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Bait and Switch

Chapter Text

Over the years that the X-Files division had been closed, Walter Skinner had somehow forgotten how much of a damned headache Mulder and Scully were, although, to be fair, the amount of cigarette smoke in his office lately probably wasn’t helping much either. So when he woke up one Saturday morning to find himself somehow, literally, in bed with Mulder, his first thought was that perhaps he’d died some time ago and was actually in hell.

His second thought was that the arm slung heavily over his body seemed somehow longer than it should be. And his third thought was that worrying about whether Mulder’s arm was too big was probably not actually his top priority here.

He sat up. “Mulder, what the hell?”

Wait, that was… not his voice. He lifted up an arm, which was also not his arm, and looked down to see a body which was quite decidedly not his, framed by tendrils of red hair sweeping the sides of his field of vision. “Oh God,” he said, staring at Mulder’s hand, which was now resting heavily on his knee. “I’m not - please tell me I’m not Scully.”

Mulder opened his eyes a crack and stifled a yawn. “That’s a little kinky for so early in the morning, partner.” Nonetheless, he propped himself up on one elbow with an interested look.

“No,” Skinner said, hastily. “Mulder, I’m - really not Scully. There’s been some kind of…” he sighed. “God, I hate the X-Files.”

Mulder blinked again and sat up too. “Wait, are you serious? Then who are you?”

-----

Dana Scully startled awake to an alarm she had definitely not set. “What the hell, Mulder? I am not getting up early on a perfectly good Saturday to go ‘squatchin’ again,” she grumbled, reaching over to shove him awake. Her arm hit cold sheets on the other side of the bed, and she sighed, opened her eyes, then blinked.

This was not Mulder’s bed, where she clearly remembered falling asleep last night. The room was unfamiliar, although there was a tiny hint of recognition tugging at the far back of her mind.

She wasn’t experiencing sleep paralysis, and it didn’t feel like a dream. “William? Uh - Jackson?” she asked, tentatively, just in case, and then, as the alarm continued to rise in volume, she reached over and hit the blinking screen of the unfamiliar phone on the bedside table.

That wasn’t her arm either. Nor, come to think of it, did she generally speak in quite so deep a voice, although she’d somehow been sleepy enough not to notice it at first.

She blinked, and took stock. There was a mirror on the dresser across the room, and she carefully got up and walked over to it. Walter Skinner’s startled face looked back at her, and now she knew where the twinge of recognition had come from. She had been here once before, a few months ago with Mulder, investigating Skinner’s brief disappearance into his Vietnam War past.

Years on the X-Files had given her something of a framework to deal with such things, and she sat down on the end of the bed, thoughtfully. If she’d woken up in Skinner’s body, Occam’s Razor would suggest that he had likely woken up in hers. The logical thing to do would be to go over to Mulder’s and see if they could piece together what had happened, hopefully before Mulder said anything too horribly embarrassing to Skinner. Although, it was hard to imagine that things wouldn’t be somewhat awkward between them after this regardless.

With this in mind, she used the bathroom, showered, and got dressed using every ounce of the professional detachment she’d learned in medical school, then padded down the short hallway towards the kitchen and froze in her tracks.

Monica Reyes was sitting in the living room.

-----

“Okay,” said Mulder, reaching for a discarded tank top at the foot of the bed. He pulled it on, watching Skinner a little warily. “If you’re not Scully, then who the hell are you?”

Skinner sighed. “It’s me, Mulder. Skinner.”

Mulder raised his eyebrows. “The Skinman! Really?” He slid out of bed and pulled on a pair of sweatpants. “I never thought I’d have the opportunity to sleep my way to the top, but apparently here we are. Although based on the vibe I’ve been sensing at the office lately, maybe Kersh would have been a better choice.”

Skinner sighed again, more heavily. “Get a grip, Mulder, this isn’t funny.”

Mulder regarded him thoughtfully. “It’s not that I don’t want to believe you, but that’s exactly what Scully would say.”

Fair enough. If one wanted to play a prank on Mulder, this would actually be the sort of thing one might try. “Okay,” said Skinner. “How do I convince you?”

Mulder tilted his head. “That’s a good question. What do you know that Scully doesn’t?”

God. There was only one real thing, and Skinner really, really didn’t want to get into it. Thankfully, at that moment Mulder’s phone rang.

-----

Monica Reyes looked perfectly at ease in Skinner’s apartment, curled up like a cat in the black leather armchair, and Scully briefly wondered if she’d just discovered far more than she’d ever wanted to know about Reyes’ and Skinner’s love lives.

Reyes smiled, as if reading her mind. “Agent Scully,” she said, warmly.

Scully blinked. “Pardon me?”

“I know that, despite outward appearances, you are Agent Dana Scully,” said Reyes, calmly. She tilted her head, still looking a little like a cat. “I arranged for this. I need you to pay attention, because we don’t have much time. It’s regarding the smoking man.”

