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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?

Chapter Text

Just as the stickiness of summer was fading at home, in Phoenix, Arizona it seemed to be only getting worse. Scully eyed the baleful, white sun overhead and flicked the rental cars air conditioner vent more fully towards her. This year seemed to be filled with the wonders of the American Southwest, a place she had frequented only once or twice before with Mulder. So far, their travels had turned up alien burial grounds, bee colonies on the Mexican border, and now a mysterious death that sounded suspiciously like the claims Mulder was making about the facility in Antarctica. How he found out about the case and why it ended up in his possession, he had yet to cop to.

"Why did I let myself get talked into this again?" The heat made her snappish and she vaguely longed for the cold dreariness of New Zealand again.

"Because I would have come by myself and you have this misguided notion that if I am allowed to do anything by myself, horrible things will happen." Mulder cracked open a sunflower seed with his teeth, eyes glued to the rush hour traffic that surrounded them on their way from the airport.

"Misguided notion, Mulder, it's a proven fact. Should I bring up now or later how many military brigs and hospital emergency rooms I've drug you out of when you decide to do anything yourself?"

"Thus when you ask, 'why did I let myself get talked into this' you now have your answer." He had been in an equally foul mood all day. Scully attributed it to the news from Skinner that morning. Mulder had been so certain things would go back to what they once had been, that he could make everyone listen to reason, especially with Scully's science to back him up. But it had failed him when he needed it most, and now his work lay in the hands of others...specifically Diana Fowley.

"Do you want to talk about it?" She quietly watched the car ahead of them, it's blazing, dusty Arizona license plate faded by the harsh, desert light.

"Talk about what?" Mulder was a horrible liar, particularly with her. She sighed, patiently plucking at her slacks.

"About Diana Fowley taking over the X-files?" She felt him wince ever so slightly beside her. Otherwise his expression remained carefully neutral as he picked at the bag of sunflower seeds in the console between them, popping another in his mouth.

"It's not like she wouldn't be good at it." Mulder shrugged, pretending at casualness Scully knew he didn't feel.

"Really?" Scully didn't buy his acceptance for a second. "Because, frankly, I would think it would feel like a knife right between the ribs, if it were me."

The seed shell crunched under his jaw so hard, Scully imagined he had nothing but bits of pulp left.

"Diana had the one thing I didn't, an unimpeachable record and people who believe her. Why in the hell shouldn't they want her to have them?"

"Funny, she didn't seem eager to ask you on board to work with her?" Scully remembered all to well the speculative glances, the knowing looks. "I thought that she would have, given your history."

Her words earned a dry chuckle from Mulder and a shake of his dark head. "Our history? That is precisely why Diana wouldn't ask me on board. Our history would make it far too…complicated."

Their history, the sticking point for Scully. Diana Fowley and Mulder did have a past, thought Scully only knew about it in vague details. Something about a previous relationship. She suspected it was once intense and that it ended badly in some fashion. Her gut churned as she thought of the way she had caught the pair, holding hands, Mulder with the sort of tender, unguarded look on his face that said she had once meant something more than just "old friend" to him. Taking a deep breath, Scully decided to venture into the waters she had been too cowardly to swim in till now. "So what is that history?"

Mulder paused, silent for long moments. When he spoke again, he was unusually evasive. "It was a long time ago."

"And yet, it still seems to be relevant somehow." Scully wasn't about to be shaken off by his vague attempts to get out of explaining. "Frohike had mentioned that you two had been involved before."

"Frohike would put it that way." Mulder snorted, amused inexplicably by the explanation she gave. "He tries too hard to protect you."

"Protect me from what?" Now Scully had to know. What in the world was so secret that Frohike couldn't give her the straight story?

"Diana is my ex-wife."

His words fell with a thud somewhere in the bottom of Scully's stomach.

Did he just say…wife?

Wildly, her thoughts spun through Mulder's personnel records, the ones she had reviewed the moment she was assigned to work with him. One father, one mother, no wife, no children, single, alone. That had been the Mulder she had known for five years, a man driven to a life without attachments by the work he was so passionate about. Scully tried to fit the word "wife" with Diana Fowley's face attached to it into the puzzle that was the man she worked with and it didn't mesh.

"What?" It was all she could manage in the sudden silence of the car.

"When I say, 'wife' it was for five minutes, but in the legal sense, yeah." Mulder shifted uneasily in his seat. "I hadn't thought about it or her, frankly, until she showed back up last spring, as if she hadn't been out of my life for eight years."

Out of his life. She had been his wife, how could she just slip so completely out of mind for the man with eidetic memory that he neglected to even mention her? "I'm…I wouldn't have guessed," she managed weakly.

"I didn't like talking about it," he returned, somewhat contrite as traffic plugged slowly ahead. "Diana was more an embarrassment for a long time, a moment of romantic folly that I can't say I was particularly prone to before then and can honestly say I don't see myself pursuing in the future."

What was that supposed to mean? "I just…I guess I didn't ever see you as being married."

"I didn't see you as being the type to hook up with an older, married man, either, but I suppose we both have made mistakes."

He was snapping out because he was uncomfortable, unfairly so. "That was unnecessary, bringing up Daniel. I didn't mean my statement as an insult, only…you had always said you weren't the marrying type."

"After Diana, I was convinced I wasn't." He sighed deeply, from a place well within himself he obviously didn't frequently explore. "We met on the first case I ever worked on for the FBI, the Monty Props one."

"Monty Props? That was your first profile. It was what made you a superstar with the Bureau." She had read his treatment in the Academy, everyone had. She had considered Mulder a genius even then, though already the rumors had begun to circulate about him and his interests. Had Diana really started that long ago?

"She was the profiler on the case, but was getting nowhere. They asked me on as a consultant. I came in, destroyed her profile, came up with the monograph you know about, and they caught the bastard." He chuckled darkly. "She was pretty pissed off at me."

"I bet." Scully could well imagine just how brilliant and annoying the young, cocky Fox Mulder likely was. He was bad enough now, and that was with ten years of age and wisdom behind him.

"Diana had experience profiling and a good track record with VCU. She's a brilliant psychologist, don't get me wrong, she was always interested in the limits the human mind could be pushed, but behavioral science, sometimes she wasn't as good at. Profiling takes a certain ability to feel what others feel, to think as others do. It takes a certain…empathy Diana has always struggled with."

Lack of empathy that was a polite way of putting it, "So you two didn't hit it off at first."

"Not especially." The memory pulled a ghost of a smile on Mulder's mouth. "I thought she was attractive enough, older than me, but the type I usually like."

Scully's mood curdled as she remembered a long ago conversation with Tom Colton just what Mulder's type was. Tall, leggy, brunettes with wits, charm, and brains to spare, just like Phoebe Green and Diana Fowley. Attractive enough, but devastatingly intelligent, and just as keen minded as he was. They were the type of women who not only aroused her partner in the most obvious of ways, but stimulated his intellect as well. They were usually not the type of women who told Fox Mulder he was wrong or made him look like an idiot in front of an OPR panel.

"Diana was in the FBI for a career. I sort of fell into it. My skills fast tracked me to VCU right out of the Academy. By that time she had moved to anti-terrorism. She seemed to be committed to her work and I was the FBI's rising star, hitting home runs with one serial killer after the other."

Scully knew all about Mulder's history as a profiler, his meteoric rise followed by the swift burn out that had led him down the path of the X-files. There were many who regretted that his talents were wasted chasing down aliens rather than serial killers, but it didn't explain how Diana Fowley and he ended up together and as much as it pained her to admit it, she was curious. "How did you two reconnect?"

"She found me. I suppose despite old grudges, she was impressed with my work, everyone was at the time, and she would come over to ask my opinions on profiles she worked up for the cases that came across her desk. At first it was strictly professional, a shared talent and perspective on investigation. We found we had some similar side interests in some of the possibilities of the human mind and the things it could do. Diana was working in parapsychology at the time, partially as an outgrowth of her work in counter-terrorism, but also because of her own personal interest. She asked me to assist her in some of her studies. Given my out of the box thinking, she felt I would be someone would empathize with the work."

Someone who believed in Mulder's theories and didn't argue with them. Wasn't that what Diana had implied? She and Mulder had more than history together, they had a similar passion for the work, and a shared belief in what was possible, unhampered by science and reason, the very thing that had caused Scully to fail Mulder before the OPR board. Scully, the partner who always questioned his every move, his every footstep. He said it kept him honest. But did he always appreciate it?

"It sounds as if you two grew very close, quickly." Scully found herself just barely able to not choke on the words, swallowing hard after she said them.

"It was easy," Mulder replied simply. "I'm a paranoid man, Scully, and I won't deny there have been moments over the years where I wondered about how Diana Fowley ended up in my life and why and if it wasn't on purpose. It seemed so damned…perfect. Even Jerry, my partner at the time, found it disturbing. He warned me away from her. I assumed he was jealous because Diana had turned him down cold when he'd asked her out, but I never gave Jerry enough credit for being perceptive in his own right. I think he sensed it, something was just too…right."

"As if you were be set up for a fall?"

"As if I was being set up, period. The truth was, she was ideal and I fell hard. She was all the great things about Phoebe Green with none of the insanity. It was instant simpatico. I think I fell in love with her as much because she was so easy to be with as anything else. It wasn't a fight. It was just the perfect match of interest, personality, everything."

Even in speaking of it now, years later, there was a tinge of bittersweet regret that tugged at Scully painfully. Obviously there was still something there within Mulder that longed for that easiness once again, for that simple connection of someone who accepted him without reservation, without question, someone who didn't hold him back.

"Diana was the first person I ever spoke to about Samantha. I hadn't spoken of her in years. I had put inquiries out every once in a while after joining the FBI, but the pain was sealed over for the most part, ignored as I chased after one bad guy lurking in the darkness after the other. It was burning me out long before I admitted it, and Diana suggested that my obsession could have something to do with me trying to atone for my sister's disappearance years before. That my efforts to find these men, to bring them to justice, were a way for me to find the people who had taken Samantha and find the peace I never did as a child. She sent me to Dr. Werber hoping that, perhaps, by reliving that night in my childhood I would be able to come to grips with it, begin to deal with it in healthy ways. Neither of us had any idea what that visit would reveal or what it would open up."

"Diana was the one who sent you to Dr. Werber? Not to an FBI therapist?" Strange, Scully mused, that would have been Scully's first suggestion, and yet Diana went to a hypnotherapist who specialized in alien abductions. Why him specifically?

"She was also the one who found my sister's FBI file." Mulder's fingers tightened briefly around the steering wheel. "Since my father worked at State, and it was a child abduction, the FBI was automatically called in. When nothing could be found, they dumped it in the X-files. Arthur Dales was gone by then and so the case got shuffled into the basement. Diana had to slog through a pile of red tape to even find it. That's how we happened upon all the rest, the cases that no one wanted, people who experienced alien abduction, psychic murders, sightings of strange creatures. Piles and piles of cases from decades of work, all of them unexplained with some feature of them that was strange, different. They were all jammed in old filing cabinets and storage boxes. No one had paid attention to them for years. It was a treasure trove of stories just like mine, some of them even stranger. I thought Diana and I had hit the mother load, a whole group of cold cases all relating to the type of work she and I had been dabbling in for years."

"So she was the one who helped you start the X-files?" Scully didn't want to mention to Mulder she already knew that, that Frohike had told her as much the night she had confronted Mulder's three, closest friends on the truth behind Diana Fowley and who she was.

"More or less, Diana thought it would be a nice side project for me, a way for me to work out my demons in a healthier fashion than burning myself out on more serial killers. I think she assumed, like everyone else did, it would be a momentary diversion for me, something I could do till I felt up to taking on real work again, a side interest, nothing more."

"I take it she wasn't thrilled with the idea of you taking on the X-files full time then?" And suddenly the cracks that had driven Mulder and Diana Fowley apart started to appear in the story. Scully had wondered why she had been able to walk away so easily, to pick up and go to Germany, leaving a broken-hearted Mulder behind. Perhaps this had something to do with it?

"To be honest the bloom was long off the rose by then, though neither of us wanted to admit it. We were both becoming more and more engrossed in our work, I had the X-files, Diana was looking for better opportunities to climb up the FBI ladder. We'd been together for years by then and it was comfortable, familiar. But she did worry about my new obsession. She felt it was holding me back, that I was throwing away my career on what she had thought would be a diversion, nothing more. Truth was I had never given a shit about my career, not in the same way she had. But I think Diana had always envisioned that the two of us together could gain enough prestige and clout that we could perhaps do some real work in our interests, perhaps get the FBI to take us a bit more seriously."

Scully watched as he sucked his bottom lip between his teeth, working it softly, one of his signs of agitation. Obviously the memories were still painful to him, even years later. "We had been fighting, not seriously, but certainly disagreeing on how we saw the future. I think I proposed to her mostly to show her I was serious about her, that she meant more to me than the FBI or the X-files. I thought that maybe getting married would make it all better somehow."

It was a story not unfamiliar to Scully, one she had heard from friends and colleagues many times over the years. "I'm surprised she agreed to it."

"I think in her own way she thought the same thing. It was spontaneous, really, I asked her on a Friday and we got married on Saturday. We found some Justice of the Peace in Virginia who was willing to perform the ceremony on his back deck. Neither of our families were there, we just did it. We were back in the office Monday morning as if nothing different had happened."

Married! Scully still couldn't wrap her head around the idea. Mulder married to Diana Fowley. "How did it end then?"

This was the part that obviously hurt the most for him. He was pensive for long moments before saying anything, gaze squinting against the harsh, desert sun. "It sort of ended the same way it began. She came home one night, eight weeks later, and announced she had a chance at a promotion. The Wall was just coming down, the FBI was beefing up the West Berlin branch, and it was a great opportunity. I think she expected me to be excited about it, to want to join her there. I had just put in the paperwork to request that the X-files be opened up as a special division under me and was ready to fight Blevins tooth and nail for it. I wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea of picking up and going to Germany. We argued. She left. I figured we would work it out somehow, that's what couples do. Imagine my surprise when at the end of the week her things were packed and she left me a note, stating she was going to Berlin to check things out."

Not even a conversation or a goodbye? Scully blinked dumbly for several long moments, stunned at the cold exactness of it. This was a woman who had been in a relationship with Mulder for years, who simply left without even a word of farewell or an attempt at being reasonable about it. Had her career meant so much to her?

"Diana's lawyers were actually rather gracious, given the fact we were married so briefly They told the courts in Virginia that she had committed fraud in not telling me her plans to take a job overseas before we had married and thus had the marriage annulled. She thought it would be kinder that way, I guess, legally making it that it didn't even exist. Maybe she thought I would get over it faster that way, move on. I don't know."

Oh Mulder, Scully sighed, her heart aching for him even as it stung at the secret he had kept from her for so long. And truth be told, she didn't blame him. As painful as Daniel and his perfidy had been for her, Diana had been much more harsh for him. He had loved her enough to marry her, to want to make a life with her, and she had walked away from it without a second glance.

"She didn't deserve you, Mulder." She hadn't meant to say that, but she meant it, with all the ferocity in her being. How could Diana Fowley spend years with him only to turn her back when opportunity proved too enticing?

"In all fairness, Scully, I wasn't exactly the world's greatest husband either. Has to be a record, eight weeks to prove I sucked as a life partner. She wanted a great many things out of me I wasn't able to give. Perhaps Berlin was really just the excuse she needed to break it off because she hadn't found a way before then."

"It doesn't make it right," Scully insisted, stubbornly, resentment building in her mind against the woman who had waltzed into their lives and now taken their work away from them. "I have to admit it's ironic that she complained about you and the X-files and now she has come back from Berlin to take them over."

"Yeah, I thought that was interesting, too. It wasn't that she wasn't intrigued by them, only that she had bigger ambitions in life. But it does make you wonder, what has happened between then and now that makes her take a risk on something that could set her career back a step or two at this late stage of the game?"

Why indeed, Scully wondered. Diana Fowley and her timely involvement in all of this was strangely serendipitous, a confluence of perfectly timed events that under normal circumstances Mulder's intuition would call suspicious. She noted he seemed to think nothing of it now, and yet, Scully's gut instinct, which she almost never listened to, was screaming at her loud and clear. Something was wrong here, but what it was, she had yet to put together, and she doubted that Mulder was objective enough to even begin thinking along those lines.

"So now you know the sad tale of Fox Mulder's broken heart." Mulder cut in, sounding almost ashamed of his story. "Look, I know I was an ass when you met me. I think I gave you a bad impression of how I treat women. Before Diana, I was no monk, but when you came on to the X-files, I wasn't in the best of places."

"Really, I don't think I noticed." Her attempt at sarcasm at least earned a smile out of him.

"I think at the time I just wanted to prove that someone would still want me, even if I was rapidly turning into Spooky Mulder, alien hunter. Picking up a pretty secretary from Kansas who had just started working in the newly elected congressman's office seemed a hell of a lot less painful than falling in love with someone again."

That was a sentiment that Scully could understand well. She remembered those painful months and years after Daniel's betrayal. She had thrown herself into her pathology work and later into the FBI. Tom Colton was the first person she allowed herself to date after Daniel, and looking back, that had been mostly because it was a shallow relationship, something that her heart didn't need to commit to. It wasn't till Jack later that she felt ready to tackle affairs of the heart again. But then, she hadn't been married to Daniel and he hadn't walked away from her. Both she and Mulder had both been stupid regarding affairs of the heart, she supposed. Who hadn't in this world?

"So!" She broke the quiet between them finally. "Does Diana explain your disturbing propensity for porn? Because I have to admit, Mulder, that impresses even me."

He obviously hadn't expected her to bring that up. Despite the almost childish delight he took in trying to shock her with it, her casual mention of his collection caused him to flush nervously as traffic finally began to pick up the pace around them. "The porn thing has nothing to do with Diana."

"Really?" She bit back the grin that was fighting to loose itself. "Because I bet a psychological case could be made that says otherwise."

To her surprise, he snorted at her conjecture. "Except my horrified mother would argue with you as she was the one who found my girlie mags hidden in my mattress when I was fifteen. No, the porn thing existed well before Diana. I told you, it's not even really about the sex."

"Right," she smirked. That's what Bill and Charlie had said when she had given them crap about their magazines, too.

"Do you know what it's like to have a brain that never stops?" Mulder was serious as he glanced sideways at her, half in amusement, half in irritation. "I have a memory that never forgets and a lifetime full of things I'd rather not have to live over and over again, not to mention the other strange things my brain likes to do, like analyze every situation ad nauseum, or study the things people say and how they react so I can understand how they tick. I can't sleep because my brain never stops. It's why I'm an insomniac."

"And porn makes your brain shut up for a while?" Her eyebrows arched dubiously, though she recalled him mentioning this before. Still, it seemed a convenient excuse.

"If you were a man, Scully, you'd get what I mean when I say porn makes my brain shut down for a while. If I didn't have porn and sports, I wouldn't survive."

"You and a large percentage of males in the United States," she quipped. "In that, I guess, you are just normal."

"A normal guy who chases after aliens."

"Yes, who chases after aliens." She frowned as they sped through the flow of cars filing out into the Phoenix suburbs. "Is that what you are hoping to find in this house, Mulder? An alien to prove your theory?"

All the humor fled the car as she said that, replaced now by a suddenly studious glower on her partner's face. "I'm hoping to find the truth, Scully. I'm hoping you'll start believing what happened to you, that you'll accept what I know is happening."

Scully said nothing as he sped off onto an exit into a dusty but well built, housing division. So this was what the trip was about? Proving him right, to force her to accept his theory, to show her that her science was wrong. The idea of that felt raw, so fresh on the heels of his story regarding Diana. Would she have believed him implicitly if he told her? Did she believe him now?

"The house is up here, on the left," Mulder murmured, pulling across the street from a pleasant looking house, quietly nestled between desert rocks and potted cacti. A car remained parked in the driveway, looking normal and incongruous next to the yellow police tape that still crossed the door.

Surprisingly, no police car waited out front for them. "Have you told the locals we were coming?"

"Nope," Mulder responded glibly, turning off the car.

"No? Mulder!"

"Scully, do you want the answers to what happened to you in Antarctica, or are you content with hoping that Diana and the Boy Wonder can find out what is going on? Frankly, I'm not willing to take that chance." He opened his door, clambering out of the rental car. "You coming?"

"Yeah," she breathed, rushing to follow behind him, the parting shot regarding Diana Fowley burning uncomfortably.

Chapter Text

It was the same dance they always engaged in, point and counterpoint. He took the lead, and she followed, pulling him back from the edge he so loved to balance on.

"Mulder, there isn't anything in the animal kingdom capable of this ferocity."

He studiously ignored her as he perused the living room of he victim. Blood still stained the fabric of the couch he had sat on and the fibers of the carpet below. Scully glanced again at the crime scene photo, the victim with his body cavity torn wide open, then down at the brown stains, rusty and dried for days.

"Has an autopsy been performed on the body?"

"Not one I've been able to get my hands on," Mulder admitted as he wandered across the room the entertainment center. He thumbed on the large television briefly. It flickered on to SportsCenter, discussing that weekends football games and rattling off baseball scores.

"A man after my own heart," Mulder murmured, flicking the television off. "Wonder what his porn collection was like."

He ignored Scully's frown of disapproval as he wandered through the rest of the living space, keen eyes flicking over it. There were places where clearly the police had been, dusting, fingerprinting, searching for clues, very little of it looked as if it had been part of the actual crime committed.

"You want to insist that this was a murder by a violent killer, Scully, but note everything in the house is in order, alphabetical order even." He paused at a shelf filled with what looked like organized graphic novels. "This man was a nerd! He like sports, he liked comics. I bet if we look in his bedroom we'd find Star Wars collectibles lining the walls and none of it, nothing was touched."

"Your point?" She bend down to study the blood spatters on the floor, the spray of fluids that radiated across the victims coffee table and on to an armchair across the way.

"This isn't the sort of guy who a violent criminal would just randomly attack. This wasn't a home invasion. Nothing was taken and frankly nothing here indicates the type of person who would make the kind of enemy that would do something like this."

"So thus it has to be an alien?"

"Scully, the description of the body fits." Mulder turned, holding up the strange claw in front of him. "You don't find this on anything I know about in nature. Look at this place, is it this the sort of person you would expect to be murdered by a violent killer? And let's just say, for arguments sake, this was a wild animal attack? How many violent animals do you know of in the deserts of the Southwest who would hide in a house heated up like a sauna in the middle of Phoenix in summer? And then leave this embedded in the wall? None of this makes any rational sense under any explainable context?"

"I'm not disagreeing with you on that score. What I am disagreeing about is your conclusion that this is an alien attack. How did you go from creatures in Antarctica to one hanging out in the desert?"

"Who did the first victim work for?" Mulder demanded, working the strange claw between his fingers as Scully flipped through the paperwork.

The words on the page made Scully's mouth go suddenly dry. "Roush Technologies."

"Yeah, ring any bells. That was the company that Scott Blevins was taking kickbacks from, the one that Michael Kirschgau implicated as being behind the conspiracy regarding the medical testing on you and countless others. They've had government contracts with the DOD and the CIA for years, and the Phoenix facility, I discovered, specializes in bio-medical research."

"I still don't understand how you go from what was done to me, to this?" Perhaps she was deliberately being obtuse, but nothing about bio-medical research screamed anything about bees, viruses, or Antarctica to her.

"I did a bit of leg work after I got the file, had the boys do a bit of snooping into the work Roush was doing in this facility. Most of it looks fairly straightforward, but Byers noted that there was a contract put out in June with FEMA for research to be done. A week later FedEx tracking info has Roush in receipt of several packages from guess where?"

It wasn't hard for Scully to see the thread of where Mulder's line of thinking was going now. "Dallas?"

"Strange, don't you think, that they would be getting shipments from the FEMA office there a week before it was blown to kingdom come."

"Mulder, hundreds of packages go through Dallas, it is a major shipping hub in the Midwest."

Mulder waved off her admittedly week protests, glaring down at the paperwork in her hand. "Why do you refuse to see this, Scully? The man who sent me to you, he told me what they found in Dallas was not anything that they had expected. They needed to study it, to analyze it. My guess is Roush has been doing a lion's share of the testing on this virus for decades. They sent it to the Phoenix facility to be studied, likely it is because of the temperature. The reason they sent you to Antarctica is because the virus lays dormant when it is cold. The minute I raised the temperature in the spaceship, those creatures burst out. They can't study the virus in the cold, it won't react, but they can in the heat."

The scary part is that there was a rational sense to Mulder's theory. The problem was that, so far, there wasn't a shred of evidence to support it. "So this guy, an average person working in the labs, he gets infected somehow? This is Roush, Mulder, they likely take every precaution against contamination."

"Which is why no one was prepared for the first victim to be infected." Mulder had moved back into the hallway, where the deep gouges cut into the hardwood, as if it had been butter. "The first body died a significant time before the second one. I think that when the victim's friends dropped him off, he likely died within hours. The virus had incubated and started gestating by then. Within hours he was dead and the creature was loose in the home. When his friends came to pick him up on Monday, they didn't expect to find what they did."

"The police reports said no one saw what attacked these men."

"The people in the van likely didn't. But let's be honest, do you know of a creature big enough to do that sort of damage that can hide well enough to not be noticed by a van load of people?"

In reality she didn't. "Mulder, what you are talking about here is a virus that acts in hours. Nothing gestates that quickly." Let alone gestates to do something like this. "This is something out of a movie, aliens birthing themselves out of living human chest cavities."

"So what, you think that my story is science fiction too, just like OPR this morning?" His gaze glittered dangerously, his voice deceptively calm.

He had her dead to rights. Damn it. "I'm saying you are making a giant leap of assumption here based on what you believe happened down in Antarctica. I can't confirm or deny what you saw or the events that happened, but you are determined to chase down this lead in the hopes that it will prove your right, and I'm simply saying you might be wrong."

"As always, playing to safe, aren't you Agent Scully?"

What did he mean by that comment?

"I'm done here." He spun towards the door, expecting her to follow. "Whatever happened here, you have to admit it isn't as cut and dry as a coyote attack."

"Is that what local police are calling it?" Not that Scully was well versed in animal attacks, but even she could tell that no coyote could manage the level of damage revealed in the crime scene photos.

"I think the local police are happy to call it whatever it takes to sweep this under the rug. Go send out some hunters, shoot a few coyotes, make a scene of sending them to Arizona State for study and call it a day." Mulder scowled absently at the giant gouge marks that bit deep into the dry wall.

"Mulder, whatever happened here, I don't think this was your aliens." He wanted so badly to prove this, she knew that, his work, his career, what was left of his reputation, all hung on this. How often had he been right in the past? And yet she had gone over the tests results from her own bloodwork herself. Nothing in there supported his thesis. She had been infected, yes, but not with anything that caused the level of damage she saw in those crime scene photos.

"I don't see that there is any arugment here," Mulder shot back, opening the door to step out into the stifling, dry heat. "You admit yourself that the crime report is a lie."

"Mulder, that doesn't mean I can just accept your theory," she argued once again. He didn't like hearing that, not from her of all people, and Scully hated to admit it stung even saying it, to see the look of hurt and mild betrayal in his eyes.

"What does it take? For this to come up and bite you in the ass? I saw these creatures. I saw them burst to life. You would have seen them too, but you were infected with the virus. You were passed out over my shoulder."

It was a sideways reminder of why he had even witnessed this, of why he held these theories, because he had risked everything to come and save her. Scully flushed slightly, guilt tempering the words she refused to back down from. "Mulder, I know what you did. I know what happened to me, but without ignoring the science, I can't."

She sighed in frustration, not knowing what to say that would make any of this better with him.

"Listen, Mulder." She reached for his hand, willing him to understand what she meant. "You told me that my science kept you honest, that it made you question your assumptions, that by it I made you a whole person." She remembered well his speech out in the hallway in front on his apartment, his impassioned words were seared on her memory, burned into her consciousness. They were the words that she had repeated over and over as she considered whether or not to stay with Mulder or to leave him, to walk away and become a doctor.

"If I change now, it wouldn't be right or honest." He had to see that. Her strict adherence to science was what made her who she was. It was what made her the asset that she was to him. To be otherwise, would make her no better than a yes-man. It would make her no different than Diana Fowley.

But clearly Mulder was in no mood for honest and thoughtful contradiction. "I'm talking about extraterrestrial life alive on this planet in our lifetime, forces that dwarf and precede all human history. I'm sorry, Scully, but this time your science is wrong."

His words cut as he turned from her, disengaging himself from her grasp and stalked away to the car. Scully stood, briefly rooted to where she stood, surprised to silence by the gesture. Just two months before he had begged her to stay, had assured her that her presence, her insight, her dogged refusal to blindly follow was important to him, was necessary to him to do his work. He couldn't go on without her, he had said, and he wouldn't want to. Now he seemed more than willing to do just that, walking way from her and her scientific insistance.

Would Diana Fowley tell him he was wrong?

What had happened in the months since she had tried to flee from him, when he had pursued her into the hallway and made his heart-felt declaration? Neither of them had mentioned it or discussed it, let alone what had nearly precipitated from it. Mulder had carried on, business as usual, as if he hadn't poured out his heart to her in front of his apartment, as if he hadn't pleaded with her not to leave him, as if he hadn't nearly brushed her mouth with his in the briefest of kisses, threatening to take them both into and area that was both unsurprising and yet dangerous. Mulder hadn't mentioned any of that, and now, as he stood impatiently by the car, answering his cell phone, he seemed as if he never would, like it was all forgotten in the wake of a flying saucer, an alien virus, and the loss of his precious X-files to Diana Fowley.

Why had she stayed again? Scully wondered as she wandered slowly to the car, catching only the tale end of Mulder's brief conversation.

"That was Skinner. There has an attack earlier today, similar to this one, in a nuclear power facility not far from here."

"Does he want us on it?" Mulder was already climging behind the wheel and Scully scrambled to follow.

"He wouldn't call us if he didn't," he replied vaguely. "Though Diana and Spender left DC for here an hour after we did, so they may already be at the scene."

"If they are on the case, why are we here again? We are no longer on the X-files."

He remained silently stoic as he pulled away from the curb, ignoring her question outright. He was stewing for a fight, she suspected, and had every intention of deliberately crashing their party, not caring if it broke protocol or not. Once again, Scully would be expected to clean it up.

She hadn't come back to the FBI - to him - to do this.

Chapter Text

Who would commit such sins on a child?

“What did they do to him?” Mulder watched with horrified eyes as Scully prepared her medical kit, glancing sideways towards the bed where Gibson Praise lay against a bevy of pillows.

“I don’t know,” Scully whispered, knowing full well the boy probably knew every word the two of them where murmuring to each other. “I’ll have to get through the bandages to see, but judging from the amount of blood loss and his blood pressure, it’s a wonder he’s even up and walking.” Frankly, the boy should have been in the hospital, but Mulder vetoed the idea no sooner then it left her lips after they had pulled away from Diana Fowley and Jeffrey Spender as nonchalantly as possible. However Gibson had ended up in their car, Mulder had argued, whoever he had done this sort of damage to him was likely still looking for him and the hospital was the first place they would look.

“Mulder,” she sighed, frowning at her woefully inadequate supply of disinfectants, antibiotics, and other things she carried for the minor scrapes and injuries her partner was prone to incurring out in the field. “I can’t properly treat everything that is wrong with him. What if I get under there and find it is worse than I can handle.”

“You’re an amazing doctor. You’ll think of something.”

“Something? You can’t just jerry rig medication out of Popsicle sticks and duct tape. He will likely need medical attention.”

Mulder knew she was right. He grimaced, rubbing his palms across his face. “I know, I’m not saying he won’t, but just a few hours, till we are certain it’s safe and he won’t disappear on us again.”

That she perhaps could agree do. “What do we tell the Bureau or his parents? He’s been missing for months?”

“When it’s safe I’ll put a call into Skinner. I’ll see if he can’t send someone to protect him.”

“No offense, but the last time you tried that, two US Marshall’s died and Diana Fowley ended up with a collapsed lung.” An injury that didn’t seem to slow her down when it came to taking over their work, Scully noted.

“I know. But do you seriously think we will get him back safely to where he belongs if we don’t have protection?”

“No.” She shot a flickering glance to the boy resting beyond. He was just a child, a gifted one with abilities that frightened her, but at the end of the day he was just a boy who liked watching cartoons and zoning out in front of the television, just like any other child. What in the world was so threatening about that?

“Listen, I’m going to call the boys, see what they’ve heard, with an ear to the ground about what is going down at the nuclear plant. Do what you can for him.”

“Right.” What she could do for him was very little. Change his bandages, check the wounds, and give him something for any infection. That was it. If there was cranial or cerebral damage she could do nothing to fix it there.

Gibson watched the television with glassy eyes, his pale cheeks flushed pink and feverish. He looked so fragile against the pillows, not the sturdy, defiant boy she knew months ago. He reminded her a little of Emily. So small, so frail, so sick lying in a bed far to big for her, her young life slipping out of Scully clasped fingers. She had tried so hard to protect her, to keep her there, to make it all right. But it had all been for naught.

“How old was she?” Gibson’s swaddled head turned painfully towards her, his serious face somewhat sympathetic behind his thick glasses. Scully paused, unnerved one again by his uncanny ability, the way he read her emotions as she set down her medical kit on the bedside table with sharp precision.

“She was three,” Scully replied more gently than she was laying out her things. “It happened last Christmas.”

“You thought about her before, when you saw me.” He watched with hollow eyes as she worked. “She was your daughter.”

“In a manner of speaking,” Scully replied, unsure of how to explain Emily’s unnatural existence to him.

“I know how babies are made, you know.” A hint of childish impatience arose and Scully caught herself smiling despite herself. “She wasn’t made like that?”

“No,” she replied simply. “She was made from one of my eggs in an experiment. They made her to be a certain way.”

“They made her sick.” Gibson sounded truly horrified by that, but unsurprised. What had they done to him?

“Yes,” Scully replied, pulling our one of her syringes and almost feeling Gibson cringe. “She was born with a condition that was killing her. I don’t know why.”

Why would anyone do these types of things to children? Why would anyone do these types of things to her?

“Because they want to control it,” Gibson sighed, turned to glance at the television again.”

His words stopped her in her work. “Control what?”

Gibson was slow in answering. “You know why. You saw it for yourself, though you don’t remember. They want to stop what is coming and they are trying to find the sort of people who will make it out when everything happens.”

He knew? Scully’s mouth worked dryly as she had a giddy thought about Mulder and OPR, but Gibson strangled that thought before it took root. “No one would believe you or me if we told them. You don’t even believe it.”

His reproach cut nearly as deep as Mulder’s did and she flushed, returning to laying out her things. “Gibson, it isn’t as simple as that.”

“I know, it never is. Adults always make things so complicated.”

He had said that the last time, Scully recalled, and she smiled to herself as she remembered a similar scolding the night he disappeared. He had told her then she needed to tell Mulder how she felt about him. She had balked at the idea.

“Your daughter, she wasn’t like me, was she?” Gibson interrupted her thoughts, for once not calling her out on them.

“No, I don’t think so. To be honest, I don’t know.” There was no telling what Emily’s potential could have been, had she lived. “She had a blood condition.”

“She was one of those, then.” Gibson didn’t seem surprised.

“One of those?” Just what did Gibson know about what was happening nd how did he know it?

“Because they are like you, they forget I can read what’s in their heads.” A brief, smug smile lifted his pale lips. “They try to make some people different. They try to make some people like me, I guess, but they keep messing it up.”

“Like you? How do you mean?” Just how much about all of this did Gibson understand? And what did he know about himself and his condition that she and Mulder did not?

But Gibson was tiring of their conversation, shrugging with all the diffidence a twelve-year-old could muster. “They think I’m something I’m not. I’m close, but they don’t know for sure what to make of me.”

Scully had no idea what to say to that.

“I know you miss her.” Gibson’s gaze was penetrating despite the fever haze and thick glasses. “For what it’s with, I’m sorry she had to go through that. She was really kind of like me in a way, a way to get to the end. They didn’t care who she was or that she had feelings or what she liked, just that she was an experiment, something they could study and understand. And if she would have had to go live through the sort of things I did, maybe she’s happier where she is.”

Scully found herself torn between admiration Gibson’s candor and heartbreak over whatever he had faced the last few months. What things had he experienced? What horrible tests had they done to this innocent boy whose only crime was being different? The idea that this too could have been Emily’s fate had she lived unnerved her. For months, Scully had thought only of the loss of the only child she would ever have. She hadn’t considered that her daughter’s death could have been a blessing for the girl in disguise. Tears rose, burning hot acid in her eyes, but she screwed them tight, forcing the tears back and down, hidden behind the iron door where she kept her memories of Emily. Let Gibson see, let him know how she hid those memories tightly in her heart. He was likely one of the few people to truly understand.

“I better get to work getting that gauze off, take a look at your wound.”

Fear and hesitation warred with weary acceptance out of Gibson. “Okay, just…remember, they had to cut off my hair. I’m going to look weird.”

“I’m sure you’ll look fine,” Scully replied, picking up her scissors. It was sin, what they did to this child. It was a sin what they had done to her child, and her friends, and so many other people in this world, all in the name of their invasion. Perhaps Gibson wasn’t far off, Emily was better off where she was, far away from the butchery done by these so-called “good men”. What good men would do this to a child?

Chapter Text

The monitors blinked with vital signs, each telling Scully a different part of the story she could read perfectly well. It didn't stop her from asking the specialist standing beside her what it all meant. "How is he doing?"

"Fine, remarkably so for someone who has been through what he has." Horror and distaste laced the doctor's words as he frowned across the ward at Gibson, lying still in the hospital bed. "How did you find him?"

"He found us," Scully murmured honestly, watching Gibson's steady breathing as he roused slightly from the sedatives he was under. "He's been missing for months, kidnapped. I suspect whoever took him did this."

"Did this?" The man's eyes widened in dismay, his look stating clearly what Scully had been thinking since she had gotten a chance to properly study the nature of Gibson's wounds. "Whoever they were, they were sloppy. What in the hell would they be doing to a kid his age?"

"I was hoping you would help me answer that." Scully sighed, frustration and tiredness plaguing her fast waving resolve. Two hours waiting for word on her charge, and she had yet to hear from Mulder or from Diana Fowley, wherever they were and whatever they were doing. She swallowed against the bitterness that rose as she thought of how eagerly he went with his ex-wife, just because she demanded it. It was as if his sad story earlier that day about their relationship had been forgotten, as had Gibson, lying wounded in the car. Scully could have been surprised by the behavior, but somehow she wasn't.

"Look, I ran the tests that you asked for." The doctor drugher thoughts from the dark cloud of irritation forming around her. "They should be ready soon. I can check to see how they are coming."

"I would appreciate that." Scully nodded, watching the green-scrub clad figure of the man wander from the ward, looking serious aggrieved as she turned back to Gibson. He groggily blinked from his pillow, eyes turning automatically to look for her, unfocused without his thick glasses.

"Here, let me get that." Scully rushed to the bedside table to pluck up the heavy, plastic frames. She smiled as she set them gently on his face, checking out his new bandages in the process.

"The doctors took a look at you, ran some tests, and gave you something for the infection. They say you should be back up on your feet in no time."

Gibson frowned sleepily, clearly not happy about any of it, and Scully could hardly blame him. He had called her out earlier when she had him admitted to the hospital. She had wanted to help him, but she had also wanted to learn from him, learn why he had this strange power that gave him the ability to read her thoughts. She had wanted to know why it was he was so special, so unique. In a way, he was right. She was no different than those who had taken him, who had treated him little more than a lab rat, except that she did care enough about him to see he was safe, to see justice done for him.

"They'll find me, you know," Gibson yawned sleepily, his gaze clearing as he came out of his sedated sleep. "They're looking for me now. They'll figure out you brought me here."

"I have security watching the entrances and exits, Gibson, no one is going anywhere with you." They would be foolish to try. She had guards posted even outside of the ward. The first sign of unusual activity and she would be alerted.

Her words seemed to be little comfort to the boy though. "Did you find what you were looking for?" Despite the soporifics he could still manage truculence, his glazed eyes avoiding hers directly. Guilt bit at Scully, but she shook her head, trying to give him a reassuring smile.

"We haven't got the test results yet, but soon." She smoothed down his bedclothes as he shifted against the hard, hospital mattresses. "I know it was a lot to ask of you, Gibson, after everything you've been through."

"You didn't exactly ask," he grumbled. "You did it while I was asleep."

"True. But I still feel I should apologize."

"Only because you feel guilty." He was angry, she didn't need to read his mind to know that. He had months having God knows what done to him and no sooner than he reached safety she had done the same to him.

"I'm sorry that we did it," she admitted, knowing it was no use trying to lie to him about it. Even in his groggy state he could likely hear her loud and clear. "I don't want to be like them, Gibson, I don't want to hurt you."

"But you think I'm a freak, like they do."

"No," Scully corrected him firmly. "I think you are a special boy, Gibson. You do something no one else does, that I can't do. There is a reason for that, and those people want to know what it is. I do too…but not because I want to hurt you or to use you." How could she make him understand how important he was in all of this?

"You want to know what they did to you and to your daughter. I know. What makes you think I have any answers?"

"Because, I know that there is something they are doing, there are some results they want and you may be the key to all of this. Without the test results I find, I may not be able to prove to anyone what these men have done to you, to me, to anyone. This is a big deal, bigger than you or any of us." Big enough to fill a spaceship no one knew about in Antarctica, supposedly. "No one will believe Agent Mulder or me if I can't show them evidence that something is going on."

"And what if you don't find what you are looking for in me?"

Gibson gave voice to the private wonder she had herself. "No matter what, Gibson, we'll get you home to your parents. They are worried about you."

He didn't seem terribly convinced of the last part of that statement. "Have they even bothered looking for me since I was gone?"

"I assume so," Scully reassured him, though to be honest, she didn't know. They had taken the case away from her and Mulder. She hadn't expected to see Gibson ever again.

From outside of the curtain she could sense something stirring and she glanced over her shoulder. Gibson's doctor waited with file in hand. "Agent Scully, I have your test results."

"Thank you," she murmured, glancing at Gibson. "Rest for now. We'll get you fixed up and out of here. I won't let anything happen to you."

"Okay," he sighed, not quite believing her. What twelve-year-old ever completely believed an adult?

"It will all be over soon," she reiterated, rising to follow the doctor, pulling the curtain closed behind her as she went. Scully certainly hoped she got to keep that promise to him. So far of late, all of her promises seemed to fail her.

Chapter Text

In the end, she wasn't particularly surprised to find Mulder in his makeshift office, eyes glued to the screen. She knew that whatever it was their new Assistant Director, Alvin Kersh, had said about staying away from the X-files, Mulder was prepared to ignore it. As with so many directives given to Mulder over the years, they were conveniently ignored when it came to his work.

Mulder spun as she opened the door to the office, but relaxed and shrugged upon seeing her. What would he have said if she had been Kersh, she wondered. He turned back to his work, drawling lazily as he did so. "It would help if you shut the door. It makes it harder for them to see that I'm totally disregarding everything I was told."

The door snapped behind her as she sighed. He acted as if they both hadn't been called on the carpet on this one. "Everything we both were told, Mulder."

"They can't take away the X-files," he responded mulishly, as if expecting her to try and talk him out of this. "They tried."

Yes they had tried before and it hadn't worked then, but it seemed to be working remarkably now, no thanks to the report filed by Diana Fowley. "You know, Agent Fowley's report to OPR painted the facts in an interesting way. I hope you haven't been betrayed." She dropped the "B" word casually, knowing fully its implications. It wasn't as if Diana hadn't betrayed him once before, breaking his heart and leaving him.

But it wasn't an idea that Mulder seemed to give countenance too, as he barely turned around to acknowledge it. "Agent Fowley's report was a means to an end. Trying to protect the work, protect the X-files."

Scully bit her tongue as she studied the back of Mulder's dark head, at a loss. How many times over the years had he chastised her for being to believing, trust no one? And he so easily believed in a woman who willingly stabbed him in the back before. Was it as simple as the memory of a woman he had loved and married? Anyone else and he would be crying foul and looking for plots.

"Mulder, Agent Fowley's report states that the man you saw attacked was bludgeoned by an unknown subject. She makes no mention of a little boy, who as it happens is nowhere to be found. It would seem that her report protects everything but you."

His head tilted mulishly as he continued to work, continued to not look at her. "Agent Fowley took me to that plant at great risk to herself when I saw something that you refuse to believe in."

His accusation stung like a slap, as Scully felt her spine stiffen at recrimination. He turned to glare at her mildly, matter of fact. "I saw it again, Scully, and though it may not say so in her report, Diana saw it too. No matter what you think she's certainly not going to go around saying that just because science can't prove it isn't true."

And so it came down to this. After all of this, after everything they had been through, and it was as if they were back to square one. Scully felt as if she were standing in his office that first day, as he waved his belief in aliens under her nose, and she asked that he back it up with scientific proof. All these years, all that they had seen and experienced, and he was back to blindly running outside of the box, clinging to his faith, without seeing the picture that science could paint, as if all the work and trust that Scully had put into this meant nothing. All because Diana Fowley believed him without question, without pushing him, and Scully did not. Her gut roiled as she remembered his impassioned speech outside of his apartment, how he had told her that her science made him a better man. All that was forgotten now because her science could not back up what he saw.

"I don't doubt what you saw, Mulder." Her voice was brittle and harsh, cutting at his accusations as he looked at her, only slightly guilty for what he said. "I don't doubt you. I'm willing to believe, but not in a lie and not in the opposite of what I can prove. It comes down to a matter of trust. I guess it always has."

"You asking me to make a choice?"

Did it have to be so black and white with him, to choose between Diana Fowley and herself? Frankly, Scully wasn't so sure right now which one he would choose. "I'm asking you to trust my judgment…to trust me."

In her hands she held the final test results on the nail they had dug out of the house in Phoenix. She had run it through the crime labs upstairs, performed all the same tests on it she would have if it were evidence from a murder scene. She held out the file to Mulder who glared at it warily, as if she deliberately found information to prove him wrong.

"I can't accept that, not if it refutes what I know to be true."

Could he really be so stubbornly, willfully, and pig-headedly blind? "Mulder, these are the test results. DNA from the claw nail we found matching exactly the DNA from the virus you believe is extraterrestrial."

Excitement and hope leapt to life in Mulder's eyes as he snatched at the file, flipping open the contents. "That's the connection."

"Which matches exactly the DNA that was found in Gibson Praise."

Mulder paused in his eager scanning, frowning up at her quizzically. "Wait a minute, I don't understand. You're saying Gibson Praise is infected by the virus?"

Had he not listened to anything she had to say to him out of fear that she might say something that would jeopardize his precious belief? "No, it's a part of his DNA. In fact it's a part of all of our DNA. It's a genetic remnant, it's inactive junk DNA, except in Gibson it's turned on."

Mulder blinked blankly as his razor sharp mind wrapped around this information, running with it as quickly as he soaked it in. "So if that were true, it would mean that Gibson is in some part extraterrestrial."

It was so much bigger than that. "It would mean all of us are."

Mulder looked stunned. The possibility hadn't occurred to him. "So do you believe this refutes what I saw?" Instantly he turned to accusations and belligerence, as if suddenly she were the enemy.

"No," she replied with a rapidly thinning reserve of patience. "But I do think it is information that will need to make us rethink what is going on here.

"Weren't you the one who years ago told me this virus was extraterrestrial?" Mulder shoved the files back at her accusingly, as if she had suddenly pulled the rug out from under him.

"When I studied the Purity Control Virus, Mulder, yes. The way the DNA is configured is like nothing on earth, the sequencing created so that extra nucleotides could be added in. But it is still made up of the same basic ones that you and I are made of. We shouldn't be surprised that we carry the DNA in our bodies. For whatever reason evolution and nature has turned it off in us. But in Gibson it is on and it's likely the reason he can do the amazing things he can do."

"And this claw we found, you said it is made totally of this DNA."

"Yes," she assured him, as he finally began to see the picture. "Whatever these beings are, Mulder, they aren't as extraterrestrial as you think they are. You said it yourself, that associate of your father's, the one who told you where to find me? He told you that these are beings that have been on this planet for a long, long time. What if this is it? This is a virus that belongs here, Mulder. It is a part of this planet, and has been manipulated by these men and they can't control it."

He pushed away from her waving off her explanation. "We aren't just speaking about a simple disease here, Scully, and while you may refuse to believe it, I know what I saw. This virus gestates, it creates these beings."

"Fine," she snapped, tired over arguing over what amounted to petty details in her mind. "But it doesn't change the fact that whatever they are, we are tied to them somehow. They are a part of this planet. Which could mean anything evolutionarily." Do understand she would have to do more research. And with as little as was understood about the human genome, how in the world could she factor this in?

"It makes sense," he finally conceded heavily, glancing at the burnt and crumbled X-file he was still piecing together on the screen.

He said that as if she were trying to sell him something that was utter malarkey. "Mulder, I'm not here to prove you wrong. I would hope after all this time you would know that."

Her words caught him and made him flush guilty, the tips of his well shined shoes becoming suddenly very interesting to him.

"I'm not your enemy, Mulder." Her sigh came out hotly, the frustration of days releasing. "You're treating me as if I was a raw rooky walking into your office again, as if I hadn't seen things too, and didn't know. And I'm not Diana Fowley, I don't believe you implicitly, but that's because I never did. I do you no good if I don't question you, if I don't reach beyond simple faith for hard facts, because the minute you don't have those is the minute the FBI believes you are grinding axes and puts you on a short leash with Kersh as the AD, which is what happened."

He looked ready to protest, but she held up the file in her hand to silence him. "This is proof that there is some credibility to your story, Mulder. This is something we could have started working on, but you chose to trust Agent Fowley over me, and I can't present this because none of this was mentioned in her case report. You trusted her over me, because you thought she would support what you saw and protect your work better than I would, as if I don't believe in the work, or that I haven't invested my life in it." She snap the file down, anger caused it to crack as it slapped her thigh.

"But remember this, you trusted her, and she has the X-files. Remember that while you are hiding in a dark office, clandestinely handling your own work in secret, while we are now assigned to rookie work checking backgrounds and whatever else Kersh thinks of to punish you with. Because that's what this is about Mulder, not just shutting you down, punishing you. And I want to see how eager Agent Fowley is going to be to bend over backwards to help you now."

The fury she had held for days now rolled over him in her words, and she didn't care. His obstinate, injured pride put them in this position. He stood, stunned and mute as she turned towards the door she had so conscientiously closed behind her. "I didn't come back to do this, Mulder. I didn't come back to be blamed for being no more than what I am. If you'd rather work with Agent Fowley, than by all means do so, but don't expect me to be waiting here when you need someone to run your lab tests for you."

The cool rush of air as she snapped the door open did nothing to cool her temper as she stormed down the hall. She half expected Mulder to call out to her as her steps slammed against tile, but he didn't. Instead, faintly, she could hear the door closing again. It stung, but she continued to march to the elevator. It was late, she was tired, and she had a new assignment tomorrow. They had a plane to catch to Idaho.

Chapter Text

If patience was a virtue, Scully wondered if she was a saint.

"Hey, Scully! Look! Their football field is blue! I think we should check it out."

Scully hardly bothered take her foot off the excelerator, let alone glance at the large stadium they drove past, the home of the Boise St. Broncos. "I hardly think it merits a stop."

"Come on! It's so blue, I could see it from the plane as we landed. It's like they took a million Smurfs and scrubbed their little bodies against the ground."

That was not a visual Scully particularly liked having in her head. "Mulder, I know it is difficult for you to accept this, but we are here to do a job. Yes, it is a boring job, checking the licenses of farmers and making sure they are allowed to buy giant amounts of fertilizer, but in the wake of Oklahoma City, it's a necessary job, and right now it is ours. And I'm sorry you are so bored, but I'd rather get here, get done, and not have to explain to Kersh why it is you felt the need to buy two football tickets on the FBI's dime."

"You don't think Kersh likes college football?"

Scully bit her cheek and counted to ten. "I don't know what he likes, but I do know that he likely won't buy your Smurf abuse story as a reason for stopping."

Mulder grumbled quietly, sliding lower in the passengers seat, cracking sunflower seeds loudly between his teeth. Since last evening, when she had blown up at him regarding Diana Fowley and his petulant refusal to listen to a word Scully had to say, Mulder had vacillated between childish and petulant, landing annoyingly on both at the same time. To say he had been less than thrilled with their assignment from their new Assistant Director, Kersh, was an understatment. Even as a raw rookie, fresh out of the Academy, Mulder hadn't had to do grunt work. He had been the Bureau's darling then, but that was a decade ago, long gone, and now he was reaping the reward of having pissed off the powers that be too many times.

Being stuck in a car with him in moments like these must be the punishment Scully was meant to endure. Whether it was the FBI brass or the Lord above who deemed her transgression could only be extirpated by babysitting a pouting man-child for the next five days while driving through southern Idaho and western Oregon, she couldn't say. All she knew was that there better be blessings in heaven after this trip. Quite possibly she could cut her time in purgatory…unless this was purgatory? Wouldn't it be fitting, she thought sourly, that this would be the way by which she could atone for her venial sins, dealing with a man who didn't believe in God, but sure as hell believed in aliens.

"We are we talking about potato farmers? I don't think sedition is high on their list of activities. None of the people we were sent to check out appear on any watch lists, there's been no reports of any suspicious behavior, and the most threatening thing to the US government that's occurred in these parts was a group of frat kids drunkenly taking a piss on the steps of the Idaho state capitol building. Frankly, at this moment, I understand that urge."

"So you did do your homework after all." That surprised her. When she left Mulder the night before, he had still been piecing together X-files outside of Kersh's order. She had angrily called him out on his behavior, his blind trust of Diana Fowley and his sneering distrust of the data she had presented him. "I assumed you stayed in the office all night with the light out, gluing files back together."

"Who needs glue with new fangled technology. I simply scanned them and let the computer try to rebuild the images." He sounded pleased he had managed to work the highly expensive new software by himself and without the need of Frohike to hold his hand. He was bound to get caught sometime., She scowled darkly at nothing in particular as they drove through the rolling landscape around them. If it wasn't for trying to piece the files together, it would be because Mulder couldn't resist a strange case if his life depended on it. Kersh's orders were clear, neither of them were to even get within a hundred yards of anything that smelled of an X-file. They were barely out of Boise and already Mulder was looking for something, anything weird and bizarre, anything but the job they were supposed to be doing. She had little sympathy for him at the moment. He was the one who got himself - the both of them really - into this mess. And he could pout, sneer, and drag his feet all he wanted. For the next month they would be visiting every tiny potato farm, beet farm, wheat farm, even cow pasture if that's where Kersh wanted to send them.

"I know you hate this, Mulder." She tried to sound reasonable, even sympathetic at least. "I can't say I'm thrilled with this, either, but for now, till events play out otherwise, you have to behave yourself."

"Why?" His dark eyebrows rose in challenge to Scully's surprise. Did he think this was a game?

"Because you have angered the powers that be, Mulder, and they want to punish you, or at least put you down for a while. We've been through this before, several times. You know the routine. You keep your nose clean, you do what they want, and eventually you will get your work back. They are kidding this time. You've spent months upsetting people and turning everything upside down. For now, till you can do otherwise, you have to put up with doing agriculture checks."

"That wasn't why I asked, 'why'." Mulder turned from petulant to grave in an instant. "After all these years, I'm the first person to catch on to what they are doing here. My question is why behave myself? Why can't I, from time-to-time, indulge in what I do best?"

"Because it's dangerous," she snapped, perhaps a little more forcefully than she meant to. "Because every time you've done it of late you've managed to screw it up."

She had a point, and he knew it. First Gibson Praise, then Dallas and all the extenuating circumstances around that, then Phoenix. Any more of this and Mulder would be drummed out of the FBI without getting a finger back on his beloved X-files, leaving his entire worked to Diana Fowley. And she may respect it, but Scully didn't trust the woman to keep it or protect it like he would, and Scully would be no closer to the justice or answers she sought, either.

"For now, Mulder, you need to behave yourself, You can't get out of it."

He clearly didn't like hearing that, his long legs knocking peevishly against the glove compartment as he threw his seat back with a loud thump. "What are you, my babysitter?"

"Wasn't that my whole purpose in the first place, debunk your theories, make you behave, and generally piss you off?" Her words cut with the hurt of their argument the night before, the hurt she still felt acutely, and he had yet to apologize for.

She felt him stir guiltly at her words.

"If you are going to take a nap," she intoned darkly as she glanced at his long frame stretched out in the leaned back seat. "Try not to snore. It's a long drive and all I have is country music to drown you out with."

For once he had no snappy or sarcastic reply as he settled, disquieted but no less fractious, into the passengers seat. Less than twenty minutes into their weeks long road trip and this was how it started, with petty bickering and childish tetchiness? Suddenly, the silver ribbon of road in front of Scully looked interminably long and hostile. Agriculture certificate checks, how mundane could this be?

Chapter Text

"Have you ever run one of these before?"

Scully turned from the futile rubbing of the blood and gore off her shirt to the white face of the corner. The woman blinked first at the possibly contaminated stains, then up at Scully's frank expression. She tried not to let her heart skip at the gesture, to let the thought of a contagion rise in her mind.

"Run a quarantine? Not exactly." Scully thought back over the years to the quarantined situations she found herself in. "More often than not I was the one in the middle of it, so I can say yes, I've had experience with them."

She turned off the water at the shiny, metallic sink, knowing it was little use. The scrubs would likely have to be burned, but at least she wouldn't have potential danger splattered across her mid-section like finger paint. She tried to smile reassuringly at the other woman's concern. "This is just a precaution until we get the CDC in here to check this out. It could be nothing or it could be something that is quite easy to handle."

"Or it could be something that is out there in the populous right now." The corner frowned knowing all to well that the poor, dead woman's husband was in a cell at the police station.

"I've requested a cell phone. When I get it I'll put a call into my partner." Irritation flickered across Scully's cool tone. This wasn't her first time at the rodeo and she couldn't help but be nettled at the woman's reiterating what Scully already knew. "Mulder will get the man quarantined and anyone who has handled him. He's been through this before as well."

"Do you make a habit of finding yourselves in these situations?"

Patience, Dana, she breathed. It wasn't the coroner's fault. She had simply been doing her job and in walked Scully, offering her professional, FBI advice to this back country medical examiner. All the sudden the Center for Disease Control is getting involved, the morgue being sealed off, and a potentially dangerous contagion could have infected them both, one that had literally blown out the side off of Vicky Crumps head. Scully's mind raced. What sort of infectious agent did that?

"My partner and I used to work on unusual cases for the FBI," she replied, more as something to occupy the empty space between them and fill it with something other than worry and anxiety. "Often times our work would mean we would come across strange pathogens, infectious agents that were unexplainable." Should she dare bring up the black oil, the strange, alien virus that seemed to only get more complex the more they tried to understand it.

"One case we worked on in the Oregon woods, we came across a strange, phosphorescent insect that swarmed and desiccated living flesh. We still don't know where it came from or anything about it really. My guess is that the insect is still being studied." If the CDC hadn't ordered the entire area burned, which Scully strongly suspected they had.

"A bug and it was just out there?" The coroner's eyebrows rose dubiously, but at least there was no longer trepidation hanging on her words. Scully thought she might as well go with story hour, if it kept the mood in here calm and rational for the moment.

"Strange things exist out there." Scully couldn't believe she was the one saying that as she found a metal stool to perch on, an eye on the lab door to see if her promised phone would arrive. "We looked for a Cal Tech vulcanology team in the Washington Mountains and found a spore that used the human host in the next stage of its reproduction. That required a month long quarantine."

"A spore?" The coroner wrinkled her nose, much like a five-year-old would when told to eat Brussels sprouts. "All of this here in the Pacific Northwest?"

"I had an edict against cases out here for a long time." Scully sighed, recalling how many odd cases ended up with them in isolation of some sort in the area. "But it's happened other times. We were called in on a manhunt of escaped prisoners who happened to be in a ward exposed to a foreign disease that a pharmaceutical lab was running tests on. Thankfully, I wasn't infected, but one of the other doctors working in that quarantine was. He died." Scully thought sadly on the poor doctor, who had worked so hard to help keep her alive even as knew he wouldn't make it. Pinck Pharmaceutical had run that test and no one had ever called them out on it.

And those were just the times when they were infected with something that people knew about. No one knew or even understood the other virus, the one that Scully now found to be all too human in its DNA structure, or at least their DNA was far to similar to the virus. In the end the virus she had thought alien was nothing more than a cleverly redesigned Earth based one, with the same base as every other living thing on this planet, but with a few alterations to make it different, perhaps more deadly. Did it make it alien? Or was it simply a product of the chimera cells, the strange, biotechnical games that the government played with the very essence of biological life?

"It sounds as if you two lead extremely interesting lives," the other woman murmured with eyes wide. Had she even believed when Mulder and Scully came breezing through, two bored agents, that they would bring a quarantine on her morgue. Poor woman, she likely saw only a few bodies a week, and now she was in the middle of one of Mulder's X-files. He knew how to find them. It was as if he had sensed this the minute he caught the strange news report on the farmer's television.

"Technically, we should be leading very boring, sedentary lives now," Scully replied, fretfully, as a lab tech with her cell phone waved it into view. She was going to have to explain this all to Mulder, and to Kersh, their new boss. Somehow she doubted he would be as understanding as Skinner regarding their little detour or their involvement in it. His orders had been explicit; go nowhere near an X-file. They hadn't been, really, they had been doing their job, they just happened upon this case. Scully doubted their taciturn, legalistic new supervisor would see it anywhere close to the same way.

"Excuse me," she murmured, meeting the tech at the door before he could enter and forcing him out with strict orders of the quarantine. She had to call Kersh and explain why it was she was involving the CDC, and why it was she had let Mulder convince her into taking this side trip in the first place. But before that, she needed Mulder, to warn him and get everyone who had contact with Vicky Crumps' husband into isolation before this got out.

Scully's thin thread of patience stretched as Mulder's phone continued to ring and ring, going to voice mail. Dread settled in her stomach as she dialed again. Somehow she knew she was going to regret giving into him on this. Frankly, she already did.

Chapter Text

To the Crumps poor neighbor they might as well have been Martians, come to invade her home and demand they be taken to her leader. The woman sobbed quietly as Scully searched for pen and paper amongst the jumble of things on the woman's coffee table, finding both under a saucer and an old telephone book. Clumsily she managed the pen in her gloved hand, scrawling, "you're safe, it's all right" across the yellow legal pad, flipping it to the elderly woman's tearful eyes.

The words only calmed her slight. Her fear soon shifted as anger blazed in her damp eyes. "What are you doing here, scaring a poor, deaf old woman?"

"We didn't mean to," Scully scratched quickly. "We think your neighbors are sick."

The elderly woman sniffed as she squinted at the legal pad, clearly familiar with the Crumps. "I don't know about sick. Vicky's healthy as a horse. Saw the two of them take off the other day, though, haven't seen them since." She nodded across the way to where the rest of the decon team searched the Crumps property. For her own part, she looked fine, perfectly healthy. Why was this woman perfectly fine when everything else around these parts, including her birds, had their heads exploded by some unknown agent? How had she avoided it when they had not?

"Are you feeling all right?" Scully scribbled, her brain working furiously as she considered symptoms. "Have you had sinus pressure, or an ear ache, or a sharp headache of any sort?"

The woman read slowly, frowning in distracted thought. "No," she replied, her voice overloud in the way elderly people had when they couldn't hear properly anymore. "I had a bit of a headache yesterday, I suppose, but I always do when there is a change in the weather. Getting to be fall pretty soon. Otherwise, I feel normal. You don't think that there's something spreading, do you?" It finally clicked with the woman why Scully was in a suit and the terror rose again in her pale eyes.

"I don't know," Scully said simply, not bothering to write down her words as she looked to the other team members. "I don't think she is infected with whatever this is. She might either be a carrier or immune. Get her suited up and in the truck if possible." She left the cringing woman in the hands of the team, feeling badly for the her as she did so. Something about all of this wasn't adding up for Scully. Exploding sinus and auditory cavities, dead humans and animals all around this area, and the elderly woman in the middle of it unaffected? How?

She could hear the team members gently trying to coax the woman into putting on a decon suit, clearly against her wishes, as Scully wandered outside and pondered the question. What was different about this woman? She studied the lay of the woman's land in the darkness. It didn't look particularly different. The trees silvered by the light from inside looked just like the trees at the Crumps place. There were no barriers protecting it from her neighbors, in fact two of her pet birds seemed to have been affected and yet she was not. Was it her age? Perhaps she was on particular medications that prevented the contagion from settling into her system. What was it about her that set her apart from everyone else who had died so far?

When it hit Scully, she felt like a perfect idiot. She had turned to watch as the team aided the woman into one of the large, cumbersome suits, and noticed her television with its words scrolling across the bottom, closed captioning because she was deaf. She couldn't hear. It clicked then with a thump that nearly jarred Scully's brain. The woman wasn't affected because she was deaf. Every other victim had perfectly normal hearing before they died, or at least Scully surmised they did. But this woman couldn't hear a whole group of people storming onto her property and coming up right behind her into her house.

"Let's get her into the truck." Someone from inside called out instructions as carefully they led the woman across her porch and down the steps into one of the decon team trucks. The poor lady's eyes were wide and frightened as they boosted her inside and Scully felt a pang of guilt for dragging the poor woman through this. If Scully was right, and she had a sudden sinking feeling that she was, than this woman was going to be brought in, tested, prodded, and left in isolation, alone and scared, and it would all turn out to be something that didn't have to do with an infections agent at all.

"We got her in." One of the doctors on the team, Scully hadn't bothered to remember his name, nodded with the sort of self-assuredness that this would solve all their problems.

"One deaf woman survives unscathed while everything else around her dies. Why?"

Had he not leapt the conclusion she had? Did he not see the pattern that she did? Clearly, he didn't, because he frowned at her in polite confusion from behind the plastic faceplate of his hood. In mild exasperation Scully removed the hood of her own suit. Her comrade's reaction was that of instant panic. "What are you doing?"

