in Chilmark, at the summer house."

That surprised her until she recalled that the cemetery where his parents were buried was within driving distance from there. "Okay, Mulder, I can fly up to Boston tomorrow and drive out to see you."

"What's on your mind, Scully? Can't you just tell me on the phone."

How could she tell him? She wasn't even sure herself about what she was going to say. "No, Mulder, I have to see you. Please."

"Maybe it'd be better if I came down there. The baby--."

"No, William will be fine with my mom. This is important, Mulder. Wait for me." She kept talking, asking him for directions to the Chilmark house, not giving him a chance to change his mind.

"Scully, listen, I have to tell you something--"

"You can tell me when I see you. Just wait there for me, Mulder. Wait for me." She practically hung up on him as she ended the call. She sank down in the chair, her hand touching her mouth. She realized she was trembling.

"He's not all right, Scully." Skinner's words echoed in her brain. Mulder had told her he'd gone to see Samantha's grave.

She drew in a calming breath and concentrated on what she needed to do to get on the first plane she could catch to Boston.

A few hours later, she was on the plane, staring out the window as the 737 rose above a thick bank of marshmallow clouds.

Scully stared into the bright blue sky and fought back a rising sense of guilt.

She hadn't tried to make Mulder stay. He'd left her because he had still sensed a threat, a danger that his presence could cause to both her and the baby. She hadn't argued. She knew she couldn't stop him from leaving anyway and now she could admit to herself that with the baby's safety at stake, it had been easier to let Mulder go. She had even managed to force herself to give up William in order to protect him.

For the past nine years, Mulder had been the most important person in her life. She knew that he would always be important to her, but she could no longer pretend that he was her first priority. Perhaps Mulder had realized it before she had herself.

The months had rolled by and life continued. Except for one strangely uncharacteristic email in which he'd spoken of his loneliness, she hadn't heard from him at all. Then, finally, with Doggett and Reyes' help, they had uncovered evidence that the threat of Alien invasion had been stopped once and for all. It had given her the confidence to take back her son and start a new life. Scully felt certain that, somehow, in some way, Mulder had played an integral part in the Alien Conspiracy's final defeat.

Yet, Mulder never came back.

She missed him but she didn't look for him, not the way she would have before the baby. Her heart told her that he was all right, that he was not hurt or in danger, but now...she was afraid for him again.

Scully wasn't really aware of the time as the plane made its way into Boston's Logan Airport. She was lost in a wave of memories, images from her last nine years with Fox Mulder drifting through her mind like snowflakes. She remembered the times that had forged a soul-deep friendship through challenge and adversity, strengthened and balanced by their disparate personalities. Yet, even at their closest, Scully always sensed a singular loneliness in her partner that even their friendship couldn't breach.

After her plane landed, Scully took the 30-minute commuter flight to Martha's Vineyard rather than trudge through a three-hour long drive to the Island. During the short Cape Air flight to the Vineyard, she decided to go the cemetery first before seeing Mulder.

The Mulder family gravesite was located in a Tilsbury cemetery. Scully wasn't sure why the family hadn't chosen a site closer to Chilmark. It seemed to be just another oddity about the Mulder family.

She remembered the funeral for Mulder's mother, remembered how Mulder had stood by the grave, his hazel eyes empty of all emotion. He'd looked from his mother's grave to his father's beside it. Scully could still see the bitter twist to his mouth as he'd whispered, "Why couldn't they trust me with the truth? Why couldn't they love me a little?"

As she walked along the jagged line of headstones, she felt a cool breeze against her face and listened to the rustle of the new leaves in the trees that dotted the landscape. Some of the headstones were very old, going back many generations, their stone and granite faces chipped here and there, the lettering worn thin by the years. The scent of fresh earth and a new Spring hung in the air, surrounded by the whisper of history.

She found Bill and Teena Mulder's graves in a row along a gentle slope. She stood silently before the headstones for a moment, remembering the sad and turbulent relationship between Mulder and his parents. She thought of her own parents and considered herself fortunate.