“CGB Spender,” said Scully. “Or whatever he’s calling himself now.” She sat carefully on the sofa, Skinner’s height and strength still unfamiliar and a little awkward. “All right,” she said, “say for argument’s sake that you... somehow did this. Why? And how? How did you - ”

Monica uncurled her legs and leaned forward. “I’ve been working with him. The smoking man.” She held up a hand to forestall Scully’s reaction. “Undercover. On Skinner’s orders.”

Neither of them said anything for a moment, but neither looked away. Finally, Monica spoke.

“Did you know,” she asked, conversationally, “that the smoking man’s been in contact with Skinner several times over the past few months?” She raised her eyebrows. “I don’t imagine he’s said anything about it to you or Mulder.”

“No,” said Scully, with a sigh. “He hasn’t.”

“He thinks he’s protecting you,” said Monica. “But time is of the essence, and I thought a more direct approach would be in order. I’ll be with the smoking man this evening, meeting with Skinner in his car. With you in Skinner’s body, you can end this now, Dana.”

Scully frowned. “End it how? What could I possibly do with Skinner’s body that he couldn’t do himself?” She spread out her hands, startling herself again when they were not her own. “And Monica, you must realize that, setting aside the scientific impossibility, the ethics of switching others’ bodies without permission are highly questionable at best.”

Reyes stood up and began to pace, a tight path back and forth in front of the sofa. “Ordinary ethics hardly apply in this situation, Dana.” Her knuckles curled a little. “And clearly this isn’t scientifically impossible, because it’s happened. Skinner’s in your body, by the way.”

“How?” demanded Scully.

“Does it matter?” asked Reyes.

“Yes!” said Scully. “You and Mulder are often willing to just accept these things, but even after all these years, I know that there is a scientific explanation for everything we’ve encountered. Sometimes the science is beyond us, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And you speak as though you’ve done this on purpose, which suggests there was a deliberate, reliable method.”

Reyes sighed. “It involves your son.”

Scully was on her feet - or rather, Skinner’s feet - in an instant. “You will tell me exactly how William is involved in this,” she said, in measured tones. “And then you will tell me, if you have been in contact with him, why you’ve kept us in the dark. Is he in danger?”

Monica stared, eyes wide, and Scully took a step back, a little shakily. The power inherent in the ability to loom over someone threateningly was disturbingly seductive. She nodded at Monica, eyes narrowed. “Talk.”

“Dana,” Monica said, seriously. “I would never hurt William. I was there at his birth, and I’ve always felt a certain - ”

“No,” said Scully. “Tell me what the hell you’ve been doing with him.”

Reyes cleared her throat. “As I know you are aware, the smoking man is preparing to release a particularly deadly virus into the general population. William’s blood is the key to synthesizing a vaccine.” She tilted her head. “By the way, I think you knew this as well, and yet when you had access to what you believed to be his body, you didn’t even take a sample.”

Scully blinked at her, and began to pace herself, on a path perpendicular to Monica’s. “He’s my son. I believed I was sitting with my dead son.”

Monica nodded. “Nevertheless, you performed a DNA test on a sample of his hair, so presumably a blood sample wouldn’t have been out of the question.” She shrugged. “Luckily, I’ve done it for you. Synthesis of the vaccine is well underway, although its use is intended as a last resort. In the meantime, your son has agreed to help me. To all intents and purposes, he’s transferred your consciousness to Walter Skinner’s body and vice versa.”

“When,” asked Scully, slow and measured, “have you been in contact with my son?”

Monica held up both hands. “He’s in hiding. The smoking man knows nothing of this.” She gave Scully the sort of sympathetic look that always made her want to strangle the person giving it to her. “William - Jackson -  says that, if you’re successful in eliminating the threat to him, he would like to meet you again under better circumstances. But it’s too dangerous at the moment.”

“But you can obviously contact him.”

Monica nodded. “Yes, I can contact him through a series of anonymous internet relays. But each contact carries a certain amount of risk, and he’s asked that I only do it if absolutely necessary.”

Scully sighed. “And it didn’t occur to you to ask ahead of time if this was what I wanted? If you’ve already begun to synthesize the vaccine, to what purpose have you initiated this ridiculously elaborate plot? You’ve got access to the smoking man. Why don’t you do whatever it is you want me to do?”

Monica looked at her. “It’s never that simple, Dana.”

“Bullshit,” said Scully. Monica gaped, and Scully suppressed the fleeting impulse to laugh at the utter shock on her face. Even Monica, it seemed, had managed to fall prey to the common impulse to regard her as some kind of martyred saint, suffering for the greater good, bravely bearing up without complaint or bad language.

“You don’t understand,” Monica began, but Scully held up a hand.

“Of course I don’t understand,” she said, “Because nobody ever tells anybody anything. We’re supposed to be on the same side, Monica. Why can’t you just sit down and share everything you know about the conspiracy? Why does everybody, conspirator and investigator alike, speak entirely in enigmas and riddles? We’ve all been infected by the conspirators’ paranoia and utter lack of clarity.” She sat down on the chair and leaned forward, resting Skinner’s large arms on his knees. “Surely if you’ve been undercover for some time, you know more about the conspiracy than I could ever discover by posing as Skinner.”

Monica nodded. “Yes. But only Skinner can set my plan in motion. And he’s refused, so I moved on to Plan B. This is your chance to end this, Dana.”

