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Nobody Knows It But Me

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“Shots fired! Confirmed, shots fired!” The voice over the radio crackled with static.

Dammit! Why for the love of God did I let her go in there alone? Detective Frank Imhof demanded of himself as he counted the shots echoing in the otherwise quiet street. Not quite a full clip – maybe she’d got a round or two off herself. Either way what awaited him and his men inside the unassuming, aging summer house was not going to be pretty.

“All right, let’s get in there; we may have survivors,” he commanded the assembled officers, “but watch your step; we don’t want any surprises.” He turned to put a hand on the shoulder of the man next to him. “Howie, get on the horn and have an ambulance get out here.

Probably no need to hurry though.

Grudgingly he began the short walk from where he’d stationed himself next to one of the cruisers in case there was need to take cover, and crossed the street to the residence which would undoubtedly become known as ‘The Murder House’ from now on by the locals who only encountered this kind of violence via their television sets.

The thought of the impending paperwork this situation was rapidly accruing forced him to swallow a groan, never mind the inevitable conversation the captain was going to want to have…

Damn, crazy Feds, he cursed again. Why did they have to pick my patch to have their showdown?

 

~X~

 

The musty house reeked of the past, the dated furniture preserved like evidence under protective plastic wrappings for owners who would never return to reclaim it. Scully took careful, measured breaths in an effort to force her heart into a slower rhythm - it had started going at a fair pace as she walked alone up the paved path and doubled as soon as she’d entered the old Mulder family summer home. Dread squeezed cold fingers inside her chest, threatening to paralyze her with thoughts of what she would discover within.

She experienced a moment of paradox when she found him in what appeared to be a study; relief that he was more or less in one piece, and at the same time adrenalin inundated her system when she realised he was nuzzling his gun.

Images of David and Amy Cassandra lying in their final repose, and then the police officer at the station, sprawled in the cell in which he’d chosen to end his life, flashed in warning. In all three deaths, the favoured weapon of choice had been a gun, and now Mulder was teetering on the edge of that same abyss, seemingly unbothered by what it would mean if he fell into the chasm.

Scully spoke softly, trying to reach him as he fought to grasp and keep hold of the ever elusive twisting strands of ether that were his memories. She didn’t dare get too close, too fast, afraid he would react badly, she kept her approach slow.

There was just no way to tell exactly how the hallucinations might be affecting him; he hadn’t been very expansive on the matter and mindful of his privacy, she didn’t press him too hard on the details. With so little information to go on, she could only speculate on what was going on inside his head. She imagined seductive voices whispering to him of promises. Answers Mulder so desperately wanted could be his; all he had to do was listen.

Scully tried to tell him that the voices were false, but he refused to hear her. They continued to show him only tantalising glimpses; sounds and visions surging all together, threatening to overrun him like the incoming tide. Once the swell peeked, the wave would ebb, the water retreating, sinking into the fine sand and all he got for his trouble was wet. She could see how he wanted to submerge himself in healing waters, feel buoyed as he floated with the gentle current, knowing he could travel freely with sure strokes of his arms and strong kicks of his legs should he wish it. Instead, he remained stranded alone on the shore, cold water tugging at his feet in the rip-tide, doubting his ability to swim.

She tried to break through the drug induced barriers so Mulder could find the strength to beat back the darkness that was a living part of him, to close his ears to the allure of the siren’s call urging him to act on those tendencies towards self-destruction. She pleaded he ignore the beautiful lies that enticed him with sweet oblivion, to believe there was another way to find release for his soul and that she would help him find it.

Her words didn’t seem to matter so much as the tone and cadence of her voice, wrapping him in comfort, offering him safety and stability, providing him with level ground from where he could root himself, giving him a place where he could mount a defence against the demons that raged within his mind. Scully’s presence gave him a tether, lending him security as he faltered, stumbling along the brink of the gulf that threatened to rise up and swallow him whole.

She thought they were making progress but, for a second, Mulder’s concentration must have faltered and he swung his body around to face her, and she found herself staring down the barrel of his gun – centre mass – even with his arms wavering as they were, if he fired he couldn’t help but hit her. He’d kill her.

He was fighting it, she knew, could almost hear the horrified voice in the back of his mind screaming in frustrated defiance, telling her she should have run, taken cover, drawn her own weapon and eliminated the threat, but instead she kept to her course, chose to trust that he could control the homicidal and suicidal impulses encouraging him to slay her then turn the weapon on himself and make an end of it. All nice and neat.

The strain in him grew worse, the mêlée fiercer, he had to fire, needed to; it was the only way he could see to expel the explosive force building up inside him. If he didn’t do it, the pressure in his mind would surely kill him as well as if he really had put the gun to his head.

Mulder didn’t want to hurt her - despite intimating that he did - so Scully continued to wade through the battlefield, recklessly ignoring the danger she was in. There was a minefield between them, but she was determined to reach him. She was scared; Mulder would easily recognise it in the set of her face, no matter how hard she tried to keep her expression calm. Even so, the determination he’d praised her for in the past was stronger, and they both knew she wouldn’t leave him.

Ultimately, she would never know exactly what had swayed him – literally twisting his body in the other direction to discharge his weapon harmlessly into an unoffending wall.

He slumped, looking disappointedly down at the gun when the clip was empty, as much as he could be she supposed, languishing in emotional destitution now that it was over.

The immensity of the release of tension drained him, mentally and physically, and dragged him down to the floor. Mulder sagged until he was resting in a heap, forearms bracing the weight of his upper body.

For a few moments Scully watched him, fit to collapse herself now that it was over. This had turned out to be one of those days where if she’d had a surplus of energy she might have indulged the temptation to just sit down and cry; she still might if she ever found five minutes alone to herself.

She shook off the thought and put her mind to what was needed right now; it was always easier to focus on something other than herself when she was feeling run down, and at the moment, that meant Mulder.

Judging by his reaction to these flashback episodes that she’d witnessed he might not even know where he was, let only why and before the collective police force of Quonochontaug came pouring through the front door she wanted to find out what kind of condition he was in.

Taking a step towards where he had huddled on the floor, she saw him tense up and just as quickly, relax again. Mulder mumbled her name, making it sound like a question, and that gave her some answer as to how he was doing. He hadn’t even realised he wasn’t alone; it was only when she moved that he had sensed her behind him.

Scully approaching him with slow silent steps. She was probably being overly cautious, but couldn’t help get the impression that, if startled, Mulder wouldn’t just up and flee. Most likely, there was little chance of that happening. He must have been so exhausted there was no way he was going anywhere for the foreseeable future: not unless he was put on a stretcher and carried out.

As she closed the distance, she began to hear more mumbled words coming from him. He wasn’t completely cogent and clearly anxious. She heard her name again several times sewn together with more alarming phrases like: ‘gun wielding lunatic’, ‘vulnerable’, ‘gamble’ and ‘attack’. From this litany, she was going to assume Mulder could remember most of their stand off and wasn’t pleased with either of them, as well he might be.

Scully was perfectly aware she had thrown the rule book out the window the second she had entered the house without backup. She had flaunted her obvious weakness; armed - though her gun remained uselessly in its holder - and unprotected, then exploited it in the hope of engaging that deep-seated need of his to protect her. And miracle of miracles, it had worked. If word of exactly what she’d done got back to Skinner, it would be more than just Mulder’s ass in a sling when they returned home to face the music.

Mulder may be unhappy at her approach, forcing his befuddled mind to try and figure out who he wanted shoot more, but it had worked, it had got them where they needed to be, and he couldn’t call her on it because he would do the same. In fact, Mulder had done the same only last year, during a case where she had unwittingly been exposed to the malevolent, subliminal, influences being broadcast through television sets of all things.

Scully had been taken in so badly, she had actually believed Mulder and the Smoking Man had been in cahoots all along, directed by the people responsible for killing her sister and sanctioning her abduction. That sense of betrayal had been heart breaking, but Mulder had tracked her down to her mother’s house and not run when she had threatened to shoot him. Again. Scully shuddered thinking about how close it had been, so he couldn’t tell her she didn’t understand what it was like.

Once she was at his side, all thoughts of doctoring him didn’t seem half as important as just letting Mulder know she was there. There wasn’t much else she could do for him in this moment; any medical attention he would likely require would only be possible once he was in hospital and he better not be thinking she was going to let him out of it this time!

Scully didn’t have time earlier to collect her own medical bag, not once she’d spoken to Dr Goldstein, and he’d told her Mulder was intent on ‘exorcising his demons’. She knew Mulder and she knew what that meant for him. On the drive over here she’d had to make calls to the local PD, consult a map for directions all the while terrified she would get lost or not make it here in time. In the end she had detoured to the easier to find police station and hitched a ride the rest of the way, so, on arrival, when she’d thrown herself out of the cruiser to speak with the detective in charge, she had nothing. The same was still true now, so with nothing else left to give him, she gave him herself.

In the aftermath of the noise and violence of firing his gun, the silence was almost deafening, yet she could make out the slightest ruffle of her clothing moving with her as she crouched down next to him. Saying not a word, Scully placed one small hand on his back, and then, surprising them both, gently laid her head against his shoulder, while her other hand wrapped itself around his bicep.

In unison, they exhaled; a quiet sigh to signal some of the strain was finally lessening.

Scully felt the roll of muscles and looked down as Mulder uncoiled his right arm, his fingers loosening from the fist holding the grip of his gun until it was lying on his open palm. He was surrendering his weapon to her, she realised. Even with the briefest of looks, she could clearly see that unless a fresh clip replaced the now empty one, it was essentially harmless, but that didn’t matter, it was only meant as a gesture; Mulder was letting her know as best as he could in his current state, that trusted her, was placing himself in her hands. All the fight had finally gone out of him.

Slowly, Scully took her hand from Mulder’s arm and accepted his gun, laid it carefully down behind them, out of sight.

His whole body was so still, the expanding and contracting of his chest as he breathed was negligible, and the only indication that he still lived. If not for that, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Looking upon him, the average observer would think he was the very image of a penitent man. A weary pilgrim at the end of his travels, reaching out in silent supplication to a higher power, only to learn his God is cold and uncaring. He was as a beautiful statue, carved not of stone, but human flesh. But, she suspected he felt not at all repentant; he had never apologised for his need for answers, or the methods he chose in his quest to find them.

Scully so wanted to be able to grant him this simple wish - to remember his past - but she doubted the mystery of his sister’s fate would ever be resolved. The one thing she could do for him though, she would. She would be his friend and stand guard over him as he searched, for as long as she could.

She slipped her hand into his, lacing their fingers together. When Mulder gave her hand a gentle squeeze, acknowledging her support, she was relieved he hadn’t ventured so far into the darkness that he couldn’t see his way back to her.

The stress of the last couple of days picked that moment to rush in and swamp her and she couldn’t help but drop her head, until her face was pressed into Mulder’s back; it was hard to tell which of them needed the most support right now. Her illness was making it increasingly difficult to keep up with the physical demands of her job, though she fought hard to keep it from showing.

These little weekend side projects Mulder continued to pursue, landing him in ever new and exciting varieties of trouble outside of work were starting to stretch her reserves; she didn’t know how long she could keep up with his pace, but her pride wouldn’t let her complain or ask for allowances. Once she did that, it would all be downhill from there. People who knew she was sick already looked at her differently and she hated it. So, she persevered, pushed herself when she shouldn’t, determined to keep up for appearances’ sake when she knew it only made matters worse. This also meant she was ignoring her doctor’s advice to take things easier, but she didn’t dare, because slowly but surely there had been a pattern emerging, one she liked not in the least and she felt helpless to stop it.

For some time now, Scully had watched her partner as his actions grew more erratic. Mulder began taking bigger risks, became careless when it involved his own safety or health as this latest stunt proved. He put himself in more danger than usual, then, when he inevitably came to her bloodied and bruised after another scheme went sideways, she would patch him up and admonish him, not unkindly, about playing nice with the other kids.

She never asked him what he’d been doing and in turn he wouldn’t lie to her. She knew things were approaching critical mass with him, when she’d had to physically step in, blocking Mulder with her body when he launching himself at somebody at work. It was in the hallway, on their way out of Skinner’s office a couple of weeks ago, when a fellow agent from VCU had stage whispered to his buddies some stupid, snide, remark about what she and Mulder got up to when they were all alone down in their basement office (bizarrely, there were some individuals who were inclined to believe their cramped working conditions were conductive to romantic entanglements). It had clearly been intended for anyone passing nearby - as well as the both of them - to hear and Mulder had snapped, a torrent of abuse pouring from his mouth.

The comment was actually pretty mild and nothing they hadn’t been subjected to before; she was well aware of how the nature of their work reflected poorly in the eyes of their colleagues. It was a well-known factoid that her assignment to the X-files division was punishment for some unspecified – though highly speculated – infraction. Consequently, many made the tired old joke that if they weren’t careful they’d get packed up and sent off down to the basement.

The derision they suffered was mostly based on the ignorance of these ill-informed others and, inexplicably, somehow people had assumed it was therefore justifiable to harass and bully them. In addition to this vindictiveness, matters weren’t improved any due to there being just the two of them on the X-files. Predictably, the rumours had started up within weeks of the news of her assignment becoming public knowledge, because naturally, everybody believed the When Harry Met Sally theory.

It had started off as the usual puerile water-cooler-gossip encountered in any office environment, but more than four years in, they barely took note as the tales of their alleged sexual exploits seemed to transmute each time they had to work with outside help, into increasingly impressive feats until accounts of their audacious carnal endeavours were the stuff of legends, fit to rival any of the phenomena they spent their lives investigating.
But really, no one working above the basement level understood just what it was like, how intense it was working the cases they did. And needless to say, what they chose to do in their private lives was just that; private.

In the beginning (once Mulder was mostly over his suspicions of her being a spy), when the only thing they had in common was their employer, they bonded over being the Bureau’s juiciest piece of gossip (whether that meant them personally or the cases they took on), a mere curiosity the rest of the FBI would prefer to wash their hands of.

Mulder, having coped with being a spectacle of some variety for most of his life, gave the impression of having developed the ability to cover himself in a thick layer of Teflon, surprised her by deflecting some of the scorn they had directed her way until she had acclimatised to this impossible new roll she found herself in, and devised a way to protect herself. Being a woman in the professional fields she’d chosen, this was to a certain extent, sadly, a necessity and she’d made it a habit, practicing that trick, too, because no matter her qualifications or how many fancy letters she could attach to the end of her name, it would never excuse the cool and aloof exterior she presented to the world, the same way it did for him.

In the days before she’d realised her superiors had pretty much flung her into the lion’s den with nothing more than her wits, before she knew sticking to her integrity and throwing her lot in with Mulder’s would cost her so much, she used to laugh; they both did whenever the next fable filtered down through the many levels of the Hoover building to them. They’d each teased the other whenever a new work of fiction started doing the rounds. Mulder seemed to take such delight inventing terrible new puns whenever he was given the chance or provoking her with his awful innuendos, but it hadn’t taken too long for her to start playing the game too and often left him slack jawed with a snappy comeback of her own – she was a navy brat after all; she had standards to live up to.

It was difficult to keep finding the humour though, when it became clear to her that on occasion they would be led into investigations by unscrupulous players, used with little care for personal consequences like disposable pawns by unknown enemies and left with nothing of substance to show for what they’d been through. She may have been a little green when she was first sent to him, unwilling to accept the conspiracy theories involving their government Mulder insisted were true, but it hadn’t taken long for the shine to wear off.
It could only be expected that these conditions would affect their partnership, it would keep them close - closer than your average agents’ partnerships. If anybody had bothered to ask, it would have been glaringly obvious why they were the way they were.

The thing that stung Scully though, was that she could no longer dismiss all the stories and rumours as total fabrications, because lately her feelings towards Mulder had changed. Or maybe it wasn’t that they had changed, more like she was just recently becoming increasingly aware of them, and how hard it was to keep a lid on them. As that stomach churning moment a couple of months ago had proved.

When she thought about how close she had come to kissing the man she had thought was Mulder, only to discover the man she had spent the evening with, talking to, drinking wine with and actually enjoying herself, wasn’t her friend, but an imposter – it made her feel ill.

If he’d had his way, Eddie Van Blunt Jr. would have raped her wearing the face and body of her best friend, but the way he saw it, the real Mulder had got there in time before anything physical had happened, so, no harm; no foul. In his mind, Eddie was a hero; giving those other women the children they had wanted so badly and Scully couldn’t decide whether he was too stupid or too callus to understand that even though she hadn’t gone to bed with him, she still felt violated. He had tricked her into sharing some of her happier memories with him – and at the moment those were few and far between - things she hadn’t talked to anyone about for so long – things she would have liked to share with her Mulder one day - but now the memories were sullied. She would never be able to think about that time in her life again, without seeing Mulder’s face morph into that of a stranger and know exactly what he had planned to do.

The trouble was, work life and home life had become so mixed up, it was hard to separate one from the other sometimes, making Mulder the main focus of her life most of the time. It was impossible to label her relationship with him as strictly professional.

When she was being honest, Scully knew there had always been a certain amount of attraction between them. She cared for Mulder and thought he might care for her, too. They’d just found a way to work around it, until it had been incorporated into their overall dynamic.

They’d come to a point where they didn’t even notice it anymore, but their ability to ignore its existence and work well together was what had everybody thinking they took their work home with them in more than one sense. She had dismissed this early on, that this was their problem, not hers.

Until incidents like this recent one happened.

When it finally came, Scully didn’t really blame Mulder for letting himself be so easily baited or for his reaction when he blew his top – sometimes she wanted to scream at those sniggering idiots too. She imagined it would feel quite therapeutic. Unfortunately, this specific type of conflict – the ‘the lady doth protest too much’ type - was one they were never destined to win. You just couldn’t argue logically with stupid.

Knowing they were stuffed either way, she still decided to play it safe, going with damage control, even though it would probably do good to dig Mulder out of his rut for a moment and give him the sense of being proactive if he took a swing at them. But no, that wouldn’t do; the last thing they wanted was to be suspended right now, not when they both needed to work, to be able to put their backs up against something. God knows what trouble Mulder would get himself into if he thought he had no one to answer to.

Wary of all their likely reactions, Scully had manoeuvred herself into a position to protect the rude agents from Mulder’s wrath – discreetly as possible keeping him behind her, and subtly steering him steadily back towards the elevator - but the fools must have either been unfamiliar with Mulder’s explosive temper or had manifested a sudden death wish, because Tweedle-Dumb and Tweedle-Dee didn’t bother to try to conceal their amusement.

Their third - the White Rabbit - must have had him a good look at Mulder’s eyes. Sensing the crazy he saw in their depths wasn’t just him playing up to his ‘Spooky’ nickname, checked his wrist watch like he’d realised rather abruptly, that they were expected elsewhere - anywhere. He made an effort to call off his friends as they chortled to each other something about what type of man it would take to ‘let’ such a diminutive woman defend him.