"The pathology of this thing, it affects the inner ear and this area right here is ground zero." Something about this place, something that was going on was causing this. "What if what we're looking for is some kind of sound."

She might as well have suggested that it was an earworm. "Seriously?" The skepticism in the other doctor's voice might have been more insulting if Scully cell phone hadn't chosen that time to go off. She blinked, realizing what it was and where it was in her suit and reached for it.

"Scully," she answered as she was instantly greeted by an earful of white noise static, grating across the airwaves.

"It's Van Gelder." The captain of the local police sounded vaguely mystified over the garbled sound. "Agent, I don't know what the hell your partner's thinking, but not only is he actively evading my officers, now he's stolen a car."

Did she hear him right? "Come again?"

"You heard right," growled the man on the other end of the line, his voice blending with the crackling. "He left behind a crazy note for you."

Somehow Scully wasn't surprised.

"You there," Van Gelder bawled.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, read it to me." She moved slightly, hoping this would improve cell reception. Out there in the middle of nowhere she was surprised she was getting any at all. Instead of improving it, her movement only seemed to make it worse.

"Crump sick. Will die if stopped. Same as wife. Must head west to keep alive. No roadblocks! Exclamation point." She could hear Van Gelder pause as the crackling steadily got worse. "This make any sense to you?"

Would it make him think less of her if she said yes? "Take him at his word. Let him through."

This clearly wasn't the answer that the captain was looking for. "Through? Look, no offense, Agent Scully, but how about you run that by your superiors 'cause frankly, I think they'll say differently."

Frankly, Scully thought Van Gelder was right. It was often that the locals in such remote areas questioned the FBI or their methods, but this case had turned weird on Van Gelder before he could blink. First quarantines, now her partner was supposed to abet a fugitive? She couldn't blame him for being skeptical, but at the moment she didn't care.

"I will take that under advisement," she said simply, as she moved in the darkness through the grass, listening to the sound on her phone get steadily worse. Something was interrupting cellular reception, a house, telephone lines, a radio signal…

"Agent Scully, again, I got to say I feel like we got a situation here that…"

Whatever Van Gelder had to say broke and died as the reception exploded on her phone. Nearby, Scully could feel a thrumming in the air and the sound of a low, steady hum coming up from the ground. She skimmed the ground with her toes, walking across darkened grass till she came to a single metal plate that read "US Government Property" across its top.

In the middle of nowhere, Nevada.

Before her brain could leap to connects between government property in Nevada and Mulder's Area 51, Scully rushed back towards the decon team where her cell phone signal was better, dialing the number for the DC switchboard. The person who answered obviously hadn't expected a call so late at night in Washington and answered with a somewhat sleepy yawn.

"This is Agent Dana Scully. I need you to run a check on any and all government property in the vicinity of Elko, Nevada. Specifically, I need something close to this address." She rattled off the lonely house number of the Crumps property to the bemused switchboard operator who promised to call her back with the information.

What in the hell was going on with that high voltage equipment and why was it so close to private property? And what about it could cause the sort of inner ear damage she witnessed, the explosions, the pain? Just what in the world was the purpose of all this and what had she and Mulder stumbled on to?

Chapter Text

Despite the fact that Scully carried a weapon everyday, she wouldn't necessarily call herself a violent woman. But there were days - and there were people - that decidedly made her rethink her policy on randomly discharging her handgun whenever the mood struck her. Right now, Assistant Director Alvin Kersh's smug face fairly screamed that it was a perfect target. Skinner never made her respond this way, and yet looking at his self-satisfied expression as Mulder stalked out of the man's office made the holster just under her suit coat tails itch, the leather rub against her skin.

Not that Mulder hadn't provoked him. Mulder was good at that.

"Sir, Agent Mulder has been through a lot," she stated, reminding her new boss that her partner hadn't exactly had the easiest of weeks. After all, he had been put on manure duty, followed by an abduction at the hands of a bigoted racist who forced him to drive hundreds of miles at gunpoint, only to nearly reach his destination and have the man die on him, his head exploding in a rain of blood, bone, and gore. It hadn't really been one of Mulder's prime days or one of his prime years for that matter.

Kersh obviously was in no mood to show empathy towards her erstwhile partner. "And you apologize for him a lot. I've noticed that about you."

"I'm not apologizing for this. Because of his work, the DOD is shutting down their antenna array in northeast Nevada. Our participation in this case saved lives."

Her arguments obviously were not going to be particularly persuasive to him. "I don't see you proving that. The Department of Defense admits to no culpability whatsoever. Furthermore, they say that the closing of the antenna was in fact coincidental."

"Right," she drawled, snorting at the typical "cover our ass" response. Of course they would say that, she seethed. Would the Defense Department really admit to having a antenna array that had caused the death of several innocent civilians? Anyone with half a brain in the FBI knew this and knew the politics involved once the Justice Department started calling out the Defense Department on anything. And yet Kersh swallowed it. Of course he would, it was the safe answer, the reasonable answer. It meant he wouldn't have to admit that Spooky Mulder was right, that he had done any good in this, that he could keep him under his thumb. Because ultimately, as Scully was quickly realizing, that was what Kersh's job was. He was supposed to be the hard ass here. He would do what Scully could not as Mulder's partner, undermine his work, doubt his theories, and keep Mulder out of the X-files.

A stern frown settled on Kersh's dark face and Scully had a feeling she wasn't going to like what she was about to hear. "Don't misunderstand me, Agent. I don't care if you and your partner saved a school bus full of doe-eyed urchins on their way to Sunday Bible camp. You are no longer investigating X-files. You are done, and the sooner you and Mulder come to recognize that, the better for both of you."

Perhaps he had meant it as a reminder and warning to Scully, but did he really have to take such superior joy in the telling? At least he was honest. He didn't care for the truth, or who got hurt, or what wrongs were being committed, only that Mulder stayed choked on his leash. Sadistic, conceited, over-blown…

Her gun itched against her skin.

Without a word or even the pretense of waiting for a dismissal, Scully turned on her heel, reaching for the door, muttering loudly enough for Kersh to hear plainly "big piles of manure."

The door slammed on his mildly outraged "excuse me," but she didn't bother to respond to it.

She should have been surprised to see Mulder waiting quietly outside Kersh's office for her, but she wasn't. Uncaring that the assistant directors prim but pretty looking secretary was sitting right there, Scully took one look at her partner and felt all the adjectives rumbling in her brain spew forth in a torrent of angry bile.

"The pompous, smarmy, conceited, supercilious, self-righteous, egotistical, sadistic, idiotic, self-deluded, brown-nosing fuck!"

Her voice was loud and ringing enough to carry through the office, down the hallway, even through Kersh's closed, oak door. But Scully hardly cared as Kersh's secretary stopped cold, her pen clattering from her frozen fingers as her eyes attempted to swallow her face. Scully turned on her, eyes flashing as she whipped a finger up to pin the woman in her place.

"And don't you even think about starting in on me on protocol and proper behavior, because your boss wouldn't know the proper way to respond to a crises if it came and bit him in the ass. People were dying and he couldn't care less, because we weren't checking the licenses of farmers to make sure they could have a shit pile in their back yard? And I know he can hear me in there. The hell he's going to say anything because that would mean he would have to face up to the truth like a man."

"Glurp?" It was about the only noise the secretary could mange as she found someway to speak, but no way to form coherent thought under the violent fury of the agent standing in front of her.

Scully whipped around, away from the idiotic woman and towards her equally awe-struck partner, who seemed transfixed suddenly by the tableau in front of him, hazel green eyes shining as she fumed. "He wants us working shit work? I can think of some shit work I'd like to do to him right about now."

Perhaps it was the swearing that finally broke through the reverential state Mulder found himself in. He shook himself, fingers reaching across to grasp Scully's elbow firmly and steer her away from the very terrified looking secretary at her desk. "Scully, perhaps we should take this outside."

"Outside? Then he wouldn't be able to hear what I really think of him!" She glared at the thick, varnished door that stood between herself and the real object of her ire.

"Believe me, the way your voice carries, I think he can hear you just fine. But I think you've scared his secretary enough, and she thinking about calling security. After all, you have a gun and she doesn't." He tried to shoot the woman a reassuring smile, but it only seemed to make her worse. Scully thought she could see the woman's fingers inch towards the phone.

"You're right," she acquiesced, the fury dimming somewhat, now simmering low beneath the surface. "She can't help that her employer has his head so far up his ass he's got shit for brains."

"All right, Sailor Scully, that is quite enough." Mulder drug her out of the office doors and down the hallway, earning the mild and curious stares of passers by who wondered what in the world the ruckus in AD Kersh's office was about. Scully glared at them all stormily as Mulder pulled her firmly to the elevators, refusing to let her go even as she pulled against his tight grasp.

"Nope, I'm not letting you loose again, not with the sort of language you are spewing. Good Catholic girl my eye, does your mother know you speak like that?"

"She was married to my father, who do you think taught me?" Scully yanked again, but he refused to budge, fairly throwing her into the open elevator before following suit, turning on her in part shock, part awe, and part amusement.

"Dana Katherine Scully, I don't believe I've ever seen you lose your head like that once in the five years I have known you." Not cool, calm, controlled Scully, not the woman who stood before OPR boards and Skinner interrogations. As reason seeped in slowly to Scully's overwrought brain, she realized that no, perhaps he hadn't. God, that part of her she thought was long gone, washed away with her childhood. She thought she had grown into her temper, had tamed it. But the smug look on that man's face when he said he didn't care who they saved, it burned righteously in her. Innocents died and that didn't matter to him?

"Mulder, I'm not sorry I said what I did."

"You may be sorry when you get slapped with a protocol violation for speaking that way about a superior," Mulder fretted as the doors opened and waited for Scully to walk out into the marble lined lobby, following close at her elbow. "Your record has enough docks on it because of me, you don't need to add to it."

"Well let me add to it honestly, then, and say what I think," she snapped, rubbing at the bruising his fingers left on the tender flesh inside her arm. "Mulder, this isn't about keeping the X-files from you. You heard him. He wants you to quit. He's daring you to. He's nothing better than a schoolyard bully, a drill sergeant in a suit with a badge. He wants to break you, humiliate you, and he doesn't care who gets hurt doing it."

"I know," Mulder replied simply.

"You know?" She whipped up to look at him as he shrugged, a hand at the small of her back resting gently there as he propelled her through the office doors. Her skin tingled at the pressure, so near where her holster resided, and she felt herself relax physically at the contact.

"You know, you are awfully cute when you are mad," Mulder grinned broadly, eyes shining. "It's even better when it's on my behalf."

"Mulder, I am serious."

"I know, and that's what makes it so wonderful."

What in the hell was he talking about? "Mulder, this isn't simply about keeping the X-files away from you, and I can't abide that, it's wrong, it just simply is. This isn't what I came to do at the FBI. I came to help people, not to avoid my duty because of politics."

"Did you realize you said "fuck" and "shit" repeatedly in that tirade. I mean, I know you swear from time to time, Scully, but I think that's the most extended use of cursing I've ever heard from you in one sitting." Mulder seemed fixated on her course language as he wended through the light, afternoon crowds on the street, his feet making their way to the local coffee shop haunt that many in the Hoover Building wandered to for occasional breaks in the day. Scully followed, in no mood for coffee, but certain that if she didn't go, Mulder would flip her over his shoulder and carry her there.

"Mulder, I'm a Navy officers daughter, it wasn't like I didn't hear it from Dad, or Bill, or even Melissa growing up." Melissa had taught her some of the more colorful ones, as a matter-of-fact, and had also taught her to swear in Spanish. "If I'm pushed to a point I can and will break and this…you didn't see the look in his eyes when you left."

"No, but I saw the look in his eyes when he dared me to quit." Mulder ran rough fingers through his dark hair, shrugging against the light, cool late September breeze. "I know what he's trying to do, Scully. And I know he got to you. It's another tactic. If he gets you mad enough, perhaps you will get enough of him, or me, or whatever that you will quit too."

"If I wanted to, Mulder, I could have done it months ago." A part of her wondered still if she shouldn't have after all.

"The point is he wants to win. If he wins, then I lose credibility, and whatever work I've done is truly lost."

The plan was insidious and yet effective. Scully's temper dampened somewhat at the cold-heartedness of it. "Do you think that Agent Fowley would…"

"Diana has her own agenda." Mulder cut in quickly, brushing Scully's suggestion aside. "She'll keep the work going, protect it, but that's not what they want to destroy. They want to destroy any pretext of questioning I've ever thrown out there, any validity to my arguments and theories. They want to make me out into the crank who couldn't hack the real, everyday work of the FBI anymore, and so he went to go chase his flying saucers." His words tumbled out as if they left a bitter taste as they left his tongue.

"Are you going to let them?" Scully's question seemed so little and quiet now compared to the force of her anger earlier.

"What and leave you all alone there? I go away and you might take to potshots at random passers by.I don't think you can be trusted by yourself." He stopped in front of the coffee shop, holding open the door for her. "Besides, I wouldn't give Kersh the satisfaction, the sleazy bastard."

"See, you swear," she pointed out cheekily as she passed by him.

"Yes, well I sort of do it all the time. For you it was rather like the Blessed Virgin cracking out a bitch-slap."

"I'm hardly blessed or a virgin," Scully snorted, staring up at the drink menu. "And you are buying."

"Me," Mulder yipped unhappily.

"Yes, because you left me in there alone to be castigated and made me lose my temper. And besides, I covered for your ass when you were the one who talked me into this mess."

He sighed rather guiltily, he knew she had him dead to rights. "So what, black and dripping acid like your tongue right now?"

"How about whatever pumpkin spice, sugared, froofy thing they have for fall. I'll take that and you get yours, and let's go to the Mall to walk and laugh at tourists."

"If that's what turns you on, sure." He got in line to place an order. Scully sighed, watching him. They were out to break him, she knew that now. They wanted to destroy him, not just keep him from the X-files, and not just discredit his work. How callous Kersh had been about it, how cavalier. Peoples' lives were at stake. She had tried so hard to do something good and he brushed it off as mere coincidence.

Mulder turned to her, as if sensing where her thoughts were returning and simply smiled. It wasn't a special or secret smile, nothing knowing or romantic about it. But it was his lopsided grin, that cheeky smirk that laughed at their entire situations. And perhaps he was right, this was the state they were in, they weathered it as best they couldn't, and wouldn't give Kersh the satisfaction. His smile should be outlawed, she mused, as her stomach churned in ways she didn't find quite comfortable in the given circumstances. She was reminded painfully that she stuck by him through this idiocy not just for her own need for closer, but out of loyalty and love for him, and it was from that love that her outrage grew, her sense of frustration. She hated this, hated seeing him like this, hated seeing this done to him. How could they not see he was right? How could they not see he wasn't making this up?

One person at least believed him…Diana Fowley. That thought quickly quelled the others, leaving Scully cold and feeling rather empty suddenly. She believed Mulder completely, and he didn't question that loyalty about her, unlike how he questioned Scully.

"Here's your coffee, hot and spiced, and everything nice." He shoved the paper cup under her nose and Scully found that it didn't sound nearly as appetizing anymore.

"Thank you," she accepted it anyway, since she had forced him to buy it. "You know, rather than walk around the Mall, I think I'll just call it a day, head home, take a bath. I think all of this, I'm tired."

He looked disappointed on her sudden flakiness. "And here I had my heart set on making fun of people walking by."

"I know, I'm sorry just…maybe it's everything. I think I just need some rest."

He deflated somewhat, but nodded, understanding. "Sure. Let me walk you back to the office, make sure you don't attempt to insight a riot in the building before you get out of there."

Scully smiled wanly at his jest. "Sure, though I don't think I'll whip out another can of invectives on anyone, even Kersh, today."

"Good, because I don't think the green newbie's need to hear such things coming out of a respectable, seasoned agent, like you." Mulder fell in companionably beside her as she wandered back out onto the street and towards the Hoover Building once again. "By the way, in case I didn't say it, thanks."

"For?" Scully frowned, drinking deeply of her coffee and losing her train of thought.

"For being enough of a partner and friend to care about what Kersh said, and for losing your temper in such a spectacular fashion over the likes of me."

Scully flushed. If only he knew half of it, she thought sadly. "Mulder, I don't lose my composure and toss about insults for just anybody."

"I know and I feel honored you did it for me."

"Right," she chuckled, her cheeks burning. "Just don't expect it again."

"I won't. Frankly that terrified me."

"Right, I'll keep that in mind for future reference," she teased lightly, feeling her equilibrium returning somewhat. Tomorrow would be a new day, without manure piles or exploding skulls. And maybe, just maybe, she could get through the next day without feeling insulted by Kersh's very presence, but somehow she doubted that.

"You know, I wish I had a video camera for when you went off like that. I think Frohike would be so turned on by it."

"Fox Mulder, you are an evil, dirty, despicable man," she snorted, sending spiced pumpkin latte up her nose.

"I didn't even earn a 'fuck' in that description. I'm so disappointed."

Scully had a feeling she was not ever going to live this down.

Chapter Text

The bullpen was nearly empty, the computer monitors dark, the desks cleared all around the large office, and yet Scully was unsurprised to see one, dark head bent in the sea of computer screens, hid desk the only one still occupied at 1:30 on the Friday of a long, three-day weekend. She sighed as she watched him, shaking her head as her steps whispered against the carpeted floor. Mulder didn't even look up as she leaned a slim hip against his desk to stare down at him in disapproval.

"Everyone else has left the building, running eagerly for three whole days of relaxation, Mulder, and you are still at your desk? I thought you hated being here?" Truth be told, it was perhaps the longest she had actually seen Mulder at his new desk in the bullpen since they had moved up from the burned out basement in June. He usually hated it in here; too crowded, too noisy, too much of a reminder of his own failure.

But Mulder shrugged, snapping off his computer screen before she could see whatever was on it. "Just finishing up some paperwork, that's all."

"Willingly," she teased, reaching cool fingers to his brow. He jerked as her fingertips met the smooth skin, glaring at her in mild consternation.

"I'm fine. I do some work once in a while, if nothing else so they can't complain when I do slack." Which was most of the time, Scully noted, pulling back her hand meekly. The instinct she so rarely listened to said that something was up with this. When did Fox Mulder ever willingly do paperwork? But she let it slide, deciding to tackle a bigger elephant in the room than even that.

"So, your birthday is this weekend," she began without preamble. Mulder hated his birthday, he had since she met him, and usually went to great lengths to ignore it. "Since we have three whole days to do anything in, I wanted to see if you had plans."

As expected, Mulder wrinkled his aquiline nose, rolling his eyes as he reached for the printer at the end of his desk. "I'm not in the mood."

"You never are, but does that stop me?" Save for the first year of their partnership, when he had conveniently neglected to mention it, Scully had tried every year to do something. For someone who had grown up in a large family that was always eager to wish her the best of birthdays, Mulder's dislike for his own had always saddened her. True, it wasn't as if Mulder had the best of home growing up, nor was he particularly close to his mother, his only living relative at the moment, but this day of all days, when he had someone willing to spend it with him, he should try and at least appreciate it.

Mulder, however, didn't seem to be inclined to be bullied into quiet celebration this year. "Seriously, Scully, not this time. I know, you have been thoughtful in past years but I don't particularly feel like celebrating."

"What, you are only thirty-seven! It's not like you are over the hill yet! There is still time."

"No, but birthdays always seem to put one's life in perspective, don't they. Remind a person that another year has passed and make one stop and consider what they have accomplished so far in their journey." Sullenly he gestured towards his desk and glanced expansively around the bullpen. "A degree from Oxford, top of my class at the Academy, commendations sitting in a box in my closet, gathering dust, walking in with great expectations. And where do I end up? My life's work a joke, stuck in the bullpen with new recruits, calling little old ladies to ask them if they remember what job they had in 1952, and that's if I'm not sent to check on piles of manure. You've come a long way, Fox Mulder."

As if to emphasize his personal frustration he bounced the pencil he had in hand across his desk, the rubber eraser sending it flying to the next desk in front of him. It clattered off the back of the seat and skittered somewhere on the floor.

"Well, when you look at it that way," Scully huffed, unable to deny he had a point. "I know it is no use telling you that despite all of this, it doesn't hurt to enjoy life once in a while."

"I enjoy life," he muttered, gathering things from his desk and reaching for his briefcase. "The Yankees are in the World Series."

"That doesn't start till next week. Come on, let me take you out, at least for dinner."

"Scully, I really appreciate it, I do, but really, I think I just want to be alone this weekend." He packed his case hastily, stuffing his newly printed papers inside. "It's not that it isn't kind of you, but maybe next week. I just have things I want to take care of."

"Well…okay," she replied, a bit deflated as Mulder finished cleaning off his desk for the weekend and gathered in trench coat from the coat rack in the corner. "Well, I'm in town this weekend. I might go to Mom's, but if you change your mind."

"You're the first person I will call," he assured her, reaching to give her shoulder an appreciative squeeze. "I'll be fine. A birthday is just another day after all."

"Sure." Her smile was tight against her teeth as he made his way out. She waited and watched his tall figure round the corner, holding her breath for another twenty seconds to wait and see if he was truly gone. When no sign of his immanent return for a forgotten item seemed to come, she scrambled to his now empty seat, turning on his monitor with a flick of the button below. She should believe him she told herself, after all it wasn't as if Mulder was ever a huge fan of his birthday. But something bothered her about how vehemently he refused to even meet for dinner. Just what was he trying to hide on those papers he print out, and what was he afraid of her seeing when she walked up to his desk.

Scully closed the print window that had been up and clicked on the web browser he had minimized to the tool bar. Up popped a travel website, with booking information for one Fox Mulder on a flight to Miami, Florida. Miami? Why in the world would Mulder go to Miami? His flight left late that night, and he hadn't booked an immediate return. Was this how he was spending the long, Columbus Day weekend, in the sun and warm sands of South Beach? Funny, Scully thought, clicking print again on the page, making a copy for herself. Mulder never struck her as the tropical beach sort of person. What would possess him to go there?

Perhaps a what wouldn't posses him to go. Scully hated the thought even as it curled to life, gnawing at her even as she tried to push it back. Diana Fowley, perhaps, could be enticement enough. Not that she had seen Mulder near Diana or the basement office since they had summarily been warned away by Kersh, but she didn't know what occurred outside of the office. It wasn't as if she had the assuredness of knowing that Mulder had his head buried in X-files anymore, perhaps when he was bored, and longing to hear how he work was going, he called up his ex to chat, to reminisce, perhaps to meet up for a drink. Perhaps she had suggested that they celebrate his upcoming birthday together, both take a trip to Miami to reconnect and remember the good old days…

Scully's imagination screeched to a halt as she considered tall, lithe Diana Fowley on the beach with Mulder, and it was an image she didn't want to think about, ever. Snatching the paper from off the printer, Scully at least went through the motions of shutting down Mulder's computer for him, before rising angrily to go to her own desk just behind his. Really, he couldn't just tell her he was going out of town for the weekend? Did he assume Scully wouldn't be able to handle him on vacation? Perhaps she didn't like the idea of it being with Diana Fowley, but it was his life, even if the idea of it made her want to rip to shreds the papers in her hand. Hadn't she gotten the message now since Diana Fowley's return? There was something there between Mulder and the woman who had spurned him so, no matter what Scully's feelings for her partner were. Hell, he didn't know what her feelings for him were. Gibson Praise's admonishment to her suddenly cut. Despite only being a twelve-year-old boy, he was right. She should have said something, at least confronted what she felt with Mulder, and now he was lying to her and ditching her on his birthday to go to Miami.

In the end, perhaps it was for the best she said nothing.

Well, she reasoned, gathering her own things, she hoped Mulder had a good time. She hoped he got a good sunburn as well. She hoped he turned as pink as a lobster and came back trying to find a good story to tell Scully why he looked as if he'd been boiled alive. She would love to see him try to explain his way out of that one, to wriggle and squirm as she presented him with the print out and asked why he simply couldn't have been honest with her.

Who was she kidding? It was far from the first time he had lied to her about his whereabouts. At least, she reasoned quietly, she doubted she would have to fish him out of some army brig somewhere and explain to Kersh why it was he was illegally on federal property. Thank God, she supposed, for small blessings.

As she stepped out from her desk and to the doorway, she spotted Mulder's jettisoned pencil on the floor. Bending to pick it up, she set it neatly in the middle of his desk and turned. Let him have his weekend at the beach, let him do whatever he wanted. Fox Mulder ended up doing just precisely that anyway, no matter how Scully might feel on the matter. She supposed she could fill his birthday with doing other things; cleaning her apartment, having her nails done, seeing a movie, reading a book. Why did she care he had spurned her offer to show him a little kindness on his birthday?

She ignored the small, dark little voice in her heart that reminded her exactly why she cared so very much.

Chapter Text

Tuesday morning came without a sign of Mulder. Scully had tried not to think about her partner all weekend and failed miserably at it. She had been tempted to call his cell phone, to come up with some excuse to get a hold of him, but every time she had the phone in hand she chickened out and set it down, brooding at it as she considered what Mulder was up to at that moment. She had tried to be magnanimous. Really, how long had it been since he had a real vacation? A little sun and sand might do him good. But Diana Fowley's cool, gloating smile came to mind, and she dashed it out, cursing Mulder for taking off to south Florida and not saying anything about it. In short, what should have been a pleasant, long three days away from the stupidity of work had turned into an agonizing wait just to confront him about what Mulder had done on his own vacation time. Tuesday came and Scully was almost relieved, rushing to the office, hoping to catch her partner before anyone else arrived so she could prod him about his weekend, to see if he confessed the truth to her or not. She arrived at 7:30, watching the large clock on the wall, waiting as the longest hand ticked quietly past eight and towards nine.

The bullpen slowly filled with her compatriots, all grumbling and sighing over a long weekend gone. Several sauntered in looking as if the weekend had gotten the best of them, eyes ringed with purple, steps sluggish as they schlepped with wrinkled clothes and large coffees to their desks. Few of them bothered to take notice of Scully as she sat quietly behind her computer, watching Mulder's desk. No one bothered to ask how her weekend went, or what she did, or even to make snide comments about Mulder. Nine moved on to ten and Scully realized that, perhaps, Mulder wasn't coming in after all.

Miami must be nice this time of year, she sneered quietly to herself, turning to her computer, trying as she might to concentrate on work. Her work had changed yet again, background checks on potential witnesses in other field agent's investigations, the real work of the FBI. She tried not gnash her teeth as she studied a witness in a suspected drug deal gone horribly wrong. This was the type of work they gave to those who merely skimmed through the Academy, to people who had yet to prove themselves enough to go out into the field, or to those who were getting to that point in their careers where being in the field was too much for them. And here she was, a pathologist, a seasoned agent and investigator, tracking down the grandmother of a kid barely out of his teens, while Mulder was sunning himself somewhere by a pool, likely with a mojito in hand, perhaps sharing a private laugh with Diana Fowley.

Scully wondered if she happened to be in the office that morning. She could check, she supposed. She could call down to the X-files office. But if Jeffrey Spender picked up the phone, he likely would be unhelpful to the point of rudeness. He had never forgiven her for the role Scully played in his still missing mother's disappearance. She could just cruise down there, explain she had been looking for Agent Fowley, and ask if he had seen her. But then again, knowing Spender, he'd likely want to know why, and would run to Kersh, tattling that Scully had been breathing on the X-files again. She could email Agent Fowley directly, but then it would be obvious, wouldn't it?

What in the hell was she thinking?

The absurdity of Scully's string of thought made her want to cry. Really, she had spent the entire weekend, a lovely, glorious, crisp fall weekend in Washington dwelling on if her partner had gone to Miami with his ex. How foolish, how absolutely idiotic she was. Mulder had not said anything about reconnecting with Diana. In fact, since her blow up at him several weeks before he had remained decidedly quiet on the issue. She had no idea if he had seen her or not, but she had assumed based on nothing else but her blind jealousy.

Lord, that was the worst part. Dana Scully was jealous, green-eyed, blindingly jealous, and it disgusted her that she was. She had never been jealous of anyone before. Perhaps Melissa, when they were girls, but that was nothing like this. Scully angrily assumed the worst whenever this woman was around.

She stabbed angrily at her keyboard, taking out her frustration with herself on the unfortunate keys. It was bad enough, she thought sourly, that she realized she had feelings for the man who she was supposed to be working with, standing beside as his partner. Now she was acting like hoyden just because he decided to take a vacation, something she had been telling him for years to do. Likely, he extended it because he couldn't stomach the idea of another day of coming into work, doing witness background checks, when he could be doing something else, something more. And here she was assuming the worst of him. She had never been like this and it unsettled her. Whatever Diana Fowley was, and she had plenty of suspicions, Scully didn't need and shouldn't assume that Mulder had rekindled their one time romance. Even if he kept turning to her for moral support over Scully, that didn't mean they were sneaking off to Miami together…did it?

What was she turning into? The day was officially a mess. Whatever train of thought Scully attempted to put together was obliterated by her alternating irritation with Mulder and anger at herself for her insane jealousy. She should follow Mulder's lead, call it a day and go out, take a drive, go up to Baltimore and sit at her father's favorite spot on the bay, anything other than sit there stewing over the empty seat in front of her.

The three figures that moseyed up to her desk cut off any ideas she might have had for escape. She frowned up at Frohike's large, bug like eyes behind his Coke-bottle glasses and wondered just how in the hell had security let these three in the building? "What are you guys doing here?"

Byers and Langley shot wary looks between each other, but it was Frohike who spoke up. "Mulder's in trouble."

The bottom dropped suddenly out of Scully's stomach, like a trap door falling into nothingness.

"Big trouble," Langley echoed, his eyes saucers under his lank, blonde hair. Whether it was fear for Mulder or anxiety over standing in the middle of the J. Edgar Hoover Building with thousands of federal agents surrounding him, it was hard to say. Before Scully could demand details, Byers shot a furtive glance around.

"Let's take a walk," he murmured knowingly. Scully didn't like the sound of this. It bespoke of a long, possibly crazy story involving questionable satellite data, a lone, garbled transmission, and Mulder taking off somewhere in dark clothing with only a flashlight and a Swiss Army knife for survival.

"Okay, where are we going," she demanded, following the trio warily, ignoring the confused looks they were receiving from tired and disgruntled agents around them.

Frohike noticed them though, and he eyed one particularly bored looking agent cautiously. "The walls have ears."

"I have ears," she snapped, completely not in the mood for their antics, especially if Mulder was indeed in trouble once again. "Will you tell me what's going on?"

"Mulder's disappeared," Byers supplied quickly and quietly, suspecting that Scully's temper was not going to hold very long if they didn't explain quickly.

"Disappeared from where?" How much trouble could he possibly get into in Miami?

"From the National Reconnaissance Office's lacrosse mid-latitude imaging radar satellite," Langley rattled off, Scully's eyes crossing at the long title that had utterly no meaning whatsoever to her. He shoved a black and white photo into her hand and she stared at it blankly.

"I don't understand. What am I looking at?"

"A whole lot of nothing," Frohike supplied, unhelpfully.

Byers stepped in. "We pulled that down forty-five minutes ago off the NRO satellite, which early this morning sent a picture of a ship which inexplicably appeared in the middle of the Atlantic."

"The RMS Queen Anne, which by all accounts vanished without a trace over sixty years ago." The spooky waver in Langley's tone did nothing to excite Scully, but it did jog a memory of a story her father once told her when she was young.

"The Queen Anne? The British luxury liner?"

"That's correct," Frohike confirmed.

"It was torpedoed by a German U-boat," she shot back, knowing all to well the Queen Anne's fate. She had learned it at her father's knee, but she had a feeling that wasn't the story she was going to hear from these three. Her suspicion was confirmed by the smug, patronizing look Langley bestowed upon her.

"That's one story."

"There's another?" She arched one eyebrow up imperiously at the three of them.

Byers, ever the most empathetic and insightful of the three, swiftly stepped in before Langley managed to irritate Scully to distraction. "Though her exact position was kept secret for fear spies might give her up to the Axis, it's been reasonably determined that the Queen Anne was just south of the Plantagenet Bank when she went missing."

"Less than sixty feet of water, yet she's never been found," Frohike murmured, pointedly.

"Into the Bermuda Triangle," Langley continued. Somehow, someway, Scully knew this was where it was going to lead.

"And it reappeared Friday morning at 6:49 AM Eastern Standard Time." If Frohike didn't look so serious, Scully would have laughed at him.

"That's impossible," she countered.

"Satellites don't lie," Byers reminded her.

Scully waved the photograph under his mustached nose. "There's nothing on here."

"We gave the original image to Mulder so he could use them as navigational aids," Byers explained.

"He was in a hurry," Langley added.

"To get where?" She had a feeling she already knew.

"Out to the Queen Anne before anyone else got there first."

Somehow, she should have know. She was brooding and moaning about him being on a beach somewhere with his ex and instead he was doing what Mulder always did when he was being secretive regarding his whereabouts, getting himself in trouble. A ghost ship? Really? What had prompted this? She thought of the three men circling her with expectant faces, hoping she would somehow have the answer to finding Mulder and saving his ass…again.

He did go to Antarctica to rescue her. Damn…

She stared down at the image in hand, totally blank, devoid of anything that remotely looked like a location for her insane partner. How in the hell was she even supposed to begin searching for him?

Chapter Text

Images of Mulder adrift in a spindly dingy in the middle of a giant ocean propelled Scully, note in hand, down the hallways towards Skinner's office. It had been weeks since she had contact with her old superior. There had been specific orders against speaking to him. They were to answer to Kersh alone, Skinner was off limits. but in a situation like this there was no one else she could trust. Certainly not Kersh, who would likely allow Mulder to stay out there to drown.

What was Mulder thinking, she fretted, coming to a near skidding halt by Skinner's door. He couldn't handle oceans. He got seasick just thinking about oceans. And what did he know about boats and navigation? The one time she had let him dictate where to go on the water, they had run aground in the middle of a lake. Why had he even considered doing this? Why had the guys agreed to let him do this?

Arlene, Skinner's new secretary, hardly knew Scully or Mulder, and did not have the favorable disposition to them that Kim had. She frowned curiously up at Scully, oblivious to her obvious distress.

"I need to speak to him," Scully barked bluntly, earning an efficient nod from the obviously clueless Arlene.

"Could you please take a seat?" She gestured to the familiar chairs in the waiting area, but Scully ignored her, looking desperately to Skinner's shut door.

"Sorry, this can't wait." Before the other woman could protest, Scully marched to the firmly closed barrier, swinging it open on a surprised Walter Skinner, startled from the phone conversation he was clearly on. Perhaps he was busy after all, she cringed, but swallowed her embarrassment as he asked the person on the other end to hold.

"What is it, Agent Scully?" Cold, distant, impersonal. Scully had feared this, but she plowed ahead, knowing she was running out of time.

"I just received some very disturbing information, sir. I need your help."

Skinner's dark eyes narrowed, his jaw twitched. He punched the hold button on his phone quickly. "I'll call you back in five." Setting down the receiver he turned to her in angry disapproval. "You can't come rushing in here."

"Sir, I can't waste time explaining myself to your assistant," she murmured quietly, hoping the woman couldn't hear her. Arlene was new, unlike the trusted Kim, and Scully had no idea who Arlene spoke to or what ears heard it.

"Tell me what is so urgent," he snapped, clearly not finding many reasons to justify her barging in the way she did.

"It's Agent Mulder. He's done something incredibly rash."

Not that should have been a surprise to anyone, least of all Skinner. To Scully's dismay any promise of helpfulness her former boss could have offered quickly fled. He shook his baldhead, not even deigning to hear her out. "I can't."

"He may be lost at sea!"

"I can't, Agent Scully." He was firm, harshly so, and it took her by surprise.

"You can't what?" It was the first time since she had known Skinner that she didn't tack "sir" on to the end of that question.

"I can't help you. There's nothing I can do." Skinner rose, resolute in his denial, without even knowing the details of what she was asking.

It's not for me. It's for Agent Mulder."

"My hands are tied. I'm not your direct superior any longer."

Not their direct superior, no, but hadn't he been the one who had gone to bat for them some many times before. And she wasn't asking him to put a case through, or to pull FBI protocol for her, she just needed access to coordinates. Hadn't he been the one who despite all the questions surrounding her disappearance and Mulder's shooting, gotten Mulder the transportation to Antarctica to get her back here? Why now was he so very reluctant to even listen to what she had to say?

"Don't you want to know what this is about," she insisted angrily. It was clear by the dark scowl forming as he ushered her to the door that he did not.

"No, I don't. I don't even want to hear it." If Skinner could have shoved his fingers into his ears, he likely would have. Scully stared up at him, stunned. When had he not ever stood up for one of them when their life was in danger?

"Sir, this is about a man's life."

"I'm not allowed to have contact with you," Skinner suddenly boomed, loud enough for Arlene to hear in the next room. Scully flushed as he glared down at her pointedly. "Any contact with either you or Mulder."

He widened the still open door, revealing a shame-faced Arlene. "She walked right past me, sir."

Ignoring the woman's apology, Scully slammed the door in her shocked face. She had no time for theatrics or for Skinner playing at being the punished and now dutiful Assistant Director. Eyes flashing she glared up at his stunned face, uncaring at the tempest she was causing or the rumors that would get around. He would listen if it was the last thing she did.

"Your out of line, Scully," Skinner warned through gritted teeth, though clearly he was surprised at such action from her. Normally, Scully was the calm and collected one as Mulder lost his head and shot off angrily at their superior. But Scully had just about enough of being cool and rational in the face of her superiors of late and she lashed out at Skinner with all of the frustration that built up in her.

"Your out of line," she snapped back, cutting down the former Marine with all of the righteous anger the daughter of a Navy admiral possessed. "I'm sorry, but I'm coming to you for help and I've got nowhere else to go. I would hope that after everything that we have been through that you would at least have the courtesy and the decency and not to mention the respect to listen to what I have to say. Now, all I need is information." She shoved the note with the coordinates given to her at him. He took it grudgingly, glancing over it.

"You don't have to do anything else," she assured him. "Look, sir, if you know anybody at the Office of Navel Intelligence it would be of great help."

Emotions warred with one another on Skinner's normally unreadable face. He handed back the note with apologetic regret. "I could lose my job, my pension. I could even be subject to legal action."

His job and pension! Did that mean more to him that the life of a man who would do anything for Skinner if he asked? Their former boss had always sat on the fence, playing the middle of the field rather than delving into one side or the other, but she had always assumed it was because it would be the safest course of action to provide the most help for their work. Now Scully wondered if Mulder hadn't been right during his many Skinner tirades. Maybe it was because he was trying to protect his own ass.

Disgusted, she reached for the door, opening it, but found it slammed shut again out of her hands as Skinner's large hand held it closed. He loomed impossibly over top of her. For the first time, Scully felt the slightest bit of intimidation around this man.

"Use your head, Scully. It will save your ass." He meant his words as a friendly warning, she knew that, but right now she was not in the mood for platitudes from a man who could not ever take a stand.

"Save your own ass, sir," she snapped, not needing or wanting his advice. "You'll save your head along with it."

Disappointed and exasperated beyond belief, she stalked across to the doors that led directly from his office to the hallway, her mind spinning. Who else could she go to that would have access to the people she needed to get these coordinates from. She had wanted to go to Skinner because he would ask the least amount of questions, but she would now have to go to Kersh. He would want to know why, of course. She could tell him Mulder had gone out on a pleasure cruise alone, she didn't know why, only that his friends had come to her with the information that he was missing at these coordinates, and could he use some influence to help find him. Nothing would have to be said about the Queen Anne or Mulder chasing what smelled suspiciously like and X-file. After all, Mulder had technically broken no rules doing it. He had filled out no forms. The Queen Anne wasn't in US waters and he had gone on his own time and money. What could Kersh say?

Of course, she reasoned, as her steps led her to the elevators, he could simply tell her to approach the State Department, so they could reach out to the Bahamian consulate and then deal with the situation as if it was an international incident. There was no time for that nonsense, by the time the two governments got done playing telephone with one another, Mulder could be dead. Her blood froze at that. Still, what choice did she have? It would have to be Kersh, and she had to hope he would be reasonable about this.

The elevator was crowded and did nothing for Scully's nerves as she waited impatiently to reach Kersh's floor. She slapped the note against her palm, earning a worried glance from one of the other passengers. The minute the doors opened at her stop, Scully brushed through the crowd, smacking another person in her haste. She tossed a hasty apology back at them as she rushed into Kersh's office.

She was surprised to find it empty. Unlike Arlene, Kersh's secretary seemed to be missing, and unlike Skinner, Scully knew she couldn't just barge into the office and expect her new boss to be all right with it. What could she do now? Who could she talk to? She turned for the door again just as Kersh's secretary exited his office, notepad in hand, speaking to her employer as she stepped outside.

"Yes, sir, I'll get those files and make that call and buzz you when I have him on the line." She turned to find Scully there, surprised at seeing her waiting.

"I need a word with AD Kersh."

Her prim mouth tightened as she shook her head. She obviously hadn't forgiven Scully for her tirade against the Assistant Director several weeks before and likely wasn't about to anytime soon. "I'm sorry, he's not available.

Whether he was or not, she could see him sitting behind his desk. She had barged in on one AD today, why not make it two?

"Assistant Director Kersh, may I please have a moment of your time," she called, ignoring the secretary's blatant disapproval.

"A moment for what?" He drawled the question with the same, smarmy smugness that set her teeth on edge. She swallowed her pride and continued.

"May I, sir?" She entered the office at his nod. "Thank you. Sir, I need you to get me some information."

She held up her note with the hastily scratched coordinates on it. "I'm not at liberty to say why, but I can tell you it is of the utmost importance…"

She hadn't noticed there was someone else in the room, though the now familiar scent of his brand of tobacco should have clued her in. Her heart stopped, shutting off her voice as she turned wide eyes to stare at a ghost.

He was dead! Mulder had told her he was dead, that he couldn't have survived his wounds, and there he was, standing there in the flesh, the devil himself, with his gimlet eyes and his supercilious smile. He had nearly demanded Mulder's soul at the price of her life, and she had recovered from her cancer, safe in the knowledge that he was back in hell where he belonged. Except he had come back to visit this new torture on her, apparently. Was he the one responsible for this, for all of this; Kersh, the X-files, Gibson Praise? She wanted to scream at him as he stood there, to curse him and run out of the office. But she stood still, as Kersh watched her expectantly.

"Yes," he prompted, clearly not aware of what the presence of this man meant to her, or if he was, he didn't care.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled through numb lips. "I shouldn't have come unannounced."

But Kersh was not going to let her go that quickly, not without at least knowing why she had so rudely interrupted. "May I see what you were going to show me, Agent Scully?"

He held out his hand for the paper in her fingers and she held it out, meekly, knowing there was nothing else to do. This had been a horrible idea. Why had she even considered it? "It's nothing, really."

"Good," he replied, not bothering to look at it. Perhaps he would when the smoking man left, and he would understand and get what she needed. Perhaps she would get lucky and hell would freeze over and trap the black-lunged bastard down there as well. Quietly, she filed out, disappointment turning quickly into anger against herself. How stupid could she be, turning to Kersh like that.

She could feel the smoking man's eyes on her as she left and she shivered, feeling the need to go crawl inside a shower. He was supposed to be dead. Dead! Did Mulder even know? Her first instinct was to call him to tell him and then it hit her. Had anyone tried his actual cell phone, to see if he got signal and to find where he was. Desperately she reached for her own, hitting Mulder on speed dial and hoping against hope it picked up. Unsurprisingly, she got a pre-recorded message. He wasn't able to respond.

"Damn!" Her mind furiously turned. Alright, she had gone to Skinner with no luck. Kersh had been a long shot, even before her discovery of the smoking man pulling his strings, which went a long way to explain much. Where could she turn now? Diana Fowley? She could be persuaded to find Mulder if he were truly in trouble. As much as she hated the idea, she made her way to the elevator again and down the basement office she had once called hers.

It hurt to see it now revamped, the walls still smelling of fresh paint, as her steady footsteps determinedly took her to the office that she had once occupied with Mulder. She had expected to find Agent Fowley there, looking crisp and cool behind the desk that should have been Mulder's. To her surprise it was only Jeffrey Spender there, and he frowned at her as he rose, crossing over to with a look of vague concern.

"You okay, Agent Scully?"

She didn't want to know why he would be concerned or why he felt it was his business to be. Whatever games Spender was up to, she didn't want to hear it. "I'm a gun ready to go off, so don't test me Spender," she warned, her voice low and dangerous and exceedingly frightening to the younger agent who backed off slightly. "Don't even think about trying to weasel me."

He looked slightly affronted by her accusation. "What do you need," he asked more coldly.

She glared up at him, crossing to his desk to scribble the coordinates on a piece of paper. "Navy AWACS SLAR 100 K swath. South-southeast of Bermuda. I am looking for a boat, maybe a ship, a 1939 luxury liner."

Drop the luxury liner bit, it would make it sound like an X-file, and that was up his alley now apparently. It certainly caught Spender's dubious attention as he cocked an eyebrow up at her. "1939?"

"Don't ask too many questions. I don't care what you do, or who you do, or who you have to grease, I need that information and I need it now. Are we clear on that?" She glared at him with all the authority she had fathered from her stints in the ER as a resident in medical school. Skinner met her hard gaze evenly, nodding in understanding.

"Crystal," he muttered.

"And, Agent Spender, if you're not back in a hurry, I am going to hunt you down and so help me God…"

Her small, slim fingers clenched into a fist threateningly.

"Right," he replied warily, though she couldn't necessarily be certain he felt particularly threatened by her warning of physical violence.

He wandered away, back down the hall, to what Scully hoped would be the answers she sought. "Oh God," she breathed, hands trembling as she wandered back into her old office, mind racing. She had just entrusted this to Jeffrey Spender, the man who would spit on Mulder in the hallways if he could. Was that any better than trusting it to Kersh?

It was a desperate act, she knew that, Spender in all actuality was an unknown quality. He hated Mulder for reasons she had yet to truly understand, and his feelings regarding Scully seemed to fluctuate between his dislike of Mulder and concern for her sanity being around him. Of course resented her, or at least she assumed that. How could he not? Scully had been responsible for his mother's latest disappearance. Guilt still gnawed at her for the missing Cassandra Spender and the night on the bridge. She still could remember very little of it and had no idea what had happened to the woman who was Scully's only link left to her own abduction.

The phone on what was supposed to be Mulder's desk rang. The jangling sound in the utter silence tore at Scully's already frayed nerves and she stared at it wildly before picking it up. "Hello?"

"Agent Fowley?" The voice was as smooth as silk, roughened slightly by the hint of a cigarette smoker's rasp. The hairs across Scully's skin prickled as she swallowed. It was him! What was he doing calling Diana Fowley? Did she know him? Alarms rang as she dropped her natural, soft alto a hint lower, trying, she hoped, to imitate Agent Fowley's contralto voice.

"Yes," she murmured, hoping it fooled him enough to reveal something. To her surprise, it wasn't Diana Fowley he wanted at all.

"I was looking for Agent Spender."

Spender? Why? Scully's heart thumped uncomfortably . "I'm sorry, he's not here right now. Is there something I can help you with?

"Yes," the smoking man hissed absently as she heard the crinkle of paper on the other end. "Agent Scully just handed the Assistant Director a piece of paper with an intelligence system scribbled on it."

Panicked, she said the only thing that she could think to say in response. "Yes…yes sir?" She pretended to write, hoping this would fool him into continuing. But he paused. It was the response he expected.

"Who is this?" Suspicion snaked through the phone connection as Scully realized the ruse was up. Slowly she hung up the phone, setting it down as if it were a live bomb. No sooner did the connection cut off than it began to ring again. Spende was the one in the smoking man's pocket? How? And why? Diana Fowley she would have believed, but Jeffrey Spender, the man who didn't believe in aliens? Was it his mother? Did this have to do with the testing? Had they taken her? Her mind spinning, she turned for the door, ignoring the ringing phone as she nearly smacked headlong into Kersh's secretary.

"Oh, Agent Scully!"

"Oh, I was just..." Scully spluttered, trying to right herself and the other woman, trying to think of some stupid excuse to give her for being in the X-files office. Otherwise, she might tattle to Kersh, who would only to happily come down on Scully like a ton of bricks for daring to even breathing near an X-file.

"I was just sent to come and get you," she replied, seemingly unconcerned about where Scully was at.

Come and get her? That meant that Kersh knew where she was. Fucking, bloody hell!

"I'm waiting for Agent Spender," she offered weakly. "He was…I'm supposed to pick up a delivery from him."

The secretary blinked blankly at her. "Agent Spender is with Assistant Director Kersh."

If Kersh's secretary lacked a high opinion of Scully before, her reaction to that statement made a low opinion a certainty now.

"That rat bastard," Scully howled, rage quivering through her as she turned on the cringing woman and made for the elevators.

"Stupid," she cursed herself. How could she be so foolish? Now the only hope of getting Mulder back safely was lost because she had been too desperate to think this through. Skinner had been right, if she had only just kept her head, thought this through….

Her cell phone rang and she jerked it from her pocket, hoping to God it was Mulder and she could simply explain this away as a horrible misunderstanding. "Scully," she answered, hear nothing but static on the other end. "Mulder? Is that you?"

Static garbled the masculine voice on the other end. She thought it asked if she could hear him. "No, I can't…I'm on an elevator. Hold on, I'll be off in a…hold on."

Distractedly she waited for the door to open to the first floor it came to, but to her horror she saw Kersh, Spender, and the smoking man standing in the hallway discussing amongst themselves. Faster than she thought she could move, she ducked back into the elevator, slamming the phone to her ear.

"Hello?" More static. "No…I can't understand, I can't…"

The elevator moved to the next floor, and opened to reveal Skinner standing there, a cell phone to his ear and a bemused, surprised look on his face as he found Scully there watching him.

"Was that you?" He asked, holding up his phone.

"Is it you?" Damn it all. She had hoped it was Mulder after all. Her disappointment gave way to curiosity as Skinner entered, jamming a random button to a floor below.

"I've been trying to reach you" Furtively he reached into his pocket, pulling out a slip of paper. "I got the information you needed."

The information! Skinner, the man she had so cursed earlier, had come through after all. She should never have doubted him for a minute. In sheer and utter relief and delight Scully snagged the paper, wanting to cry. Instead she reached up for the face of her former boss, ignoring how much taller he was than herself, and pulled him down enough to plant a firm, grateful kiss right on his stupefied mouth.

"How?" She gasped as Skinner stumbled back, looking vaguely as if he had just been hit by an oncoming freight train, but not seeming to mind as he tried to put his equilibrium back.

"Don't even ask," he growled, whipping at the lipstick that covered his lips. Scully could hardly bring herself to be embarrassed.

"Sir, what you've done…"

"Is save Mulder's ass, I know." He uttered this with the air of someone who had been in this situation many times.

"Yes," she smiled, nearly in tears. She should never have doubted Skinner, not even once.

The doors to the elevator opened to a lobby where other agents gathered, waiting expectantly for the elevator. If they were curious about why Agent Scully was standing there with Assistant Director Skinner, none of them showed it, but Skinner instantly scowled, glaring at Scully as if she had just asked him to sacrifice a baby on a Satanic alter.

"And if you ever ask me to break policy or protocol I will have you written up, wrapped up, and tossed out of the FBI for good. Am I understood, Agent Scully?"

His words were hard and booming, but the glitter in his dark eyes assured her this was the show he had to put on, the price of the favor she had asked of him. She meekly tried to duck her head, tried to look ashamed. "Yes."

She scuttled back on the elevator, her excitement barely contained in her as the newcomers. "Yes!" she squealed, ignoring the other passengers who cast her odd looks, not caring as the elevator came to a halt at the parking garage level. She had it, the information, she could get Mulder, get him home, and then beat the crap out of him for all of this before she made some excuse to Kersh as to why she had top secret intelligence information.

She whipped out of the elevator and down the hall, spotting the garage up ahead. She skidded to a halt as down the way, an ancient looking Volkswagen bus surged ahead, screeching to a halt just in front of her. Frohike already had the door open and she leapt in beside him, waving her information triumphantly.

"Did you get it?" Byers in the front was breathless as Langley gunned the engine and peeled down the concrete.

"Yeah," she crowed proudly, as she tried to buckle herself in, not trusting Langley's control in the top, heavy vehicle. Byers frowned as he looked behind, over her shoulder, confused as he glanced at Scully.

"There's someone chasing after us." He said it in the tone of wonder at why anyone would be. Scully glanced back, watching Spender give chase briefly, before giving up as Langley turned the corner.

"That's Agent Spender," Scully shrugged, not caring if the two-faced bastard missed her. She knew his true colors now. "He was likely trying to stop me and drag me to Kersh for a summary reprimand and time in the stockade for bad behavior."

"Stockade?" Frohike's eyes lit up at the possibilities, but were quickly shot down by Scully.

"Metaphorically speaking. I made a stupid, stupid mistake." Her chest hurt from tension as sudden perspiration broke out across her brow. Had she really been running this entire time? "I went to Skinner first, but he was reluctant. So in a panic, I went to Kersh, thinking he might have the heart and sway to get what I needed. When that didn't work, I lost my head and went to Spender, who immediately ratted me and the Queen Anne out to Kersh."

She didn't mention the smoking man, not yet at least. She wanted to hold out on that one till she had a chance to talk to Mulder, if they got him home alive.

"Kersh?" Frohike frowned at the paper in her hand. "Why did you go to either one of them?

What did they mean? "Because, it's an intelligence system that you got those coordinates from, it's not like I can just walk into the Coast Guard with those and demand a rescue. They will want to know how I got them. If I got the exact location via other means, there's no need to explain."

The three men all exchanged worried glances, as if fearful she had somehow lost her mind.

"Scully!" Frohike gently plucked the paper from her fingers. "We went to you with this first because you have a brother who is in naval intelligence. That's where these coordinates come from, one of their systems."

If that bit of information had been anymore obvious, it would have slapped her right in the face. Scully's triumph suddenly drained as dawning obviousness and embarrassment began to take over. "Charlie?"

"Yeah!" Frohike grimaced as Byers shot her a sympathetic look from the front.

"We thought you could give him a call directly, get us the information," Langley piped up as he pulled into DC traffic, the lumbering van chugging along the busy streets. "We thought that would be the first place you would have thought of."

All the running, all the begging, the calling out of Skinner, the humiliation of Kersh, the showing of her hand to the smoking man, all of that could have been avoided if she had just done the one thing Skinner had told her to do in the first place, keep her head and save her ass. "Oh my God," she groaned, burying her face in her hands.

"You still got the information," Frohike tried to offer helpfully, reaching out reassuringly, squeezing her shoulder.

"Yeah, only now I have to explain to Kersh why I was needing intelligence information and why it had anything to do with an old ship that supposedly sunk sixty years ago." Kersh was going to figure out pretty quickly Mulder had been sniffing around areas she shouldn't have. Her own brother, Charlie, wouldn't have given her this run around. He would have asked questions, perhaps, but she could have placed a discreet call, begged and pleaded and promised him the whole story later. She hadn't thought about it. What a perfect idiot!

"Hey, don't worry about it," Frohike chided her sternly. "Give your brother a call when you get to the airport, let him know what happened, have him put a fake call into Kersh and explain that Mulder had been out fishing or something and that you were concerned. He can fluff it up however, put the scent off you for a while. In the meantime, focus on this." He waved the paper at her. "You know how to sail a boat, right?"

Confidence crept back slowly as she smiled. "Yeah, that I can do."

"Good, cause you'll need to get us out there in one piece."

"And let's hope we can find Mulder, wherever he is," Byers intoned fretfully.

"And maybe we can get on that ghost ship while we are out there. Imagine it, the find of the century!" Langley obviously knew where his priorities lay. The other two reached out to thwap him lightly on the head, much to his loud protestations. Scully hadn't the heart. All she wanted to do right now was get Mulder back, get him home, and get him safe.

Then she would kill him.

Chapter Text

"My God," Byers breathed into the silvery twilight, his flashlight shining upwards, reflecting onto eyes as wide as saucers. Beside him Frohike's mouth hung agape, for once at a lost for words. It was Langley who seemed the most unaffected, stirring from his momentarily stillness to grin at the other two in abject delight.

"Mulder found it! He found the Queen Anne!"

At the wheel, Scully bit her tongue. Ever the skeptic, she viewed the lights on the misty horizon with out the certainty the others displayed. Sure, she supposed, it could be a luxury liner from 1939. or it could be a Carnival cruise liner that was making its way to the Caribbean with about 800 middle aged people in Hawaiian shirts and large hats, drinking colorful mixed drinks and complaining about the food and the music. From this distance it was hard to tell and she wasn't about to get excited over the possibly of a long forgotten ghost ship until she got closer. Frankly, she hoped it didn't come to that. She would rather find Mulder safe and sound first.

"Do you think that everyone is still on it, just as they were in the 1930s?" Langley was already convinced without further proof this was indeed the quarry they were seeking.

"Who knows," Frohike intoned in a low, hollow voice that stopped just short of being spooky. "Maybe everyone died on it after all these years of being trapped and it is haunted by their ghosts."

"That's not how a tear in the time/space continuum works." Byers quashed the romance of Frohike's theory ruthlessly as he continued to stare out to the horizon. "It is far more likely that the occupants of the Queen Anne are still there on the ship, living their lives and not even realizing that they've been missing for the last sixty years. Chances are they still think it is 1939."

"It's sort of like Brigadoon then," said Langley. "They go to sleep in what they think is 1939 and wake up to 1998, and no one is any the wiser."

Both of Langley's compatriots stopped and turned to stare at the tall, blonde man with equally speechless looks on their faces.

"What? I used to work theater tech in high school, we did that one my senior year." Langley tried to shrug off their mocking looks as he plucked at his computer nerd ironic t-shirt. "Besides, it wouldn't hurt you two to have some culture."

"Yeah, I'll remember that, Lord Manhammer, when you are busting out Real Genius for the five millionth time." Frohike snorted dryly. "And as for time/space continuum, let's ask the doctor." He turned to her expectantly as if Scully was the fount of all scientific knowledge in the world. Perhaps for these three, she was.

"If this is the Queen Anne, and I'm not saying it is, and if the Bermuda Triangle is an area of disturbance in how time and space interact, than chances are the anomaly could mean that a ship from a previous time could slip, unnoticed, into a later or earlier time, depending on the conditions. If this is the case, than the people on board the ship might not even notice the effect." It was a theory, one of several she vaguely remembered from her undergraduate research days when she had aspired to be a physicist before medicine had called her away.

"See," Byers crowed, somewhat proud of himself for recognizing that theory. Frohike scowled, disgruntled.

Scully felt a soft spot for the strange little man who she hated to admit was her favorite one of the three of them. "Or if we work with the string theory of time/space continuum, the ship could be trapped between two different dimensions, one in which it did sink sixty years ago, one in which it did not. And the meeting and overlapping of these two strings of time are causing the ship to appear here to us now, but the people on it might be trapped in their own time, unable to see or hear us, even if the ship physically is in between."

"So, like ghosts?" Frohike shot Byers a smug look.

"Well, as close to ghosts as you'll get me to admit, but frankly I don't believe either theory," she returned, much to the trio's disappointment. "I am more concerned about finding Mulder, so try keeping your eyes out for his boat. If it is anything like this one, it should be here somewhere."

They had flown straight from DC to Miami and then managed a quick flight to the Bahamas. Convincing immigration that the four of them were just there for a quick visit had been less stressful than renting the boat they had taken out into the Bermuda Triangle. Frankly it wasn't surprising that the rental owner gave them all the once over. She doubted that the three men with her had over been on a boat before and she was dressed far too formerly to convince anyone she knew how to handle a sailing vessel. After what felt like hours of checking passports and paperwork, (and learning that Langley's first name was Richard, but he went by "Ringo"), they were on the water, following the coordinates that she had gained from Skinner. Now darkness was setting into the murky, mid-Atlantic waters, and save for the flickering lights on the horizon, there was no sign of a boat the size of theirs, or even a hint of Mulder. Nervously, Scully gnawed on her bottom lip, trying to scan the glassy, dark waves for any sign of her wayward partner.

"No storms were reported here all day, The waters should be clear. If he's here, and nothing happened to the boat, we should be able to find him."

"Unless he's at the ship," Langley pointed out rather unhelpfully. Scully sighed. She didn't want to think of Mulder chasing down that ship. Trying to board from a boat this size was dangerous, and if it wasn't the type of ship he thought it was, likely he could have been plowed under it if he wasn't careful.

"What in the hell was he thinking, trying to take a ship out? He gets seasick and he knows nothing about them."

"You think that would stop Mulder?" Frohike snorted. Yet he too looked very concerned for his friend out there somewhere in the growing darkness. "Maybe we should get nearer the ship, see what we find there."

Scully had already steered them in that direction, pointing the bow towards the glimmering lights in the distance. What if this were the Queen Anne, she wondered privately, giving voice to thoughts she wasn't particularly willing to speak out loud to the other three. She thought of her undergraduate studies at Maryland, of the theories for such supposed anomalies as the Bermuda Triangle. No scientist she knew of took the particular phenomenon seriously, but the idea of what it could do had been theorized ad nauseum. What would time travel look like, if it could be done? There had been one case several years ago that she and Mulder worked where the main suspect claimed he could time travel, but he had never said how it worked. Did one step into a machine, such as HG Wells had done, or perhaps fell through a strange wrinkle in time? Were there really pockets in reality where space and time no longer meshed together, or did they tangle up and twist, turning people and things from what they knew to what they didn't? Could matter actually go from occupying one place in space and time and then occupy another? Was it even possible for it to shift so easily?

Mulder obviously believed you could, but Mulder also believed in spontaneous combustion and spectral visitations. Quantum physics was a bit like that, part hard, scientific theory, party wild, insane speculation. The ephemeral nature of it had intrigued her in her younger years, but the lack of solid evidence, the need to go it alone on faith at times had driven her to the much harder science of medicine. At least there a heart was always a heart, a brain was always a brain, and they always operated in the same manner. But in the quantum field, it was a playground for dreamers and believers, for men and women like Mulder. She had played in their sandbox and now stood on the sidelines, agreeing in theory such things were possible, but not ever able to commit to it fully. Perhaps that was what drove Mulder so crazy when it came to her and their work. She knew how it worked, agreed in part it could, but couldn't just come out and say that this was the way it did. It wasn't how Scully was wired. After all these years, she would have hoped he knew that about her. Apparently he had hoped that would change.

"Hey, Scully!" Frohike shouted to her, turning her attention back to matters at hand. "You're not going to believe this. Get up here."

"What?" She brought the boat to a halt, cutting off the throttle as she scrabbled over to the other three and halted nearly on the spot, staring in awe at what was before her. Far from being a modern, sleek looking cruise ship, before her in the water stood a stately, grand old luxury liner of the sort that used to sail the seas when her grandparents were young. Grander even than the Queen Mary dry docked in Long Beach, now turned into a hotel, this ship was splendid in a way that made Scully think of old, black-and-white films, with women in slinky, sequined dresses and men in evening attire with tails. She blinked in disbelief at Frohike, who grinned from ear to ear.

"The sky just cleared and there it was."

"The Queen Anne?"

"That's her, " Byers assured her.

"I don't believe it," she breathed into the cooling night air, even as the ship groaned in front of her. This had to be some trick? There was no rust, no build up, nothing that indicated that this ship had been left adrift for sixty years in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It looked as fresh and as well kept as it must have the day it disappeared in 1939.

"Seeing is believing," Frohike countered, his glasses glittering with the lights shining from on board the massive ship.

"They've got power?" How did they have power after all of these years?

"Maybe Mulder's already on board?" Byers assumed the best. Shocked out of her amazement, Scully glanced around for his boat. She saw nothing that even resembled it.

"Let's hope he is," she murmured, glancing along the waterline of the boat for some sort of way up the side. "Langley, Byers, over there! There's a ladder near the port quarter, do you think one of you could reach it if I got close enough?"

The term "port" had no obvious meaning to either of them, but they could see the ladder above them in the distance. "I think I can snag it," Langley called, tightening his life jacket around his thin body.

"Right," she called back, rushing back to the bridge. With her goal in mind, she turned their boat alongside the ship, her port to its port, allowing Langley access to the ladder above. Thankfully, the Queen Anne herself had dropped anchor and lay still and quiescent in the ocean. That made their job a little easier at least.

"Careful," she whispered as the gangly man stepped ever so carefully on the edge, reaching high, Byers and Frohike each with a steadying hand on his legs. Scully dropped anchor as the boat bobbed near the ship. On the next up swell of waves, Langley snagged the lowest rung and pulled himself up, his thin, scrawny arms struggling to pull up his weight. He was helped by a friendly push on the part of Frohike and Byers, and soon was up enough to scramble on.

"Good," Scully called, coming back up on deck. "See if you can pull up Frohike behind you."

"Me?" The little man yelped, staring at Scully as if she were crazy.

"Him?" Langley equally protested, his glasses bobbing up and down in the light as he sized up his round, portly friend. "How many cheeseburgers did you eat today, again?"

"Yeah, bite me, you scrawny ass." Frohike hissed, but Scully was not in the mood for one of their snipping sessions.

"Byers, you and me, let's help boost Frohike up, okay?"

Byers looked less than thrilled with the idea, but helped to hold Frohike steady, his totally impractical boots skidding on the slick wood. Langley reached a long arm down to reach for one of Frohike's shorter ones. Scully held her breath as the boat bobbed in the water, and Frohike wobbled, teetering unsteadily and threatening to tip if not for their steady grasp on him.

"Woah," he shouted, eyes wild as he glanced down at Scully. "I don't know if this is such a smart idea."

"To late now," she grunted as she nodded at Byers, and each grabbed at a leg and lifted, boosting him up towards Langley. It took much grunting, swearing, and Langley complaining about Frohike's penchant for pineapple pizza, but eventually he was hoisted up to the ladder above, sweating and shaking and looking considerably worse for wear. Langley beside him wrung his arm fretfully.

"Alright, Langley, you move up to the deck.Byers, you go up." She shot the nervous looking man a reassuring smile as he carefully got up. Unlike Frohike, Byers balance was much better, despite his dress shoes, and Frohike was surprisingly strong. Byers was up and settled, looking expectantly at Scully.