Her blue eyes examined the nearby graves as she began to walk along the rows. She stopped in the middle of a small patch of grass and looked down at a spray of dry, yellow flowers. Stooping to pick up a dried, half-crushed stem that was tangled in the grass, she looked at it closely and then at the other bits and pieces of yellow petals sprinkled over the area. Daisies. It seemed as though someone had left a bunch of daisies on the empty patch of ground. There were no grave markers around.

She looked up towards the two Mulder gravestones as a knot slowly tightened in her stomach and a frown etched its way across her face. The remains of the flower slipped through her fingers and caught on a breeze, drifting for a moment to land a few feet away, entangled once more.

Her walk quickened as she headed back towards her rental car.

She drove as fast as she dared, following Mulder's directions to Chilmark. It was still mid afternoon when she arrived in the quiet neighborhood that was more countryside than suburb. She followed the winding roads lined with old elm and maple trees that were beginning to bud with new leaves until she arrived at Mulder's house on Vine Street. She gazed at the white brick and wood faade and the trail of thick, evergreen ivy that hung from the second floor window boxes. The house was in need of a new coat of paint but otherwise looked like something out of an issue of Cape Cod Life.

It struck her as a strange setting for Mulder, but then most aspects of her former partner's life seemed laden with incongruities. This childhood home with its pleasant, welcoming faade seemed in sharp contrast with the stark, emotional wasteland of Mulder's youth and relationship with his parents. Given that Samatha's disappearance, the pivotal experience of young Mulder's life, took place here, made Scully wonder why he would choose to return. Then again, she seldom found it easy to figure out why Mulder did what he did. Despite how much she cared for him, loved him, she knew she would never truly understand him.

With a deep breath, she walked up the short, curving path to the front door and ran the bell. A minute passed, and then another. She rang the bell again, rose on tiptoe to try and peer in through the half moon of tinted glass set into the upper part of the door, but she could only see a flicker of shadows beyond. She knocked on the door and pressed the bell again.

"Hang on, I'm coming!"

She exhaled in relief at the sound of Mulder's voice. A moment later, she saw a familiar pair of hazel eyes looking down at her from the small half moon and then the bolt lock clicked and the door opened.

"Hi, Scully."

Mulder's face was smudged with dirt and there were streaks of it across his gray sweatshirt and around the knees of his washed-out jeans. He looked flushed and sweaty, but his smile went all the way up to his eyes, lighting his face boyishly.

Scully stepped forward and hugged him close, feeling the warmth and solidity of him in her arms. She felt his hands move hesitantly around her shoulders. It reminded her of so many other times and places when she had stood just this way, holding on to Mulder. Evoked too many moments of sadness and desperate comfort.

"Everything's okay, Scully. Everything's okay." Mulder spoke softly as she felt his face against her hair. His hand patted her awkwardly, the gesture bringing a wistful smile to her face as she slowly pulled away. She brushed away a smudge on his cheek and lifted an eyebrow in question.

"I was, uh, working in the garden."

Her other eyebrow joined the first. "You've broadened your horizons," she told him with a small smile.

He grinned back at her. "I'm retired now, Scully. That's what retired people do. I think it's in the AARP Handbook. Didn't you know?"

"Retired, Mulder? You?"

"Well, 'official-persona-non-grata-permanently-ass-kicked-out-of-the-Bureau' sounds a little wordy." He stepped aside and waved her inside.

She noticed that he glanced quickly down the hallway and up the stairs as if was looking for something, but then he just smiled at her again and led the way into the kitchen. He gestured to one of the chairs around the kitchen table. As she took her seat she watched him carefully. His hair was a little shorter and it seemed he might've gained a pound or two on his lanky frame. Time seemed to have caught up with him, but then that was true for her as well. The last few years had been especially difficult. For a moment, she thought of Skinner.

"Okay, Scully, why did you want to see me?"

She blinked out of her reverie and stared into Mulder's changeable eyes. Now that she was here, now that Mulder was standing before her, she still didn't know how to begin. She pressed her lips together and took a breath. "I went to the cemetery in Tilsbury before I drove here." She stopped, waiting to see his reaction.

"Why?" His expression was only mildly curious.

"You said you saw your sister's grave."