“If Skinner has refused to do whatever you’ve asked of him, it would be incredibly unethical for me to use his body to do it regardless, without his permission,” Scully said, frowning. “I refuse to believe that there isn’t another way.”

Monica clenched her fists again. “I know you think I’ve been steeped in the conspiracy for too long, Dana. But if you knew the extent of the danger - ”

Scully leaned back against the cushions and folded Skinner’s large fingers together, slowly and deliberately. “Then tell me. In plain language. Don’t leave anything out.”

-----

Mulder picked up the phone, checked the call display, his eyes not leaving Skinner. “It’s Skinner. So if we’re rolling with the Freaky Friday scenario where you’re Skinner, I guess it must actually be Sc- ”

Skinner sighed. “Stop trying to parse it out and just answer the damned phone, Mulder.”

“Again, exactly what Scully would say,” Mulder said, regarding Skinner thoughtfully as he swiped the screen and brought the phone to his ear. “Mulder.”

Skinner could hear the muffled sound of his own voice from the phone. “Mulder, it’s me.”

Mulder raised his eyebrows. “Me as in AD Skinner? Or me as in Dana Scully currently inhabiting Skinner’s body?”

Skinner reflected that this was, indeed, something Mulder would be willing to just come out and ask - was, in fact, the sort of thing Mulder said to him all the time, the sort of thing he brushed off automatically without really thinking about it.

“Okay, if you really are Scully, tell me something only you and I would know,” Mulder was saying. He listened for a moment, then raised an eyebrow, the beginnings of a smirk on his face. “Yeah, okay. And I have to say, that sounded surprisingly sexy in Skinner’s voice, partner.”

“Oh God,” said Skinner, eloquently.

Now that Mulder was convinced it was real, he appeared to be having trouble containing his delight at the situation. “Okay, I’m putting you on speaker. He’s right here.” He pulled the phone away from his ear and touched the screen.

“Sir?” asked Scully. God, Skinner wondered, was that really how his voice sounded on the phone?

“Yes, it’s me,” he said.

Scully sighed. “Did Monica Reyes ask you to memorize a seven-word phrase last night?”

Skinner frowned. “How do you know that?” When Scully just made a non-committal noise, he sighed. “I forgot my whale on the elevator,” he said, and somehow Scully’s voice made the thing sound soothing rather than ridiculous.

Mulder stared at him, and there was a muffled conversation at the other end of the phone. “Yes, all right, that’s it,” said Scully, a moment later. “Okay, we’re coming over.”

“We?” asked Mulder.

“Monica Reyes is with me,” said Scully. “She’s shared some very interesting information that I’d like Skinner to confirm, and then we all have some work to do.”

Chapter Text

“You had no right to keep this from us.” Scully glared at Skinner from his own face, across Mulder’s kitchen table. “Regardless of his genetic heritage, I carried him for forty weeks. I gave birth to him in adverse conditions with nothing but Monica’s fucking whale songs to dampen the pain. Any information you might have obtained regarding his conception is clearly relevant to my interests. To our interests.” She met his eyes. “In fact, the smoking man’s claim isn’t anything Mulder and I hadn’t already considered and thoroughly disproven. But clearly you didn’t know that.”

Skinner sighed. “I just -”

Scully held up a hand. “I realize you thought you were protecting us, but my God, Skinner. I’m 54 years old. I’m not a child, and I’m not some sort of delicate flower. You are well aware of everything that’s been done to me against my will since I joined the X-files division, and you think this is what’s going to break me?”

Skinner cleared his throat, his eyes flicking in Mulder’s direction.

“I’m fine too, Walter,” said Mulder, airily. “Got a bit of a thing about people collaborating with the smoking man, though.” His glare included both Reyes and Skinner, which Skinner thought was a little unfair, considering that Monica had been working undercover.

“I’m sorry,” said Skinner. “You’re right. I should have told you.”

Scully nodded, then turned to Reyes, who sighed. “And I shouldn’t have acted without warning or permission this morning. But I truly believed I was taking advantage of a rare opportunity.”

“This isn’t over,” Scully said, “but we don’t have time to discuss it further right now.” She looked from Skinner to Mulder.  “Agent Reyes and I have what I believe is a credible plan to end this particular threat of global pandemic.”

Mulder leaned forward. “Ooh, tell me you’re going to assassinate all the conspirators while you’re still in Skinner’s body. It’s the perfect crime! Nobody ever believes the paranormal explanation.”

“Don’t think I didn’t consider it,” said Scully, darkly.

Mulder grinned. “Scully, are you flirting with me? I don’t know how Skinner’s going to feel about that.”

Scully looked like she was suppressing a smile, and Skinner wondered yet again if that was really how he looked to outside observers. Scully cleared her throat and nodded to Monica. “Tell them what you told me about the virus.”

Reyes was pacing. “The virus was developed using alien blood that’s been in storage since Roswell. It can’t be synthesized. And that particular alien species is no longer interested in colonization due to incipient global warming.” She looked around at each of them. “They’ve stopped visiting the earth. There’s no way to get more.”