"Off with the shoes first." She kicked off her impractical, chunk heeled shoes, frowning at them in consternation. Did she need to wear these on board anyway?

"Leave the shoes, Scully. I think they'll be more scandalized by the pants than the bare feet," Frohike called.

Scully didn't want to admit that he even had half-a-shred of a point. She chucked the heels aside and stepped up on the side, carefully balanced as she reached for Byers outstretched arm. Lighter and smaller than the men, she scrambled up much more easily, and looked up at the three others, face flushed as they all wore the same expectant expressions on their face.

"Well, your ghosts are waiting, get going," she ordered. Obediently, the other three began the long climb up the ships side. It was little more than narrow, iron piping, enough for the maintenance crew to scramble down the side if necessary. Nimbly, she followed the slower men, watching as one by one they hoisted themselves up the side and over to the deck.

Whatever it was she was expecting to find, it wasn't a perfectly preserved deck. She hauled herself over, slightly breathless, checking that the three men puffing and heaving as they settled on chairs with plump cushions to collect themselves. The wooden boards at their feet were smooth and shiny even in the dimness, and they felt sound as Scully's bare heel knocked against them. This ship didn't look as if it had been standing in the elements for the last six decades.

Outside of their labored breathing nothing made a sound on the empty deck. Nothing creaked, nothing moved. Only the sound of the water, lapping against the hull, made any noise at all. Not even the massive engines sounded into the night.

"What is going on here," she murmured, glancing around the well lit area, where on an evening like this passengers might be taking a bit of night air before dinner, or strolling before retiring for the night.

The other three noticed as well. "It's like the ship is going, but no one is here." Frohike had a hand to his chest, standing at last to join Scully, curiously eyeing the quiet concourse.

"I don't hear any music," Langley whispered, cocking his blonde head like a dog would, listening. "This is 1939, they would have been playing something at dinner."

"A little Cole Porter at least," Frohike nodded.

"And the engines aren't sounding, though the lights are on," Byers pointed out. "Do you think Mulder is still here?"

"I hope he is," Scully replied honestly. "Let's go down below, start looking. If anything, we might find some evidence of where he got to." She racked her brain for the information on these type of ships her father imparted to her when she was little. Scully had been the Starbuck to his Ahab, fascinated with all the goings on of a ship, and had spent countless hours pestering her father as he worked on models with her brother, Bill.

"If I remember right, Queen Anne was a Cunard-White Star ship." She headed for the nearest entrance.

"Like the Titanic," Langley piped up, earning an elbow in the ribs from Frohike.

"Like the Titanic, sort of," Scully confirmed absently. "Her sister ship is the Queen Mary in Long Beach. My father took me to visit her when I was a kid, my brothers and sister and I climbed all over her." Much to the dismay of the museum tour guides as she recalled.

"If the layout is the same, by the bridge there should be a small supply room. We should find flashlights there. That's our first stop. I don't want any of you tripping and getting hurt, I can't get you off this ship." She quickly found steps to what led to the bridge on the Queen Mary. "Let's see if we can find a map for you guys in case we get separated. We can meet in the ballroom."

Lights were on, but were dim in the hallways of the old ship. The air hardly stirred, but there was no smell of must, no mildew, no rot of any kind. The carpets were thick and plush under their feet, the metal ringing soundly, without rust or chipped paint. Even the bridge, when they reached it, looked as pristine and shiny as it must have in the 1930's. Scully frowned, turning around in the large room, at once awed at its beauty and confused by its lack of modern computers or equipment.

"It looks just like new," she sighed, utterly at a loss.

"Where is the crew," Byers wondered as he walked towards the bow facing windows, glancing out into the night.

"Where are the passengers," echoed Frohike, finding the supply closet and rummaging for flashlights.

"They're all ghosts," Langley snorted, as if it were obvious. "Like Scully said, strings, and touching…and stuff."

"Something like that," she smirked gently, taking one of Frohike's proffered lights. "Did you find a map?"

"Nope," Frohike muttered. "Guess we will all have to stick together." He glared at Langley directly. "That means no chasing after ghosts."

"Look who's talking, you're the one who talked Mulder into this idea in the first place."

"Mulder didn't need talking into it," Byers shot back. "And Frohike's right, we stick with Scully."

"Who says I wouldn't." Langley quibbled, pouting as he took his flashlight.

"Fine," Scully herded her little group to the door. "We'll take the deck and the upper most decks first, the ballroom, the dining room, the kitchen, et cetera. Then we'll move below decks a floor at a time. Mulder could be anywhere, so keep your eyes out."

"I didn't come on this adventure to hike all over creation," Frohike gripped, falling in behind Scully.

"Not that you couldn't use it, lard ass," Langley snickered.

There was a distinct thump and grunt from Langley, but Scully refused to look back or even acknowledge that it happened.

Their voices were the only ones that carried through the open public rooms. The ballroom rang with their shouts of "Mulder", the dining room, the kitchens, the gymnasium. The indoor pool, one of the features of the ship, glowed a disturbing, ghostly blue-green as they checked inside, but no sign of Mulder or of anyone else. The quiet, the lack of human presence on a boat obvious built for their pleasure, made Scully's skin crawl. She shuddered as she lead the way to the first class and crew cabins, taking in the well appointed quarters, the fine furniture, still looking new. It was as if the Titanic really had returned, only fully restored. The Queen Anne still glittered, despite all the stories to her demise.

Unless she had gone down in 1939, and this really was a ghost ship. Scully shook off the notion, disturbed by even the thought. She couldn't explain what the Queen Anne was all about, but she did know one thing. This wasn't a phantom ship, this was a living, breathing one. Whatever had happened to her, the Queen Anne was real….just dead.

"I almost feel like I should turn a corner and find someone there." Frohike voiced Scully's sentiment.

"Where the hell could Mulder have gotten to?" Langley opened a door on a stateroom as if expecting Mulder to be there, laying on one of the luxuries beds. Unsurprisingly it was empty, the white and gold down comforter smooth and unruffled. No clothes lay about the floor, no shoes forgotten under the bed, no personal effects were scattered across the furniture. There was nothing to indicate a human occupant.

"Maybe no one had this room," Byers picked up a heavy, crystal cigarette ashtray, embossed with the Cunard-White Star emblem.

"No, the Queen Anne was full when she disappeared, it was part of what made it all mysterious," Scully opened a closet door, finding it filled with fine, well-made clothes. "There was a physicist on board, supposedly, legend had it that he had plans for a nuclear weapon. Truth is I doubt he had all the plans, but he disappeared, and neither the Allies or the Germans were able to get a hold of what he knew."

"I thought you said that you believed the boat was blown up, not disappeared." Frohike nudged her knowingly. Scully flushed, but shrugged.

"I'm standing on a ghost ship, aren't I?" She couldn't deny that, not if she wanted to. "In any case, let's get moving, there are still two more areas to cover.

The rest of the ship was more of the same, only with less polish and flare as they went further down. The lower quarters were Spartan in their make up by comparison to first class, though comfortable enough for the traveler on a budget. The cargo hold was filled with crates and boxes, and large canvas bags filled with mail that was never delivered to the people expecting it. And still no Mulder, not among the crates and barrels, not in the engine room, which was silent and still, save for the occasional groan of metal. Back up through the decks, not a sound was heard outside of their own footsteps and breathing and the ocean outside.

Nowhere did they find Fox Mulder. Scully felt about to panic.

"I'm sure he's here somewhere," Byers tried to reassure her despite the fact they had just spent nearly two-hours combing the ship. There was nothing. If Mulder made it this far, he wasn't on the ship.

"Let's get back to the boat," Scully ordered. "Perhaps his boat is on the other side or maybe it was broken up and we can't see it from here."

Their scramble down the ladder went only slightly more orderly than the climb up, with Scully nearly having to leap into the waiting arms of Frohike and Byers to get back on the boat, nearly knocking all three of them off into the dark waters. She moved again to the wheelhouse, pulling up the anchor and turning on the engines.

"You three, keep an eye out as I come around, look for another boat, similar to this one." The lights on deck were bright as she pulled away from the Queen Anne, getting enough distance out to come around to the starboard side and look for any evidence of Mulder there.

"Hey, Scully!" Langley called, clear fear and worry in his voice. "I think we've got something!"

"What?" She stalled the boat, stilling it as she climbed back to where the three men stood, each staring into the water where the lights from the boat hit. Floating in front of them were broken shards of wood and fiberglass, and what looked like seat cover for the bench that had likely lined one whole side of the deck.

Oh no, her mind raced…no, no, no, no….

"Mulder," she screamed, yelling his name into the night. "Mulder, are you out there?"

"Can he hear us?" Byers pulled out one of their purloined flashlights, turning it on and leaning over the side.

"He can if he's conscious," Frohike stared into the distance. "Can he swim?"

"Like a fish," Scully replied, fear lancing through her as she considered the possibilities. "He grew up on Martha's Vineyard, and he swam in school. Still swims down at the FBI pool twice a week." Not that she had ever gone down there looking for him deliberately. "Mulder isn't much with boats, but he can keep himself afloat just fine."

"Except we don't know the wreck happened," Frohike reminded her gently. "He could have been here for hours."

"Others have survived that long," she shot back, unwilling to believe the worst. "Mulder!"

Stillness, the same eerie, mind-numbing silence that they had felt on the ship was the only response to her cries. Tears began to prick in Scully's eyes as her mind refused to believe the evidence scattered before her. Mulder could be dead this time, really dead. And not from a case or from and X-file, from something as stupid as an old legend of a ghost ship in the Bermuda Triangle. Stupid man, what in the hell was he thinking? She had come out there to find nothing.

"I'm sure if we search a little more," Byers tried to reassure her. But Scully shook her head. In this darkness, even if Mulder were alive, they'd likely hit and kill him as turn him up.

"No, we have to wait till light," Scully choked, her gut wrenching at the idea. If she waited, she had an idea of what she would find. Her father and brother had told her stories of even the best-trained sailors and swimmers. And Mulder, as good of a swimmer as he was, rarely swam in the ocean.

"Let's pack it up for now, boys, wait till the morning and head back to harbor," she uttered, finding the steadiness in her voice belying the turmoil within her. This felt desperately wrong, but she had no choice. She couldn't leave him behind, not like this.

"Scully, are you…"

"What else can we do," she snapped, nerves raw from fatigue, worry, and stress. She had started her day bitterly jealous that Mulder had flown down to Miami to spend his birthday with Diana Fowley. She ended it mourning his loss on the open water. More than an emotional tiding flowing, it was a raging river, a flood, and an avalanche, threatening to drown her like her partner.

He was gone. He was really, really gone.

In the darkness there a splash, like a body hitting the water none too gracefully, followed by the thump of something coming down after it. The sound nearly caused the three men to jump off the side of the boat themselves to follow it, before Scully's voice whipped them back.

"Stop! Let me get closer. Get the flashlights out! Look for Mulder!"

She jumped down behind the wheel again, revving the engine to pull slowly forward to the noise. Frohike and Byers shouted as she came to a stop, and Langley practically hung by his feet off the boat, reaching for something down below. Scully clambered back up in time to see Byers and Frohike help grab the limp body of Fox Mulder and deposit him on the deck, water-logged and unconscious.

"Is he?" Langley asked, Mulder's wet, dark head on his lap, fearful that the worst could be the case. Scully pushed him gently aside and began checking the usual vitals. No water in the lungs, he was breathing. But the nasty gash on his head indicated he had knocked himself out but good, likely during his fall into the debris field of his own boat.

"He'll live," she sighed dryly, though utter relief filled her as the other three laughed in reassurance. "Though he may not live for long once I get him awake. Till then, Frohike, go down below, get a blanket and wrap that around him. Byers, get off as many of his wet clothes as you can manage. Langley, you keep an eye on him, make sure he keeps breathing. Call me if he doesn't."

And as for herself...

"I'm going to get the hell downstairs and get us to safe harbor."

Chapter Text

Scully wasn't sure if she were relieved or not to see Skinner rounding the corner of the hospital waiting area, a bouquet of flowers in hand.

"Sir?" She blinked sleepily from the vinyl chair she dozed in, frowning at the handful of daisies he carried, then up at his scowling expression.

"My cover for being in Nassau, an elderly aunt who is sick." He waved the flowers around, before tossing them down on the coffee table scattered with magazines. "I came down as soon as you sent word."

"You didn't have to," Scully protested weakly as she tried to sit up and put some semblance back into her appearance. After two days, part of those out at sea, her crisp suit of Tuesday was starting to look rumpled and frayed by Thursday.

"No, I did. I want to be the first one to kick Mulder's ass when he wakes up." He glared up at the television, airing American CNN, as he settled into a chair beside Scully. His large shoulders and bigger frame nearly didn't fit the uncomfortable metal frame, and it creaked as he leaned back.

"Kersh has been suspicious of my involvement, but no one has said anything. I think your brother's call did wonders in turning the heat down. Just what did he tell Kersh anyway?"

Scully smiled and reminded herself to give Charlie a kiss when she saw him next and to make a special point to get down to Norfolk to visit her brother and sister-in-law. "I should have thought of him before even you, sir, but you were right, I wasn't thinking with my head. I called Charlie after I landed in Miami. He concocted a story that he'd received my message about my partner getting lost while out marlin fishing, and that I had some naval intelligence coordinates that I needed him to check out. He explained to Kersh we had a friend of our father's who never could resist me when I was upset, and he'd been helping me try to find Mulder."

"Whatever it was, it worked. Kersh was on the warpath, swearing you two were up to an X-file."

"Not exactly," Scully muttered. She wished it had been that simple.

"Does Mulder even known how to fish for marlin?"

"I'm not sure Mulder knows how to fish," she replied wearily. At least she wasn't sure on anything that swam in the ocean, he could fish for information just fine. "He was out looking for a ship…a ghost ship." She might as well be honest with Skinner. After all, it was only right he knew why he put his ass on the line.

"A ghost ship? Let me guess, in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle?"

"Yeah," she grudgingly admitted, busying herself with plucking a wrinkle in her slacks fretfully. "The Queen Anne."

The name clicked with Skinner and it made him no happier hearing it. "The Queen Anne was sunk in 1939 by the Germans."

"No," she admitted slowly, finding it rather difficult to look her boss in the eye. "No, he found it."

"The Queen Anne? Where?"

"Floating in the middle of the sea, north of here between The Bahamas and Bermuda. I've told the Bahamian officials, but I don't think they took me any more seriously than you are."

"I'm taking you seriously enough," Skinner protested mildly. "You saw it."

"Saw it, I was on it," she replied, still stunned at the plush carpeting, the perfect condition. "Whatever happened to it, sir, it's empty now. The people are gone, and the ship is floating there, like some time capsule of a day gone by." As if it were waiting for the band to strike up and people to walk its decks again. The eeriness of it still left Scully unsettled.

Skinner looked torn listening. Normally, these stories came from Mulder and he reserved skepticism for anything Mulder had to say, but coming from Scully, the known doubter among the pair, her words carried more weight. And he reluctantly had to listen. "So was this an X-file?"

Scully knew why he asked. If Mulder had knowingly done something stupid and against the rules, Skinner would likely drop him and never help them again. Worse, he'd have every right to. His job was on the line as much as theirs. "No, sir, we had no file on the Queen Anne that I know of. It was more or less a lark for Mulder. I suppose it was his idea of a birthday vacation."

"Some vacation," Skinner snorted. "Perhaps in future you would be well advised to keep your partner from taking vacations to the Bahamas or anywhere that has to do with boats."

"You don't need to tell me twice," she muttered darkly as from outside the three editors of the Lone Gunman shuffled in and paused right in their tracks, each one staring at Skinner sitting beside her.

Frohike clearly did not like the proximity of Skinner to Scully and instantly scowled. "Hey, who's the suit?"

Skinner jerked at the pejorative, but Scully cut in, trying not to laugh. "This is my former boss, Assistant Director Skinner." She didn't think that the three, paranoid computer nerds had ever actually, physically met Skinner. "He's the one who helped us save Mulder ass."

"Oh," they all three intoned with varying degrees of embarrassment, though Frohike still glared at him suspiciously. Skinner tried not to look overtly concerned. Thankfully it was Byers who cut the tension.

"Scully, Mulder is starting to rouse. The doctors called for you, thought you might want to be there."

"Good!" She rose, stiff from sitting too long in an uncomfortable seat, her feet curled under her. She stretched briefly before excusing herself, hoping she could leave Skinner alone with Mulder's friends at least for the few minutes it would take to check in on him.

Inside he was still sleeping, though he had obviously been trying to wake for a little bit. He'd shifted in his drowsy state, but she doubted he'd be full awake yet. She made sure he was given the good kind of painkillers for the headache she knew he would doubtlessly have the minute he woke up.

"Mulder," she murmured, leaning on the rail on the side of his bed, reaching up to brush back his dark hair. His eyelashes flickered against his cheeks, and she resisted the urge to run her fingers along the bone there. "Mulder, it's me."

Two bright green slits opened, hazily focusing on her as he blinked. "Where am I?"

He tried to push himself up to a sitting position, but Scully firmly pushed him back down, shaking her head as he grunted. "You're at a hospital."

He moaned, holding what had to be his rocking head. Not the first concussion he had suffered, but unlike the last few times, she wasn't about to let him wander out of the hospital until she was certain he could fly.

"Lie still," she ordered, taking no pity on his plaintive whimpers.

"I feel like hell," he whined, settling gratefully back onto the pillows.

"I don't blame you," she snorted, her worry giving way to snappish formality. "You've been through the wringer, I'd say."

"What happened to me?"

"You did something incredibly stupid." Not the first time and certainly not the last, she surmised. He only stared at her blankly, his drug and concussion fuzzed brain unable to kick in his eidetic memory just yet, not enough to remember at least.

"You went looking for a ship, Mulder." She glared to his bemused confusion. "In the Bermuda Triangle."

Clearly, that level of stupidity even shocked him. "Say that again?"

Before he could clear his brain enough for her to explain, his other visitors arrived, wandering in to circle near his bed and grin at him.

"Gilligan awakes," Frohike crowed good-naturedly.

Mulder didn't acknowledge his friends greeting, blinking blankly up at Scully. "You were there."

"Hmmm," Scully hummed, confused, but Mulder nodded, certain.

"You were there, Scully."

"He's delirious," Langley diagnosed, as if he understood head trauma. Scully rolled her eyes, as Skinner entered as well.

Mulder's eyes settled on their former boss and lit up. "He was there, too!"

Mulder's pronouncement only gained a dry snort from Skinner, who tossed his flowers on the nightstand. "Right, me and my dog, Toto."

"No, you were there with the Nazis," Mulder insisted frantically, shoving himself up in bed again. He was getting too excited and Scully quickly decided to cut in before he ended up making himself worse.

"Mulder, will you settle down? It's an order."

"Not that he takes orders," Skinner grumbled pointedly.

Mulder was not to be denied in this efforts to tell his story. He reached out for Scully, a hand at her waist where it leaned against the rail. The familiar gesture jolted her, even as her former superior and his three friend stood there. Mulder had always been touchy feely, and was even worse when drugged, but this caused fluttering in her chest that wasn't exactly comfortable when standing in close quarters with people around.

Mulder grinned up at her, his smile sloppy and adoring all at the same time. "You save the world, Scully!"

Oh Lord, she breathed. He really was on the good stuff. "Yeah, you're right. I did." She had at least saved Mulder's world, by hook and by crook.

"What kind of drugs is he on" Frohike wondered.

"I want some," Langley grinned, but Scully fixed them both with disapproving glares.

"No, no, no," Mulder insisted, his words slurring together. "I found it. You were there with 'Thor's Hammer'. I told you, you had to turn the ship around and then I jumped overboard."

"Yeah, I bet you did." Scully smirked, wondering just what in the world Mulder had dreamed anyway. "The boat that you were on was busted into a million pieces. And as for the Queen Anne, it was nothing more than a ghost ship." A well preserved one, but empty all the same. No doppelgangers of her or long forgotten Nazis running all over the places.

"No, no, no," Mulder shook his head like a child, determined to make his point. "You and I were on that ship, Scully, in 1939."

Clearly his story had convinced his other well wishers that he needed rest still, if nothing else to sleep off the effects of the drugs Scully had him on. Skinner nodded to the other three, before clapping a hand to Mulder's shoulder. "Get some rest, Mulder, 'cause when you get out of here, I'm going to kick your ass but good."

He, Frohike, Langley, and Byers shuffled out, murmuring amongst themselves, Langley clearly amused at the spaced out behavior of the normally sharp Mulder. He hardly seemed to care as his eyes met hers, begging her to believe him.

"I would have never seen you again. But you believe me."

"In your dreams," she retorted gently, for if any of this happened, it was likely in some concussive, fever-induced dream of his. As if she were trying to settle one of her godsons or her nephew to bed, she leaned in. "Mulder, I want you to close your eyes and I want you to think to yourself 'There's no place like home.'"

Her sarcasm only managed to make him laugh.

She needed to leave him for now, to let him rest and hopefully sleep this all off. Tomorrow this would likely only be an embarrassing memory, if he remembered at all, and she could give him hell properly for all the trouble he caused everyone. But for now, she would be gentle on him and let him sort out his story about Nazis and Thor's Hammer and her all for himself.

"Hey, Scully," he called. She turned to him as he propped himself up on an elbow, meeting her eyes and staring at them, as if his next words were the most profound things in the universe.

"Yes," she prompted.

He blinked, deadly serious. "I….love you."

For a split second, Scully's entire world tilted. Her knees weakened, her breath caught in her chest, and the world became strangely filled with the roaring sound of blood in her ears. Her brain scrambled to put together what he had just said as her heart beat frantically within her, leaping at the idea that he had just said he loved her.

And then her strict rational came in and strangled that thought before it even sprang to life. In the face of Mulder's heart-felt declaration, she rolled her eyes heaven ward. "Oh brother…"

Before she could quantify another word of that, she turned on her heel and left her drugged partner, her head spinning as she closed the door behind her. He wasn't himself, she reminded herself, and he was so out of it he insisted he was with Scully on that boat, saving the world. And while he likely meant it in his own, Mulder-ish sort of way, of course he would say he loved her. Hadn't she just saved his life? And not for the first time either. He said it because he was grateful to her, his friend, who came and saved his ass yet again after the utter jerk he had been for the last few weeks.

That didn't stop Scully from secretly wishing he had meant it, which was madness. Just earlier that week she had been convinced he was still in love with Diana Fowley. Now she was hoping he was in love with her. She needed to stop this, now. Getting involved with people from work had never worked out for her, and Mulder, despite all the qualities she admired about him, despite everything they had been through together, despite the fact he was the one person she could trust in her entire life, she couldn't lose over three little words like "I love you."

Even if she did wish that he had meant it.

But he didn't, she reassured herself, at least not in that sense. He was grateful to her for saving him, perhaps he was grateful to her for saving the world, she didn't know. He was glad to have her as his friend who pulled his ass out of the fire. He was glad she was there, even when he insulted her and treated her badly. He loved her as his friend, his best friend, nothing more.

That sentiment did not make her heart feel any better.

Chapter Text

"You are a lucky man, Mulder." Scully snapped off her cell phone as her car maneuvered through the busy, Alexandria streets, the early morning bustle of people and cars only slightly lessened by the fact that it was nearly nine in the morning and most responsible people were at their desks or behind their closed doors in the halls of government, doing something sane and normal with their lives. She glanced sideways at her partner, who fingered the white, cotton gauze bandage on his forehead in a bored fashion, lost in thought as he stared at the bumper-to-bumper cars in front of them. He didn't comment on her statement, but instead frowned strangely at her stereo, which played softly in the background.

"Don't you care who I was talking to?" She couldn't help the need to prod him on it, even though clearly he wasn't particularly interested. He shrugged diffidently and she took that for at least something of a positive sign as she continued.

"Kersh said that he expects you back in three days, after your proscribed doctor's bed rest, and he highly suggests that if you plan to take unscheduled vacation in the future, you clear it through his office." She felt her lips purse as her teeth clamped down on her tongue, preventing her from snorting loudly and mockingly. "This was a man who was more than willing to let you drown out there in the Bermuda Triangle but now he seems all smiles to have you back."

"Perhaps Kersh really harbors a secret love for me," Mulder mused with a perfectly straight expression, his still pale face turning towards her for the first time that morning. She regarded him for several moments before finally giving in to a chuckle.

"Well if it's true love, Mulder, he's hiding it well from everyone. You two couldn't be more opposite if you tried."

"Wasn't there a Paula Abdul song once about opposites attracting?"

"You liked Paula Abdul?"

"Lots of men liked Paula Abdul." Despite his wan appearance and damaged head there was a playful glimmer in his eyes, causing her to grin back at him.

"You must be feeling better."

"It was shit after the drugs wore off." Mulder grimaced. He waved a hand vaguely at the stereo console in the middle of her dashboard. "What is that you are listening to, anyway?"

"Cole Porter, why?" Her tone was only slightly defensive, but after having to explain her love of The Cure and The Ramones, she always felt leery when Mulder began questioning her musical tastes.

"Nothing," Mulder mumbled, returning to staring out the window ahead of them.

"What's wrong with Cole Porter?" She knew he had to be thinking something strange about it, and it seemed to be confirmed by the smile tugging at his full lips.

"Really, it isn't anything, Scully. It's just that…" His voice trailed off as he grinned to himself.

"What?" She tried to keep half an eye on the car in front of her, the other half on Mulder's suddenly sheepish, downcast eyes.

"I heard that song when I was on the ship." He pretended to be rather interested in some loose threat on the cuff of his jacket.

"On the ship? That wouldn't be the Queen Anne, would it?"

"Look, Scully, I know what you think, but I know what I saw." His eyes flashed up to hers then, blazing in their intensity. "I saw a Nazi who looked like Skinner, except it wasn't Skinner, and he wasn't a Nazi really, he was an American spy, just like you were."

"I was an American spy?" Scully snorted with laughter. "Really, Mulder, you have some imagination."

"It's true!" He pointed to a purplish discoloration on his jaw line, faint now in the days since she had drug him out of the Atlantic Ocean. "You gave me this on board the ship."

"You probably just clocked your jaw on something when you jumped," she argued reasonably. He rolled his eyes and sighed in exasperation. She had to admit, though, she was curious as to what Mulder had done to make her supposed past self do the one thing that the modern Scully had never managed to do despite dearly wanting to on more than one occasion.

"What did you do to piss me off?"

"When? In the past?"

"Yeah," she admitted it slowly, feeling her pale cheeks flush as she finally nodded.

"I don't know if you want to know," Mulder said reluctantly, and she glanced sideways at him to see his pale face now flushed the same color as her own.

"You tell me this line, Mulder, you get me interested, you bait me into it, and you won't even give me the goods."

"IsbecauseIkisiffooo." He turned his face to look out of the passenger side window and whispered so quietly that she couldn't make out the actual enunciation of the words he said.

"What was that?"

"Err?" He cleared his throat nervously as he turned his face more towards her again, pulling at his chin with one, long-fingered hand. "It was because I kissed you."


If possible, she felt her face become even redder, quite as red as her own hair. She suddenly found the Virginia license plate on the vehicle in front of her particularly interesting and pretended to commit the letters and numbers to memory. Her mind flashed back to that moment just the day before, when Mulder, drugged to the nines and loopy as a kite, had uttered the three words she had both feared and hoped would come out of his mouth someday. She had reacted to it with incredulity at the time. Now, she wondered how much of that statement he really had meant? It wasn't as if he hadn't tried to kiss her before. Her heart stopped as she thought of that moment outside of his apartment, when she had been prepared to walk away from all of this, him, the X-files, the FBI. And he had begged her to stay, had pulled her close and leaned in, his lips just grazing her own…

"I don't know, Scully, perhaps it was all a dream. Perhaps it was just all figments of my imagination made up in the hallucinatory state I was in after being knocked unconscious and left in the water for so long."

"It could be," she agreed slowly, her eyes still fixed straight in front of her. She was too afraid to glance over at Mulder to see what was going on in his still scrambled head, to see what sort of look there was in his eyes. She instead turned up the knob on her stereo, hoping for a bit of distraction.

"Night and day, you are the one…only you beneath the moon, the stars, and under the sun…"

All hell, she swore softly to herself. This was not helping.

"Anyway, it taught me a lesson." He slumped in his seat, sounding philosophical. Somehow, this was worse than his admission that he had kissed her, or at least an idealized, dream version of her.

"What was that," she asked, almost afraid of the answer she was going to hear.

"That you lead with you right, not your left." He rubbed at the bruise on his jaw.

Somehow, whoever her dream self was, Scully could empathize with her need to clock him.

Chapter Text

"Please?" Mulder wheedled, following Scully into the kitchen as she carried dinner plates over to the sink. She felt her jaw twitch as she set them down with a bit more force than was strictly necessary.

"Mulder, you have been at work less than three days, Kersh is not going to tolerate you disappearing on personal business every time you have a whim."

"It's not a whim, Scully, it's a source!" Mulder leaned comfortably against the counter as Scully began to rinse away the remains of their take-out Indian meal down the drain. "I've been cultivating him for years! He works out in Nevada at a research facility. He hasn't told me what they do there, but he was the one who reached out to me five years ago."

"And you believe him?" Scully glanced up to the lingering bruising on Mulder's forehead and wondered just how hard he had hit his head when he had jumped off the Queen Anne.

"It has taken me years to get him this far. Why in the world would he lie about it now, when he could have pulled something years ago?"

"I don't know. He could be the world's slowest moving traitor?" Scully frowned as she scrubbed hard at a fork, realizing it was clean already, and shoving it under the spray from her faucet. This was insanity! Mulder wanting to take off to Nevada to talk to some source he had never met and didn't know. After what she had seen and experienced just trying to get the information to get him back from the Queen Anne and he still wanted to take off like he was still working an X-file?

"Mulder, I told you he was back." She warned solemnly, not needing to explain who "he" was. "I told you he isn't dead. He was in Kersh's office, chatting with him like he used to chat with Skinner. I could smell that damn cigarette smoke on my skin afterwards."

It made her want to wretch thinking about it. "Kersh is conspiring against you in no uncertain terms and Spender is in on it. If you are caught going anywhere near anything that smells like an X-file…"

"Who says we are going to be caught," Mulder insisted mulishly, arms crossed over his Yankees t-shirt. He'd been wearing it proudly since the they swept the series and had crowed loudly that his team was World Champions. Scully had pointedly ignored his enthusiasm.

"I don't know, Mulder, a quick side trip to Nevada won't get noticed?

"Today is Friday. We can leave in the morning, drive out tomorrow, take a flight out Sunday, and no one will be the wiser." It was an ingenious plan to Mulder if to no one else. Scully, however, was still less than impressed.

"And suppose we get called in on a case and have to explain why we were both in Nevada together?"

"We could just tell everyone we eloped." He leered, earning a wet, towel slap from Scully.

"How about we not do it and save our asses. That Queen Anne business nearly sunk us both, Mulder, and I can't do that again, not if I want to keep my job." She cared about it, even if he did not. "Besides, you have no idea who this person is, if it's a trap, if they are competent enough to even meet you without alerting half of the Department of Defense, and thus getting us both arrested.

"Where is your sense of adventure?" Mulder sensed he was losing this battle.

"I think I lost it when you decided to take a three hour tour and wound up dragging me from DC to the Bermuda Triangle."

"Are you going to hold that over me forever? Come on, at least do it for my birthday! We never did get to go out for that."

"Because you said you didn't want to do anything, and for your information, it was nearly three weeks ago. Besides, I'm not holding anything over you. My trip to drag you out of the Atlantic Ocean is but one of many over the years, lest we forget Wisconsin, Puerto Rico, Iowa, Alaska, New Mexico…."

Mulder threw up his hands in defeat. "All right, all right, I get it, I owe you my first born child. But I need you on this, Scully!"

"What, so I can run defense for you when you get yourself in trouble yet again?" She jammed a glass into the drainer, shooting him a dirty look as he began to peruse her cabinets idly.

"No, because you know the scientific bits enough to understand what it is he is sharing."

Scully released her grip on a butter knife and set it gently down in the drainer, trying to mask how hurt his words made her feel. "Mulder, I'm not your lab monkey, here to cover the science bits when you need me."

"I didn't say that was all you were," he shot back, now engrossed in what she suspected as a package of Girl Scout Thin Mints she had hidden away in the cupboard he was searching through. "Don't ever think that's your soul function in my work. But on this, I need you for that."

She sighed. She should say no to this. The responsible thing would be to send Mulder home, tell him to rest up for his first full week back at work and to enjoy his Yankee's World Series win. But he would whine, and he would pester, and he would harass her until she gave in. It was Mulder's way. He wanted what he wanted, and who cared if it threatened their jobs, their lives, and what little reputations they had left. She would do it and she already knew that. Because she would rather go with him, and stem the insanity, than sit by like this last time and watch it unfold as she frantically tried to pick up the pieces, and she had a feeling he was banking on that when he came up with this preposterous plan in the first place.

Grinning from ear-to-ear, Mulder held out a cellophane wrapper filled with Thin Mints. "Cookie?"

"You knew I'd say yes if you kept badgering me."

"I can't say I knew any such thing." He popped two chocolate cookies in his mouth, crunching airily.

"You bet on it. You invited yourself over with Indian food as a ploy to talk me into doing this for you."

"I think you are far too suspicious of my methods," he murmured around cookie crumbs.

"I think I've had long, hard experience with your methods and know better." She snagged a cookie from the package he threatened to devour whole. "You knew I'd give in if nothing else to stop you from doing something stupid."

"You assume I would?"

"I have to, Mulder, because left to your own devices you will. You are impulsive at the best of times, with a loose regard for the rules, and we are just not in the position anymore for you to goof around as if they don't apply to you." She was lecturing again, she knew it, and she also knew it did no good. He would likely do what he wanted to do no matter her logical complaints. "Just promise me that neither one of us will end up in jail over this?"

"I promise you," Mulder assured her, crunching on another cookie. "On my life, Scully, we will be in and out, and no one will be the wiser for our trip."

"If Kersh even gets a breath of this, Mulder…"

"He won't," he assured her. "Trust me on this, this will go off without a hitch!"

"Famous, last words," she muttered ominously as Mulder proceeded to polish off the last of the package of her precious, Girl Scout cookies.

Chapter Text

Another long drive into the hot desert, another failed attempt at a contact. Stopped once again by yet more shady government officials who told them less than nothing. Scully was merely glad they weren't hauled into a facility under arrest and Kersh alerted to their presence. She had warned Mulder of this, told him this was a possibility, and yet, for his sake, she had hoped this would have worked out. Perhaps, with one informant, one person willing to go public, they could have finally shaken the cloud they were under and gotten someone, anyone to listen.

Besides her in the car Mulder was quiet, driving into the darkness. He had said little since their standoff. She had expected him to rail against it, but to her surprise he had meekly gotten into the car and taken off. It was a bit off for him, usually by this point he was plotting ways to circumvent orders given to him by no-name government officials. Without a word they pulled into a lonely gas station in the middle of nowhere in the desert. Mulder stopped the car by the pump and sat, waiting expectantly.

"Are you all right, Mulder?"

He stared at her as if she were crazy for asking. "What are you talking about?"

"You haven't said anything since we left those men on the highway. Is something wrong?"

"I'm fine," he insisted in exasperation. "Gas cap is on your side."

It took Scully a long moment to catch on to what he was saying. Gas cap? Since when in the five years they had worked together had Mulder, with his New England chivalry, ever made her pump gas for the car, even when she was driving? She frowned, sure now something was bothering him and wondering why he was keeping it to himself.

"Okay…if you don't want to talk about it."

Odd, she frowned, stepping out of the car and starting the pump. From inside the car she could hear a phone ringing and recognized it as her own.

"Mulder," she called, as she adjusted the gas pump. "Mulder!"

He ignored her, turning up the radio in the car to some annoying music she had never once heard Mulder play before. What had gotten into him? She tapped on the window, but it made no difference. She snapped open the door, pulling her phone out of her bag, glaring at him as clicked it on, hoping she caught the call in time.

"Hello?" She could barely hear over the din of the music. Honestly? She reached over and snapped the dial down, earning a surprised glare from Mulder.

"Hello?" Too late. The phone was quiet and the display showed the call had ended. It wasn't even a number she recognized either. She shot her partner a look of mild annoyance and got back out, returning to the pump just as it shut off.

"Oh, Dana," Mulder called, causing her to screech to a halt. Dana? She turned to stare, wide-eyed at him. Mulder only ever called her Dana in the most intimate, most serious of moments. He never tossed her first name around so casually, not unless he meant it. Since when had she turned from "Scully" to "Dana"?

"Want to pick me up a pack of Morley's, please?"

If he wasn't looking at her with those large, boyish Mulder eyes and giving her that charming, Mulder smile, she could have sworn her partner was someone else. Cigarettes? Morley's? She had never seen Mulder smoke, much less anything of that brand. It reeked of the man she had seen in Kersh's office, the one who seemed so hell bent on ruining Mulder's life.

"Since when do you smoke," she barked, incredulous. What in the hell was going on?

"Well..." He faltered a bit, before lazily shrugging and drawling. "You're not going to be a Nazi about it, are you?"

Without a word she closed the door on him and returned to the gas pump, putting it back on the hook and going inside to pay. Morley's? Ignoring the phone? Making her pump the gas? Not that she couldn't pump the gas but somehow it had always ended up being him, and Scully never minded. It had never been a "woman" issue, just that was the flow of their relationship. There were things Mulder did because he felt it was polite, and Scully had gone along with it because she knew it was Mulder's attempts at being a gentleman. Mulder was a gentleman about so few things in life, she appreciated what she could get out of him.

Scully had seen Mulder sulk. She had experienced more than a few Mulder tirades, and she lived through full on, towering, terrifying, black rages. He could be truly frightening when really upset. But never once had she ever seen his behavior stoop to being downright…well, downright rude. So what if they had missed his contact, he should have expected that going in. It was by far not the first time they had run into this sort of thing, and certainly not the last. She had warned him before she even agreed to come. So why the attitude? Was it because she had warned him, because he expected an "I told you so"?

The distasteful Morley's in hand, Scully returned to the car, the sound in there loud enough to rattle even the windows of the convenience store. She opened up the door, her head thudding with the noise, and reached out to turn down the music with a preemptory snap. Mulder scowled.

"Hey," he began, but she cut him off.

"No loud music in the car, we established that years ago." She tossed the Morley's in his lap. "And no smoking in the car either."

"No smoking in the…"

"It's a rental," she cut him off, pointing to the company sticker on the back of the sun visor. "And unless you want to cough up the $200 rental cleaning fee on your credit card, you won't be smoking that in here. Perhaps you really want to walk home, which at this point with your attitude I'm perfectly fine in letting you do."

Mulder stared at her as if he had never seen her lose her temper before. "You really have that much of an issue with smoking?"

"Mulder, in the five-and-a-half years I've known you, you have never smoked. You told me you stopped years ago."

He considered this briefly. "Relapse…you know, with everything of late." He shrugged half-heartedly.

Everything of late? She sighed. Perhaps it was half of an excuse, but not much of one. "Mulder, I know things have been tough. I know with our work, Kersh, your accident, it hasn't been easy. But you don't have to take it out on me, and you certainly don't need those death sticks." She reached out and yanked them off his lap before he could stop her, earning a protesting yelp. "You are a better person than this, you know it and falling back on old vices is not the answer."

She had him and he knew it. His mouth worked as he desperately fought for a response to it. "You're right" he agreed, slowly. "But, you know, just a little could help…"

"No," she ground out, tossing the pack out of the window. He looked about ready to run out and grab it, but she stopped him, a hand on his shoulder.

"We have a flight in two hours back to DC. Don’t make me shoot you because of petty squabble over a pack of cigarettes."

Her threat earned a snort and a laugh, until he saw she was deadly serious. "I'm your partner, Dana. You wouldn't shoot me."

"Why not? I've done it once before?" Her eyebrow arched quietly at him as he swallowed, hard.

"Oh," he squeaked, nodding slowly. "Well, you know, I think maybe there was a reason I stopped. Maybe it isn't such a hot idea picking up bad habits, huh?" He smiled nervously as he started the car, shooting her sideways glances as they pulled out onto the highway.

"Mulder," she sighed in mild exasperation, sinking into the seat and expecting a very long trip home. "I don't know what has gotten into you. It was like you were fine when we stopped, and now you're different."

"I'm fine," he replied absently, glancing in the rearview mirror. "Really, I've never felt better.”

Why wasn't he acting better, she mused sourly, as they sped off into the night.

Chapter Text

Scully wasn't sure who was more surprised in that moment, sitting in Kersh's office, herself or the Assistant Director. She blinked, wide eyed at Kersh as he returned the sentiment, before rising to follow Mulder's jaunty steps away from Kersh's desk and out into his reception area.

"Mulder," she hissed, chasing after him, her high heels slowing her down as she tried to meet his longer strides. "Mulder!"

He turned on her, smiling broadly. "What?"

"What was that about?" She flung an angry fingers back to Kersh's office. Just inside the doorway she could see his secretary watching the two of them with bored interest.

"'What was what about?" He was deadly serious as he said it. What in the hell was going on here?

"I'd give his name if I had it?" He obviously saw nothing wrong in his actions. "Whatever happened to protecting our contacts? Protecting our work?" Wasn't that what he had been howling about for weeks? Ever since they had placed on this BS detail? Ever since Diana Fowley had taken over? The work came first and foremost and now he was spilling the beans to the one man who wanted to see that work completely finished? But Mulder seemed totally unfazed now.

"He asked!" He shrugged, pausing as he turned to glance curiously back into Kersh's office. "Hang on a second."

He turned, his charming smile flashing to the fore as he crossed to Kersh's secretary's desk. The woman glanced up at him warily until he leaned over to her, whispering something into her ear. To Scully's horror and amazement, the woman blushed clear up to the roots of her hair and giggled, before nodding. Her answer pleased Mulder apparently, who stood up, with a smug, self-satisfied look.

"Well, okay then." He turned and was met with Scully's coldly stunned stare.


"What is going on with you?" Had he completely lost his mind? In what universe did he think these actions were appropriate? Even at his worst, when she had first begun to work with him, Mulder had always been discreet and never, ever picked up women in front of her. And since when had he started dating again? The very idea of it cut at Scully as Kersh's secretary ducked her eyes somewhat guiltily.

But Mulder acted as if somehow she was in the wrong with this. "Will you please stop trying to pick a fight with me?"

"You are acting bizarre," she snapped.

Her answer only made him leer as he glanced back towards Kersh's secretary. "Jealous?" He nodded knowingly and for a heartbeat Scully feared that somehow, someway her partner knew the truth about her, about her feelings, about everything she had thought about Diana Fowley these last few months.

And then the flat of his hand connected with her ass sharply, and Scully saw nothing but red.

She turned to stare at her partner as he jauntily strolled down the hall. She held the offended part of her anatomy as she vacillated between screaming at him and pulling her weapon. How dare he? Mulder had never, ever once crossed a line with her, not even, if she admitted it, when she wanted him to. A hand at the small of her back, yes, the occasional hug, even a simple kiss on the cheek, but never had he violated her physically in a demeaning way. And there he was, acting as if that sort of treatment was normal for any woman.

"Mulder!" She called, her voice ringing with cold fury, the sort that stopped many a medical new intern or FBI recruit dead in their tracks. Likewise, it stopped her partner. He turned, like a deer caught in halogen spotlights. She pulled up her full height, which wasn't much by any standards, but was intimidating when she pulled out all of the command and authority she had learned at the knee of her admiral father.

She walked slowly up to him, imperious as a queen as she moved to stand beneath his nose. She knew her eyes flashed and she felt him cringe just a bit. "I don't know what has gotten into you. You have insulted several people, you are throwing away your life's work, our life's work without even a thought, and you are acting as if you are a teenaged lothario in the office, clearly against all forms of protocol. And frankly, Mulder, I don't care. I may have given up everything for you and your damned quest, but if you want to act like an ass, I won't stop you."

She leaned in close, so close, right up to his shoulder, her lips just under his jaw. He never normally wore this much after-shave, she noted, as she murmured low in a voice as frigid as the Antarctic hole he had found her in that summer. "But I will tell you this, Fox Mulder. If you ever - ever - lay a hand on me in a way that I deem inappropriate, I will not hesitate in carrying out my shooting threat, and this time, I won't aim for your shoulder." She pointedly let her gaze drift down to somewhere around his belt buckle.

"Errr….." Real fear flashed in Mulder's eyes and she watched his Adam's apple work nervously as she stepped away. "Sorry?"

"You have never, ever insulted me like this once in all the time I've known you." And it hurt her to see it out of him now. "You're my best friend, Mulder. Now…I don't know who the hell you are."

Her heels spun as she wheeled down the hallway, furious, back ramrod straight as she stalked to the elevators. Behind her Mulder seemed to recover himself enough to shake off the fear of God she had placed into him, and come chasing after her, looking somewhat contrite.

"Look, Dana, I'm sorry." He flashed a grin that she had no patience with as she punched the button and waited. "Look, I know I'm not being myself, but…I don't know, I've felt…weird, out of place since we were out there in the desert."

"Out of place?" Enough for a whole personality change? "Mulder you are acting as if you are someone else."

"No, it's me, I assure you." He rushed quickly as the doors opened up. "But…I don't know, we were out there, and I…just felt different."

Her bone chilling fury thawed somewhat as she frowned up at him, glancing at the lingering wound he still carried from the Queen Anne. "Do we need to take you in for more tests? It takes weeks to recover from a concussion and you had a nasty one after your accident."

"Accident…yeah, that must be it. You know I had a bit of a headache while we were out there."

"Why didn't you say something," she admonished, reaching up to prod the area gently. He flinched, but allowed her to look as the doors of the elevator opened. "Head injuries aren't something to mess with, Mulder. Let me get you in to see a specialist, we'll see if something is going on neurologically."

"No," he assured her, nearly dragging her off the elevator and towards the bullpen with their desks. "No, I'm fine, really, you know, a couple of Tylenol and some sleep I'll be right as rain, normal Mulder."

He was such a baby about doctors. "Mulder, take my professional, medical advise. Go see a doctor about this. Personality changes are a sign of real, brain trauma. We don't know what might have happened."

"I'm fine, Dana, really." He grinned, the boyish smile Mulder had when he was trying to get out of something. Except it was off, different. There was something wrong about the look in his eyes, the tilt of his head. As if someone else was trying to make Mulder's face work for them.

"You're sure?" She didn't believe him for a second but wasn't exactly in a position to argue it with him.

"Positive. Now, let's get over there and do some real work."

"Real work? Mulder I've been trying to get you to do that for years." But he ignored her as he high tailed it to his desk, flipping on his computer, and looking as if he were seriously engaging in the real business of the FBI. Scully didn't buy it for a minute. But what else could she say? Quietly, she followed, settling at her desk behind him.

"Mulder, I hope you are all right."

"I'm fine! Stop mothering me."

Scully stared at the back of Mulder's dark head. Fine was the last thing he was right now.

Chapter Text

So much for doing real FBI work, Scully thought dully, as she watched Mulder ever so carefully align his electronic putter and hit the digital golf ball across a pixilated green. From the way he writhed and scowled, you would have thought he was at Augusta National trying to hit a hole-in-one at the Masters.

"Come on, baby, be the hole," he begged, as on his monitor the imaginary ball rolled straight into an imaginary hole.

"Mulder," she cautioned, just as he shouted with triumph, causing half of the office to turn and glare at him. Mulder already wasn't particularly popular, and this little display wasn't earning him any brownie points.

"I got a birdie!" He beamed, proudly pointing to his screen. Scully felt her mouth tighten as she nodded with the sort of patience mother's had for their small children. Before she could formulate a proper rebuke, however, her phone rang. Perfect, she grumbled, picking it up. Likely Kersh wondering why it was Mulder was more keen on being Jack Nicholas than doing his paid job.

"Scully," she answered, as Mulder prepared for his next hole, carefully choosing which imaginary iron he wanted to use.

"Oh, thank goodness!" The strange masculine voice at the other end sighed in utter relief. "Scully, it's me!"

Obviously, this person assumed that somehow she should know him. "I'm sorry, who is this?"

"It's me," he insisted again. "Mulder!"

Mulder? Funny, she thought, staring at her partner as he somehow managed to smack his ball off the green and into an impossibly blue, rippling pond. He swore softly, throwing a pencil in frustration.

"Mulder," she replied, wondering what sort of game was really going on here. Had Mulder put someone up to this?

"I'm sorry, I couldn't call sooner. Look, something really weird happened last night when that UFO passed over us."

"UFO?" What UFO? She had stood right there and saw nothing but armed security, men in black suits, herself, and Mulder.

"You don't remember? You don't remember….okay, the man that you're with, that's not me. His name is Morris Fletcher. He's an Area 51 employee."

To be honest, this sounded disturbingly like something Mulder would try to convince her of. "Morris Fletcher?

"That's right. Everybody here seems to think that I'm him, but I'm not. I'm me! I'm Mulder."

This was too much. If Mulder had put someone up to this, she would kill him. Placing a hand over the phone, she hissed at Mulder, getting his attention. He turned, blinking at her as she pointed to the receiver. He nodded in understanding and grabbed the other line.

The voice continued talking. "As long as they think that I'm him I have access, but I'm going to need your help."

There was an audible click as Morris dialed in and Scully cursed as the voice paused, suddenly cautious.

"Uh…what was that?" She hoped to play this off, to pretend that it was something on his end, but the speaker was spooked now.

"This may not be a secure line," he warned.

Damn it. She glared at Mulder, thinking fast. "Mulder, uh…where are you?"

"Better not say," the speaker responded vaguely. "Look, just get out here as soon as you can."

Get out where? "How can I get in touch with you?"

"You won't. I'll get in touch with you."

The line went dead with a dull buzzing.

Scully put down her receiver, frowning at Mulder thoughtfully. The voice at the other end of the line didn't sound like Mulder's voice, but it did sound like Mulder's thought process. The paranoia, the craziness of the theory, it all fit Mulder much better than the behavior of the man standing in front of her. But that was not his voice.

"Who do you suppose that was," Mulder wondered, perhaps a tad too nonchalant. She frowned.

"That wasn't your source?" She had rather hoped he recognized the person, that all this "it's Mulder" business was a cover to get her to trust him. "Well, I'll run a trace."

"Uh…no," Mulder countered, quickly jumping in. "No, I think we should notify El Jefe ASAP." He shot up, nervously nodding. "We don't want our collective asses chewed out all over this."

Our collective asses…El Jefe…notify? Scully stared up at this man with her partner's face. What was going on? "Are you sure that's the best thing to do?"

"Look, little lady," he snapped, stunning Scully once again. "I think it's time you got your panties straight. We're federal officers, we go by the book."

With that he turned and marched out of the bullpen, leaving stunned personnel, including Scully, in his wake. They all turned to her, mouth's agape. None of them had ever heard Mulder speak like that to anyone. And Scully had never been so insulted by him, that much was certain. Little lady? Her panties on straight? Mulder was never so demeaning, so crude! Yes, she was short, Scully acknowledged that, but…

"Someone should read up on his manual regarding the FBI policy on sexual harassment," one female agent hissed loudly, giving Scully a sympathetic nod. "Honestly, you don't have to put up with that. So many men around here think they can bully women. As if we can't do this job better, and in half the time too, while wearing high heels."

Scully blinked at the woman's well-meaning gesture, but was too hurt and startled to respond. Mulder never spoke like that to her, and never spoke like that about their jobs. Go by the book? She wasn't sure Mulder even knew a book existed, let alone knew what was in it. She was fairly certain he hadn't followed it once in his whole FBI career. She thought of the voice on the other end of the phone line, telling her he was Mulder, urging her to come out to him so he could infiltrate this supposed Area 51. That certainly sounded like some cockamamie scheme Mulder would cook up, especially if, by some strange happenstance, he had switched bodies, like he said. And the first person Mulder would call in all of this would be Scully. But how? She was standing right there the whole time. There was no UFO, there was nothing. They ran into the men in black suits, were told to leave, and she and Mulder did as they were told. No bright lights, no flashes, nothing happened.

Except Mulder wasn't acting like Mulder, and this stranger named Morris Fletcher, somewhere out in Nevada, certainly was. The spot above her eyebrow where her deadly tumor once resided began to pound violently as she considered this. What the hell did she know? Stranger things had happened. Just three weeks ago she had been walking the hallways of a ghost ship, perfectly in tact. What if there was some sort of Freaky Friday body swap? What if Mulder really was in the body of Morris Fletcher, and Morris Fletcher was now the lascivious, two-faced, blabbermouth that she witnessed here. No…no, she was willing to take certain steps into the unknown, but this…this was going too far. There had to be a reasonable explanation for all this, one that didn't involve old, Disney plotlines. And she was sure she could find it at the end of that man's telephone call. Scully snapped up her telephone receiver, dialing up the operator.

"Hi there, this is Agent Scully. Could you run a trace on the last phone call I received? Thanks!" Hopefully that would answer her questions, and they could start getting to the bottom of this. Because if Mulder didn't stop, she might just have to speak to HR after all, and not about harassment, about her partner's mental health.

And who the hell was "El Jefe"?

Chapter Text

By three o'clock, when her partner hadn't returned from speaking to "El Jefe", Scully took a chance and called his cell. No answer. She called his home phone. There was still nothing. When she had run out of contact numbers, she took her keys and decided to drive out to Virginia to see just what could be keeping him from his pressing schedule of golf video games. Four hours for a lunch break hardly seemed necessary, even for Mulder.

She had her keys out as she got off the elevator to Mulder's floor. During midday it was quiet, most everyone was at work, and the apartment next to his had been empty for a month. So it was a bit of a shock to hear voices and giggling coming from the direction of Mulder's apartment. It was even more of a shock to see Kersh's pretty, snotty secretary stepping out of the apartment marked "42", her suit jacket off, her perfectly coiffed hair a mess, and her clothes looking decidedly haphazard. Scully stopped dead as the woman leaned in for a kiss, laughing as she pulled away with a knowing, Cheshire smile.

She turned towards Scully as the door closed, meeting the other woman's astonishment without even a blush. Cool as ice water she slinked past Scully, her suit jacket tossed over a shoulder, giving her a small, triumphant smile. "Agent Scully," she nodded, wiping perfunctorily at her lipstick.

It was clear as to what had messed it up. Scully felt her face burn.

Frozen in hurt and horror, she watched Kersh's secretary saunter onto the elevator, torn as to what to do. Had Mulder really…would he do such a thing? Perhaps the Mulder of five, six years ago, yes, he admitted as much, but never his own boss's secretary. And would he do that to her? Confusion warred with raw anger as she found the ability to move again and knocked, firm and hard, against Mulder's closed door.

"Just can't get enough, huh," he drawled from inside as his footsteps made their way to the door.

"It's me," she shot back coldly.

Mulder opened the door, standing with a cigarette between his full lips. His shirt was only partially on, his necktie hanging loose on his neck. His hair looked decidedly ruffled, as if frantic fingers had run through it. He didn't seem the least bit ashamed of any of it. "Oh, hey Dana!"

A part of her thought it made an amazingly, stunningly attractive picture, the site of her partner in such disarray, like something out of an old, film noir, heavy eyed and smoke curling about him. That was the part that wasn't screaming in outrage at his misconduct, his disrespect, and the sheer hurtful gall he had displayed all day. Blinding anger relieved her of any weakness she might have displayed as righteous indignation took control.

"What do you think you're doing?" Not that she had to ask. It was rather obvious. Kersh's secretary? Scully would have almost preferred it be Diana Fowley to that condescending bitch of a woman!

"Oh, you know," he shrugged, adjusting his shirt haphazardly. "Just a little lunch break. What's up?"

A lunch break? Was that what he called it in the old days? Scully clung to the professionalism she had cultivated all her life, resisting the urge to smack him across the face, hard. "We got the trace back on the call we received this morning. It came from a gas station pay phone off of Highway 375, three miles east of Groom Lake."


Mulder was never this obtuse. "And I'm thinking it was your source, although I don't know why he'd try and impersonate you."

"Maybe so," he shrugged, indifferent. Scully's eyes narrowed.

"You don't think that we should follow up on this?"

"Are you out of your pretty, little mind?" He stared at her as if suddenly she was the crazy one. Mulder…Fox Mulder never, ever responded like this. Mulder would have been five steps ahead of her, already had the plane tickets booked, and would have had a plan of action on how to talk her into this. Fox Mulder would have never demeaned her, nor would he have stood there, looking rumpled and hopelessly sexy after having an encounter with his boss's secretary and not even appear to be the least bit ashamed in front of Scully. Fox Mulder wouldn't be running to Kersh every five minutes as if he needed a confessional.

Tears pricked her eyes, angry hot ones, as her face flushed, her jaw quivering with outrage. "Am I out of my mind," she repeated, meeting the familiar green eyes that were suddenly foreign and strange to her. "Mulder, you are out of your mind? What is up with you? I'm thinking about having you examined for mental illness or…drug use, or…maybe a massive head injury. This is an X-file, your life's work, your crusade!"

"As I understand it," he replied glibly, "we're off the X-files."

Rage filled her to the breaking point. She had no words, she had no coherent thoughts, all she had was hurt, pain, and raw fury as she stormed out of Mulder's apartment, slamming the door so hard the aluminum "4" drunkenly came loose and swung upside down. It didn't open again and Mulder didn't try to stop her.

Dear God, she fumed, tears falling as she jammed at the elevator violently, praying the car would come up faster. What if the caller had been right. What if it was Mulder at the other end of the line? What if this lothario, this reckless, insensitive, womanizing asshole was not her partner? How did this happen? Why did it happen? How could she get him back? Because this…this thing masquerading as her partner, this thing could not stay. She had to get rid of it, she had to find out what was going on.

As she hit the bottom floor, she had her phone out and was already calling the airline she frequented most. "Yes, this is Dana Scully, I'd like to book the next flight I can get to Vegas. I don't care if it has a connection, I just need to get there now."

Chapter Text

Where the hell was this place?

There was desert for miles and miles all around, nothing but jackrabbits and rattlesnakes, with the occasional tumbleweed for company. Even in early autumn it was warm, as Scully paused, staring down at the two-bit map of Nevada she had taken from the car rental place in Vegas. She really was in the middle of nowhere here. It was roughly the same place she had been to with Mulder, and yet….

"Where the hell is Rachel, Nevada?"

Scully had traced down a Morris Fletcher through his tax records. He lived in a small, military housing town named Rachel, near several Army and Air Force bases. He paid his taxes regularly, though Scully doubted his title of "consultant" was really what he did for the US government, and he had lived at the same address for the last fifteen years. He had a wife, two children, a boy and a girl, and a nice pension and 401K investment. Nothing about this man screamed that he would turn traitor towards his own government and inform on his bosses to and FBI agent. Morris Fletcher looked, at least on paper, to be incredibly dull.

So why was he calling Scully? And what did this have to do with anything?

She was tired. She flew from DC to Chicago last night, hanging out for three hours as she waited for a flight to Las Vegas. She landed with only her purse - she hadn't bothered with a carry on - and went straight to car rentals. Now, hours later, she was dirty, grungy, and decidedly thirsty. The gas station she had received her call from should be just ahead. In the distance she thought she saw the familiar building she and Mulder had stopped at the other night. But as she neared it, it became clear that what should have been a gas station was a burned out husk, the entire building charred and unrecognizable. Scully drove past it, staring. How could this be? It was just fine just the other day? Spinning the car around, she pulled into the parking lot, getting out of her vehicle to investigate.

The convenience store was ruined. Behind it sat the frame of a burned out truck, skeletal in the early morning light. The scent of smoke was cloying, filling her nostrils with scorched metal and melted plastic. What had happened here? An accident? But how could that be, the call she received had come from here just yesterday morning? This place would have had to burn sometime after that.

At her feet, something shiny caught her eye. She paused, spotting two coins on the ground. She picked them up, studying them. a penny and a dime, one the coppery color of her own hair, the other smaller and silver. Somehow, inexplicably, the silver dime rested perpendicular to the copper penny, forming a cross, fused together without any mark or solder. She frowned, studying it, wondering how in the world that could be? And just where in the world did it come from?

Disturbed, Scully got back into her car and pulled out, tires peeling as she sped away from the carnage.

It took another hour for her to reach Rachel. It was indeed an out of the way place, a small, suburban looking subdivision, out in the middle of nowhere, filled with cookie-cutter, two story houses. The military was getting better at housing these days, she mused, thinking about the housing she grew up in as a child. The town, as much as one could call military housing a town, was fairly self-sustaining she noticed. For the few thousand who lived in Rachel, there was a Pavilion's grocery store, a post office, and a small downtown area filled with local stores and small restaurants, there was even a high school, everything a community of people working in top, secret, military research could want.

It felt rather stifling to Scully.

Perhaps it was her prejudice showing. Frankly, she had loved being a Navy brat, able to move about with her family, see the world. She barely remembered Japan from her childhood, but she did remember trips to Europe every so often, and one to Hawaii with her father on business. She had been all across the country and up and down both coasts, and never once had she felt boxed in. Naval housing didn't work that way. It perhaps had the cookie-cutter feel itself from time-to-time, but you were a part of the community, you went to the same schools normal kids went to. You could have friends whose parents weren't in the Navy, though that was sort of hard when you lived in a big, Navy city like San Diego or Norfolk. Here in this dusty little place everyone was either in the Army, or the Air Force, or was a scientist or military contractor working for one or the other. It wasn't the Navy way of doing things, at least not how she remembered. She was suddenly, infinitely glad her family were sailors and not soldiers.

Fletcher's home was well in the center of town, a large, two-story home, and the sort that her parents could only afford once her father had reached the rank of rear admiral. It looked quaint enough, Scully decided, as she parked in front of it and tried to make herself as presentable as she could after a night in the airport. She would go in there, chat with Fletcher, try to get to the bottom of this, and see what, if anything this man knew, and if it was important. Else all of this - even the erratic behavior of Mulder - was going to be for not.

She made her way down the walk, hoping she wasn't too early as she reached the door. She thought she could hear voices inside and prayed she wasn't waking anyone up as she rang the doorbell. A woman in a bathrobe, smiling pleasantly answered the door.

"My name is Dana Scully. I'm looking for Morris Fletcher?"

The woman's cheerful smile immediately fell. Jealousy and outrage flashed briefly on her sullen face as she turned to yell over her shoulder. "Morris!" She then turned back to Scully, sizing her up from head-to-toe before sniffing contemptuously. Silent alarms went off in Scully's head. Was she missing something here?

Thumping footsteps sounded, and a middle aged man with graying hair and a bit of a paunch came to the door, grinning from ear-to-ear at the sight of Scully. It dawned on her that he was the man from the other night, one of the ones in the black suits, the one who seemed to be the ringleader. Why he was giddy to see her, she had no idea, she hadn't exchanged more than a few words with him. Whatever the reason was, the woman clearly didn't like it, as she slapped him, hard, across the face, crying "You son-of-a-bitch!" She turned back into the house without another word.

What in the hell was that all about?

"Morris Fletcher?" Scully wasn't so sure what was going on here.

The man gingerly prodded his cheek before answering, glancing furtively back in the direction his wife stalked off to.

"Scully," he whispered excitedly. "It's me. It's Mulder."

He closed the door behind him, taking her elbow and pulling her into the driveway, away from the house. Nervously, Scully glanced back to the large, living room windows, where Mrs. Fletcher glared at them with hatred, clearly upset over something.

"Your…'re the man from the other night? From Area 51." What was this about Mulder? Had Fletcher lost his mind too?

"Liar!" Mrs. Fletcher screamed as something broke ominously inside the house.

"You phoned me," Scully continued, trying to ignore the banging going on beyond her. "Would you mind telling me what this is about?"

"I'm Mulder," the man insisted, frustration evident. "I'm really Mulder. I switched bodies, places, identities with his man Morris Fletcher, the man that you think is Mulder, but he's not."

He spotted his own reflection in the side mirror of the car and his face fell. "Of course you don't believe me." He gave an ironic shrug, shaking his head in bemusement at her. "Why was I expecting any different?"

Before Scully could answer, he continued. "Your full name is Dana Katherine Scully. Your badge number is…hell, I don't know your badge number. Your mother's name is Margaret. Your brother's name is Bill Jr. He's in the Navy and he hates me."

He paused, looking to her for any hope of recognition. But she wasn't about to give him any. If he was smart enough to find Mulder, then he was smart enough to find out any of those things about her, especially if he worked for the government. It wasn't hard. Scully's question was why was he so keen on proving to her that he was her partner?

"Lately, for lunch, you've been having this six ounce cup of yogurt, plain yogurt, into which you stir bee pollen because you're on a bee pollen kick, even though I tell you you're a scientist and you should know better."

That caught her by surprise. How would Morris Fletcher know that little tidbit? She wanted to press him, to confront him on why he knew these things and what good was it trying to prove he was Mulder, but his wife took that moment to open the front door and shriek "cheater" at the top of her lungs, before dumping an entire pile of black suits on the dewy, freshly watered front lawn.

Fletcher hardly seemed to notice.

"Look," Scully sighed patiently, unsure of what was going on here, or for that matter, anyone's sanity. "Any of that information could have been gathered by anyone."

"Even the yogurt thing?" Fletcher stared at her in disbelief and exasperation. "That…that is so you!" He exploded, rolling his eyes and fling a hand up in frustration in a gesture that struck Scully as disturbingly Mulder-ish. She had seen him do it often enough in her presence, and usually at a moment like this. "That is so Scully! Well, it's good to know you haven't changed. That's somewhat comforting."

Scully wasn't nearly as amused by Fletcher's sarcasm. "I don't know what the point of this is."

"I'll prove it to you," Fletcher insisted, eyes blazing in a disturbingly familiar fashion. Scully swallowed.

"No, you won't," Scully replied evenly. "But I wouldn't mind if you came clean with me." Someone, somewhere in all of this had to start making sense to her.

"Scientific proof about what happened to us on that road two nights ago." Fletcher ignored her request, set on proving his point. "Fair enough?"

"I'm calling the police!" His wife called ominously.

