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Seasons: Sixth

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For over five years, Dana Scully had worked at the side of Fox Mulder. It was not the safest career decision she had ever made by far. In those years, she had been kidnapped, infected with strange viruses, and subjected to cruel testing that left her unable to have children and on death doorstep now multiple times. And yet there she was, still by her partner's side, facing the unknown, standing on the edge of the abyss once more, and holding on to him for dear life before he leapt into the darkness once more. This time, however, Fox Mulder seemed to be trying to drag her down along side him with all of his might.

Calling the OPR committee together had not been Scully's idea. They were barely a month back from Antarctica and New Zealand. Scully had been given no time to process what had happened to her in those missing days, let alone discover the truth behind the strange virus she had been infected with. All she had to go on was Mulder's sparse testimony from a rescue she didn't remember and the scientific evidence left behind in her own body of a contagion she barely understood. So far, even that evidence seemed slim and misleading at best. All three tests she had run and every virologist she had reviewing at her blood work had come back with the same conclusion, whatever Scully had been infected with, it was a contagion whose DNA was very much terrestrial and none of it spontaneously created life. It wasn't what she had been expecting to hear, not after Mulder's story of human bodies used as incubators for alien life, but it was the only science she had to go on right now.

Sadly, Mulder hadn't given her the chance to explain this to him before he had charged off and had Skinner call the OPR panel together again. He had spent the last half-an-hour explaining to them the reasons, as Mulder saw them, for the need of the X-files re-opening. He had regaled them once again with the story of how they had ended up in Antarctica, of what he remembered of the facility where she was kept, though Scully remembered little of it. He outlined the plan for world invasion and colonization as outlined to Mulder by the mysterious man with the British accent who had died giving him the coordinates to find Scully at the end of the earth. Scully had to admit that if she hadn't lived at least part of this story she would have taken it for crazy as well. Frankly, at the moment, she wasn't so sure that she didn't.

This time the OPR panel wasn't headed up by Jana Cassidy, the woman who had handled their case that summer. Rather, some other, supercilious looking assistant director now took charge and eyed Mulder and his story with dubious amusement. Scully felt herself bristle as the man, named Maslin, surveyed Mulder with the sort of parental patronizing one reserved for an errant puppy who had tracked mud through the house yet again.

"Let us remind you that the FBI is not a school for science or for the grinding of personal axes and, hopefully, you will be able to present us with some material evidence to support a continued investigation.

Mulder barely flinched at Maslin's pointed words, squaring himself confidently across from him. "Agent Scully was assigned to the X-Files as a scientist, was stung by one of these bees and was infected with this virus. She is here today with hard and incontrovertible evidence, scientific proof that the virus she was infected with is, in fact, extraterrestrial."

Damn it!

Scully watched in vague horror as Mulder turned to her, assured she had the proof in her hands. She felt her face flush and her mouth open to speak as every member of the OPR panel turned to her, as if expecting her to produce an alien fetus from her briefcase. Should she tell them that the virus that she found left in her system was all too terrestrial? Should she tell them she had no scientific proof for what Mulder claimed? Did she really want to make him look like a fool before all of these people?

Her jaw snapped shut as she gazed helplessly in front of her, staring hard at her white knuckles folded on the table. She didn't need to see the hurt surprise on Mulder's face. She could feel his piercing gaze boring into her. So much for making him not look like a fool.

"Agent Mulder, as entertaining as your story has been, I believe that you have spent enough of the day wasting this committees time." Maslin finally cut into the awkward silence. Already, people at the table in front of them seemed finished with this, gathering papers and files up in an absent fashion.

"Sir, we have evidence."

"I'm sure you do, but I'm afraid we have no interest in hearing more crazy, movie plots. I suggest you stick to the assignment you have been given and do it well if you wish to stay employed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation." Maslin's Cheshire smile spread from one corner of his face to the other. "This meeting is dismissed. Thank you everyone for coming."

The members of the panel couldn't seem to move from their seats fast enough. Scully glanced at her wristwatch, it read noon. Most probably hadn't heard a word of the last half hour anyway, thinking instead on what they were going to get on their turkey on rye. Maslin hardly seemed fussed as he made is way past the pair of them, not bothering to give either of them a backwards glance.

That sat in silence for a long moment, staring at the now empty conference room. Scully tried to pull words together, to say something to apologize, but what was she supposed to say? She hadn't been prepared for this, hadn't even had a chance to truly make sense of the findings herself and he threw her at this committee as if she could show without a shadow of a doubt that aliens existed and were planning to infect everyone with their disease.

"Mulder," she began, breaking the stillness. His name on her lips managed to stir him finally, as without looking at her he began gathering his things. She watched as she jammed papers into files and rose, throwing himself out of his seat, long legs propelling him to the door before she could say anything further.

She supposed she deserved that.

"Mulder," she sighed, gathering her own things and following him. He hadn't gotten far and her smaller steps easily caught up to him.

"Next time, I'll wear a clown suit and do balloon tricks." His jaw worked against the anger brimming under the surface.

"Mulder, I was hoping it wouldn't come up," she offered lamely, realizing now how foolish of a thought that had been. Of course, it was going to come up. He depended on her to give his work the legitimacy of proof that it required to be taken seriously and she had failed him on that.

He spun on her in a rare display of temper directed at her. "The only reason I was in there was because you assured me there was a scientific basis for what we saw."

What "we" saw? Scully sighed. Clearly, he had forgotten the part where she was incapacitated for much of their South Pole excursion. "Mulder, let me remind you again, what I saw was very little."

Rather than chastise or mollify him, her point only seemed to agitate him further. "Look, that excuse isn't going to work this time. You were there and you were infected with that virus."