Scully nearly stepped aside right then and let her partner at them if they were that resolute at seeing all of her efforts wasted.

All this commotion had, predictably, alerted Skinner to the confrontation and only because she was less keen for Mulder to be brought up on assault charges than she was to see him kick their collective asses, had corralled him into the stairwell so they could make their getaway before they were hauled back into their boss’s office to get reamed out.

Yes, there had most definitely been incremental, almost indiscernible changes to Mulder’s behaviour these past months, and though, of the two of them, psychology was one of Mulder’s specialities, she wasn’t blind to what was going on. The correlation between Mulder’s odd outbursts and extreme actions, and the deterioration of her own health were clear and impossible to discount anymore.

Just as soon as he recovered from this most recent act of self-flagellation they were going to have to talk, because if things went on as they were, Scully might find herself standing over his grave before her cancer could put her in her own. It caused her significant distress when she thought how Mulder would have deduced this possibility too, and by failing to reign in this tempting of fate, she could only assume he had found it to be an acceptable outcome.

Living with this disease, she’d had to give up lots of little parts of herself along the way, there were many things she had needed to concede – something a person who relished being in control and disliked admitting when she was wrong, found incredibly difficult – but here is where she would draw her line in the sand, she was unprepared to see Mulder forfeit his life, and she’d be damned if she facilitated his destructive ways.

Scully had nearly managed to have that discussion with Mulder, fortifying herself over the weekend after the excitement upstairs, but knowing her so well, the set of her mouth as she had broached the subject had tipped him off and he’d immediately interrupted her, going on the defensive with a brief, though sincere apology for his actions – at least where she was concerned - then switched to admitting he had been feeling stressed out lately.

Looming over her, he had done that thing where he completely disregarded the notion that people usually interacted with each other’s personal boundaries in mind, crowding her until all her senses were incapable of registering anything but him. She knew this all-encompassing assault was entirely intentional on his part (afterwards, she gave a passing thought to if this was what was referred to as the kind of mesmerisation ‘witnesses’ described in cases of supposed vampirism in the numerous reports that littered their filing cabinets), but still, her resolve was undone. The combination of the almost desperate grip of his hands on her upper arms as he made his confession, coupled with the long soulful gaze he lay on her, proved to be too much; the only way she could combat this tactic was when her temper was up, and so, he had bought himself a reprieve until next time.

Scully regretted letting him get away with it now, because she wasn’t sure what would hurt him more; running out of time and finding this miracle cure after she died or having to admit to himself as well as her that it wasn’t ever real.

He had been so confident, his small victory over her leading him to press his luck further. The cure existed, he had repeatedly assured her, and he really believed securing it was an achievable goal. This was not some empty platitude he was offering her; it wasn’t just something for them to focus on to bolster their spirits. He only had to find it, though to do that he needed for her to keep fighting, to give him as much time as she could while he searched. In an attempt to keep her motivated, he’d told her, a silly grin on his face, as he reaffirmed his conviction in her salvation that he had faith; because fighting was something she knew how to do.

Even the way he had said it was calculated to hold that slightest hint of provocation, like this was another one of their more baffling investigations and he was daring her to prove the flight of fancy he had just posited as a theory to be wrong. He was right though – and didn’t he know it – she fought fiercely against the incredible and unbelievable on a regular basis, and so she would do that now, she would put up one hell of a battle – for both of them.

However, as much as she tried, Scully couldn’t wrestle with all her problems every minute of every day; it was just too much to contend with. To be honest, Mulder wasn’t the only one who was stressed out these days and at present Scully could feel the sting of tears pricking her eyes. She struggled to manage the fear that was nearly constant as her life ticked on by. She was as scared for Mulder’s future as much, if not more so than the thought of wasting away into the shell of the person she was, into someone she wouldn’t be able to recognise at the end. It was such an inefficient use of the energies that remained to her which made her angry – another impractical use of her dwindling strength - and she didn’t know how much more she could take.

She squeezed her eyes closed; pressing her face harder into Mulder’s back, wishing like a child for everything to just be still. She didn’t want the rest of her life to be spent stumbling without direction from one terror to the next, forcing her to eventually leave the things most important to her unfinished.

Now at last, all the physical action had come to an end, the potential for bodily risk was gone and she no longer needed to push herself as she raced after Mulder, she should have started to recoup, instead she began to feel a different kind of vulnerability. The current troubles that had kept her mind blissfully preoccupied with something other than the worries she carried with her from day to day began to fade and reality demanded recognition.

Scully fought to maintain a grip over those precarious thoughts, but her mental restraints had weakened and panic swept over her leaving her in danger of being set adrift; she prayed for calm, desperately needing an anchor. She sucked in a wobbly breath, shoving down on the sob that was trying to escape.

She stared down, catching sight of their hands. Seeing their fingers, she thought how threaded together like this they created a hold that would be hard to break despite the disparity in size.

Fixating on this idea, she recalled how just being in close proximity with Mulder would enable him to totally envelope her with his presence; it surely followed, that with actual physical contact between them it would be enough to give her, at least for a short while, the stability she needed to reel herself back in. Okay, so the logic in that theory was a tad shaky, but that sob was on its way back up; she had to try something.

She slipped the hand resting on his shoulder down over the soft cotton of his t-shirt, almost tickling his ribs as it slid around his side and clutched the thin fabric covering his chest. She was finding it more of a struggle than she expected and heaved in another deep breath as she wrestled to keep herself in check. This is not the time or place to have a meltdown, she scolded herself angrily; it wasn’t about her today, she had to think of Mulder, he still required help and he needed to be in a hospital.

As broken down as he was, Scully didn’t consider him to be in any condition to intuit another person’s state of mind, but she was wrong, and thankfully so, that something in her countenance had given her away. Either that or the ethically irresponsible doctor Mulder had visited had accidently discovered and stimulated in him, the part of the brain with a penchant for mind reading.

Mulder kept the fingers of her right hand interlocked with his own as he carefully shifted his balance to the left, and reached across his chest.

As strong fingers latched on tight to her wrist where she held him, completing the circuit of her arms around him, Scully knew a moment of peace. She could only imagine what they must look like, huddled together on the floor as they were, but she didn’t care. The mutual exchange of comfort was helping to calm her as she compartmentalised everything she was thinking and feeling, tucking her problems away in tidy, manageable bundles until later, when she would have more than a fleeting instant to safely take them out, examine and process each one.

His name slipped from her mouth on a breathy whisper as her arms tightened about him. The touch of his thumb on the skin of her wrist was no more than a graze, but she felt its tiny caresses all the same. Her cheek rubbed back and forth against his shoulder several times before she realised the press of her lips at the end of each pass were kisses. Her actions startled her, but she made no effort so cease them. In fact, the opposite was true; now she could put a name to what she was doing it only made her bolder. Up until now these movements could be excused or ignored, but at this point she was putting deliberate pressure on him – there could be no mistaking what she was doing, though she couldn’t have explained why she was doing it.

The turmoil he’d been though didn’t seem to be hampering Mulder’s thought processes at all, because as soon as she started to make her intentions clear, for a few brief seconds, he had halted the movement of his thumb at her wrist until he was sure of what she was doing, then continued to stroke her, this time using not just his thumb but each of his fingers, too.

Scully felt compelled now she had started this – whatever this was – moving slowly up the curve of his back until she was at the top of his shoulder and the way they were holding each
other would let her go no further. This was just as well, because, as she opened her eyes which had drifted closed somewhere along her journey, she saw Mulder’s head no longer hung defeated. He was more alert than she had seen him since entering the house, his eyes open and even in the dark of the room, she knew he was staring at her with an intensity that was almost frightening. She swallowed hard, her lips still pressed to his shoulder as she looked back at him, not knowing what to do now that she’d brought them to this dangerous place.

She didn’t know whether to curse their luck or thank her lucky stars when a man’s voice rang out through the house from the open front door. The detective, Imhof; she had just about forgotten the police presence she had called upon to keep an eye out for Mulder while she rushed to the scene.

“Agent? Agent Scully, can you hear me?”

Scully sat up and looked at the door, about to answer him, but Mulder, hearing this foreign voice immediately broke all contact with her and curled in on himself. She turned back to him and patted his shoulder reassuringly. “It’s okay, Mulder, it’s just the police.” Her hand felt like it had grasped burning coals when she thought how it was touching the place her lips had occupied just moments before. God, what had she been thinking? “We’re in here, detective,” she called out as her pulse raced.

The sound of several booted feet preceded the voice into the study. “Agent Scully, are you—Oh, Jesus, is he..?” Imhof recoiled in horror as he spotted Mulder lying on his side, eyes open, yet completely vacant. He forced himself to look back though his wince clearly spelt out how uncomfortable he was at the thought of having to deal with a dead body.

Scully glanced down at Mulder; he didn’t look well, but was far from exhibiting the greying pallor of the recently dead. She considered just how much practice she’d had over the years that let her distinguish the difference with a quick glimpse and took pity on the local lawman.
She delicately cleared her throat, attracting the attention of the detective and the two other men. They crowded the doorway, but came no closer, almost as though they were respecting the limits of a potential crime scene and not just afraid of getting blood on those well-polished boots. “No, Detective, Agent Mulder wasn’t hurt.”

“You sure about that?” He questioned, his face clearly displaying his doubt, “’cause, from where I’m standing, he doesn’t look too healthy.” The officers on each side of him dutifully nodded their ascent.

Scully bristled at Imhof’s rude assessment. “As I informed you earlier, my partner has been…” acting nuts… behaving deranged… slightly psychotic… “Unwell,” she reminded them. “I’d appreciate it if you could arrange for an ambulance to attend us.”

“Already got one on the way, Agent.” He drew himself up to his full height, tugging at his belt loops, seemingly remembered he was in fact a member of law enforcement and not a kid who’d just wandered across a dead bird for the first time. Professional persona back in place, he tentatively asked, “is there anything else I can do for you, Agent?”

Scully checked on Mulder – he hadn’t moved at all – then faced the men in the doorway, the slightest pull of her lips suggesting she was grateful for the offer. “No, thank you. There’s nothing more to be done for Agent Mulder until we can get him to a hospital.”

“Well, okay then.” Imhof studied the walls, at a loss for what to do next. “We’ll give you some space then, till that ambulance gets here.” He shooed his officers ahead of him then turned back and added, “I’ll leave one of my guys at the front door in case you need anything.” He shot one last pointed glance at Mulder lying catatonic on the floor at her knees.

This was probably not what he had been expecting when he’d been sent to track down a dangerous FBI agent. Scully wouldn’t hold it against him if he was hoping to get back to the usual business of quarrelsome drunks and runaway teens. Who would be a small town police officer when the FBI came a-calling?

He was almost out the door when Scully called, “Detective Imhof?” Imhof spun on his heel to face her again and Scully caught the grimace before he could banish it. “Thank you, for all your help. I appreciate it,” she told him with a nod of deference.

His relief was palpable; he had been worried she was about to ask him to stick around with them while they waited, something neither party wanted. “No problem.” Imhof returned her nod and left them to it.

Scully watched him walk away and breathed a sigh of relief at being left alone with Mulder again; the last thing he needed was any more of an audience to his breakdown. She observed him again, noting how he still hadn’t moved. She stroked his shoulder and back, still feeling that burn from before, but not quite as extreme. “It’s okay, Mulder, they’re gone. It’s just us now,” she told him softly.

Some of the rigidity went out of him as he gradually absorbed her words. Mulder blinked several times, easing the dryness of his eyes, though careful not to make eye-contact with her. His long legs relaxed as he stretched them out.

And then he surprised her.

His hand reached out towards her, his fingers bunched at the bottom of her jacket and tugged gently, pulling her down to the floor with him until they were lying side by side. His eyes still declined to touch hers; instead they flitted from place to place, stopping two seconds on her cheek, one second on her chin. They danced, refusing to be caught, all across her face, sometimes dipping to alight at her neck, other times they combed through her hair, never staying overlong in one particular spot.

Mulder had made her uncomfortable quite often during the first few months of their association. The way he would take his time as he examined her features, trying to decide if what she was telling him was the truth, and there were times when she couldn’t outwait his scrutiny, ducking her head, obscuring his view. She would find herself preoccupied for much too long after these intense sessions, wondering if she had passed his tests. Eventually, she figured he was infinitely capable of letting her know if he saw something in her that didn’t measure up to his expectations and was content to let him take his fill of her.

The reverse was true now; Mulder was the one who was nervous of giving away something shameful, scared at what he would see in her if he dared to stop and look. Scully’s hand at his jaw brought an abrupt halt to this flight. Pressure from her fingertips directed his gaze upward, finally meeting hers. For a moment or two they were completely still and then she caught the briefest hint of tears before Mulder pulled her against him, resting his forehead upon her lips.

Scully obliged him, pressed tender, absolving kisses to his warm skin and stroking fingers through his hair as she muttered assurances that this latest nightmare was over, that he would be fine, that she was there with him and wouldn’t let any more harm come to him. She could feel his body trembling as his arms drew her in, pressing her hard against his chest.

Suddenly, Mulder changed his mind, edging away from her as though he was putting temptation out of reach, like he knew she was something he wanted, but had been instructed not to touch lest he break her. But then he was dragging himself back again, desperate
hands gripping like they were intent on never releasing her, pulling franticly at her clothes, her arms, at anything that would give him purchase on her.

Scully had to expel the air from her lungs, when he encircled her completely and squeezed. His leg nudged its way to tangle between hers, wrapping her even closer; until they were about close as two people could be. Through all this Scully just put her arms around him; she didn’t know what else she could do for him. She hadn’t ever seen him behave this way before – sure Mulder would accept token measures of comfort from her, as she would from him, but at a certain point things would get to be too much and they would both push away to deal with their problems on their own. It scared her thinking at how close he must have come to the edge to cause such a severe reaction as this.

Minutes passed and finally he began to still, leaving them a jumbled mass of limbs on the hardwood floor. Their breathing levelled out and Scully risked a few words. “You still with me here, Mulder?”

Mulder nodded and managed to reply with a shaky, “yeah.”

It wasn’t much, but it was a start, something they could build on. His head had ended up buried against her chest, her hand smoothing his hair, mindful of the small wound from where the drill had pierced the skin. Oh, Mulder, what on earth were you thinking, letting that man do this to you? Scully thought at him.

“I wanted to remember,” said the muffled voice from below her chin.

She felt his warm breath roll over her body through her clothes and had to suppress a shiver. It seemed Mulder’s particular brand of clairvoyance hadn’t suffered any for all he’d been through. She chastised him, but her heart wasn’t in it. “You can’t keep doing things like this, Mulder.”

“You don’t think my health insurance will cover this?” He was back to being flippant - Scully chose to believe that was a good sign, though she noted his hold on her was no less fierce now than it had been a minute ago as he’d grappled with emotion he didn’t know how to handle.

She tried again, “Mulder, I’m serious. You let someone pump you full of drugs typically reserved for veterinary purposes, drill a hole in your skull, and make a deep puncture to the dura mater in your frontal lobe. What if you’ve been left with permanent damage?”

“Well when you say it like that…”

“Look at me, Mulder,” she demanded, but he didn’t move. She had no other choice than to take his head between her hands and tilt it up herself until she could see his face. His eyes looked tired and puffy, though his cheeks were dry. Her thumbs rubbed softly at his temples and he closed his eyes again like she was soothing his pain away. Recriminations, it would seem, would have to wait till later; maybe by then his head would be clearer and he’d actually listen to her. “Do you still have a headache?” She felt rather than saw the miniscule tip of his head in the affirmative, and started to wonder where that ambulance was.

He startled her when he spoke. “I was so close, Scully,” he confided. “I remembered things I didn’t even know there were there to forget.”

“Mulder, those might not be real memories,” she tried to warn to him, but he carried on talking as though she hadn’t said a word.

“I saw my sister,” he told her and she could hear a dream-like wonder in his voice. “She was scared because our parents were fighting – worse than usual. They argued over a choice between the two of us, but the decision was already made. The Smoking man… he was there too. I knew he was one of the men my father worked with, he would come visit sometimes, though he showed up here a lot that summer. He seemed to have some
influence over the decision, but I didn’t know the significance of why he would be involved in what my parents wanted for Samantha and me. He caught me listening at the door to my parents’ room and called me a spy.” He paused there, trying to remember, but it stubbornly refused to come. “Argh! There’s more there, Scully, I know there is, I just-- I can’t get at it.” He was starting to get agitated again; he had fistfuls of her jacket twisting in each hand.

Scully displayed an outward calm she didn’t really feel as she stroked his cheek with the backs of her fingers. “It’s okay, Mulder, don’t try to force it.” She had plenty of experience with missing memories herself so she knew exactly how frustrating this was for him, but ultimately he would either remember or he wouldn’t, and he wouldn’t get much say about it at all.

“I need to remember, Scully, I need to know!” He was almost pleading with her now, becoming increasingly distressed as his eyes focused on something beyond her. The visions captured his consciousness, took him back and trapped him within this room, a place that still fuelled the nightmares that haunted him more than twenty years later.

Scully held her hands softly against his face, trying to offer support, but he was thrashing his head back and forth, reliving some long suppressed part of his past. She was getting worried he was going to hurt himself if he continued this way and she was nowhere near strong enough to stop him. “Mulder! Please, you have to stop,” she begged him.

“No! Samantha!” Mulder cried out, his voice strained so bad the words were little more than scratches, but she understood.

In the dim light, Scully could see the tendons in his neck extend, stretch rigid, pulling his skin taut. His hands clamped into fists at his temples, just like she’d seen him do the day before, right before he had buckled and fallen to the ground in pain. Lying on the unforgiving floor of his childhood home, Mulder’s body contracted, a spasm rippled through him, his mouth opened wide in a scream, but his throat managed to issue only the barest of croaks, and then it was over.

Scully was scared to move unless she triggered another episode.

Mulder panted through the pain, his eyes screwed shut against the onslaught, but he rapidly gained control again as it began to fade.

Scully held him, her hands gripping his shoulders, afraid to touch him, afraid to let go. She felt the pressure of his harsh breaths on the slim bands of bare skin on her wrists and using them, she judged his progress as he fought his way back to the present.

When Mulder’s huffing no more than tickled the tiny hairs on her skin she released the handfuls of t-shirt she was clutching. She gently lowered an arm away from his face so she could see him properly and he rolled onto his back. For all appearances, he seemed to be recovering from no more than the efforts of a hard run.

Scully checked his pulse; fast, but strong and steady, pressed the back of her hand to his forehead which was warm, but not fevered, and cursed to herself that she couldn’t do anything else for him until help arrived.