He just nodded, his eyes darting to the doorway that led to the other rooms. When his gaze returned, his eyes had a faraway, almost dreamy cast to them. Then he focused on her and his mouth turned upwards in a grin. "What?" he prompted innocently.

The knot in her stomach seemed to be retying itself as Scully pursed her lips and made herself say the words, her voice as gentle as she could make it. "Mulder, there's no grave there for Samantha. There couldn't be. Her body was never found. You never had a gravestone made for her."

He was shaking his head at her in that stubbornly familiar way that used to make her blood pressure rise. "You couldn't have been looking very hard for it, Scully. It's a small white stone with a flower holder at the base." His face softened. "Beloved sister," he said. His eyes dimmed with sadness. "I couldn't put 'beloved daughter'. It wouldn't have been the truth."

Scully felt her nails bite into her palms. "Mulder, there is no gravestone there for Samantha," she told him again.

"You should have called me. I would've come out there and showed you," he replied.

She took another deep breath. "Did you bring daisies to her grave, Mulder?"

"Yeah. Samantha liked daisies. She'd put them in her hair sometimes. In her braids." He smiled.

"Oh, Mulder," she whispered.

"C'mon Scully, you sounded frantic on the phone. What's happened? You said William was okay, right?"

It was as though he hadn't understood, or refused to understand, what she'd just told him. She reached out and grabbed his hand, pulled him down to sit in the chair beside her. "I talked with Skinner. He--he told me what happened with Alex Krycek." She felt a reflexive tug on her hand at the name, but held on. "Skinner told me that he..." She found she couldn't say the word. "Skinner told me what happened in that garage, told me how Krycek...died."

Mulder's head lowered. He seemed to be staring at the tabletop.

"Mulder, look at me," she told him. She heard him sigh and then he met her eyes.

"Tell Skinner," He paused for a moment, his gaze shifting to the open door to the garden before he turned back to her again. "Tell him it's all okay now. He..." Mulder shifted in his seat. "I didn't think he was going to pull the trigger that final time. I didn't think Skinner was capable of..." His voice trailed off as he took a breath, began again. "I've thought about it a lot, and I don't think Skinner thought he could do it either. We both just let it happen." His eyes closed, head drawing back for a moment before he focused on her again, the light returning to his eyes. "But it's okay now," he repeated. "It's the way it should be. Tell Skinner that, okay? He doesn't need to feel guilty." Mulder gave her another one of his soft, winsome smiles.

"What do you mean? What's the way it should be, Mulder?"

He gave a little shake of his head. "Methinks you would not approve, Scully." He withdrew his hand gently and stood. "Is that all you came up to tell me?"

She pushed her chair back and stood, apprehension tingling through her as she sensed the unfamiliar new wall between them. She waited until he met her eyes. "I wouldn't approve of what? Of the fact that Walter Skinner killed Alex Krycek while you stood by and watched it happen?" she asked him with deliberate bluntness.

Mulder stepped back as if she'd struck him. He stood very still. She could almost hear him breathing. She watched his mouth move silently for a moment as if he couldn't quite get the words to come out. Then his voice was barely a whisper. "It didn't seem...real."

The lost, faraway look in his eyes tugged at her heart. "Mulder, it wasn't your fault. Krycek chose his path long ago. I'm surprised he survived as long as he did. I--"

Mulder cut her off, his voice rising, tinted with anger. "It shouldn't have happened like shouldn't have happened at all. I shouldn't have let it." He met her sympathetic gaze and, suddenly, grinned. "But it's okay, Scully. It didn't happen like that. Alex is fine, just fine."

She stared at him for a moment. "What do you mean? Krycek is dead, Mulder."

He shook his head. "That was a clone, Scully. Alex is here. He's upstairs right now. I...I know there's not exactly a lot of love lost between the two of you and I thought it would be better if you didn't know." He shrugged. "I didn't expect to see you so soon. I thought that you'd be immersed in the raptures of motherhood," he added with a small grin.

"Krycek is upstairs?" she asked him, keeping her voice as gentle as she could, even as she fought the cold fear that was spreading through her.