“So, theoretically,” said Scully, if we can destroy the conspiracy’s entire supply of both virus and blood...”

“They’ll have no way to recreate it,” finished Mulder. “But if it was that easy to sneak in to their storage facilities - ”

Reyes sat down in the empty chair at the table, leaning forward on her elbows. “Your son can switch Dana’s consciousness with that of anyone within a certain radius, because of the specific biological similarities and particular alien DNA he and Dana share. But he can’t do it with two random people. One of them has to be Dana.” She shrugged. “I know where everything is stored, but I need to be with someone who can get past the biometric security measures.”

There was a silence, and then Mulder’s jaw dropped as he stared at Scully. “Are you planning to swap bodies with the smoking man ?”

Scully nodded. “Yes. With my consciousness in his body, Agent Reyes and I will be perfectly placed to destroy all of the samples, incinerate all of the blood, wipe out as much data as we can.” She shrugged. “The smoking man seems to have no qualms about using my body for his own purposes, so I don’t feel particularly conflicted about returning the favour.”

There was a silence. “There’s no way you’re going to destroy all the blood,” Skinner said, finally. “These men hide things from each other. There’s got to be more out there than you realize. Maybe even more virus.”

“Of course, we’ll continue work on the vaccine,” said Monica. “It’s nearly ready for mass production, and at the very least, this will slow down their plans long enough for us to be fully prepared.”

“Although frankly,” said Scully, “given the attitudes towards vaccination in certain segments of the population these days, we should hope to hell that we’re able to destroy the virus at its source, for once and for all.”

There was another silence, and then Mulder stood up, cracking his knuckles. “Okay,” he said. “What do we have to do?”

-----

Skinner struggled to consciousness, opened his eyes, and looked down with relief at his own hands. He stood up, and everything was the right height. His arms and legs worked exactly as he expected them to. The wisps of hair in his face were gone, and the uncomfortable bra strap was back to being Scully’s problem.

He fully expected that he and Scully would both politely ignore the fact that they’d become uncomfortably intimate with each other’s bodies, washing, dressing, using the bathroom, all those tiny moments that one didn’t generally share with even the closest of coworkers. They all knew each other far too well at this point anyway.

Scully was awake now too, she and Mulder staring at each other in a way that made it perfectly clear how well they knew each other in the biblical sense, and Skinner cleared his throat, turning to Monica. She tilted her head towards Mulder and Scully. “We should give them a minute.”

The main floor of Mulder’s house was one open space, so they stepped out onto the porch, leaning against the railing. “That was a severe overstepping of boundaries, Agent Reyes” he said, finally. “What were you thinking ?”

She sighed. “I was frustrated at your lack of cooperation, at your unwillingness to commit to a plan. It seemed that all you were doing was taking in information, but never doing anything with it. Once I realized what Jackson Van De Camp could do - I didn’t think it through.”

“That,” he said, “is an understatement.”

Monica nodded. “I know. But in the end, we’ve come up with a workable plan, and the world will be a little safer than it would have been otherwise.”

He sighed. “Have I ever mentioned how much I hate the X-Files?”

-----

The next few hours crawled by. Reyes left, to take up her place with the smoking man in his office. Mulder made sandwiches while Scully made a quick run to the hospital where she still had admitting privileges, returning with an injectable sedative that Skinner was quite sure she’d obtained under false pretenses.

All of them were restless, and none of them was good at waiting.

Mulder and Scully were arguing passionately over small details of the plan. Skinner wondered if they would have found a more efficient way to release their tension if he hadn’t been there - they were clearly sleeping together again, although everybody involved in this morning’s debacle had politely skirted that topic.

“On-site incineration is the only possibility,” she was saying. “You do realize how virulent this contagion is. One slip-up… Mulder, we can’t risk transporting it.”

“Fully incinerating everything on-site will take time we might not have. I don’t know how much I can take of the smoking man coming on to me, Scully.”

She rolled her eyes, the tension briefly broken. “I’m sure you’ll survive.” She looked around at both of them. “But if he - if it seems appropriate, don’t hesitate to use the sedative. I don’t want him to - I am not giving the smoking man free reign of my body.”

Skinner nodded grimly, and checked his phone. “It’s almost time. We should get ready.”

He busied himself with digging out the handcuffs to give them a moment, although the two of them had never been particularly physically demonstrative in the presence of others. When he turned back, Mulder was leaning forward to kiss Scully on the forehead. “Go get ‘em, partner.”

Skinner handed him the handcuffs, and Scully held out her hands, she and Mulder sharing a tiny look that gave Skinner the sudden discomfited conviction that they’d done this before under very different circumstances.

Scully cleared her throat. “Don’t hesitate to use the sedative,” she said again, and Mulder and Skinner both nodded.

Mulder looked down at his phone. “Okay, this should be it.” He squeezed her knee. “Kick some conspiracy ass, Scully. And ooh, hey, if you have time, get the smoking man a really embarrassing tattoo.”

“Pink unicorn on the forehead,” nodded Scully, seriously, and then the timer went off and she slumped down on the couch.