She considered him carefully as his body’s natural rhythms returned to normal, and a minute or two later deemed it safe to leave him for a moment while she got an update from the police officer who was stationed at the front door. She manoeuvred around to sit on her knees and leaned over him. Her hair came loose from where it was tucked behind her ears, creating a bright coppery-red curtain, the only colour to be had in the dark room which obscured everything beyond the two of them.

She put a hand on his chest and enquired warily, “Mulder? Can you hear me?”

He nodded his head and she felt a little relief that he was still capable of responding. Her
fingers went to his cheek, trailed softly down and along his jaw feeling every prickle of his stubbly chin. He turned into her touch and her lips gave him a small sad smile he didn’t see with his eyes still closed. She repeated the action several times and it calmed him further, then confident that he was stable, told him, her voice quiet so the sudden noise didn’t jar in the silence that surrounded them, “Mulder, I’m going to speak with the officer out front, okay? I want you to just stay here and rest. I’ll be back in a minute.”

Mulder seemed content to remain where he was; she withdrew her hand, though his head tried to follow the movement as she retreated.

Scully wasn’t watching him as she made to stand, so as she levered up off her knees the iron band that attached itself to her arm, yanking her back down came as a shock. Her knees connected with the floor hard enough she could expect bruises come morning.
“Mulder, what-?” She started to ask him what he was doing, but one glance stopped the words in their tracks. He was sitting up; he must have sprung upright lightning quick, silent and faster than she would have credited for a man of his size and especially so given his condition. She hadn’t even noticed him move.

Scully was always consciously aware of their difference in size; it was hard to forget when she spent most of her days shrouded in Mulder shaped shadows. He towered over her even when she was wearing the tallest of heels. Yet, as she crouched before him, she felt as though her smaller mass occupied more space than his did. That usual self-assured character he projected, the confident personality one only gained by living through years of hard earned experience was missing. She’d never seen him resemble that frightened, twelve year old boy whose world went all to hell the night his little sister disappeared from their home, more than he did at this moment, and her heart broke for him. However, the strength in the hand still clamped around her forearm spoke volumes as to the grown man he truly was; she would have a bruise there tomorrow, too, even though her jacket offered some padding, but then, she bruised so easily these days – she would have to find some long sleeves to wear for a while or he would surely see the evidence of his rough treatment.

She attempted to ease the strength with which his fingers were biting into her, pulling carefully at him, but he wouldn’t relinquish his grip any and her hand was starting to tingle.
“Mulder, what is it? What’s wrong?” She inched over, trying to convince him she wasn’t about to abandon him and thankfully he relented enough for the blood to return, but he retained his hold on her. “Talk to me, Mulder, what is it?”

Mulder concentrated on her wrist enclosed within the ring of his hand, his fingers long enough to circle her and room to spare. His mouth opened once, twice, but the words wouldn’t come. He took a deliberate breath, steeling himself, fixated on her wrist and tried again. “Please don’t leave me,” he whispered, so low she almost missed it.

Scully had to swallow before she could reply. “I wasn’t going to leave you, Mulder. I was just going to check-“

“I don’t want you to go,” his voice broke as he talked over her, then, with obvious regret, he freed her, as though he saw how pointless it was trying to hang on to her, that her departure was as good as guaranteed and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Mulder put his arms around his legs, pulled them to his chest and lay his head on his knees.

Scully watched, aggrieved at his deterioration into that scared boy once more, and this time a few tears did escape the confines of her eyes. She scooted closer until they were hip to hip, wrapped one arm around his shoulders and with the other, pulled his head to her so it
was nestled in the crook of her neck. Seeking the comfort of her warm body, his arms soon followed, threading their way around her, beneath her jacket.

They rocked together, slow pendulous movements that kept time to a song only they were privy to and let the rest of the world fade. It was so hypnotic, Scully relaxed, left her mind to wander and let her body run on autopilot, doing whatever felt natural. She was rubbing soothing circles up and down Mulder’s back when he spoke.

“I don’t want to be alone again, Scully,” he murmured.

“You’re not alone, Mulder. I’m here, aren’t I?” She whispered back sleepily as the rocking continued to lull her. It was hardly a surprise how tired she was considering what the both of them had gone through in the last few days. Her poor battered body having to keep up through all the stress, anxiety and scares she’d received, not to mention the periodic dosing of adrenaline, leaving her feeling rung out. It was a wonder she could keep her eyes open at all. And worse; the day wasn’t even over yet.

“I’m scared, Scully,” he admitted with some difficulty, his voice hoarse.

Her fingers found the small hairs at the nape of his neck as she pushed for more information. “Scared of what, Mulder?”

But he shook his head refusing to say. Her cheek, resting on his crown was tickled by his hair as he moved.

“Tell me,” she urged with a squeeze. “Hmm? What is it that scares you?”

The world was completely silent in the moments before he spoke. Mulder’s mouth was hovering scant millimetres from her throat. His warm breaths had been increasing the sensitivity of her skin and forbidden thoughts had started to invade her mind. She felt rather than heard his words, the graze of his lips searing her with their slight touch, her breath hitched, the sensation distracting.

She had to make an effort to remind herself that this was Mulder here; they were partners, friends - very good friends – but nothing more. Somewhere from the depths of her limbic system came the suggestion that if she wanted, he could be so much more than that; it wouldn’t take much. A subtle nudge in the right direction and he would get the message – the thought that he might decline the offer didn’t even occur. The idea was incredibly appealing and she was feeling so strange, as though she were under the influence and on a high, her body feeling so light she was likely to float away if she didn’t pay attention. With all these notions zipping about, buzzing through her brain it took a second for what he said to really register. When it did, the bubble burst and the fantasy died.

“You do,” he’d said.

The shock of his revelation brought her to a complete stand-still, their rocking, regrettably ground to a halt. This whole day, the whole of the last two days in fact, since Mulder had called her for help, early on Sunday morning had been so long. She was about ready to drop with exhaustion. His response had been so unexpected, she couldn’t even trust that she’d heard him right and had to ask, “Me, Mulder? I scare you?” The very thought that she factored into his fears caused her stomach to knot and clench in pain.

Mulder nodded and that pain spiked. During the course of her training at Quantico and accumulated experience in the field, there had been occasions when Scully had received blows to the gut. This first-hand experience had taught her the body’s response was to fold in on itself, protecting the vulnerable area; one’s breathing was interrupted by the shock, making it difficult to inhale for fear that the expansion of the diaphragm provoked further injury to the afflicted area. Mulder’s admission was not unlike taking a knee to the stomach.

Scully unwound her arms and withdrew from him until they were no longer touching. She
hunched, tucked her hands between her knees and lowered her head, making herself as small as possible - as small a target as possible.

Confused as to why she was suddenly putting space between them, Mulder straightened up, regarding her.

Scully no longer felt quite like she filled the space as much as she had. His words had knocked the wind out of her sails better than any physical blow could. She was cautious of the risk of further rejection, but she had to ask. “Really? Since when?” She angled her head, needing to see his face when he answered.

Confusion left him and he shook his head. “Not you exactly,” he said gruff and awkward, clearly not wanting to add more.

This should have appeased her, but he had hurt her – even if it was unwittingly – and anger ignited within, ready to be wrought in her defence. He reached for her, putting a hand on her hip, wanting to be close again, but she still didn’t understand what he’d meant. She needed more than he was giving and resisted his gentle tugging at her, so he stopped, but his hand lingered.

There was no mistaking the hint of ire when she quietly demanded, “then what, exactly, Mulder? What do you mean?”

She watched him as he searched for the words to explain, then after several tries gave up. He rubbed at his temples again and she thought he might be heading for another flashback, but he dropped his hands and instead looked directly at her.

A change had come over him, instant and unmissable. Gone was any trace of the scared boy. Indication of trauma or remnants of misunderstanding had been wiped away. What remained was something she’d rarely seen. The severity of his stare nearly stole her breath for the second time in as many minutes and there was a darkness about him – unlike the fugue state that had possessed him earlier when he had threatened her with his gun - she couldn’t quantify it. There was something dangerous here; it had her thinking maybe she should be backing away from him, but Scully held her ground. She could feel something building up between them as seconds passed. Mulder’s hooded eyes were black, all the colour, all the life leeched out of them as the intensity grew. She knew she was holding her breath, but she couldn’t let it go. The moment pressed in on both of them, and still Mulder said nothing.

The anticipation was nearly killing her. She was rattled, ready to grab him and shake the answer out of him when he finally moved. Mulder slipped the hand on her hip purposefully around her waist, but it felt different from all the other times when he’d touched her tonight. There was some committed intent in his action and she had to let go of the breath she’d been holding, exchanging it for smaller, shallower breaths. Her heart was pounding too, harder than it had been when she’d first stepped over the threshold of this old house with all its ghosts. Her attention was caught by the sight of his other hand as it rose from his lap; she traced it up towards her face. For a second she though he was going to cup her cheek, but his index finger extended out to first point, then stroke softly, devastatingly at the skin above her nose and directly between her eyes - over the exact place where her tumour advanced even now, despite every possible medical procedure she and her doctors could think to throw at it.

This is what scared him, rendered him speechless.

Scully shook her head no, slowly at first and then with increased vigour wanting nothing more than to contest its damning existence. She wanted to refuse to accept this illness, the
way her body refused to comprehend that this was something it was supposed to be fighting.
She wanted to reject the damage she was doing to her body the same way the disease rejected any attempt she made to rid herself of it and how she could feel herself wasting away the longer it withstood the treatments.

She didn’t want to admit that her clothes - already designed to be worn by someone with a petite frame - were baggy where once they had been the perfect fit or that her hairdresser had quietly recommended a shampoo and conditioner other patrons had used, to mask how brittle her hair was feeling these days. When people who didn’t know what she was going through stared when they saw the needle tracks on her arms, she wished she was bold enough to confront them, haughtily demand whether they thought she was a high functioning drug addict or just terminally ill.

She wanted to deny how badly she was scared of what happened when the cancer would eventually overpower her and win this battle.

All these things she had kept hidden from the rest of the world, from her family, her mother, but sitting here before Mulder, she was stripped of all defence. There was nothing left with which she could use to protect that one central part of herself, the part she took her strength from, her core. He had exposed her, shone bright, unforgiving lights, illuminating her weakness. But with her revelation, came one of his own. Mulder had shown himself to her, admitting he was just as scared as she was. This really shouldn’t have been a surprise to her; they did just about everything else together.

Scully saw how his chin trembled as he tried to hold back burning tears and knew Mulder could not fail to see the same thing in her. As they collapsed into each other, she understood that putting his arm about her before had been in preparation for this very eventuality, so he would be able to guide her fall towards him. And she had to confess, even when they were falling apart, Mulder remained to be one of the smartest people she knew.

This time it was Scully who clung to him and Mulder held her tightly as they sat there, joined in misery, scared of the same thing. For a minute she let herself cry, wrenching sobs muffled against his chest, his shoulder and neck, and he didn’t shush her or tell her to stop, knowing she had to let some of what she’d buried deep within her out at last.

As she slowed her breathing, punctuated with small sniffles and hiccups, he came to life again. She felt him rub her back, just as she had done for him and smoothed her hair back away from where tears had stuck loose strands to her face. When she could bare it, she raised her head and looked at him. There were signs of sadness on his face too, but he worked passed it all to give her something that wasn’t quite a smile, but it was close enough for her. She wiped away the last of the dampness from her face with her sleeve, and then repeated the process on Mulder, and he managed to make that smile after all.

“I’m sorry Scully,” he said, leaning in and placing his cheek to hers, “I know how you’ve wanted to keep your illness a private matter. I didn’t mean to upset you like this. Or to drag you through all this crap from my ancient history either.”

Scully returned his gesture, pressing into his cheek, enjoying the contrasting textures as his stubble scratched her. She wrapped a hand around the back of his neck, her fingers fondly brushing through his hair and over his skin and thought she felt him shiver. “It’s okay, Mulder, I know,” she reassured him. “Actually, I think you’ve done me a favour.”

Mulder pulled back to see if she was messing with him and gave her a puzzled look.
“No, really,” she confessed shyly, head tilted, watching him through her lashes. “I think I’ve been keeping things bottled up, just a little tighter that what’s good for me. I think I may have
needed this.”

“Wow,” Mulder’s eyebrows nearly found his hairline. “That’s quite the admission from you, Scully; you really must be feeling better.” His lips quirked upwards and she could tell he was trying hard to suppress a few of his dodgy jokes.

She was pleased to see he had recovered enough sense to know they would be best saved for some other day. It was also heartening to see he was showing signs that he was, to a certain extent, improving from the effects of the procedure he’d had, although, emotionally speaking, he was still a bit scattered. Whatever mood manifested, he was being expansively expressive and he swung quickly from one extreme to another. It was tricky to gage how he was coping and she had to remember, with the previous attacks, he exhibited hardly any warning prior to when they were about to hit and they could resolve themselves just as fast. However, she wasn’t too worried if he wasn’t totally in control – anything was better than him lying catatonic on the floor - because if she was honest, she wasn’t sure she had full control of herself at the moment either.

“I guess so,” Scully conceded with a single nod. “Though, maybe next time either of us needs a good cry, do you think we could we forego the dangerous, experimental medical procedures and my having to chase you across state lines?”

She had meant the comment to be lightly self-deprecating, but that wasn’t what Mulder heard. To him it was an exacting reprimand reminding him of how they ended up here and his face fell, the distress from earlier returning. “Oh, God! Scully, I pointed my gun at you; I could have shot you… I think I wanted to shoot you!”

Scully shook her head, dismissing it. He held her away by her shoulders like there was a chance of his transgression contaminating her. “Mulder, don’t worry about that, it’s over now.”

He was incredulous. “Don’t..! How can I not worry about that Scully? I can… I can remember my finger on the trigger. Fighting so hard not to pull it.” He spaced out a moment, reliving their showdown.

“But you didn’t and that’s what matters.” She shrugged as though it that was simple.

“You can forgive me so easily for nearly killing you, Scully?”

“Mulder, there’s nothing to forgive. You’re unwell. Besides,” she added in a quieter voice, “I knew you wouldn’t hurt me.” She wrapped a hand around his arm at the elbow, pulling it down so the breach he’d created between them wasn’t so wide and stroked his cheek with her fingertips like she had a few minutes ago, hoping it would work to calm him as it had before.

“Scully, you don’t realise how close I came,” he sighed, creeping, maybe, towards a relaxed state. “You risked way too much coming in here. You’re not even wearing a vest, are you?” The thought caused his stress levels to rise again, and quickly, however her repeated petting prevailed with the soothing motion taking the edge off his fear.

She waited until he was composed before staring him straight in the eye and told him with the utmost certainty. “I came because I knew you wouldn’t shoot me.”

He stared straight back at her, but eventually accepted with a sigh what she was saying - it was an impossible argument. “Don’t get me wrong, Scully, you don’t know how glad I am that it all worked out the way it did, but please, for the sake of what’s left of my sanity, don’t ever do that again, okay?” his expression was serious, but the agitation was gone as he studied her.

Scully returned his look with one as equally serious. “I can’t promise that,” she said, her
voice small. “I knew the risks of coming in here, Mulder. But…” and here she paused, gathering herself before she finished, “I also knew what I’d be risking if I didn’t come.”

Speechless yet again, knowing how easily there could have been a disastrous, alternate ending to this story; Mulder pulled her close, his hand twining its way into her hair. If he had planned to say anything else, it was now lost in other thoughts.

They were both quiet again, though Scully knew this wasn’t the last he would have to say about what had happened tonight, but that could wait for another day. Right now, she was enjoying the way Mulder’s fingers were massaging her scalp with each pass of his hand. She leaned in again, relaxing bonelessly into his touch, resting her forehead on his cheek and closed her eyes, almost humming it felt so good. She noted her own hand had been languidly raking lazy furrows, too.

Without thinking, she changed the pressure she was applying, and instead of fingertips, her neat, manicured nails grazed his skin. Mulder gasped, the small, illicit sound loud in her ear, making her shudder. They both stilled, neither sure what to do.

Scully realised, somewhat shocked at herself, that she wanted to hear him make that noise again.

Deliberately this time, with no disguise, pressing slightly harder, but moving slower she was rewarded with a delightful hiss that sounded suspiciously like her name as Mulder pulled air into his mouth through gritted teeth. His hand in her hair tightened into a fist then loosened as he exhaled. Scully thought it fair to say that clearly, he had enjoyed what she’d done.
She revelled in her own thrill and bit her lip as she thought about that, about how she had caused his arousal to flare.

Could that be right, though? Mulder’s reaction had indicated he found the sensation pleasant, true, but specifically, did her involvement matter any to him? Scully began to feel stupid for giving in to impulse. She had been so careful to shield herself, from making the same errors she had with other men she had worked with in the past. It had been a painful lesson for all involved; one she had sworn she had learnt from. But she had done it twice now.

Scully knew she couldn’t afford another repeat of her mistake; especially not with Mulder - the stakes were too high, because if she messed it up, she wouldn’t have time to fix it. These last few years they had spent together, she had been adamant, instructing herself to avoid such ideas as associating Mulder with such concepts like desire or lust, afraid that if she did, she might confuse the genuine affection she felt for him with something else and that could only spoil the great thing they shared.

Reservation started creeping in, dousing her excitement, replacing it with doubt. It would seem that, on a whim, all her self-discipline had fled – this in itself a call for alarm as it just wasn’t like her to do this.

Still, though, the questions came to her. Had she played any real part in this? Did it make a difference to him that it was her, or under these conditions could any woman induce that response? Was she responsible for his shorter breaths that tickled her ear, or the jump in his heart rate her finger tips had detected as they sat over his pulse point? Muscles all over his body flexed in anticipation of... of what?

Scully flushed, the heat radiating from her as tiny flames of excitement were fanned back to life and her heart sped up to match his. No, she decided finally, she wasn’t mistaken; she had definitely heard him say her name and if the way he had said it was anything to go by, could he possibly be feeling now, what she had experienced minutes ago when his hot lips had made contact with her throat?

Sensing the ball was in his court, Mulder broke free from the temporary enthrallment that had captured him. She felt the hand not busy creating snarls in her hair slide down her arm and transfer itself like a pro to her side where his fingers splayed over her ribs.

The way they were sitting with heads together, he didn’t have far to move to be able to reach down, his lips easily finding her cheek and gifting her with a soft kiss. The room instantly grew warmer.

The rational part of her brain told her it was time to stop this; they’d both had a rare kick out of pushing the boundaries, but enough was enough. You could only blame so much on stress and high emotion and they were at the very limit. Apparently, Scully’s blatant act of rebellion while she was in Philadelphia hadn’t been enough to get it all out of her system, because her irrational side told that sensible part to go to hell.