He nodded, his teeth raking his lower lip as he seemed to sense her rising concern. "Look, Scully, I know you probably think I'm crazy for having anything to do with Alex after everything that's happened, but this means a lot to me. He means a lot to me." He put up a hand as she tried to interrupt. "I know the history between us is crazy. I know it doesn't make sense. It's not logical, not rational, not sensible." He gave her a wide-eyed shrug. "Then again, when has anyone ever associated those adjectives with me anyway?" He sighed at her frown. "I just got tired of fighting myself, fighting the way I feel about him. I didn't really face it until after...after I watched him die. After I thought I'd never see him again. I didn't feel anything at first. Nothing at all. And then it just...hit me. It was like waking up suddenly." He reached out and took her hand. "I hope you'll try and accept it."

Scully looked down at their joined hands and back up into the hopeful hazel eyes. "I'd like to talk to him. You say he's upstairs now?"

"I don't think that's such a good idea, Scully."

"Why not, Mulder? If you want me to understand, then I'll have to see him, talk to him." She said it calmly, but firmly, her hand unconsciously tightening around his fingers.

He stepped away from her, turning his gaze towards the hallway and the stairs. "Okay, just...give me a chance to talk with him first. We're just getting the hang of being together ourselves. We weren't exactly ready to have company. Alex is a little jumpy."

Scully almost gaped at him, unable to prevent her disbelief from showing . "You sound like he's a sheltered, choir boy, Mulder. We are talking about the same man, aren't we? Alex Krycek, Consortium assassin and professional killer?"

"He's not the same, Scully. Just like I'm not the same. The aliens took him, just like they took me." Mulder gave her a hard look. "Freedom of choice is more illusion than reality. Much of what Alex became was not his choice. I didn't realize that until I went on that ship. Didn't realize how little of my own life was my choice. Or how hard I've been fighting to deny the fact." He turned his back on her and started walking towards the stairs. "Just let me have a few minutes with him first."

Scully stood in the kitchen and watched him go, feeling strangely helpless.

Mulder chewed on his lip as he slowly headed up the stairs. He could almost feel Scully's eyes boring into his back. This wasn't he way he wanted it to happen. He had hoped to tell her about Alex later. Later, after things were more settled between them. He had hoped for more time.

There never seemed to be enough time.

As he approached the master bedroom, he wiped his hand over his face and rolled his shoulders back. Alex was sitting on the bed. The green eyes met his squarely but his expression was guarded, a little like the old Alex. It made Mulder sigh.

"Scully's downstairs." That got him a roll of the same green eyes, confirming that the obvious was well known. Mulder went over to the bed and reached out to stroke the soft dark hair. "She wants to talk to you. She thinks you're dead." Alex smiled up at him, his head rubbing back against Mulder's hand. "Skinner told her what happened. Well, what he thinks happened." Mulder let his hand drift down the side of Krycek's face, feeling the heat of his skin against his palm. "If it's any consolation, Skinner seems to have taken it...badly."

"That man always had too much conscience for his line of work. Guess it finally caught up with him," came the husky reply.

It was Mulder's turn to smile. "Maybe we've all become prone to delayed reaction."

Alex leaned forward, his arms wrapping around Mulder's waist, pulling him close until his dark head lay against Mulder's chest. "Does that mean you'll change your mind and throw me out of here tomorrow?" Alex's voice was muffled against his sweatshirt. Mulder could feel the puff of his breath, the reassuring pressure of his embrace tightening reflexively around him for just a moment.

"I've had more than my fair share of regrets, Alex. I pushed you away over and over again. I couldn't deal with you. But, you know, I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I was sure you'd always come back, one way or another, like a boomerang. Throw him away, he'll always come back. Somehow, I never really believed I could push you away...forever. Then, in that garage..." Mulder paused, seeing it all again in his mind's eye, feeling the stark, raw chill seeping into him. He swallowed and put his hands on either side of Alex's face, pushing it back so he could look into those green eyes, so alive and vibrant. "Spooky Mulder's been given one last chance. I'm not letting you go ever again."

"What about Scully?"