-----

When Scully woke up, she knew immediately that it had worked. Her mouth tasted like stale cigarettes, and she was slumped across a hard chair in an odd, rather painful position. She opened her eyes to see Monica looming uncomfortably close. “You were out for almost 15 minutes. Are you all right?”

“I have no idea,” Scully said, and her voice that came out in the distinctive low rasp that still occasionally haunted her nightmares. “To be honest, I feel terrible. But I am in the body of an elderly long-term smoker who’s survived more near-death experiences than Rasputin, so this is probably just how he normally feels.”

Monica nodded, letting Scully sit up further in the armchair. “Have you seen my whale?” she asked.

“Forgot it on the elevator,” said Scully, with a cough.

Monica smiled. “Just making sure it’s really you. Let’s get to work.”

-----

The virus was stored in three separate labs, all within driving distance, and as far as Monica had been able to discover, the remaining blood was all in a storage facility in Germantown, Pennsylvania. They’d planned their route ahead of time, relying on the sparse weekend staff and even sparser overnight personnel to allow them to complete their work unchallenged.

Reyes drove while Scully stared out the window, trying to ignore the faint reflection of the smoking man’s face in the dusky half-light. She had a growing headache which had reached the point of nausea before the obvious occurred to her. “Do you mind if I smoke?” she asked.

Monica shrugged and gestured to the cigarette lighter, no doubt well-used to working in a constant haze of carcinogens. Scully lit one of the smoking man’s ubiquitous Morleys with slightly shaking hands and brought it to her lips. She closed her eyes against the rush as she inhaled, remembered her minor teenage rebellions, and that day so many years ago when the planets had aligned in Comity, New Hampshire.

“Feeling better?” asked Monica, after a few minutes.

“A little,” Scully said, with a wheezing cough. How had it come to this, that she’d willingly purloined the body of someone who could reasonably be called her arch-enemy, and worse, willingly allowed him to spend time in hers? It would be foolish to risk a phone call, but she hoped to hell Mulder and Skinner had things under control back at Mulder’s.

-----

“Oh, I see. Very clever, Fox.” The paternal approval, maddening enough when it came from the smoking man, was almost unbearable when it appeared to come from Scully, sitting quietly in handcuffs on Mulder’s couch. Mulder glanced at Skinner, then at the vial of sedative. Skinner shrugged.

The smoking man gave an odd smirk that just looked wrong on Scully. “This is quite clearly the work of Agent Scully’s son. Jackson Van De Camp.” He pronounced each syllable of the name precisely, almost ostentatiously. “I admit, I may have underestimated him.” He tilted his head slightly. “I seem to have a tendency to do that with my sons, I’m afraid.”

Mulder ignored the bait. Scully, justifiably afraid that she’d been impregnated by a shadowy consortium for nefarious purposes, had run dozens of tests, all of which had clearly showed Mulder to be William’s biological father. They both suspected the smoking man had done something in that cabin in Pennsylvania, but whatever it had been, he had not fathered her child in any sense that mattered. It appeared that conception had occurred, more or less, in the old-fashioned way, despite whatever other forces had been in play.

The smoking man shifted in his seat. “I don’t suppose I could have a cigarette.” Mulder and Skinner shook their heads almost in unison, and he shrugged. “You do realize that deliberately allowing an elderly man to go through nicotine withdrawal could be considered torture? I thought you considered yourself above that sort of thing, Fox.”

“You’re in Scully’s body. She doesn’t smoke.”

“Are you so sure?” he asked silkily, with that knowing smirk that he was somehow able to convey precisely on Scully’s face.

Mulder nodded. “Pretty damn sure.” He’d been kissing Scully more often these days than he had in years, although he wasn’t going to get into the details of that in present company.

The smoking man fiddled thoughtfully with his cuffs. “Wouldn’t it be a pity if poor Agent Scully were to break her own thumb in an escape attempt?”

Skinner shrugged. “Wouldn’t it be a pity if we had to use the sedative that Agent Scully left us for just such an occasion?”

“Touche,” said the smoking man, shifting so that he was leaning back on the couch, sitting in a way that drew attention to Scully’s breasts in a way she rarely did herself. He looked amused. “I suppose I’ll have to find some other way to entertain myself, then.”

Mulder glanced at the sedative again, and Skinner nodded.

-----

The Fairfax lab was just as deserted as they’d hoped it would be. It was in a generic-looking industrial park that housed several software companies, a coffee shop, and a medical lab, the deserted parking lot no doubt overflowing with cars during the work week. Monica pulled up and parked in front of an unmarked door between one of the software companies and the coffee shop. She drew out a keycard and let them in, and Scully suppressed a groan as she saw that they were at the bottom of a narrow staircase. The smoking man was in terrible shape, and just walking from the car had left her a little out of breath.

Monica grinned. “Don’t worry, Dana, there’s an elevator.” She tapped the wall and it slid open, her keycard unlocking the elevator controls. After a short ride upwards the doors opened onto an upstairs hallway of the sort that might be found in any bland, industrial building. Monica nodded at a door halfway down the hall. “I don’t have access to the lab,” she said. “But you do.”