Scully could almost imagine Melissa, her wonderfully free-spirited sister whooping - laughing and cheering her on from the Great Beyond - and had to suppress the jubilant laugh at the image her thoughts had conjured.

But did she dare go any further?

Mulder had frozen again, pausing to see where this was going; he knew as she did, they were at a tipping point. The hand still buried in the tangle he had made of the shorter hairs at her nape, had suspended its gentle caresses. His other hand, which had travelled over her curves, had taken possession of her hip. Five finger points of pressure, just a little too firm in their grip to be passed off as casual, waiting for any indication of what to do next. Were they permitted to continue on their journey of exploration or had he trespassed on sovereign land? The only part of him that moved was his chest which bumped teasingly against her every time they inhaled.
“Scully… I…” he murmured, his lips brushing her cheek, but that was all he could get out.

The response she got from him to her playful flirting stirred up something deep within. The lethargy she had been riddled with not ten minutes ago, luring her into a sullen semi-consciousness, making her want nothing more than for the day to be over so she could finally get some rest was waning.

The longer she held on to Mulder, revelling in his nearness, the more she felt herself waking up. Yes, her body was tired, but it was also coming to life, with every Mulder filled breath she took. Senses and signals she long believed dead or dormant were switching the lights back on in her mind, demanding that she wake up.

She might have arrived here naturally given time, but that was one thing she was nearly out of and circumstance had pushed her to this point whether she was ready or not. The truth was, she was so accomplished at rationalising and hiding her feelings – even from herself – she found she had trouble accepting them for what they were. But what it boiled down to was that she cared for Mulder, cared for him more than she had thought and now she had to decide what she was going to do about it. Seeing how she had instigated this chancy experiment, it was only right that she lead it to its conclusion.

Blessedly, she now had no uncertainties that they were on the same wavelength – the attraction was mutual - but whenever things had passed a particular point in their personal lives before, he had always deferred to her and was doing so even now. He wouldn’t push her too far, scared he would frighten her away indefinitely. She knew that if she chose to, she could walk away from him, and he would let her. She also knew he wanted her to stay, wanted her to let him in.

Well, it was now or never – not the best of reasons for making life altering decisions, but Scully wanted to take a chance on something that didn’t involve choosing which cancer treatment stood the best odds of extending her life.

It was understood by both, without needing to exchange a single word that Scully was in charge of this… whatever this was. She would be the one to call the shots, implement an
advance or scrap the whole idea if it looked like they were headed for disaster. She listened to their shallow breaths, trying to determine what it was she wanted – what he wanted too – but, she remained unsure, so decided first, she would test the waters; there would still be time to turn back.

She threw out one last quick prayer that she was doing the right thing and wasn’t about to ruin their relationship, then, with exaggerated care, Scully ran the tip of her nose along the underside of his jaw. The vibration she felt as she was poised beneath his chin betrayed the groan he tried to subdue. A good sign to be sure; she wasn’t doing anything he objected to as yet, so she carried on. She let her tongue dart out to swipe across her top lip, making it wet and touched it to the column of his throat, dragging it down to the warm, dark hollow at its base. A smile escaped her and what was left of her nerves evaporated when Mulder audibly gulped, his Adam’s apple bobbing under her as he did.

Scully added her bottom lip, confidence growing as she traced the rough skin sporting his five o’clock shadow, around the curve of his collar and back up his neck until she had come full circle, just below his ear. Mulder’s pulse beat wildly at her as she pressed a dainty kiss there, thought it was unlikely he felt it considering the way his heart sent the blood thundering through his veins, but he couldn’t possibly require this last clue to know what she was thinking.

Stop me, Mulder, she thought at him. You know what my intentions are now. If you don’t want this too, please stop me. Scully would have been mortified if he did call an end to it, but either his mind-reading capabilities were malfunctioning or he didn’t want to stop her.

She got her answer when she felt herself being dragged the last few inches nearer to him, while he was pushing at the floor to be closer to her. A hand at her cheek guided her face up to his. Mulder’s eyes were dark pools again, the arousal she had incited in him incredibly satisfying – I may be dying, she thought morosely, but I’m not dead yet.

He paused momentarily, one last check to make sure he had read her correctly, that she wanted this as much as he did.

What are you waiting for?! She wanted to scream at him.

Her tiny nod the only thing he needed to see before he was lowering his mouth down over hers and then Scully was kissing him. God be good, she was actually kissing Mulder. It was fair to say, she had not seen this coming when she woke up this morning!

If she thought his borderline psychosis from the last few days would bring any bearing on his actions now, she found herself quite mistaken. She was assaulted with images of kissing him fiercely, Mulder hoisting her easily about her waist as he helped her straddle him; their combined weight baring them both back down to the floor.

Scully assumed he would likely be wild, coarse and uncontrolled; instead, she was met with a gentle cautiousness that mirrored her own. Both of them were so worried they would do something to cause offence or make the other change their mind that their lips barely touched, but as the seconds passed, the more confident they got and slowly they started to move.

Mulder cradled her face with such care, his thumbs softly rubbing the smooth skin just in front of her ears, while Scully went with a different approach – namely winding an arm about his neck and seizing a fist-full of shirt at the centre of his chest.

She felt him smile and she almost laughed, but that would have meant using her mouth for something other than what it was already devoting itself to.

She felt a twinge of protest, an early warning from her back at having to stretch so far forward to reach him, and her legs were already aching from how she’d been sitting. She told herself it was only to ease this pressure when, with her knees (gladly sacrificed for the
cause) still on the floor, she raised herself up straight and crawled in closer until her upper body was flush against the side of his. Mulder had to tilt his head up in order to recapture her lips.

They both found the advantages brought with this new arrangement to their liking. With one hand on his cheek, the other found the back of his neck and Scully repeated her trick of drawing her nails across his scalp with just the right force, making him moan appreciatively against her mouth. This time, though, he didn’t bother trying to hide from her the effect she was having on him. Mulder wrapped arms possessively around her middle, attempting to squash her impossibly tighter against him.

As the weight loss of the last few months had literally taken more than its pound of flesh, Mulder only needed one arm to circle her miniscule waist. Scully had succeeded so far in masking just how much she had lost, but the way Mulder held her with his arms around her there was no way to conceal it.

Scully knew the instant comprehension hit him. His movements had been sure and steady until then, but discovery interrupted, tripping his brain up as it stumbled over understanding and it resulted in his arms jerking. He recovered quickly however, but, first he rolled his head away to the side, his temple pressing hard against her cheek. She thought he was going to stop altogether and say something about it. She was glad for once to be wrong.

Mulder turned his head back to face her, a hand at the back of her head pulling her down firmly and for a couple of seconds he kissed her roughly, reeking of desperation, as if that could erase the truth. Relenting, he released her and in seconds had returned to being assertive but controlled.

If she knew him at all, this new knowledge would have hit him like a sucker-punch and would have prompted a good deal of apprehension to take up residence in his mind; enough to smother him if he let it. The self-discipline he must be employing to stifle the urge to demand answers from her, Scully found truly impressive.

Mulder seemed to have come to the conclusion that there would be plenty of opportunity for a more focused interrogation tomorrow – she hoped so; she was actually looking forward to it - whereas the chance to revisit what transpired tonight may never arise again.

It made Scully think, she tried to imagine all the events leading up to this convergence, everything that had to happen to create the potential for arrival at this confluence, then decided those were the kinds of thoughts best reserved for nights lying in bed wide awake because you can’t help replaying every second you spent kissing your partner with wild abandon earlier in the evening.

Back in the present, Mulder soon realised he had a free hand and readily put it to good use. Through the fabric of her pants, his fingers teased the back of her knee. If he hadn’t known before that this was one of the most sensitive spots on her whole body, her hard exhale and taking a second to press her forehead to his as she collected herself after, would most certainly have informed him of his exquisite find.

She could imagine Mulder mentally storing the knowledge away in the vaults of his mind, filed in a draw labelled ‘Scully, Dana K’, dedicated to everything he knew about her, hoping for an opportunity to use it again.

His hand trekked over her contours like a pioneer, mapping a previously undiscovered country, strolling along in no rush as he ventured out, growing accustomed to this mysterious place he was suddenly allowed to touch. Keen to inspect every inch of this new world, his fingers were happy explorers, traversing virgin soil. Some were brave solo voyagers, tickling her, as they tread reverently and oh so softly, wary never to leave any tracks. Others were bold, making careful note of her landmarks as they walked the foreign paths of her thigh, their secret ways known only to him. They worked collectively, combining their strength to stake his claim, expertly kneading her sore muscles. He would return to certain local attractions, retracing his every step, memorising each stride, so that if he needed, he could later summon a perfect vision of her exactly as she was right now.

It felt glorious. Scully never wanted him to stop touching her, but eventually, he moved on, there were so many places that hadn’t received any consideration yet. Revelling in how good it felt, she didn’t even notice her head had fallen back and was lolling on her shoulders, giving Mulder free access to do whatever he liked. As it turned out, what he liked was also very agreeable to her, too; her throat and neck given the same treatment from his mouth as her leg had from his hand.

She was almost insensible when Mulder gave her a tiny nip to get her attention. “Earth to Scully,” he rumbled amid kisses along her collarbone.

“Hmm?” Was all Scully could manage for a second as she opened her eyes, commanding them to focus on his face. As her sight cleared Mulder appeared a couple of inches below, smiling back up at her, but with none of the cocksure attitude she kind of expected after what they’d been doing. She gave him a quick once over, spying no obvious sign of smugness or triumph over his conquest.

Scully hadn’t realised she was still holding on to some fear that this would mean something different to him, but all she detected from Mulder was simple happiness. She nearly strangled him, throwing her arms tight around his neck, rocking him back almost off balance, but he caught her and righted them even if he was breathless when she let him go.

“You okay, Scully?” He asked, stroking her face, evidently amused at her antics.

She bit her lip and nodded at him.

He lost some of his amusement and turned a bit more serious when she didn’t speak and asked again. “You sure?”

This time Scully trained her eyes on his, nodded just once and spoke clearly so there was no mistake, “Yes, Mulder, I’m good.” She beamed at him and added softly, the catch in her throat barely noticeable, “I’m really good.”

“Good,” he repeated, with a smile to equal hers. They swayed a little as they held each other, chuckling quietly for a moment, and then Scully gazed down at him.

“Mulder,” she whispered.

“Yes, Scully?” He asked.

“Kiss me,” she instructed him.

Mulder didn’t need asking twice and swiftly resumed where he had left off, his lips back at her throat, working their way up, over her chin delivering him to her waiting, smiling mouth. His hand was also back at work on her leg, making a quick re-acquaintance with the places that had her so blissed-out and humming in appreciation. Her invitation had loaned him extra daring and soon he reached the place where one’s leg becomes one’s posterior.

The temptation to slide his hand up and over the curve of her backside would have been too much for some men, considering how she was positioned at the perfect height to do so – she wouldn’t even have objected if he had. However, only capable of being himself – or maybe just a tad apprehensive about pushing his so recently acquired luck - he took the road less travelled.

Mulder trailed his fingers back around and stopped, front and centre of her thigh. For a second he did nothing then his fingers started a subconscious tapping and she knew by the
slowing pace of their kisses that he must be waging one heck of an internal battle. From the placement of his hand, where it beat out a sharp staccato on her thigh, Scully could guess what the fight was about. She'd had her own battles to fight some nights when she was lying in bed, frustrated and alone, her hand paused in similar place as she played devil's advocate for both sides.

The quarrel though, was never about whether she should try to alleviate the tension that plagued her - her Catholic upbringing didn’t mean she was a prude, but she would admit that she did gravitate towards a certain reserve. This had been mellowed by her education, medical training and inquisitive nature, causing curious clashes at times. No, the turmoil she experienced was due to the content of her thoughts - or more specifically, the subject - when she touched herself.

Before she had known any better, she had left herself open and vulnerable to outside influences and Mulder had happily bounded right in, made himself comfortable, eventually finding his way into nearly every aspect of her life; it wasn't so unreasonable to expect that he might crop up during some inopportune moments, too – besides, that was exactly like Mulder, showing up in places he really shouldn’t be.

The problem that worried at her was, when this happened now, when thoughts of being with Mulder came to her unbidden and under the cover of darkness, when the dreaming mind is easily confused, caught between the realms of fact and fantasy, she wouldn't banish these ideas anymore. Not since she fully realized just how much sweeter – not to mention addictive - those forbidden fruits had tasted.

There had been little innocence left to lose for that young Catholic school girl that still existed in some part of her by that point, but the real guilt came when she would deliberately summon images of Mulder. Scully knew she had been foolish allowing such an indulgence because, when the cravings came upon her, picturing someone other than Mulder being with her in that way, hardly seemed to cut it anymore. He had been her dirty little secret for longer than she had realised and now, here he was mere inches away, kissing her like he would in her dreams and contemplating actually doing the very thing she had fantasized about.

She knew a few seconds of panic; she was sure she wasn't ready for that kind of intimacy, not yet; not like this and not so fast and didn't know how to tell him without Mulder thinking she was rejecting him completely.

Luck won out, but it was a close call.

Once Mulder had decided what to do, he stopped his twitching fingers and began touching her deliberately now. There was some last second hesitation and then he was on the move.

At first, Scully was dismayed, believing she was going to have to stop him as he sent his questing fingers towards her inner thigh. Above, they were still attached at the lips as she put her hands on Mulder’s shoulders prepared to push him away if he proceeded, but she had misinterpreted his intentions - though not by much. What he actually did was nearly as shocking as the other. Headed in the same general direction was nothing but a diversion as she found out when he took a sneaky turn further up her leg, Mulder quickly found his target.

The fact that she was still wearing pants - and she nearly had to check to make sure - was less of a hindrance to him than it had any right to be. Discovering the elastic around the leg of her underwear through her pants, he managed to slip under it - as wily as if it had been the barbed wire fence protecting against intrusion, at a top secret government institution with signs warning to ‘Keep out or face federal prosecution’.

Mulder’s index and middle fingers disappeared up to the first knuckle and traced a path all the way up to where the hem disappeared over her hip and beyond. The surprise had stopped Scully moving, but she was still pressing her lips to his as ragged breaths came in small gasps and her hands turned into claws, digging into the meat of his shoulders.

Before he released the elastic, Mulder couldn’t seem to help but give it a last tug and let it snap back against her skin. It wasn't the least bit painful, but the ping it made on contact made her eyes pop open and Scully pulled her head back to look at him.

Damn him, but didn't he have the biggest grin she had ever seen plastered to his face. Scully could just make him out in the dark room, cocking an eyebrow back at her in challenge if she wasn't mistaken, then he was close again, stealing any reprimand she could think of, straight from her lips.

If Mulder had been hoping to turn up the heat, it worked. Scully rushed back to him, refusing to be denied what it was she had wished for now that it was here within her grasp. Hands travelled down his long arms leaving goose bumps in her wake. When she reached his hands they entwined their fingers, the same way they had before, holding on tight to each other for a moment as she nuzzled her nose in the crease between his nose and cheek. Then she relinquished his hands, planting them on her hips. Her own hands went behind his back pulling him in. With a last quick peck on his lips, her mouth left his in favour of his scratchy neck. Down she went, alternating small delicate nips of her teeth only just grazing his skin – the shock of the first, produced a high pitched sound from Mulder she would relish reminding him about much, much later - with loving apologetic kisses. All the while her hands were in a slow motion plunge, like gold winning Olympic synchronized divers. They left the safety of his shirt and slid perfectly into the back pockets of his jeans, but as he was currently using what she had been aiming for to sit on the floor, she didn't get very far.

"Damn," came her complaint, muffled by a particularly tasty spot on his neck. His laugh at her defeat rumbled in his throat and across her lips. Scully pulled away and straightened up looking down on him once more. She would need to watch out or she could become quite enamoured with the view of him from this angle. Shrugging away her bad luck at not being able to cop a feel, her good mood still intact she wrapped her arms around his neck – careful not to choke him this time – and kissed him (something else she was undoubtedly becoming hooked on).

Mulder had been pretty distracted by her ministrations to his neck, his agile mind going completely idle, a slave to sensation while she had been busy, but now he was very much alert again. Scully figured it was his turn to make a move and Mulder, bless him, never disappointed.

One arm found its new favourite place around her waist and the other crept up from where she had deposited it on her hip. Scully wanted to wriggle as it began inching upwards, ever so slowly. Again, she had a premonition of what he was about to do, but had no time to decide how she felt about it. With his hand over her ribs, he moved his thumb left to right stroking the roundness of her breast.

Scully knew it had been coming and still she gasped at his presumption. What she hadn’t seen coming, was with her lips parted, Mulder took the chance to finally slide his tongue in and over hers. With his gentle caress, she let the divine feeling fill her. The soft, slow rasp of his tongue claimed her mouth and she gave it over gladly. How was it possible she had spent all the years of her life without knowing what it could be like, doing this with him?

When they stilled, they separated by mere millimetres. They both needed a second’s grace to allow the moment to be absorbed and time to restore their even breathing.

He recovered before she did and was quietly awaiting some kind of reaction from her, but she found herself incapable of responding. Scully knew this lack of response was beginning to weigh on him. Before he gave in to his impatience and demanded to know what she was thinking, Mulder blew out an unsteady breath then he extracted himself from her grip. Not
knowing if he had pushed her too far was making him tense up and insecure and was probably expecting her to either wallop him or push him away.

She felt him lean back so he could look up at her face. She must have looked a sight, but she didn’t care, all she could feel was his tongue as it met hers.

For some reason this was the pinnacle of all the extremes to happen to her tonight – including Mulder holding her at gun point – and both her body and mind refused to snap out of whatever shell-shocked stupor had enwrapped her. Her hands were exactly where they had been, raised and curved as if she was still holding his face. Her eyes were closed, her mouth, lips slightly parted and pursed from their last kiss.

Scully was aware of his concern. She knew he couldn't read her at all. She felt how hesitant he was as he put a hand on each shoulder gave her a small squeeze.

"Scully? Too much?" He asked nervously.

Life gradually returned to her when she heard the trepidation in his voice, guilt flooding her for the troubled tone she’d put there. Scully opened her eyes and saw the contrition on his face a few inches below her. Caution and an apology were there, ready to spring forth if he needed it.

She shook her head, blinked and remembered he’d asked a question. "No. I..." Stunned, like she had just been rudely awakened from the craziest dream of her life, still, she could recognise the brief touch of relief as it passed through Mulder and she finally came back to her senses.

Reaching out to reclaim his face, Scully tried to put his doubts to rest. "No, Mulder, not too much." Shaking her head as she said it, making herself doubly clear to him.