Scully was wondering if she had somehow stumbled on a madhouse, or maybe, just maybe, she was the one who was crazy in all of this, finally driven to insanity by her partner. None of this, Fletcher, Mulder, the mad woman at the door, made any sense at all.

Fletcher clasped his hands together, looking at her pleadingly.

She had enough of this. "Goodbye Mr. Fletcher."

She turned away from the deranged scene as Fletcher called after her. "I will prove it to you, Scully. Tonight! I'll prove everything. Okay?"

She didn't bother to give him a response as she got into her car.

Silently she started her car as Morris Fletcher's wife came out on the lawn to berate him further, yelling and pounding on his chest. But he hardly seemed to notice as Scully pulled away. The entire house was filled with lunacy, Fletcher believing he was Mulder? His wife attacking him for doing nothing more than talk to her? Was this really Mulder's contact? And what sort of game were the two of them playing with her?

Why had she ever agreed to come to this damnedable state?

She would go home, she reasoned. She would go home, confront Mulder, lay all of her cards on the table. She would remind him that she had come back to the FBI at his insistence, and had suffered all manner of insult in the months since because of it. First there was his distrust in her. Then there was his unquestioned loyalty to Diana Fowley, who had proven she could not be trusted. And now there was his total abandonment of his work, to the point of ruining Scully's reputation without even a second thought. If this was the game he was prepared to play after all these years, then she was done. She would leave, for good, and go back to medicine where she belonged. She didn't need to be treated like this. Hell, Morris Fletcher, with all of his insanity, treated her better than Mulder had of late.

She tried not to think of the eerie way Fletcher's expression had lit into brilliance, just as Mulder's did when he decided he would prove her wrong. It was a coincidence, really. Many people got excited over things like that. And many, she assumed, would become just as exuberant. Besides, she thought to herself, it was absurd for her to think that Mulder had somehow switched bodies. It was physically impossible.

As was a ghost ship, she supposed…and an alien spacecraft…and a man having a Siamese Twin who could detach itself.


Across the console between seats, the strange fused coins rattled and rolled, another impossibility that seemed to somehow inexplicably exist. If her experiences on the X-files had taught her nothing else, it was that however she expected the universe to work, it invariably did the opposite. Whether it was to spite her or to prove Mulder right, she hadn't determined yet.

Her cell phone rang as she made it back out to the main highway. Scully picked it up, hoping that it was Mulder. "Scully."

"You're in Nevada again." Far from her partner's East Coast accent, it was the deep and disapproving tones of the last man in the world she wanted to know her whereabouts. Damn it all to fucking hell!

"Uh, sir, I am," she admitted, thinking frantically of an excuse to give him, but he cut her off before she could even formulate one.

"Do not speak, Agent. Listen." He spoke like one getting ready to pronounce sentence on a convict. "Your partner already apprised me of his conversation with the Air Force in his fervent desire to save you from making a fatal career mistake. Therefore, you will follow my instructions to the letter."

Her partner? What the hell? How could Mulder possibly know what she was up to? "Sir, I don't know what Agent Mulder might have told you, but I…"

"You will follow my instructions to the letter," Kersh barked. "Otherwise, don't bother coming back from Nevada."

Silenced, Scully fumed as Kersh continued, quietly cursing him, Mulder, and this entire situation. She was half tempted to tell Kersh to shove it and let him fire her. After all this, she wasn't sure she even wanted to come back from Nevada. Mulder had betrayed her…of all people. How could he have done that to the person he had risked everything to save? After everything that she had done for him and he for her, how could it all end like this?

"Am I clear, Agent Scully?" Kersh's demand was not a casual question, but an order.

"Perfectly, sir," she snapped, not even caring she only half-paid attention to anything he said. She was going to kill, Mulder, she would wrap her hands around his throat and wring it. And then she would stab him in the heart for good measure, just so he could know how it felt. At this moment, her heart felt shattered into a million pieces, scattered into the ashes of a once promising career.

"Good! Then you will meet Agent Mulder at the location I gave you and you will do as you are told. And maybe, just maybe, you'll be allowed a hearing before you are fired for insubordination and misconduct.

"Yes, sir," she ground out, her teeth nearly breaking with the effort.

"Very good, Agent Scully. I trust I don't need to repeat myself?"

"No, sir," she replied, before snapping off her cell without even the courtesy of a formal goodbye. Let the asshole take that how he wanted.

Betrayed, by her own best friend, by the man she had followed loyally, given up everything for, the man she had come to care for, to trust, to love. How could this have happened? Why? How could he have done this to her? Not even Diana Fowley's presence could explain this sort of reversal. It made no sense. All she knew was that she was supposed to convince Morris Fletcher to meet her that night with his "proof" about his story, and then she was to hand him over to the Air Force authorities. As simple as that. Turn in the mad man, the mole, the narc, and she could get the luxury of not being brought up on charges of conspiracy against the US government. Betray a man who had done nothing, outside of behaving irrationally, just because Mulder had lost his mind.

"Et tu, Mulder," she whispered, tears blinding her as she tore down the road.

Chapter Text

When Scully saw Mulder again, she slapped him so hard, her fingers ached from it. It was clearly not pleasant for Mulder either, who reeled away from her across the gas station parking lot, eyes large as he held his now angry, red cheek. "What the hell?"

"Trust, Mulder, our relationship has always been based on trust!" She screamed at him viciously as he tried to duck from her and found nothing in the dark, dimly lit, gas station parking lot. "I worked damn hard to earn yours and you had mine, nd now that's all gone, thrown away because you have lost what little mind you had left?" She hauled off, prepared to strike him again before he reached out to grab her wrist, stopping her before he ended up with a black eye.

"Dana, listen, I did it for your own good, for our own good."

"And that's another thing, Fox!" she snarled, yanking her arm away from him. "Since when have I become Dana?"

He blinked blankly at her. "Isn't that your first name?"

She could only guess the look she shot him was venomous because he quailed visibly, scooting back several yards in the growing darkness, as if hoping to escape from her into the desert. "Why in the hell are you trying to kill me?"

"Because whatever is going on with you, you are not Fox Mulder!" She knew that now, that something was horribly wrong in all of this, she just didn't know what. "Fox Mulder would never run to Kersh to vent his spleen on anything. He would never call me Dana unless it was important. He would never call a woman 'little lady' or 'honey', and most of all he would never, ever, EVER compromise his work!"

As she spoke she slowly stalked up to him, quivering with rage. "I got a call from Kersh today. He knew I was out here, because you tattled like a three-year-old. And now I'm preparing to betray a man who trusted us, trusted you, Mulder. If he's deranged or not, I don't know, though frankly I'm wondering if you aren't as well. He's being set up for a fall I suspect you of making, and Fox Mulder would never do that."

Despite her ire, Mulder managed to collect himself finally, shoving an irritated finger under her nose. "Look, maybe you haven't seen the light yet, but I have. And sister, I know where my bread is buttered. I'm tired of taking the crap of everyone just to get booted doing crap work. I've got more going for myself than that, qnd frankly, from what I've seen, you've been so busy worrying about 'the work' you haven't paid attention to the right now. What I did saved our asses. It means we get to still have jobs at the FBI, and that's a hell of a lot better than breaking the rules, being mavericks, and getting busted and sent to work in the middle of nowhere at a dead end job where you answer to an idiot."

"Oh really?" She icy eyes flickered down to his finger and then up to his face. "What the hell sort of job do you think you've got right now, Mulder?"

She spun away from him and let him ponder that one for a while, stalking into the gas station and convenience mart. It was empty there, save for the attendant who had been given the heads up before hand. He eyed her excitedly and tried to nod with all the confident reassurance that he would do his part in the play. It would probably be the most exciting thing that happened around these parts in decades.

Scully felt vaguely ill at the thought.

Their one, best contact in all of this, and Mulder had betrayed him. Betrayed them! And he wasn't sorry for it. He had no better explanation than he was trying to save their asses? A slap in the face was not enough for what she felt now. She wanted him to hurt, like she did, to stand there feeling the cold, awful pain of betrayal that she did. He had demanded so much of her and she had given it, to the point of her own life. And at the end, this was her reward? She would be lucky to walk away from this tonight with her job still in tact and he acted as if he were noble in what he was doing. She glared mutinously at her reflection in the cold drink refrigerator. When this was all over, she would make Fox Mulder regret the day that she had ever stepped foot in his office.

The door of the small station jingled and Scully's stomach dropped. She busied herself with studying the different brands of bottled water on sale as the attendant busily asked Morris Fletcher if he could help him. Personally, the fact that the attendant said anything should have tipped Fletcher off, but it didn't as his well-worn face turned and searched the aisles, alighting on Scully with open relief.

"Scully, I got it!" He smiled, holding up a paper bag in his hand. "I got the proof!"

She couldn't even bring herself to fake a smile. She knew what was coming and felt horrible for it as Fletcher caught on instantly. He turned towards the attendant, who ducked quietly behind the counter, just as several dark cars roared into the drive, lights blazing as bright as the sun into the building. Fletcher turned to her, and Scully didn't need to be standing right in front of him to see the utter betrayal in is face. She had to turn away as federal soldiers stormed in, taking the paper bag from him and shoving him up against the counter. They cuffed his hands and yanked him up, his piercing eyes never leaving Scully's as she moved towards him.

"I'm sorry," she choked out, feeling perhaps the most ashamed of herself that she ever had in her life. She hadn't meant this for Fletcher, not at all.

"Scully," he murmured, his voice a study in broken disbelief. "You?"

She wanted to cry. She wanted to beg him for forgiveness. Others entered, Mulder and two men she didn't know, dressed in those black suits. Likely they worked at the same place Fletcher did. She didn't like the triumphant look in Mulder's eyes as he smiled gloatingly on the scene. Wasn't it enough he had ruined her life, now he had to ruin Fletcher's?

"Damn it, Morris." One of the black-dressed men whispered, clearly disappointed, but Morris ignored him as he lunged towards Mulder, fury burning as he struggled against the soldiers who held him.

"You! You son-of-a-bitch! You orchestrated this whole thing!" His wild gaze turned towards Scully, begging her to listen. "He's not me, Scully! Would I do this? Would I do this?"

His wild accusations were ignored by the guards who drug him, kicking and screaming, out of the front door and into the night, but not without something of a fight. Scully watched, his one phrase ringing in her ears. "Would I do this?"

Would Fox Mulder betray her or betray a source? Never? Would he do something insanely stupid, trying to find hard evidence in some form just to prove to Scully that his wild supposition was correct? Yes, he would do just that and he would walk right into a trap just to prove it if she called him to do it, because Scully - his Scully - would never ever deceive him.

Dear God, she murmured, what had she done?

"No!" Morris - or was it Mulder - screamed back at them. "You bastard, tell them the truth! Scully, he's not me. He's not me, Scully!"

For a middle-aged man who had seen perhaps his fair share of donuts over the years, he fought and grappled violently, but the soldiers carried him off and into their armored vehicle. The black dressed men followed suit, none of them looking at Scully as they did so. She watched silently as they crawled into their equally black cars and drove off, tires peeling into the night.

"You hate me now, right?" Mulder murmured over her shoulder, sounding somewhat apologetic. "Dana, I'm sorry I narced on you to Kersh, but I was scared you were going to lose your job."

Her Mulder would rather have lied for her and totally taken all the blame than rat her out to save her job. And he would have been smart enough to know that spilling his guts was by no means going to save her position. The real Mulder would know that, and she had a feeling she just condemned the real Mulder to the tender mercies of those men in the black suits.

What the hell had she just done?

"No," she murmured through lips suddenly numb. "You did the right thing, Mulder."

"I did?" He squeaked, his voice cracking in blatant disbelief. She turned to glance up at him with as much of a smile as she could manage. "I've been telling you for years you should play more by the book, haven't I?"

He looked as pleased and delighted as a newly praised puppy. "Hey, it's the new me!"

He wasn't even really Mulder. Scully turned to gaze at the retreating headlights in the distance. She had to fix this, somehow, to make this right. But how? No one would believe the man wearing Mulder's face was really Morris Fletcher, and short of the crazy theories being spouted by the man in custody, no one in a million years would think that was Fox Mulder. More than that, she had no proof to explain how it is this even happened. And who could she tell it to? Skinner wasn't speaking to her after the Queen Anne incident, and rightly so. That left Frohike, Langley, and Byers. They would believe her in a heartbeat, but she doubted she wanted to take this creature to them. She didn't foresee it going well.

But first…first she would have to get him to confess to his part in the deception, else she only had her suppositions and the ravings of man under arrest for treason. He had been careful the last few days. While his behavior was abnormal for Mulder, he hadn't done anything overtly obvious. She would need to catch him at something that Mulder in a million years wouldn't do simply because he couldn't. But what?

"Say, partner, you did good work!" Mulder - Morris - clapped a hand to her shoulder in what she presumed he thought was a reassuring gesture, but it only managed to make her skin crawl. "Let's get out of here and back to DC, okay?"

"Yeah," she murmured absently as she followed the red line of cars in the far distance. "I have a few things I want to sort out for myself."

Chapter Text

It was the offer for a home-cooked meal that cemented the truth about Mulder's fate to Scully. The real Fox Mulder couldn't boil water, let alone make an entire dinner. She thought she might have seen him open a can of soup once, but she wasn't sure he ate it hot. Mulder's idea of fine cuisine was ordering from the Chinese food place down the street. If he could wheedle a way into Scully's good graces to get an invite to dinner with her mother, he would find it, and Maggie Scully was usually more than thrilled to indulge him. So how in the hell was he expecting to cook for her? Yet as she approached Mulder's apartment door, the number "4" neatly reattached, she could smell appetizing things emanating from his apartment. It smelled vaguely like garlic and tomato, and not the kind she normally smelled on the pizza he liked to order. Pasta sauce?

Mulder was beaming as he opened the door, wearing casual clothes and an apron that said "something smells good." He waved her in hospitably.

"Perfect timing! Welcome!" He looked proud as Scully stopped dead, staring at the apartment that he had called home for as long as she had known him. The dark, gloomy atmosphere that Mulder normally liked was now suddenly will lit and inviting. Candles sat on the coffee table instead of porn magazines and old copies of the Sunday New York Times, the food cartons collecting by the couch were swept away, even his fish tank was gone. Really? The fish tank? His desk, once piled high with papers was cleaned off and now strange pieces of artwork stood as decoration. And Samantha was gone. The pictures of Samantha that dotted his desk were missing, the dark haired girl who was at the center of so much of their work. Scully stilled as she looked for her, but couldn't find her. This couldn't be Fox Mulder, not really, not if Samantha wasn't present in the room.

"Wow, Mulder," she murmured, trying to sound impressed yet feeling disturbed. How could he just throw out Mulder's life so haphazardly?

"Let me get this!" Mulder - or Morris Fletcher - took her coat, and she let him, surprised at the gesture.

"You like, huh?" He asked eagerly. "I thought it was time I stopped living like a frat boy."

She could disagree with that sentiment, the place did look amazing, but it didn't look like Mulder. But she didn't resist as Mulder…Morris bustled her towards the door by his couch. The scary door. The door that Mulder had once warned her never to open. She had, once, when he had first been injured working with her. He'd been shot in North Carolina, and out of sympathy for him, and a general lack of awareness on her part, she had tried to see inside, hoping to maybe do him a good turn and clean it for him. She had decided never, ever to open that door again. But this Mulder…Morris…opened it with glee.

"I didn't even know you had a bedroom," she croaked, staring wide eyed at the empty space. The stacks of boxes were gone. The very outdated pornographic magazines were gone. In their places was a bed. Was that leopard print? Dear God!

"Oh, yeah," he drawled. "Yeah, got to have someplace to lounge around and read the Sunday New York Times, you know."

Wasn't that what his couch was for?

Mulder…Morris...smiled over at her in a way that was most unbecomingly not Mulder. He patted the bed in what he must assume was an inviting way. Frankly, it was slightly lecherous and more than a bit creepy.

"Uh…no, that's okay, thanks." She wanted nowhere near a bed with him in it.

"Seriously, just check it out," he urged, eager to show off. "Seriously!"

Without even a by your leave, he pulled her to the bed. She sat, and sank, as it rippled and bounced underneath her. A waterbed? God, she hated these things, found them tacky, relics of a decade ago. He plopped beside her, causing the bed to heave like the ocean did in a rough sea and they both fell back, flopping backwards on the water bladder.

"Oh," she gasped, horrified by what her eyes found above her. She was staring straight up at herself, with Mulder lying next to her. And it wasn't sexy, nor was it attractive, it was….disturbing! Like cheesy, 1970's bachelor pad disturbing. Somehow, and Scully wasn't sure how, this man had taken Mulder's scariest room, waist high in things he would rather forget, and turned it into something even more eerie and frightening.

"Mulder," she murmured as he raised a knowing eyebrow at her in the reflection above.

"Maybe I like to read the New York Times backwards."

She just barely contained a wild snort of nervous, horrified laughter.

"Do you hate it?" He turned on his side, fretful, as he looked for her opinion. In a way it was charming he so cared about what she thought. But Scully had a sneaking suspicion she knew why he cared, and the idea of it made her want to hide in her shower for a week. The sleazy fairly oozed off of him, but she had to play her cards right. Fletcher knew where Mulder, the real Mulder was, and she had to get him to take her to him, and she could only do that if she had him in a position he could not get out of. So for now, she would play along.

"No, I don't hate it," she lied, amazed she could keep a straight face. The truth was she loathed it.

Thrilled, he bounced up, sending more waves through the mattress. "Well, all right then. Uh…don't go away." Like a little boy, he rushed from the room into the outer part of the apartment. Scully closed her eyes and began to count to ten.

This was a nightmare. This was worse than a nightmare. How had this happened? Scully's mind raced through a myriad of possibilities. Mulder, her Mulder, the one who was currently Morris Fletcher, had said something about a UFO event. She didn't see anything, but perhaps Mulder and Fletcher did. For whatever reason it effected them, swapping their bodies. But how? For something like that to happen…hell, she didn't know what it took for something like that to happen.

Was Mulder…Morris...singing in the other room? Dear Jesus…

Scully sat up, checking under her suit coat to make sure her gun and handcuffs were in place. Both were. She slapped on welcoming smile she didn't feel as Mulder sauntered in, humming, carrying with him a giant silver bucket, ice cold, holding a bottle of champagne. Surprise, really, couldn't begin to describe the emotion Scully felt just then.

He kicked the door shut with one, socked foot. "I thought we could start the evening with this."

Of all the ways that Scully had imagined herself alone in a bedroom with Mulder, about to be seduced - and in her weaker moments she did admit to having considered it - this wasn't anywhere near close to anything she wildly imagined. He sat at the side with the bucket, setting it on the nightstand as he set down the crystal flutes - he must have bought those as Mulder certainly didn't own any - and reached for the dripping bottle. His eyes met hers in anticipation as he began to unwrap the foil that covered the wire-trapped cork.

"This…this is a whole new side of you, Mulder," she breathed, and thought with more than a little disgust and loathing of the night that Eddie Van Blundht had come to her, wine in hand, and had nearly convinced her to do the unthinkable. He at least had been sensitive. He hadn't been the boorish lout that Fletcher was. She had been taken in by Eddie and his soulful gaze and his ability just to listen. This man had her wanting to kill him without a second thought.

"Well, I figure that with a new me, you know…maybe we can look at things between the two of us differently as well." He was trying to sound seductive, but was failing miserably at it. He grabbed one of the flutes, handing it to her with a laugh. "Want to toast to new beginnings?"

"Sure," she shrugged as he turned to struggle with the wine bottle between his knees. She'd rather toast to final endings, particularly of this charade. As he was occupied, she reached behind her and unhooked her handcuffs, trying her best to pull out her most seductive voice.

"Do you know what would really be fun," she murmured throatily, leaning in as he turned to her, eyes wide.

"What," he gulped, suddenly his attention taken from the bottle and now firmly on her.

She held up her handcuffs, shiny silver, and let them drop to dangle from her perfectly manicured fingers.

He looked as if he had died and gone to heaven. "Oh yeah," he moaned, glancing at her. "Me first?"

"You first," she affirmed with a slow, sexy smile, not that she needed it. The very idea obviously excited him. He snatched them from her and began to fiddle with them, clearly unsure of how a pair of handcuffs even worked. He laughed nervously, looking suddenly shy.

"First time," he apologized, chuckling as he finally managed to get one bracelet around his wrist. He leaned over to loop the other around the bedpost, and as he did Scully rose in one swift move, weapon out and drawn on him. She had it aimed perfectly before he even turned around.

"Now what," he asked excitedly before he faced her and registered there was a gun muzzle pointing at his head.

"You're not Mulder," she snapped, as his anticipation turned to outright panic in an instant.

"What?" In his lap the bottle to the champagne finally popped open, sending a spray of cascading suds raining on his crotch. How poetic.

"Baby," he protested as Scully dropped her aim lower.

"'Baby' me and you'll be peeing through a catheter." And she had no doubt in her mind he believed her when she said that. "Your name is Morris Fletcher. It was Mulder who was arrested in the desert. He was telling the truth about you. Now, how do we get things back to normal."

For the briefest of moments, he looked as if he was going to fight her on this. Finally he gave up, realizing it was no good. She was armed and would shoot him without blinking an eye. "How should I know," he whined, fussily grasping the champagne bottle and setting it, now empty, back into the ice bucket. "I wouldn't do it even if I could. You saw my wife. Do you think I want to go back to that! Two kids who would probably kill me in my sleep for the insurance money. A $400,000 mortgage on a house that just appraised at $226,000. Ye gods! You think being a man in black is all voodoo mind control? I can see the paperwork!"

Fletcher's dramatic rant hardly cooled the edge off her anger. "Are you through?"

Hardly, it seemed. He hunched petulantly on the side of the horrid bed. "As far as I'm concerned this thing is a gift from heaven. Besides, no one is ever going to believe you, so you might as well get used to me being here."

There was a hopeful note in that, one that said that he hoped she did give up, so he could stay there in relative freedom from his responsibilities forever, while Mulder rotted in prison, taking the rap for something he didn't do. Like hell that would happen.

"Or I could just shoot you, baby," she offered by way of a cold alternative.

Fletcher held up his hands desperately. "I'm telling you, I have no idea how to change things back."

"Mulder's source," she snapped. "The man he was supposed to meet in the desert. What about him? Do you know how to get in touch with him?

Fletcher shook his - Mulder's - head. "I don't know anything about that. Sorry, you're out of luck."

The phone in the other room began to ring. Scully silently warned him against even thinking of moving for it and held her gun steady as they waited for the voice message to kick in. The answering machine came on and Mulder's voice spoke into the stillness.

Hello, hello! I'm very busy entertaining a 'special' guest. Leave a message and I'll get back to you.

Scully's sense of outrage and disgust was not in the least bit assuaged by the guilty look on Fletcher - Mulder's - face at the moment.

"Agent Mulder, I'm trying you one last time. Are you or are you not interested in the classified information I have to give you? Please pick up the phone if you're there."

It was the only shot they had. Scully jerked her head towards the extension by the bed and Fletcher picked it up, holding it so that she could hear the receiver as well. "Mulder," he rasped, watching her gun as she continued to train it on him.

"Agent Mulder, thank God!" The voice at the end breathed in relief. "I've been trying to get a hold of you for days."

"I've been tied up," Fletcher lied smoothly, slightly rattling his handcuffed wrist. He was really rather good at this and he fell into reassuring the voice at the other end of the line. "I'm still interested, if you still have it."

"I do," the voice affirmed. "I'm sorry I missed you last time, word got out. This time will be different. I want you to meet me at a hotel not far from base in a town called Rachel. It's where all the army housing is at. There's a hotel there, the Little A'Le Inn, small podunk place with a flying saucer on the sign. Meet me there tomorrow at eight. I'll have the evidence for you then."

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Fletcher assured him dryly, regarding Scully's gun in Mulder's face.

"I'll be waiting inside, there will be a dinner crowd. There's not a lot of places for people in town to go. I'll be wearing a Buffalo Bills cap. You can't miss me."

"I would have taken you for New York Jets man," Fletcher interjected what clearly he thought was a funny quip. The informant didn't.

"Excuse me," he yelped, uncertain as Scully thumbed the safety off her weapon. Fletcher waved Mulder's hands in protest.

"Just trying to make a joke, trying to be funny…obviously failing." He coughed. "Look, okay, be in Rachel, tomorrow, eight, look for guy wearing Bills baseball cap."

"Right, and Agent Mulder, I can't urge secrecy on you enough on this. They suspect someone and so far they are keeping an eye on someone else, but sooner or later my lies aren't going to fool them anymore. They aren't that stupid."

"You want to make a bet," Fletcher breathed softly.

"What was that," the voice asked, but Fletcher covered it quickly in the face of Scully's increasing impatience.

"I'll do my best. See you tomorrow, then." He slammed down the phone before anyone could say anything else stupid and turned to stare cross-eyed at the barrel pointing at his nose.

"You can move that thing, you know, I did what you asked."

"Doesn't mean I can't shoot you just for spite," she replied mildly.

"Would you want to mar Mulder's pretty face?" He smiled winningly at her. It was like some awful caricature of Mulder's well know, charming grin.

"I'll wait till you get to your proper body, and then, Fletcher, all bets are off." Scully thumbed the safety back on and put her gun away, but to Fletcher's undying relief. "So who do you think that was?"

"Wegman," he replied, screwing his face as if he was trying to fit the pieces together, but finding it difficult just to manage. "The general, it sounded like him, and he's a Bills fan, though I hate to tell him his team will never win a Super Bowl. I know someone who has it rigged so it will never happen."

Scully found herself unable to care. "Right, so we are off to Nevada…again." She would be heartily glad to never, ever have to see that state ever, ever again. Even the thought of the slot machines in the airport made her want to wretch. Three times so far in this week was far too much. "You will meet with the informant, you will get the proof from him, and then we will find Mulder and somehow fix this."

"What if we can't," Fletcher offered smugly, perhaps the tiniest bit hopefully.

"You know what I said about shooting you," she offered ominously.

"Oh come on, quit with the shooting bluff. Give a girl a weapon and she flings it around. This is Mulder's body, you wouldn't shoot him!"

What a pompous, misogynist ass! "I assume you've checked out your new body." God even the thought of Fletcher doing that revolted her. "There's a scar on the left shoulder, a puckered one, from where a bullet hole went clean through."

Fletcher stilled in his restraint, feeling underneath the gray shirt he was wearing towards Mulder's collarbone. He felt the lump of skin and became very quiet.

"I put that in Mulder's shoulder once because he wasn't listening to me." It wasn't the entire story, but close enough to shut Fletcher up. "So what was that about not shooting Mulder?"

Fletcher - Mulder's - eyes widened as he yanked against her handcuffs. "You are insane. How they let you…or him for that matter…into the FBI is beyond me."

"Don't worry, if I shoot you I can fix you up. I'm a doctor, Fletcher, they let me have scalpels."

"I don't want you near me with a gun, a knife, anything. You stay away from me with things that could kill me, and I'll….I'll do whatever you want."

"Good," she smiled sweetly as she produced the key to his cuffs, leaning over to undo the one that held him to the bed. He gulped as she leaned in close enough that her cheek brushed Mulder's. "That's just how I want you, Fletcher, quiescent and well behaved. Cause if you aren't…well…"

She snapped the cuff that held his wrist,and released it, pulling away with the bracelets in hand. She wasn't sure if Fletcher was terrified by her at the moment or turned on. Likely both, and she didn't like thinking of either.

"Now, you are going to start telling me all about this General Wegman, this evidence he has, and just what you in particular do at this base."

"You know I can't tell you that!"

"Either you do or my patience starts wearing thinner," she flipped up her jacket to hook her cuffs on, displaying her holster.

"Yeah…Wegman…crap!" Fletcher snarled. He knew she had won.

Chapter Text

It was a long, long drive from Las Vegas to Rachel.

"The bigger the cushion, the sweeter the pushin', that's what I said…"

Scully's right eyeball throbbed.

"The looser the waistband, the deeper the quicksand, or so I have read…"

Beside her in the passengers seat, Fletcher, in his guise as Mulder, attempted to do some sort of rock, bump, head bang thing, warbling along with the inane lyrics.

"My baby fits me like a flesh tuxedo, I love to sink her with my pink torpedo….Big bottom…Big bottom, talk about bum cakes, my gal's got 'em…"

Scully's hands had never moved faster as she snapped off the stereo. The car was left only with Fletcher's keening in Mulder's nasal voice.

"Hey," he protested loudly, reaching for the stereo again before she slapped his hand away. He yelped and nursed his stinging fingers. "You are driving, so shotgun gets the stereo!"

"I am driving, and you are a passenger, and speaking of guns…"

Fletcher pouted. "Come on, Dana, it's the Tap! What's not to like about them?"

Scully's nail ticked against the steering wheel.

"You know, Spinal Tap, only one of the greatest bands of all time!"

"Weren't they fictional," she pointed out darkly, somehow unsurprised that Morris Fletcher would find a make believe band so completely amazing.

"Well, yeah, but you have to admit they hold candle right up there with the Beatles and Led Zepplin."

"With openly misygonist songs that make fun of women's body image issues?"

"Well, it's supposed to be ironic," Fletcher tried to rationalize. "You know, making fun of the songs in the industry that, you know, are mysognistic and make fun of women's body image issues."

"And you didn't like songs like that by real bands when you were younger?"

"Okay, so maybe a few…hey! Who says I am old enough to remember that period in rock and roll history!"

"I looked up your file, Fletcher." Scully knew he was surprised at that and frankly she was pleased that he was stunned. "I have people who know people too, even super-secretive agents like you."

"And why would you look me up?"

"To see just what kind of scum I'm dealing with," she retorted. "And I have to admit I was vaguely disappointed that all we turned up on you was your penchant for mid-priced call girls."

He howled in mild outrage. "Hey, no one knows about that!"

"Really, because I'm fairly certain it's a well known secret at work."

Fletcher scowled. "Look, alright, I'm no saint, but you've see my life. A man needs to find some ways to…escape from time-to-time."

"I'm not here to pass judgment on you, Mr. Fletcher. I am simply here trying to get my partner back.

"Your partner? Your precious Mulder?" Fletcher snorted through Mulder's aquiline nose. "Is he really so much better than me you'd send me back into that hell hole just to get him?"

Her delicately upturned eyebrow spoke volumes and clearly not ones he liked hearing.

"Okay, so perhaps our personalities don't mesh, but really, Dana, why are you wasting your time hanging around with Mulder for? I mean, you are a doctor. You could be saving lives or something."

The fact that he hit on a longstanding argument between herself and Mulder did nothing to cool her irritation with him. "I'm here because I believe in Mulder's work."

"His work? What work is that? So far as I can tell he got kicked on kiddy duty for sticking his nose in where it doesn't belong, and you keep getting drug along with him. Tell me, is it fun having a promising career go down the tubes all for the sake of being right."

Scully did not like where this conversation was going at all. "Do you really think that is all that Mulder does?"

"Honey, we've been chasing him out of our work for years. He's like that pesky little puppy you can't keep out of your yard. He keeps digging up holes, hoping to find a bone, and leaves nothing but a mess." Fletcher sniffed. "And best as I can tell you're the one who keeps getting sent in there to clean up the mess. Now, tell me, is that how you envisioned your FBI career when you got in here?"

No, she grudgingly admitted to herself, it wasn't how she envisioned her career at all. She had seen herself as being field agent working in Violent Crimes or some other field where her pathological skills would come in handy. She hadn't expected to chase aliens or Bigfoot, to be drug before OPR on multiple occasions, to have to explain and justify her work to hostile people. She hadn't expected to be working grunt work at this point in her career.

"You know I'm right," Fletcher needled. "You know I am. Mulder brings you down, Dana. He keeps running off, doing half-cocked things, and you get hit in the spray. Just think, though, if he weren't there for you to constantly have to baby-sit? You could pick up the pieces of your career! You can recover from this Kersh thing, I could see to that. And maybe since I'm his new golden boy, I can put a good word in for you, too. You can come back from this, I can see to it."

Was he out of what little mind he had? "You want me to betray Mulder, the man who has literally gone to the ends of the earth to save me, to keep you in a nice cushy seat, while I go on to have the glittering career I always should have had?"

"Yeah," Fletcher replied, as if this made perfect sense.

Well it earned one new reaction out of her…laughter. Large, loud peels of laughter, giggling and chortling in the car as she tried to glance at Fletcher in Mulder's body, and unable to do so fell into laughter once again.

"I don't get it, what's so funny?"

"You," she snorted, trying desperetly to keep the car straight on the road while blinking tears out of her eyes. "You seriously think I would do something like that?"

"I would figure a woman as intelligent as you are…"

"Oh, it has nothing to do with intelligence, Fletcher, it has everything to do with character, of which you have very little." She coughed and spluttered, rubbing at her eyes with the back of her hand, the late, desert sunshine blurring her vision as she did so. "Fletcher, have you ever had a single, non-self-serving, decent thought in your whole, misbegotten life?"

"Self-serving, I was offering to help you!"

"Why, so I could side with you and not go and fetch Mulder from whatever dungeon you conveniently had him shoved in? So I could allow you to steal another man's life wholesale? So you can tarnish the good work he's done and destroy what was most important to him?" Anger returned as she calmed down from her hysterics. "I saw you got rid of the pictures of Samantha on his desk. Where are they?"

"Samantha?" He frowned, clearly not following.

"The little girl."

"Oh, those! I didn't throw them away, if that's what you are implying. I stuck them in a drawer. They are safe." He looked disgruntled she would imply otherwise. "I know all about her, and about his family too. Gees, did they really name him Fox on purpose?"

"It's a family name." So Teena Mulder had told her once.

"Look, I get it, I'm not a total cold-hearted bastard. The kid sister, she was cute, and that would be a nightmare, to have your kid sister taken while you were in charge. I've got two kids, and as much as the little bastards hate me, I know how I'd feel if someone came in and took one of them." Surprisingly to Scully, something softened in Fletcher, the cynical edge blunted for just a moment. "But I'd leave the work of finding them to the professionals, and I wouldn't carry this out for years, blaming aliens, or conspiracies, or whatever other crazy thing that was out there, just to avoid the hard truth."

"You think his sister is dead? Do you know for a fact she is?"

"No," Fletcher snapped, frowning out the front window. "I can't say anything like that ever came across our desk. All we deal with is weapons, aircraft, new toys for bored generals somewhere in Washington looking for something to blow up. All I know is that if Mulder's right in this, it's been years. Let her go and go live a life. I mean, Jesus, you saw his place before I got in there. He didn't even sleep in a bed! And do you know the last time he had any intimate knowledge of a woman was?"

She did, but it was none of his business. "Mulder is happy with his life as it is." At least she assumed he was, he never seemed to indicate otherwise.

"Is he really? Is that why he watches more porn in a night than I get to see in a year, and that's if I get lucky enough to have a night at home alone without Joanne and the kids and there's no game on TV."

"So you are prepared to judge a man based on his personal matierals and the state of his apartment?"

"I'm just saying, he's in a dead end job he hates so much he breaks the rules to do what he really wants. He works everyday with a beautiful woman who as far as I can tell he's never once tried to make the moves on and he lives in an apartment that makes my college dorm room look like a luxury palace. I just call them as I seem them, sister." Fletcher obviously felt like that settled the score.

"Maybe he's never tried to make a move on me because he has a thing called respect, for himself and the women he's with. I know that is a foreign concept to you, considering your display with every female who crossed your path this week."

"Come on, you can't say you didn't like it," Fletcher retorted.

"Gun, remember what I said about it?"

"What, really? That again?"

"Fletcher, perhaps it is strange to you, but women like to be treated like human beings. They like being treated as intelligent creatures who have minds and brains, who can work and operate independtly of a man. You never know, if you caught on to that, you might just have a better relationship with your own wife, who I'm sure is likely pissed off at you for treating her like less than nothing for years."

He looked taken aback by that statement. "Really?" Had the thought really never occurred to him?

"You really are hopeless, aren't you?

"Look, I know women are smart?"

"Do you?" Judging from the way his poor wife carried on the other day, she somehow doubted that. "If I hadn't told you that I have a medical degree, would you have assumed I was a doctor by training?"

"Yeah,' he replied perhaps a triffle too quickly.


"Okay, perhaps not, but that doesn't mean I assumed you were stupid."

"You assumed I was stupid enough not to figure out the truth about you."

Scully had him there. "Alright, I did, but who would believe those type of things anyway, if they are sane and rational." He tried to shoot her a winning smile. It didn't work."

"You asked me why I stuck around with Mulder?" She smiled as she thought of that first day in his office so long ago now. "Because Mulder never assumed that I was stupid, in fact he embraced that I wasn't. He challenged me first off, he pushed me intellectually and made me see things that my strict scientific training never allowed me to even consider. Mulder never assumed that because I was a woman that I couldn't keep up with him, he never assumed that I somehow slept my way to the top, or that I was there to try and seduce him away from his work. He saw me as his partner and as his friend. And whenever I was in trouble, Mulder was the one there pulling me out of it, making sure I got home alive to my family. He was the one who held my hand when I lay close to death at the hospital, and by hook and by crook found me when I was taken. Mulder has drug me down? If anything, he's the reason I'm still sitting here alive, and no matter what happens, no matter how much it would be better for me to dump him and walk away, I can't and I won't."

There was a long silence following her words, somewhat thoughtful. But then Fletcher ruined it by saying something.

"You're in love with him, aren't you?"

Scully closed her eyes and prayed for patience. "I do care for Mulder deeply. But whatever that is, it isn't any of your business."

"You are, you are totally in love with him! Oh this is brilliant!" Fletcher was excited beyond reason. "Oh, don't worry, you're secrets safe with me, but, you know I could help you here, between you and me. You know, a little quid pro quo. I help you with Mulder. You help me."

"Help you with what, exactly?" If he meant keeping Mulder's body, he had another thing coming.

"No, I don't know…maybe I could just disappear. The FBI could do that, right?"

"So you can escape the responsibilities you have to your wife and two precious children?" He really was disgusting.

"The insurance will take care of them just fine, just please, I don't want to have to go back." He was pleading now, hands folded in front of him. He really was a pathetic sort of creature, wasn't he? And what in the hell did he think he could manage with Mulder?

"I'm sorry, Fletcher, we all have crosses we have to carry. I think it's about time you picked yours up for once."

Chapter Text

How was she supposed to break this to him?

Scully pulled up next to the car registered to Morris Fletcher. In the shadows, just beyond the headlights, she could see the short, paunchy man who turned to stare at them from where he leaned against a building, munching on something Scully was almost certain was sunflower seeds. She wanted to sob at the thought.

"Come on, get it together," Fletcher admonished a trifle softly. "Get it over with, will you."

So much for sympathy.

She had to be strong in this moment. She had to swallow her own tears and face Mulder as his partner, telling him nothing but the truth. It was what he deserved, after all, and it was what she had always given him. She resolved herself, stepping out of the car and crossing over to him, leaving the headlights of the rental to burn brightly. The body may be of Morris Fletcher, but she could see in those eyes burning across the space between them that he really was Mulder…her Mulder. It may not be his body, but nothing could dim his spirit.

"You don't look too happy," he called. "Don't tell me I'm going to have to put two kids through school?"

The dry wit even in the face of certain bad news was classic Mulder. If she had any doubt still, she didn't any longer. "That is you in there, Mulder…isn't it?"

The face of Morris Fletcher nodded sadly.

Oh hell, she sighed. "I..I just got off the phone with Frohike. They were able to download and analyze the crash data, and yes, there was an anomalous event that night."

That wasn't what Mulder cared about so much. "And how do I get back?"

He looked so hopeful in that moment. And oh lord, how was she supposed to tell him there was no going back. "Well, that's just it. It's all about random moments in time. About a series of variables approaching an event horizon." She felt as if she were giving her senior physics thesis all over again, only now it was far from theoretical, it affected her life directly. "And if we could recreate that moment, if we could sabotage another craft…Mulder, if we were…if we were off. If the event horizon were off by even one millisecond…"

"I might wind up with my head in a rock?" Mulder didn't need any further description to know what could happen.

"Something like that, yeah," she offered weakly. Lord, this hurt, worse than anything she had to ever tell him before. He couldn't come back, he wouldn't come back. He was stuck in Morris Fletcher's life now and it was killing her.

"What about him," he nodded sullenly towards the car where his own face watched, looking bored. "I mean…me…whatever. Whoever he is."

Scully snorted as she glared at the man wearing her partner's face. "Agent Mulder has become AD Kersh's new golden boy." She snorted contemptuously. "He's been tasked with returning the flight data recorder that he and I stole."

How he managed to get away from her and tattle to Kersh about that one she still didn't know.

"The son-of-a-bitch confesses to Kersh even more than I do to my priest." She glared at Fletcher in Mulder's body in mild disgust. "I'm just tagging along for the ride."

"What do you mean, 'just tagging along'?" Trust Mulder to pick up on the nuances in an instant, becoming alarmed as she smiled at him sadly. This hurt worst of all, because in a way she felt as if she had let him down.

"I've been censured and relieved of my position." She sighed, breaking the hard truth to him. Fletcher's latest round of tattling had caused her to be pulled in front of Kersh and fired without even a word of explanation. And Fletcher, for his idiotic part, seemed honestly surprised at the action, or perhaps he hadn't, because now there was no way for Scully or anyone else to figure out how to make any of this right again. Now Fletcher was free to be Fox Mulder forever.

"No." Mulder shook the graying head of Fletcher, as if by doing so he could influence Kersh to give her back her job. "You can explain it to them like you explained it to me. You have the data. You can make them understand. You can get your job back. "

Trust Mulder to believe in her ability to make all of this right. If Scully could have allowed herself to cry in that moment, she would have. She stared at the man who looked as if he were used up, bored, lecherous middle aged has-been, but who in reality was the witty, funny person who was her partner. Scully thought over her last few days, the strangeness of her life, how she had caught the person she thought was Mulder running and tattling to Kersh, groping their boss's secretary on her desk, and she felt her cheeks flame slightly as she recalled his hand slapping her ass in what had to be the most undignified insult to her as a woman that she had ever suffered at the FBI. She should have known then that whoever it was inhabiting her partner's body wasn't Mulder. She should have known it the moment that he started calling her "Dana". Mulder never called her Dana, save for those rare, serious moments when it was more important to him than life that she understand him. Now she was stuck with some Lazy Boy jockey in her partner's body, while Mulder was stuck forever looking like Morris Fletcher, and thanks to that idiot she had no job on top of having no partner. Her eyes burned as she stared into the sympathetic face of Mulder…well, Fletcher, so convinced that she could make it all better, so sure in his faith in her. Mulder, the consummate believer that anything and everything was possible.

"I'd kiss you if you weren't so damn ugly," she chuckled as she blinked hard, momentarily horrified by the very thought. Mulder, standing there with Fletcher's face, nodded and smiled, and it was that same, goofy smile of Mulder's, the one that made her forgive him when he was being at his worst, the one that caused him to follow him out here to the middle of the Nevada desert in the first place, knowing it could be their asses on the line should their boss ever discover it. The idea that she would never see that smile again on his real face hurt her very soul as the suspicious pricking in her eyes began to form actual tears, threatening to spill.

"Take a picture, it'll last longer." More jarring than the sound of the rental car horn at that moment was the sound of Mulder's voice shouting at them in the obnoxious manner that could only belong to Fletcher. If ever there was a moment killer, Scully thought as she felt her head pound somewhere behind her ears, this would be it.

"If I shoot him, is that murder or suicide?" Mulder's jaw clenched so tight she thought he'd break his borrowed teeth.

She tossed a glance back towards the car, as the man in Mulder's body dramatically rolled his eyes and threw up his hands. "Neither, if I do it first."

Mulder at least smiled at that with his Fletcher face and she thought about saying "to hell with it", and kissing his ugly mug anyway. After all, inside was the real person she cared about. But then, she worried, it might only encourage Fletcher, and she cringed sourly at the very thought of his hands touching her ever again. Instead, she reached out for Mulder's arm, strange under the fabric of his black clothing and so not the same person she had come to know over the last six years. Without looking up at him, she turned to move towards her car, as Fletcher loudly sighed, "finally."

"Hey, Scully," Mulder called, as she turned to him once again, seeing his hand outstretched, closed in around something. Curious, she held out her palm, and quickly cupped it as the sensation of tiny, rounded forms pricked against her skin, sliding against each other as Mulder opened his hand.

Scully looked down at the pile of sunflower seeds in her hand, as Mulder grabbed one and popped it in his mouth, trying to look every inch the devil-may-care Mulder that he pretended to be in dire situations, but seeing the painful sadness in eyes that were strangely not his. Without a word, she clenched her hand around the seeds and moved towards the rental car, ignoring Fletcher as he muttered in an all to clear stage whisper, knowing that if she dared to look at him she'd burst into tears. She slipped the sunflower seeds in her pocket as she got inside the car. Fletcher said nothing but shot dirty looks at her as she threw the car into the proper gear and pulled away from Mulder, watching him in her rearview mirror until he turned into nothing more than a spec in the distance.

"I don't know what you see in that loser anyway," Fletch remarked knowingly in the voice that was so painfully Mulder's. "I mean, he's holding you back, Dana, you know that. Man's chasing aliens and pissing all the wrong people off. You're a pretty woman, smart. You can do so much better."

The obvious suggestion in his voice had her fingers twitching for the gun in its holster. She resisted the temptation.

Chapter Text

"I promised you a trip to Nevada, Mulder. I did all you asked of me and more." She groaned as he opened the door. "It's late, I'm tired, we have work tomorrow, and frankly, I don't want to have to make Kersh suspicious." Her watch was looking hard at five AM and it was only two hours from Scully's normal wake up time of seven.

"I know, I'm sorry, I'll make it up to you with Jake's coffee in the morning if you come inside," he whispered, aware of the lateness of the hour and other people sleeping. He grabbed her wrist and drug her in. "This…this is weird."

"Weirder than spending my day off going with you to Area 51 in Nevada," she yawned, as she stumbled into his apartment and stopped, dead.

"What happened here," she breathed, eyes wide as she glanced around Mulder's normal man-cave.

"I don't know." He shook his head in disturbed amazement. "I thought you had, you know, called someone to clean it up or something."

"No," she replied, staring at the living room that normally was covered in stacks of case files, Chinese food cartons, and various, half-read magazines of a variety of dubious natures. She admitted to having the idea of hiring someone to clean Mulder's place had crossed her mind once or twice over the years of knowing him.

"Then who?" He despaired as he spun around, looking at his old familiar home now strangely different. The leather couch at least was still there, with its Navajo blanket that Mulder had brought home from New Mexico on one of the occasion that Scully had assumed he had died. The fish tank gurgled in the corner, but the desk beside it was now scrupulously clean, with only Samantha's photos sitting neatly on it. It was Mulder's apartment, but…not. Had his mother come down and tried to surprise him? Scully wasn't even aware they were speaking at the moment, not since the confrontation he had with her in Greenwich the year before.

"And it gets even stranger," he insisted, grabbing her hand. There, beside the couch he always slept on, was the scary door. It was the door Mulder had warned her against ever opening. She had once. The first time he had been injured on duty while working with her, she had offered to clean his apartment. She had found a room filled waist high with boxes filled with old paperwork and outdated porn magazines, furniture that didn't even fit in the rest of the apartment, and other things that had terrified her. She had refused to try and clean his apartment again.

"Look at this," he insisted, opening the door. Scully closed her eyes, expecting an avalanche of glossy magazines at her feet, all with naked women. Instead there was…nothing. And was that the smell of potpourri in there?

"What the..."

"I know!" He whispered, half in awe, half in fear as he pulled her into the space that had been cluttered for as long as she had known him. "I didn't do this…and there!"

Scully followed to where his finger pointed. In the middle of it all stood a bed. Did Mulder even own a bed? "How did that…"

"I don't know," he insisted, eyes wide. "I thought you had done this for me."

"No, it's wasn't me." She crossed to the bed and sat on its edge. It rippled under her and sent her flopping backwards the garish, leopard print blanket. "It's a water bed."

"I don't like waterbeds." Mulder poked at it with a finger, sending it bouncing under Scully.

"I didn't know they still made these things." She stared up at the ceiling. "And I don't think leopard print suits your sense of taste."

"I have a sense of taste?" Mulder plucked at the offending, faux fur in distaste.

"Well it isn't much," Scully concede playfully as she struggled to rise off the bladder of warm water. "But it at least isn't caught somewhere in 1970's bachelor kitsch tacky."

"Who would ever think in a million years that this was…me?" Mulder starred at the entire, offending piece of furniture as if it were a cancer upon his very existence.

"Frohike," she offered up. It sounded like something he might do. "I mean, maybe it's a belated birthday present."

"For what?"

"It was a secret plot hatched to get at your porn magazine collection." She snickered at the mild irritation and disbelief he displayed.

"I go away to Nevada for a day, and I come back and my entire life is turned upside down." In a fit of morose frustration he flopped himself down on the bed beside her, nearly sending her bouncing off it as she held on for dear life, laughing at him.

"Oh, come on, Mulder. You had a day doing what you love best, and no Kersh hanging over your shoulder, and he's none the wiser. And in the meantime, you come home to a clean apartment and a new bed. How long has it been since you had a bed?"

"Since I moved in the place," he admitted resentfully.

"See, there you go." She tried to find some bright side to all of this. "It's not like you came home to someone else living your life, now is it."

"No," he admitted truculently, though she could sense he was still sulking.

"And besides," Scully yawned, turning over on the bed to face him. "I think it's a nice change. It makes you live a little, like the rest of the human race, in a real bed, in a clean home that isn't a man cave. Though, I could probably live without the leopard print." She wrinkled her nose at the fur beneath them.

"I wonder what hooker they had to chase down to find this little luxury," he muttered, earning an open palm slap on his stomach from her. He grunted mildly.

"Donate the blanket to Goodwill then, but accept the gift, Mulder, whoever it is from."

Mulder seemed to consider this. "This is going to bug the hell out of me for the rest of time!"

"Well, just accept it then as one of those truths that will always be out there, the one, great, unsolved mystery of Fox Mulder's life…how he ended up with a waterbed in his apartment."

"I was hoping for something a bit more adventurous," he grumbled as she slid off the end, already feeling that if she didn't get up then, she'd happily fall asleep where she lay. No, that wasn't a good trend to start with Mulder.

"I'm going to bed, Mulder. I may not come in till late tomorrow. Enjoy your new waterbed."

"You mean I have to sleep on a big, scary, new, strange bed that came from some mysterious donor by myself?" His eyes blinked pleadingly at her, and for a moment Scully was infinitely glad that it was Mulder behind those eyes and not someone else.

Where had that come from?

"I think since you are a big boy now, its time for a big boy bed. But if you need a nightlight, I can certainly buy you one tomorrow."

"You are no fun," he sighed dramatically.

"Night, Mulder," she called, sauntering out of his newly, cleaned bedroom. "And thank the waterbed fairies for me for cleaning your apartment for you."

She thought she heard him mumble something about punching them in the face.

Chapter Text

Scully had hoped after their latest adventures to the Bahamas and to Nevada would have quelled Mulder's adventurous spirit for a while. She should have known she was hoping for too much. The following week passed in relative quiet, but the minute that Kersh announced that they were being assigned to do background checks at the Department of Agriculture until further notice, Scully practically sensed Mulder sneaking out of the back door. Not that she could blame him. After five hours of face-to-face interviews with dubious looking people who were applying for jobs with the Agriculture Department, Scully was wishing she could have crept out of the back door herself.

She was finishing up an interview with a Mr. Ginsberg, who despite his protestations obviously had a deep and abiding knowledge of cannabis. If the bloodshot eyes and the long, stringy hair weren't a dead giveaway, the reek of it on his clothing certainly was. Scully wondered if she was getting a contact high just by sitting close to him. So it was with no small amount of surprise that she received a phone call from Mulder hours later than he should have checked in, just as she was about to call it quits and find a cigarette and a cheap bottle of tequila somewhere.

"Scully!" She tried and failed not to sound too relived at his phone call.

"Hey, Scully, it's me." Mulder's voice was like a blessing as Scully mouthed an apology to the hardly perturbed Mr. Ginsberg and stepped out into the hallway.

"Mulder, where are you?" She couldn't deny her irritation with him. "I waited forty-five minutes for you this morning."

"I…uh…" He was hesitating. This could not be good. "Before I tell you, I'm going to ask you to keep an open mind."

Famous last words, Scully thought, as instantly she realized just what he was up to. "This isn't an X-file?"

"Call it what you like," he replied, and she noted he didn't deny it. "Here in Roanoke they're calling it a demon baby snatching."

Roanoke? That was hours away from DC. "You're in Virginia?"

"Look, I want you to look at this woman's charts." Mulder continued, oblivious to her brewing protestations. "Strange in utero deformities were detected. I'm going to courier them to you, all right?"

No, she really wished he wouldn't. "Mulder, we are supposed to be doing background checks not chasing X-files."

"Scully, Spender just round filed this case," he whined. "It's unconscionable."

Spender. Scully bit her tongue hard. Jeffrey Spender had not been in on her good list for a while now, not since the Queen Anne incident from the month before. But she couldn't agree with Mulder's rational or his methods. "And what do you call rooting through his trash?"

"Like that's any different from the assignment we're stuck with," he quipped. He had a very good point, but Scully wasn't about to admit it.

"Mulder, I'm the one stuck with it," she pointed out. "You're not here." And it was pissing her off. He seemed to pick and choose where and when he wasn't going to be present to do his work.

"Scully, this is a classic case of demon fetal harvest." There was such a thing called "demon fetal harvest", she wondered. "What they called in the Middle Ages actum nocturnem, the impregnation of an unwitting woman by a dark lord of the underworld."

"As a host for his demon seed?" She remarkably kept a straight face.


"I saw Rosemary's Baby on cable the other night," she dropped pointedly, and could hear him roll his eyes at the other end.

"Yeah, but this is the real deal. You check that woman's charts, you'll get hard evidence. Check her prenatal ultrasound."

Oh lord, he was serious about this. "Mulder…"

"Just humor me, Scully." He knew he was asking a lot of her, and considering recent weeks, she thought it was rather rich of him to demand her take another risk for him. "Take a look at those medical records I think they'll prove my theory."

"I think they'll prove, Mulder, that you are sticking your nose into something you shouldn't, yet again, and that you should be up here doing the work you are paid to do."

"So that means you'll do it?"

Hell, he knew the minute he called she would do it, that wasn't the question. "Yes," she snapped, glaring back at the room where Mr. Ginsberg sat. "But I swear to God, Mulder, if you drag me into this and it turns out to be nothing more than a horrible mistake at the expense of some poor, young mother who has just lost her child, I will kick your ass so hard."

"Doing interviews with future government leaders makes your rather feisty, Scully. I sort of dig it."

"Watch it," she warned, tempted to dump him on his ass on this. "Get the information, send it up to me, and get the hell back up here, Mulder, because I won't be able to cover for you with Kersh forever.

"I know," he assured her with the confidence that somehow Scully didn't feel. "Let me know when you get those documents."

"Sure, whatever," she snorted, snapping off the line. She knew better than this. Every time he would do "just one thing", and it would turn into her chasing him down in Puerto Rico, or in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, or somewhere else remote and dangerous and she was explaining to Kersh why it was that FBI resources were being called upon when Mulder had flagrantly broken the rules, yet again. She never had been good at telling Mulder, "no".

"Excuse me?" Scully's interviewee, Mr. Ginsberg, frowned at her, bleary eyed. "You know, I know they said we could expect the interview to last an hour, but…you know, I was wondering if I could have a break, for…you know…a cigarette?" He held up his watch hopefully. Scully noted, with no small sense of irony, the time read 4:20.

"Yeah, sure, make it quick." She shooed him off, frowning down at her cell phone. Demon baby swapping? Honestly? Mulder would rather chase after that than do his…who was she kidding, of course he would rather chase after the possibility of demon baby snatching than interview potheads hoping to make a career at the US Department of Agriculture. At this point, Scully would rather be chasing demon baby snatchers as well, but someone had to be the responsible person in this partnership. Just why the hell did it always have to be her?

Chapter Text

Scully was somewhere into her sixth cup of coffee of the day when she realized there was just not enough of the stuff in the world to keep her awake. Thirty hours now she had been awake. It had been that long since she had even glimpsed her beloved bed in her small, Georgetown apartment, with its cool sheets and soft, fluffy pillows. To sink down into nothingness…

The phone on Scully's desk rang jarringly, jerking her chin up from her chest where it had been resting, and snapping her eyes to the computer screen she had been ignoring. Blearily she reached for it, groggily trying to clear her head and hoping to God no one else in the office noticed her napping quietly behind her desk.

"Scully," she croaked.

"You sleeping?"

Scully resisted the urge to swear loudly at Mulder's cheery voice at the other end of the line. "Mulder, I've been awake for over twenty-four hours, just so you could chase your demon baby-snatching case. I'm surprised I'm not drooling on my keyboard." She grumbled as she scrubbed at her face fretfully. "Did you get a warrant out for Laura Weinsider's arrest?" She had hoped he would have turned it over to the DA for the county by now and been on his way back from this ridiculousness.

"Yeah…sorta….slight change in plans."

Scully starred blankly at the looping lines of light on her computer screensaver and tried to process what her partner just said. "Change in plans? Mulder, I want to go to bed. I'm here waiting for Kersh to figure out you've not been in the office for two days, screaming about why. I think I've covered for you long enough on this." Frankly she had covered for a lot of his stunts of late, for the Queen Anne, for their trip to Nevada, so far Mulder had made it clear from both of these incidents without Kersh screaming bloody murder at them. But how long could he get away with these stunts?

"I know, but this isn't what you think it is, Scully."

"Isn't what I think it is? Mulder, she had traces of mandrake in her blood. What are you telling me, someone snuck in during the night and stole her baby?"

"I don't think sneaking in was involved, no."

He was deadly serious about this. Scully could have cried. She was so tired, and he was out there, playing around with an X-file he had no business messing around with. "Mulder, listen, I know this is hard. No one likes to think of someone trying to get rid of their child. But it makes sense. Laura Weinsider's doctor said that her husband was quite upset. It isn't inconceivable that she aborted the baby to appease him."

"Why are you so convinced she aborted the child?"

Scully frowned. "Because of the mandrake in her system, of course. Mandrake was used for centuries as a way to…"

"Abort a fetus, I know." Mulder stepped on her explanation impatiently. "But you are assuming she did it on purpose."

"What do you mean?"

"I confronted Laura and her husband about it. She has been taking an herbal sleep aid for months, recommended by a local midwife, with the main ingredient being a mild sedative that was all natural and shouldn't have been of any harm to the baby."

"So she says, Mulder, but the blood work doesn't lie."

"No, but husbands do." There was the sound of a car door slamming shut as Mulder continued to speak. "We found the body of the infant in the leaf burner outside. Someone had attempted to cremate it."

"Oh God," Scully gasped, her heart lurching at the thought. She paused for a long moment, her eyes watering unexpectedly. The image, the very idea tore at her as her as her mind envisioned finding a tiny skeleton charred and blackened. "What happened?"

"Laura didn't deny it, said that it must have been the herbal medicine. But what if it wasn't herbal drugs she was taking. What if something else was being slipped to her."

"You think her husband gave her the mandrake?"

"You said it yourself, the husband was much more upset about the baby's condition than Laura was. What if Wayne Weinseider is our real culprit?"

"It's certainly possible, I suppose," she hedged vaguely. Scully was still stuck on the image of the poor, charred skeleton. "But why would he do something like that?"

"It's male pride. A man wants to have a healthy, perfect son to carry on his name. If what you said was true, the child could have had some sort of defect that would have perhaps gotten more noticeable with age."

"But maybe not. They were boney outgrowths, Mulder, we don't know what they were."

"And neither did the Weinsiders. But I'm guessing Wayne wasn't happy with what he found and decided to get rid of it before the baby came to term, and now he's letting his wife take the rap."

"He could have slipped her the drug, I suppose, and it would explain the behavior. But why are you so convinced he did it?"

"Why were you so convinced Laura did?"

That question caught her by surprise. She hadn't really thought about it. "I don't know, I guess I just…assumed."

"That a woman who had made it eight months into a pregnancy would willingly try to self-induce an abortion and make up a story about it?"

"Stranger things have happened, Mulder. She had just received news something was wrong with her baby. She could have been thinking anything."

There was a long pause, several heartbeats, before Mulder quietly asked, "Would you ever consider something like that?"

His words had the affect of a slap in the face, painful and shocking as she found herself at a sudden loss of words.

"Look, I know, 'how could I say that', but that's why I'm saying that, Scully. It's why I'm asking you of all people." Mulder's words flowed out in a rush, his tongue practically tripping to get them out. "In a million years I know you wouldn't, and not just because you can't have children. I saw you with Emily, and I know you would have loved her. As much as you would never have conceived of the notion, I don't think Laura Weinsider would have either. I saw her…she wanted this child, whatever was wrong with it."

Emily. Scully's eyes stung painfully as she rubbed at them, refusing to give way to tears in front of everyone. Had it really almost been a year? She had wanted her daughter no matter her condition, had wanted to raise her and be a mother to her. That was her child, her genetics in that little girl, a daughter who had been stolen from her. Emily could have been hospital bound for the rest of her life and Scully wouldn't have cared.

"So why isn't she protesting the arrest, Mulder?" Scully managed to choke out. "Why is she allowing herself to take the blame if she didn't do it?"

"Because a demon took her baby," he replied. "I just don't think the demon was what she thought it was."

"She's protecting her husband." It made perfect sense. "The drug brought on hallucinations that likely made her think it was a demon at the time, but the minute you found the body, she put it together, qnd she's protecting him."

"Something like that," Mulder drawled, sounding vague. Scully wasn't sure if she liked the sound of that. "But I think you are right on one point. I think the husband has everything to do with this. I just need to prove it."

Somehow Scully didn't think that was going to be easy. "Do you need me down there?"

"What, when you are dead on your feet? Go home, Scully. I'll be fine."

"Yeah, right." She wanted nothing more than to take his offer and run, but feared the minute her head hit the pillow she would get a rather nasty phone call from Kersh, demanding an explanation for Mulder's whereabouts. "How about I stick around and try to cover when you screw up."

"Who says I'm going to screw up?" He sounded vaguely offended.

"Let's just say my intuition," she smirked quietly, chuckling at the snort he shot back in return.

"Intuition, you've never believed in that."

"Fine, your recent track record. Just don't me have to fish you out of an ocean."

"I'll try not to, but we'll see what sort of devil we'll find in the details, shall we."

She rolled her eyes at his pun as he clicked off. She needed sleep, but somehow she didn't think she could manage, not with the thought of the poor, charred body coming to mind. For the moment, Scully felt as if she would much rather cry.

Chapter Text

As it turned out, sleep was the last thing Scully was going to get anytime soon. When the call from Kersh came in, she was far from surprised. With as straight a face as she could possibly manage she made her way to Kersh's office, going over her cover story as she did; no, she hadn't seen Mulder, he had called in saying he was sick and she had offered to check in on him, but he had declined, but she couldn't imagine he would be more than a few days, it sounded like a cold. She ignored the fact that she didn't think that Mulder had actually ever been sick with as much as a cold or the flu in the entire time she had known him. Unless it was an alien virus, Mulder never got sick.

Kersh's secretary greeted Scully with her customary, officious coldness. She'd taken a particular dislike ever since Scully's loud, vulgar protest against the Assistant Director and had never quite forgiven her for it. The pretty blonde seemed to find everything at fault with Scully as she sat, patiently waiting for her summons, ignoring her as she typed particularly loud at her keyboard. Scully ignored her back, eyes trained on the varnished, oak wood door, rehearsing her story. Mulder would owe her big time for this, as if he didn't already owe her.

The phone at the secretary's elbow buzzed and her prim mouth pursed before she nodded for Scully to enter. Taking a deep breath she stood and crossed to the door, feeling distinctly as if she was entering the lion's den. She entered, back straight and chin high, her heart fluttering as she crossed obediently to the assistant director's desk. Kersh looked far less like a lion than as a disgruntled, office administrator. His dark face was pursed in a frown of permanent displeasure as he waved towards one of the seats in front of his large, varnished desk. "Have a seat, Agent Scully."

Obediently she did as she was told. She perched herself on the edge of the leather chair, attentive as Kersh took his time rifling through papers, hemming softly under his breath. Scully's nerves drew taught as he fumbled, wanting desperately to get this over with, to get the lie out there, to move on and then warn Mulder the jig was up. Then, perhaps, she could go to bed to rest.

"Have you spoken to Agent Mulder in the last two days?" When Kersh finally did speak, he cut to the chase.

"Yes," she said simply, nodding. "I spoke to him just yesterday."

"Did he explain to you why he hasn't been in the office the last two days as he was supposed to be."

"Yes," Scully replied, the lie easily rising up and rolling off her tongue. "He was feeling under the weather, a head cold, nothing major. He said he was going to stay home and rest and see how he felt."

"Did he?" Kersh's eyes narrowed behind his glasses. Scully felt worry rise in her as she carried on.

"As far as I know. I offered to go check on him, but he said that wasn't necessary."

"And you haven't spoken to him since?"

"No," Scully dissembled without batting an eye. "I assumed he would come in when he was feeling better."

"Really?" Kersh's eyebrow arched, as if her statement were simply absurd. What did he know that Scully didn't?

"Then, Agent Scully, could you explain to me why it is I just received a phone call from a Mr. Weinsider, stating that he was being harassed by you partner unfairly, and that his wife was currently sitting in jail thanks to unfounded accusations on his part?"

" "Sir!" She squeaked, finding her throat suddenly dry.

"Agent Scully, I much admire your devotion to your partner. Loyalty is something that is sorely lacking in the FBI. But if his actions cause you to stoop to lying to a superior, perhaps you should reconsider what that loyalty is exactly for." His mouth flattened as he tossed a handwritten note at her. "Agent Mulder is in Roanoke, Virginia at the moment, investigating a case that had been brought to Agent Spender in the X-files division. Do you care to tell me how he got a hold of that?"

"Errr," Scully stuttered, thinking quickly. "Sir, I don't know." To be honest she didn't, outside of Mulder's obsessive need to spelunk in Spender's trash.