"She's my friend. We love each other, you know." He watched as the green eyes darkened, and wondered if it was jealousy." Mulder shook his head. "Not the same, Krycek. Not the same thing at all," he admonished firmly, but with a glint of humor in his eye. He was rewarded with an unexpectedly diffident lowering of the thick lashes. "She'll accept us." He chuckled. "Hell, I've done plenty of things that Scully didn't like, but she's always accepted me...eventually."

Alex was pulling him back and he felt himself losing his balance as he was tumbled to the bed. He heard an "oof" as he landed on top of Alex and laughingly shimmied over him to settle to one side, Alex's left side. Mulder flung a leg over him and took hold of Alex's warm left hand, opening it to delicately kiss his palm. Krycek smiled at him and curled his fingers over Mulder's mouth, gently scissoring his nose between his middle fingers.

"Hey, that's my best feature you're mauling," muttered Mulder between little palm licks.

Alex waggled his eyebrows. "Definitely not your best feature, love." His mouth snapped shut and his eyes darted away, as if he just realized what he'd called Mulder. A moment later he looked into Mulder's eyes. Whatever he saw there allowed him to let out a breath. He tweaked Mulder's nose again, let go, leaned over and kissed it. "This," he made a little sweep of the room and the bed with his right hand, " has got to be an X-file if there ever was one. Me and this."

Mulder didn't answer, letting the silence stretch. "You called me 'love'."

"Uh, I'm sorry, I didn't--"

Mulder frowned. "Didn't what? Didn't mean it?"

"No! No. I...I just don't want to push...don't want to fuck up-- Alex shut his mouth.

Mulder began to laugh. It started as a chuckle, rumbled through his chest, dipped down into his belly, and came out in a fullblown laugh. God, it felt good. Felt so go to stop fighting the longing, to just let it all go. To love. He felt Alex drawing back his hand but he held on. Instead, he traced a line down each long finger, then down to the wrist. "I'm glad they gave you back your arm," he said simply. "You know, I Do you feel it, Alex? The freedom in the air? It feels like the fog rolling back, like the smell of a field of wildflowers after a rainstorm. Or like watching a sunrise from the top of a mountain. Feeling like a bubble floating up through a clean blue sky forever."

Green eyes gazed back at him with a look of wonder. Alex glanced down at his hand entwined in Mulder's. "Yeah, yeah I feel it, too." He shifted a little so he could put both arms around Mulder again. "Free," he whispered, just before he took Mulder's mouth in a long, tender kiss.

And that's how Scully found them. She was standing in the doorway, her face pale, her gaze locked on the bed. On Mulder.

Mulder felt a quick flare of anger at her abrupt intrusion. He felt Alex stiffen in his arms, felt him begin to pull away. He tightened his own hold, looking quickly into the uncertain green eyes. "No, Alex, stay. It's all right. She should know. She'll understand." He placed a gentle kiss on Alex's temple and was rewarded with a sigh as Alex relaxed back into his arms, eyes closing. His anger melted away and he turned back to Scully calmly. "You're not as patient as you used to be, Scully," he quipped.

When she simply continued to stare, he gave Alex another reassuring glance before speaking to her again. "Okay, Scully, have a good look. I'm sorry if this isn't what you wanted to see. It's the way it was meant to be. I know that now." Mulder gave her a serene smile, his bright eyes filled with a joy that he couldn't contain. "I'm fine," he told her. "We're fine."

Mulder turned his face towards Alex and back again. "I'm home now, Scully."

Scully listened to her partner's voice, hearing the peace, the quiet certainty in his voice. Tears began to fill her eyes, spilling slowly, silently, down her cheeks.

His sweet smile broke her heart. She watched as he turned his gaze away again, casting that look of love and contentment towards the empty space on the bed beside him. He pressed one of the pillows against his chest and whispered, "Alex...Alex."

Scully realized then that what Mulder told her was true. After all the years of defeat and loss, he had finally found a place for himself where no one and nothing could hurt him. A place with no more betrayals, no more disillusionments. A place where his dreams still existed for him and the loneliness was gone, and where the truth came only from his heart.

At long last, Mulder was happy.

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