She felt terrible witnessing his distress, discerning just how badly he had needed her to tell him everything was okay, that he hadn’t done anything wrong, she was conscious that the onus lay with her to set matters to rights again.

One of the objections Scully had raised with herself in those moments when she had dared even contemplating what it would be like to have a different kind of connection with Mulder, had been adding yet another level to their already complicated, multidimensional partnership. They shared so much more than time together as it was, she had been afraid piling on more layers would end up suffocating them. At present, they were living with this strange co-dependency, so what would happen if they created more links, binding them even tighter?

In the few minutes they had spent exploring the limits of their friendship, Scully couldn’t help but think that instead of crushing them under the weight of more responsibility, it might actually make them stronger. She was hard pressed to remember the last time she had smiled like she had tonight.

Scully gave herself a quick, mental once over and was surprised at how good she was feeling. She wasn’t fool enough to think that this merry glow she was wearing would last overly long, but given her general mood of late and how much it had improved in so short a time, she couldn’t make herself believe this wasn’t a natural to extension to their pre-existing bonds to include the physical.

Then again, she wasn’t exactly impartial. Not with endorphins racing though her bloodstream, affecting her actions and Mulder’s warm hands on her body. It was that bias that made her think that the whole discussion could wait until later. For now, they had been granted this little bubble universe, outside of normal life and time, containing just the two of them. It would be a shame to waste such a precious gift when consequences could be figured out tomorrow. She was already missing the brand-new emotions that had blossomed, but then wilted when she had withdrawn from him and now, she wanted them back.

“I’m sorry, Mulder, I don’t know why I froze like that, but it’s okay.” Her hands cradled his face, thumbs rubbing his cheeks as she spoke.

Mulder remained unsure; his eyes were downcast, like he was too ashamed to meet her gaze. “No, Scully, I’m the one who should be sorry.”

Scully took hold of his chin with one hand, jerking his head up so he was looking at her – ‘softly, softly’ didn’t appear to be getting through to him, so she was going to have to take a different tact. Pleased to see any shame was swept away and replaced with surprise when she frowned down at him, Scully demanded, “Do you trust me Mulder?” She turned the volume up, not shouting, but more than what was necessary for him to hear in the quiet of the room.

“What?” Mulder spluttered, confused at the conversation’s abrupt change in direction. “Yes, of course!”

Satisfied her verbal whoop upside his head had cleared out the cobwebs; Scully placed her hands on her hips and used the meagre two inches of height she presently had to loom over him to good effect. She glared down her nose; her attitude had Mulder properly flummoxed now. “Then why are you so quick to dismiss my opinion in this?”

Mulder was giving his jaw a thorough work out. There was, of course, no correct answer to the question and he knew it, even if her reason for asking it hadn’t made itself apparent. “Scully…”

Her bottom lip quirked, as she tried not to let the cute way he peered up at her break her character. She let him squirm a few more seconds, then took pity on him. “Do you trust me?” Scully asked again, though much gentler.

“Yes,” he replied seriously and without any elaboration. Mulder was starting to get her point now.

It had hardly been two minutes since he last embraced her, but she actually seemed to ache for him. It looked like every facet of their relationship would share that unique intensity they’d had from the beginning.

“Good,” she said taking his hands. She slowly backed away across the floor from him, her feet hitting some item of furniture letting her know she could go no further, but it had been enough for her purposes.

Mulder had to get up from how he was sitting and onto his knees like her, or risk end up falling on his face. Mischief coloured the new smile that was blooming as he quickly caught up with the programme, and caught up with her.

At last, Scully was able to press most of her body up tight against the length of his. The view had reversed, back to the perspective they were both used to, but it was still good. The snug way she could fit with her head tucked under his chin on those rare occasions she had let him hug her in the past, had always provided an amount of comfort that didn’t exist with other people. She usually just felt smothered; dominated, but not with Mulder. Right now though, she wasn’t interested in being tucked away and out of sight; she wanted him to see her, the whole her.

Mulder’s eyes were alive and full of delight, as Scully watched him, watching her, enjoy the firm feel of him, under her palms as they snaked around him, almost half way up his chest. She really had to tilt her head up now; they were so close, if she wanted to see him, and it was important to her that she could see his face as she told him, “I trust you, too, Mulder.”

She saw the effect of her words ripple across his face. He looked so serious as his big hands cupped her cheeks, but he made no further move on her, intent on drinking in every
last detail. Mulder nearly jumped as she covered one of his hands with her smaller one and it made her smile. Clearly, he still wasn’t completely sure of himself and this new place they found themselves in. He was going to need a bit of instruction, but Scully didn’t mind giving directions.

Without really thinking, Scully licked her lips, no different than how she had done thousands of times before, only this time, she noticed how the small action immediately attracted Mulder’s eye and he continued to track the progress of her tongue as it wet her lips.

Thoughts of head injuries and hospitals and pending ambulances sprung to mind; they didn’t have long before the real world would notice they had slipped away for a private moment and send someone rushing after them to drag them back. Suddenly she was very aware of the seconds she wasted the longer she was thinking. “Mulder?” It was almost a whisper and she saw him lean in a bit closer. "Would you please come here and do that again?"

Clever man, he didn’t even have to ask ‘do what?’

Time stilled in the creaky old house and they started off slow, just like they had the first time, growing steadily into it as the kisses deepened. Hands were less inclined to wander - things were different this time, their minds keeping track of what their bodies were up to. Without his needing to ask, her mouth opened to him. He took her bottom lip into his mouth and sucked gently, slowly surrendering it back to her, but he was greedy for her, capturing it again, this time putting a bit of a bite into it, letting it slide back out through his teeth.

She answered him in kind, not afraid to use lips, tongue or teeth, everything at her disposal; whatever felt good. After a minute or two he was holding her so tight, one hand had sought her tattoo, drawing circles over its approximate location over her shirt, the other nearly squeezing the life out of her. She wrapped a hand behind his neck, controlling him, keeping him in place or pulling him in deeper as she wanted. If she had cared to stop and check, she knew her nails would have left four tiny half-moons indenting his skin.

Mulder became more assertive, almost as if he had pictured them doing this before and he knew exactly what he wanted would do, and she was happy to follow his lead. More importantly to Scully was the fact that he didn’t treat her like he was aware of how ill she was. When he touched her he was gentle, but sure, never worried her declining health would cause any interference and for that she loved him all the more. She didn’t think she could stand it if he behaved like he was afraid his very touch would hurt her.

Blind to anything but each other, neither of them saw what danger lay ahead.

Mulder was naturally alerted to the problem well in advance of her, Scully realised only after. His attempts at putting a little space between their bodies, twisting away slightly hoping it would help, but no, he had known they needed to take a breather.

With great reluctance his hands pulled on her shoulders, practically prising her away from him. She heard him saying her name, his voice sounding hoarse as he struggled against his inclination to forget what he was trying to tell her and return to plundering her mouth. The obvious strain in his words excited her and for another few precious moments she had enticed him back to do just that, but the second her hand burrowed under the hem of his shirt, and Scully was rewarded with the feel of smooth bare flesh of his hip, Mulder nearly choked in his hurry to back up.

Not sure what to make of his change in mind, Scully didn’t say anything, just looked up at him, puzzled. She didn’t think Mulder would draw the line at her wanting to touch his heated skin; it wasn’t as though she had bypassed all the other niceties and gone straight for his…
Oh!

She looked down, thought better of it and stared back up at his face, which didn’t improve matters. It was too dark to tell exactly what he was thinking, but he was having a difficult time meeting her gaze. They were both struggling to breathe normally. They remained close, enough that his panting stirred the hair that had fallen forward across her cheek. She didn’t know if she should move away from him, give him a bit of space to try to find some control or if that would just make it worse, drawing attention to what they were both so studiously trying to avoid.

Then she got a hold on herself, thinking how ridiculous they were behaving. This wasn’t anything unnatural, and considering how enthusiastically they had been going at it, no wonder it happened. And besides, it was incredibly flattering. Determined to end their foolishness, she inhaled settling herself, then looked up and addressed him.

Evidently, Mulder had exactly the same idea, saying her name as she said his. Both startled for a second, they shared a look and then broke into laughter together.

Scully had retained some sense and shushed him as she eyed the door leading out into the hallway, at the end of which was the front door and one of the Vineyard’s finest standing guard. The last thing they wanted was witnesses.

Sinking to sit back down on her folded legs, Scully steadied herself with a hand on Mulder’s arm as he followed suit. Her knees swore an oath of bloody vengeance at their mistreatment, but that was another problem for tomorrow. Right now she was watching her partner as he slouched on the floor of his childhood summer home, trying to find a position that didn’t exasperate the telling bulge in his jeans and she had to work at not bursting into a fit of laughter; this whole situation was just insane.

The little voice at the back of her mind piped up again, “definitely still alive then!”
Yes, Scully agreed emphatically, most definitely still alive.

Mulder threw back his head and chuckled at the once bright but now yellowing paint that adorned the ceiling. "Ah Scully..." He said, his voice back to normal, but still he held some hint of wonder over what had just happened.

She raised one perfectly shaped eyebrow imperiously at him. "What?"

He reached over, reverently touching her cheek. "It's just, if I'd known what it would take to get you to kiss me like that," he paused looking her over with such awe she found it hard to breath, "well, I would have contrived to lose my mind years ago!"

"Mulder, that's not funny!" She scolded him, failing miserably at keeping a straight face as he darted in for another quick kiss. Scully relented faster than she thought she would and it soon became two kisses, then three. “Mulder,” she warned as three stretched into four.

“Mulder!” She needed to stop this. “How were you planning on explaining your current condition to the paramedics, if they ever get here?”

Her question worked, cooling his passion sufficiently enough for her to push him back by his shoulders, before he seduced her into forgetting that she actually was mad at him for what he'd done to himself - and if that pervading, happy tingly feeling was any clue it wouldn't take much effort on his part to completely undo her.

He took the hint after one last stolen kiss and reclined away from her. “I figured you’d do the talking,” he smirked. Clearly, being discovered in a compromising position here with her didn’t hold the same kind of threat of total humiliation for him as it did her. “Besides, I was under the impression that you were in charge here.”

She ignored the obvious trap and frowned at him. "Seriously, Mulder, please, don't do anything like this again. You had me really scared this time. I could just as easily have lost you tonight."

"I know, trust me, I do. And I am so sorry for it, Scully."

There was a real contrition evident about him this time as he held out his hand to her and she slid her fingers over his and into his palm accepting both his hand and apology. For a moment, they were both captured by that simple sight and what things could potentially mean for them now.

Scully softened, but then she recalled the other major offence he had committed today, and if Mulder thought he was getting away with it he didn’t know her as well as he thought.

"I’m glad you’re aware of just how close you came to disaster, Mulder, but you should know, I’m not feeling inclined to forgive you so quickly for your other infractions,” she told him a slight edge entering her voice.

She saw him swallow nervously then summoned up the courage to quietly ask. “What? What did I do?”

She felt a little bad for how uneasy he looked, but she was also determined that Mulder would be left with the impression that this would never, ever happen again. Not if he valued his life. Scully folded her arms defensively across her body. "You ditched me, Mulder, again. At your mother's house, no less. Taking our only means of transportation with you."

Mulder visibly winced in sympathy; suitably subdued at the awkward situation he'd left her in. “Oh God, I did, didn’t I?” He groaned, scrubbing a hand over his face. “I’d apologise again, but I think I’ve worn the word a little thin today.” He huffed out a breath as he shook his head then returned his gaze to her and confronted her anger head on. “I seem to recall she was pretty pissed - I hope she didn’t take it out on you?”

Scully deflated a little, confident that Mulder appreciated why this was a sore point for her, and loosened her crossed arms with a sigh. “Actually, she didn’t say a single word to me after you left. I may as well have been invisible for all the attention she paid me.”

"That sounds painfully familiar.” His eyes were distant and Scully imagined he was remembering being on the receiving end to similar treatment from his mother ever since his sister was taken. She couldn’t conceive of how damaged any mother must become to be able to subject her only surviving child to such wilful negligence.

She was surprised when he suddenly looked back at her and gave her a dopey grin. “What if I promise never to leave you stranded and alone with my mother again? Would I be forgiven?”

His obvious attempt at levity did not impress her and she tightened her arms about her again, giving him a hard stare. “Mulder-“

“Or let anyone else drill holes in my skull, that you haven’t previously approved of," he interrupted. He aimed his best doleful look at her, hamming it up for comic effect until she pursed her lips.

Scully was tempted to whack him for making a joke out of the whole, ‘letting a lunatic drill holes in his head’ thing, but she was tired and didn’t want to be angry with him. She sighed, frowning; it would probable serve her better if they deferred this conversation until later too.

She was still on the fence as he leaned in close to whisper huskily in her ear even though they were alone, "come on Scully, I figure there's something I could do to make it up to you."

Scully flushed brilliantly, heat radiating from her chest all the way up to the tips of her ears. Nonetheless, she managed to pretend it hadn't happened while she stalled as she thought it over. "Fine, but we aren’t done talking about this," she conceded grudgingly and Mulder beamed at her which made her laugh at their silliness.

It had been so long since she'd laughed at all she found she could offer up no resistance as he pulled her close and wrapped her in his arms. She was surprised at herself, at how comfortable she was with this sudden shift in their relationship, so much so she could unabashedly burrow deeper into his embrace, sliding a hand over his ribs and tucking her head snugly into the crook of his neck, where he took advantage of her place there to press his lips to her temple.

"I have some thoughts on how I could show you just how sorry I am, you know" he crooned.

"I'll bet you have," she replied in good humour, but before he attempted to embarrass her further by getting into specifics, an idea came to her. Should she? She wasn’t so secure with all these new feelings to risk spoiling things, but if there was any time like the present to find excuses for making small errors in judgement she couldn’t think of it. So, tentatively, she ventured, "I, um, I actually have a thought about that myself, Mulder."

"Really?" He asked perking up, seeming incredibly pleased. "Well, colour me intrigued Scully. What exactly did you have in mind?"

Scully took a moment to answer. "It's, ah, a little on the unconventional side," she hedged, feeling him tense beneath her hands.

"You know me Scully," he said so levelly, it really was commendable, "the more unorthodox the better."

"Okay then, if you're sure." She didn't sound sure herself, but Mulder practically vibrated as she made him wait to hear what she could possibly be willing to suggest. Her smile was hidden in his shirt as she put him out of his misery. "The thing is Mulder, what I need you to do, is..." she couldn't help herself, she paused, chancing their luck that he wouldn't go into heart failure as she walked two fingers languidly up the ladder of his ribs, teasing him with the slightest touches up his chest until she put her hand against his neck, surreptitiously feeling for his pulse point. And then she let him have it. "...when your mother gets over your fight and calls you up to ask if you know what happened her car, you'll tell her that you had to borrow it.”

Scully unfurled, looking up at him just in time to see the mix of emotions play out plain as day over his face.

He looked back at her utterly bewildered at what had just happened and then as quick as that, understanding flashed in his eyes. Yup, she had played him but good. His jaw worked up and down uselessly for a moment until he clamped it shut as he scrambled for control. Finally, when he regained the power of speech, he asked dumbly, voice pitched higher than usual, "you stole my mom's car?"

"For argument's sake, let's say ‘borrowed’, 'stolen' has such nasty and also questionable legalities attached to it." She informed him with a big smile.

"But..."

"Yes?" She inquired politely, the very picture of innocence.

"Scully," he said, still not quite believing how badly she'd taken him in with that act. "You can be a scarily, wicked woman when you want to be, you know that?" Then his demeanour changed as he slowly reached for her.

Scully sensed imminent payback heading her way and shuffled back.

"You must realise, my honour demands that I seek revenge..." And he dived forward grabbing her, eager to discover if his long held theory about the ticklish nature of Scully's ribs was true.

"Don't you dare!" She warned him as she realised his intent just before his fingers descended and found their target. Scully squirmed, helpless under the weight of his body, holding her breath and swearing to herself that he wouldn't hear a single sound out of her, and then it was all too much. Her breath exploded out of her in a storm of girlish laughter.
I can't be giggling she thought to herself, horrified that that was indeed what she was doing.
I work for the FBI! An FBI agent does not giggle! "Mulder! Please stop! I give, okay? I give up!"

Satisfied the playing field was even again and that all was right with the universe once more, Mulder relented. He even helped her remove the hair that had fallen over her face as she had hopelessly thrashed about on the floor, trying to dislodge him. They were both breathing hard, but they were both smiling too, aware they were acting like a couple of teenagers.

As they’d come to rest, their legs were tangled, Mulder was bent slightly at the middle and at an angle across her, having used his chest and upper body strength to keep her pinned
beneath him while he’d tickled her mercilessly. Bracing his forearms on either side of her head, he straightened up and shifted his weight so he could still cover her, but wasn’t at risk of squashing her.

Scully lay there, contented and captivated, watching him. Mulder’s face hovered mere inches above hers as he traced the tips of his fingers over her face, learning by feel every line and curve. She revelled in the feel of him, warm and solid. Her hands sought out his waist and pulled him down firmly against her. She had to bite her lip when she realised her pelvis rose from the floor instinctively to meet him. Mulder’s breath hitched, his eyes were dark, their scrutiny intense while he slowly ground his hips down and rocked with her, his body’s desire answering hers.

Scully’s head fell back, exposing her throat as her eyes flickered shut against the wonderful friction their grinding movements caused.

Mulder’s mouth was hot and wet as he attacked her bare throat and it took all her self-control to fight off her natural reaction to respond in kind. Aware that this was quickly headed someplace that required way more privacy than what was available to them at the moment, Scully regretfully put a hand on Mulder’s chest and forced herself to say his name. It was only just audible, but Mulder heard her, and with the pressure her hand applied it was enough to let him know what she meant.

Mulder immediately rolled onto his side, the sudden absence of his warmth was shocking and Scully wanted to pull him back, which would definitely be unwise. He lounged with ease, balancing on his side, his arm folded at the elbow propping his head up on his hand. She did the same, mirroring him. Mulder, however, wasn’t satisfied with just being close. It made her shiver as he drew one finger around the shell of her ear, then down the line of her jaw. Scully was thankful he stopped there; if he had gone any further they would soon be back in the same predicament they’d just got out of.

With thumb and finger holding her chin, he waited until she looked him. “Later,” was all he said.

The word rumbled over and through her and Scully could only nod her ascent. Just one word, but it was more than that, it was a promise, foretelling such sweet delights Scully realised she had wanted to share with him for a long time, but never let herself think on it until now.

She hooked a finger in Mulder's shirt, the small tug enough to encourage him to take advantage of her invitation. She reasoned that they were just sealing their pact, after all, ‘later’ could be a long time away. It was a flimsy excuse, though neither of them were willing to object, not if it provided the pretext to touch each other again.