"You two have been warned again and again away from the X-files, Agent Scully. And while I might ignore whatever extra curricular, personal investigations Agent Mulder might be doing on his own free time, I do take it as a direct violation of my orders when he opens an investigation under the auspices of the FBI with local law enforcement, especially when that investigation belonged to another agent who deemed it not worthy of the FBI's time."

Which meant that Kersh was perfectly aware of what had happened at least with the Queen Anne. Damn it. She couldn't challenge him on this, else he would figure out fairly quickly Scully knew exactly what Mulder was doing. "Sir, I'm not sure what Agent Mulder is doing, but perhaps if I spoke to him?"

"And what would he tell you, another convenient story to get me off your case?"

Kersh wasn't stupid, and there was no way in hell Scully was going to be able to talk him out of this. "Sir, perhaps Agent Mulder is down there doing what he's supposed to, doing background checks." Like hell Kersh was going to believe that.

"And this Weinsider is calling me because?" Kersh tapped the note he had tossed in front of her with one, long, brown finger.

"Perhaps the locals asked him for his insight on the case?"

"And you once accused me of slinging a pile of manure at you, Agent Scully." Kersh at least had some grace enough to allow the corners of his mouth to turn upward. "I will say this, Mulder has till the end of the day to get whatever he doing down there done, and if he's not back in this office tomorrow, than he won't have to worry about whether or not I'll find out about whatever illicit investigations he has going on behind my back."

The meaning wasn't lost on Scully. She nodded, slowly, as she tried to think fast. "I will try to give him a call and let him know, sir."

"Please do, Agent Scully." He watched as she stood to rise, but stopped her as she reached the door. "I would hope, considering how many times you've jumped in for him of late, he appreciated your efforts half as much as you work at them?"

Scully said nothing as she stepped outside, her face flushing as she stalked past Kersh's stony secretary.

Chapter Text

"Laura Weinsider is making a full recovery." Mulder tossed down the report in front of Scully as she sat behind her desk, startling her out of her deep thoughts. It was three days since the strange happenings in Roanoke and so far neither she nor Mulder had been fired from their position. "I just chatted with her brother, Sheriff Stevens. She's was doing well enough to make a statement. He'll send it up to me for my final report to Kersh."

"And how did he take it considering you broke both his rules and FBI protocol to do it?" Scully had feared the worst, especially considering their last case where Mulder had stuck his nose in. Kersh had threatened to throw them both out if something like that happened again.

"Surprisingly forgiving, thanks in part to the glowing reviews Arky Stevens threw my way. He regaled Kersh with my investigative capabilities and told him that without the FBI's help he would never have caught what is turning out to be the biggest serial child killerncasw in Virginia commonwealth history. It's all over the news down there and the way Stevens is carrying on I'm some goddamned hero." Mulder didn't exactly look as if he considered himself one. "In the face of all that, I think Kersh is loath to lay the hammer on me, but I do think he's going to start putting a padlock on Spender's garbage from now on."

"You lead a charmed life, Mulder." Scully shook her head, flipping mildly through the file. "He's going to catch you one of these days if you aren't careful, and you won't have an Arky Stevens to save you."

"Not today he won't." Mulder smugly threw himself in is chair, leaning back enough to prop his feet on the corner of her desk. "As for Betsy, no sign of her or the baby has turned up. It looks as if they both have disappeared."

"Perhaps it's for the best, else Wayne might have killed their child, too." Scully morosely stopped at the forensic information on the small bodies found in both of the yards. It pained her to see the stark images, the bare bones, medical descriptions. So many of them, little ones, not even given a chance at life. What they might have been, had they lived, seemed irrelevant in the face of such tragedy.

Emily's face came to mind and she found herself blinking back tears.

"Hey!" Mulder flipped his chair up, reaching across the desk to pluck the report from her, frowning in obvious concern. "You going to be okay there?"

"Yeah," she tried to assure him, as a traitorous tear trickled down her cheek. How stupid she felt, crying over a forensic report. She hadn't acted this way when she had helped to dig up each of the small, fragile skeletons. It was by far not the first time she had encountered dead babies and certainly wouldn't be the last. Still, the very idea of why they perished, of what it represented, cut at her so deeply. "They were just babies, Mulder, innocent babies. How could anyone…"

"I know," he murmured, reaching to a box of tissues she had at her desk and passing her one. "Nothing about this was normal."

"You want to blame it on Wayne being a demon?"

"I blame it on cruelty and expectation, Scully." Mulder said simply, sadly frowning at the report. "I blame it on someone wanting an ideal more than loving the blessing that he got. There are some people that are that way. No matter how amazing their children turn out to be, they simply aren't good enough."

Scully sniffed, her tears trailing off as she heard the underlying tension of Mulder's words, the boy who never quite understood how the father who he had worshipped and who had once adored him had suddenly stopped. What sins that guilt, ambition, and desire bred in people and what an affect they had on everyone they loved.

"I just don't understand, I guess," Scully breathed, feeling foolish suddenly for having burst into tears over something as commonplace for her as a forensic report. "There are so many people out there who could love children who are different, who are unwanted. There are people who…can't have them…" She paused, leaving that sentence unfinished. She wished vaguely Mulder wouldn't watch her with his guilty, sympathetic eyes. It unsettled her as she twisted the Kleenex in hand around her thumb.

"You know I would change that for you in a heartbeat if I could." He meant it as he said it, passionately so, and for a moment it was so very gratifying to hear, to know someone cared. "I would get that back for you, Scully."

She didn't doubt he would. "I know, Mulder." Hell, he had saved her twice from near certain death, what was returning the ability to have children to her? A small, hysterical snort of laughter rose and escaped as she looked at him from across her desk.

"What?" He blinked at her, not able to get the joke.

"In a way, you have," she murmured, an idea occurring to her. She had shelved it away after Emily's death, not wanting to think about it. But it was there, and it was available, and she could look into it, if she dared.

"I suppose I don't follow." That was a rare enough occurrence for Fox Mulder, and she almost wanted to laugh at his honest confusion.

"You were the one who found my ova, didn't you? When I was sick with cancer?"

"Yeah." He realized where she was going with this and it troubled him. "I don't know how viable those ova are, Scully. But I saved them. I can get you the information if you wanted."

"Perhaps, one day." Not today. She wasn't in a place emotionally at the moment to consider it. "I'll think about it, Mulder, I will. Just…there are options for me."

"There are," he agreed cautiously. "Do you think you'll go through with it?"

"Probably, when I'm ready. When I feel I've accomplished all I can here and that it's time to pursue this." When she wasn't chasing after Mulder and pulling him out of one inane situation after another. "But it's the fact I have a choice, Mulder. It's the idea that I can have the opportunity Wayne Weinsider, or whatever his name was, threw away so many times."

It was that choice that meant everything to her at the moment. That was what they had taken away from her, the ability to have children if she so chose. But now…now she realized it wasn't as bleak as she first believed. She could still be a mother, still give birth to a child from her own body, if the ova were viable. And if she were so blessed, she would not make the mistakes that Wayne did, she would love her child, no matter what, just as she had loved Emily.

"When you are ready." Mulder rose from his chair, shoving hands into his trouser pockets. "Let me know. I'll help you think of baby names. I hear Gordy Boitano is a hot one for young mother's out there."

"Oh Lord." All tears and gloom were forgotten as she rolled her eyes heavenward at one of Wayne Weinsider's aliases. "I think I liked Bud Hasselhoff better."

"Good, I can call him Bud, or maybe I should just call him Hoff, make him sound cooler."

"If you think that sounds cooler," Scully snickered. "We can split the difference, call him Gordy Hoff?"

"I like your thinking there, Scully, sounds like a hockey player brewing."

"Not anytime soon there isn't," she tossed her crumpled Kleenex at him. "Get away from me before you come up with something else absurd."

"Scully, you've known me how long and you think that's the stupidest thing that comes out of my mouth?"

"Just go," she ordered, sending him snickering away from her desk and out towards the door. Hopefully, whatever he got into, it wouldn't involve Jeffrey Spender's shredder or anymore demon babies. Scully was in need of a break from his antics. She didn't need a child of her own at the moment, she had Mulder.

Chapter Text

Here we are as in olden days…happy golden days of yore…

Scully strolled along cool, crowded sidewalks, filled with holiday shoppers weighted down by bags, frantically glancing between boutiques and music stores. It was the familiar look of the last minute shopper, panic setting in as they tried to go over a mental list of people, and worrying if they had purchased the ugly, Christmas tree sweater for the 17-year-old instead of the new CD they wanted, and had somehow managed to get granny Snoop Dogg's latest by mistake. Idly, Scully wondered if their heads would explode in red and green colored sugar crystals if she stood there watching them long enough.

She knew how they felt. Most years were a frantic rush for her in terms of the holiday gift list. Medical school had of course left her with no time for such luxuries as early Christmas shopping, she had worked most holidays until she entered into her pathology program. Once she was at the FBI it improved slightly until she began working with Mulder, the perpetual Grinch, who had no idea what the holiday even meant. Scully was often working last minute, running to whatever store she could on December 24th, hoping that there was something left on the shelf that wouldn't completely insult or horrify her family members.

This year was different. For better or for worse she had the entire day of Christmas Eve to shop as she wished. Without even bothering to inform Mulder, she had taken the day, the entire day, without even having the excuse of travel to California to see her family. She could use the day as she saw fit, visit the shops she wanted to, not have to worry about jamming her car into insane parking, or frantically searching through store shelves hoping some idea came to her for a gift for one of her two sisters-in-law.

Scully had no idea what she had actually just walked into.

Georgetown shops were filled to the brimming with angry, pushy people, completely oblivious to the holiday cheer playing on the loudspeakers around them, or perhaps the repeated refrains of children's choirs singing about "peace on earth and goodwill to men" were driving people slowly into a maniacal, homicidal frenzy. Scully had three people step over her to reach for items on shelves, one frantic looking mother nearly bowling her over to get to the toy section, mumbling something about Furbies, and a grandmother of 80 nearly clocked Scully in the face when she had dared to reach for the last bottle of Maggie Scully's favorite perfume on the shelves.

Needless to say, by mid-afternoon, Mulder's phone call was a welcome reprieve from the harsh realities of guerilla Christmas shopping. She happily clicked on the phone and stepped outside into the Georgetown streets, cool but still unseasonably mild, wondering if it was time to go home yet.

"You busy at the moment?" Mulder rarely greeted her with anything closely resembling a proper greeting. As usual, the date on the calendar had clearly escaped him.

"Well, I was attempting to purchase a present for my nephew, but was afraid I might get knifed in the back over the desire to own a furry, talking robot."

"They have talking robots now?" That piqued Mulder's interest momentarily. "Why didn't they have those when I was a kid?"

"Could you see your mother honestly threatening a death match over a piece of plastic and synthetic hair that happened to move its mouth and appear to communicate?"

"No, but the sheer idea of that makes me sort of wish Mom had tried something like that."

Having met Teena Mulder, Scully somehow doubted that this would have ever happened, no matter what stupid toy Mulder wanted when he was a child. "Seriously, I just wanted to get a nice toy for Matthew. Nothing special, he's only a year old. I thought I need a personal bodyguard just to manage it."

"What kind of toy?"

His question caught her at a loss. "Errr…I don't know. What's educational for an almost one-year-old?"

"Educational, gees, Scully, what sort of aunt are you? You'll be the one who buys him Speak and Spell Dickens, won't you."

"Not that they have Speak and Spell anymore, Mulder. You've obviously lost touch with children's toys."

"At least I know what is fun. You should get him a baseball."

"A baseball? Did you miss the fact he's just now learning how to walk?"

"A baseball is great for all ages! Wouldn't Bill like him having a baseball?"

Her sports crazy brother? Scully was fairly certain Bill purchased one the minute he knew that Matthew was a boy. "I'm not buying him a baseball."

"But you would buy him The Complete Shakespeare in baby speak?"

Scully snickered as she finally gave up the ghost and settled in for what promised to be a longer, Mulder conversation. "I believe that we should start educating our children while they are young, and Matthew is at the prime age to start improving his vocabulary and reading skills."

"You know, Shakespeare invented the word 'puke'?"

"Is that the only thing you remember from your high school literature class?"

"No, that one I picked up while I was studying in the Old Bard's homeland, they tell you that on the tour at Stratford, or at least on my tour. In my high school literature class I learned that my teacher thought that the best thing about the Franco Zeffereli film version was Olivia Hussey's young breasts."

"So the fascination with women's attributes started early."

"Hey, don't knock it. I'm sure you baby nephew would agree with me on this score."

"Matthew's fascination with that part of the female anatomy I feel is for entirely different reasons than yours."

"You have me there," Mulder acknowledged. "So you never did answer my original question."

"Which was?" She feigned ignorance.

"Are you busy?"

"Mulder, does it sound like I'm busy?"

"It sounds like you have lost touch with what a child barely able to speak would want for a holiday present."

"Well at least you acknowledge it's a holiday," she grumped, as she eyed a Starbucks in the distance. Coffee sounded divine at the moment. "You aren't talking me into the office or anything else today."

"I wasn't going to talk you into the office."

"Good, because my mother would kill you if you did."

"The last person on this planet I wish to have murder me is Margaret Scully. Who else would feed me if I did?"

This much was true. Maggie was of the opinion that Mulder starved, because whenever he saw her, she was shoving food at him. "Then if you want to have free pie and meat loaf, don't ask me to do anything tonight."

"But it's on your way," he offered hopefully, as if this somehow made any of it better.

"My way to where?"

"Baltimore. I'm in Maryland now."

"Maryland? Why?"

"Glad you thought to ask. I'm on an expedition even your Charles Dickens would approve of."

Somehow none of this sounded very promising or Christmas-y. "Does this involve eggnog?"

"No, I can't say it does."

"So why should I go again?"

"Where is your sense of adventure?" He sounded genuinely put out.

"Mulder, did I mention I almost got stabbed shopping for my infant nephew? I think my sense of adventure is all petered out."

"Just meet me up at six. Take 95 and get off at the Mueller Road exit, take the third right. You won't miss the place."

"This had better be worth it," she grumbled, eyeing the frightening looking line inside of the coffee house as she stood outside of its doors.

"I need you on this, Scully."

"Fine, I'll be there," she snapped, her nose smelling coffee and her brain craving the idea by the minute as she stood outside, line or no line. "If this is a wild, goose chase…"

"I'll see you at six!" Mulder clicked off the line before she could voice another objection. In exasperation she stared at the phone, wondering what she had just gotten herself into. Saying yes to any of Mulder's crazy schemes on Christmas Eve was risky. What had she been thinking, saying yes?

"Must be the coffee craving," she muttered, opening the doors to face the teeming, caffeine-frantic crowd inside.

Chapter Text

Through the years, we all will be together, if the fates allow….

It was a time of dark despair indeed.

Scully had seen many a gunshot wound, had inflicted more than a few. She herself had never had one. Not a real one. She's been shot at, once, but it hadn't penetrated the Kevlar she had been wearing. This was her first time experiencing this, and honestly, it hurt like fucking hell.

She groaned, her breath forming in little gasps as the walls of her abdomen burned with fire. A gut shot, one of the worst kind, when the bullet ripped through the body it tore through several vital organs all at once. One fatal shot could tear through the intestine, causing perforations through several different lengths. Higher up it could catch the stomach, spilling acid into the body cavity, or through the spleen, rupturing it. The damage was agony to bear and just as difficult to repair, and that was if one got to the hospital in time. More often than not a patient would simply bleed to death in excruciating pain, their blood pumping out before they could even get help.

Of all the ways Scully had envisioned herself dying, she had to admit being shot by the man she loved and trusted the most, on Christmas Eve, in a haunted house, was not really high on her list of possibilities. Having faced cancer and kidnapping, she had assumed either she would go by the hands of an insane whack job or through some silent disease she couldn't trace. Being shot to death while one of her favorite Christmas songs played in the background seemed far too ludicrous. What would the locals say when they found them? What would her mother say? Oh God, her mother! She expected Scully and her car full of presents first thing in the morning. What would she do when she heard her daughter had been killed while ghost hunting with her crazy partner?

Her crazy partner…where the hell was he? She was going to kill him!

This was all his fault, she reasoned through her haze of pain. Slowly, achingly, she rolled over, the gaping hole in her stomach burning liquid fire as she tried to stand and failed. Tears glazed her eyes as she realized the only way she would make it out of this God-forsaken room was in a body bag…or crawling. No, she wasn't going to die here, not before finding Mulder. This was all his stupid idea in the first place, to come out to a haunted house on Christmas Eve. Just because he had nothing better to do with his life on the holidays except torment her. And now she was dying! Dying on Christmas! Wasn't it bad enough her father died around this time of year and then her daughter, now her too. Why did Mulder have to ruin her favorite holiday of the year?

It is amazing what the human body was capable of, even under great amounts of stress. Scully could feel her clothing soaking in the blood from her wound, becoming sticky and clammy against her skin as she crawled, the manicured nails of her left hand scratching against the hardwood floor, the butt of her weapon digging into the grooves to help propel her along. Her heeled shoes caught and pushed her inch-by-inch across the sitting room floor, towards the doorway and the dark, forbidding hallway. If she could get to the door, she reasoned, with her body screaming in agony, she could get outside them. She could get cell reception, maybe, and call for an ambulance. Perhaps it wasn't over yet. She could get help, be saved, and somehow explain this all away. How did one explain your partner losing his mind and shooting you? But then again, it was Mulder, people were likely much more surprised that he hadn't done it before now.

Damn it, and him, and all of this. All she wanted was a nice, normal holiday for a change, one where she wasn't working a case and no one was dying. She wanted to cuddle her nephew and laugh with her brothers and their wives, she wanted to argue with Bill over putting tinsel on the tree, and complain when Charlie wanted to watch A Christmas Story for the five-millionth time that day. She wanted to not think about the daughter she lost a year ago, or about the dead end her professional life found itself in, or about the burgeoning and unrequited feelings for her partner…who was also the man who shot her. Forget her feelings for Mulder, she would kill him if she got a hold of him! If she didn't die herself first.

The hallways creaked with the winds whipping outside as Scully felt her knees slipping in the gore of her own blood. Her breath hitched, her lungs unable to fully inflate with the tearing pain in her side. She was nearly to the door, just a little more and she could reach it, could get outside, could call for help…

"Scully?" Mulder's voice rang from above her and Scully's hope fell. She turned vaguely up to the sound of his voice, near the top of the stairs. Mulder stood there, holding his side, his face gray and ashen. He was shot? How in the hell was he shot? Great, they would both die there. It would all look like some sort of stupid lovers pact, like those two, Lyda and what's his name said. This was all Mulder's fault. Tears threatened to spill as Scully lay her cheek against the cold floor, wanting to hate Mulder for all of this.

"Scully!" He finally stumbled down the stairs, falling the last few and crumpling on the floor not far away from her. He called her name, but she turned, painfully, rolling over enough to train her weapon on him, slick with blood in her hand. It waivered but locked on him, his eyes widening in his pale face. It was more out of habit than anything else he manage to turn his own weapon on her, shaking and trembling in one hand as the other clutched at the spreading stain of red at his side. For a hysterical moment, Scully thought of a freezer up in Alaska long ago, of deadly, pre-historic worms, and the first time she had ever gotten Mulder just to implicitly trust her.

What in the hell were they doing?

Scully let her weapon drop to the floor as she collapsed, too tired now to continue. "I'm not going to make it," she whimpered, the pathetic acknowledgement that she couldn't go on.

Mulder didn't lower his gun, however, and watched her warily. "No, you're not…not without me, you're not."

Was that a threat? A promise? Scully didn't know.

"Are you afraid, Mulder," she panted, biting back at wild hysteria at their predicament. "I am."

"I am too," he admitted sadly, gasping as he too rolled over, staring up at the chandelier that had once lit the entranceway ceiling. "You should have thought of this."

She should have thought of what? Despite the pain and fear, irritation spiked through her as she thought of her car full of presents just outside. "You should have," she snapped petulantly. He was the one who started all of this.

"You shot me first," he countered accusingly.

What in the world was he talking about? "I didn't shoot you, you shot me!"

How the hell did he get shot? She hadn't even heard another weapon. Besides, how could she have shot him when she was obviously dying on the floor below. And how did he get up there anyway and why did he shoot her?

Mulder didn't answer her. A ripple of terror formed as Scully wondered if he were indeed dead. Had he left her there all alone, dying in some stupid, creepy house like this? Panic began to creep along the edges as suddenly Mulder stood up, plucking at his bloodstained shirt.

"Scully," he called, frowning first at the blood, then at her.

"What," she coughed.

"Get up," he ordered, fairly unsympathetically, she thought.

"I can't," she whined. Didn't he see she was dying?

"Get up! You're not shot." He pulled at his gory shirt. There was indeed blood, but no wound. What was going on?

"What?" She gurgled as he reached a hand down for her.

"Come on, it's a trick. It's all in your head." He drug her up, steadying her on her feet as he snagged her white blouse away from her stomach. Sure enough, it was covered in blood, but there was no wound. The searing pain that had affected her ability to breath disappeared as her eyes locked on the stain. She wasn't shot. She was alive! She wasn't going to die!

Without a word, they both made for the door, running practically through it as they realized it was unlocked. Down the faded, splitting steps they skittered, skidding to a halt in front of their parked cars. Scully glanced at Mulder's shirt, then her own. The stains were gone.

Wordlessly, Mulder threw her car keys at her, before digging for his own. Without a second look at the house, they ran to their vehicles, starting them up in unison and peeling out of the overgrown driveway, miraculously not managing to hit one another in the process. Into the deep, heavy darkness of Christmas Eve they drove, Scully not bothering to call Mulder as she tore towards the main highway, frantically checking her back seat to ensure that it was only Christmas gifts back there and nothing else. Unless there was a Christmas turkey waiting on her doorstep, she had no idea how Mulder was going to make up for this.

Chapter Text

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough….

The light from Mulder's apartment window shone in the darkness, a beacon from down the street as Scully parked. All around the apartments were dark, save for the occasional glow of a lighted tree. Everyone was tucked up, all snug in their beds, with no visions of ghosts or blood to dance through their heads. Scully shivered, hugging herself briefly before turning off her engine. It felt reassuring, to feel the solidness of her abdomen under her arms, to recognize she was indeed whole, that she had no bled to death on that dusty, forgotten mansion floor.

It had all been so real….

Her car was stuffed to the gills with presents, the loot for her family, expected in just a few hours time. The dashboard clock read 4 AM and she knew she was expected in Baltimore by six. She had not slept a wink in the hours since she had fled, near hysterical, back to her apartment and slammed the door behind her. Neither a hot bath nor a warm fire had manage to calm her shaking, and Scully had resorted to It's a Wonderful Life on television, a mug of hot chocolate with a shot of her father's whiskey in hand. It had all been so real! Lyda, her husband, the house, the crazed look in Mulder's eyes, the feel of the bullet ripping through her, and yet there she sat, watching George Bailey sob out desperately that he wanted to live, the very same thought that had gone through Scully's brain as she crawled through her own blood and gore, determined to make it out of that house and Mulder's scheme alive.

This had been all his fault. Mulder, the ultimate Scrooge, who hated Christmas and everything about it, any other year he would have had a case for them to work on. But this year, with the X-files out of their reach, he had to dig up this precious gem. Didn't he have better things to do with his life? Wasn't Diana Fowley back in town for him to pester? That cold thought only managed to annoy Scully further, and she scowled into the depths of her mug, the chocolate and alcohol doing nothing to sooth her frazzled nerves or her racing heart.

The truth was, if she dared admit it to herself, Lyda the ghost - if indeed she was a ghost at all and not just some figment of Scully's stimulated imagination - had half-a-point. Christmas was indeed a lonely time, and who was lonelier in her life than Mulder? Scully hardly considered herself any such thing. She had her family, who always supported her even if she didn't see them as often as she would like. She had her friends, who admittedly she rarely saw anymore, but they at least existed. She wasn't all alone in this world, not totally. Admittedly, it had been years now since anyone meaningful had entered into her life. She had tried to envision Mulder as she formulated that thought, but she had something going for her, more than her partner did. A family broken by his father's involvement in a large-scale conspiracy that took his sister away from them and shattered the lives of all involved. Now not only was Samantha gone, but his father was dead, and Scully suspected that Mulder was still not on speaking terms with his mother. She dared not speculate on the nature of the relationship between Diana Fowley and Mulder. So that left herself and the Lone Gunmen as Mulder's only real connection to humanity, his only friends. How lonely it must be for him, facing a holiday season that is supposed to be about family, knowing that there is no one left.

Small wonder then that he had called her out on this night of all nights to come ghost hunting with him. Scully was likely the only person willing to do it. And while yes, it was perhaps a sad statement on their lives that they would be investigating a haunted house on Christmas Eve, it made its own strange sort of sense. Mulder hadn't wanted to be alone, and for once Scully was in town and not running off to San Diego to see her family. All he had wanted to do was to relive their glory days on the X-files, to do something, anything other than sit at home and feel sorry for himself as was his wont on the holiday. Could she fault him for that?

Yes, she grumbled childishly, glaring at George Bailey and his plethora of friends, all turned out in his hour of need. No man is a failure who has friends. The line inscribed to George by the angel, Clarence, stung as Scully reached for the remote and snapped off her television. Mulder didn't think of himself as a failure did he? That thought niggled at her as she tried to ready herself for bed, turning off the lights on her tree and laying down for an unfruitful twenty minutes. No friends…no work…no respect…he couldn't really think of himself as a failure, could he?

That question drove her from her warm home even as the long-delayed snow began to fall over Georgetown. Her car still packed with the Scully family goodies, she sat outside of Mulder's apartment building, looking up at the glowing light from his window. Faintly, she thought she could see the flickers of his television playing against the shadows on his ceiling. If he weren't already an insomniac, the evening's events would surely have made him one. Grimacing, Scully reached behind her to the pile of gifts on her back seat, briefly rummaging through the foil wrap and ribbon for the one she had selected for Mulder. Just like every year they had agreed not to exchange gifts, and like every year she ignored it. She clung to the package like a talisman as she stepped out into the sudden, brisk wind and made her way to the front door, fumbling with numb fingers for the keys.

The lobby was warm and dark, save for the bright, twinkling lights outside of the supervisor's door. They framed it in a white glow, sparkling off a glitter-covered wreath that met her with "Season's Greetings" in broad cursive. Quietly, she made her way down the hall to the elevator, past doors shut tight with sleeping occupants, and waited for the elevator as it rattled its way down to meet her. There was something breathless about wandering the halls on Christmas morning. It added to her already jittery nerves, and her fingers tapped against the foil wrap in her hand. The doors couldn't open fast enough, and she found herself nearly stumbling and tripping to Mulder's door.

As the familiar forty-two came into sight, Scully paused, hand in the air, ready to knock. This was foolish. Honestly, a grown woman, afraid of the dark, worried that whatever crazy vision she had the night before was true. She was a rational person, a doctor, a scientist, she wasn't prone to silly flights of fancy. Then why did her hand quiver as it stood their poised, and why did Scully find herself shaking, even as her knuckles wrapped the familiar door? Her arms wrapped themselves across her middle as she waited, the noise from inside going silent as Mulder's footsteps crept softly to the door.

It took him so long to open the door, she wondered vaguely what it was exactly he had been watching. But to her surprise he met her dressed exactly as he had been when last she saw him, blinking curiously at her presence on his doorstep. Scully half hysterically thought she should shove the package at him and run down the hallway again, back to her car full of presence and make her way to Baltimore.

She managed to croak uncertainly, feeling like an idiot for standing there. "I, uh…couldn't sleep."

She didn't need any further explanation than that. Wordlessly he wrapped an arm around her shoulder and drew her in, closing the door as she shuffled inside. He looked as exhausted as she felt and just as confused.

"Come in," he waved towards the light of his living room. He paused, though, as he frowned down at his watch. "Aren't you supposed to be opening Christmas gifts with your family?"

Her family and Christmas were the last things on her mind. "Mulder…none of that really happened out there tonight." She stared up at him uncertainly. "That was all in our heads, right?"

She had expected some sort of pseudo-scientific explanation out of him, some article he read in some dubious journal that would explain away the phenomenon of seeing ghosts in an old, abandoned house on Christmas Eve, a blot of mustard, a bit of underdone potato. But he shrugged, looking just as hesitant as she herself felt. "It must have been."

That wasn't right. Didn't Mulder have all the answers to situations like these? Scully considered Lyda's words, how she looked for those answer just so she could argue with them, shoot them down, to tear them up and prove how her science could explain everything. "Not that the only joy in life is proving you wrong."

"When have you ever proved me wrong?" Up went the cocky glimmer in his deadpan face as Scully snorted and relaxed.

"Why else would you want me out there with you?"

"You didn't want to be there?"

That caught her off guard. It was true, Scully realized, she could have said no, could have told him this was a fool's errand and she had things to do and family to be with on the holiday. But instead she chose to humor him rather than turn him down, to spend an evening with him chasing around a moldering old house rather than sitting the warmth and light of her mother's kitchen, baking cookies with her sisters-in-law or something. She had made a choice too, to be with him. Perhaps there had been a reason for that.

"I'm sorry," he shrugged is a self-analyzing sort of way. "That's self-righteous and narcissistic of me to say, isn't it?"

"No," Scully rushed, "I mean…maybe I did want to be out there with you." Maybe it wasn't just about Mulder being alone and demanding her time. Maybe it was about her not wanting him to be alone as well.

Her heart raced at the look he gave her, standing in his living room. His eyes always seemed to burn with an intensity that was uniquely Mulder's, but there was something else in that moment. Gratefulness? Gratitude? She couldn't be sure, but in an instant it was gone as he ducked his head suddenly, flushing in a very un-Mulder-ish sort of way.

"Now….I know we weren't going to exchange gifts." He cleared his throat nervously as he fumbled in the pockets of his leather coat, suddenly refusing to meet her gaze. "I got you…a little something."

"Mulder," she breathed. It wasn't very big, a round tube in brightly colored paper, but it was at least not a gift certificate, Mulder's usual cop out at the holidays.

"Merry Christmas," he grinned, handing it to her with all of the expectation of a three-year-old boy, hoping he did well.

"Well," she hesitated, producing her own gift. "I got you something as well."

They were like a couple of school kids, shyly exchanging gifts. Immediately Mulder shook his, and she laughed as they scurried to his worn leather couch to open them. In seconds paper and ribbon was torn away as they examined the presents from each other.

"The King's last performance in Vegas? How did you manage this?" Mulder waved the VHS tape excitedly, grinning at the image of a jump suited Elvis plastered across its front.

"Gift shop at the Vegas airport when we were last out there." That had been easy. He'd been so despondent at the failure of his source that he had hardly noticed her slipping to the gift shop and picking up that bit of Vegas kitch. "Somehow, something about it screamed you."

"The box is even velvety," he cooed, gently rubbing the black fabric that the manufacturer wrapped the package in.

"Only you would find that a plus in marketing," she snorted, smiling down at the package in her hand. "Perfume, Mulder, a bit intimate, isn't it, coming from you?"

He hardly looked abashed. "It's the kind you wear, isn't it?"

"Yes," she admitted, startled. How did he know? "Going through my bedroom?"

"Rooting through your underwear drawer, looking for trophies for Frohike." He winced as her fist met his shoulder. It earned her a large, shy grin. "Scully, I have an eidetic memory and I've worked with you every day for nearly six years. I think I've learned a thing or two about you. Like your yogurt and bee pollen kick?"

"Not the same thing," she snorted, opening the box and pulling out the beautiful but fragile bottle inside. "It's lovely. Thank you."

"It was a gamble getting it. But I thought the gift card thing was getting old."

"Hadn't stopped you once in five years, when you remembered to get me a Christmas present."

"Yeah, that," he admitted, sinking back into the couch cushions. "It's not my holiday, Scully."

"I know. But it is mine. It was the one time of year when my family, my scattered, busy family simply took a breath and just…we were a family." The memory of a dozen childhood Christmases came to mind, with laughter, and lights, and the sweet smell of cinnamon clinging to the air. "Even when Dad was out to sea, even when one of us was out roaming or at work, there was always home somewhere, where they were opening presents and thinking of us."

Her happiness sobered, ever so briefly as she thought of those she had lost. "And I know Dad died this time of year, and then...Emily…" Her throat thickened at the still aching remembrance of Christmas just a year ago. "And I would kill to have Melissa back, if nothing else to argue once more on the tinsel on the tree. But I still have Mom, and Bill's family, and now Charlie and his wife. And there will be more nephews and nieces…and I'm not alone." She wanted to shout that, to scream it loud enough for Lyda, wherever she was at, to hear. "I'm not alone, Mulder."

"No, you aren't." She couldn't tell if he sounded jealous or resigned. "You're very lucky, Scully. And I was very selfish. I knew your Mom would expect you. I knew you would have to be in Baltimore in the morning, and still I called you, and I'm sorry for that."

"Sorry?" Was he seriously apologizing? "Have you already been hitting the egg nog laced whiskey?"

"I wish I had, it might explain all of this," he snorted, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. "I just…had nothing better to do with my night, that's all. And I had stumbled across this story ages ago, and thought, what the hell, might as well. Not like Kersh would let me do it on my work hours, now is it?"

"No," she acknowledged, turning the beautiful, glass bottle in her hands slowly. "How did you know I'd agree to it?"

"I know you're a sucker for my puppy dog eyes?" On cue he turned on his most pleading look, earning little more than an eye roll out of her.

"We were on the phone, Mulder, I could have told you no."

"Why didn't you?"

"Because," she drawled, shrugging vaguely, ducking from Mulder's searching gaze. "I don't know…just…because I didn't want you to do something stupid."

"You assumed I would?"

"How many times do you get into trouble when I'm not there?"

"How many times do I get into trouble with you there?"

"Good point," she admitted, her argument rapidly crumbling around her. "I don't know, Mulder…I suppose…I didn't want you to be alone on Christmas Eve."

It wasn't the answer he was expecting. "I do all right on my own, Scully."

"Then why did you ask me?"

His mouthed opened to answer, but he said nothing for a long moment, weighing is words. "I guess," he finally uttered, "I didn't want to be alone."

"Yeah," she smiled, sinking into the leather cushion behind her, staring at the white flecks gently falling outside of his window. "You know, it's finally snowing. Yesterday was so warm, today we get a white Christmas. It's a Christmas miracle!"

Mulder took it rather philosophically. "Perhaps it is. Maybe that's what Lyda and Maurice were trying to get across."

"Maurice…that was his name." Scully had been too frightened to bother catching it.

"Maybe their point is that Christmas is for being together, not for hiding alone."

"Right," Scully drawled, a mad idea coming for formation. She grinned sideways at her unsuspecting partner. "So how much do you love my mother's cooking?"

It took him less than a second to catch on to her meaning. "Scully…"

"Come on, Mulder, she would love to have you."

"Is Bill going to be there?"

"Of course."

"No," Mulder petulantly crossed his arms, his leather jacket creaking as he attempted to take the firm stance a five-year-old might.

"You saw him last Christmas."

"That was different," he retorted. He had been there to help her with the strange case of Emily. It hadn't been about holiday cheer.

"Charlie will be there, you can meet him. I would much rather you not spend the holidays sitting around here, alone, watching old Christmas movies and feeling sorry for yourself."

"Who says I'd do that? I may just go to the gym and shoot hoops."

"Is it open today?"

He nearly lied and said yes. "No, but Scully…"

"You want me to call my mother in for reinforcements?"

"No." He knew he was losing the battle. Scully grinned triumphantly.

"Come on, Mulder, some turkey, some sports programming, and a spot of Christmas cheer, it will do you good. We've had a pretty shitty year." It was apt to describe their year in exactly those terms. "And you don't have to be alone."

She held out her small hand to him, resting it on the top of his knee. He stared at it for long, inscrutable moments, before sighing and slipping his long fingers into hers, surrendering. "If Bill opens his mouth once."

"He won't," Scully assured him, standing up and giving his arm a yank. "Come on, I want to get on the road before the weather gets too bad."

"Fine, fine." He followed as she drug him to the door. He stopped as she opened it, turning her to look at him. "Scully…"

"Yeah?" She was half-afraid he would balk again. But instead he simply smiled gratefully.

"Thanks." He grabbed a scarf from the coat wrack in the corner. "Is your mother making pumpkin pie?"

The key to Mulder's affections clearly lay in his stomach. "Cherry this time, it's red." That seemed to make him just as happy as they made their way through the darkened, sleepy halls, the glow of holiday lights marking the way.

Chapter Text

The food coma hit Mulder about the time Scully made it to the highway. His snores accompanied the Christmas carols on her radio as he gently snoozed. Given last nights events, Scully let him sleep, knowing he hadn't the night before. Frankly, she was surprised she wasn't nodding off behind the wheel, filled to the brim with turkey and stuffing, green bean casserole, and her mother's amazing pie. Maggie Scully had spoiled them all rotten this year with her cooking and Mulder had enjoyed it enthusiastically, as always.

All in all, Scully mused, it had been an amazing day. She had been hesitant going into the holidays this year. The memory of the year before was so achingly fresh when seeing how big little Matthew had grown in the last year. Hadn't he just been a tiny baby yesterday, so small as she held him in her arms just outside of Emily's hospital room? He'd seemed so fragile then. Now, nearly one he was tall and sturdy and just getting to that age where he could balance himself on his two feet against the couch cushions and skirt along carefully.

A snort and shuffle from the seat beside her turned Scully from her dark thoughts and towards the road in front of her. She should think of the positives of the day, she reasoned, like the time spent with her family, the laughter with her brothers and their wives, the fact that Bill had not killed Mulder. In fact, despite his mild shock and curiosity regarding her partner's presence, Bill had been amazingly polite to Mulder, especially after a warning from Maggie regarding the proper way to treat company. Scully had waited for fireworks, but they never, came, Bill cordially shook her partner's hand, offered him coffee, and showed him to the tree where everyone gathered. His gesture so stunned Scully she stood in the hallway blinking at her elder brother and wondered vaguely if Maggie had somehow spiked his morning coffee that morning.

Charlie was a different worry. Scully had wondered how her younger brother would react to the man he only knew by reputation and most of that not very good. She had worried that Charlie would side with his elder brother, would see Mulder as an interloper into their family situation, an unwelcome guest who had nearly gotten their sister killed on numerous occasions. She shouldn't have feared. Charlie had always been more like Melissa, always been so accepting. He greeted Mulder cheerfully and quickly moved into a discussion of baseball that engrossed all three men for most of the morning, and led to them taking over the den to entrench themselves in some sort of sporting orgy of football and basketball while the womenfolk cooked. Never before had Scully ever seen Mulder behave in a way that was like every other guy she knew. When she thought about it, she didn't think she recalled a time where she had seen Mulder around men who weren't alien hunters and computer geeks. It was so strange to see him act like her brothers, having beers and talking sports. But then, why shouldn't she? When you got past the aliens, and the conspiracies, and his insistence on throwing his life on the line for the strangest things, wasn't he just a man who liked his comfortable jacket, his favorite sports teams, and his adult magazines in his bottom desk drawer? Why couldn't he just be one of the guys?

Save for Charlie and Bill's insistence on thinking of the most embarrassing Dana stories they could think of to share over Christmas dinner, much to Mulder's delight, the day had been close to perfect. How long had it been since she had a Christmas this stable and normal? Not since she came to work on the X-files, that much was for certain. How strange, she would have thought that Mulder's presence would have added to the tension of the day, and in fact she had expected that even as she had invited him. Instead he seemed to fit into the entire scene disturbingly well, melding seamlessly into her family setting. Scully wasn't so sure she felt completely comfortable with that.

"You're thinking too loud," Mulder grumbled in a voice low and gravely with sleep, and Scully felt her stomach flip just a little at the sound. She tamped down the thrill that coursed through her as she snorted in his general direction.

"You finally woke up. We should be in Alexandria in ten minutes."

"Yeah…can't believe I fell asleep like that."

"I can, did you sleep last night?"

"No," he admitted, stretching his long legs as much as her small sedan allowed. "Wow, you're Mom's food!"

"And there's more of it in a bag on the back seat for you." Maggie made it her special mission in life to give as many of her leftovers to Mulder for his consumption. She operated on the not totally incorrect assumption that her daughter's partner, as a bachelor, rarely got a square meal. Scully's mother had quickly earned Mulder's enduring affection and loyalty on her food alone.

"Your Mom's going to make me fat," he complained lightly.

"Considering the fact that you are incapable of sitting still, I hardly think you are in danger of that." Ahead of them the metro-DC area sped past the beltway, the nation's capital quiet on this holiday night. It was rare that Scully ever got to see it when it was so quiet, when it wasn't filled with the hustle and bustle of the nations government at work. The peace was startling.

"Thank you." Mulder's simple, grateful statement slid into the stillness, turning Scully's eyes to him briefly. "For inviting me."

"Of course," she shrugged, trying to pretend that it wasn't a big deal that it was something she would do for anyone. But she didn't do it for just anyone one, and rarely had she offered him a place in her family's celebration. "I'm glad my brothers were kind to you."

"I was surprised Bill didn't punch me in the face."

"I was shocked by that, too," she admitted ruefully. "Charlie seemed to like you a lot."

"Yeah, Charlie was great. So was his wife, what was her name again?"

"Ashley," Scully supplied. Both of her sisters-in-law had been impressed by Mulder. Tara had met him previously, but Ashley had been quite taken with her partner from the minute he stepped in the door. "By the way, she told me in no uncertain terms that you were hot and why the hell were you single still?"

Her partner's chuckle was both grateful and ironic. "She obviously hasn't caught onto the chasing aliens part."

"Yeah, well Ashley is an open minded sort of girl. She did marry Charlie, after all."

"Speaking of open minded, Charlie reminds me a lot of Melissa." He sounded sad. Mulder and Melissa hadn't been close, but they had understood each other a great deal. Scully knew that he still carried the weight and guilt of her death with him, despite all of Scully's protests against it.

"Yeah, Charlie and Melissa were always the peacemakers in the family. They sort of take after Mom in that respect, but then again birth order and all, Melissa was stuck in between Bill and I, and Charlie was the baby. I think it was a survival mechanism."

"I bet." Mulder mused softly, yawning briefly as he did. "You and Bill are a lot alike."

It wasn't the first time that comparison had been made, but Scully bristled against it all the same. "We are not totally alike."

"No but you are similar. Both of you are strong willed, ambitious, opinionated, and smart. You both feel like you have to live up to the memory of your father, and you have a deep sense of justice, of wanting to do what is right, and you'll be damned if you are told you are wrong."

"I am not that way!" She glared sideways at him.

He shrugged his shoulders under his lather jacket, making it creek. "Well, that's cause I've mellowed you out over the years."

"Really?" She knew he couldn't see the eyebrow delicately arched at this statement, but he knew it was there.

"You are so much more open-minded than you used to be."

"I've never been closed minded."

"'Mulder, there is no such thing as the existence of extra-terrestrials.' I seem to remember that being the way you greeted me."

"I seem to remember telling you I was looking forward to working with you and you told me that you thought I was sent to spy on you."

"You were, you know."

"But I didn't."

"Point," he acknowledged, conceding the small victory to her. "That doesn't change the fact that you and Bill are very much alike. It's why he loves you so much, and why the two of you argue so much."

"Does Christmas dinner turn you into a psychologist?"

"I'm always a psychologist, it just makes me more contemplative as I have to stare at my now completely full navel."

"Right," she chuckled, slowing for the exit for Mulder's home. "So I'm like Bill then. What's the point of this discussion?"

"Just it's nice to see where Dana Scully comes from, what her tribe is like, who are her people."

"We aren't that foreign, Mulder."

"You are to me," he replied quietly. "Before Samantha was taken, there were good Christmases. But after…" He trailed off briefly. "You have something good, Scully, and I'm sorry I take you away from it."

"You don't do anything of the sort." Had Bill said something to him after all?

"I do. You could have died last night, really, and how would that have devastated your mother?"

"Don't do this, Mulder." It was a well-trodden path with them, one minute Mulder morosely insisting that she had to leave him for her own good, the next begging her to stay because he couldn't possibly accomplish what he needed without her. The bi-polar tug of her place in his life left her exhausted at times. "It's Christmas, just enjoy the holiday for what it is, a day to think of peace on earth for once and not the mysteries that are outside of it."

Whether her words sunk in or not, Mulder at least relented. "Right. It was a good day."

"Did your Knicks win?"

"No and I had to put up with the Lakers winning. Your brothers were insufferable."

"Yeah, they are a little like that." She laughed, conjuring up images of Mulder with her two surviving siblings, doing normal things, living a normal life. She dismissed it as soon as it rose. The idea of Mulder settling down to anything resembling "normal" in his entire life was laughable.

"You have a good family, Scully. Cherish it." He was pensive as they pulled up in front of his apartment building. Just as it had been that morning when they left it was dark, save for the twinkling lights at the door and the glow of his window on the fourth floor.

Quietly, he reached around for the bags of leftovers in the back seat. "Your mother's food is what keeps me going in this whole, messed up world," he muttered, only partly tongue-in-cheek.

"I'm sure that warms her Irish Catholic soul," Scully replied, grinning. In the darkness of the car it smelled like her mother's potatoes and green bean casserole. She waited for him to make his goodbyes and climb out of her car, up to the solitude of his lonely apartment. Instead he leaned over so quickly she barely registered the brush of his lips against her cheekbone before it was gone, followed by the rush of cold wind as his door opened.

"Merry Christmas, Scully…and thanks!" He held up the bags in his hands as he slammed the door and turned, walking across the snowy patch of grass up to his door, leaving footprints in his wake as he went. Scully watched, her fingers pressing against the patch of skin his mouth so recently connected to, her mind flickering to the hallway outside of his apartment, of his mouth so near hers, and an opportunity lost.

He turned at the door and waved again before disappearing, taking Christmas dinner with him.

"Merry Christmas," she breathed, feeling elated and foolish all at once. She scrubbed at her cheek as she engaged her car once again and turned it, quietly, towards home.

Yes, have yourself a merry, little Christmas now….

Chapter Text

Whatever peace on earth and goodwill to men Christmas generated, it gave way to the New Year, and a return of Mulder's dour attitude. Scully should have realized that all good things must come to an end.

"Read 'em and weep." Mulder tossed a stack of manila files onto her desk, flopping into his own chair as he grabbed one off the top.

"What's this?" She glanced from the disturbingly tall stack to her partner's languid boredom as he stretched out long legs and began flipping through one of the random folders on top.

"Our new assignment!" The cheer he forced was sarcastic enough to sting as he waved it vaguely in Scully's direction. "More background checks!"

"New assignment?" Hadn't this been what their work for the last two months?

"Well they are now Department of Health and Human Services applicants, so different government title."

"I see." Scully sipped at her coffee and wished she had thought to bring a bucket of it and not just a mug. The problem was she did see and she knew exactly what was going on. It was a game of chicken at this point between them and Assistant Director Kersh. Who was going to blink first? She knew that Kersh was betting that Mulder, with his penchant for independent thinking and deep seated need to do something more with his day than watching the shadows on the bullpen ceiling, would be the one to blink first. Sadly, Kersh obviously wasn't a keen observer of human behavior, else he would have known that there wasn't a creature alive more stubborn than Fox Mulder. He would wait Kersh out to the grave if he wanted to, just to prove a point. Scully had a feeling that it was his point that was the only thing keeping Mulder going now.

"Here's a promising one!" Mulder flipped to the cover page, scanning the information quickly. "Names Sally Berktrom, age thirty-seven, has a nursing degree from Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri and has done some administrative work for the local osteopathic medical school in her town. She's single, no parents, no relatives, and claims her only dependents as her four cats; Binky, Muffin, Herby, and Doodle."

"Doodle?" Scully snaked a hand across to read the form in disbelief. "No..."

"I wonder if she calls it Doody for short." Mulder tossed the file across her desk in disgust. "Honestly, who names their cats as dependents?"

"Who names their cat Doodle?" Scully never ceased to be amazed at what some people would admit to on a government employment form. Curious, she grabbed the next one on the stack. "How about this one? Myron James, forty-three, Lancaster, California, a wife, no kids, but under previous criminal history admits to having been arrested for growing marijuana in his garden shed for 'medicinal purposes'."

"He at least has the pharmaceutical knowledge required to work in a department like this." Mulder was already flipping though a third file. "This person seems at least somewhat normal, Letitia Summers, from Atlanta, ten years in medical administration, top of her class at Georgia Tech, one of the first African-American administrators in her field in the city."

"Sounds like a winner. What's the dirty secret on her record?"

"Who says there has to be one?"

"I don't know, does she have a cat named Binky as a dependent?"

"Nope, a son named DaSean and a daughter named Tanisha, a husband who is in construction, and a mother who is retired and living in the home with them."

"You mean to tell me she's perfectly normal?" Scully felt vaguely disappointed as Mulder nodded his dark head sadly. "Sounds like she's a great hire."

"How much you want to bet we'll spend half-an-hour doing background checks on her only to have her lose out on a promising job working for her country to someone who names their cat after something I did in the bathroom this morning? What has this country come to when being the lowest common denominator is a key component for being hired for a job."

"Are you talking about cat lady or about yourself?" Something in Mulder's glower told her he wasn't speaking about strictly about Sally Berktrom or Letitia Summers.

"Why would I be speaking about myself?" Mulder's guilty gaze slid to the pile of paperwork, ignoring her.

"I don't know, Mulder, I have to wonder if I'm not speaking about myself." Scully could at least be honest about that much. "It's galling to me that I spent eight years in school and another two in residency and still went through the Academy, and my reward for all of that is to sit here trolling through people's personnel files, laughing at the names they give their cats." She felt the tiniest bit of guilt twinge as she realized she had been laughing at a woman she had never even met.

"What, you hadn't caught on that when we signed that dotted line in HR we signed away any and all dignity we might have had before then."

"I don't think that the US government is in the habit of hiring Oxford graduates to do background checks on potential future employees."

"What do you want me to say, Scully, of course it pisses me off." Agitation sent his hands shoving through his dark hair, making it stand on end, Mulder's natural energy stifled in the mediocrity of their task. "And if we say anything, Kersh will tell us to quit or find something worse for us to do, and frankly I'm not big on janitorial duty at the moment, cleaning up someone else's doodle."

He was right, but the fact didn't change Scully's ambivalence. Her skin itched with it. "I'd take anything right now. I'd take doing an autopsy for the locals over this." She stared down at her well-manicured hands. When was the last time she had held a scalpel in them? Dallas? No, Bethesda, in the morgue at the Naval Hospital, where the strange bodies from the FEMA office was kept. The events of Dallas and the summer before seemed so long ago to her now.

"Maybe you should," Mulder mumbled quietly, gathering a stack of folders. "Take the first thing you can get that isn't this. Get away from here for a while and do something real for a change."

"And leave you alone to do all of this?" Scully feared what might happen if she actually let Mulder call Sally Berktrom and her cats. "I'm in the dog house, too, Mulder, and I'll pay my penance."

"How very Catholic of you. Look, Scully, I'm serious. Your career has suffered enough, and I know I'm the one they want. If you have a chance to redeem yourself…"

"Nothing doing," she replied with much more firmness than she intended. The file she was holding snapped loudly as she smacked it against her scarred desktop. "Don't help them do their job, Mulder. I'm not abandoning you."

"I didn't say 'abandon', I'm just saying be strategic. If one of us can get out of this hell hole, perhaps they can help the other." He chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully for the briefest of moments. "Well, there may be no hope for me, but for you…"

It was by far not the first time they had shared this conversation, and Scully doubted it would be the last. This time she chose to simply strategically ignore him. "How about you do a background check on…Ian Poon."

"Poon? That's seriously his last name?"

It took about five full seconds for Scully's brain to catch up with Mulder's twelve-year-old snicker as she pulled from the deepest dredges of her memory regarding vulgar slang and adolescent, teenaged male humor. Her yes narrowed dangerously at her unrepentant partner. "Grow up!"

"If I haven't managed that by now, Scully, I'm not going to do it anytime soon."

"And that's why we are in this mess in the first place," she muttered, grabbing a file and turning her back on him as she reached for her desk phone.

Chapter Text

The car had the same rental smell, her hotel had the same foreign yet lived in feel, and yet everything about this case was off, different, wrong. Scully scowled at the bed in the middle of her room and tried not to wish that Mulder was draped across it, his aquiline nose shoved in case files as he scattered sunflower seeds all across the nylon comforter. Still, this was a chance for her to get out of Kersh's hell. She should take it.

She could hear Peyton Ritter in the room next to her getting settled in. She wondered how long it had taken him to put down his suitcase, dig out his phone, and set up his connection to Kersh to inform him of every movement Scully made on this case. How old was he again? Perhaps twenty-six, if that, and that was giving him enough credit to allow him a few years to suck his way up to the position that Kersh found him in. Suddenly, Scully felt the weight of her nearly thirty-five years. Nearly ten years older than this kid and he was the one telling her that Alfred Fellig was a dead end. Didn't the man have eyes in his head? If he had been Mulder…

But that was the point, wasn't it. He wasn't Mulder. And Kersh wanted her to remember that, to recall that she had been an agent before she knew Fox Mulder and that she had been promising once, perhaps could be promising again, if she learned how to divest herself of the dead weight. For no real reason at all she glared at the wall between her room and Ritter's. Did he think he could hold a candle to Mulder? Like as not, she admitted with sad honesty, Ritter likely thought he was better. After all, he was young, he was asked personally to take this case by Kersh, and he wasn't circling the doghouse like Mulder was. In Ritter's eyes, Fox Mulder was a cautionary tale, a man who had every chance in the book and threw them all away. Of course he would find himself superior to him.

Superior to Scully, however, that remained to be seen. Ritter respected her just enough to acknowledge she wasn't an idiot, but clearly didn't think much of the things she noticed. And what was with him calling her "Dana"? The first time he had uttered her given name it had startled her so much she didn't correct him. Now he seemed to take full license of it, as if he had the right to. It was rare in the FBI that first names were used, a holdover from a time period when it was still the good, old, boys' club, and men always referred to each other by their last names. It just felt more professional that way, to be honest, their last names as shields against making the work too personal. Hell, Scully could count on two hands the number of times she could recall Mulder using her name, and she hardly, if ever, used his. So where did this…kid get off? It was as if he had waltzed into her life and invaded her personal space. Thank God he hadn't done that yet or he might have lost a hand. It was all horribly unsettling, blatantly wrong, and she found herself itching the skin under her suit coat and wishing she was back in the hated bullpen watching Mulder make buzzer beater shots at his trashcan in his own imaginary game of paper wad basketball. He would chastise her for it, she knew, even if the envious part of him would be happy she was back. He would want her on this case, if for nothing else to have someone capable on it not mucking it up.

As if on cue, her cell phone rang.

"What do you got," she answered without even a greeting. Her ID had tagged Mulder's desk phone at the Bureau and while it was late she knew he was prodding in areas he wasn't supposed to. It was what Mulder did.

"How is life with the boy wonder?" Mulder sounded disgustingly cheerful for a man she knew wanted to be on this case desperately.

"I'm wondering how long it took for him to place a discrete phone call to the Assistant Director telling him I had focused on the strangest things about the case." Something about being able to chatter with Mulder about it all put her at ease as she flopped on the bed, toeing off her shoes.

"When did you get into your hotel?"

"Half-an-hour ago. Why?"

She could hear Mulder's long fingers fly across his keyboard. "Took him exactly ten minutes. That's impressive."

"Ten minutes? How did you…."

"I might have set up a little something to take a peek at Peyton Ritter's email correspondence."

"Mulder! You're in enough trouble!'

"Clearly, he has some relationship issues with this girl named Jessica. Poor kid! Maybe you can cheer him up, buy him a beer or something."

"Mulder, that's none of your business," she scolded, even if a part of her was hardly shocked and hopelessly amused at the gall he had. "What did he tell Kersh?"

"Nothing important that I can see, only that you had been debriefed by the locals. Who is Alfred Fellig?"

"No one important," she replied with more conviction than she felt. "A crime scene photographer, works freelance for the city, nothing more."

"You thought he was important enough to bring up to the locals."

"Yeah, well I thought he might have some information. He's been at all of these crime scenes."

"Could be something. After all, photographers see a lot of things."

"Maybe," she drawled, debating on what else to tell him. Should she mention the renewal forms, or the photographs, or the face that the man hadn't aged once in over forty years?

"Ritter doesn't seem to think that there is much to go on there."

"Yeah, well Ritter is also convinced he's the next J. Edgar Hoover."

This earned a snort out of her partner on the other end of the line. "Ouch! One afternoon together and already the bloom is off the rose?"

"What rose? He's young enough for me to have babysat him once in his life." She knew she sounded like the irascible, older agent, shaking her fist at the kids playing their music too loud down the street. "He's got his bright and shiny badge from Quantico and he knows how to use it. Let's ignore the fact I've been a field agent for nearly six years and worked at Quantico for three before that."

"You are pulling credentials, now, he must have gotten under your skin."

Scully flushed guiltily, staring up at the ceiling. "Mulder, it's not that the kid isn't good. He is good. He's just…" What could she say? Just not him? "It's as if the most obvious things slip by him because he's been told what proper procedure is and knows whatever I'm suggesting, it isn't it."

"That's likely what he has been told, by Kersh perhaps, or someone else who warned him about working with Spooky Mulder's partner." He sounded bitter and apologetic about that. "Give him some time, Scully. He might come around. You did."

From Mulder that sounded like a decided compliment, and Scully found herself smiling. "Well I don't know if I have that sort of time with him."

"Maybe…maybe not."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Mulder was sounding evasive and Scully didn't trust it. She could hear the gears turning in his brain, far faster than her own leaps of logic worked.

"Don't you see what Kersh is hoping he can do?"

"Yeah, he's hoping that if I do a good job he can convince me to drop you for the sake and health of my career." The insinuation insulted Scully, the idea that she would use her helpless partner as a stepping stool to get out of the mire her job had stalled in. If she hadn't betrayed Mulder once in nearly six years, what was going to make her start now?

"It's worse than that. If you do well on this, I have a feeling I won't be your partner for very long."

His sad but fatalistic words hit her in the middle like a wrecking ball. When she could breath again, it was to merely gasp out, "What?"

"Look, Ritter is an up and comer and he'll need an experienced hand. That's where you come in. It's an ideal situation, one you can't pass up. It's a chance to get you a new partner, to utilize your skills, and most of all to separate us for good. Assigning you to a different department did them no good the last time. Assigning you a different partner might."

"Never," she snapped, as if she could stop the FBI powers-that-be from doing whatever they wanted. They always seemed to ignore her anyway.

Her angry retort brought a chuckle out of Mulder. "Your loyalty is amazing, Scully, but I'm just warning you."

"Then I'll drop the case," she replied, suddenly mulish. "I'll go back home, get yelled at, and go back to background checks."

"No, you won't," he replied firmly, so much so that it caught Scully by surprise. Before she could lodge a protest he continued. "This is an X-file, I feel it, and someone who doesn't have their head up their ass needs to do this. It's got to be you. I'll just hang back here and poke around and help with whatever background information I can get. I'll play your wingman for once."

"When was I ever your wingman," she snorted. "Mulder…"

"Scully, trust me on this. If you leave it to Ritter, it will go to hell. Show them that you are a class agent with good skills and who understands this work. And maybe they might just take you seriously enough that someone will give some of this credence."

"Why didn't they just pass this off to Diana Fowley?" The words escaped her even before she registered them and for once she wished she hadn't said them.

"'Cause they don't see it as an X-file," he replied, as if he hadn't heard the snippy suggestion. "You see the truth though. Stay on this case, Scully, if for nothing else because they need you on it."

How could she argue with the weight of Mulder's mission in life? The truth was out there, and she was the only one who could get it. She sighed, sinking into the pillows and wishing that she had never agreed to this. "Are you going to behave yourself on your end?"

"Define 'behave'?"

It was no use. "Right, just don't let Kersh catch you snooping in Ritter's email, okay?"

"That is assuming Kersh cares enough to pay attention. Give me a call if you need any information. I can spot the things that Ritter will overlook."

"I will," she assured him and found herself desperately missing him in that moment. Six years he had been her partner. There hadn't been anyone else. He had at least had Krycek for his brief stint as Mulder's partner, for better or for worse. And he had other partners before Scully. But Mulder had been it, her one and only investigative partner, and it felt odd being with someone else.

The same idea seemed to occur to him too. "Be careful while you are up there, Scully. I'm not there to watch your back."

"Yeah, I will."

"Grab a hot dog for me while you are there, the kind with extra onions and mustard."

So much for the moment. "Sorry there's no baseball now, else you'd have me go to a Yankees game too."

"Don't mock me, Scully, one day I'll get you there."

"Right," she chuckled, realizing that one of Mulder's beloved, New York hot dogs actually did sound good at the moment. "I'll keep you posted. Now go home."

"Yeah," he muttered before hanging up without a goodbye. Scully sighed, clicking her phone off and staring at it mildly. She hadn't considered what this case meant beyond the obvious. She had only thought of it being another assignment from Kersh, another way for him to irritate her and drive a wedge in between her and Mulder. She hadn't really considered that it could lead to something so drastic. She glanced at the wall between rooms again, knowing Ritter was on the other side. Was that why he felt himself able to be so familiar with her? Did he expect that at the end of the day the two of them would be partners after all?

"Not likely," she muttered as she tossed her phone on the bed, staring up at the blank ceiling above her.

Chapter Text

Mulder wasn't a whiz at math, but Scully had been, and she knew for certain that 1849 could not possibly be the date of birth Alfred Fellig. The year 1939 perhaps, but not a date more than 150 years come and gone, not for the streetwise old man who she sat with last night. Something had to be wrong with this, there had to be a mistake, something….

A file snapped in front of her nose and landed on the desk she sat at, her cell phone still in hand.

"I called the judge, she will see me in an hour and I can have a warrant sworn out in another two." Ritter's smug triumph shook Scully out of her circular thoughts and reminded her that she had just told off the officious little prick. She coolly met his gaze.

"So it all works out in the end." He assured her, his earlier anger with her apparently forgotten. Scully, however, had not forgotten her irritation with him.

"Does it?" One eyebrow quirked up at him as the young man's eyes dropped and he cleared his throat, his ears turning a faint pink.

"Look, what I said a few minutes ago, back there. That was uncalled for Dana." He stuttered to a halt when her eyebrow rose even further. "I mean…Scully."

"Quite," she murmured as he turned his gaze suddenly towards the file in front of her.

"Yeah, I mean…in the end we will get the guy, and you were just following your gut instinct, right? Tracking down a lead?"

"You mean I wasn't mucking up your case? My reputation hasn't somehow stained your pristine image, Agent Ritter?"

He at least had the decency to look somewhat abashed before he lodged a protest. "Hey, I know I let my mouth fly off the handle there, but I didn't mean…"

"I know exactly what you meant, Peyton." She dropped his first name like ice from her tongue. He cringed. "I know you. I know your type. Perhaps I was your type at one point." Had she ever really been, even when she met Mulder?

"You are an up and comer out of Quantico. I would guess top of your class. You want to be seen and recognized by those higher up than you, and that means taking the tough cases. But you take them to do them right, by the book, to show you are a loyal, company man." Her words obviously hit him smack in the face as he reared back ever so slightly at her accurate description.

"You have eyes for a nice, cushy spot, perhaps an AD position if not deputy, and you figure if you can cut your teeth on some high profile cases and show the higher ups you can do it, you'll climb that much higher. Except you snagged a case you couldn't quite handle alone. It was too strange, just too different, by the book didn't quite cut it. And so you took an offer from an assistant director that was too good to refuse. He offered to have you work with an agent who had experience with these cases, who had worked outside of the book. She could give you insights so you can make a quick bag and tag, close up your case, and make everyone look good. In exchange for rehabilitating this once promising agent into normal, FBI society, this assistant director would put in a good word for you with the people he knew. But, he did warn you this agent had a reputation, one that could ruin you if you let it get out of line. And yet you agreed to it, a calculated risk, so that you could get what you wanted, just as long as I didn't go about making you look bad."

She rose quietly from the desk, staring down the younger agent as she did so. "Of course the truth of what was happening never occurred to you. It didn't really matter why those deaths were happening, or what Alfred Fellig really had to do with it, or any of that, because in the end this is about you and your position…isn't it?"

If she had stabbed him in the gut and twisted she didn't think she could have cut any more deeply. Ritter's face twisted with conscience and annoyance that she had pegged him so rightly. "I wanted to catch this guy, that's all. You went against protocol, you were on a stake out and you ignored it."

"Sure, I did," she admitted, not feeling sorry for it in the least. "Because at the end of the day Fellig knew I was there. He came out and found me. And I figured rather than pulling the 'by-the-book' procedures and alienating him further, why don't I try some real investigative work and figure out what is happening here? I didn't rely on the words of a convicted felon who would do anything to keep himself out of prison."

"So you don't think he did it?" Ritter was trying desperately to turn this away from him. The hell she would let that happen.

"Ritter, there are a ton of things I think about this case, not a damn one of them would you ever understand." She picked up the form between her fingers. "Make your arrest, do what you feel is right, but I don't think that the evidence you have now is enough to stand up in court, especially given your witness."

"He was at those other crime scenes Dana…I mean…" He stuttered again, flushing an angry red as he realized he'd faltered on her name again.

"And that's another thing, Peyton," she snapped, tossing the form at him. He snagged it before it fell to the floor. "Why the forced intimacy of my first name? Did you hope I would somehow become your fast, new buddy? Go along with whatever you said if you called me Dana and made me feel special?"

"No," he retorted, shrugging. "I don't know, it's your first name! How was I supposed to know you didn't like it?"

"I love my name," she corrected him. "My family calls me that, my friends. But when I'm at work, I am a professional. I am not your girlfriend, your buddy, or your friend. I am Special Agent Scully, just as you are Special Agent Ritter, and I am not here to be your friend or help you climb a corporate ladder, and I'm certainly not here to allow you to step on me as you climb to the top. I am here to find the truth about why Alfred Fellig was at all of these scenes."