Scully nodded and stepped up to the retinal scanner next to the door. Despite her confidence in the plan she found herself holding her breath, but the light blinked green, the door beeped, and Monica caught hold of the handle and opened it. There was nobody in the room.

Monica let out a breath. “Okay. What do we do first?”

Scully spotted the incinerator immediately, and Monica inclined her chin towards a half-hidden refrigerator unit in the far corner. “The virus should be in there.” She walked over and cautiously opened the door, peering at the label on one of the small vials without touching it. “Yes, that’s the code for the virus samples.”

Scully’s nodded. “All right, we have to move them all to the incinerator, over there. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you to be extremely careful.” On the upside, due to the virulence of the contagion, the conspirators hadn’t felt it necessary to go into mass production. On the downside, the relatively small amount stored in these three labs was enough to wipe out most of humanity.

Monica had steadier hands, so she moved the vials carefully to the incinerator. It was a standard high-temperature laboratory model, one that Scully had used hundreds of times, but she still found herself triple checking her calculations as she set the temperature and time.

“It’s going to take an hour,” she said, and they both glanced at the door to the lab. They’d encountered nobody since their arrival in the parking lot, but neither was optimistic enough to believe everything was going to go exactly as planned. Scully honestly couldn’t remember a single time it had, since the day she’d first stepped into that basement office, impossibly young and naively skeptical.

“So, you and Mulder,” said Reyes, conversationally, sitting down at one of the computers and starting to scroll through the file systems. She glanced at the door again, then dug a flash drive out of her pocket and began copying files. “I’m downloading the files from the cloud drive now,” she added. “For the rest, we can just copy over any local files, and then wipe the hard drives right away.”

Scully nodded and started on the computer across from Monica. The two of them worked in silence for a while, falling into an almost hypnotic pattern, slowly but surely setting back humanity’s doomsday clock, one hard drive at a time. Monica stood and stretched, moving over to the next set of computers a few benches over. “Well?” she asked, and Scully shrugged.

“So far so good. Twenty minutes until incineration is complete.”

Monica raised an eyebrow. “I meant you and Mulder.”

The corners of Scully’s mouth tugged upwards. “Could apply to both.”

Monica rolled her eyes. “You love each other, Dana. Everyone could see it back when I was on the X-Files, and it’s not much less obvious now.” She hit a few keys, frowned, then looked back at Scully. “And you two seem pretty cozy lately, for a couple who isn’t together anymore.”

Scully rolled her chair sideways to the next computer, and shrugged. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“You’re sleeping together,” Monica said, almost accusingly.

Scully shrugged again. “We’re consenting adults.” She gave in to a rattling cough, mostly to hide the fact that she was smiling. “ And , I recently lost both my vibrator and my apartment in an incident that’s currently the subject of an open X-File, so…”

Monica raised both eyebrows. “Maybe the two of you really shouldn’t be assigned to the same department.”

“It wasn’t as fun as you’re imagining,” said Scully, drily.

-----

The Upper Marlboro and Rockville labs were much the same as the Fairfax one, and Scully was starting to let herself believe that they might actually manage to pull this off. They’d already met with considerable success: all known samples of the virus, aside from the one being used to test the vaccine, had been incinerated, and all that was left was the blood. It was 3:30 in the morning on a Sunday - it was hard to imagine a time when fewer people were likely to be in the Germantown facility.

“I saved the worst for last,” admitted Monica as she pulled off the highway. “There’s a lot more to incinerate, this storage facility is more heavily guarded, and it’s busier at night. And the blood is on the fifth floor, and the incinerator in the basement.” She shrugged. “I figured if things went wrong, at least we’d have already set them back by eliminating the existing supply of the virus.”

Scully nodded. “We’ve at least bought time to perfect and produce the vaccine.” She coughed, and lit another cigarette. “I must say, that I’m greatly looking forward to having my own body back.”

“It’s been worth it, though, right?” asked Monica. “We couldn’t have done this without…”

“William,” said Scully, and neither of them spoke until Monica pulled over beside a chain-link fence on a deserted side road, and cut the engine. The smoking man wasn’t regularly seen at this facility, and they didn’t want to take any chances.

Scully sometimes wondered if she was getting a little old for wriggling under fences in her own body, let alone in the one she was currently using, but she brushed herself off, caught her breath, and nodded to Reyes, who peered around the corner of the building. “Okay, on my mark, run for the door. Try not to cough too loudly.”

They had to subdue two guards, and Scully gave a silent prayer of thanks that she’d always been short, always been physically weaker than most of her opponents. As Monica dispatched the first guard, Scully neatly flipped the second over her hip, threw his gun behind her into the darkness, and dug her knee into his shoulder blades as she held him in an armlock. “Not bad for an old man,” said Monica, leaning over her to snap on a set of handcuffs.

“The old man’s going to be really sore tomorrow,” said Scully, and she and Monica exchanged a tiny grin as they hurried into the elevator, guns at the ready when the doors opened on the fifth floor.

-----

There were only ten minutes left in the incineration cycle when they heard the commotion, shouting and thundering footsteps on the floor above, and knew that they’d been discovered. “If they shut the incinerator off now, will they be able to use the blood?” asked Monica, glancing at the door, which they’d locked, but which they both knew wouldn’t hold up under a concerted attack.