Never one to need asking twice when such an opportunity presents itself, Mulder kissed her, and it was slow and delicious, leaving her wanting more of this, more of him. More of life. All this time she had spent going without, but she knew what she’d been missing now, and was fast discovering that she couldn’t seem to get enough.

It was Mulder who broke away from the kiss first this time. Recognising a good idea when she saw one, Scully took the chance while they were parted to stretch forward and heaved herself up into a sitting position. Mulder quickly followed suit, putting his back up against a bookcase. He indicated the space on the floor next to him and Scully shuffled over to sit at his side. Their hands found each other, fingers threading loosely, this small contact enough for both of them for now.

Once again a stillness fell over the darkened room as they waited, though this time it was an easy silence, one they were both familiar and comfortable with; neither felt the need to disrupt the calm quiet with unnecessary chatter.

A thought niggled at her then. She intended to ignore it but it kept coming back to her and soon she was grinning widely as she replayed the moment in her mind.

Mulder sensed it when she was on the verge of laughter. Curiosity got the best of him and he finally asked, sporting a cautious grin of his own. “What are sniggering about over there, Scully? Should I be worried?”

Scully rolled her head over, looking at him and couldn’t keep the short burst of laughter down any longer. “Oh, Mulder! I’m sorry,” she said, not looking the least bit contrite. “It was just the look on your face when I told you about your mother’s car.”

Mulder scowled, “that was just plain mean, you know. Winding a person up like that could be bad for their health.”

Scully laughed at him, though not unkindly. "Admit it, Mulder; I had you big time just then."

He continued to frown at her, but she was obviously forgiven when he lifted their joined hands and carefully kissed the back of hers, before he smiled at her all lopsided as he appraised her, then said with all seriousness, "ah, Scully, you've had me for a long time."

She stared up at him then, not quite sure how to respond, but before she could formulate an answer, a voice rang out loud from the front door.

"Agent Scully? That ambulance is finally here."

The ambulance, right, she had fleetingly forgotten what they were waiting for; she had been so distracted by everything to happen in the last fifteen minutes or so. They still had to get Mulder to a hospital and have him checked out. He‘d have to spend the night under observation to be safe. God had it only been a quarter of an hour since she had walked in here? It felt like her whole life had changed radically in those few minutes that she could hardly fathom it.

Mulder's attitude had lost some of its playfulness, but he still smiled at her as her helped her to her feet. She was about to turn and head for the door but he caught her hand, pulled her back. Her hands automatically found his waist as he cradled her face in his big hands: she was really learning to love how that felt.

"Scully...?" There were too many questions, too much for them to sort out in the few seconds they had, still alone before the rest of the world intruded, demanding their attention once again. Mulder licked his lips, deciding to pick one important question for now. "No regrets?"

Scully tilted her head in thought then smiled coyly up at him. "My knees have launched a formal protest at having to sit on that hard floor for so long."

He smiled back at her, but waited to hear her say the words he needed right then.

"No, Mulder, no regrets."

Happy, so much so, it had passed into pure elation, he nodded and bent for one last taste of her. With the flashing lights of the ambulance echoing around the room, there was no more time left to them. Scully grasped his hand, twining their fingers and led him back out into the world.

 

~X~

 

Scully was sitting on his gurney as the ambulance made its way to the hospital. She had started out perched where she thought she was out of the paramedic’s way, but every time the young man looked like he was finally settling down to start work on Mulder’s chart he
was up again and muttering ‘excuse me’ at her to get at some new draw or cabinet she had been blocking. Eventually she figured the safest place for her was only place he was reluctant to go anywhere near, which just happened to be next to Mulder himself.

The paramedics had both been jumpy at being called out to a shooting involving federal agents, and Mulder and his big mouth hadn’t put them at ease any when he had joked that he had been confused and thought he was at the firing range. The detective had been on hand to hear this and tried to smooth things over with a lame chuckle and offering to hook them up with his brother-in-law, who as it turned out was a plasterer and decorator, and would no doubt be happy to patch up the bullet ridden wall whenever Mulder was feeling better.

Scully couldn’t help but notice that the detective had addressed them as a couple when they’d come out of the house - and not a couple of agents either. But standing there, holding his hand in front of all and sundry while Mulder (content to let her take the lead) leaned into her as she spoke to both the police and the medics, she could understand how he got the wrong impression. Or not. She’d barely had the chance to think past getting Mulder to the hospital, never mind sorting out their new relationship status. And just for fun, all the flashing lights had made her want to squint as a headache was brewing behind her eyes.

Before either of the medics could object over the prospect of dealing with an unhinged patient, Scully had seized the opportunity to push Mulder ahead of her into the ambulance where he could take a seat, while Imhof provided them a distraction, regaling the others with the unwanted details of his in-law’s business. After that, one of the men had no choice but to follow them into the vehicle when his partner shrugged at him and made for the driver’s side door. His attitude had not improved any in the last ten minutes, despite Scully assuring him that Mulder was no longer a threat and had been disarmed.

Which was exactly when she remembered they had forgotten to pick up Mulder’s weapon on their way out. She’d had to dig out the card the detective had handed to her so she could contact him (he’d been smart enough to finagle a promise out of her to help explain to his superior just what had happened out here tonight) and called, asking him to please retrieve Mulder’s gun rather than risk leaving it in the empty house. Hanging up on Imhof she sighed heavily, guessing she wouldn’t have to worry about how she would spend several long hours tomorrow. Then again, maybe playing nice with the local force’s chief could be put off until the day after tomorrow when Mulder would be well enough to drag along too; it was only fair he helped clean up his own mess. Then her thoughts returned to the man himself.

Mulder. What was she to do with him? What had she been thinking, complicating their lives like this? Well, whatever it was that had possessed her, there was no going back now, of that she was sure. Mulder would never let her brush this off as a case of temporary insanity. Would he? No. And she didn’t want to go back to hiding her feelings either – it was just one more drain on her already depleted energy stores - but things were going to get messy if they decided to try and make this work.

Scully knew a moment of fear at the thought of having to navigate all the difficulties their burgeoning personal relationship would likely throw at them. But then she looked at him, lying back quietly on the raised head of the gurney and her chest tightened; she didn’t want to give him up. She felt her cheeks colour as she observed him, remembering how it felt to run her hands over his body, how it felt when he had touched her, kissed her, the silent promise they had made of things to come. She shook off the memories and concentrated on the here and now. Daydreaming of tomorrows to come would have to wait. “How are you feeling Mulder?”

Mulder had an arm slung across his face, shielding his eyes from the brightness of the interior of the ambulance, but dropped it to answer her when she inquired as to his condition. They had used the close confines and limited space as reason to sit as near to each other
as possible. Mulder had found a way to put his hand on her leg, making it look like he was just holding on to keep her from falling off the side of the trolley. Scully’s hand around his far hip could have had the same excuse should they need it. With their heads together neither of them spoke much above a whisper. “Umm, tired, headache,” he began to list, his eyes still closed until then, but opened them to look at her pointedly as he added, “still a little stiff.”

So it was like that was it? But then, had she really believed he would be more inclined to behave now that they had company? Of course he wouldn’t. Casually checking to see that the medic was still steadfastly ignoring them she turned back to Mulder, making sure he saw the way her eyes worked him over appraisingly down the length of his body, then lingering just south of his belt and said, “A little stiff, hmm? That’s a shame.”

Mulder barked a laugh that made the other man jump and look angrily at him for a second before he bent back to his scribbling. “Yeah”, Mulder said lowering his voice, picking up the thread, “I’ve found it to be something of an occupational hazard the last couple of years.”

“You should have said something, Mulder,” she chided him shyly, using the same intimate tone he had, pleasantly surprised at the double meaning. “It’s not something you should ignore. You might want to think about getting some kind of physical therapy.”

“It just so happens, I recently decided to do exactly that, Scully.” He smirked, taking his hand off her leg and reaching for her hand instead.

She couldn’t help but notice how well they fit together. By rights his should have dwarfed hers but their differences complimented each other. Taking advantage of how her body blocked the view of the medic, Scully rubbed her hand lightly up his captured arm, feeling how all the little hairs stood to attention at her passing and wanted to be alone with him again.

“How ‘bout you, Scully? How are you doing?”

The playfulness was replaced with something undeniably tender, showing he was genuinely worried about her. Damn, for a while there she had almost forgotten. “I’m…” Scully almost said ‘fine’, but Mulder’s slight frown warned her off. “I’m doing okay.”

Mulder didn’t reply, but then with the look he gave her he didn’t need to.

“Really, Mulder, I’m okay”, she assured him. “A little tired, a little hungry actually”, she smiled, happy for a change to think she had any kind of appetite at all. “Same as you really”, she added honestly. Then tightened her fingers around his, “sore knees”, she mouthed.

Mulder grinned knowingly. “Maybe you should think about getting some physio, too”, was his mischievous reply, his thumb caressing the inside of her wrist. “I wouldn’t want you to be feeling anything but your best when I take you out.”

“You want to take me out, Mulder? As in a date?” Scully asked, liking the idea straight away.

“You better believe it.”

“And where can I expect you to take me?”

“Wherever you want; you name the place and I’ll make the reservations. Lady’s choice.”

“You should be careful making offers like that, Mulder, you don’t know, I might have very expensive taste.”

“Scully, I’ll be coming away with the best side of the deal, just as long as you say yes. You can pick a greasy diner or the fanciest place in the city. Whatever you’re hungry for.” There was something wolfish about his smile as he said that last bit, making her feel as though she were an item on the menu.

He inched forward and Scully did the same, drawn ever deeper, even closer to him, unable to take her eyes from his. “But preferably something a little more upscale though, if it’s all the same to you.”

“I think we could find somewhere agreeable to both of us that fits that description.” Her mind split off a section of itself to flip through the names of some of the restaurants she knew that might meet those requirements as another part hosted thoughts of high heels and slinky little black dresses.

“So, is that a yes, Scully?” He raised his eyebrows, expectant. As if she would say no, now, silly man.

“That’s a yes, Mulder.” She nodded again, a thrill going through her now that they had established it was indeed a date. She thought her face was going to start to ache with all the smiling she had done in the last hour.

“Good”, Mulder said, his smile matching hers, pleased that she was accepting of his invitation.

Scully thought he was finished now that she had accepted, but he wasn’t done yet. Even though they weren’t alone, he was still bold enough to reach up and brush his fingers through her hair, pushing it back away from her face so he could study her every feature. The way he drank her in, it was hard to believe that they had spent more than four years in the same small office, sat not ten feet across from each other.

It was rare to see Mulder this intense and having it directed solely at her, it was almost overwhelming. Scully experienced the sensation of falling. Falling into his steady gaze; falling into him.

Both his hands were raised now, framing her face. He was totally serious, as he spoke to her softly, slowly. “At least for one night, I want us to get dressed up and go out someplace nice. And I’m sorry, because I know this will make me seem like an arrogant ass, and a shallow one at that, but… But, I want to show you off. I want every other man in the room forget who he’s there with.” Mulder paused here to lick his lips, almost nervously, but he sounded nothing but utterly certain as he went on. “Scully, I want them wish that they should be so lucky, just to know they had the privilege of you electing to spend your free time with them.”

Scully’s breaths were coming faster the longer Mulder spoke to her with such gravel in his voice. And God! The way he looked at her like that, like she was the only person in the world, or if not that, then the only person in the world worth his notice. She could feel her skin growing warm from the heat of his words, and it wasn’t because she was embarrassed. Never, had anyone ever said anything like this to her before; she was stunned into silence hearing it come from her partner.

Mulder’s eyes dipped and a quick self-deprecating smile graced those oh so kissable lips for just a second, Scully though he must have pictured in his mind the scene he painted for her next. “I want to take you dancing, Scully.”

She nearly blanched hearing this, her trepidation causing a tiny gasp – she had always been a wallflower when it came to anything other than just listening to music. But she was so far under the weft of the magic spell he was weaving; she didn’t want to go and spoil it by voicing her doubts.

Yet Scully wanted to warn him. The last time she’d come anywhere near to dancing, she had still been in med school. And even then, when she would down her share of liquid courage and had the audacity of youth to back her up, she still wasn’t one to brave the dance floor very often. It was unlikely she would have improved during the intervening years.

Mulder could see her apprehension though and was swift to dispel it, his thumbs stroking her cheeks affectionately. “Don’t worry; I’ve no intention of taking you to a rave”, he joked.

They smiled, sharing the image of some dark, derelict warehouse out in the middle of
nowhere, illuminated with strobe lights and glow sticks, filled with people barely old enough to drink – if they were at all - throwing themselves around to music that wouldn’t know a tune if one walked up introduced itself.

“I don’t know about you, but my days of wearing ripped denim and drinking mysterious concoctions out of plastic cups are over,” Mulder confided. “I think we’d be best leaving the underground scene to the younger generations.”

“Most definitely”, Scully concurred, hiding her smile as she envisioning Mulder back in his heyday at Oxford, dressed to impress and living it up, spending his nights out on the prowl.
Just then the ambulance jumped, shaking all three of them. Mulder’s lightning quick reflexes were the only thing that kept her from falling off the side of the gurney and onto the floor.

“Sorry!” Their driver apologised, calling from the cab.

“You okay?” Mulder asked as she righted herself with his help.

“Yeah, I’m fine”, she said reassuringly, finding herself even closer to him, but not minding in the slightest, then she raised her voice so the others could hear too. “What the hell was that?” Scully demanded. “Did we hit something?”

“No”, the medic in the back with them answered sullenly. “There’s about half a mile of bad surfacing along this stretch of road.” Another impressive jolt rocked them, punctuating his statement, proving his point, and Scully had to reach for Mulder to give her something to hang on to.

“Half a mile?” She asked. The medic nodded, as one long resigned to the bumpy ride. “Wonderful”, she muttered. Scully turned back to Mulder, immediately noticing the look of worry on his face. “Mulder, what is it? Are you all right?”

“Yeah”, he said quietly, licking nervously at his lips and watching her hand as it lay on his chest. “But, ah, you’re shaking, Scully.”

“What?” She hadn’t even realised until he mentioned it, but now that she was aware, she could feel a tremor in her extremities. Scully clenched her hand into a fist then flexed her fingers, but it didn’t make any improvements.

“Is everything okay?” Inquired the medic, he’d obviously overheard Mulder’s comment or the concerned tone he’d used.

“Yes”, she addressed the other man, quick to assert herself before either of them could insist on having her checked over. She looked at Mulder as she continued, but loud enough for the medic to hear too. “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just the adrenalin wearing off is all.”

Mulder didn’t seem convinced though, “You sure?”

“Yeah, Mulder, I’m fine”, she quietly reiterated, even knowing how much it annoyed him when she said those two words.

They were all forced to grab hold of something while they were jostled as the vehicle went over several metres of a poorly tarmacked part of the road.

“This is ridiculous”, Mulder mumbled once they were past it. He relinquished his hold on her, indicating he wanted her to stand up, then went for the safety belt fastened around his waist and released it.

Scully watched him curiously, then seeing what he was doing and made to stop him. “Mulder, no, what are you doing?”

“Wait, he instructed and she paused obediently. Then he turned his body to put his back against the side of the ambulance and his feet on the floor, creating a space and patting it, for Scully to join him and do the same. “Makes more sense, right?” He said as she took her place next to him just in time for the next bump in the road. “See? Much better.” He was looking quite pleased with himself, and took the opportunity to casually drape his arm across
her shoulders.

“Thank you”, she said, acknowledging his good idea.

The rest of the rough patch didn’t seem so bad once she actually had a place to sit down. There was one last spot that shook them hard enough to rattle several draws open and make the medic drop the clipboard with Mulder’s paperwork to the floor as he bent to catch something as it jumped out of an opened draw.

They were both surprised as the man lost his cool and called out to his partner. “Dammit, Stevie, do you have to aim for the potholes?”

Scully, having to grab the edge of the gurney felt jittery enough, and silently agreed with the sentiment. But Mulder, with his feet on the floor, using his longer legs to brace them, kept them from moving too much. Still, his arm tightened about her, pulling her nearer.

“Sorry guys”, the disembodied voice of Stevie called back. Then a few seconds later added, “There, I think we’re past them now.”

“Thank God”, Scully mumbled under her breath as the medic picked up his clipboard and went back to ignoring them as he finished his work.

The journey continued without any further brain rattling shudders after that, and thinking they could relax a little now, Scully settled back just as a violent shiver - caused not by a return of pitting in the road, but by her adrenalin withdrawal - made her whole body convulse.

“God, Scully,” Mulder cursed. “Come here”, he ordered, the arm at her back hooking her like a fish on a line, crushing her to him before she could think to protest, the other arm completing the circle around her front. “Your fingers are freezing”, he said unnecessarily, looking down at her hand where it had grabbed hold of his leg.

Scully couldn’t deny it; that bone-deep cold she had been afflicted with since she had been losing more and more weight was creeping into her now, and she could feel how the trembling had spread from her hands to the rest of her body. Mulder twisted and contorted himself in an attempt to press her against as much of his broad chest as he could manage as he tried to keep her warm.

“Here”, the medic said making her jump. He had been watching them and getting Mulder’s idea, produced a blanket from somewhere while they had been distracted. “Thanks”, they said in unison as he shook it out, handed one end to Mulder and pinned the other snuggly between her back and the side of the ambulance.

Mulder tucked her head under his chin and beneath the blanket she wrapped an arm around him, wishing her teeth would stop chattering.

In the relative silence that followed, the gentle sway as they travelled and the wonderful warmth provided by Mulder, seeping into every inch of her that was touching him, left her light headed and extremely tired, so much so, a jaw cracking yawn caught her totally unawares.

“When was the last time you got any sleep, Scully?” Mulder murmured in her ear as she turned her head into his chest rather than move her hand to cover her mouth.

“Probably about the same time as you, Mulder”, she said, tightening her arm to give him a quick squeeze while angling her head up to face him. She didn’t want him forgetting who this ambulance had been called for in the first place. But instead of providing a gentle reprimand, Scully had misjudged just how close they were sitting and was unexpectedly presented with the prospect of his succulent mouth, mere inches from her own. His bottom lip pouted temptingly at her, almost daring her to run her tongue along it then take it between her teeth, sucking it until it was swollen and wet. This time when she shivered, it had nothing to do with the cold.

Her eyes flicked up to meet his and then back down to his lips. All she would need to do was lean in ever so slightly and she would be able to brush them with her own, but if she did that she would want more. Really though, would one little kiss be so terrible? Under the convenient cover of the blanket their hands had started slowly moving – the medic probably didn’t have this in mind when he gave it to them. Their touches were light and remained innocent, no more than the scuff of fingertips to be felt through their clothes; they did nothing that would be deemed indecent if their actions hadn’t been obscured, but this aspect of secrecy lent the whole thing a forbidden air.