She wanted to snap at him that she wasn't the one who saw rampaging aliens gestating in human bodies, but she bit her tongue before continuing in what she hoped was a reasonable tone. "Mulder, yes there is a scientific basis for what happened to me. I was exposed to a virus, but as it turns out, that virus is not what you thought. Look, I can't identify it. I have run three separate tests, but I can tell you without a doubt that virus' DNA and proteins are very much of this world."

It wasn't what he wanted to hear. "I saw what that virus did," he snapped, as if she were the OPR panel, snickering and laughing at his story. "I saw it generate a new being, an alien being, inside a human body."

"It attacks and destroys human cells," she conceded. "But that is all it does, Mulder. It creates nothing."

He turned from her, obviously annoyed that her science had failed to prove what clearly he believed he saw. "Look, I don't like telling you this, and I know that you don't want to hear it. It's not that you can't question me and what I saw, but what you can't question is the science."

Apparently that was what Mulder fully intended to question. Stormily, he turned from her, footsteps covering the hallway as he stalked away, unwilling to hear her of all people question the story he had put together. She had lived it, after all, she should be the one standing behind him. But Scully was first and foremost a scientist, one that was beholden to the facts as they were presented to her, and so far, Mulder's theory did not hold up to the scientific facts that she knew. The virus, whatever it was, did not infect people with an alien creature that gestated within them. It destroyed cellular structure, similar to the hanta virus, but otherwise it seemed like a perfectly normal, very explainable virus. It didn't explain why it was she had been spirited away to Antarctica, nor did it explain why there was a facility there with thousand of such bodies. If what Mulder claimed was true, and Scully had no reason to doubt it, it did nothing to explain why those bodies were hosts to the type of creatures he described.

She really wished Mulder hadn't called OPR together, not until she had more time to study this, to understand. Now he had made the situation so much worse. She had no real credibility to support him on any of this. She understood the X-files were important to him, that he wanted them open as soon as possible, but to sacrifice it all so foolishly by going in to that room so ill-prepared?

"I'm taking it you meeting did not go as planned?" Skinner had crept up on her seemingly out of nowhere, though Scully was sure she had missed his firm footsteps down the hallways as she stood, lost in thought.

"No, sir." She glance sideways at him as he nodded his baldhead. He looked equally grim. What other possible news did he have for her to make this any worse?

"Any idea where Mulder headed?"

"Likely down in records, trying to work on the remains of the burned X-files. He's been doing that for weeks, since we returned from Antarctica." It was to the point that she didn't even have to ask to know where Mulder was.

"It's pointless, you know that." His dark eyes met hers and Scully felt a sinking feeling somewhere in her middle.

"Pointless? Sir, no one has said that they won't open the X-files…"

"They will be reopened, Scully, just not by Mulder." Skinner waved a file in his hand. "I just got out of a meeting while you two were doing your show and dance for OPR. They've already voted against your reassignment to the X-files."

"Sir, those files are Mulder's life's work!"

"Arthur Dales started those files before Mulder ever got here, Scully, He's by far the first agent to work on the X-files, I doubt he'll be the last. Besides, he wasn't going to get them, They have seen to that."

They, always the mysterious "them", the group of shadowy figures who seemed to have done nothing but try to block she and Mulder at every turn over the last five years. Now they had succeeded in finally getting the X-files away from him. "The AD's voted against Mulder?"

"Unanimously," Skinner grimaced guiltily as Scully's stared up at him in surprise. "I had to. If I am seen as standing against them on this they won't trust me enough to let me in, and that's the only place I do either of you any good."

Skinner was right, she hated to admit it, but it stung painfully, like a knife in the back. "Sir, after all of this, you are willing to let them do this?"

"Neither of you have a shred of evidence for what you claimed happened, and until you can produce it, who do you think will take either one of you seriously on this? I can't back you up until you can prove that I'm not an idiot for doing so. I can only put my neck on the line so far, Agent Scully, before they chop my head off, and once that happens, who else is going to go to bat for the two of you?"

He was right, and Scully hated it. "Sir, Mulder isn't going to forgive you for this."

"He's going to forgive me less when he hears who got the assignment instead of you two."

"They were reassigned? I assumed that they would just not give them to anyone."

"The AD's don't trust the two of you not to work on them even if they aren't officially assigned to anyone. Besides, the person who petitioned for them has a history with the X-files and a much better record to make her case."

Her case? It only took Scully half a second to put the pieces together. "They gave them to Diana Fowley?"

"She has kept her nose clean for years, Scully, and she looks like a goddamned hero after the Gibson Praise incident. While you two let the boy slip from your fingers, she nearly got killed trying to protect him. That's given her a lot of weight where it counts."

"I hadn't even heard she was back on active duty." Scully felt her gut twist at the thought. Of course, it was now September, months since Agent Fowley had nearly been killed watching over Gibson Praise. No new leads had turned up on the boy in the months since, not that either she or Mulder had been allowed sniffing distance near any of them. "When does she take over?"

"She got her orders today. She requested to work with young Spender. Since his mother is still missing, and her case is considered an X-file, he has a vested interest."

"Jeffrey Spender?" Vested interest her ass. Spender still resented the hell out of her and Mulder for the loss of his mother and still considered every bit of their work farcical. "You can't be serious. If you tell Mulder any of this…"

"Leave Agent Mulder to me, Scully. I'm still his boss, at least for today."

"Today?" Scully wondered aloud. But Skinner avoided her question as he moved away from her towards the direction her partner had taken. "Sir, where will we end up?"

"I'll try my best to make you not regret staying after all."

"Sir?" Skinner didn't turn to answer her as she called after him

Now what were they going to do?