Scully stepped around her desk, her eyes trained on Ritter as she stepped within inches of his chest, looking up at him. "And I suggest, Agent Ritter, that if you really want to make a difference in your life and that of those around you, you think long and hard about the course you are taking. Think about what is important to you in this job. Consider what those in power are asking of you and then ask yourself what sort of agent…what sort of man do you really want to be."

He hardly breathed as she pulled away from him, her heels turning as she made her way out of the office. She had to get to Fellig before Ritter did. It would take him two hours at the very least to get to him. That would give her some time to figure out exactly what was going on.

"Is he worth it, Scully?"

Ritter's use of her last name surprised her enough to turn around to his call just as she reached the door. He was angry, yes, but curious. "Is Mulder worth all that you've thrown way by being loyal to him over the Bureau?"

Did he really believe that was what it all came down to? For the briefest of moments Scully felt true pity for this young man. In so many ways he reminded her of a young Tom Colton, just as full of himself, just as ambitious, and just as afraid of the things that Fox Mulder represented. "What Mulder is doing, what he represents, what he knows…yes, that is worth it."

"And him? Are you willing to throw everything away to stick by his side?"

"I've done it before," Scully murmured quietly. She left Ritter, thoughtful, as she made her way downstairs to search for Fellig.

Chapter Text

The pain was just as she remembered it from Christmas Eve, searing and tearing, her insides imploding as the bullet ripped through her. This time, Scully realized faintly as she stared at the blood blossoming on her blouse, this time the bullet was real. She stared at it in detached fascination for half a second before turning her eyes up at her shooter. In Alfred Fellig's doorway, Peyton Ritter stood, his gun still aimed at her as his eyes went wide in his handsome, young face. Why was it her partners felt the need to shoot her lately, she wondered hysterically, as her knees buckled and she slipped soundlessly to the floor.

Ritter nearly wailed as he realized what he had done. She could hear him scream "no" as her front grew sticky and messy with the warm gore pumping out of her. It covered Ritter as he tried to stem the flow, but it was coming too fast. Scully's dazed eyes looked up at him as Ritter's expression broke into a thousand pieces and he reached for his cell phone. He was going to call for help, but Scully's doctor's brain knew there wasn't any help for her. The bullet had hit the abdominal aorta, almost dead center. Ritter was a good shot. Her blood would drain out of her faster than it would take the paramedics to get there, perhaps even before Ritter finished his frantic call.

She was dying, she realized, and it was for real this time. This wouldn't be a trick by spooky ghosts. There would be no magic chips placed in her neck, no secret vaccines, and Mulder would not burst in to save the day. She would die there in Alfred Fellig's apartment, just like the old man said she would. For once in her many brushes she wasn't going to be able to escape death, and it would come at the hands of something so silly as an overzealous agent. Scully had wanted to die in a bed, with her loved ones around, with a priest to perform last rites and time to say goodbye to all of those who she had cared for during her life. She hadn't wanted to die like this, lying sprawled on a dusty floor. She had so much yet to do. She had to find the men who had done so much to her, who had taken away her fertility, her daughter, her sister. She had wanted to find the truth about what they were doing and why they had done it to her. She wanted to find Mulder's truth, to help him finish his quest. She had wanted to find Samantha, dead or alive, she wanted to give that gift to Mulder, that closure. Scully had promised him she would help him.

Ritter had run off, yelling. She could hear him calling for help. Poor kid! He had been trying to do the right thing, and this happened. This would ruin his career for sure. It didn't matter that she was Mrs. Spooky, her career in shambles, tied to Mulder. She was an agent and that meant something. People would never quite trust Peyton Ritter again. Of course they would see it as an accident, OPR would say it was an unfortunate incident, clear Ritter of wrong doing, and assure him it wasn't his fault, but they would all know the truth. Ritter's career would stall as they shuffled him sideways from one department to the other, never demoting him, but ensuring that he would likely never get much further ahead. People would whisper about how he had accidentally killed a fellow agent and shoot him sideways glances, some curious, others pitying. No one would ever trust him again.

And that's if he survived Fox Mulder. Scully somehow doubted he would. Oh God, Mulder! A moment of panic flared in her growing lethargy. What would happen to him? How would take this? Whatever vestiges of self-control he might still posses they would likely be gone the minute he heard. There was no Skinner now to hold him back, and Ritter might find his career with the FBI even shorter once her partner got a hold of him. Who would stop him? Who would keep him on course with his work? Would it all go away without her there? She would die and he would never know how much he had changed her life, had opened her eyes. He would never know how much she loved and cared for him.

Death was coming for her and she couldn't stop it.

Perhaps it was Fellig's stories, she couldn't tell, but she thought she could see something flittering on the edge of her awareness, blackness, and a presence, something she couldn't define. It hovered, waiting, as if knowing that anytime soon it could swoop in and steal that which was most precious to her. It terrified her. She didn't want to leave, not like this.

Someone took her hand. For half a faltering heartbeat she feared it was Fellig's Death, come to take her home. Her heavy eyes turned downwards and saw her fingers being held by Fellig. His thumb stroked the cooling skin on the back of her hand gently as his sad, tear filled eyes coaxed hers upwards. They looked so old, those eyes, ones who had seen their own lifetime and then some. There was remorse there and pleading. His chance had come and he had lost it.

"Do you see him," he asked, so quietly and yet so hopefully. She wanted to say yes, but couldn't. Blood filled her esophagus now, pushing upward through her throat and down her chin. She couldn't even nod in response, but she had a feeling Fellig knew. His fingers tightened around hers.

"Don't look," he whispered, soft as a prayer. "Close your eyes.""

She wanted to ask why, but found she was too tired to do so and he looked so desperate and sad. She wanted to give him what he wanted. So she did, and let her eyes flutter shut, her head lolling as consciousness faded in and out. She thought she heard Fellig laugh, or perhaps sigh, and felt his fingers loosen from hers. She felt his body fall, felt him land across her lap, but was unable to do more than groan in mild response. Her injury hurt with the impact.

And she sat there, waiting for death.

Except it never came.

She had barely registered this fact when the paramedics arrived on the scene and chaos broke out. She could hear Ritter babbling about her being an agent, how it had been an accident, he hadn't seen her standing behind the perpetrator. No one seemed to question Fellig lying over her, the intended victim of Ritter's shot. There were desperate commands, someone swearing loudly at the amount of blood everywhere, and another muttering that it was a miracle that Scully was even still breathing.

Scully wasn't sure about a miracle. Perhaps it was or perhaps death had decided to choose someone else that day.

They loaded her onto a gurney, the pain excruciating as her entire insides pulled with the effort. Ritter was by her side, trying to assure her he would call her family, Mulder, whoever. Scully barely registered any of it as her heavy eyes turned up to the molding in Fellig's tired old apartment building. It reminded her of another apartment somewhere else…Minneapolis...and Clyde Bruckman, an insurance salesman who could predict how a person was going to die. She had asked him to tell her how she would die. He had looked at her with his enigmatic smile and shook his head.

"You don't," he told her, his image fading away with the bright sunlight outside as they loaded her into an ambulance.

Had Clyde seen Alfred Fellig steal death away from her, she wondered hazily, as the doors closed. Perhaps there was something to all this, her brushes with death, and her amazing survival. She had looked one of the heavenly host in the face and survived. Perhaps she couldn't die. And the idea made her want to laugh as she drifted into unconsciousness, the haze of pain and hysterical thoughts and half-remembered events swirling into one mass as she slipped finally into blackness.

Chapter Text

The first two days were hell. There didn't seem to be enough pain medication in the world to make the fire in her gut go away. By the third, she could breath again, barely. Now seven days later she was sitting up in bed, comfortably resting against the hard, hospital pillows, watching the winter snow collecting on the windowsill outside of her room. It had been sleeting and snowing in Christchurch when she had been in the hospital there last July. Perhaps the weather reflected her mood. For all the medical experience that she had, Scully was roundly coming to hate hospitals.

"Morning, sunshine!" Mulder's cheerful greeting turned her attention to her door where he stood, a bouquet of flowers in his hand. Snow flecked his dark hair and he looked like seven different kinds of hell. When had he slept over the past seven days? But he grinned boyishly, his eyes ducking down to the mass of roses and lilies in hand. "Want to hear who I attacked for this one?"

"Hopefully not some invalid old lady waiting for a birthday delivery from her son." The joke was an old one between them, born from her days suffering from cancer. "That's a large bouquet on your budget, Mulder."

"Yeah, well I wanted something simple, but the boys wanted to chip in. Frohike wanted to pay for a private nurse, but I convinced him you'd like roses better." He shuffled into the room, setting the cellophane wrapped concoction on a table near two other large vases filled with flowers. "The Bureau trying to one up us?"

"Only one is from the Bureau." Scully yawned, nodding to the perfunctory arrangement in the back. "The other is from Walter Skinner of all people."

"Skinner?" His eyebrows nearly shot to his hairline. "Sending you flowers? Nice ones, too! I always thought he had thing for you, Scully."

As tired and frail as she felt, she still managed to send him a warning glare. "Stop it."

"What?" Mulder's gaze turned innocent but failed under her disapproval as he laughed and pulled up a chair to her bedside. "I'm glad he thought of you."

"Yeah, well, he's seen me through worse. You both have." She smiled sleepily as Mulder reached long fingers for hers, lacing them through as he held on tight.

"Not as bad as this, Dana," he breathed, all humor draining from a face that suddenly seemed too tired and haggard to be sitting upright. "When they told me…Kersh had me prepared for the worst."

Scully's heart lurched in her still healing chest, her fingers tightening around Mulder's own. She had yet to tell him the truth that she herself had prepared for the worst as well. She had been so certain in those moments that she was going to die, that there was nothing she could do to stop it. She had seen death, had felt death's presence, and had known it was coming, finally, for her. And yet something had gotten in the way - Arthur Fellig.

"I guess I disappointed the medical experts yet again," she tried to joke lightly, only earning the most pained of smiles out of her partner. "Come on, Mulder, you have to laugh a little at it sometime."

"Do I?" He sounded perplexed as to why she would even suggest that. Her poor Mulder, Scully lamented. He had lost so much in his life and had had so much taken from him. None of this was remotely amusing to him. Again, she thought her dying fears of what Mulder would do without her there in this world with him. She shoved them quietly aside as she reached across to stroke one dark strand of hair out of his face.

"You look like crap, Mulder. When was the last time you slept?"

He pretended to think. "The nap I was taking at my desk when Kersh's secretary called about you." He hardly seemed repentant that he was sleeping on the job rather than making his obligatory, background checks. "After that I think I might have collapsed into a coma in the waiting room after you got out of surgery, and I think your mother might have forced me into a catnap two days ago."

"Go home, Mulder! Rest!" She meant it. For the past week she had been hovered over by first Mulder, then Maggie. Her mother had cried and lamented and then cursed Assistant Director Kersh for sending her daughter out with anyone who wasn't Fox Mulder. The toll of the week had worn them both down and Scully had finally sent her mother to her hotel room to sleep. She suspected she would have to do the same for Mulder if she could convince him to pry his grip off of her hand.

"I'm fine, Scully." He tried to reassure her past a yawn. "Besides, I'll go wander here in a bit, find a hot dog and a Starbucks, maybe a copy of the Times…"

"And what, collapse on the floor?" Even if she was the patient, Scully couldn't help but be a doctor. "I'm in good hands here."

"Which reminds me, I want to talk to your doctors, see when we can spring you from this joint."

"Mulder," she chided, knowing her protests were falling on deaf ears. Hospitals made Mulder itchy and nervous, he hated them, but he'd be damned if he would leave her till she was officially let go and nothing she could say would get him to do otherwise.

"I'll rest when your mom gets here, okay," he assured her. She somehow doubted he would do that even then, but any further protestation died as a timid knock sounded at her hospital room door. Before she could even glance up she could feel Mulder's fingers tighten so hard it nearly turned her hand white.

"Mulder," she protested as she frowned at their intruder. Peyton Ritter stood there looking pale. He shot Mulder terrified glances as beside her she thought she heart her partner growl.

"Be nice," she whispered as Ritter shuffled his feat, his hands stuffed into his overcoat pockets. She hadn't seen the young agent since Fellig's apartment, and frankly she had to admit she was amazed that he was standing there still living and breathing. Scully had a feeling that if it were up to Mulder, he'd have joined her in the emergency room. She gently pried her quickly numbing fingers from her partner's tightening hold, trying to shoot Mulder a reassuring smile.

"Mulder, I think if we could have the room alone."

"You mean kick him out? Sure!"

"No," she admonished. "Go find your hot dog and coffee. Give me a bit with Ritter, okay?"

Mulder looked ready to protest, but gave in with a pleading look from her. "I'll go find your doctor, see what he has to say, okay."

"Sure," she nodded as he pulled away finally, just managing to be civil as he met up with Ritter at the door. Scully held her breath as Ritter's face fell under the silent glare of Mulder's righteous anger. Having stood in the cold heat of his fury before, Scully was impressed that Ritter hadn't wet himself yet, but he stood his ground as Mulder filed passed, only relaxing when Mulder was well down the hallway. Ritter seemed to wilt in on himself as he turned to stare at Scully's prone form.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered hoarsely, and Scully wasn't sure if it was because of remorse over what he did or fear of Mulder. It could have been both. "I didn't…"

"Agent Ritter," she called softly, indicating the chair that Mulder just vacated. "Come have a seat.

He took her invitation gladly, flopping into the chair as his hands reached up to scrub at his pale face. He looked as bad as Mulder and for good reason, too. She doubted this week had been good for Peyton Ritter.

"Peyton," she murmured, using his first name on purpose. "You didn't mean to. It was an accident."

"I saw him, Dana. I saw him standing there, I didn't see you. You are so small, and he was right in front of you, and I had no idea you would be there."

It was a sort of truth, Scully recognized. He knew she might be there. Mulder had called him and told him that much, but she doubted Ritter really believed anything her partner had to say. "It was an accident, nothing more. Agents get shot in the line all the time."

"By other agents?" He choked, hands twisting in his lap as he stared at them. "There will be an investigation. OPR they are looking into it."

"And they will tell you the same thing I am telling you. It was an accident. You didn't see me, plain and simple. I suppose this is what I get for being short." She tried to laugh it off, but Ritter didn't find the humor in it.

"You could have died."

"I should have, yes." She thought of that moment, lying on the apartment floor, knowing that she was about to die, her life bleeding out of her. She should have died and didn't. Alfred Fellig's command to her not to look still sounded in the vagueness of her memories. She should have died, but Fellig took her place.

Perhaps she shouldn't mention that part to Ritter.

"Mulder says he was a serial murder, he found records…"

"And I am sure that you and OPR will figure out the truth of what happened." Scully didn't want to dig into the particulars, didn't want to have to wrap her mind around how Fellig had cheated death. She didn't want to have to explain it to a distraught Ritter who was still struggling with the implications of everything that had occurred.

But placations weren't what he wanted to hear at that moment. "I don't know how he did it."

Poor Ritter. Like Scully, he wanted to understand how this thing he was told was impossible happened, and she simply didn't have the answers. "I wish I knew." It confused her, perplexed her, and she had no more answers than he did. "I think for right now, Agent Ritter, you should just perhaps focus on the facts. Fellig's dead, you got him. I'm alive and you didn't get me. All is right in the world."

Her words brought some measure of calm if not reassurance to the man. "I was an idiot, you know."

'Yeah, you were," she responded mildly.

"I wanted to impress everyone, Kersh especially. He said you were one of the best investigators in the Bureau, that you knew a thing or two about strange cases, that maybe I could help get you out of a tough spot. I came in thinking that you needed me more than I needed you on this case. I thought I knew what I was doing, that you were just along for the ride to offer some advice and help tie up the loose ends."

"That's not how I operate, you know."

"I know that now," he lamented. "I didn't want to listen to you about Fellig, I thought you broke protocol just to prove you were right and to show me up. I was acting like an ass and I'm sorry."

Apologies were not something Scully was used to hearing from her fellow agents, especially where her work and methods were concerned. It surprised her, but then again it shouldn't have. Ritter had just gone through the shock of his life, and she doubted few other agents had the chance to reflect on things the way Ritter had been forced to the last week. She pitied him in that moment and she felt pleased. Perhaps this was the sort of learning experience that he needed to become a good agent.

"Agent Ritter, I can't tell you who to make friends with on the corporate climb. I wish I could, but as you see I'm perhaps not the expert to ask." She smiled self-deprecatingly, but it barely registered in his moroseness. "I can tell you this, something I learned from working from Mulder. Good agents know when to follow the rules. Great agents know when to follow their instincts. I can't say I'm perfect at it, but I'm learning, and I hope you are too, because believe me your instincts will keep you alive here longer than staying squeaky clean and impressive will."

The younger agent seemed to take these words to heart. He rose appreciatively, at least somewhat relieved at her forgiveness. "Thank you, Dana."

"Sure," she replied, smiling despite feeling increasingly tired. "How have the local police handled it all?"

"As far as they were concerned Fellig was there guy, now he's dead, case is closed."

"I suppose that's all they need to know." It wasn't how Scully liked leaving a case, but really what good would trying to explain it all be for the NYPD's case? Leave it be and let them move on to other matters, other cases.

Outside of her room window she could see Mulder in the hall, glaring at the back of Ritter's turned head. "Agent Mulder has returned and I suspect that if you value your life you might want to wrap this up."

Ritter cringed. "I had no idea he would be so…"


"Violent is more like it." Ritter looked terrified to walk out of her room at all.

"Mulder's been with me through a lot, Agent Ritter. He always has my back."

"Unlike how I did back there." Ritter was not going to let himself live this down.

"Hey, remember, accident, my fault for not telling you where I was." She glared up at him before smiling reassuringly. "Good luck, Ritter."

"You too, Scully." He sighed before turning to face the crucible that was Fox Mulder standing outside of her door. She settled back into her pillows and watched him go, pausing ever so briefly in front of Mulder.

Ritter would survive this and he would learn from it, and maybe, just maybe, he would turn into a fine agent because of it. Scully hoped so at least. God knew they needed fewer corporate ladder climbers and more agents who had been knocked around enough to have some sense beat into them. Perhaps Ritter would turn out to be one of the latter rather than the former.

Chapter Text

Much like her cancer, the doctor's thought it was a miracle that Scully was up and walking within two weeks of being shot. Within four she was back to her normal routine, even her normal run. After six she was even somewhat relieved to be going back to work, even if it meant returning to the bullpen, to background checks, and to the bullshit Kersh was prepared to spew.

"So good to see you up and back, Agent Scully." Kersh's smile didn't quite meet his dark eyes.

"It's good to be back, sir," she replied politely, unwilling to stir the pot her first day back. Kersh was taking agonizingly long to look through her paperwork and she knew it was on purpose, to remind her that despite her injury, she had still not lived up to expectations. In fact, Scully was waiting for the remonstrations on how if she had been doing what she should have done, she wouldn't have been shot at all.

"Your psych evaluation is clear then?" Kersh glanced over it briefly. Scully would remember to thank Karen Kossoff later for her timely work. "And your weapons certification is all in order?"

"Yes, sir," she nodded simply, refraining to remind him this wasn't the first time she had been forced to do this paperwork just to be reinstated. The third time was a charm, she hoped, as she watched him sign of perfunctorily on her forms and pass the file back across his desk.

"Give this to my assistant on your way out. For now you will return to your previous work until there is a case that comes across that I feel would be a good fit." There was obviously no indication on whether that case would ever materialize. Somehow, Scully doubted it. "Till then, you can join Agent Mulder and assist him with his assignment."

"Yes, sir." Scully nodded blandly, taking the file and making her way to the out office. Kersh didn't try to stop her and she didn't bother looking back as she passed the paperwork to his sour-faced assistant. The woman had hardly acknowledged Scully's return from the dead let alone her presence in the office, and it was only when Scully was well away from the assistant director's office and closer to the bullpen that she felt she could breath again and relax.

She wasn't exactly expecting fanfare when she arrived back at her desk. Perhaps that was why she was shocked by the appreciative applause as she entered, briefcase in hand, frowning at the smiling faces of the younger agents who all stared at her as if she were the second coming of Jesus.

"I think they assume you are something of a Lazarus," Mulder unwittingly corrected as he lazily regarded the scene, grinning so wide she thought his face would crack. He had hovered over her horribly during her convalescence and yet it was the happiest he looked in a long time.

"You're just thrilled to have me back to pester." She smiled down at the cake on her desk, welcoming her back in a sugary confection. Agent Miller - was that her name - grinned broadly from behind Scully's desk, her pert, blonde ponytail nearly quivering with excitement.

"Welcome back, Agent Scully. We were so horrified to hear what happened, but we are so very thankful you made it back to us!"

"Errr…thank you." Scully wasn't sure what to say, especially considering she couldn't exactly remember the woman's name properly. Had she said three words to her since she was forced to move to the bullpen after the X-files were burned?

"This is just a little show of our appreciation, just a way to celebrate."

Someone yelled speech, but Scully wasn't about to give in on that. She had just spent a morning wrestling down paperwork, now she just wanted some coffee and her desk chair. "Well…thanks, and eat up!"

They didn't need a second invitation. Miller - yes, that was indeed her name, Andrea Miller - swooped in to take the cake over to the coffee area and began snapping strict orders about getting in line and taking only one piece. Scully watched her go with a strained eye.

"You knew they were up to this?" She eyes Mulder's nonchalant shrug suspiciously.

"Threw in a whole buck to the cause." Mulder snickered as he watched the crowd congregate around Agent Miller. "I thought it was heartfelt enough."

"Do they even know me?"

"Well, I think they know of you, that counts for something. Besides, I figured your birthday is next week, this saves me from having to buy a cake for you."

"Your generosity is truly overwhelming, Mulder," she snorted as one of the other impossibly young girls who masqueraded as a special agent ran over with two slices of cake for each of them. Scully accepted hers gratefully, but set it aside, hardly feeling hungry for it while Mulder wolfed his down voraciously.

"You are getting better about remembering when my birthday is, I'll give you that." She flipped on her computer, cringing at the amount of email waiting for her to open.

"See, I can be trained." He washed down a large bite of chocolate and icing with a swig of coffee, eyes glancing furtively towards the still milling group surrounding Scully's cake.

"You see Skinner yet today?" It was a non-sequiter, completely out of the blue. But then again, very few of these sorts of questions were totally random with Mulder.

"No, I popped in earlier to say hello to Arlene and thank her for the flowers. She said that Skinner was out for lunch." Scully shrugged. She hadn't pressed the issue since technically she wasn't supposed to have contact with her former boss. "Why?"

"Nothing," Mulder mumbled, munching thoughtfully on the last bite of his cake. "You going to eat yours?"

"Probably not, help yourself." She shoved it towards him and watched as he dove into it with a bit more slowness than he showed with the first slice. "And what do you mean nothing? You are never random with your line of questioning."

Mulder knew he was guilty as charged. He shrugged, glancing around carefully again, looking to see who could be listening.

"I saw Skinner stumble through here right before you came in. He looks like hell."

It wasn't usual for Mulder to be concerned about Skinner unless there was reason. "Maybe he's got the flu bug going around. What of it? I didn't think you would be paying that close attention."

"I pay attention to everyone and everything. It's what I do," Mulder replied, waving his fork to make his point. "He looked as if someone got him in a back alley the way he stumbled in here."

Scully's lips tightened. Not even fifteen minutes back and already Mulder was working an angle, a new record for him. "Skinner's got his own case load as do we. I don't think that he'd be particularly pleased with us sticking our nose into something that he is perfectly capable of taking care of. Remember it's not just our ass that's on the line here, it's his too, and we were told to stay away."

"You know he's taken the fall for us many times, Scully. He took a bullet for us as I recall, literally. Maybe we should just keep an eye on him."

"What is this?" She frowned across at him as he innocently licked frosting off his fork, looking genuinely confused.

"What? I'm looking out for a man who has done a lot for us."

"By hovering over him in a situation he's likely fine in?" Mulder never noticed Skinner unless he had to. Had her latest injury really sent her partner's protective tendencies totally around the bend so much that now he was worried about their former boss? "Mulder, I'm fine, I'm alive, I'm healthy, and I'm here. You don't' have to panic anymore about it, and you certainly don't have to mother Skinner either."

"Scully, this has nothing to do with your injury."

"As a psychologist, look at me and say it isn't."

He managed to meet her gaze frankly for three seconds before dropping his green eyes back to his plate. "Scully, you've been kidnapped, had cancer, and been shot, all on my watch. Call me over-protective, but maybe I can be forgiven for being hypersensitive about the health and well being of those who have come into contact with me and my work."

Mulder's guilt complex knew no bounds, especially not with the X-files. "Tell you what, check in on him later, see how he's doing. If you are still worried then, let me know, I'll take a look. Okay?"

"Fine," he nodded, content with that resolution.

"And if he snaps your head off because he is coming down with a cold, I can't be to blame."

"I'll keep that in mind," he muttered, finishing off her slice of cake as well and tossing the plate in the trash. "If this is what they do for people who get shot in the line, I should perhaps see if I can't arrange to be fired at. Maybe have a pinky toe shot off."

Clicking through her emails, Scully refused to deign his comment with a response.

Chapter Text

Thank God for government HMO's.

Scully passed the vial of Skinner's blood to the doctor in charge, holding it up to the florescent light in the room for him to see. "There is something settling to the bottom there.

Dr. Plant's eyes widened as he took the small, glass tube from her fingers. "Oh my God!"

"Whatever it is, it's killing him." Scully glanced around the lab. "Do you think we could get a lab tech in here now?"

"Not this time of day, no, but I can run them." Plant moved towards the equipment with a practiced hand. "I did a stint in the Peace Corp right after med school, before I did a fellowship. No labs in Uganda in the middle of nowhere, you had to learn how to do all this yourself."

While otherwise Scully might have been impressed, at the moment her only thought was for her former boss and what that dark sediment in his system could be. "How long should this take?"

"Well, to separate his blood, draw out whatever that is in there, and analyze it, perhaps half-an-hour to get that far."

"Right." She glanced at her watch, frustrated with the fact that science so often took time. "Right…."

"This patient, who is he to you?" Plant worked in the corner as he set up his equipment, obviously deciding that if he had to do this, he might as well make nice with her.

"A colleague of mine, a friend." Scully shrugged, checking her phone quickly to see if Mulder called. So far no word.

"A romantic friend?" The doctor's forwardness shocked her as her eyes flew up to stare at him. "Sorry, that was crossing a line. Didn't mean to, I was just wondering what I was doing this for."

"No," Scully snapped, horrified slightly at the suggestion of Walter Skinner being romantic anything. Not that he wasn't an attractive man in his own way, but the idea was as foreign to her as speaking French was. While not unpleasant in abstract, it wasn't something she was actively eager to seek. He was her former boss, her colleague, and happily nothing more.

"I just know how the FBI can be with its own, and I wondered…"

"And you assumed because I'm young and female it was a romantic thing?" She blinked at him, not particularly offended, but finding the idea ludicrous all the same.

"Well…errr…yeah…" Plant sighed, realizing how badly he had put his foot in it. "That sounds like a very crass assumption now that you say it and I'm sorry."

Scully's high heel tapped on the tile floor impatiently. Really, she had no patience for this, yet she couldn't just snap off this doctor's head either. He was putting himself on the line by violating his patient's rights. "He was my boss. He put his neck on the line for my partner and I many times. And when he started displaying strange symptoms last night we grew concerned."

"What sort of symptoms?" Now the more professional side of the doctor seemed to reassert itself.

"He complained about a headache, of his vision blurring. He had a bruise on his ribs from the gym earlier that had gotten decidedly worse."

"Was there an injection site?"

"Not that we could tell." Scully hadn't been able to convince Skinner to allow her to do an examination.

"And why would anyone try to poison your friend?" It wasn't that Plant didn't believe her, but the idea of poisoning anyone randomly in this day and age was beyond far-fetched to most average Americans. Scully couldn't say she blamed him for having a hint of doubt.

"He works in a sensitive position in the FBI. It could be any number of reasons for any number of things. Being in the Bureau doesn't necessarily always win you friends and idolizers."

"Good point." Machinery began to whir into life. "But it helps narrow down what sort of toxins we might be dealing with if I know a bit about who it could be."

Scully wished she only knew. She knew Plant was right, but to be honest she had no certain idea herself. "We think it perhaps has something to do with a physicist who is an advisor to a Senate sub-committee."

"A physicist?" Plant blinked mildly at her, thinking. "This have to do with spying or technology?"

"I don't know. Why?"

The doctor shrugged. "Well not to make it sound too romantic or like Tom Clancy, but you work as a doctor in the nation's capital, you try to keep an eye on certain things. We have diplomats and lawmakers coming through all the time and it is hard to tell what you might see."

"Such as?"

"A few months back we had some scientist come in from a trip to New York for an international conference. He complained of a cold, but his chest was tight, his blood pressure elevated, pupils dilated. Within an hour his condition worsened and we were running tests to see what in the world could possibly be causing this. We found trace amounts of Sarin in his system, not enough to kill him, but enough that he was left with permanent nerve damage. The only thing he could think of was that he was at this conference, and he had a sip of some rare, Russian vodka offered to him by a colleague just before he returned to DC."

"Sarin? That's what those terrorists released on a Tokyo train several years back."

"The world is full of toxins that will kill you, Agent Scully, and they aren't that hard for the bad guys to get their hands on them." Plant turned to her, leaning against the lab counter. "That's why they pay you guys the big bucks."

"Not as big as you think," she retorted, frowning. "Sarin is a compound. That doesn't look like what we are dealing with here."

"Perceptive, I see. No, this can't be Sarin, it's too heavy for it."

"I'm a doctor as well. That's how I knew what to look for."

"You have a medical degree and you do this for a living?"

Scully tried not to bristle at his vaguely jesting words. "I specialize in forensic pathology, but you have to agree this comes in handy in situations like this."

"That it does," Plant agreed. "Mr. Skinner is lucky to have a friend like you. No one else might have noticed this."

"I think that was part of the point," Scully murmured, as she considered who would want to kill Skinner and why.

Chapter Text

It was by far not the first time that Scully had ever burst into an ER to take over the place.

"Hey, you! Out!" One of the doctors working on Skinner instantly flared at her and Dr. Plant's intrusion.

"I know this man," she insisted, noting the felt pen in the doctor's hand. They were going to amputate.

"I don't care, this is a sterile operating room," he replied, as another doctor ordered for their removal.

"Look, I'm sorry." She tried to be apologetic, at least enough to explain to them the circumstances. "His name is Walter Skinner. I've been investigating his illness. What are you doing?"

"If he's going to live, he's going to have to lose his arms." The doctor who ordered their removal glared at her and Dr. Plant.

If this were a normal case of blood infection Scully would agree, but she dismissed the doctor's indignation. "No, that's not going to save him. It's his blood."

The doctor in charge scowled in disbelief. "Who the hell is this woman?"

"She's a doctor." Plant stepped in as if he looked any more reliable as a physician than she did.

"You're not going to solve anything until you get a scope into him," she insisted. "Nothing else is going to work."

The doctor in charge didn't believe her, she knew that.

"Look, if you want to save this man, listen to what I'm saying," she pleaded, refusing to back down even as the other's in the operating room glanced fearfully at the vital signs beeping on the machine next to Skinner's prone form.

"How do you know this?" The doctor in charge glanced between the two of them.

"Because I'm a medical doctor working for the FBI and he is my boss." So she lied a little. How was this person to know? "Dr. Plant has been working with me since he treated Mr. Skinner yesterday for what we thought was a gym accident. It turns out he has come into contact with an agent that is killing him, multiplying in his blood."

"An agent? What agent?"

"We are still trying to ascertain that, but we won't know anything more till you do as I say and stop standing here staring at me as if I'm making this up. He's dying!"

As if remembering he was supposed to be cutting off his patient's arms, the doctor in charge shook himself, glancing back to Skinner. "Call upstairs, get a camera technicians down here and see about getting a lab upstairs prepped." He turned to glare at Scully. "You better be right about this."

"I am," she replied evenly, meeting the other doctor's annoyance. He swore softly as the others bustled about, calling upstairs and prepping Skinner for a move.

"Who are you anyway?" He frowned down at her non-nonsense suit, likely wondering if she really was anything she claimed to be. She quietly dug her badge out of pocket and flipped it open for him to see.

"Special Agent Dana Scully, just as I said. I also happen to be a medical doctor, just as I said. This is Doctor Thomas Plant from St. Katherine's Hospital. He treated the patient initially."

The doctor of note nodded, taking Plant's hand firmly. "Stefan Cabrera, I got the call on Mr. Skinner here but know next to nothing. What can you tell me about how he got like this?'

Scully looked to Plant to begin the explanation. "Mr. Skinner had come to the hospital complaining of a headache and some bruising," Plant offered, shooting furtive glances towards Skinner now, his veins dark across his balding head. "He had just been to the gym. He was boxing, had his clock cleaned, apparently. I checked for a concussion and seeing no signs of anything I treated his lacerations, told him to take it easy, and sent him on his way."

Scully took up the narrative from there. "That's where I come in. That night, my partner noticed Mr. Skinner not feeling well and called me in to look at him. He was complaining of blurred vision and the bruising on his ribcage was progressively worse. He admitted to having received a threat while at the hospital, someone calling him telling him he had twenty-four hours to live. That was yesterday afternoon."

Cabrera blinked. Scully couldn't blame him, the story sounded fantastical, even to her. "So you mean to tell me he got like this from a death threat?"

"Our belief is that he was poisoned with some sort of carbon based agent that is multiplying in his veins, constricting the blood flow and causing the reaction you see now."

"Belief?" Cabrera looked as if he couldn't decide whether to yell at her or throw her out of his ER. "Look, Doctor Agent Scully, whatever you are, I can't just let a man die based on some science fiction theory pulled out of your ass."

"I ran the tests, Doctor Cabrera, not agent Scully." Plant was quick to defend her and clearly annoyed with the other doctor's dubiousness. "I found the carbon sediment in the blood samples we took yesterday and I studied it. Whatever is in there is carbon based, but it's multiplying." He held out the manila file folder he carried with him. "Here's the results if you care to look."

Scully smiled up at Plant gratefully as Cabrera snapped the paperwork from him, glancing it over quickly. His eyes widened and stalled as he reread the page, before glancing up at the two of them.

"What the hell kind of shit is this?"

Scully couldn't blame him for his doubt. If she hadn't seen it herself she would have assumed it was science fiction nonsense as well.

"We believe it might have something to do with work that Assistant Director Skinner was engaged in, perhaps involving a top physicist."

"It would have to be for something like this." Cabrera whistled, shaking his head as he closed the file and passed it back to Plant. "I've never seen anything like that."

"Now you understand why we have to scope him," Scully asked as the doctor finally nodded. "Whatever this is, it's in his system, in his blood, and it's squeezing out every capillary, vein, and artery he has. That's what is killing him. Removing his arms isn't going to help him, it will only send his system into shock and likely make it worse."

"I don't know if I even have an idea on how to begin treating something like this," Cabrera admitted frankly. "Whatever this is, this isn't something I've seen before."

"I think Dr. Plant and I have an idea, but we need to know more about what is going on in his system and what these entities are."

"Right," Cabrera nodded, glancing back to his team. "Get Mr. Skinner upstairs now. Someone find Agent Scully and Doctor Plant some scrubs, get them changed, and get them upstairs." Cabrera looked to them both. "You two get a shot at fixing him."

A shot? Scully swallowed as she stared at her former boss, his dress shirt half off of him, still unconscious. She couldn't just give this a shot. She had to do something now, something that worked else he would be dead - and she wasn't about to let him die on her watch.

Chapter Text

I've been lying here thinking, your quest, it should have been mine. If I die now, I die in vain. I have nothing to show for myself…my life…

Cabrera's consolations fell deaf on Scully's ears as she slumped into one of the plastic chairs. Her heart thudded to a standstill as the television in the corner blared the news. It suddenly took a tinny quality in her ears. Skinner was gone. They had failed him. That just didn't seem possible that he could have done that, not until she had found a way to cure him, not until Mulder had figured out who was responsible.

"I'm sorry," the doctor gently murmured yet again, a calloused hand heavy on her shoulder through the thin cotton of the scrubs. "I know he was your colleague."

"He was our friend," she whispered, staring down at her hands twisted in her lap. Her manicured nails bit into her skin. Their one friend and ally in the FBI, the one person they could even begin to trust in their work.

Your quest, it should have been mine…

"There was nothing we could do. We tried." She knew that Cabrera meant those words. He had lost a patient on his watch. As a doctor who had done her fair rotation at the Stanford Medical ER as an intern she had known the gut-wrenching anguish of the loss of a life. Every doctor knew they were playing at being God every time they took a patient's life into their hands, and it always rankled them as doctors when they discovered they were only humans. She nodded gratefully up at the other man.

"Does he have anyone we should contact? Next-of-kin? Someone at the Bureau?"

Scully's blank mind struggled to pull up names. "His assistant, Arlene Harris, she would have all that information." She frowned as she realized how late at night it was. Arlene would be at home. "I believe his listed next-of-kin is likely his ex-wife, Sharon. I'll let the Bureau know so they can handle it."

"Right," the doctor nodded gravely. "Agent Scully, you did your best. We knew this would be long odds. We had no idea what we were even dealing with."

No, they hadn't. Somehow that wasn't any comfort to her. "Does that make this any better in your mind?"

"No," he admitted slowly. "But it is how I sleep at night."

It was an honest answer and so very true. "I'll let the Bureau know. Just…give me a minute?"

Cabrera nodded as somewhere beyond him someone called his name. Excusing himself he rushed out of sight and Scully felt grateful for the space. She stared mutely at where he had stood, her eyes picking out the awful patterns in the carpet. Skinner was dead. What would she tell Mulder? How would he take this? What would Kersh say? What would the Bureau think? How could she explain what happened to him without even understanding it herself?

Tears fell fast and free before she could stop them, and a sob escaped her as she realized that she had failed a man who had been, in his own limited way, a friend. He had always been their boss first. Skinner had never forgotten the position he held in the chain of command. But it was Skinner who had straddled that fence between those who threatened their work in the X-files and themselves, and tried to keep the careful balance that had given Mulder and her the freedom to do what they wanted. How many figurative and literal bullets had Skinner taken for them? He had gone from nothing more than an authority figure whose strings were being pulled by the mysterious man who lurked in his office, bringing with him a cloud of Morley smoke, to the man who had rejected her resignation and had tried to shame her into staying at the FBI when all Scully could think about was running. Skinner had covered their asses, had taken more crap than he ever rightly should have if he wished to keep his position. In the FBI allies like that were hard to find, and he was as close to loyal to their cause as Scully imagined they would ever hope to find.

He said he thought he was dying in vain. How could he think that when they persevered because of him? It had been Skinner who had agreed to allow Mulder to open the X-files in the first place, and it had been Skinner who opened them back up when she disappeared. He had never openly been on board with their work, he had pulled the reigns back and many a time he called them on the carpet. He had never completely taken a position, she knew that, but it was what he had to do. He was as much of an impediment as an opening, she acknowledged that, but she had never believed for once that when it came down to it he wasn't really a part of their cause. Scully had never considered that perhaps he wasn't as much on board as she assumed him to be. It had never occurred to her that he had never seen himself as being a part of Mulder's quest.

It broke Scully's heart to think that Skinner went to his death believing that he was a failed man. After serving his country in Vietnam and nearly getting killed for his efforts, after working his way through the FBI, after years of working for the good of his society he believed that. Perhaps he had not taken up the righteous cause that she and Mulder had, but what had he done to see himself as a failure. What sort of things had he been involved in? What compromises did he make in order to keep their work going, to allow her and Mulder to continue? What had made Skinner so ashamed he felt he had to apologize to her like that on his deathbed?

The doors to the lounge burst open as Cabrera came running, eyes wide and wild. "Have you called anyone yet?" He skid to a halt on the carpet in front of Scully.

"No," she admitted, realizing she had been so caught up in her own thoughts and grief for her colleague that she had yet to move to reach anyone on his loss.

"Thank Jesus," he muttered, reaching a hand to grab her up from the chair. "He's not dead yet."

Scully blinked tears out of her eyes and wondered if she heard the doctor correctly. "What?"

"Skinner is alive. His vitals are back to normal, everything, his blood pressure, his pulse, his color. Looks as if nothing happened to him. He was dead not fifteen minutes ago."

Scully wanted to say it was a miracle, but instinct told her otherwise. As rarely as she listened to her gut, she knew if it was saying something that it couldn't be as simple as that. "Wait…was there anyone back there with him after he died?"

Her reticence baffled Cabrera in his enthusiasm. "Maybe? I don't know. We called him, there were nurses, hospital staff…"

"No, this person would have stood out." Scully had no idea what he even looked like other than Skinner's brief description. "He was a bearded man, long beard, might even look homeless."

"Homeless guy? Agent Scully, this is an ER in DC, we have homeless people running around all over the place."

"But not up in the private rooms where he was."

Cabrera hadn't thought of that. "I don't know. I'd have to check security tape. Why? Do you think he has something to do with his poisoning?"

"I think he has everything to do with it," Scully replied, patting the pockets of her borrowed scrubs for her phone. "Go back upstairs to him, do a full work up on him, I need to call my partner on this. He needs to know."

"You can't just be happy he's alive?" Cabrera stared at her in bemused disbelief.

"I don't know who did this, I don't know how it got into him, and I don't know why. Whoever did this could be controlling everything behind the scenes." Scully didn't mean to snap at the man, but he really had no grasp on the seriousness of this situation, of the true scope of it. "I want to make sure that whoever was trying to kill him they don't do it again. As quickly as he recovered from death, I have to believe that whatever this is infecting him, it is something they can easily control if they get to him. I want to know why."

Cabrera clearly had never considered the complications of what this case meant in the larger picture. "Do you want me to do some analysis, see if there was an antidote slipped to him, a stimulant?"

"Whatever you think will help." Scully nodded, trying hard to ignore the urge to shoo the doctor away as she spoke to her partner. "Mulder, it's me. We nearly lost him…"

Chapter Text

The tapping of the end of a plastic pen as it bounced off the scarred varnish of her desk was the only sound left in the bullpen this late at night. It was after eight, most of the agents assigned to this corner of hell had left long ago to find drinks at a local bar. But Scully, ten years older than many of them, stayed behind, lost in thought. There was a backlog of paperwork from the last two days, things that had built up during her own convalescence, followed almost immediately by Skinner's condition. The matter was closed now. Why would Skinner want to ignore the reason behind someone trying to kill him?

"It's late." Mulder's voice was a gravely rumble from the door to the bullpen as he lazily strode to his desk. In his hand was a file he tossed on top. "You should be home, Scully."

"I was. Trying to catch on the paperwork that collected while I was out."

Mulder knew better. He glanced at the stack briefly before his threw himself into his chair. "Piles not going anywhere and you just got back from convalescing yourself. Go home and rest."

"Mulder, I'm fine," she replied automatically.

"Yeah, well humor me. No one should spend their first day back dead on their feet, not after getting shot."

"You're still here?" Now she was being petulant and didn't care. She didn't want to be ordered around by Mulder on the basis that he still thought she was in some fragile state from a wound that had healed miraculously weeks ago.

"Wanted to check something out." He snagged the file and passed it along to her, as if realizing holding out on her would only earn him another argument. "I took some of that surveillance footage down to be analyzed, to see if we hit on a face."

"Did we," she asked, curiously.

"Oh yeah," Mulder muttered, clearly not happy with what he had found.

She opened the folder and glanced inside. On one side lay the grainy black-and-white photo of a man with a beard. On the other was the FBI service photograph of one Alex Krycek.

"You have got to be kidding. I thought he was dead!" Her gaze flew up to his. Mulder's jaw tightened as he shook his head.

"They are fairly certain between this and another photograph we have that Krycek is our man."

"Last time you saw him was in Russia. You said he never made it back with you."

"Can evil really die, Scully? Besides, Alex there has an amazing ability to survive in the direst of situations. He's like a rat that way." Mulder's personal war with Alex Krycek had never, ever been resolved. Not only had the man wormed his way into Mulder's graces as his partner briefly years ago, he was the one to orchestrate Scully's kidnapping and was responsible in some part both for the death of Bill Mulder and Scully's sister, Melissa. Despite turning up like a bad penny every now and again Krycek's hadn't been a presence since Mulder had drug him to Russia, only to have the bastard betray him again. Mulder had barely escaped with his life, but not before being infected with the strange, black substance that carried with it the virus that was the heart and soul of their investigation on the X-files. Scully had assumed somehow that Krycek was killed. She should have known better.

"So you think he was the one to infect Skinner?" Scully studied the photos of Krycek in his beard. It was a stupidly simple disguise, easy to pull off and just as easily ignored by people. He looked like little more than a homeless man off the streets.

"Think, I'd lay Vegas odds on it. The technology you and Plant found in Skinner's system is far too advanced to be out there on the market, and yet, Skinner was randomly injected with it."

"Why would Krycek be involved?"

"Krycek has always worked by his own rules," Mulder glowered at the file in her hands. "He's playing an angle. I don't know who for or why, but I have suspicions."

"You always have suspicions." Scully snapped the file closed and handed it back to him. "That nano technology is still in Skinner's system. We weren't able to remove it. We can't unless we drain his body of its blood and filter it, which is risky and painful. Those things are still in him."

"Which means that Krycek can flip a switch and send Skinner into cardiac arrest without a thought." Mulder's glare darkened. "It means that if he wants he can own Skinner."

The implications of that hit home for Scully. Skinner had been their one ally for years, however reluctant. He had fought for them and their work when no one else would. Now they were bereft even of that. His sickbed apology, the confession that he could have done more, now rang hollow in her ears.

"Was this planned to get at us?" Scully couldn't believe it was. They hadn't been on the X-files for months and had no hope of ever getting them back. Perhaps they hadn't exactly been on the straight and narrow, but they had been behaving themselves for the most. What in the hell did Skinner have to do with any of it?

"I don't know." Mulder moodily tossed the file in a desk drawer, kicking it shut with one edge of his wing-tipped toe. "But I know we'll never know what is going on. Alex Krycek is running around out there and even if we were to bring it to Kersh, he'd ignore it and let it happen."

"So we should just keep our mouth shut?" Scully found that hard to believe, coming from Mulder.

"Skinner said the case was closed and we should answer only to Kersh." Mulder moodily glanced towards the door outside the bullpen, Skinner's name just barely legible from this distance. "They hamstrung us, Scully. They've cut us off at the heel and there is not a goddamn thing we can do about it. Skinner was the last link we had, and he's gone now."

"Maybe not." Scully still clung to Skinner's apology, his heartfelt remorse over not having done more. "He's on our side, Mulder, he said so himself even as he lay dying. He wished he had done more for us." She had yet to share that information with her partner. Whether it comforted him or not, it certainly didn't shake his disappointment.

"Even if he is, Scully, one flick of the switch, they literally have his life in their hands, and that's a powerful thing."

Judging from the sound of his dire tone, Mulder was conceding defeat.

"Mulder, we don't know what they are planning," she tried to argue as he rose, moodily grabbing his things, his overcoat, his briefcase, slinging them on haphazardly onto his lanky body. He only appeared to half-listen to her hopeful argument.

"No, but I think that's part of the point. We are stuck, here, Scully, no way out of Kersh's grasp, our one ally compromised. Do you think I want to stick around and see what happens next?" He wasn't angry, rather he sounded almost tired. Scully's gut churned at the sight. After all they had been through, after everything she had given up, he couldn't possibly be saying what she thought he was. Not Fox Mulder, who believed despite all the evidence to the contrary? He believed when no one else did. And she believed in him because of it.

"Mulder, you can't…you aren't giving up, are you?" The question felt so small coming out of her then, timid and frightened. He paused as he adjusted his bag on his shoulder, not quite meeting her worried expression.

"You know, I've been thinking a lot about last summer, about what you said. Maybe I need to ask myself if my heart is in this anymore. I know the truth, Scully, I know who did this to Skinner, I know there is something going on out there, and I can't get to it, not here, they won't let me. And I have to ask myself if sitting around doing background checks for Kersh is really worth the pain and effort, just for the slim hope I can get my work back one day."

His admission blindsided Scully, even more than Alex Krycek's face did. "Mulder, if you leave…"

"They win, I know. But if I stay they may win too. Either way, I lose, and considering recent events, Scully, I don't know if I am okay with losing anymore."

Recent events? Scully frowned. Did he mean Skinner's health issues or hers? "So what are you going to do?" Did he already have a resignation letter tucked away in that briefcase, waiting to slip under Kersh's door, unwilling to stare at his smug face as the assistant director realized he had won?

"Tonight, I think I'm going to go to the gym, shoot some hoops, and try to forget all of this." He shrugged his wool overcoat tighter around his shoulders. "Tomorrow…that is a new day. We'll see then."

He turned for the door as Scully watched, her heart suddenly in her throat. What had just happened here? She wanted to call to him and say something to make this better, but what could she say? Hadn't she been in the exactly same position just months ago, standing in his apartment, ready to walk away rather than go to Salt Lake City?

"Go home, Scully," he called, turning to her briefly. "It's late and you are still recuperating."

She resisted the urge to throw her pen at his retreating form out of sheer frustration.

Chapter Text

The skirt was shorter than she was used to wearing around the office, the sort that Scully had noticed among the younger agents who she saw as perhaps being a bit more fashionable than herself. She'd have never bought it if it weren't for Ellen, now mother of three, who had long ago forsaken fashion for motherly reliability.

"Come on, Dana," she had coaxed, eyeing her old friend in the mirror as she examined the cut of the fabric on Scully's petite figure. "Live a little. You just nearly died…again. Take your near death experience and learn from it. Wear something a little fun."'

Against Scully's better judgment she had purchased it and she wore it to the office, and it was fun, she admitted, particularly as she wandered into the rough and tumble, Alexandria gym. It caused the eyes of several of the regulars to turn to her, watching as she sauntered passed, her ears attuned to the sound of leather slapping against hardwood. In the time since Skinner's illness, Mulder had once again turned recalcitrant, a state that Scully was beginning to fear was permanent. The last two weeks had showed a whole other side of his petulance. Never before in her entire time working with Mulder had she known him to willingly take off a sick day, let alone two. Mulder was never sick in the traditional sense, she had never known him to get so much as a cold let alone the flu. Unless he was injured or ordered home Mulder usually chained himself to his desk, even when he hated the work. Scully suspected the last few months was nothing more than Mulder simply appearing everyday, whether he liked it or not, purely out of spite. But now…

He was losing faith in what little resources they had left and it was all Scully could do to even keep him vaguely interested. Everyday she feared he would announce his resignation, that Kersh would call her in to tell her that he had left the Bureau and she was being reassigned to some other up and coming hotshot, another promising agent like Ritter who saw her as a footstool on the ladder to success and would likely end up getting her shot again. Mulder had never even hinted at resignation, not once. Even when Scully had been prepared to throw in the towel and leave, when she stood in his apartment and told him she was going, he had been determined to stay, refusing to leave behind his work, begging her not to go. That had only been a few months ago. He had pleaded with her not to go, spilling his feelings in front of her, raw with long unspoken sincerity, for the first time opening up to what she meant to him, to how she had made him better. At the time it felt like a defining moment, her and Mulder against the world. Now she rambled through a humid gym, smelling of sweat and mold, looking for the man who had begged her not to leave him. What had happened between that moment and this?

Much, if she wanted to admit it to herself. The loss of the X-files to his ex-wife had been the biggest of the blows, knowing that the FBI would willingly allow his life's work to be done by those who lacked the passion for it that he had. While he tried to defend Diana Fowley to Scully, they both knew that Jeffrey Spender cared little for them. And so he had been reduced to chasing after scraps dug out of the trash can, to using his vacations and holidays to chase after ghosts, to clandestine meetings behind Kersh's back. It was by far the first time Mulder had been denied the X-files, but at least the last time they had resources. She was in Quantico teaching, he was in White Collar with an ear to the ground. Now they were shoved into the most back of beyond in the FBI, deliberately kept from anything that smacked of strange, unusual, or weird. He was losing his patience with all of this and in the process, Scully was losing him.

A wolf whistle sounded down the darkened hall as Scully's eyes slid to a tall, rangy African-American man with a basketball in hand. He looked as if he'd just come from the court. "Excuse me, I'm looking for my partner, Mulder?"

The man stopped, smiling slowly as he grinned appreciatively. "You his woman, then?"

She should have been insulted, but wasn't. Instead she smiled, meeting his leer with a smirk of her own. "No, and I won't be yours either."

"Damn," he snapped his fingers, shrugging in a cavalier way. "You must work with him then. You a Fibbie?"

"That's right and I got a gun on me to prove it."

"You can fit a gun in that outfit?"

Barely, Scully thought as she jerked her head towards the court. "Is he that way?"

"Sure is and if you are trying to get his attention, wear that more often. Milk might actually lose a step then. Wouldn't mind seeing that. Tired of him coming in and handing my ass to me."

Milk? Scully could guess why it was he had that nickname. She chuckled as she continued towards the hardwood court. The hallway rang with the squeak of rubber souls against varnished court, and in the distance she could see several men engaged in a pick up game. Mulder was easy enough to spot on the perimeter, loping easily around the bigger men. Scully paused to watch him, appreciating the sight. It wasn't often she watched Mulder being active, though it felt as if he was constantly so. When he wasn't injured he was a ball of kinetic energy, waiting to burst. It was interesting to watch him now, to see the easy, athletic grace he had on the court, the way the ball rolled off his long fingertips and made its way to the rim. He was good. Quite good.

Her presence didn't go unnoticed for long. Almost as if he sensed her, Mulder turned unerringly to where she stood, pausing in the midst of his game to wander to her. She had planned to watch till he was done, but he was the one avoiding work at the moment. Perhaps he had no intention of coming in that day or ever again. She carefully crossed the chipping varnish, aware of the hollow sound of her heels on the floor.

One of his fellow players called after him. "Hey, Milk, let's play ball!"

He ignored the man as he waited for Scully, clearly to the annoyance of the other. He was still within bounds, Scully noticed, as he casually tossed the ball to another player before pivoting and catching the pass back to him, setting and shooting yet again. The leather ball hit the backboard with a rattle before swishing softly through the net, earning jeers from the players on the other side.

"Oh, no, no, it don't work like that," the other protested loudly, clearly displeased with Mulder's blatant traveling. Whether he cared or not was beside the point. He wandered to where Scully stood, looking inordinately pleased with himself.

"Hey, Homegirl, what up?" The urban slang sounded ridiculous coming from him.

"Mulder, it's my distinct impression that you just cheated." Unlike many of the sports Mulder liked, basketball was one she understood, having played in high school despite her diminutive height. His ball handling skills weren't what she was questioning today. "And that you're not coming in again today?"

"Oh, Scully, I got game," he protested, waving towards the net behind him.

"Yeah, you got so much game I am wondering if you have any work left in you."

She noted he wouldn't quite meet her eyes. "No, I'm ready to J-O-B, just not on some jagoff shoeshine tip."

"No jagoff shoeshine tip?" She very much doubted their work was even so sophisticated as to be called a shoeshine tip.

"No background checking, jagoff shoeshine tip," Mulder clarified, grinning.

"Well, about your J-O-B, Mulder, somebody's been trying very hard to reach you by phone, somebody who wants you back at the FBI, ASAP."

The smiles and joking waned as he realized she was being the responsible one here. "About what?"

She wondered if she should tell him at all, considering his level of detachment these last few weeks. "About an X-file."

His eyes lit up as he turned to the game behind him. "That's it for me, real work calls."

There were catcalls and chortles at the idea of Mulder and "real work" as he reached behind one of the bleachers to grab his gym bag. "What's it about?"

"A case of burned out railway cars not far from here." That much Scully knew and she also knew who was looking for him and why. He wasn't going to like it.

"Rail cars?" His eyes glittered as his mind raced, and she knew he was already thinking of the mysterious train cars from their earlier work. But his eagerness faltered as the obvious question came to the fore. "Did Kersh sign off on this?"

"I don't think so," she replied, and she doubted Kersh would be looped in. "No, this came from someone who doesn't answer to Kersh."

"Who," he demanded, already becoming suspicious.

She was going to have to tell him. "Jeffrey Spender."

He stopped, staring at her, his free hand balling at the side of his worn and torn New York Knicks jersey. "Spender is coming to me with an X-file when he's done everything in his power to get my ass kicked out of that place?"

"He needs your insight on this case, Mulder," she tried to offer soothingly knowing it was going to do her no good. Mulder had gone from interest to righteous indignation in less than three seconds.

"He's busy shredding files and making a mockery of my work to anyone who will listen and now he decides my insights aren't just crazy bullshit I spew for attention?"

"Mulder…it's his mother. They found Cassandra." Scully faltered at this, guilt stabbing at her as she said it. Cassandra Spender, Jeffrey's mother, had disappeared the year before off the top of Ruskin Dam. It had been Scully's fault she was even there, feeling the subtle pull of the chip inside of her own neck. Cassandra had wanted to go. Like Scully, she too had felt that call and that unsettled need to see what it was that was drawing them. So many had died that night, burned in circumstances Scully still didn't understand. She had managed to survive, and Cassandra, she had disappeared. That night had proved to only confuse Mulder further about the truth of their quest. She had hoped that telling him about this would reignite him to return to their work. Instead, he stood there, glowering at her for daring to drag him into this.

"Is she alive," he asked simply. At least he wasn't totally unfeeling.

"She is," Scully admitted. "And he wants to know what happened to her."

"Well, it's boy wonder's detail now, let him figure it all out."

"Mulder, Cassandra is asking for you."

He sighed, long and tired, staring down at his sweat-soaked jersey. "Scully, I'm not Spender's play toy to go to when he can't figure this out. He had his chance a long time ago to understand and instead he chose to play politics."

"Cassandra didn't choose any of this," Scully insisted, the guilt now cutting at her words as she spoke. "It was my fault she was even out there that night, and to this day, I don't remember and I don't understand why I was drawn there or what happened that night. I can't give him any answers."

"And he thinks I have them?" His voice was heated. He was angry, justifiably so. Spender had done everything in his power to discredit Mulder, to run him out of the Bureau, qnd now he was coming to him, hat in hand, when he had been the one to arrange for Mulder never to touch his own work.

"You have more answers than anyone else does, and you know it." She had hoped he would at least have some regard for Cassandra in all this, enough to take on the case. If nothing else his curiosity should be piqued, that deep desire of his to understand what was really going on. She couldn't believe that he was so numbed by their load of background checks that he wouldn't at least jump at this.

"What if this is a trap, Scully?" Ever suspicious, he brought up the very same point she had considered herself. "What if he's using this to finally get what he wants, me out of the FBI?"

"Well then you both win, he can get the truth about his mother, and you will be tossed out on your ass, saving you the trouble of resigning. Then you'll be free of background checks and the FBI's bullshit." Her temper snapped, finally, too tired of being patient with Mulder's petulance to care whether he had a point. "It's what you want after all, to not be there, to not have to deal with 'jagoff shoeshine tips'?"

Her words stung him qnd that felt surprisingly good. At least she was rattling through the ennui he had wrapped himself in for what seemed like forever. "Did I say I wanted to be kicked out?"

"You said you were considering leaving qnd judging from your absence in the office of late, Mulder, I am fairly convinced that's what you want to happen, to just be fired so you don't have to deal with it."

He was guilty as charged and he knew it. "Maybe I do, but that doesn't mean I'm going to make it easy for them, and I'm certainly not giving Spender the satisfaction."

How had their work been reduced to a pissing contest? "At least go talk to him, Mulder. Then you can tell him to piss off if you like."

"Right," he muttered, falling in step beside her. "I won't change my mind on this."

"I didn't expect you to," she lied, knowing she had hoped. Perhaps it had missed him completely that it wasn't just Cassandra who had been affected by this, it had been her, and she had answers she still wanted herself regarding her abduction, what was done to her, her daughter, and the chip in her neck. This quest had become personal for her a long time ago and she more than anything wanted to know why it was people kept dying for whatever these men were doing. What did it have to do with virus that she had been infected with? Scully hoped for her sake that Mulder agreed to listen to Spender and help him with his case. Perhaps this was the foot in the door back to the X-files that they needed.

Chapter Text

Mulder was offered the chance at an X-file and he wasn't taking it?

All opinions of Jeffrey Spender aside, Scully knew Mulder was right to be suspicious. If he did take this it could be the noose by which he could hang his career. All this threats of resignation these last few weeks would be moot as Kersh himself would show Mulder the door, swiftly. But this wasn't just any X-file case, there were no Bigfoot sightings or psychic projections. This was something they had dealt with before, something that had nearly gotten her killed, and she knew he realized that as he studied the graphic photographs of charred remains on his computer screen.

"We've see this before," she reminded him gently as she recalled that horrible moment she awoke in a hospital, her face and hands singed, and no memory of how she got that way. "Bodies set aflame with no conclusive cause of combustion. Mulder…"

"I know," his eyes turned to her, sympathetic and understanding. He had been there, had seen the carnage, and she knew he had been terrified she was one of the bodies among them.

"I was with Cassandra when she disappeared. You sat with me while I was under hypnosis when I spoke of just these sorts of details." He had taken her reluctantly to Dr. Werber that day, had sat holding her hand as she went under and remembered Cassandra being taken away as the screaming started to ring through her ears, the smell of burnt flesh caught in her nostrils. This wasn't just some abstract case, it had happened to her.

"I have no doubt that what Cassandra would tell us would expose more than just what happened to her," Mulder replied. And still he hesitated in doing this?

"I was taken to one of those train cars," she reminded him, something desperate building inside of her. "I was tested, just like Cassandra. What if what she tells us could expose who did this to me?"

Her voice broke a little as she admitted out loud at last why this was so important to her. Cassandra was her last link to her abduction so many years ago. Penny was gone, the only other woman who remembered her from that place were as well, the only other women who experienced what she had. Pendrell was dead now, he had been the one to research the chip that she had removed. Everyone who had a clue as to what had been done to Scully on those train cars was gone now save for Cassandra. She alone had the answers as to what they did to Scully, why they had taken her ova, and why a child like Emily was ever created. Cassandra was her last, best hope of understanding what had happened and why it was that Penny and all the women from Allentown, Pennsylvania had to die. After everything she had lost, Scully needed to know.

The suggestion she had was so completely unlike her and yet it was all she had in this moment, her one desperate plea to get Mulder to do this. "Mulder, Agent Spender doesn't have to know." It was the perfect solution. Cassandra could talk to Mulder without Spender using it against him, and Scully could get the answers she needed. They could discover the truth about what happened to the woman for all of these months, and perhaps, if she was feeling particularly generous, she would share that information with Spender in private. She at least had the excuse of having taken Cassandra in the first place, she could tell him she went there to apologies to her. Spender would never have to know that Mulder had done exactly what he asked for.

For his part Mulder looked thoughtful, considering her proposition. She knew a part of him wanted to do this, to talk to her, despite the fact that the request came from her son. He had nothing against Cassandra, besides the fact that Jeffrey was a horse's ass. He leaned back in his chair, looking up at her through narrowed eyes.

"If I do this, you need to be the one making contact with her. The hospital staff can't know that I went to see her, cause the minute they mention I was there Spender will go tattling to Kersh about it."

"Even if he did, he's the one who requested your assistance."

"Doesn't matter, I'm not supposed to touch an X-file." Mulder held up his hands in avoidance. "You make the contact, Scully. Cassandra would love to see you. Get her to go out for some fresh air, say you want to chat, we'll meet up somewhere where I can wait and talk to her in private. Spender always has liked you more than me anyway, I doubt he'll complain as loudly if you are visiting her."

"Strange, I'm the one who got Cassandra in this mess in the first place." She had never understood that dynamic out of Spender. He had hated Mulder with a passion, but Scully he had always been friendlier with, even asking her to join him on the Gibson Praise case. Despite the fact that it had been Scully who had taken Cassandra out that ill-fated night, Spender had reserved the worst of his rancor for her partner.

"I'm voting he has a crush on you," Mulder teased placidly. It was his first response whenever someone was more polite to her than to him.

"Somehow I highly doubt that," she snorted, frowning at the pictures on his screen. "Why was it that all of those men were killed, do you think? Why did they spare her?"

"I think the bigger question, Scully, is why was she so important that she was spared not just once, but twice? Why was she taken that night on Ruskin Dam, and what was done to her that was so important they have to cover it up?"

"You think that these men died as a cover up then?" She glanced over at him as he shrugged.

"Everyone who died on that dam that night was an abductee, Scully. You would have been dead if you hadn't been quick." His expression softened, clearly glad that Scully was as fast thinking as she was, "Cassandra was the only one who was deliberately taken. There is a reason for it, and a reason she was brought back. And I think therein lies the truth to all of this, to why they were taking all of you into those box cars, and to what they were doing there."

The very idea that Cassandra held the answers Scully had so long been searching for made her mouth dry as her heart raced. Could she finally understand now? Would she have an answer for why she was left barren? Why she had a daughter she never knew about? Why she nearly died of cancer? She wanted to know and needed to know…and yet the truth scared her just as much.

"You think you can do this?" Mulder reached up to tug at her fingers, a simple gesture of concern and support. She smiled tightly, nodding her head firmly. She could do this, she had to do this, for Penny, for Cassandra, and for herself.

Chapter Text

In the end Skinner could do nothing to save them. Still, Scully had hoped. Mulder's grim "I told you so" expression only poured salt into the wound as she recalled Skinner's deathbed confession just weeks ago and how Mulder believed that Krycek now had Skinner on a leash. His silence as they were drug before Kersh only seemed to prove Mulder's suspicions right. He hadn't gone in to defend them as Kersh read them both the riot act, had them turn over their badges and weapons, and suspended them on the spot until further action of dismissal could be taken.

Scully only just did manage not to punch Spender's gloating face as she stalked out of Kersh's office. Mulder had warned her this was a set up, he had told her Spender was playing a game. Now that she knew that the piece of shit was working for the same men who had kidnapped her and tested her she wondered if he hadn't known where his mother was all along. Perhaps this had all really been an elaborate plot to destroy she and Mulder after all.

Mulder was strangely silent through the whole affair. Perhaps it was because he for one had seen it all coming, like a freight train. He carried his sparse box of things from his desk with him to his car as Scully trailed behind.