Scully could feel his heart thudding as she pressed her hand to his chest. She knew they were kidding themselves if they thought they could continue like this and not want to escalate things. She pulled her gaze away from the tempting sight in front of her and focused on his eyes instead, which didn’t really improve things. There was a hunger there and she knew Mulder was having similar thoughts about how easy it would be to push their luck and steal a kiss, knew that he wouldn’t be happy with just one either. But they couldn’t start that again, not here, however, she wasn’t content to forego all contact with him, so with great reluctance, she gave him a sad smile, a tiny shake of her head to let him know that they couldn’t keep teasing each other this way and offered all she could safely give him right now, and dropped her forehead until she felt his lips press softly at her brow.

With the ambulance travelling along a mostly straight, smooth road, the motion was making her increasingly sleepy. She yawned again, not bothering to try masking it at all this time.

Mulder had been rocking them gently while slowly grazing his lips back and forth across her forehead, but paused when he felt how tired she was, to whisper in her ear, “Scully, why don’t you try and sleep?”

Scully was already shaking her head.

“Just until we get to the hospital”, he tried.

“Umm, no Mulder”, she told him, as she made an effort to sit up a bit straighter; combating the pull of some much needed rest. “I’ll just feel worse having to wake up again so soon.”

“Okay”, Mulder sighed defeated, his breath tickling her ear.

A minute passed, and then another and again she was slumped over him, happily using his body like a pillow. When they had left the house, Scully had been adamant about maintaining a sense of decorum. She was determined that any shift in their relationship – and whatever resulted from it - wouldn’t affect their behaviour in the presence of others, that propriety would endure, but within half an hour that idea had been pretty much blown out of the water.

Her actions were uncharacteristically overt for her. In the past, whenever she had displayed any affection in previous relationships it had been done in private, or if in company, then very discretely. She had never really been one to flaunt her personal business in public by holding hands, hugging or even touching more than was necessary. But here she was, in proximity of two strangers, snuggled up to Mulder, struggling against the impulse to kiss him, his arms around her and the both of them wrapped in a blanket, cuddling like they were relaxing on some winter evening, in front of the fireplace in the privacy of her own home.

This whole situation should have been making her twitch worse than a junkie fixing for a fresh hit. Instead she was fighting to remain alert, keeping her eyes open becoming more problematic by the second. She didn’t understand how it could all feel so natural, and so quickly.

Finding the resolve from some deeply buried place within her she hadn’t known existed before, Scully righted herself, putting her back to the wall so she didn’t need Mulder’s support to stay upright and pulled the blanket away so it only covered her from the waist down. Instinctively, she felt how Mulder was as disappointed at the loss of contact as she was, but she had no choice if she didn’t want to be lulled to sleep.

“Help me stay awake, Mulder. Tell me”, Scully said, deciding she would make a concession just this once, and slipped her hand in his, their fingers mingled, resting on her blanket covered leg. “Tell me more about this date.”

His thumb was already rubbing small circles on the back of her hand. “Wouldn’t you rather it was a surprise?”

Scully shook her head, warning him. “No surprises, Mulder.” That they were talking about going on a date was shock enough.

“Surprises can be lots of fun, Scully”, he teased. “Sometimes it’s good not to be in control all the time, you know.” She frowned up at him and he laughed quietly again at the disapproving look on her face. He guided her head to rest on his shoulder. “Okay, okay, full disclosure - is that what you want?”

“It’s not a matter of being in control, Mulder”, she informed him, putting her free hand on his chest. “I just want to make sure I’m dressed to fit the occasion.”

There was only silence from above her to meet this statement. She gave him a few more seconds then poked him in the ribs. “I can hear your brain working; think very carefully about what your next words are, Mulder.”

“Hey, I didn’t say a thing!” He pouted.

“That’s entirely my point,” she intoned dryly.

“I feel like I’m in trouble before I’ve done anything wrong,” he joked.

“Sorry”, she said, feeling like she was nagging him before they’d even been out; an awful beginning to any relationship. She tried starting over. “Okay, just… just tell me what you were thinking.”

He leaned over so his lips were touching her ear. “Bad things, Scully. I was thinking very bad things.”

The shiver that started with goose bumps on the skin just behind her ear, rippled down every vertebra in her spine and ending with her stomach tying itself in a knot, could not be hidden or repressed. What was she to do with this man? Scully suddenly knew that all the times he had caused a similar effect in her over the years when he had made risqué jokes or teasing innuendoes, or even when he had touched her in a certain way, he hadn’t even been trying to make her react, but now, when he was only just tentatively experimenting at provoking her: look at the way she responded to him. What on earth would it be like when he hit his stride, and found out exactly what worked? There would be no living with him. And now he knew, too. Scully closed her eyes and waited for the gloating to commence.

“You wouldn’t mind then, if I suggested something a little more low-key?” He asked, filling the silence, stunning her at his passing over the opportunity to turn her red.

She swallowed, and moved along the conversation with him. “I didn’t think you and low-key were at all acquainted, Mulder.”

“Well,” he said wagging his head back and forth. “We’ve met, but tend to travel in different circles.”

“No kidding. So, what did you have in mind?” Scully was genuinely interested now in whatever his mind was cooking up.

“You mean you can’t guess?” He asked, bringing back a bit of their banter.

“Okay then, let’s see”, she mused, playing along. “If raves are out then I suppose no discos
either?”

“Goes without saying.”

“I can’t see you doing ballroom.”

“No, but I do look good in a tux.”

She peeked up at him, “yes, you do”, she agreed wholeheartedly. “Latin would be too technical.”

Mulder sighed. “Which is a shame, because it looks damn hot”, he lamented.

“I’m running out of ideas Mulder. Um, I don’t know; line dancing?” Praying this wasn’t what he was thinking.

“Over my dead body!” He scoffed.

Scully laughed too, “I give up, tell me.”

“Slow.”

“I’m sorry?” She asked looking up at him again to make sure she had heard him right.

The back of Mulder’s fingers brushed over her cheek and lowered his voice back down so only she could hear him. “I want to slow dance with you, Scully.”

“Mulder!” She exclaimed, a big smile breaking out despite her protest. “You cheat, that doesn’t count.”

“Sure it does”, he countered. “It’s the universal dance every teenage boy the world over is terrified of, but secretly wants to have a go at.”

“That’s thin, even for you, Mulder”, she frowned, feigning disapproval. Still, her mind played strains of Al Green, The Drifters, and Otis Redding; bluesy songs with real soul to them. Thinking of Solomon Burke’s Cry To Me sent tingles down her spine and she had to control the urge to grin madly at the images the songs invoked. “You know, I half expected you to say ‘dirty’.”

“Well now, there’s a thought.” Mulder got a far-off glint in his eyes like he was truly thinking about it. “Though if ‘slow’ turns out all right we could progress to ‘dirty’.” And he drifted away again.

“Come back to me Mulder,” she gave him a gentle nudge.

“Hmm?” He said, not quite returned from his trip to fantasyland.

“So, did you actually have a place in mind?”

“Specifically? No. But I’m thinking maybe a small club, someplace meant for couples rather than large groups. A place you take someone you already like, not where you go to pick someone up. Where the lights are low, but not so dark you can’t see two paces in front of you.” Mulder glanced at her trying to gage what she thought of his plans so far. Seeing her approval, he continued. “They’ll have those little tables, intimate, made to seat two. With a floor space to encourage you to dance if you get the urge, but not playing music so loud you’d have to shout to make yourself heard.” He paused and checked on her again.

“Maybe a live house band – the kind that are content just to provide a background track to other people’s night out – definitely no DJs. And if not a live group, then a set track list - preferably no jukeboxes; some people have a weird sense of what’s good music and can spoil the whole mood of a place with one bad song,” he finished seeming exposed after confiding what he’d imagined.

“It sounds really nice, Mulder,” she told him sincerely, able to form a picture from what he was describing. “Also sounds like you’ve been thinking about this for a while, too.”

“I may have given it some thought once or twice.”

“And this wonderful place doesn’t actually exist anywhere?” Now that she could see the place in her mind she felt disappointed at their not being able to actually go there.

“It might do, but if so, I haven’t come across it yet. But then, I haven’t had a reason to look for it either.”

“And now?” Scully inquired.

“And now, I do.”

Scully couldn’t help herself. She reached up and pulled Mulder down so she could brush a chaste kiss to his lips. “Be sure to let me know when you find it,” she told him.

“Count on it,” he said and kissed her back, putting the promise into it.

A few seconds passed and Scully experienced that falling feeling again as she allowed herself to be swept up in him, only to be disturbed out of it by a pointed cough coming from the other end of the ambulance. The paramedic, it turned out, was not happy by the show they were putting on and was making his opinion known.

Mulder pulled away from her, exhaling in a way that expressed his own view on the younger man’s objection. Scully stared into Mulder’s chest, feeling drugged. Mulder’s hand was on her cheek then, tilting her head up so he could see her face, and she wondered idly what he was still frowning at. It wasn’t until he said her name, giving her a bit of a shake when she remained unresponsive that she knew something wasn’t quite right. Scully blinked long seconds and when her eyes opened again it took an age to focus on him.

“Are you all right, Scully?” He asked before she could tell him anything.

Mulder was looking at her worriedly now and no wonder. She felt that tell-tale split second warning in the back of her nose before it starting dripping blood.

Chaos erupted in the back of the ambulance.

“Scully! Jesus!” Mulder shouted freaking right out. “Hey! A little help over here!” Mulder pulled her head towards him, having learnt from experience that you didn’t want to tip a person’s head back when they had a nose bleed.

Blood was running impressive rivulets down her chin, dropping in dramatic splashes of bright red over his pristine white t-shirt, puddling until she couldn’t make out the individual spots any more. Her eyes glazed out of focus again and when she could see, she realised that between them, Mulder and his budding, new nemesis had managed to maneuverer her away from his chest.

The paramedic didn’t even blink as he came into his own and took control of the situation. Paper tissues were promptly placed over her nostrils as Mulder held on to her shoulders with one arm, so he could pinch just below the bridge of her nose with his other hand.

Scully felt the world sway for a moment. Either that or they’d just bounced over another impressive pothole in the road. She heard their voices talking about her as she began to really comprehend what was going on.

“…get these nose bleeds often?”

“Only in the last few months…”

And then the tissues obstructed the blood flow, making it back up and run down the back of her throat instead. Logically, she knew what had happened and knew too, the best thing to do was remain calm, spit the blood out and take even breaths, but she panicked, worse than she had the first time she’d had a really bad bleed. She knew it was stupid, that it would eventually slow down and ultimately pass, but her control was gone and she ended up choking on the blood instead; Scully felt like she was drowning.

Her thoughts were going wild, as she started thinking that this was it, this was the big one, the tumour had ruptured and she was going to bleed to death in the back of this damn
ambulance and Mulder… God! Mulder was going to have to watch, knowing whatever they did wasn’t going to be good enough to save her. She felt the tears as they ran down her cheeks, knowing she wouldn’t be able to lie, saying that it was just her eyes watering as she tried to breathe.

She didn’t want the sight of her bloody visage to be the last time Mulder looked at her while she was alive, but she needed to see him. She was already feeling dizzy and a little feint. Completely ignoring the advice of the paramedic to take steady breaths, as he tried to get another handful of tissue to replace the one she already soaked through, she turned to Mulder.

The first thing she saw was that he was wearing a fair amount of her blood on his shirt, the bright red of her life flowing out and soaked into the hungry white cotton was shocking and all she could think to do was apologise. Sorry for making him witness this, sorry for not being honest with him about how she’d felt for so long, sorry she had done anything now that it was too late and going to be so much harder for him to let her go. Even sorry for ruining his clothes.

Astonishingly though, when she looked up into his eyes, he was calm. Worried, but calm. She was clawing his arm in her fright, leaving marks from her nails but he didn’t even look like he could feel it. And then, as she watched him, all the sound she hadn’t noticed that had being missing from the world for however long it had been since this started, came rushing back. It was loud and confusing, scaring her until his voice telling her to breathe was the only thing her mind understood.

Scully watched as he took a breath in and did the same, matching him for each inhale and exhale and eventually her heart wasn’t pounding so bad. Finally, her nose wasn’t bleeding anymore and the medic was quietly tidying the evidence away.

“Mulder?” Her voice was shaky and she could still taste the blood that had clogged her airway, but otherwise she was okay. She was still alive. And Mulder was still here, waiting to see what she needed.

“It’s okay, you’re okay, Scully. Come here.” Mulder pulled her close and wrapped her gently in his arms. He was kissing her head, stroking her hair and telling her she was going to be all right.

The blood was damp between them and she felt her own top that had been let off with just a couple of drops when it had started, begin to soak up the excess moisture from his. She dissolved into him, breathing in the reassuring scent of him and holding on as tightly to him as she knew he wanted to hold her, but was afraid to. If this had happened just last week, even a couple of days ago, she never would have let him get this close, never let him comfort her like this, but now she couldn’t imagine coming through it without him and clung to him all the tighter as she thought of the nightmare of having to keep doing this alone.

In time, she realised his words had changed. They had gone from giving assurance to asking for forgiveness. “Scully, I’m so, so sorry.”

She raised her head to see his face and was shocked to see the calm resolve he had shown her before had gone completely, replaced with red, puffy eyes, dampness on his cheeks and the deep sorrow his words had professed to.

“Mulder, what on earth could you have to be sorry for?” She reached up to wipe away an errant tear as she beat back at more of her own. Her hand came away sticky and the blood she hadn’t noticed there before had stained a red streak across his cheek. She tried to use her cuff to remove the taint, but it stubbornly refused to come away. She had to give up.

He frowned like he couldn’t believe she didn’t understand. “If I… If I hadn’t been acting like an ass, if I hadn’t gone to Goldstein…”

She was suddenly appalled he could think so. “No, Mulder, no. None of this,” and she gestured to his ruined shirt and her bloody face, “none of it is your fault.”

“But if you hadn’t had cause to be so stressed out—“

“I would still have cancer.” She finished. She let that sink in before adding, “It would have been fine if I hadn’t panicked. In fact if you weren’t here, if I had been alone, I might have passed out and drowned myself.” Seeing her effort to make light of it all fall flat, she reiterated. “This wasn’t your fault Mulder.”

“I was really scared.” His confession was barely a whisper.

“Me too. I hate for you to have seen me like that, but I’m glad you were here.”

“Scully…I…” There was more he wanted to say, but whether he thought this wasn’t the time or he wanted to be alone with her when he said it, stopped him from completing the sentence.

“Yeah, I know, me too.” She told him, because she really did know.

The next few minutes passed in blessed silence as she let him hold her while she recovered her equilibrium.

“Hey, do you think we could talk them into giving us a private room?” He asked, grasping at straws, desperately wanting to defuse the tension and banish their grief.

“Us?” Scully quirked an eyebrow at him, puzzled.

“I know I don’t get to play the role of the ‘voice of reason’ very often, but if you think I won’t kick up a fuss if you don’t let a doctor take a look at you once we get—“

“Okay, okay. Private room it is.” Scully surrendered to his onslaught.

“Thank you”, Mulder said. And she could tell how much it relieved him to hear her agree. But being Mulder, he tried to hide it from her, covering his vulnerability with more humour. “Do you suppose we could push the beds together?”

“Mulder.”

“Scandalise a few nurses…”

Scully had to huff a quick laugh at that. “If you think that’s all it takes to scandalise any nurse worth their stripes, mister you don’t know nurses half as well as you think you do.”

“No? Well, that’s interesting,” he muttered half to himself at this revelation. Then said, “I don’t really go for nurses anyway, Scully.”

“You surprise me, Mulder,” Scully decided it was easier – for both of them - if she played along with him. “I would have thought they would be right up your ally, what with the uniforms and all.”

“Well if we’re talking uniforms, I’m more impressed with the white coat and stethoscope the doctors usually wear.” He tightened his arms around her affectionately. Then bent to whisper into her ear, “Don’t look now, Scully, but I think we might have scandalised a paramedic already.”

Sure enough, with a discrete glance in the direction of the paramedic she could see how the young man had a ruddy hue to his face, his cheeks rouged to match the lights of the ambulance. He had finished his writing, but the pen still in his hands twisted and bounced off his clipboard as he fidgeted. He was staring at the tinted windows as though he could see out of them.

“Leave it to you Mulder, to traumatise a person specialised in dealing with trauma”, Scully sighed.

“Come on; let’s see if we can get his ears to match that lovely shade of red on his face.”

Mulder’s lips were conveniently positioned to stir the sensitive skin at her ear and before she could stop him, he was at her neck, right at her fluttering pulse point, flittering against her as softly as the touch of a butterfly’s wings. It was one of the most sensitive places on her body and his warm breaths were raising goose bumps; they were the unmistakable intimate caresses of a lover. No wonder the medic was blushing.

Scully deliberately extracted herself from his clutches before she was the one sporting matching red face and ears. “Be nice Mulder,” she chastised him, and before he could give the other man anything else to feel embarrassed about she turned and addressed him herself. “Ah, thank you for your help there.” Scully said, tapping the side of her nose.

She could still smell the coppery scent of blood; she wanted nothing more than a basin of hot water to wash away the last traces she could taste and feel on her lips and down her chin. “You know, I don’t think I caught your name earlier,” she said, attempting to be sociable though she felt anything but.

The man ducked his head, almost bashful, “its Harry”, he told her. “Harry Boles.”
“Thank you, Harry.” Harry nodded, acknowledging her thanks and turned back to the windows again. So much for sociable.

Mulder bent to whisper in her ear again. “Maybe Harry could use some therapy too?”

Scully dug an elbow in his ribs as discretely as she could.

“Ow!” Mulder complained though she knew she hadn’t hurt him.

“Are you okay?” The younger man asked earnestly, ready to get up and attend him.

They both froze, caught misbehaving and not knowing what to say. Then Mulder stuttered out, “yeah, seat belt pinched me is all.” He made a show of rubbing his hip.

The medic looked down at Mulder’s waist. “But you’re not wearing it anymore,” young Harry pointed out, obviously confused.

Again, there was that silent beat as Mulder scrambled for the right words, but he came up empty, so he went with, “wow, that’s weird.” His face and voice deadpanned, betraying nothing as he stared blankly at Harry.

Scully wanted to put her tired head in her hands. Instead she smiled weakly at Harry, willing him to blame it on the treatment and drugs Mulder had been given and hope he’d let it go.
Just where the hell was this damn hospital anyway?