“Probably not,” said Scully, considering, “but I’d rather not take any chances.” She gestured at one of the high windows that were their only escape route. “You go. Take both guns. Contact my son as soon as you’re safely away, and we’ll leave it to the smoking man to explain what he’s been doing tonight.”

Monica nodded, accepting the logic. The footsteps were getting closer. “Stay alive until I can contact him,” she said, as the door rattled, and Scully boosted her painfully up to the high window, Monica slithering through onto her belly into the bushes outside. Scully heard the window slide shut behind her, just as the door crashed open.

She strolled forward to meet the men who burst through, her hands up in surrender. “Good evening, gentlemen. I suppose you’re wondering what I’m doing down here,” she said, calmly, with all of the smoking man’s smug self-assurance.

“Oh, I think I have a fairly good idea,” came a voice Scully recognized, stepping through the door behind the others. The corpulent figure Mulder had dubbed the Well-Manicured Man graced her with his reptilian smile. “I have long felt that your personal stake in the proceedings was… unwise.” he said.  “And I see that I was right to worry.”

There were five minutes left in the incineration cycle. Scully coughed. “I’m unarmed. My cigarettes are in my breast pocket.” Maintaining eye contact with the well-manicured man, she brought out the package and lighter. He said nothing, inclining his head slightly. A gentlemen’s agreement, she thought. One must be civilized when playing God with the lives of others.

She slid a cigarette out of the package, held it between her lips, and lit it, closing her eyes briefly as she drew in the first nicotine-laced breath. She’d meant it as a stalling tactic - just over four minutes left now - but she felt steadier, sharper, more powerful once the smoke had hit her lungs, and she hoped to God she wasn’t going to crave cigarettes once she was back in her own body. Three and a half minutes.

“I must say,” said the well-manicured man, thoughtfully. “That even if you were to tell me everything, such as the location of that black-haired assistant of yours, I wouldn’t believe a word you said. And I don’t think there’s much point in me sharing my thoughts with you either.” He nodded at the armed man next to him, who raised his gun and aimed it directly at Scully’s head. “You’ve had your last cigarette,” said the well-manicured man. “Any last words?”

Now would be a good time, William, Scully thought, as hard as she could, but nothing happened. Jackson, she thought. Jackson, now. If you ever want a chance to get to know me. Now.

“You will not succeed,” she said aloud, speaking directly to the well-manicured man. “You will never succeed.” She squeezed her eyes shut, braced herself. She reached for her cross which, of course, was not around her neck, and thought of Ahab, of Melissa, of her mother, of Emily. Of Mulder.

There was a loud noise and everything went black.

Chapter Text

Scully wasn’t waking up.

The sedative should have worn off by now, and whoever was in Scully’s handcuffed body should have stirred, opened their eyes, given some clue as to their identity, but she slept on, drooling a little, breathing steadily, dead to the world. Mulder squeezed her upper arm again, shook her gently, but she didn’t move, not even to bat him away.

Reyes had called, frantic, gasping for breath, reporting that Scully had been captured and Jackson wasn’t responding to her messages. Skinner had stayed on the line with her, calmed her down, sent the Germantown PD in to investigate the building, reporting shots fired in the basement and a narrow escape by an undercover federal operative.

And Scully slept.

Mulder closed his eyes, rubbed the bridge of his nose. Waiting helplessly beside Scully’s bedside was an achingly familiar feeling - he’d lost track of how many times he’d done it over the years. But this time, he wasn’t even sure if it was Scully he was waiting for.

They didn’t even know how much danger she was in. If the smoking man had been captured, imprisoned, they had all the time in the world to find Jackson. If he’d been killed…

“Mulder!” Skinner’s voice sounded urgent, and Mulder’s eyes flew open. Scully’s eyes were blinking open.

“Good morning,” said Mulder, cautiously, and she smiled, Scully’s smile.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to see you again,” she said, a little shakily, then smiled again.

“We need to be sure you’re you,” Mulder said, but the smoking man had never managed to replicate that full Scully smile, the one that looked like the sun coming out after a long Oregon winter.

“I can give you a long list of things the smoking man has never known about us, Mulder.” She glanced at Skinner, who had moved over by the window and was studiously looking away. “I won’t bite,” she said, tilting her chin towards his ear, and Mulder grinned.

“Not in front of Skinner, at least,” he said. He leaned in, and she spoke, in her bedroom voice, about flashlights and autopsies, about building towers of bodies and dancing with Cher, about vampires and pizza and mosquito bites and all the times, from their very first case, they’d broken the FBI’s regulation about consorting in the same motel room. About the flawed but perfect space they were finally finding together, after so many years of struggling to define what they were to each other.

He unlocked her cuffs, skimming his thumb over the insides of her wrists. Her breath hitched, and they stared at each other for a long moment before she stretched and sat up. “Is Monica all right?”

Skinner turned back from the window and nodded. “She’s fine, but worried. I’m going to let her know you’re awake.” He came a bit closer. “Are you all right?”