"What do we do now," she called to him as he lazily loped to his sedan, reaching for his keyless entry to unlock his car doors.

"We who?" Mulder drawled that out deliberately, tossing his cardboard box haphazardly into the back seat. "I'm going to go home and get drunk. You can do whatever you wish."

Was he really leaving it at this? "Mulder, Cassandra gave us a clue. We know that Spender is dirty."

"Yeah and likely so is Kersh. So what point is that going to prove? They are the ones in power and we aren't." He turned to lean against his car, arms crossed as he met her outrage. "Face it, Scully, I told you from the beginning this was a trap. Spender got us dead to rights and now they have what they want."

"You are willing to walk away from the biggest clue we've had in years, the one that can give us the truth to everything we've been searching for?"

"I'm not walking away, Scully, I've been kicked out. What else am I supposed to do?" There was defeat behind those words. She had never, ever once heard Mulder give up like this, not even in his lowest moments of doubt, not even when he'd had his beliefs utterly shattered by Michael Kritschgau. This was Fox Mulder, who had defied the authorities when he had the X-files taken from him, who still managed to search for the truth even when they thought they had him beaten. Had they actually succeeded this time?

For their entire partnership Scully's faith in the work had been built in her belief in Fox Mulder the man. She had literally gone through hell on his behalf. She had stayed when he begged her to leave him, and when she had tried to leave she had stayed when he begged her not to go. She had continued the work out of loyalty at first, later out of friendship and now…now it was something much deeper than that, she knew that. She had come to care for and love this man fiercely over their six years of working together, sharing with him experiences that she could share with no other. They had a shared burden of sorrow that no one else could understand. Scully continued with this work because she believed in Mulder.

Never once did she believe in all of that time that she could lose faith in him. Now that faith was quickly shattering in the face of the sudden collapse of his own.

"Mulder," she murmured, soft and low, her voice filled with more emotions than she could possibly express in that moment. "Never before have you just given in. You weren't about to give in earlier, that's why you were at Spender's desk in the first place. Why are you giving up now?"

Her words stung him. His gaze skittered to his feet, studying the oil-soaked concrete studiously as he formed words of his own. "Scully, I told you, I don't know if I can take losing anymore?"

"Life is not a basketball game, Mulder. You can't just stand at the sideline and do what you want and be clutch in the shot every time and expect to win." Her voice rose angrily, ringing off the nearly empty parking structure, bouncing around the hollow space. "This has never been about you winning, this has always been about the truth. At least I thought that was what this was about, else I wouldn't have risked my career and my life the way I have."

His shoulder's slumped perceptibly as she reminded him of the many times she had nearly died, the most recent just weeks ago. "You don't think I know all of those things, Scully?"

"I know you do, Mulder, and I know you care. I know you carry that damn guilt around like a lead weight behind you. Yet even despite all of that, you never gave up the faith. You would fight tooth and nail to get at the truth, our superiors be damned. And now that we are so close, you aren't letting them take it away from you this time, you are letting it slip away."

"Scully, I can't do this right now," he sighed, stuffing his fists into his overcoat.

"When do you think you can?" She juggled the box of personal items from her desk, hugging it tightly to her. "Tomorrow? Next week? Should we wait till the paperwork goes through and we are officially unemployed? Or how about when all evidence of what was done to me is covered up and gone?"

"Scully," he tried to break in, but angry tears rose in her eyes, and she realized she had no patience to listen to any placations he might have to say.

"This is my quest too, Mulder." Her voice was sudden thick with disappointment and outrage. "What they did, they did to me, not you. I was the one they kidnapped and experimented on, I was the one who they violated. They took my sister, they took my daughter, and I don't know why. You carry on because you act as if you are the only one who has something invested in this, this is your quest your life's work, your sister, your family. But it was my life and my family too, and damn it, this is the closest to the answers that I've been searching for that I've ever gotten. And I'll be damned if Jeffrey Spender, or Alvin Kersh, or the devil himself stands in my way this time. They may have taken my job, but they haven't taken away the truth, qnd I'll find it without you, Mulder, if I have to."

It was the first time she had ever admitted she would do this without him and it clearly shocked the hell out of Mulder.

"I thought last summer, after they closed us out of the X-files, that you were ready to leave then." His voice was far to calm, to sad, too hopeless. "They threatened you with Salt Lake City, and you were ready go. You gave Skinner your letter of resignation. You were ready to walk away then. What changed?"

What changed? She felt a hysterical giggle rise up through the tight, hot tears in her throat. What had changed was Mulder pouring his heart out to her, his lips nearly brushing hers outside his apartment door, her waking up in a hospital in New Zealand to find he had literally traveled to the ends of the earth to find her.

"I came back because of you," she admitted brokenly. It was the closest she had come to admitting the truth about what she felt about him.

He clearly hadn't expected that answer. "Scully…I don't understand."

"No?" She realized he probably didn't. "I came back because of you, Mulder, because of your work. Because I thought we finally had something to go on, real evidence. I came back because I thought you would want to find the truth. And I thought you did, for a while. You fought me on it, you didn't want to hear about my science, but I thought…maybe…"

"I thought I did, too," he admitted quietly, sounding as disappointed in himself as Scully felt in him in that moment. "I thought with the evidence we had from Texas, from Antarctica, with the bee and the virus, we had something."

"We did have something, Mulder, but you were so damned impatient to be right and get the X-files back that you didn't allow me to do my job. And by the time I found the evidence that would have given you what you wanted, you had already lost them to Fowley and Spender, and now they've cost you everything, the X-files, your career, and your access. You trusted her, you didn't trust me, and you got screwed in the end, and you've pouted ever since."

"This isn't about Diana, Scully."

"It is about her, and about you, and about all of it. You've pushed all the buttons you could find because they gave your work to her and not you. You burnt every chance we had, and the first time we have something substantial, this, it was all they needed to send us packing. You have spent all your energy insulting Spender rather than helping him, of course he hauled your ass to Kersh. And now you are slinking away like a dog whose been kicked, tail between your legs, willing to cede them the victory."

"So this is all my fault then?"

Damn Mulder and his overdeveloped sense of self-loathing. "I don't care whose fault it is, Mulder, I care more that you are walking away. I stayed here last summer instead of resigning because of you, because I believed in you, and because I thought that with you I could find the truth. I stayed when I wanted nothing more than to walk away. And now I find that you are giving up, the one thing I thought you of all people would never do. I believed in you, Mulder. I never believed in aliens, or conspiracies, or secret government agencies, or ghosts, or Bigfoot before I met you. I'm not sure that I do now, but I always, always believed in you, no matter what. I believed because you did, I believed that you would find the truth about why this all happened, about what was going on. It's that belief that's kept me going far longer than sanity says I should have. And now, when we have the answers just within our grasp, you giving up. What have I believed in all these years?"

He looked as if she had gutted him. Scully may have doubted his theories, doubted his methods, doubted his sanity at times, but never had she doubted him. The fact that she did now was not what he had expected. She had wounded him. Somehow, Scully wasn't very sorry about that.

"I'm sorry I've disappointed you so greatly, Dana," he replied simply.

Scully could almost feel the crash of the pedestal she had him on as it shattered underneath him. "I am too," she murmured.

Now what were they to do?

"Whatever you want to do, Mulder, that's up to you," she found herself numbly searching for her keys in her purse, still clinging to her box of possessions. "I'm calling Frohike right now and I'm going to meet up with the boys to find out what I can on Jeffrey Spender's father, who he is, and what he has to do with all of this."

Her keys remained elusively out of her grasp as she dug around phone and wallet, fingers coming up with pens and wads of shopping receipts. She cursed under her breath as she tried to manage while keeping a hold of her box, wanting nothing more than to retreat with some dignity left. Without a by your leave, Mulder pushed himself off his car and reached for the box, taking it from her as she glared up at him.

"Get your keys," he mumbled. Reluctantly she allowed his assistance as she found the metal ring in a pocket she seldom used on her bag. She held out her arm for the small office supply box. He handed it over, trying to meet her eyes. She wouldn't look at him.

"I'll head home now," she said, knowing that he likely could already guess that.

"Yeah," he nodded, looking as if he wanted to say something more, but not knowing what. Scully wished more than anything he would somehow change his mind, he would tell her he was sorry for being such an ass, that they would certainly go out there and find the truth. She wanted him to wrap an arm around her and assure her that he was wrong and he never meant to abandon her like this. She knew she wouldn't get that. Without even a smile of goodbye she turned towards her car across the way.

"Scully," he called as she reached her sedan. She turned just enough to look at him watching her.

"If you find anything with the boys…you'll come let me know?"

It wasn't exactly what she wanted. But it was something. He at least wasn't giving up completely. Not yet."

"Sure," she replied, pressing her keyless entry as the door locks slid open with a loud clank. "You'll be at the gym?"

"There's at least one area where I still have game," he tried to tease. She gave him the smallest of smiles.

"I'll see what I find out, Mulder." She put her things in the car and climbed in, pulling out her cell phone as she started the engine. She hated to admit that the third number on her speed dial behind Mulder and her mother was Frohike.

It took him only one ring to pick up. "What can I do for you, beautiful?"

If Scully had any more emotional energy left in her she would have called Frohike on his flirtation, but she found that she didn't. Instead she engaged her car, pulling out as Mulder stood silently at his vehicle and watched.

"Yeah, I need you to find out everything you can on an agent here, Jeffrey Spender, mother's Cassandra. I need to know specifically who his father is listed as." Her eyes flickered to her rearview mirror where Mulder stood, watching her go.

Chapter Text

When Scully finally pieced together the truth behind who Cassandra's ex-husband was she found herself feeling vaguely ill. She should have known, somehow, that he wasn't dead. She should have suspected then that he had survived when they didn't find his body at his apartment, But she had allowed herself to believe, to hope, that the devil had been killed. She had spent half the night pouring over records with Frohike, Langley, and Byers, chasing down half-forgotten leads, vague aliases, and dubious files. When it was all said and done they all looked to her grimly, one picture in particular worrying the three of them the most.

"You'll have to tell him," Langley said firmly, tugging at his loose, blonde hair fretfully.

"He already knows that they knew each other." Scully studied the old black-and-white photo again. In it stood a man she recognized instantly as Bill Mulder, much younger than when she had met him long ago in Alaska, but older than the wedding photograph she had seen in Teena Mulder's home. He was confronting a tall, lanky, dark haired man. He perhaps had aged much since the day this photograph had been taken, but she recognized the same man who used to haunt Skinner's office. If the cigarette in his long fingers wasn't a dead giveaway, the gimlet like eyes narrowed at Bill were. He had been handsome once, this smoking man - C.G.B. Spender.

"Yeah, but he doesn't know about Cassandra Spender and the abduction." Frohike had a point. "He doesn't know about the project."

"I think he has an inkling." Scully knew what the British man told Mulder when he gave her partner the coordinates to where she was being kept in Antarctica. "Mulder knows his father had to make a choice between Mulder and his sister."

"Damn!" Frohike whistled as Byers grimaced over his shoulder.

"How deep do you think Bill Mulder was in all of this?"

"I don't know," she replied honestly. That Mulder's father was involved was something they had known for years, since the strange DAT tape came into their possession containing all the files on all the secret projects that State and Defense Departments were keeping under wraps. "I know that it was why he was killed. I think he was going to tell Mulder the truth after all these years."

"Do you think the two of them were friends," Byers mused as he studied the photograph in Scully's fingers. Scully had no idea if they ever had been, but judging from their expressions in the picture at that point they most decidedly were not. The photograph was dated 1973, the year that Samantha went missing, the same year Cassandra first disappeared. Had Bill confronted Spender about his missing daughter? Had he balked at whatever project they were prepared to run? What was the story behind this picture?

"I think that the two of them worked together," she admitted honestly. Her brain ran through the long ago conversation she had with the elder Mulder, what she could remember of it. He had been so sad that day, shaken by the near loss of his only son. Guilt had led him to something of a confession to Scully as she sat with him in the hospital lobby in Anchorage. He had told her that Teena had never forgiven him for hurting his children. She had assumed that she had blamed him for not protecting Samantha enough and out of his own grief for driving the mourning Fox away. He had blamed himself for all of it, the whole family tragedy. Now she was beginning to understand the weight that Bill Mulder carried with him, the reason he had shut out his wife and his son, what had crushed his spirit so much that he retired to a house in Massachusetts and drank himself into oblivion.

"Last summer, when I was taken to Antarctica, Mulder was approached by another man who worked with his father. I'd met him once before. He'd warned me about the men who killed my sister." How many times over the years she wished she had listened to him more carefully and prevented her sister from coming over that night.

"Anyway, he told Mulder that his father had been part of a group, a consortium of people who were working to prevent world domination by an alien entity who were using a virus to infect the population." How much of this the boys knew, Scully had no idea. She had never told them about this, but perhaps Mulder had. "This virus is the same one that Mulder and I have been tracking down. It's called Purity. I first found it in an embryo in a military medical facility not far from here, and we have come acrossed it several other times in our work, most notably that strange, black oily substance that we found in the meteor rock from Russia. Cassandra Spender claims that the alien race is using it to invade the universe, not just to control them, but to propagate their species."

"This man said that the consortium was faced with two options for survival, create human hybrid clones who would survive the epidemic to become a slave race to the alien invaders, or create a vaccine that would stave off the virus, allowing humanity to live and fight. Apparently, Bill Mulder was the supporter of the second option." Somehow that didn't surprise Scully. "However, everyone in the consortium was required to turn over a family member to the cloning project, as a guarantee for their cooperation. The idea was that through the cloning process their loved ones would survive. The hybridization process would also allow the consortium access to the virus, so that they could try and produce a vaccine."

That was all that Scully really knew about the programs, all that she had pieced together with Mulder up to this point. Clearly, parts of it were familiar to the three computer hackers, but they had never seen the whole picture till now. Langley looked green behind the glow of his screen, Frohike's eyes bugged behind his thick, Coke bottle glasses, and Byers scrubbed at his beard fretfully, as if trying to divine the truth about her words.

"Do you believe that," Frohike finally asked gruffly?

"I don't know if I believe it is alien," she admitted slowly. She could believe that the virus was real, a naturally occurring, biological weapon that was there for anyone's taking. "I know that when I looked at the test results on the antibodies in my blood stream when I returned from New Zealand, nothing in there indicated anything particularly alien. Even what I was able to study from the body of the dead bee that was found outside of Mulder's apartment indicated that whatever this substance is it's made of the same stuff that you and I are. There isn't anything extra-terrestrial about it. And yet, when I studied the control form of the Purity virus years ago, it was definitely foreign." She didn't know for sure, she had no proof, but in her gut Scully had a feeling that this quandary was at the heart of what Bill Mulder and CGB Spender were up to.

"My guess is that the control form of Purity that I ran across from Fort Marlene was an original form of the virus. I don't know about aliens or spaceships, but I do know this; that fetus was a genetic mutant, whether it was bio-engineered or whether that was it's natural state. My guess is that for years this group has been playing with the DNA from that single fetus. They have been kidnapping women from across the country, harvesting ova from some, using others as surrogate mothers, and trying to cross normal human DNA with the DNA from this fetus in the hopes of making these clones."

Her tongue nearly tripped as she realized the impact of these words. "I think that is what happened to me. I think that was what Emily was. I think they were trying to use my ova in this cloning program. That was why my body was filled with the junk DNA, it wasn't that I was given something to trigger it in my system, I think that it was the leftover of whatever process they used to take my ova…perhaps even use me as a surrogate."

It all made a clear sort of sense now, after all these years, the vague and hazy memories she had of her abduction. The pain, the fear, the bright lights, the strange faces, and somewhere Cassandra's voice, soothing her as she cried for her mother, for Mulder. She blinked in the face of the three horrified, staring men. They all looked at a loss for words. The idea that anyone could do this to a human being, especially her, was unthinkable, even for them.

Byers, surprisingly, was the first to speak, jumping up from where he sat, running hands roughly through his hair. "That's just…sick," he spat, agitated as he paced briefly. Langley and Frohike nodded in agreement, both still too stunned to speak.

"I think that's what happened to Samantha Mulder, too," Scully hypothesized. "Mulder's been thrown so many women and girls who look like her, ones who likely were part her, every one designed to trick him. My guess is that they were all created in a process similar to Emily, perhaps using Samantha's DNA, maybe her ova. That would explain why they took her and not Mulder."

"What, so they could play mind games with Mulder?" Frohike had found his tongue again and was righteously outraged.

"I don't know." She honestly had no idea. "I think that they've likely been harvesting ova and sperm for years from different people, abductees mostly, and using them for different experiments, purposes, all in the effort to make a human-hybrid using this DNA. I think the consortium always knew about this black oil substance, that it has been here on earth this entire time, a naturally occurring biological weapon, one that with horrifying effects. They knew what it could do in the general population. So they've been trying to engineer humans using this DNA to make them immune to it, just in case Bill Mulder wasn't successful in finding a vaccine."

The full weight of Scully's conjecture began to sink in as all four of them sat silently in the Lone Gunmen office, the hum of the computer hardrives and monitors the only sound for many long minutes. Even Scully felt overwhelmed by this, the idea of what she had come to. What this was, what was going on here, was so much bigger than she had ever imagined it was. She had never dreamed on that night that she sat on the bridge in Maryland, waiting with the stolen fetus in a box beside her, that it was the key to all of this. The man who had been Mulder's first informant had died that night because of what he had done. She hadn't understood then. She understood now.

"So, let me get this straight," Langley finally poke up, his eyes squinting behind his black-framed glasses. "They would abduct people and put them on train cars to experiment on them? To use them in their cloning projects?"

"I'm assuming so, yes," Scully nodded, thinking of the poor, unfortunate creatures she saw in the leprosy camp in West Virginia. What sort of cloned experiments had they been?

"You said that the place where they found Cassandra at was a rail yard. Car burned out, everyone dead, no sign of how they got torched?"

"Right," she nodded, as it dawned on her where Langley was going with this.

Excitedly he grabbed the black-and-white photo of Bill Mulder and CGB Spender out of her fingers, nearly slicing her fingers on the edges in his excitement. He grimaced in apology. "Sorry."

"It's okay," she mumbled as he brought up the photograph on his computer monitor. The image of it glowed ghostly in his glasses as he scanned it quickly. "This picture is dated 1973. That's the year Samantha disappeared, right?"

"Yeah," Scully nodded as Frohike and Byers both leaned over to hang over Langley's shoulder.

"Cassandra Spender first went missing the night of November 27, 1973." Langley's fingers flew across his keyboard. "The same night Samantha went missing."

"Oh my God!" Scully's eyes widened as a thick lump of disbelief formed in her throat, making her feel nearly ill. "She was taken for their cloning program, like Samantha was."

Byers squinted as he read over Langley's shoulder, the information scrolling down the screen. "According to Cassandra's own statements she's been abducted several times, each time she would come back with a different medical condition. The time before last was when she came back paralyzed."

"She said that they fixed it, the doctors who were working on her."

"What if they weren't just fixing her," Frohike intoned quietly. "What if she was part of their project?"

"Look at this," Langley noted, pointing at the screen. "One of the doctors at the sight where they found Cassandra was Eugene Openshaw, a Nobel-prize winning geneticist."

"I've heard of him," Scully drug his name out of her own memory of medical lore. "He was able to single out several of the allele's responsible for several major birth defects in children, particularly in poverty stricken communities."

"What if his talents were being used for other purposes," Frohike posed.

Just what had they been doing to Cassandra?

"Mulder needs to know about this." No matter what his attitude was, he needed to hear this, and she needed his help. "Whether it's aliens or human engineering, I don't care anymore. I think his father was involved in a project that he thought was going to protect humanity, one I think that this CGB Spender has been manipulating to some other end. I think that he and Bill Mulder were involved in something that has been going on for decades, since Samantha's disappearance, and that this was what got Mulder's father killed. They've all been involved for a long time. And I believe that Samantha and Cassandra are at the heart of all of this."

"Let me print out everything we got," Langley reached across his desk and turned on a printer that whirled to life loudly in the pre-dawn stillness.

"I'll get mine going to, send me some of your files." Frohike rose from his stool, stretching and yawning. "I'll put a pot on, anyone want some coffee?"

He didn't even need to ask her twice if she wanted it, her mouth watered at the very thought. "I could use a extra large mug."

"Sure thing. Think I'll get some huevos rancheros going, too, I'm starving." His light comments belied his grim mood. He stumbled to the back where Scully knew a kitchen of sorts lay. She glanced at the other two who were already beginning to sort through files and divvy up printing duties between them.

CGB Spender…the smoking man. Scully closed her eyes against the ache in her forehead, a dull throb where the cancerous growth used to be. He had removed the threat of death from her, but at the risk of Mulder's very soul. That was the day she thought, rather hoped, he had died. Was he the one who had secretly been orchestrating the destruction of her and Mulder's lives?

What was she going to tell Mulder?

Chapter Text

It was a nightmare she couldn't get out of her head. The images spun around again and again, vivid in her mind. Cassandra's wide, doe eyes tearful as she pleaded with Mulder to kill her, him standing in his living room, gun pointed at the woman's head, Scully's horror at the guilty determination on his face as his door pounded in, the spray of water as men in biohazard suits ran in, like alien visitors screaming at them to get down. And above it all Diana Fowley, watching the process, calmly telling them that Cassandra had exposed them to a contagion of unknown origin. Scully would have spit on her and called her a liar if she could, but her mouth was too full of water on Mulder's now soaked floor. She had a hysterical moment where she feared for Mulder's safety deposit on his apartment as she was bustled into a containment suit as Cassandra screamed and cried and begged for death. But none came as she was trundled off, Mulder yelling at Agent Fowley, arguing with her. In the end it had done no good.

The spectacle had nearly drawn everyone in the apartment building out to see, despite the CDC's barked orders to stay inside. As if that humiliation weren't enough, the next three hours of Scully's life quite possibly were. She and Mulder were placed inside an unmarked van separate from the still screaming Cassandra. In silence they were taken to a facility, Scully guessed it to be Fort Marlene, and told to disembark into a containment area. She clambered after Mulder, wet clothes clinging to her body damply, making her skin itch as she ran her fingers through her now tangled hair.

They were both shepherded to a shower room by attendants in ghostly bio-hazard wear, like demented astronauts who ordered them to opposite sides of the cold concrete space. The only partition running down the middle was the bank of shower stalls, low walls surrounding high pipes and heads, metal drains on the floor below. They were both ordered to strip of their clothing, everything that they were wearing. Her face flaming, Scully turned her back and moved to the farthest corner from her partner, not that she hadn't seen more of Mulder than was strictly professional, but usually it was always a situation that was life or death, and she was too preoccupied with keeping him alive to care that he was sans any clothing. And there were occasions, many of them when she admitted to it, where she had allowed her imagination to run wild, dreams caught on the edges of her awareness as she woke of a morning, with wholly inappropriate thoughts of her partner dancing through her mind. Those were times where sacred, private thoughts born out of long suppressed desires, shared with no one. This was different, however. They were being herded into this situation like naughty school children, ordered to strip themselves naked without a thought or care about what sort of rules of propriety ran between the two of them. There was something shameful in all of this, and Scully found herself silently raging at Diana Fowley for all of it.

Into a large, plastic bag went the clothing she had been wearing that day, the shoes she had just purchased at Christmas, the bra that she had finally broken into being at least partially comfortable. She would have fought them on her necklace if they asked, but they didn't, metal was not absorbent like fabric, and she was allowed to keep her necklace, earrings, and watch. She set the latter aside as she stepped with downcast eyes into one of the chilly stalls, shivering as across from her she could sense Mulder enter his own. They both waited as the pipes groaned before the disinfectant spray rained down on their heads.

Scully stood, eyes closed as she replayed the events of Mulder's apartment over again. Cassandra had come there, insisting they kill her, tell him that she was the one. Her tears still turned Scully's gut as she considered what it was Cassandra meant. She had been used for years in her husband's project, taken again and again, her body abused and subjected to things Scully had yet to understand. As if she were a lab rat, an animal, not a woman whose life had been ruined by those seeking to make something out of her. Cassandra knew it. That was why she wanted to die, had begged for it. What that meant in the grand scheme of these men's plans, Scully had no idea, but Cassandra believed it was the start of Armageddon. Perhaps it was, how was Scully to know. All she understood for certain was that the proof of everything that had been done to Scully and to quite possibly thousands like her lay in Cassandra, and she was now being hidden somewhere in this facility by Diana Fowley.

She should have known, somehow that this woman had something to do with all of this. How convenient it was that Fowley appeared when she did, just when Gibson Praise went missing? She had been the agent on duty the night he disappeared, shot and nearly killed for her efforts, but at least the shooter had been kind enough to miss her heart by several inches and get a lung instead. It was Diana Fowley who had been given the X-files, after years of chasing her own ambitions in Germany, not even caring enough about her ex-husband's work to look into it. And when she had a chance to actually do real work on the X-files, to preserve Mulder's legacy, she had instead allowed it to run into the ground, handing over the reigns to Jeffrey Spender, the smoking man's son. Had she known all along whom Jeffrey's father was? Was that why she was assigned to the X-files in the first place? Was this the elder Spender's plan all along?

The spray shut off overhead, the acrid taste of chemicals in the water covered Scully's lips as she wiped at her face and squeezed out her hair. She stood in the cold, hoping for a towel, not just for the chill in the air, but because of the burning gaze she knew was turned towards her. She could feel Mulder watching her as she glanced up at him. He looked as bedraggled as she felt, and almost as embarrassed. His gaze slip down briefly below her chin, almost a flicker of his eyes, before returning to fix on her face firmly. She couldn't tell if he was embarrassed, apologetic, or secretly pleased that after all these years he had finally gotten to see her naked. Perhaps he was all three. And she found herself unreasonably angry, for being exposed to him like this, for not even being asked, her feelings not even considered. She was angry with Diana Fowley for putting her into this humiliating position. She felt angry at Mulder for so many reasons, the least of which was him glancing at her naked breasts.

Without saying a word she pivoted away from him, turning her back on him, hiding herself as best she could as one of the bio-hazard suits wandered over to her, handing her a thin, scratchy linen towel. It smelled of too much bleach and rubbed her skin raw, but she dried herself thoroughly as she accepted the folded scrubs that were passed to her. She couldn't slip them on fast enough, the familiar weight of the uniform she commonly wore wrapping her like armor as she finally felt brave enough to turn and face her partner again. On the other side of the partition Mulder was slipping on his own shirt, pulling it down over his stomach. He too looked relieved to have something on.

The testing and the prodding came next. Scully already knew where this was leading, exactly nowhere. Somehow she was hardly surprised when the radiation check turned up negative, and she highly doubted that any of the many vials of blood they sucked out of her would turn up anything more than perhaps a cold virus. And Diana Fowley entered in, with her cool and perfect despite having been in a haz-mat suit, eyeing them both in their ragged state. She was filled with apologies and explanations, lies about Cassandra's condition. Did the woman really believe that Scully was an idiot, or had Fowley simply forgotten that she was a doctor. When Scully chose to call her on it, Fowley chose to insult her instead.Let Mulder believe what he wanted out of her. Scully could smell bullshit when it was dumped on her head.

The locker room she was directed to already had clothing set aside for her. She was given a number, and she opened the metal cubby to find what passed for clothes in this place. The dress, if she called it that, was gray and shapeless, and reminded her more of prison than of a quarantine facility. Mulder entered as she threw it back in the locker in disgust, preferring to wear the scrubs instead. That at least felt familiar and comfortable.

"They've burned our clothes," she offered lamely. It was standard procedure for the CDC in quarantine situations. They had been through enough of them to know that by now.

"Hey, I heard gray is the new black." Mulder's attempt at wit fell flat. Scully chose to hug herself instead, still feeling the sting of Fowley's snide remark.

"Mulder, this stinks, and not because I think that woman is…" She paused. She wanted to say that she was a treacherous, backstabbing, lying swear word that began with a "c" and rhymed with "shunt". Instead she chose to keep her father's language to herself for once. "I think you know what I think that woman is."

"No, actually, you hide your feelings very well," he jibbed sarcastically. That hurt and she felt herself blazing at him for it.

"Agent Spender calling the Centers for Disease Control? Mulder, this is just somebody using their position to stage a hi-tech, government kidnapping!"

"Apparently not," he murmured, much to Scully's surprise and disbelief. "I just spoke to AD Skinner. He was at the hospital when Cassandra went missing. He heard Spender make the phone call to the CDC."

She couldn't tell if he was trying to protect Diana Fowley or not. It didn't make sense. Why would her son call in the CDC? He had no medical knowledge to determine if she were ill. If she had truly been a danger it would have been the hospital that called. "But she wasn't sick, Mulder. The remarkable thing is she was well."

It didn't add up for him "Well then why did she come to my apartment demanding to be killed?"

Scully could well imagine why. She could see it in the desperate, broken look in Cassandra's wide, frightened eyes. "Because of everything that had been done to her." Glimpses of white lights and strange faces came to mind as she recalled what little she remembered of her own experience. "Because of the tests. Because of the medical experiments and the implant put in her neck, the same thing that was done to me. She just wants it to stop!"

With sickening realization she finally knew what this was all about. "I'm telling you, they have taken her so that it can continue." That was what this was all about. The younger Spender had engineered his own mother's kidnapping so she could return to the torture she had endured for the last twenty-five years, to return to the experiments that she had been forced to suffer through. But Mulder shook his head with the distant look he had when he caught on to some variable Scully hadn't, when he snatched on to some fragments of reason and ran with it.

"No," he finally shook his head. "It won't continue. It doesn't have to anymore. She knows what she is, Scully. That's why it's so dangerous for her to be alive. That's why she came to my apartment asking to be killed."

Scully's mouth suddenly became very, very dry.

"What is she," she croaked, already knowing his answer and fearing it.

"I think she's the one, Scully." His gaze glowed with wonder and horror at the very idea.

The one. The be all and end all of her husband's experiments. Scully shook her head, trying to make it all fit into place and finding that she seemed to lack the room to manage it. "She's a human hybrid?"

"All these years, all these experiments, the clones, the alien mutants, Emily, they all come down to Cassandra. Whatever it is about her, whatever they have done to her, she is what they've been seeking this whole time."

The magnitude of what this all meant still couldn't quite seep into Scully's brain. "Why? Why would they do this?"

Mulder was silent for long moments, teeth sinking into his bottom lip as he worked it fretfully. "I don't know for sure, Scully, but I think I might have an idea."

Whatever his idea was, he wasn't in the mood to share, not just yet. He moved to tear through the lockers, digging through them idly.

"What are you looking for?"

"Shoes," he muttered, pulling out a pair of canvas tennis shoes and realizing they were a woman's size. He passed them over to Scully. Half a size too big, but she would take them.

"Any mention from Agent Fowley when we could get out of here?" She didn't want to have to be there anymore, not with that woman. She wanted to get back to her apartment, back to her own clothes.

"Soon as you are dressed you can fill out the paperwork and head home. Bureau is even paying for cab fair. They have already called my apartment supervisor apologizing for the confusion and offered to pay for the damages."

"Spiffy," Scully snorted sarcastically. "Maybe they can cover the rent hike you'll likely get for it too?"

"Not if they fire me first," Mulder replied darkly. Oh yes, they were on administrative leave pending their immanent dismissal. Scully kicked at a locker door in frustration, very glad she decided to do that after she had slipped the tennis shoes on her feet.

Her sudden violence shocked Mulder, who stared at her wide eyed as she turned to stalk out of the door.

"I'm heading home," she called over her shoulder, too pissed off to care to wait for him. "I have something I want to investigate before they toss me out of the FBI on my ass."

She stalked down the cold, sterile halls, already formulating her game plan. She would go home, get dressed, and call Frohike. She'd asked him months ago to see what he could turn up on Diana Fowley. It had been more a hunch then, but now she was convinced something was dirty with that woman. All of this with Cassandra was way to convenient, and Fowley knew much more than she was letting on. She wanted to know what exactly Mulder's ex had been doing these last ten years, and what had prompted her to come home, and what connection, if any, she had to Jeffrey Spender's father.

Scully wasn't about to allow the humiliation of this evening go unpunished.

Chapter Text

"So tell me, Frohike, what do you got for me? What sort of dirt did you dig up?"

The short, toad like man grinned, his broad lips reaching from ear-to-ear as he turned his monitor towards her. "Agent Scully, you know I love when you talk like that."

Scully smirked at him, looking towards the files he had pulled up on his screen. "You doing this just because I asked or because it's Diana Fowley?"

"Both," he admitted as he clicked on windows that popped up seemingly at random. "I won't ever deny my everlasting affection for you."

"Thank you," she smiled simply. Frohike had a crush on her pretty much from the day he had met her and Scully had become indulgently understanding of it over the years. "And Diana Fowley?"

"Never have liked her much." He shrugged. "Not that I knew her, their thing was over almost by the time I'd met Mulder. But I saw that look in his eye, I knew he was hurting. He'd come here drunk but wouldn't talk about it."

Even when Scully had first met Mulder she had suspected some woman had broken his heart. That was the rumor perpetuated by Tom Colton anyway. "So the end of his marriage really broke him up?"

"Yes and no," Frohike drawled, half-paying attention to his computer. "I think it more shocked him that she did it. I think he honestly loved and cared for her and thought this would all blow over. And when she didn't, he wondered what all of it had been about."

And Diana could stand there earlier that night, dressed to the nines, cool as could be, and treat Scully as if she were an errant school child after what she pulled. "So what do we have on her transfer?"

A few keystrokes on the part of Frohike and up came Fowley's service record. Scully tried not to gloat at the year of her birth. She was older than Mulder. And here he had given her grief for years about her penchant for dating older men.

"Says here that she put in a request for transfer to Berlin in mid-1990. The year after the Wall came down." His beady, black eyes whizzed across the information behind his impossibly thick lenses. "So far it all seems above board. She had already been in anti-terror for a while before this. The US was expanding the FBI presence Berlin and she looked like a perfect candidate."

"Yeah, but she had just married Mulder weeks before. Newlyweds don't take off on one another just for job opportunities. Why would she just up and leave him like that?"

"Why do you dames do anything you do," Frohike muttered with the sort of weariness that perhaps spoke to a puzzled and broken heart carried by himself. Scully found herself empathizing with the strange, little man, and though she longed to ask him about it, she chose instead to move on.

"Does the name C.G.B. Spender pop up anywhere in her files?"

One of Frohike's bushy eyebrows rose at this suggestion. "You think he has something to do with any of this?"

"I don't know," she replied, honestly. He dutifully typed in the name in his search feature, but nothing came up. Obviously it wouldn't. Diana was far too savvy for that.

"Okay, what sort of work did she do in Berlin? What was her case load like?"

He typed in the parameters she was searching for as the information scrolled up before their eyes. "Looks like mostly standard issue stuff, ex-Communist sympathizers, Muslim dissidents, people who are trying to take old, Russian nukes."

"Anything on aliens in there? Perhaps testing?" Scully wasn't sure what she was looking for.

"I don't think that's something they would put in her FBI file," Frohike pointed out. "Diana Fowley has only gotten where she is because she did the one thing Mulder didn't do, play it straight. Her records read like a Catholic school girl's, not a toe out of line."

Then what was it she was up to? "Then why leave Berlin?"

"Perhaps someone tipped her off to something with Mulder back here?"

"She hadn't spoken to Mulder in years and didn't look as if she was planning to anytime soon. Then suddenly she appears on Jeffrey Spender's proverbial doorstep."

What had she been up to?

"Anything that indicates what her movements were while she was in Europe? Perhaps she went to places that were unusual, might seem out of the way for an FBI agent working overseas?"

"Let me check." His fingers clicked on keys as behind him a tired looking Langley shuffled from the back, clad in sweatpants and one of his never ending supply of black shirts.

"Scully, you're back?" He frowned sleepily behind his black-framed glasses. "Don't you sleep?"

"Diana Fowley's been at it again," Frohike muttered as he continued to type.

"What did that bitch want?" Langley collapsed on his chair at his own computer station, tiredly scratching his head.

"It's what she wants that we are after," Scully replied, looking at the records on Frohike's computer. "Anything?"

"Nada," he replied, apologetically glancing sideways at her. "I don't know if there is anything, Scully. She's looking perfectly clean."

"She's not clean, she just hides her tracks well," Langley snorted, yawning as he flipped on his own computer. "Remember back in the day when Mulder was looking for her?"

Obviously Langley was still too out of it to notice Frohike's warning glare or Scully's stricken expression as he continued. "When she first took off to Europe, Mulder was frantic, wondering if there was another man or something. Anyway, we figured out pretty quickly that Diana had one airline preference that kept appearing in all of her FBI travel logs."

"Lufthansa," Frohike confirmed, the name appearing in the very record that appeared on his screen.

"Yep, that's the one." Langley yawned as he began typing on his own keyboard. "But she didn't always log every flight she took with the Bureau. Her private ones never make it in the FBI records, but we found them on her credit card statements."

"Mulder still had access to her financial accounts at the time," Frohike recalled, excitement coming to life in his eye.

"Yeah, we found out she was taking regular trips all over Europe on her own. I always assumed she had some boyfriend or something she was meeting all over the place, and Mulder let the matter drop after that."

Poor Mulder, Scully sighed. What must it have been like those first few months after Diana's betrayal. It went far to explain the state that she found him in years later. "So what does this have to do with what she was doing in Europe?"

"Easy," Langley was already pulling up windows on his screen. "You hack into the Lufthansa Airline files and track down every time Diana Fowley appears on one of the travel manifestoes."

"Then cross list that against her stated trips in her FBI file and that will give you all the ones she took alone while she was in Europe." Frohike nodded in clear approval, something he hardly ever gave Langley in the entire time Scully had known them. Langley was usually the butt of Frohike's insults.

"So do you hack into airline information often," Scully wondered aloud, suddenly curious what these three men hadn't gotten into in the course of their adventures.

"No, but airlines have notoriously bad security on their network information systems, worse than the FBI." The blonde man hardly looked up from his screen. "Unless she was traveling under an alias, we should find her."

Another shuffle from the back behind them brought out Byers, still dressed in his suit, with a book in hand. He hardly seemed surprised to see Scully there, only a bit put out that he hadn't been invited. "Having a party?"

"Looking for dirt in Fowley. Wanna join?" Frohike waived a hand at the records he was still perusing. "I'm checking out her actual office and field time. Something's not adding up?"

Byers leaned in over Frohike and Scully's shoulders, as all three of them tried to make sense of the information on the screen.

"Looks like there are dates she was out in the field but she didn't report them," Byers supplied.

"Yeah, and it wasn't personal time, her HR records don't show her using those dates for her vacation or sick pay." Frohike clicked to another screen that looked more like Fowley's payroll records. "In fact it looks like she hardly touched it."

"Then why didn't these trips appear in her FBI expense reports? Why aren't they in her travel records." She was up to something, Scully knew it, but what, and why?

"Got it," Langley called from his seat. "I found Diana in the Lufthansa system and I bet if we run her travel manifestos we'll find where she went on the dates she was supposedly out in the field."

Scully scanned Frohike's monitor quickly, eyes searching for a date. "Try April 21, 1991."

Langley typed the date in, waiting for his computer to do the necessary calculations. "Looks as if she was on a flight to Paris, quick one, went there one day, came back the next."

"September 8, 1993," Frohike tossed at him.

Again Langley's fingers raced and then stilled as he waited. "Barcelona, this time for three days, then she hopped on a plane to Tunisia, was there another five. Flew back straight from Tunis to Berlin."

Tunisia? "What about just last year, March 12, 1998."

Langley plugged in the date dutifully. "Amsterdam then London. She was there for a week and then back to Berlin."

"None of these are entered into her FBI log, all those dates are noted as her being 'out in the field'," Byers pointed out grimly.

"What was she doing in these places that she wasn't reporting?"

"Hard to say unless we know her movements there," Frohike replied. "She didn't exactly log what she was doing. She was careful."

"Maybe," Scully narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. "Langley, you said Mulder was able to track her down through her financials before."

"Yeah," Langley nodded slowly. "He was able to tell where she was and what she was doing by what sort of places her credit card tracked."

"No reason we can't do that again," Scully offered as all three men shrugged and nodded. "Think you can do that, Langley?"

"It might take a few minutes, and I might need your badge number to get into the system."

Her badge was currently with Kersh, taken from her when she was summarily kicked out of her position. but that didn't mean it wouldn't work anymore. Reaching for pen and paper on Frohike's desk she scribbled it down and passed it to the other man. "Use it for good."

"As if I would tell you if I wasn't," Langley muttered as he worked.

"So if you think she was up to something in Europe, what did she come back here for?" Frohike's question was one that had bothered Scully since Fowley's sudden appearance last spring.

"I don't know for sure," she admitted. "But she arrives suddenly and is placed on the case of a psychic boy. She hadn't worked cases like this in years, at least not since she was with Mulder. And then conveniently she comes back from her convalescence and is placed on the X-files. I have to wonder if all of this wasn't planned the entire time, if someone didn't want Diana Fowley back here to take over Mulder's work."

"Or maybe to join him on it," Byers offered, face darkening. "Even replace you."

That thought had occurred to her. "Maybe even to replace me. After all, she shares his ideas, she doesn't doubt his work, and she has a history in this sort of work that I don't."

"And she's his ex-wife," Frohike growled, glaring at Diana Fowley's picture on his screen. "Tender feelings and all that, lure Mulder back into her arms."

As much as that thought hurt to think about, Scully had to admit that this was a possible purpose of her presence as well. "Certainly, he trusts her much more than he trusts anyone else. More than me."

"I don't think he trusts her more than you," Byers protested immediately. Scully smiled at his quick defensiveness. It never ceased to amaze her how devoted these strange friends of Mulder's were to her, even if she did think they were paranoid and weird.

"He certainly has a blind spot when it comes to Diana Fowley. It's strange, since I've met Mulder he's never, ever not questioned the motives of people he comes into contact with, even me. With her, he seems to just assume she's there to do the best, that she really does see his vision, share his fight."

"And you don't," Frohike barked, clearly not convinced. "You're the one who has gone through all this crap, Scully, she was running around eating crepes and espresso in Europe."

"Croissants," Langley supplied as his computer beeped loudly. "She's fond of those, when she's in Paris. In London she seems to be a pub sort of woman."

"Did you find it?" Scully slipped off her seat to move towards Langley's screen, curious as to just how Fowley spent her money while abroad."

"Yeah, got in. She seems to also be fond of high end clothing and expensive lingerie," Langley paused on one such purchase at a boutique in Milan, earning a cool glare from Scully beside him. "Moving along, I can track her financials for five years back at least. What were some of those dates again?"

"March 12 last year? She was in Amsterdam first, then London."

"March 12…March 12." Langley scrolled through the dates on his screen. March 15, in London, she checked into a Hilton. And then the next transaction we have is for a cabbie, and then for some sort of event at a convention center…Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre."

"Conference center? What was going on there last year?" She spun to glance at the other two. Byers already had a laptop out and was typing in the information.

"Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center, last March…a conference on East Asian Business, a human resources fair, and…" He paused, eyes widening. "A MUFON convention."

"When?" Perhaps this was the huge clue they had been looking for.

"March 15-18, last year, it was a wider gathering of MUFON groups from across Great Britain, and had speakers from as far away as Southern California."

"Do we have any other purchases from around that area at that time, Langley?"

"Yeah, she went all four days and her return ticket to Berlin was dated the eighteenth."

Scully turned to Frohike. "We have any other more recent dates?"

"January of last year."

Langley prodded windows on his screen. "She was in Geneva according to her flight records, and according to her credit card statements she spent a lot of time on the Rue du Rhône."

"Let me check the MUFON network," Frohike was already stabbing at his computer keys. "There's a group in Geneva. Could be their meeting place is somewhere near that area."

It wasn't much of a pattern, but it was the start of something. "Can we compare the rest of the dates you have, Frohike, with the travel logs and financials Langley has. I want to see if there are other MUFON groups in these other cities. She could be monitoring them or making contact with them."

"It will take us a while, a few hours." Not that Frohike sounded perturbed to be up out of bed working on this. Scully nodded gratefully.

"Byers if you can see if there is anything in the MUFON network chatter that indicates that Diana Fowley has been making extensive contact with them?"

"Sure," he nodded, frowning up at her. "But what do you think it will prove?"

"I'm not sure yet. But it does beg the question what was she doing investigating these people, the very sort of people who had suffered through the same sort of testing that Cassandra Spender and I went through? What does she know about them. Why was she investigating it and why hasn't she shared any of it with Mulder and I?"

"You think that she knew about the testing," Frohike asked softly, looking as troubled as the other three did.

"She might have even been a part of the testing, gathering research on the results." Gathering information on men and women like Scully, who had their lives turned upside down, who faced missing memories and cancer, infertility, and broken families. Scully's gut burned at the idea that Fowley could have even remotely known about it and not said anything to anyone.

They were all silent for several, long moments.

"If we find evidence of that, Scully, what do we tell Mulder?" That wasn't Byers real question, though. Scully knew he more questioned whether or not Mulder would believe it.

"We'll tell Mulder the truth," Scully replied, simply. "Whether he accepts it or not is up to him. But I know that one things for certain. If he won't listen to me regarding the truth, than I'm done with this and with him."

She hadn't realized that it had come to that till the moment the words left her lips. It left her slightly stunned even as she said it, let alone the three men who all stared at her.

"Scully, you'd walk away from all this now?" Frohike couldn't believe it any more than she could.

"What choice will I have, Frohike. I'm only effective to Mulder when he trusts me, when he listens to my conclusions, and if he is willing to believe in Diana blindly, to ignore the proof that I present to him because it doesn't fit his presuppositions, if he wants to ignore the truth that she may be playing a role in all of this, than I'm no good to him, and I'm not doing justice to myself. I came back to the FBI, to him, because I believed in him and his work, because I thought through that I would find the truth. I had it right in my hands in the former of Cassandra and she's being kept from us. We are being lied to about her by Diana Fowley. If I can't make him understand that she is a part of the lies, that she knows something, then what is the purpose of me remaining? All I have is the possibility of finding out the truth of what was done to me. If I don't have that, I have no reason for staying."

"You know he trusts you, Scully, he went to the ends of the earth to find you," Frohike insisted gently. Perhaps for this strange little man it seemed unthinkable that anyone would not trust her. It warmed her heart he thought so much of her.

"Yeah, Frohike, but I'm not Diana Fowley, and I think in the end that is what it comes down to. No matter how many years I've stood by his side, I'm not the woman who got away." And that was the simple and sad truth.

"He's a dumbass," Frohike growled as they all three returned to their computers. Scully chuckled softly and nodded. Frohike was right in that assessment at least, Mulder was being a dumbass. But for now there was little she could do about it besides find a comfortable spot that wasn't cluttered with Cheetos and back issues of The Lone Gunmen and wait while they did the work.

Chapter Text

It hadn't hurt that he doubted her evidence about Diana Fowley, whaat had hurt was that Mulder had doubted her intentions, and for that he could go to hell for all Scully cared. Of course, she had made this personal, but it was all she had. Did Mulder not understand that the tests, the after effects, those were all personal for her? She had been the one to live through them, and Diana Fowley knew something about them.

She had meant to ignore her phone, to turn it off and go to sleep. But it rang and she grabbed the cell phone from where it sat by her bed, expecting to see Mulder's name glowing on the green, LED display. To her surprise it was a phone number that she didn't recognize. Who would call her at this time of night? She sent the call to voice mail, annoyed and irritated, and rolled over into the cool of her pillows and tried to pretend to go to sleep.

The phone buzzed soundly again, humming against the word as her heart leapt at the sound. Flipping over she grabbed it, glaring at the strange number again. Giving in she pressed it on, slipping it to her ear. "Scully?"

"Agent Scully?” The voice at the other end was desperate and breathless, and it took her several seconds to connect it to the face of Jeffrey Spender.

"Agent Spender, what's wrong?" Not that she wished to speak to him any more than she wanted to speak to Mulder, but there was something frantic as he began to blather on the other end of the line.

"I need your help, both you and Agent Mulder."

She pressed her lips hard together as she tried to bite back the cutting response and find something more reasonable. She failed. "Strange, Agent Spender, you worked awfully hard to get us kicked out, now you suddenly want our help."

"It's my mother.” He strangled on the words, and she wondered if he was in tears.

"Where is Cassandra?"

"They are taking her, Scully, they can't. My father…he's the one to blame for all of this."

Amidst the confusion as to what he was possibly talking about, a sliver of pity crept into Scully's mind. He had figured out who the true devil was. Poor kid. "I know who your father is, Agent Spender."

"Than you know how dangerous he is, what he's been up to. He is the one who took my mother years ago, he was the one who set her up for this. And now…I need your help, please!"

Damn it! She had left Mulder that evening completely convinced that she was done, that this fight was one she had lost, and she wasn't going to be involved anymore. And now…

"Where are you?"

"New York, near their offices, I can't get to them fast enough. They've already left by military transport."

"Where are they going?” She was already out of bed, searching for clothes and pulling back the covers roughly over the mattress.

"El Rico, it's an old Air Force Bases in West Virginia."

Why did everything have to be in West Virginia? "Right, and why are they taking her?"

"Because she's the one," Spender uttered hopelessly. "She's the one they've been working for all these years. She's a hybrid. They are going to give her to the aliens. It’s going to start!"

Scully blinked, pausing in the very act of taking off her pajama bottoms, one foot posed still in the air. "Do you realize what you are saying?"

"I know," he admitted raggedly. "I know, I was the one who called it all lies, who said it was bullshit. I spent so much time and energy telling Mulder he was a fool. But the truth is…I was."

Self-revelation aside, what had Spender seen that changed his mind. Scully fell heavily on the bed as she numbly tried to kick off the rest of her clothing and pull on slacks. "What is going on? Take a deep breath and explain it to me."

She could hear him on the other end, taking a deep breath, though she got the distinct impression he was standing on a New York street corner, pacing frantically. "Everything Mulder believed was true, Scully. Every bit of it; aliens, conspiracies, government cover ups, secret experiments, all of it true. I knew…I always knew, but I had forgotten…perhaps I wanted to forget. I pushed it all back and didn't want to see."

"Spender, I need information," she snapped, standing to button and zip her trousers before reaching for her blouse.

"Our fathers were involved early on," Spender muttered finally. "Mulder's father and mine. They were involved in the conspiracy. Aliens landed at Roswell in 1947, and a group formed within the government to try and understand what the alien crash landing meant. They found out…invasion. They are intending to take this planet, Agent Scully, and they are going to do it with a virus that will kill all of us, all of us except the ones who have the hybrid gene in them. They will then be part alien and resistant."

Scully's tongue felt heavy as she listened, her heart seeming to stop. "That's where Cassandra comes in."

"They've been running this hybrid program for years. It’s what they did to you. These men, men like my father, made a deal with the devil, Agent Scully. They agreed to sell their souls, to sell their very families, so that they could survive. They sacrificed their loved ones for this program in the hope that one of them would be successful and that they and they alone could survive. They tried to lie to themselves, to tell themselves that they were trying to save the human race. But now they know they have failed and they are going to sacrifice all of us because of it."

The rush of Spender's words could barely keep up with Scully's racing thought. Her fingers stilled on her clothes as she stopped and breathed. Simply took air into her lungs and held it there. When she exhaled, her voice was calm despite her heart racing in her chest. "Your mother is immune to the virus they've been playing with for years."

"Immune to it, she is part it." Spender paused. Scully could hear the bustle of the New York streets beyond him. If what he said was true, all of that life, that sound, that noise could be gone.

"Why? Why did they do this?"

"I don't know for sure.” He sounded half-embarrassed to admit it. "I could never get my father to give me a straight answer. All I could gather was that the aliens wanted a hybrid so that they could control a group of humanity. These men complied because they wanted to survive."

"And they are going to El Rico now to gain their reward?" Scully felt bile rise in her throat as she considered what this meant. "They are going to take Cassandra there and unleash this virus on the rest of us?"

"You have to stop them, Agent Scully.” Spender was begging again. "My mother knew the truth, she tried to tell me and I wouldn't listen. I gave them the means to take her. This will be my fault if it goes through."

A part of Scully that wasn't stunned into silence flared within her and wanted to tell him that indeed the end of the human race was all of his fault. He would be to blame for being an ignorant idiot. But the more sympathetic side won out. In the end he was a man who was a victim, as sure as she and Mulder ever were. He had tried to make sense of it all the best he could. And like them he had failed.

"How is she being transported?" Maybe Scully could call in Charlie, have him pull some sway here. He was Naval Intelligence, perhaps there was something he could do.

"She was taken from the CDC. They'll take her by train to El Rico, likely through the Potomac Railyard, just like how they took the others. They always transport them by train."

"I'm on my way, Spender, I'll call Agent Mulder and I'll see what I can do. But I warn you, we might fail."

"Just try, please," he stuttered before the phone fell silent.

This couldn't be happening?

Wild thoughts crept into her mind just then. A viral apocalypse, one that would cause a pandemic across the planet, wiping out millions. Should she call her mother, her brothers, their wives, try to warn them? No, what good would it do. No, she could only get to El Rico and try to stop this, to do what Cassandra asked of her and Mulder and not fail her this time. Finishing buttoning her clothes, she grabbed for her shoes, slipping them on as she reached for her coat, purse, and keys. She was out the door before she could even turn out the lights in her room.

Her car started loudly in the silence of the night, though her clock already read 4:00 in the morning. The sun would be up within another two-and-a-half hours. She pulled out of her parking spot and out of her apartment driveway onto the empty Georgetown streets. She got her phone out, meaning to call Mulder. To her surprise her phone vibrated in her hand, the black screen lighting to Mulder's name.

"Scully," she answered automatically.

"Hey, Scully, it's me." Mulder's concern at the other end caught her off guard.

"Mulder, I was just dialing you. Where are you?"

"I'm with Diana," he admitted heavily. Scully tried to ignore how her stomach sank at the words.

"I'm coming to get you," she replied, ignoring the hurt that blossomed at the idea that Mulder had run straight to Diana Fowley with her accusations.

"No, we are coming to get you. You're coming with us."

To do what, she wondered. Was he really going to take this time, right now, to convince her that Diana Fowley was Mother Teresa? "No, Mulder, listen to me. I'm going to take you to Cassandra."

There was a long pause, followed by a drawn out sigh. "Cassandra is gone, Scully." So much defeat seemed drip from those simple words. Scully blinked at the traffic light ahead of her, unsure of what she was hearing.

"I know," she retorted. "But I know where she's gone to, Mulder."

"Scully, it's no use," he muttered and sounded as if he believed it. Scully just did bite back the raging scream building up inside of her. Fox Mulder didn't quit, he never quit. Why was he doing so now? And what had that woman said to convince him otherwise?

"Mulder, I'm going there whether you are coming or not," she shot back stubbornly. Just as she had told him the other night, he could give up if he wanted to, but Scully wasn't about to go down without kicking and screaming first.

"Going where?" Finally, he was catching on that she was talking about a real place and not a theoretical one.

"To the Potomac yards." They weren't terribly far away, just outside of the city proper on the Virginia side. "They are transporting her by train car."

"Who gave you this information?"

Anger flared. Did he really still doubt her, doubt what she was doing here? And he believed Diana, with whom he was apparently throwing his own pity party?

"Agent Spender called me," she replied shortly, and hoped he choked on it.

He was quiet long moments. She could hear the wheels in his brain finally start to turn, something of her Mulder, the real Mulder perhaps coming to life from his pitiful lethargy. Scully hardly dared to hope as she pulled ahead through the intersection, holding her breath.

"All right," he conceded quickly. "I'm going to send you on ahead."

She could have wilted in relief if she wasn't so very pissed off with him at the moment and scared at the situation. "See you there."

She snapped off her phone and threw it on the seat beside her. How she planned on stopping this, she had no idea. She'd lay down in front of the train tracks if necessary at this point. The fate of the world was in her hands, and it felt strangely heavy and terrifying.

She only hoped Mulder was there. She didn't think she could do this alone.

Chapter Text

Scully found him in the bullpen, perhaps looks far too delighted at the prospect of packing, not that there was much left for either of them to clear from their desks. The fire last summer had destroyed most of what was in their office, and their near dismissal just days before had sent much of the rest of it home. Now all that was left were the random bits of office flotsam and jetsam, notepads and pens, file folders and paperclips. Mulder's computer was black and silent as he tossed three packs of yellow, wooden pencils into a cardboard box.

"Packing already?" She eyed the meager contents. It was barely eight in the morning on Monday, none of the bullpen menagerie had arrived yet. Usually they stumbled in closer to nine, bleary eyed and wobbly from weekends that were far more exciting than Scully had experienced in a long time.

"Want to get an early start." Mulder frowned at a Styrofoam cup by his computer, glancing down at the liquid inside. "I wonder if I can grow penicillin out of this?"

"If it's green, just toss it." She delicately wrinkled her nose as he threw the contents into the trashcan. She watched him work for several more, long seconds, trying to find words. In the midst of his joy at returning to the X-files, to his work, she knew that this would dampen it.

"I just spoke to Skinner," she murmured quietly in the still office. "Jeffrey Spender was shot. Skinner didn't have particulars, but he was in critical condition when he was carted away."

Her announcement made Mulder stop dead in the act of loading files folders into the box. "When?"

"It happened Friday night, down in the office. We've been cleared to return but they are trying to ascertain how it happened and when. Security found him about a half-hour after it happened. He nearly bled to death. No one is sure who did it and why."

"Do you know where he was taken?"

"No clue," Scully conceded. "I asked Skinner but no one gave him the information. I can check with him later, if you like."

Mulder nodded, still looked vaguely perplexed by the news. Frankly, the story had shocked and baffled Scully. Spender had been a straight shooter, a model agent. He hadn't ever been on a case that could have put him in jeopardy like this. "Who could possibly want to kill him?"

"I think I have an idea," Mulder replied, his face falling as he leaned heavily against his nearly empty desk.

"Who?" Scully moved to sit behind her own desk, watching as Mulder fiddled with a pen in his long fingers, growing more pensive by the moment.

Instead of answering her directly, Mulder simply sighed, scrubbing his face hard as he frowned at some distant spot on the wall beyond where they sat. "You know, when Samantha disappeared, my family splintered. My mother was so angry at the world, my father simply shut down. For years I always thought it was because they blamed me for what happened, that I was at fault for Samantha's loss. I tried so hard to make up for it somehow after that, I wanted to make them love me again, for my father to say he was proud of me. So I threw myself into school and sports, and every time I'd come home with a perfect grade or with some sports trophy I'd hope that this would be the moment my father would say, 'I'm proud of you, son.' And when he didn't, well, I'd find ways to act out. So there were incidences of me getting caught behind the baseball clubhouse with a joint in hand, or in the back seat of our old station wagon with the neighbors' youngest daughter, and while it wasn't the reaction I wanted out of him, at least it was a reaction."

Scully listened quietly, wondering where this was all going, but sensing that for Mulder this all had a point. The tragedy of Samantha's disappearance was well known to her, and she wasn't unfamiliar with the way Mulder's parents had fallen apart after their daughter's kidnapping, leaving their twelve-year-old son to try and come to grips with the loss on his own. She had no doubt that Bill and Teena loved their son, but neither one of them could pull themselves together enough to handle the blame and guilt of one teenaged boy. Teena had instead chosen to deny her past and the truths in it, never once explaining to young Fox that this had everything to do with his father and nothing to do with him. And as for Bill, his own guilt ate at him till he was barely a shell of a man by the time he died, only deciding too late to confess the truth of his role in all of this to the son who had carried the brunt of it.

Mulder continued, voice heavy and soft with the regretful memories of twenty-five years. "You know, just before Dad died, when I was laid up in that hospital in Alaska, we talked. I think I couldn't have felt more like shit if I tried then. I thought I had lost my sister. I thought my father blamed me. He told me as much before I left for the Great, White North. And Dad stood by my hospital bed, crying like I never had seen him do, not once, not even when Sam went missing. He asked me to forgive him. I didn't know then what he was talking about. Now, I think I do."

He frowned down at the pen still in his fingers, tossing it haphazardly into the box with the other office supplies. "My father and CGB Spender spent years working on this project, Scully. They gave up everything, their families and their loved ones, all for the hope that in the end their gamble would pay off, that they would stop the inevitable. They played a dangerous game. They tried to steal from Peter to pay Paul. They developed the means by which the alien force could invade and take over this planet, hoping that by showing signs of cooperation they would gain the advantage and ultimately stop it. In the end they didn't bargain for the fact that this entire situation was so much bigger than they were, that their plans could be foiled by factors they didn't even see. Everything my father gave up for this and in the end it is nearly destroyed."

"How does this all relate to Agent Spender," Scully finally asked, still just as lost as to what Mulder was getting at with all of this.

"My father had to make a choice, Scully, one that my mother to this day has never forgiven him for. He had to choose one family member to give to the project, just one. He tried to avoid it, to ignore it. He had hopde that the vaccine he was trying to develop would come through, that all of this would be unnecessary, but in the end they forced him to choose, and so he picked my sister. I'll never know why he chose her over me, and I don't think Mom will ever tell me. but he hoped that in saving me I could do the one thing he couldn't - fight the future, to stand up to these men and not allow them to give in. All these years, Scully, I fought…I didn't know what I was fighting, I didn't know who, but I bucked the system till I nearly broke from it. And at the most critical juncture, when I should have stood the firmest, it was the one time in my life I failed. The one thing my father wanted from me, the one expectation he had in his entire life for me, and I failed him."

He turned glazed eyes to her, blinking hard as his Adam's apple bobbed precariously in his throat. "I gave up that night, Scully. I called you because I was giving in, just like they were. I thought it was done, and there was no stopping the future. In those moments I failed everything my father wanted out of me. And somewhere in New York, a man who never wanted this fight was standing up and trying to stop it. Jeffrey Spender didn't believe in this. All he wanted in life was to be a good agent, to escape the strangeness of his past, of the horrors done to his mother and the coldness of his father. He hated me because I represented everything he had tried to escape from, perhaps all the things he could never be. And on that night of all nights he calls you to stop this, decides to stand up against the father who had so much hope for him. He failed his father too. It seems in a way both of our fathers had dreams for us, to carry on the legacy they tried to instill. We both failed that night, and now Spender has to carry the consequences of his actions."

It took a long moment for what Mulder was saying to sink into her brain. When it did her eyes widened impossibly up at him, her head shaking slightly at the unthinkable. "But Jeffrey is his own son!"

"Which makes the betrayal even more painful, don't you think?" Mulder stuffed his hands into his pockets. "How frustrating must it be for the old man to know that the one child he would ever claim to have was the one standing against him."

"It's disgusting," Scully snapped, horrified as she thought of her own father, of the many issues and conflicts the two of them had. Ahab would never have considered…and yet she was comparing her beloved William Scully to a man so vile as to leave her shivering at the thought of cigarette smoke.

"This is a man who willingly sacrificed his own wife, Scully, who allowed a project to continue for years, using her as a guinea pig. Why would the idea of him trying to murder his son surprise you?"

"Because it's his flesh and blood. It's his only child."

"Only recognized child," Mulder replied pointedly. "The jury is still out on that point, remember?"

The age-old argument, one that never had been resolved between Mulder and his mother. Teena likely would never give him an answer, not a definitive one. But in Scully's heart, she thought she knew the answer, and it had nothing to do with her science or genetics. "I don't know, Mulder. I think after everything that has happened, everything we both have seen these last few nights, that this question has already been answered. Don't you?"

His dark eyebrows knit together as he shook his head. She continued, thoughtful. "However you may have felt you failed your father that night, Mulder, in the end you are still standing here, willing to fight. When you tried to walk away from all of this, you came out to that train yard to help me. You perhaps stumbled, but you never completely gave up. And you are still here, ready to throw yourself back into the work, ready to fight. And I think that is a tribute to your father…your real father. I don't think that Bill ever once gave up. Even when everyone else wanted to submit, he refused. Even if it cost him everything in the end, Mulder, he had hope that one day you would be able to do what he couldn't."

Her words, meant as a kindness, but the elicited a disgruntled snort from Mulder, who couldn't meet her eye. "Right, I was the man who was throwing in the towel, Scully. Some legacy I left my father."

"I don't know. I think in the end you are more of a credit to Bill than you think you are. I think you honor him in ways that you don't even realize, and if he were here now I'm sure he'd say he was proud of you, like he never got to when he was alive."

Something hit home for her partner as he ducked his dark head, nodding quietly. What Scully wouldn't give for a chance…just one…to have Bill Mulder come back to tell his son the words he longed to hear. She knew that ache in Mulder's heart, knew it intimately well with her own father, and she wished he could find the same assurance in his father's approval that she had found.

"Two fathers, one son," Scully murmured as Mulder wiped at his face surreptitiously. "It's rather like a Greek tragedy when you think about it, because the son can only be true to one of them."

"I don't know, Scully," he sighed, turning to his nearly empty desk. "Perhaps the story is more about one man and two sons, and how his own follies cost him both. That sounds far more tragic."

Scully nodded, leaning back slowly as she considered. "True. But consider this, no matter what genetics say, you are Bill Mulder's son, you are a good man who is determined to finish his work and do what is right. to fight the future. And even if we were to find out tomorrow that this Spender was your biological father, it doesn't change the truth of who you are, or who your real father is. Just remember that."

He turned to look at her again, something of the old intensity burning in his eyes. If she looked close enough she thought she could see the old Mulder, the man who she once thought could move the world. Now she was more circumspect, but no less trusting of him. Perhaps the world could stop Mulder from time to time, but it didn't keep him down. And that was all she could ask for.

"Scully," Mulder finally quietly asked after long moments, the smallest of smiles lifting his full mouth. "What did I ever do to deserve you?"

A flush rose to her cheeks at his compliment, heartfelt as always with Mulder. But despite the honest words the memory of their confrontation at the Lone Gunmen office arose, the bitter argument they had, and the knowledge that he had gone to Diana Fowley afterwards. He had trusted her enough to want to go with her to El Rico, to want to give up. He hadn't trusted Scully. That would be a hurt that would stay between them for some time.