 

~X~

 

When they arrived at the hospital, despite herself, Scully had actually been dozing happily in Mulder’s arms, having drifted off once again. She hadn’t intended to, but it was quiet, the driver having deemed it unnecessary to have the siren running – thank goodness for small mercies - and the trip had taken so long.

Mulder had urged her to rest again, pulling her back against his chest and she had made the mistake of closing her eyes. She thought she was going to have to play peacekeeper to the two men the rest of the way, but they must have forgotten their acrimony once she had bled all over them – finally, something nose bleeds were good for.

Waking up curled next to Mulder, having him whisper entreaties softly to her, beckoning her to re-join the waking world was the nicest way she had experienced coming back to consciousness in the entire time she had known him, she wanted to go right back to sleep so he could do it again, but it wasn’t to be. The only other thing to spoil her waking had been peeling their now dried bloody clothes away from where they had stuck together.

Scully shuddered in the chill night air as the ambulance doors were flung open by their driver. Harry’s temperament appeared to have improved now he was close to being shot of them, nodding politely to them both when they thanked him again for his help.

To their equal disappointment they were shipped off to be treated in separate areas. Mulder, she learned afterwards, had been transferred somewhere upstairs for some testing by the time she was released with yet more instructions to take it easy.

By the time Scully had tracked him down, he was on a ward, fast asleep and she couldn’t bear to disturb him as she stood at the end of his bed, glancing over his chart. She walked around the bed, making a frank appraisal of him now he couldn’t distract her or shrug off her concerns. She smiled down at him as he slept, brushed his hair away from his face only for it spring right back to its original place. Typical Mulder, even his hair wouldn’t do what she told it.

Thankfully, there was already a deep, cushioned armchair next to his bed with her name on it – literally. She didn’t know how the piece of paper tacked onto the back of the faux leather upholstery got there, but she could picture a defiant Mulder causing enough trouble until someone handed him pen and paper so he would shut up, then writing her name large, and staking a claim for her in her absence. The paper was a plain piece of A4, missing a strip across the top like it had been yanked impatiently from a pad, and she easily recognised his hasty scrawl. She peeled it away from the chair and set it on her knees, his chart going on top of it.

Her head reclined onto the back of the chair and she spent a few minutes just watching him sleep, thinking his idea to push a couple of beds together might have been a stroke of genius. She desperately wanted to sleep too, but didn’t fancy her chances for getting much rest in this chair, and she had sworn earlier when he had cried, clutching at her for dear life, she wouldn’t leaving him. She silently promised him again to remain at his side, at least until he woke up.

Scully rubbed at her eyes and told them to focus as she regarded his chart again, checking the details. All seemed to be in order. The few instructions she’d been able to pass on to the young doctor who had admitted him in the ER had been followed correctly and Mulder had received all the treatment she would have given him had he been her own patient.

On the last page, where nurses had been keeping notes on his progress after he made it to the ward, one item stood out. Apparently, Mulder’s wound at his hairline, made by the drill, had bled again. He’d told her it hadn’t done so since they had been at his mother’s house and she had hoped it wouldn’t be a problem again. There were other mentions of Mulder reporting some dizziness and his headache had reached the point where he couldn’t hide it from the people treating him. Otherwise, he was doing well.

Scully dragged herself to her feet and replaced the chart. On impulse, the paper with her name on it was folded neatly and she tucked it into her jacket pocket for safekeeping, not wanting to throw it in the trash. Then before she returned to her chair for what remained of the night, she sat alongside Mulder on his hospital bed.

She took one of his hands and held it up to her cheek, her other hand resting lightly on his chest and she watched for a moment as it rose and fell with each breath. Her own chest felt tight again at the emotion she was holding down. They had found each other tonight, but she had come so close to losing him, too.

Scully closed her eyes, the better to feel his hand on her face and lost the battle against one solitary tear, feeling it work its way between her cheek and his hand. Mulder’s voice muttering her name made her start. She opened her eyes thinking she’d woken him, but he was still sleeping.

She leaned over so her mouth was next to his ear, knowing he probably wouldn’t hear her as she told him, “I’m right here, Mulder.” She thought she might have felt his fingers squeeze hers, though he remained otherwise undisturbed. She kissed his forehead and wished him peaceful dreams, then placing his hand back down on the bed, got up and poured herself into the chair he had made sure would be waiting for her and closed her own eyes.

 

~X~

 

Something tickled her cheek.

“Scully?” A familiar voice crooned to her. “Hey, rise and shine.”

Mulder. He was awake. The thought made her own sleep clogged eyes spring open. “Hey, there she is,” he greeted her.

It had been his finger tracing over her cheek bone that she had felt a second ago. She caught his hand in hers before he could take it away.

“Hi”, Scully replied, her lips curving to see him alert and smiling back at her.

“Good morning. I thought I was going to have to call a nurse to break out the smelling salts.”

His comment took a moment to seep through the exhaustion that still clouded her mind, and then she realised the room was looking bright and cheery; already well into the deeply entrenched pattern of a ward’s morning routine.

Scully sat up straight in her chair – it had been better than the rigid vinyl models usually available at hospitals, but it was a poor substitute for a bed. A second later, all the aches and pains she had known would be there to remind her of the gruelling events from the previous day began a roll call. She groaned miserably. “What time is it?” She asked searching the walls for a clock as she covered a yawn with her other hand.

“A little after nine, I think”, Mulder told her.

“What?” How had she managed to sleep so long stuffed in that chair? As though she could reclaim the time by appearing more alert than she really was, Scully stood up, releasing his hand as she stretched out all the kinks the hours of stillness had earned her.

“I know,” Mulder said watching her as she kneaded the muscles in her lower back. “I wasn’t sure if you would thank me for not waking you, but you seemed like you needed to sleep.”

“How long have you been up?” She asked as she settled on the bed at his side.

He shrugged, “a couple of hours.”

“You should have said something,” she told him reaching up to examine the small wound at his hairline.

Mulder leaned forward to let her see. “I only woke you now because the doctors had started doing the rounds.” Satisfied that it had started to heel she tipped his head back up, her hands sliding down to rest framing his face while she took inventory. He kept talking. “I didn’t think you’d appreciate it if I left you oblivious and drooling in your chair.”

A hand shot up to Scully’s mouth, mortified.

Mulder reached up to pull her arm back down, grinning at her horrified expression. “I’m just kidding, Scully.”

Scully huffed, a tiny scowl creasing her skin as she narrowed her eyes at him. “Well, I’m glad to see your sense of humour remains intact, Mulder.”

But Mulder’s grin faded almost immediately as he asked, “so, how bad is it?”

Not knowing any more than she had the night before, Scully sighed. “Let’s just wait to hear what your doctor has to say first, shall we.”

Mulder looked like he was going to argue, but her hand returning to cup his cheek made quick work to stop him before he spoke. Instead he covered her hand with his, giving her a puzzled glance, but didn’t question her further. She turned herself on his bed so they were side by side; shoulders touching as they both reclining on its raised head, watching the rest of the people in the room go about their business.

They sat peacefully, hands clasped together as they patiently waited for the doctor to get to them. Scully though Mulder seemed troubled whenever she snuck a glance in his direction; maybe, she hoped, this meant he had scared himself this time and he finally realised just how close he had been to total self-annihilation. Please, she thought, let him have learned his lesson.

An almost painfully cheerful doctor approached them shortly, having finished with his other charges on the ward and stood at the end of Mulder’s hospital bed, surrounded by a posse of haggard looking younger doctors who must have been operating on even less sleep than she was.

Scully remembered those days, and didn’t envy them their youth one bit. The doctor, a tall, thin man in his fifties, sporting an impressive shock of dark hair for a man his age, clasped his hands as he observed them silently for a second then smiled, gesturing broadly, swinging his arms open to encompass the two of them. Scully couldn’t recall any of her mentors been this thrilled at the beginning of any of their morning shifts.

“Good morning,” the doctor sing-songed, his voice musical as it rang off the walls of the large room. Scully and Mulder both winced, quite unprepared for the jovial welcome from what looked like the only person in the room who was clearly happy to be there. She glanced surreptitiously about and noted how a few of the other occupants watched them from their own beds. The nurses were completely unperturbed, obviously used to his outlandish behaviour. “And you must be our special guests I was told about the moment I stepped over the threshold this morning.”

“Yes,” Scully confirmed needlessly, but feeling like they were obliged to say something. “I’m Agent Scully; this is my partner, Fox Mulder.” She introduced them both, and then disentangled her hands from Mulder’s, suddenly aware of how unprofessional they must look. She stood up for good measure and added belatedly, “I’m also a medical doctor.”

“So the staff tells me,” the doctor replied. “You provided the information last night on Agent Mulder’s situation that allowed our doctors to address his needs so promptly. I wish every patient through our doors came with their own personal physician to explain their condition; what time could be saved? Hmm. Oh! Forgive me, where are my manners? I haven’t introduced myself yet, have I? I’m Doctor Elliot Matthews.” He extended a hand and they were both treated to the man clasping theirs, giving them a firm, heartily shake.

Even this small gesture gave the impression of the doctor being particularly peculiar and eccentric. Scully didn’t dare risk a glance at Mulder to gage his reaction to the man’s attitude.

“A pleasure,” he said smiling at them as he stepped back, and his arms akimbo. “Now, before we get to it, I must tell you, lest I forget, there was a message left with our nurses from a Detective Imhof, enquiring as to your condition and claiming to have your service weapon securely in possession at his station. Okay? All right now”. Not waiting for either of them to respond, Doctor Matthews turned without further ado to address his protégés. He glossed over the group of faces arrayed around him and asked, “Who would like to do the honours and present Agent Mulder’s case.

Arms went up in the air all around and Matthews handed Mulder’s chart to the winner. Scully was well acquainted with how this song and dance went and waited while the young woman holding Mulder’s chart went over the details – all of which she already knew. There were questions posed by the doctor which were then answered by the younger doctors, all of which Scully listened to, trying not begrudge them for it – she had been there herself and knew this is how medicine was taught in hospitals, but sometimes, like now, she just wanted a simple conversation with a single person so she could establish the facts, and wished they didn’t have to go through this.

The conclusion, after all the talk, was that Mulder would probably be fine. His seizures were
expected to subside and there was no evidence of permanent cerebral damage on the tests and scans taken on arrival. However, due to the unusual nature of the trauma Mulder had been subject to, the doctors here at the hospital couldn’t be more specific in their prognosis. It was suggested, once they returned home they seek out a specialist to monitor his recovery and were advised that he may experience more of what they believed were flashbacks of his past in the next few days, similar to the first time he had let Goldstein perform the procedure on him – all as Scully had suspected. Still, it was reassuring to have a second opinion.

Matthews had assumed that Scully, being his primary physician and partner, would watch Mulder closely over the coming week to make sure he got the appropriate care should he relapse or suffer further side-effects that concerned her. The headaches could be treated with over the counter pain medication and barring any unforeseen circumstances, didn’t see why Mulder couldn’t be cleared for work – following a later check-up – in about a week.

Before he finished, Matthews shook a finger a Mulder like he was an unruly child and informed him it would be unwise to undergo further untested and totally unpredictable medical procedures in the future. Then he rounded up his little band of followers like a mother duck does her chicks and ushered them out of the room ahead of him. Just as he was passing through the wide doorway out into the corridor, Dr Matthews turned and actually waved at them as he was leaving.

Scully blinked at the empty doorway, not sure if any of the last ten minutes had really happened now that there was no physical proof before them that Elliot Matthews truly existed.

"Scully?" Mulder was tugging lightly on her sleeve for attention like the child he had been treated as. "Is it just me or has my nice doctor been sampling the pharmaceuticals on the psychiatric ward?"

"He was rather... Exuberant, wasn't he?"

"Exuberant?!” Mulder barked a laugh that caught the notice of several other patients and a nurse as she walked down the aisle separating the two rows of beds. “That guy had crack on his cornflakes this morning instead of powdered sugar."

"Ssh," she told him making sure no one else had heard his astute assessment, though she was smiling too. "Just remember, that while you're here, that man is in charge of your care."

"Jesus. That's a sobering thought. You'll defend me won't you Scully?" He asked plaintively.

Scully sat on the side of his bed again, reached for his hand. "I've got your back, partner," she assured him.

Still preoccupied from their encounter, he slowly shook his head in disbelief. “All that was missing was a posh British accent and a spotted a bow-tie.”

“Stereotypes, Mulder?” she admonished him.

“Yeah, but am I wrong, Scully?”

“Maybe if you were thinking of Doctor Who.”

Mulder scoffed. “I feel like I’ve been cheated out of a lollipop or a balloon animal or something.”

They both sat there reeling over the spectacle that was Doctor Matthews for several minutes, but all too soon there were obvious questions that demanded answers.

Mulder cleared his throat and finally spoke. "So, dare I ask what that thoughtful policeman is doing with my weapon? Tell me when I bust out of here I won't have another cell waiting for me."

"Well," she said, prevaricating for a moment. "You did provide quite a bit of excitement last night, but no, I don't think you have to worry about who your future bunk mate might be."

"That's a relief. I really wasn't sure. But that doesn't explain why he has my gun."

Scully observed him quizzically for a moment; something didn't quite feel right here. She had to remind herself; just because Mulder had perfect recall it didn’t mean he could remember every single thing that happened in his life. If he wasn't paying attention in the first place, his mind wouldn't preserve the information. And last night when she had called Imhof, Mulder had been reclining on the gurney with his arm over his head, blinding his eyes, muffling his hearing.

"We forgot it when we left so I asked him to pick it up from the house," she told him, watching carefully for his reaction.

"Oh," he said quietly once she had enlightened him, though he was still subdued.

"I have more questions. Maybe you can help fill in some of the gaps."

"Sure. What-"

Mulder pulled back the sheets covering him just enough to reveal a see-through plastic bag containing what looked to be clothes. "Maybe you could start with this." He said handing it over to her.

"Your clothes?" She asked taking the bag from him, confirming for herself that these were the jeans he had worn the day before.

Mulder was watching her carefully. "Turn it over, Scully."

Scully, suspected she already knew what she would find and was indeed confronted with his white t-shirt looking like it had been given a bad tie-dye job, the bottom of it stained red from her nose bleed. She looked up at him, not sure what he was asking, but Mulder was focusing on the blanket in his lap.

"A porter – I think - dropped that off this morning while you were still sleeping. Said he didn't expect the guy it belonged to, to be in one piece when he found him. Seeing that," Mulder indicated the bag without looking up, "I'd have to agree."

"Mulder?" Scully felt a coldness that hadn’t been there until now starting to seep into her fingers the longer he avoided her.

"The porter asked what had happened and when I said I wasn't sure he told me...” Mulder smiled, but it was clearly ironic. “He said I should ask my missus, maybe she had a better idea." Mulder was looking at her hard now as he continued. "I have to admit, I didn't spot it at first, hidden under your coat." His eyes dropped to the cardigan she was wearing.

Scully glanced down too, felt how the awful texture of the blood dried into the delicate wool crackled as she touched it self-consciously.

"Mulder," she started, but he cut her off.

"If you hadn't checked me in here last night, whose blood would I have woken up in this time?"

Scully could hardly breathe. He didn't know; he couldn't remember what had happened yesterday. Not where he had been, not what he'd done, not what had happened between the two of them. That explained why he didn't know why the detective had left that message for them, why he had looked at her so strangely when she had touched his face and held his hand. God, he had no idea, just like Sunday morning when he had called her from a motel room he couldn't recall checking into, shaken by the bloody clothes he was wearing and trembling in shock when she found him in the bathtub trying to warm up under the scolding water.

Mulder thought her reticence in responding was her holding back on him, but she just couldn't force the words out.

"Scully, please!" He entreated her, his voice hoarse. "Whose blood would I have been
covered in?"

"Yours!" Scully slapped a hand over her mouth, unaware that she was even thinking it. But she was right. Had she not found him last night, the only blood to be shed would have been his.

Mulder leaned forward, his words spoken in a low voice, though the lack of volume didn’t stop them from shattering her. "I don't... Scully, I don't understand."

She couldn't meet his gaze. Her reply fell from her lips in monotone. "It would have been your blood. Except you wouldn't have woken up at all, Mulder."

Silence followed this and lasted several tense minutes as Mulder processed this and Scully continued not looking at him.

Finally Mulder spoke. "I don't remember."

Scully closed her eyes in resignation, her worst fears, the ultimate consequences of Mulder’s actions confirmed by his own admission. It took a moment, but she managed to open her eyes and drag them up to his face. A small sad smile played about her lips for a second. "I know,” she said then. “And I'll tell you everything."

Mulder surprised her, touching her cheek. "Scully, you're crying."

And she was. It wasn’t the wrenching sobs she knew were waiting to rip her to pieces once she was back at home, just the simple trickling of salty tears washing away the dreams she had foolishly indulged in as she sat watching him from her chair the evening before. It was too much effort to hold everything back.

"Must have been bad?" Mulder guessed lamely.

Where did she even start? "It's been a long week," she offered. It was completely true but her omission made her feel like she’d perjured herself. Scully gave him a watery smile trying to cover the sensation of her world falling apart. "I'm fine," she said hating herself for this out and out lie, already knowing she would never tell him the full extent of what they had been through. And Mulder knew it was a lie too. One that he had become inured to hearing from her, so much so that he had stopped challenging her over it. It had become code for ‘I don't want to talk about it’ for them.

So for the next hour Scully sat at his bedside and proceeded to fill him in on all he was missing. By the time she finished, her voice was little more than a croak and Mulder had taken hold of her hand as he told her how sorry he was. Her brewing anger over what she had lost - what they had lost - was the only thing that gave her the strength to make it to the end. At which point she stood up and was in the process of excusing herself, citing calling Detective Imhof back and finding them both some breakfast as reason to flee his presence. A hand clamped onto her arm, pulling her back, just like it had when she had thought to leave him last night – the memory was so fresh in her mind, she found a tiny flicker of hope was still alive inside her - and before she could object Mulder had crushed her to him as he sat up in his bed.

"Thank you, Scully.” His arms squeezed her tight. “You saved my life last night. Again."

The hope inside guttered out and died.

She didn't have anything left with which to fight him off, so she tentatively put her arms around Mulder’s shoulders and patted his back. When she pulled away from him she told him, "don't worry, I stopped keeping score years ago." Mulder smiled weakly up at her.

"I'll be back soon, okay?" she said wanly.

"I'll be here," she heard him answer softly as she turned her back and walked away from him.

Her hand in her jacket pocket, Scully fingered the sheet of folded paper with her name written boldly in Mulder’s script. It was the only evidence she would ever possess that those short brilliant hours the day before - that sweet, brief moment in time - when they had both, so foolishly, believed in the possibility of a future - no matter how short it may have been - where they could have been happy, had ever existed.