Scully nodded too. “It was - it was close. I’m not sure the smoking man actually can die, after what he’s come back from in the past. But I’m fairly certain he’s been shot point blank in the head.”

Mulder glanced at Skinner. “Yeah,” he said. “I just got a report from the Germantown police. I didn’t want to - ” He rubbed the bridge of his nose and jerked his head towards the front door. “I’m just going to step outside and call Agent Reyes,” he said.

“Don’t leave on our account,” said Scully, getting up, rubbing her wrists a little. “I really have to pee. Also, I’m starving, Mulder. You’d better not have eaten all the muffins. Especially not that blueberry one you knew I was saving.”

Mulder and Skinner watched her disappear into the bathroom. “Yeah, that’s definitely her,” said Skinner, after a moment. “The smoking man hates muffins.”

Mulder gave him an odd look, and Skinner grinned. “Yeah, I don’t know, Mulder. I guess I’m glad to have her back too.”

“So you didn’t enjoy the whole Freaky Friday experience?”

“No,” said Skinner, definitively, and stepped outside to make his call.

-----

It was noon by the time the dust had settled. Jackson, who’d been too busy with the delicate task of returning Scully’s consciousness to her own body to reply to Monica’s increasingly urgent messages, had checked in. He was gone again, telling Monica that they couldn’t risk using a potentially compromised line of communication, promising he’d be in contact. Someday. At least, Scully thought, he was a little safer than he had been. And he knew where to find them, which was more than she could have said for years.

The Germantown police had found gunpowder residue, a lot of blood, and an incinerator that looked as if it had been hastily ransacked, but no conspirators, and no bodies. The building had been cordoned off for federal investigation, but none of them expected anything to come of it. But they had dealt a blow to the conspiracy, and the world was a little farther from disaster than it had been twenty four hours ago, and maybe that was the best anybody could hope for.

“He could very well have survived,” said Scully, watching Skinner’s car pull away. “Many people have recovered from horrendous head injuries. A paintbrush through the eye. A nail driven into the skull. A bullet passing through just the right area of the prefrontal lobe.” She shrugged. “And frankly, I wouldn’t lay odds on him dying from any gunshot wound, no matter what vital part was hit.”

Mulder turned to her with a slow smile. “Why, Agent Scully, are you suggesting that the smoking man may have unnatural healing abilities?”

Scully stepped closer to him. “Nothing happens in contradiction to nature, Mulder. Only in contradiction to what we know of it.” Her lips were very close to his. “I thought we’d settled that years ago.”

He brought their joined hands up between them. “You’re right,” he said.

She raised both eyebrows. “Who are you, and what the hell have you done with Fox Mulder?”

They stared at each other for a moment, and both took a step back. “We - we need a code word,” she said, eyes wide. “To make sure we’re really who we appear to be.”

“Dactylography,” he said immediately, and she shook her head, relieved, smiling a little at her own paranoia and at how immediately Mulder’s mind had gone to a word they normally used under somewhat different circumstances. Mulder grinned back.

“Monica believes our son can only switch consciousnesses with me as the focus,” she said, seriously. “But I can’t help but wonder if he might be able to do the same with you.” She shrugged, tugging at a loose thread on the sleeve of her shirt. “And he’s shown somewhat questionable judgement regarding the use of his powers.”

“Well, he was literally born in a barn, Scully. What did you expect?”

Scully stared at him for a moment and then burst out laughing, burying her face in his chest as all the tension of the past 24 hours poured out of her. She clung to him, tears streaming down her cheeks, and if he noticed that she wasn’t laughing anymore he didn’t say anything, just rubbed her back and rested his chin on her head, breathing her in so deeply that she wondered if he was crying a little too.

Eventually she pulled back, wiping the last tears from her cheeks, and Mulder took her hand again, rubbing his thumb over the pad of her hand. “I don’t think it’s too paranoid to have a code word.”

Scully rolled her eyes fondly. “I have encountered very few ideas that are too paranoid for you to consider.” She looked down at their joined hands, ran her own thumb across the outside of his. “Cryptozoology?”

He made an inquiring sound.

“Our code word. To be sure it’s really us. We can’t use the same word,” she said, patiently. “The purpose is completely different.” He nodded, letting go of her hand, and she leaned up, her arms looping around his neck, lips at his ear. “Cryptozoology,” she whispered, her lower lip brushing against his earlobe.

He tugged her closer. “Keep talking dirty to me, Scully,” he breathed, one hand splayed across her rear, the other sliding into her shirt.

She kissed him with intent, and by the time her mouth was free again, they were both panting. “Erlenmeyer flask.” she breathed into his ear, biting down on the lobe. “Xenobiology. Con - con - confocal microscope. Oh my God, Mulder.”

He grinned and she made an incoherent noise of frustration and walked him over to the couch. He snagged her waist on his way down so that she was sprawled on top of him, and she raised an eyebrow. “Why, Agent Mulder, is that a rather large Bureau-issued flashlight in your pocket, or - are you” The last two words came out far louder than she’d intended, and she found herself completely unable to finish the sentence in any coherent way.

“Nope,” said Mulder. “Just really happy to see you.”

THE END