"I don't know, Mulder," she finally rose from her seat, smoothing her skirt down over her hips. "I try to keep you honest, like you said. It's up to you whether you listen or not. Just don't ever doubt me and my purpose here. This is personal for me and I don't trust Diana Fowley, but that doesn't make me that bad guy. You begged me once not to leave you and the X-files. I stayed for you, Mulder. Please don't make me regret that decision."

Before he could make a response, the first stragglers of the morning wandered into the bullpen. They hardly seemed to notice either Mulder or Scully, but both agents suddenly found themselves very interested in the detritus of their desks, gathering things up for their return to the basement. Knowing the others would be coming soon, Scully almost couldn't move fast enough.

"Scully," Mulder finally murmured quietly. "I don't want you to ever believe I don't trust you."

Scully didn't answer. She didn't know what to say that wouldn't spark an outright argument and that was the last thing she wants while they are still in a public space. Instead she took one of the other empty boxes Mulder had carted in and began to fill it with what was left of her things. "Let's just get downstairs for right now and I'll see if I can't find out a bit more about Spender and his condition. Skinner didn't have any more details."

"Right," Mulder sighed, knowing for now the subject was to be left alone.

Chapter Text

Scully stood in front of the second desk and simply stared.

"I asked them to keep it in here for you." Mulder grinned like he had personally carried the desk down to their refurbished basement office himself. "I figured it's about time you had your own place to spread out your girly things."

"Girly things?" One eyebrow arched imperiously up at him. That didn't stop the wide smile on her own face. "And how long did it take you to hide your adult magazine stash in your new desk?"

"I'll have you know I've got none in there," Mulder replied loftily, placing his nameplate on the front of his desk. Finally, this office was Fox Mulder's once again. It felt good to know that. She smiled slowly at the nameplate on the front of his new desk, feeling at peace with the world for the first time in months. This was the way things should be.

Scully took her time looking over their new situation. The office had once been an old copier room, filled with used equipment and boxes of unsorted X-files. Mulder had shifted it to some semblance of order, but even when she had come on board it had been little more than a hole with a wall of filing cabinets and a slide projector. Now it was roomier, much of the flotsam and jetsam of the Bureau's office pool having been burned away. The room was spacious by comparison, the floor retiled, the walls repainted, the lingering smell of mildew now gone. And in the ceiling above, where Mulder once had peppered the tiles with pencils there was now a glass covered space that looked up to the street level, allowing sunlight to stream over the new bank of filing cabinets that lined the walls. Perhaps having a fire in this place hadn't been so bad after all.

"I've already started getting the files organized," Mulder was already moving around the office like a dervish, perusing through files and opening empty drawers. "Diana and Spender only had access to the files I managed to piece together before they unceremoniously kicked my ass to the curb, but everything I've done since has conveniently been with me."

He'd never told her that. "Mulder, you were supposed to turn those over."

"What, Kersh didn't notice and I doubt boy wonder did either. Besides, they served as some light, bedtime reading. Still getting used to the new waterbed." He spun to watch her as she began unpacking her things. "So what do you think?"

"I like the skylight," she replied honestly, relieved that she would at least have a bit of sun in her life.

Clearly Mulder was unimpressed with things such as nature or sunshine. "It feels a bit sterile in here still. Too boring."

"I'm sure you can liven the place up with some picture of a two-headed chicken you clipped out of one of your magazines."

She earned the desired smirk out of him, causing her to grin cheekily as she placed a photo of her family by her computer and an old baseball of Mulder's he'd given to her for a birthday right beside it. It felt good to be home, she admitted. And it was home, compared to the crowded, stifling feeling of the bullpen upstairs, this felt right. No one else was in the same space, chattering behind her. She didn't feel the eyes of the rookies watching her every move. This was her space, there with Mulder, and no one could possibly violate this.

The soft knock at the door caused both she and Mulder to turn and stare, Mulder in surprise, Scully in loathing. Diana Fowley nodded curtly to both of them, trying to look as inoffensive as possible. "Hello, I'm sorry. I was just coming down to gather the last of my things." She didn't bother addressing herself to Scully, focusing only on Mulder.

Scully felt her mouth tighten and continued to unpack her boxes in silence.

"Uh, sure." Mulder shot a furtive glance towards Scully. She pointedly ignored it. He reached behind his brand new desk to pull up a carton filled with what Scully presumed were Diana Fowley's possessions. Not that there was much. Scully had the distinct impression she was rarely in the office, and if she was, she hadn't been working X-files. Not the way she and Mulder had anyway.

"Thank you," Fowley murmured as she took the box, pausing as she glanced between Mulder and Scully. She clearly wanted their attention and Scully gave it to her reluctantly.

"I wanted to apologize for the events last week, especially the CDC." She sounded truly sorry at least, looking somewhat embarrassed even. That was a first for Diana Fowley. "What you were put through was uncalled for."

Scully bit her tongue as she nodded curtly. She wanted to demand that Agent Fowley tell them both what she knew about Cassandra Spender, about the tests that were done to her, about the program that had involved Scully. But she instead decided to busy herself with putting pens in her cup holder.

"Thanks, Diana," Mulder replied, as if speaking for them both. "These things happen in the field, especially with the X-files."

Scully snorted softly, separating her black pens from her blue ones. If Fowley noticed, she said nothing.

"Yes, well, it was unfortunate." She shrugged as if this was indeed a normal response to that sort of situation. Scully had hope that would be the end of their conversation, but to her annoyance the woman remained, glancing around the office she had so recently herself occupied.

"So, it must feel good to be back where you belong?" Again she addressed Mulder, as if Scully wasn't standing there, loudly dumping paper clips into her desk drawer.

"Yeah, it does. Great to be back doing the work I love." There was a wealth of meaning in Mulder's words. Scully felt her teeth grinding as she slammed her stapler on her desk with perhaps more force than was needed. They both turned to glance at her, Diana as if she was surprised Scully was still standing there, Mulder as if she had somehow lost her mind.

"Stapler slipped," she shrugged coolly, shooting them both a stiff smile.

"How about you, Agent Scully?" Diana finally turned her attention to the other half of this partnership for once. "You'll finally have a desk in here. Something to be grateful for."

Scully's fingers tightened on the heavy metal stapler, contemplating the weight of it and how it would feel against Diana Fowley's skull. Mulder, however, adroitly stepped in, sensing the storm brewing on the horizon.

"Look, it's great seeing you Diana," Mulder began, ignoring Scully's choked cough as she finally let go of her blunt instrument. "Scully and I have a lot of work to go over, get set up, we've been out of the game for months now. We're looking forward to getting back in the saddle."

"Of course," Fowley nodded, again managing to ignore Scully in the small gesture. "I better get going myself. I'm moving departments, back to anti-terrorism."

"Good!" Scully winced at how pleased Mulder seemed by this. "You had a talent for that."

"Yeah, well it's good to go with what you know," she agreed, shooting him a speculative look. "You know, last week, at my apartment…if you ever just want to come by and talk…"

Scully felt her eyes widen but she managed not to allow her shocked gaze turn up to Mulder. Her heart raced as she heard him cough and shuffle, suddenly becoming very busy with something he grasped desperately off his desk. "If you're in town, Diana, I'll keep in touch. Better not keep you from your new job."

"Right," she muttered, glancing between the two of them once again. Scully didn't dare meet the other woman's eyes. She was half afraid that she might start a whole new fire in the basement office. "Agent Scully, best of luck working with Fox again."

"Thank you," Scully managed solicitously, resisting the urge to point out that she hadn't ever stopped working with Mulder.

"Fox," Diana shot him a small, knowing smile. "Perhaps we'll see each other around."

"Yeah," Mulder nodded as he tried his best not to look as if those words meant anything. Still Scully noticed him watching Diana Fowley thoughtfully as she made her way out of the door, the sound of her steps lingering along with the scent of her perfume. Scully at least waited till she heard the elevator open and close before she turned on Mulder.

He had at least the grace to look embarrassed. She didn't know Mulder's face could be so red. "Scully, whatever she implied, or whatever it sounded like she was implying, she and I aren't…"

"Mulder, it's your life," Scully cut him off as something painful formed deep in her chest. Whatever Diana Fowley had implied, even if it weren't true, he certainly hadn't been opposed to the idea of rekindling some sort of relationship with her. And why not, Scully reasoned, they had a past, a history. Those weren't just things one could walk away from. Except Scully's heart cracked ever so slightly at the thought. Suddenly she was very glad that she had never, ever given more credence to her feelings than acknowledging their existence. What if she had foolishly admitted them to Mulder, or worse yet, had indulged in the belief that they would lead to anything? This could be so much worse.

"Honestly, Scully, I went to her apartment last week to confront her with what you showed me. Nothing more torrid than a hug happened."

"Funny, because you told me you nearly gave up that night," Scully couldn't help but jibe him with that. "Did she convince you it was better to give in than to fight?"

Again another guilty glance, another flush to his cheeks. Scully had hit a sore spot. Funny, she didn't feel triumphant about it.

"Things are always complicated with Diana."

"I know," she snapped, yanking folders out of her box of things. "And I suppose Diana Fowley always will be."

He clearly didn't like hearing that from her. He ran agitated fingers through his hair, as if hoping to divine some way of fixing this situation he found himself in. "Scully, this is nothing personal against you."

"Why would I assume that anything you do with me is personal," she replied stiffly, arching an eyebrow at the very idea. She was ignoring, of course, the fact that he had once uttered "I love you" in a drug addled state, or that he had once nearly kissed her outside of his apartment, or the fact that he had gone to Antarctica for her.

Her words hurt him and Scully felt slightly triumphant at this. "You think I don't care?"

"Mulder," she sighed, drawing out his name with the expanse of her breath. Barely hours back in their old office and they were already arguing. "I just don't want to discuss it. Clearly, Diana Fowley and her place in your life is not my business."

Mulder looked mutinously ready to challenge her on it, but snapped his mouth shut as she turned back to unpacking. "Right, well I'll just get back to organizing…something."

Not really the sort of auspicious beginning to their new start that Scully had expected.

Chapter Text

The relief Scully felt at walking into Skinner's office rather than Kersh's was palatable. Even Arlene smiled as Scully moved to Skinner's open door, seeing Mulder already waiting inside across from Skinner's normally taciturn expression. Still, despite the permanent glower, he seemed to be pleased to see her as she took her place beside Mulder in front of the Assistant Director's large desk.

"Agents," Skinner opened mildly, leaning back in his large, desk chair. "I have to say it is good to see you back under my auspices and on the X-files."

They replied in unison. "Thank you, sir."

Even Mulder looked as if he were containing himself well, clearly just too happy to be back where he belonged to stir up trouble this soon. After so many months with life working against them, it seemed too good to be true that they were back on the X-files, back in the basement and unto themselves. Scully felt almost giddy.

"The paperwork processing your transfer back to me is still being formalized, but in the meantime I am giving you your first official case back." Skinner reached across to push a file folder towards them. "San Diego County Sheriffs sent this along to our field office there in town. They are needing someone to investigate it."

Mulder was the one to sit up, long fingers plucking up the folder with more anticipation that Scully had seen out of Mulder in a while. He flipped it open quickly, eyes scanning the first form. Curious, Scully watched as his excitement began to fail briefly and his dark eyebrows met in disappointed concern.

"Sir, this is a missing persons case."

Missing persons? Scully blinked. This was their first casework back?

"Yes and no," Skinner hedged, his jaw working briefly as Mulder passed the file on to Scully for her perusal. "The case involves a housing development to the north of San Diego, in the city of Poway, called the Falls of Arcadia."

"I've heard of it," Scully murmured as she flipped the file open. "It's a gated community, very exclusive, caters to the upper middle class. They are always running commercials for it in Southern California."

Skinner nodded at her assessment. "The Falls at Arcadia proudly declares that they have been named one of the top planned communities in the state for the last five years. When they say planned, they aren't kidding, the application process just to be approved to buy a home in the community is more comprehensive than the application to the FBI Academy."

"Sounds lovely," Mulder snorted dryly. "Maybe I should apply to move there, after all, it has to be more secure than my apartment, where anyone with CDC credentials and a water hose can come in."

Mulder still hadn't quite forgiven Skinner for allowing Spender and Fowley the authority to do that. The other man cleared his throat guiltily, tugging at his tie. "Funny you should say that, Mulder."

Scully could almost see Mulder's curiosity perk up, but before he could speak she cut in, reading through the file carefully. "The paperwork says that the San Diego County Sheriffs have been called out there over a series of missing persons, but they are just now getting a hold of the FBI about this?"

"Yeah, the case is a bit…complicated." Skinner frowned deeply behind his rimless glasses. "The Falls uses one real estate agent, Lisa Gonzalez. She sells all the property for the community and knows everyone who comes and goes. She started getting suspicious in three years ago when one of the houses she was asked to sell came onto the market for sale without the owners."

"Without the owners? How did that happen?" Scully glanced through the paperwork but saw no obvious explanation.

"The owners disappeared," Skinner supplied. "Their car was gone, their possessions still there, but no one knew where they were at. The mother of the wife in question said that the couple had been experiencing some financial trouble, and so it was believed that they abandoned the home. An investigation was opened with police, and when nothing turned up, the bank eventually claimed the house, and the homeowners association was asked to sell it. At the time Ms. Gonzalez thought nothing of it and sold the house. The current owners have been living there ever since."

"So we have one set of missing persons," Mulder ticked off one finger. "But the file said there were three. What about the other two and how did this turn into something they wanted to alert the FBI with?"

"The second couple disappeared a year-and-a-half later. Similar circumstances, no one saw them leave or go, and I doubt they would have noticed until a co-worker wondered why the husband hadn't shown up for work in over three days. When they went to the house to check on them they found it empty. There was no explanation in this case, and it was feared then that something nefarious had happened to the couple. Their car was found out in the desert north of Los Angeles, but no trace of the couple was ever found."

"Let me guess," Mulder cut in, drawling lazily. "Another investigation was opened, nothing else was found, the bank got the house, and the homeowners association sold it for them."

Skinner nodded, somewhat perturbed at Mulder's tone. "The last victims disappeared seven months ago. Nearly same circumstances, this time the family noticed and called police. Lisa Gonzalez, the realtor, became suspicious, and drew police attention to the pattern. They went over everything in the house, nothing seemed to indicate fowl play. They agreed that there was something suspicious, but the investigation turned up nothing. That's when they came to us."

"And we've been sitting on this for how long?" Mulder glanced to the file in Scully's lap. So much for him playing nice so soon back on the X-files.

"Two months. I'd yet to have a chance to give it to Agents Fowley and Spender. Frankly, I'm glad I didn't have to, because I don't think they could have done what is needed on this assignment."

"Not that they did much of anything on any assignment," Mulder muttered in a not-so-quiet undertone. Scully cleared her throat at him, but he seemed to ignore her.

"What exactly will this assignment need, sir?" Scully resisted the urge to reach across and slap her partner as he continued to scowl at the idea. Skinner for his part was looking as if he was beginning to regret the decision to put Mulder back under his control.

"Whatever is going on at the Falls, it is occurring to young, professional couples. No children, no families nearby, and no one to notice that they are gone at least for a couple of days. What I need for you two to do there is to…" He paused, glancing between the two of them surreptitiously, his dark eyes guarded. "Go undercover."

That brought them both short. It was Mulder who recovered first, eyes narrowing at Skinner. "Undercover as what?"

"As…a married, young, professional couple," Skinner replied in a voice that only just managed to stay serious.

Scully felt her jaw drop nearly to the level of the paperwork in her lap.

Mulder's face contorted and twisted into an almost painful look of consternation. He raised a finger, waggling it between the two of them. "You mean…pretend…we two….married?"

"Yes," Skinner said, as if he was asking them to bring in a hardened criminal. Scully at that moment almost wished he had. Somehow that made so much more sense to her than her and Mulder…married?

"Sir," Scully finally managed to find her voice, even if it did squeak a little as she spoke. "Whatever you may have heard about the nature of our partnership…"

"Scully, I've made no presumptions here, and neither has anyone else," Skinner snapped, perhaps with a tad more force than was necessary. Scully instantly demurred, cheeks flaming. "These sorts of undercover arrangements are used all the time, it is part of FBI protocol. I would expect that the two of you could treat this arrangement professionally."

Scully ducked her head as her cheeks flamed as red as her hair. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Mulder shift uncomfortably. Perhaps he was wishing in this moment Skinner had given it to Fowley, and perhaps he could be playing house with her. It was uncharitable, but given his behavior of recent weeks, Scully found she couldn't help herself.

"So we go undercover as a married couple, doing…what sir?" Mulder only just managed not to choke on the words.

Skinner seemed to be grateful for any way to further the conversation beyond "married". "Your cover stories are in the file. Mulder, yours will have you working from home so that you can investigate in the neighborhood, Scully yours has you working away so you can run into the field office in San Diego to do whatever lab work you need. You are to take however long you need to gather information enough to either further an investigation or make an arrest. Once you have, let the local authorities know, they will take care of the situation."

"When do we start?" Scully finally found herself again, despite her embarrassment.

"With Ms. Gonzalez cooperation, the Bureau has gone through the paperwork to appear to have bought a house in the Falls. All that is needed is for you two to have your cover story and let her know who is 'buying' the house. You two will furnish it with stores from the FBI requisition office in Los Angeles. All I ask is that you not go too overboard while playing house."

"So I don't get to have the pinball machine in the living room like I always wanted," Mulder asked innocently. Scully was not amused.

"I think you'll find the code for living at the Falls is very strict about what you can and can't take with you," Skinner smirked only slightly. "Read up on it, agents, don't piss off your neighbors. You need to make friends with them so you can understand what is going on."

Mulder groaned. Scully only sighed. What a way to break in the X-files again.

"Good luck, agents." Skinner was clearly dismissing them both now. Scully couldn't be sure but she thought she could sense laughter somewhere in Skinner's eyes as he watched them go.

"Do you think he did this to preemptively punish us," Mulder whispered as they shuffled past Arlene to the hallway.

"Why do you assume it is a punishment," Scully found herself bristling suddenly under Mulder's lack of enthusiasm. Granted, the idea of going undercover as a married couple had stunned her as well as him, but was it really a punishment?

"Scully, it isn't even an X-file. That's what they have Missing Persons for!"

"Maybe it's not, but it is a nice way to get out of town for a few days, go to San Diego." Scully was trying to find bright sides to this, but Mulder was making this very difficult. "We can peruse the requisition stores for stuff we can't possibly afford in our own apartments."

Mulder frowned down at her, clearly unimpressed with the idea of interior decorating. "Your in this for the shopping, aren't you?"

"I'm in this because of work, Mulder,' she snapped, glancing at the bullpen they had so recently left behind. "What about going undercover is so distasteful to you? It's not like you haven't done it before?"

"It's not distasteful," he grumbled, shoving hands into his pockets.

"Than what?" Scully paused to turn up wide eyes at him. Things had been so strained since Diana Fowley's unexpected visit in the office. Did he really not want to spend any more time with her than he had to, was that it? "Is the idea of being married to me, even in pretend, so distasteful?"

"No," he practically shouted, turning heads in the bullpen as his face pinked quickly. "No, Scully, that's not it, it's just…I wanted something more than just missing persons."

He wanted aliens and conspiracies. Scully sighed. "I'm sorry I can't give you that, Mulder. But I can promise you that I'll make living with me as little of a hardship for you as possible."

Her words caused him to scowl instantly. "What, Scully…this isn't about going undercover with you."

"Just going undercover in general?"


"As a married man?"

"Yes…I mean…" He frowned in discomfort. "I just don't see what the point is."

"I think the point is us solving the case," she shot back, feeling nettled for reasons she couldn't explain. "Look, it's not going to be very comfortable for either of us, might as well just grin and bear it, get it over with, and then return to the real work of alien chasing and Bigfoot sighting. Okay?"

Mulder blinked mildly at her as she turned on her heel to stalk away. "Have I done something to piss you off lately, Scully?"

She thought of Diana Fowley and bit her tongue. She could tell him, but she was tired of that argument, so very tired of it. "Nothing more than I'm usually pissed off at you about, Mulder."

Chapter Text

"I'm impressed, Mulder, you picked a place with real silverware."

Mulder snickered as the waitress led them to a table near the middle of the quietly humming restaurant. "And linen napkins, even. I never understood the purpose of keeping the napkins, it seems more hygienic to toss them don't you think?"

Scully only managed to roll her eyes as she slid into one of the seats at the table, accepting one of the menus the hostess passed to them. "I doubt they have anything deep fried or slathered in melted cheese on this menu. What are you going to do?"

"Where's the pizza," he groused lightly, eyes scanning the printed pages.

"I suppose that real food will have to suffice." She smiled easily for once, enjoying this moment of light banter with her partner. It seemed like forever since they had been comfortable in one another's presence. At least since their confrontation at The Lone Gunman office, and perhaps for months now. The prospect of not being behind a desk performing grunt, background checks had lightened both of their moods somewhat, as did the idea of going to San Diego for a while to investigate a case. At least that part lifted Scully's spirits. Mulder's on the other hand…

"So what's the occasion," she asked bluntly, settling quickly on a salad from the menu and setting it aside to watch as Mulder continued to fret over his limited food options.

"Is fish supposed to be raw," he whined, mostly just to earn a smile out of her.

"You like sushi, now pick something and answer my question."

Sighing as if her request was truly one of the onerous ones he had ever had to perform, he finally set his menu aside. "I wanted to do something nice, to make up for the way things have been the last few weeks."

"Weeks?" An eyebrow arched to the ceiling.

"Years, maybe," he conceded. "Perhaps all my life?"

"I wouldn't say you've been a jackass all your life, Mulder, but years, that I can agree with." She grinned as their server brought them iced water with lemon in it, a new standard for their usual culinary fare. They both ordered, she her salad, Mulder some pasta, and waited till the waitress left before they picked up the threads of their conversation once more.

"We can at least agree my behavior the last couple of weeks hasn't been fair to you." He looked truly apologetic now, focused as he was on the condensation on the side of his glass. "Diana…that wasn't fair to you, Scully. I wasn't fair to you. And if we are going to go under cover in close quarters, I need to at least say that out loud and not assume you get the idea."

Well, this was a first for Mulder. Scully blinked at him, shocked at his sudden initiative. "Excuse me…did you just apologize for Diana Fowley?"

His ears tinged pink as he threw himself back in his seat in mild frustration. "How in the hell could you ever believe I don't trust you? After all of this, after everything we've been through, you still doubt that I believe in you?"

Mulder had her there. His statement made her squirm ever so slightly in her seat, not liking this turn of events. "You have a funny way of showing it." Frustration warred with discomfort as she tried to toe the line of who was more right in this situation. "I used to believe that you trusted me, Mulder. But since she's been back, every time I question any little thing with you, suddenly you say I don't believe in the work. She simply agrees with you and you two are best friends again. This is a woman who left you for her own reasons without a word, reasons I suspect are suspicious. I question her. I use those instincts you have harped on me for years to listen to and suddenly I am the bad guy."

She hadn't realized how heated her words became till it occurred to her that Mulder was beginning to look slightly mutinous again. His expression narrowed as she flushed, quickly pulling her water glass to her as a way to shut herself up. "I'm sorry," she murmured before sipping from it carefully. "You were trying to apologize and I wanted to argue."

It took several hard moments for him to soften and nod quietly, scrubbing at his face as he did. "Scully…Diana is complicated. She was…she meant a lot to me at one point in time."

It stung to hear that, pulling at her tender feelings for him. "I know."

"How do you think you would react if some old love of your life showed up suddenly? What was his name, Dr. Gigolo…"

"Daniel," Scully corrected with only the slightest of smirks. "Daniel was different, Mulder."

"But you'd still think twice about it, wouldn't you?"

"Maybe," Scully replied noncommittally. "I don't know. I haven't thought about it."

"I hadn't exactly expected her to show up in my life again." Mulder twiddled a fork carefully against the tablecloth. "But she's here, Scully, and I don't like that she's coming between us."

Her heart lurched at that statement. Coming between them? Diana Fowley was already there. "I suppose then I'll keep my suspicions to myself for now."

"You don't have to do that." Mulder frowned. "Just trust me, Scully. You are angry because you say that I don't trust you, and yet you don't trust me either in this. Just believe me on this one. Please?"

Trust, that one word meant more to the two of them than any declaration of affection could. Scully hated it when he pulled that out. What could she say to it?

"All right," she agreed grudgingly. "I will trust you, but if she does anything…"

"You have my permission to interrogate her and then to kick my ass," he replied simply as the waitress swung by their table with a breadbasket. Eager for the distraction he practically leapt on it, snagging a roll from the depths of the linen cloth it was wrapped in. "Still warm…oooooh."

"You really need to eat in real restaurants more often," she snickered and felt glad for once for the distraction of food to shift their conversation. "Anyway, enough of that. How about some pre-case planning." She reached to the bag beside her and grabbed a notepad and pen, the pages already filled out with meticulous lists, all numbered and ordered. Mulder frowned at it as he munched on half of a roll, buttering the other half generously as Scully reviewed her handiwork.

"That looks suspiciously like lists."

"It is," she replied succinctly. "Lists of things we need for this case."

"Don't we just need the usual?" He shrugged, popping the other half of his roll into his mouth. Scully's eyebrow was tugging up again.

"What part of undercover did you miss in that conversation with Skinner?"

"I got the general gist, you, me, married, put some stuff in a house, play the creepy neighbor snooping in their trash."

"Yeah, well the 'stuff' that goes into our house is what I'm making lists of." Mulder, like most of the male species in America, had no concept of anything remotely resembling interior decorating. "We need furniture, at least enough to keep up appearances, kitchenware, a couple of beds.."

"A couple? I thought this whole thing was supposed to be deep undercover, Scully, you, me, married. Shouldn't we being doing this right?" His dark eyebrows waggled over a suggestive smile. If Scully's heart hadn't skipped a beat at the fleeting image that his words conjured she would have sent the toe of her shoe at his shin. Instead she only managed a patient smile, her throat becoming amazingly dry.

"You wish." Scully tried to smirk, though it came out more as a croak. She frantically reached for her water glass.

Mulder hardly noticed as he grabbed her notepad from the place setting in front of her. His eyes scanned her loopy writing. "A bloodstain kit? Is that hot in Martha Stewart's spring line?"

"We'll need it to check the house out," Scully replied, glad to be on even footing once again. "The house we have is the one the last couple disappeared from."

"Think there will be any residue left?"

"Well if there is something nefarious going on there could have been professionals involved in the clean up. The mob, hired hit men, if they know what they are doing, they can clean up a scene well, but there are always traces."

"I love it when you talk forensics," Mulder mumbled, flipping through the pages. He paused, frowning as he scanned one of them. "Clothes? Why do we need those for?"

That was a fight Scully had hoped they could put off till after he was done paying for lunch. "Clothes, Mulder, ones different than the ones you and I normally wear."

"What's wrong with these?" He glanced down at his horrendous tie a in blatant confusion.

"Mulder, you grew up on the Vineyard, yuppie central. Did you not notice how people dressed?"

Realization slammed into him as he blinked at her. "I don't have to dress like an asshole, do I?"

"Izod is calling your name."

"God, help me," he uttered, tossing the lists back to her. "Really, why can't I wear jeans?"

"No one in the Falls would be caught dead wearing Levis in public. These are people who can afford gardeners to keep immaculate yards for them, ones they never use."

"Really? Don't they have do things like shoot hoops in this place?"

"Maybe play tennis?" Scully watched the growing horror set in as Mulder finally realized what he was getting into.

"Don't tell me they have white wine spritzers at the 4th of July barbecue?"

"Course they do, that's what the country club is for."

"I'm going to kill myself," he sighed as Scully snickered. Mulder was perhaps not ready for the Falls at Arcadia and she doubted this neighborhood would be ready for him either.

"Relax," she admonished as he consoled himself with another roll. "It won't be so bad."

"Is there an SUV involved in this plan?"

Scully shifted guiltily as she found herself becoming fascinated with her salad fork.

It was perhaps a blessing that the food arrived then. Mulder at least had his pasta to attack with a vengeance, while Scully demurely picked at her salad and tried to find a way to somehow make this better for her partner. "Maybe we can get you a basketball hoop for the driveway?"

This seemed to mollify him somewhat. "It might prevent me from whipping out my weapon on people."

"Good," she smiled, relaxing finally as she returned to her food. She had suspected the minute that Skinner had suggested this case that Mulder would be difficult. In the best of situations Mulder normally hated fitting in, but a place like the Falls would be torture on him. It was an added complication to the already sticky circumstance of moving in together as an undercover husband and wife.

That thought turned in her stomach as she found it suddenly hard to swallow. Living with Mulder, everyday, for however long it took to solve this case. While it should be a thought that exhilarated her, in reality it vaguely terrified her. Despite weeks together in quarantine and hundreds of hotels living in each other's pockets, Scully had never had to live in real, life circumstances with Mulder. She had never had to put up with the vagaries of his bachelor life, the perpetual unsettledness that seemed to follow Mulder wherever he went. She had been able to stand back from the running shoes left on the floor, the porn magazines collecting in the corner, the pile of take out cartons littering his coffee table. Now she would have to deal with all of those things, not to mention having to do so with the mass of confused and conflicting emotions she had regarding him. She simply hoped they would come through this experience with their partnership still in tact.

"You know," Mulder drawled as he finished up the last bites of his pasta carefully. "There is one thing you did leave off your list."

"What?" Scully looked up at him as he carefully set aside his napkin. Her mind raced as she tried to think of all the possible things she might have overlooked.

He smiled mysteriously as he leaned back to dig inside one of his pockets, fishing inside for several long seconds. He carefully produced something within his fist, and held his arm out to the middle of the table. "Can't be a proper bride, Scully, without the proper accoutrements."

In between their two plates now sat a single, black velvet box. Scully's lungs stopped working for several seconds, collapsing painfully in her chest. Her wide eyes simply stared at it for long moments as she tried to decide whether this was some sort of cosmic joke.

"What do you want me to do, get down on one knee?" Mulder obviously found the situation funnier than she did. She glanced up at him, trying to swallow around the lump in her throat as she reached for the case in front of her. With fingers shaking far more than she liked she flipped it open to look at the ring inside.

"It's…very big," she managed as she studied the platinum and giant mountain of a diamond inside. "It's…expensive?"

"Enough that I had to fill out three different forms with the Bureau just to get it requisitioned. Used to belong to some wife of a drug lord and I figured it was about your size."

Scully slipped the ring and its matching wedding band out, studying them both briefly. "It's a bit loud for my tastes."

"Well I had to remember that your tastes weren't those of Laura, yuppie wife extraordinaire."

"Laura?" She worked the bands over her left ring finger, guiding them over the knuckle. The ring was slightly loose, but not enough to fly off her hand.

"Well, that will be your name, right? You had me pick out names for us. I filed them in the paperwork this morning."

"So I'm Laura?" Scully nodded, trying to roll the name around her head and see if it fit. It didn't really. Laura sounded like too wholesome of a name for her. "So what's your name?"

"Rob," he replied, a broad, childish grin breaking across his face. "We are Rob and Laura Petrie." He drew out the middle vowel to make it sound like the sort of dish she used in her lab. The pop culture reference wasn't lost on Scully, however, and it made her nose wrinkle as she sounded it out.

"Petrie?" She pronounced the name properly this time. "Like the old, television show? The Dick Van Dyke show?"

"Yeah, well perhaps I caught an old episode on the air." He seemed thrilled with this idea.

"Mulder, people will know in a heartbeat we are faking this!"

"What, your rather I go by Fox Mulder? Then they really will think we are faking."

He had half a point. "Please tell me this isn't because you had a thing for Mary Tyler Moore."

"Those 1960's era hot pants did something to my young libido."

Perhaps that would explain Mulder's taste in women. "You should have asked me about this before you submitted the paperwork."

"Well, you were busy making lists and being Betty Crocker. At least I got to pick a name and a ring." He waved to the item glittering on her finger. "What do you think?"

"I think Laura would like it." She laughed, studying the glitter of the gem in the restaurant lighting. "I suppose I always saw myself with a slightly more subdued ring, if I ever got one."

"If you get one, what? Giving up on the chance of scoring some handsome prince to give you one of those bad boys?"

This was the last sort of conversation she wanted to have with him. "No, just my priorities have changed." She waggled her ring finger up at him. "It won't be the end of my world if I don't get a ring on my finger."

"I don't know, Scully, I wouldn't give up hope just yet." Mulder's amusement softened. "You're a perfect woman, and you deserve someone perfect for you, a perfect life, with your diamond rings and Izod wearing yuppie, husband. So we can pretend for a few weeks that you have your dream life."

"You think my dream life is to be married to a man who likes to wear pastels and buys me a rock I can cut myself with?"

"Well that and picks up his socks and doesn't leave his work out clothes in the bathroom."

"You do that and I won't requisition a bed for you. You'll sleep on the couch."

"It's what I'm used to anyway," he shrugged. He at least looked less trepidatious about this adventure than when Skinner first suggested it. Perhaps living with Mulder for a few weeks wouldn't prove to be as frightening as Scully feared.

There was one thing she did want to ask him though and she knew he wasn't going to like it.

"So," she hedged, pushing her plate away from her. "I did want to ask a small favor of you?"

Mulder was far too smart to ignore the hesitancy in her voice. Already, he looked wary, as if she were asking him to stick his head in the lion's mouth…which she sort of was. "What?"

"I was wondering if I couldn't stop by and visit Bill, Tara, and Matthew while I was out there?"

He acted as if he had just demanded he gut himself on the table in front of her. "Scully!"

"What! I'm in town, I would like to see them!"

"You saw them at Christmas!"

"Two months ago," she shot back as his full lips set into a firm pout. "Please, it's my older brother, and I don't see him that often."

She knew what it meant, putting Mulder and Bill in the same room together. It was rather like sitting in the middle of the perfect storm. Though they proved they could be cordial, Scully knew that at any point in time the situation could change. It was a gamble, but after the last few weeks he owed her at least one small visit.

"Please," she offered simply, perhaps resorting to batting large, soulful eyes at him.

"Are you seriously giving me a begging look?"

"Maybe," she repeated the action shamelessly. "Is it working?"

If the sigh of exasperation he unleashed was any sign, yes. "Why in the world did I ever agree to be married to you?"

"I don't think you agreed, I think you were ordered."

"Right." He threw up his hands. "I suppose that married life comes with dealing with the in-laws?"

"It won't be so bad," she assured him as the waitress came to gather their plates. "What's just one meal with my brother?"

"Depends on how badly he takes the idea of me being married to his kid sister."

Mulder did have a point there. Though Scully would love to see the look on Bill's face if they did tell him. "Maybe we will leave off that part."

Chapter Text

"So this is how the beautiful people live?" Mulder polished off the last of his beer sitting at the enormous, glossy dining room table covered in case notes, photographs, police records, and one large, Styrofoam container of carne asada fries, nearly demolished between them. "So who knew that if you put marinated skirt steak, salsa, cheese, sour cream, and guacamole on French fries you would have culinary heaven?"

"It's a San Diego specialty, I had them when I was a kid. I won't tell you how many calories are in them, though." Scully tipped back her own bottle of beer, swallowing as she pushed back her paper plate. It wasn't the normal fair that someone dressed in a neat sweater set would find themselves eating. "Not particularly posh, but I thought it was something you'd appreciate."

"Don't tell the neighbors, they might be scandalized were slumming it." Mulder wrinkled a nose under his reading glasses in the general direction of the next house over and reached for a stack of notes. "Besides, I can go for a run later to work off the fries since they won't let me put the hoop up in the driveway."

"What is up with that, anyway?" At the far end of the table sat the homeowners' association guide, a fat tome that looked as if it could double as a lethal weapon in the hands of the right person. Scully rose to reach around for it, pulling it across the papers and photographs. "Seriously, you have to follow a bunch of rules just living here?"

"Every community has their own codes, zoning laws, city restrictions, neighborhood guidelines."

"Yeah, but do they write a Bible just to tell you how you should keep your house in a way that doesn't offend the neighbors?" She flipped through the first pages, glancing at some of the various rules. "Seriously, they have a whole list of approved paint colors and brands for the exterior of your house."

"And here I was hoping we could redo the outside purple," Mulder lamented, leaning back in his chair to pat his now very full stomach under his ridiculous, pink polo shirt.

"Oh and listen to this! We are not allowed to have any unauthorized signs, decorations, or lawn ornaments in the front yard. Do they expect us to put out pink flamingos?"

"What can I say, Scully, the neighborhood is filled with picky people."

"Weird people." Scully sniffed, flipping pages. "Didn't you think it was strange how they all were so very…helpful?"

"Creepily so." Mulder nodded as he flipped pages. "Almost as if they felt they needed to be or were afraid of something."

"Afraid of what around here? The paint police? Seriously, they have height requirements on your rose bushes."

"Did you notice that though, Scully?" Mulder set down his notes briefly, frowning across the table at her. "I've moved many times in my life, but never once have I ever seen neighbors just spontaneously create a moving line just to get a family's stuff into a house."

"Maybe in one of those small towns you are always dragging me to, but in the real world, no." It was a sad but true statement about modern life in America, especially in a place like the Falls of Arcadia. "This is the sort of neighborhood where I wouldn't expect to see me neighbors unless I had to."

"Everyone seems to be comfortably in everyone else's business. Win next door was eager to get to know who we were right off the bat."

"And Big Mike, hauling over a box of dishes like that?" Scully shook her head, reaching for her beer. She finished off the bottle as she considered the man from across the street. "Does it make me cold and cynical to think that my neighbor's friendliness is strange?"

"No, considering that you've had liver eating mutants and shape-changing gigolos make their way into your home."

"Good point," she sighed, considering the mess in front of them. "Well, I will go in the morning to take our sample to the labs into the San Diego PD for some testing. Think it will be safe leaving you here for the day while I run our errand."

"I can unpack boxes, I suppose, watch the neighbors, you know, be as nosey as possible."

"Just not too nosey, don't make them suspicious of us the first day of." She yawned, glancing at her watch. It wasn't late by San Diego standards, but she was still running on East Coast time. DC was three hours ahead of Southern California, and already for the two of them it had been a long day. "So who gets to claim the nice, comfy master bedroom?"

"You," Mulder replied, looking up from what he was reading and removing his glasses. "I think I'll be up a while going through this."

Mulder and his perpetual insomnia. "Right, well come up and get your stuff then, I'm heading to bed."

Neither of them had dared to correct the neighbors as they had so helpfully brought things into the house. To do otherwise would have been a dead giveaway. So on silent, mutual agreement they had decided to leave their personal items in the master bedroom and bath, if nothing else to keep up pretenses for anyone who happened to take a peek around the house and wonder what was going on with the Petries next door.

"Think you'll be alright on the twin bed, then?" Scully flipped on the light switch upstairs, feeling somewhat guilty as she glanced at the large, queen bed in the center of the room. Mulder's long body would fit so much better on this bed than the twin, which would suit Scully's height better. A evil voice inside of her head whispered that she could very easily just invite him to stay in that bed with her, allow him to stretch out his legs, as well as keep up pretenses. All in the name of practicality after all…

"I'll be fine." He reached for one of the pillows and a blanket off the bed. "Mind if I brush my teeth first?"

"Go for it!" Scully waved him towards the bathroom, busying herself with digging through the boxes to find his personal suitcase underneath them all. It was so strange, having him there with her, doing domestic things like searching for laundry, brushing teeth, preparing for bed. Her thoughts strayed to her partner in the bathroom. So far, so good. They hadn't had time to really be around each other's presence in intimate ways. He had yet to leave his dirty clothing on the bathroom floor, she had yet to wander around in her pajamas. Perhaps co-habitating with Mulder wouldn't be the end of the world.

"Don't tell me you are doing the wifely thing of getting my jammies out for me?" Mulder's voice over her shoulder made her jump, nearly dropping his case on her foot.

"No," she snapped in irritation, her face flaming red as she found herself suddenly flustered. "Just finding your luggage in this mess."

"Thanks," he murmured, reaching for the bag in her hand, fingers brushing hers ever so lightly. Her heart leapt as she took in the scent of mint toothpaste, her vanilla lavender hand soap and the smell that was so distinctively and comfortably Mulder.

Perhaps living with him was dangerous after all.

"So," he rumbled somewhere just above her ear. "I'm just down the hall if you need anything?"

"Anything?" She turned to look up at him, trying to pull off calm, cool, and collected and praying she wasn't failing miserably.

"Well, you know, strange new house, middle of the night…I'll be awake." There was something wicked in his green eyes as he shrugged airily.

"To do what, come pester me when I should be sleeping?"

"I don't know, could come keep you company. Set up the television in here and watch a movie. Spoon up like little, baby cats…"

"Like what?" The imagery itself boggled her mind.

"You know, a fluffy pile of cute, cuddly…"

And like that the moment was gone, Mulder's explanation doing nothing to help him out in the situation. "Off to bed with you. I'll be fine."

He indeed looked disappointed, but headed for the door. "The offer still stands, Scully, if you get lonely in the night."

"I'll keep that in mind," she murmured dryly as she followed behind, closing the door behind his retreating figure. "Sleep well, Mulder."

"Night, Scully."

Only when she was sure the door was closed tightly between them did she let her guard down, wrapping her arms around her dreadful sweater set. Sweet Jesus, she muttered, breathing deeply, her face aflame as she sank to the floor. If this was what Mulder was like on just one evening, what would she do with him for the next several weeks? And worse, how would this neighborhood cope with the likes of him traipsing across every line that was sacred? She wasn't so sure she personally could fend him off, let alone the unsuspecting residents of The Falls at Arcadia.

This was going to be a long, undercover assignment.

Chapter Text

Clearly, Mulder didn't need to be sleeping in the same room with Scully to have a devastating effect on her rest pattern. Of course, her logical mind tried to reason, it could really just be the effects of sleeping in a strange bed, in a strange place, but then again how many houses had she lived in as a kid, how many seedy hotels had Mulder drug her to over the years? Staying in one, very nice house in a quiet neighborhood shouldn't keep her up all night. Perhaps it was the coffee at dinner. Cami Schroeder did make an excellent brew and Scully had helped herself to two cups of it before wandering back to their shared house with Mulder. Yet coffee practically ran through her veins, long years of med school and internships had inured her to the effects of caffeine on the system. Even now, she knew her jagged nerves had nothing to do with the Arabica beans that Cami had ground personally while showing off her fancy kitchen to Scully.

No, she had a feeling she knew the exact cause of the itchiness that seemed to spread under her skin as she flopped around on the suddenly too large bed, and he was right down the hall, snoring softly in the spare bedroom, for once asleep before she was and heedless of the havoc he was wreaking on her personal peace of mind. Typical, she scowled, staring up at the cottage cheese like ceiling above. Her thoughts twisted and meandered back through their dinner with the Schroeders. Pleasant enough couple, if more than a bit strange. They seemed to be too nice. There was an edge to their cheerfulness and eagerness. Win had said he was an investor, Cami stayed in their immaculate home. What did she do all day there, Scully wondered, trying to imagine the perfectly, put-together woman scrubbing her Italian kitchen tile with a toothbrush and rubber gloves and failing miserably. No children between the two of them, something that Scully found infinitely sad, only the poor and almost unfortunate dog, Scruffy, who nearly disappeared down a storm drain. Scully winced and tried not to think of her long departed and dearly missed dog, Queequeg.

More unsettling than even the Schroeders, middle-class, antiseptic behavior, however, had been Mulder's "we're married now" persona. All through dinner they had kept up the pretense of being happily wed, casting sickeningly sweet, fond looks towards one another, cooing and fawning in a way that had made Scully's eyeteeth hurt. Worse still had been the way his fingers laced into hers so intimately, a gesture that wasn't foreign to them at all. But the constancy of it throughout dinner, the way his thumb had rubbed ever so gently across her knuckles, making her heart race and her cheeks flush. Thank God for the wine, the perfect excuse, though Scully could still swear she could feel the burn on his fingers against her palm. She frowned at it faintly in the dim light from outside, rubbing a finger against the smooth skin.

This contact was starting to unnerve her and Scully didn't like it. She punched at her pillow fretfully as she shifted yet again, curling her body against her annoyance. It wasn't as if she and Mulder weren't ever in physical contact with one another. From the start of their partnership he had always found an excuse to be in her personal space, fingers cupping her elbow as he led her away from a scene, or more consistently a hand at the small of her back. She had become so used to the latter that she hardly noticed anymore when his long fingers splayed across her spine, guiding her around wherever they were walking. It seemed second nature to Scully for Mulder to hold her hand when she was sad or upset, to wipe at an errant tear that had escaped, to occasionally brush his lips across her forehead just for comfort.

Then there was the hazy image of last summer, just outside of his apartment, with desperate words said, and his full, soft lips coming ever so close to brushing hers….no! Scully squeezed her eyes hard against that thought, shaking her head. Whatever that moment was, whatever it meant to Mulder, it was obviously lost now in the months since the bee sting and Antarctica, especially as Diana Fowley's presence returned, full force to Mulder's life. He had not mentioned it since their return last summer and Scully thought that perhaps, given the changes with Diana, he rather wanted to forget that it had happened at all.

If only Scully could forget, she groused, as she snuggled deeper into the pillows, considering the teasing looks and the suggestive turns of phrase, the wicked way his mouth turned up as he lay on her bed, patting the mattress with a waggle of a dark eyebrow. She had felt her heart leap despite herself, though many years of long practice with Mulder and his suggestive comments had inured her to his particular brand of playful banter. Mulder had always turned to his twelve-year-old sense of humor in tense or uncomfortable situations and what could be more uncomfortable than living24/7 with your female partner, one who was complaining about toilet seats and toothpaste, and wandering around with a mud mask, the height of domesticity, the bane of confirmed bachelors everywhere. Scully had no more taken him seriously than she had when he had mumbled, "I love you" in a drug induced state.

The truth was, Mulder was a notorious flirt, a man who could ooze charm and attraction to females like few men she knew. Pity, she had only seen him use his powers to sleep his way through the Washington power-players secretarial pool. That had been, of course, in the years just after Diana Fowley had left him. But still, she knew first hand that Mulder could be devastatingly persuasive if he wanted to be. Not once in six years had he ever tried to be anything but respectful to Scully. She knew that his comments and come-ons, his turns of phrase and suggestive jokes were nothing more than Mulder thinking himself funny, a way to deflect something he was uncomfortable with. They were never serious attempts to get her into bed with him. And for all the attraction that Scully felt towards Mulder - if the disastrous night with Eddie Van Blundht hadn't been embarrassing enough - she knew that he didn't feel the same way about her.

And therein lay the problem.

Long past was the time when their partnership was strictly just that, an equal relationship between two co-workers. Even before Duane Berry had kidnapped her they had become friends, she determined to further his work despite the efforts of the powers that be to separate them. After her abduction things had shifted rapidly, from respected co-workers and fellow soldiers in this endless war they seemed to find themselves in, to best friends, so close they lived in one another's pockets. And then had come her illness. Scully had thought she was dying, so had Mulder, and suddenly the thought of loosing this man she had come to respect so much had brought to the fore all the tender feelings that she had so long ignored, the secret longings that she had tried to hide. Even after her recovery it had taken her months to sort through those feelings, to put a name and a label on them. Love…she loved Fox Mulder.

No sooner had that realization hit her full force, than Diana Fowley made her appearance and everything changed. Before Scully could even come to terms with what it meant for her to be in love with her partner, she was faced with the double psychological slaps of the loss of the X-files and the discovery of just who Diana was to Mulder and what her involvement was in everything swirling around them. Suddenly, she was twisted about, lost as to how to react. Her purpose for staying with the FBI came into question as she rapidly saw the man she cared for so much turning not to her, but to his old flame. Scully had to ask herself if it was worth the pain and the effort to stay in the FBI, even for him. That was why she almost left him last summer. She had stayed because she had found some slim hope that perhaps, just maybe, despite everything they could still find justice, for herself, for him, for both of their families.

But as for her those tender feelings, that love she felt, that she had come to slowly realize was something that perhaps she had best just keep to herself. She loved him still, yes, and she believed in him, but after the events of El Rico, the way he turned to Diana implicitly, Scully knew without a shadow of a doubt that whatever she felt for her partner, it wasn't returned to her in kind. Mulder cared about her, obviously, else he wouldn't try so hard to save her when she was in danger. He respected her as his partner, yes; he wouldn't have begged her to stay if he didn't, even if he now had taken to doubting her methods. Mulder saw her as an integral part of his work, the scientist who kept him honest, who kept his feet to the ground. He cared for her, he valued her, but love? That he didn't do. Well, perhaps under the influence of drugs and a nasty concussion after a night on a ghost ship, but not in real life.

Even with that knowledge in hand, however, she couldn't help but feel her palm burn with the memory of his fingers in it, nor could she ignore the shiver that ran up her spine as his arm brushed against the skin of her neck as he reached around to wrap it around her shoulders. Her body betrayed her analytical thoughts, reacting to his presence around her as if she were a teenager again, and all those long, unspoken and ignored desires rushed to the fore. When they were in their normal world, living apart, she could easily label them, compartmentalize them, and explain them away. But with him lying, sweaty from his run across her bed….

She groaned as she turned her face into her pillow, still smelling him in the linen as she breathed. This was torture, plain and simple,and it was hardly fair. Damn Skinner for putting them on this case, damn the Schroeder's for having that dinner tonight, and damn Mulder for making her sound like some New Age whack job like him, and then having the audacity to come into her sleeping space and lay all over it, making it smell of him. As if he hadn't done that hundreds of times before in how many hotels, trailing paperwork and sunflower seeds, and never had it bothered her as much then as it did now.

Of course then she hadn't realized that she was as much in love with him as she was now. Damn, damn, damn….

Chapter Text

Scully didn't even have a chance to resist as her manic neighbor shoved her into the nearest space the large, walk-in closet that was in the master bedroom. Despite her protests, the bigger Mike manhandled her easily, slamming the slatted doors shut on her, blocking them with one of the large, oak dressers she had requisitioned for the house. She knew exactly how big they were and knew her petite build was not going to budge it, not with the bulk of Mike on the other side. Before she could scream a protest, gunshots rang in her ears, hardly muffled by the barricade she stood behind. Fear rose hot and burning in Scully's throat, silencing her tongue as her breath caught in her chest. The ringing had hardly faded when it was soon followed by the breaking of wood, a sickening cracking and popping, as whatever that had been trying to break into the room finally succeeded. Mike barely screamed, his voice raw with terror as through the slats of the closet doors Scully could see something overpower him. Eyes wide, she scrambled from the doors as they shook and shivered with the struggle outside, Mike's shouts turning from frightened to agonized. Scully wanted to stop her ears to the sound, as outside of the slats something slapped wetly against the door. Heart in her throat, she squeezed her eyes shut, crouching in the corner as Mike's screams died suddenly,

The deathly silence that followed was punctuated by the faint dripping of something liquid from the closet slats onto the dresser that blocked the door. Trembling, Scully opened one eye cautiously as a shadow of something moved across the door. Manicured nails bit into flesh as she waited for whatever it was to shove aside the one impediment between herself and it, to tear open the dripping doors and find her huddled there amongst her pile of shoes.

She waited….and waited….

And then the shadow moved, trailed by the heavy steps muffled by the thick carpet. The scent of earth and decay mixed with the coppery tang of blood wafted through the door. She stayed painfully still, teeth dug deep into her bottom lip as she bit back the desire to sob. She refused to even tremble as the stumping sound moved down the stairs and out the front door. Still, Scully remained, ears stretching to pick up any hint of a return. She lost track of how long she sat in the corner under her neat line of sweater sets and skirts hanging above her. Seconds, perhaps, minutes. She had half hoped that Mulder's voice would ring through the house, calling frantically for her, perhaps having seen whatever it was that had broken in and feared for Scully's well being. But he had yet to return and the thought arose that whatever it was perhaps got to Mulder as well. No, he was across the street still, perhaps he hadn't noticed yet, and was confronting Gene Gogolak instead. She prayed fervently that was what he was doing, at least.

It was her aching knees that finally forced Scully out of her hiding place, legs stiffening against the close, cramped quarters. Her calves protested as she fell forward on trembling fingers, trying to force her feet to find purchase in the heels she wore. Stiffly she rose, reaching for the doors in front of her, trying to ignore the dark rivulets that were now seeping through the slats. She didn't need light to know it was blood. Swallowing in a mouth suddenly cotton dry, she pushed experimentally against the doorknobs. They were latched on the outside, but gave before they met the back of the oak dresser. Perhaps, if she could put her shoulder into it, she could budge the heavy piece of furniture. She wasn't particularly large enough to use her sheer weight, but if she had the right leverage, she might be able to manage it. Kicking off her impractical shoes, she heaved her shoulder into the crack between the two doors, ignoring the running gore that threatened to mar her perfect clothing. Her slight shoulder pressed the doors outward the inch into the dresser, but her nylon covered toes slipped against the acrylic fibers of the carpeting. Even digging the balls of her feet into the floor did her no good as she pressed her full weight into the door and furniture. She was well and truly stuck.

Damn it all.

"Mike," she called tentatively into the room. Perhaps, she half-hoped, he was merely injured, stunned, knocked out on the carpet and unable to respond at the moment. The growing, acrid smell of waste and death just beyond the door mocked her, but she called his name again, just to be sure. Silence. She ran nervous fingers through her hair, her toes searching for her shoes again in the darkness of the closet floor. Poor Mike, she mourned quietly. She had hardly known the man, only that he was a veterinarian and clumsy, having dropped her bloodstaining kit. He'd at least been kind enough to bring her extra dishes, and he saved her life when the creature had entered the house. He had died a hero at least.

Scully hugged herself as she considered those last, frantic moments. She had believed Mike missing, like the other couples on this case, but there he stood, covered in muck and grime, as if he had been crawling through the oozing storm drains beneath the housing development. She had thought him mad, but he had desperately tried to save her, barricading her in this room. Whatever it was that he was trying to save her from, it frightened him, and perhaps that was what was frightening all of the residence of the Falls of Arcadia. He had called it…ubermenscher. Scully's German was rusty, she admitted that, but she couldn't recall a word exactly like that, but broken into parts it seemed to mean "super man". Immediately it brought to mind a man with a cape in blue tights, but no comic book hero she knew of would do what she feared had happened to Mike. What did he mean by "super man"? And what about it had been so frightful that he couldn't spit out to her what it was.

"Hello," she called, raising the flat of her hand to bang against the solid frame of the closet doors. "Is there anyone out there?"

To her reward she could hear the sound of shuffling and broken wood clattering against tile downstairs. Someone was there, and she prayed it wasn't whatever had come to attack her.

"Scully?" Mulder's voice was sharp and frightened down below. Scully almost melted with relief.

"Up here," she called, unsure as to whether or not he could even hear her. He clearly didn't as he called her name again, sounding even more alarmed. She could hear his cautious steps come up the stairs and she half-feared the condition that the bedroom was in and what was going through her partner's mind.

"Scully," he called again, just outside of the bedroom door.

"Mulder," she called back, pounding on the door to let him know she was there. Through the slats she could see him peek inside, and then quickly move to shift the heavy dresser slightly, struggling with it enough to gain her a few inches. It wasn't enough to open the doors, but it was enough to give him purchase to break in several of the slats. They cracked under a single blow, and Scully began pushing them out from her side, finally allowing her freedom from her small prison.

"Mulder," she gasped, as he began ripping away chunks of the flimsy wood. "It was here, it attacked Big Mike. Is he alive?"

She barely had time to register the grim, sad look in his eyes before a scream sounded from outside.

"Mulder?" Her face paled as realization dawned on him. Turning without a word, he bounded out of the room, towards the stairs, his footsteps clattering as Scully stood stock-still, listening. Outside the screams and cries of someone in agony sounded and then stilled.

And Mulder had run into danger…again.

Frantic, she pulled at the last slats in her way, tossing them aside into the closet as she finally inched herself out of her confinement. Wood fibers grabbed at her clothes, but she stumbled out, narrowly missing the blackish looking pool at her feet. She gasped, jumping away from it, knowing it was blood. Her gaze followed the pool around the room, to the sight in front of her. Blood splattered the entirety of the area she stood in, the walls, the floor, the ceiling, even the bed that she had been sleeping in. Body parts and organs lay tumbled about carelessly on the once white carpet, and the crumpled heap at the foot of the bed perhaps at one point in time could have been Big Mike. It looked really like nothing more than a broken sack of bone and tissue.

Wordlessly, Scully turned, running for the door and down the stairs, hopeful at the fact that she hadn't heard Mulder screaming in pain yet. She reached the bottom, skidding on tile as she ran out the front door, only to stop in the darkness, staring at her partner toeing a patch of dirt fearfully. Beyond him, Gene Gogolak lay still and bloody in the mud.

"Mulder," Scully called, half afraid that whatever it was that caused this destruction was about to climb out from the shadows and attack them both. He turned to her with a ragged expression, making sure she was in one piece before waving haphazardly towards the body of the homeowners' association president.

"Call an ambulance, Scully, though I don't think it will do any good." His voice was grim as he eyed the unfortunate man still handcuffed to the mailbox. "Call SDPD too, while you're at it. Get them out here. They'll want to be involved in this."

Scully pulled her cell phone out of her pocket, numb as she nodded, wondering where to begin even explaining this to the local authorities. "Mulder, what do I tell them? That we got their suspect?"

"Yeah and he's dead." He rumbled, slowly crossing the muddy mess towards where Gogolak lay.

"What killed him," she asked, trying to make sense of the last half hour, of the carnage she saw upstairs, and the body laying so still in their front yard.

"Conformity," Mulder replied as he kneeled over the man.

Scully blinked quietly at him, knowing she wasn't going to get a better answer out of her partner at the moment. "I'll just get them out here for now."

Cool desert winds gusted softly around them as Scully dialed, her voice ringing with authority she didn't quite feel at the moment. "Hello, this is Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI, I need officers out to 450 Autumn Terrace. No, not just a forensic team, several units and the detectives in charge of the Falls of Arcadia case. Right, and a coroner team out here now…no, just the coroner."

Even as she spoke, she noticed that no one in any of the neighboring houses came out to see the commotion or excitement. Their doors remained shut, their windows closed. Even when, moments later, several squad cars came screaming up, no one dared to glance outside to see what was happening. Perhaps all of them already knew.

Chapter Text

The boxes were re-packed, not that they had really had a chance to empty everything in the first place. The long, shiny dining room table was covered over once again in bubble wrap. The unused dishes were carefully stacked in special boxes and taped shut. Everything that they had come into their borrowed house with was loaded into a U-Haul truck in an hour, longer than it had taken to get it in the house, but still considerably less time than Scully had expected. The only thing left behind was the large bed she had been sleeping in. It was now evidence for the San Diego police department.

She sighed, rubbing her arm under her own clothes again. It felt good to be "Scully" once more and not "Laura" with her preppy clothes and her perfectly, made up manners. Laura Petrie had never quite fit her, not her made up wealth, her perfect home, or even the rock on her finger. Scully gazed at the rather embarrassingly large stone still sitting on the fourth finger of her left hand.

"Better not contemplate pocketing that, it comes out of my paycheck." Mulder nudged her as he came up beside her, watching as the FBI team worked to move their temporary belongings back to their permanent storage place in West Los Angeles.

"I'm not," she assured him, flipping the bands around her finger. "It's far too impractical for the likes of me. Imagine me trying to wear this while performing an autopsy?"

"I can imagine that conversation when you do have to shop for a ring for real someday." Mulder ruefully shook his head, reaching for her hand to study the gemstone in the bright, Southern California sun. He pitched his voice up an octave as he attempted, poorly, to mimic her. "Yes, I'd like something not so big that it gets caught in between the second and third rib as I crack them open to study the patients lungs, but something that is sparkling enough to glitter under the latex in the florescent light of my autopsy lab."

Her free, right hand swung back to slap him in the stomach, earning a grunt and a chuckle. "Remember, you still owe me a visit to my brother's. Watch it."

"Yeah, that." He sighed and rolled his eyes dramatically, shoving hands into his jean pockets. God was she glad to see him in a pair of Levi's again and out of those atrocious khakis. She eyed his long, lean legs appreciatively and sighed. He looked much better as a beer swilling, pizza eating, basketball playing Mulder than as yuppie, cheesy Rob Petrie.

"I'll be glad to get out of here," she murmured, watching the television as it was carried out of the front door. Her skin itched with longing to get away from this place.

"I don't know," Mulder shrugged, glancing around the quickly emptying house. "I think I'll kind of miss it."

That was perhaps the last statement Scully would have expected to come from her partner of all people. She turned wide eyes to him as his ears turned faintly pink and he became rather intrigued by a random lint bunny on the cream colored carpet.

"Mulder, you hate this life," she uttered, wondering where in the world that statement had come from. "When we got this assignment, you balked at it."

"I balked because it wasn't an X-file."

"No, you balked because it screamed Izod wearing, white wine drinking, yuppie, domestic lifestyle." He couldn't lie to her on this one. "I had to con you into this by promising you a basketball hoop."

"Which I didn't get to use much, by the way."

She ignored his point and continued. "This life is the antithesis of everything you are, Mulder. This isn't the life of an alien chasing, conspiracy loving, FBI agent. You saw what the neighbors did with Gogolak dead on the front lawn. Not a one of them came to see what was wrong and when police confronted everyone they blamed it all on him. These are people who don't want to see the monsters in their neighborhoods or the demons in their sewers. You actively go and chase them down."

He scratched at the back of his neck fretfully. He knew she was right, the idea of suburbia, of a house and home with a mortgage and a front yard seemed to fit Mulder as well as his pink, Izod shirt did. And still, he looked wistful as his fists dug deeper into his denim pockets.

"I'm not saying you aren't right, Scully, but…I don't know. There's a part of me that wants it, I guess." He looked nearly embarrassed admitting that. "You know, I saw my life being very different by this time in my life. I thought I'd be married by now, have kids, a dog, and would be coaching little league games. It's that part of me that wishes every once in a while things could just be…you know, simpler, different."

Mulder might as well have told her that he himself was an alien for all the shock that his statement caused her. Scully blinked at him, frowning as he looked as if he regretted saying anything to her about it. Did he really secretly long for that? Somewhere, in the complexity of Mulder's tragic soul, did he really wish he had the boring, everyday life everyone else did, filled with bills and mowing the lawn, without a whisper of aliens or psychic phenomenon? Her mind raced as she tried to figure out what to say to that. Was this always something about Mulder, or was this something recently unearthed in him? Perhaps by Diana Fowley and her re-emergence? Was this the sort of life he had once hoped to have with her?

"I don't know, Mulder," Scully breathed finally in the face of his discomfort. "I would never have imagined it out of you."

"Yeah, well I'm more complex than you think, Scully." He seemed vaguely pleased that after all these years he could still surprise her. "I don't know if those things will ever happen. Frankly, I sort of doubt it. I never really saw myself settling down again, or having kids, not after Diana left me. I think we can all agree my narcissistic nature and self-absorption would make me a horrible family man."

Scully was vaguely surprised at his blatant honestly as he continued quietly. "I don't see myself having a life and family to carry my legacy on, but that doesn't mean that a part of me doesn't wish that I could. I had those hopes and dreams once myself, just like everyone else did."

His words were matter-of-fact, but the horrible sadness stung Scully, and for the first time in years she saw the old loneliness that used to cling to Mulder, the aching pain of a man who felt that the pleasure of company that others in life got to have were not ever meant for him. Despite her frustration with him of late, Scully founder her heart ache for him as she reached for his forearm, squeezing it comfortingly, the only physical contact she'd allow with other agents around.

"I guess it never occurred to me that you wanted the same thing everyone else wanted too," she admitted, somewhat ashamed that she hadn't considered it. For so long Scully had thought of Mulder as being so strange and different, not like other men, not like herself. His intellect certainly set him apart, as did his passion and his drive, not to mention the absolute delight he took in breaking every and any rules. But for this moment, just this one, she could finally see that in many ways Mulder was like everyone else, longing to have a home and family…perhaps the family that had been lost to him so many years ago.

"Yeah," Mulder sighed, voice more gravely than usual as his full lips pursed hard together. "Well, I always wanted the hearth and home…but frankly, I don't think I could have made it an hour in a neighborhood like this."

"An hour?" Scully snorted so loud her nose hurt, and she giggled madly at the thought, the gravitas of their conversation melting into hysterics. "Frankly, I'm surprised you lasted as long as you did!"

To his credit, Mulder like slightly affronted by her entertainment. "I made it two whole days!"

"You barely got through dinner at the Schroeders, that doesn't count."

"Does too, I behaved myself fairly well, all things considered," he countered petulantly.

"It took you two days till you finally got sick of it and decided to pick a fight, and four days to get us kicked out of the neighborhood. I believe that's a record, Mulder."

"We aren't 'kicked out'," he huffed as the last of their items was carried from downstairs and loaded into the truck. "We were never really supposed to be here in the first place."

"We might have been here longer if you hadn't barreled along," Scully insisted firmly.

"Excuse me for remembering we were here to solve a case and not to play house," he groused, earning a giggling smile out of her. He softened somewhat at her laughter. "Not that I minded being shacked up with you after all, Scully."

"You weren't so bad yourself," she replied. "I suppose the two of us living together wouldn't be the end of the world."

"So says you," Mulder grumbled despondently. "We've yet to tell your brother what we've been up to the last few days."

"Don't worry, you're a trained FBI agent. You can take him." She reached up to pat him on the shoulder as they watched the agents outside doing one last inventory of the things on the truck.

"You ever going to tell your brother, the naval officer, that?"

"Nope, he still thinks that the only ones to have him pussy whipped are the Marines."

"Yeah, I guess no one told your brother how many ex-Marines become FBI agents, did they?"

"I have to admit, I loved seeing Skinner take Bill down a notch or two," Scully admitted evilly, thinking of that long ago, dark time when she lay dying of cancer. "You know, you just don't see your older brother smacked around like that every day."

"You know, I'm so glad I didn't have you for a kid sister," Mulder replied, for once sounding sympathetic for the much-maligned Bill. "Come on, I think the truck is packed and they want a debrief at the police station before I run you over to see your brother."

And just like that, their lives as Rob and Laura Petrie were over. Not that Scully was particularly sad to see that happen. It had been nice, she supposed, to pretend, to think of herself as just another suburban wife, coming home of an evening to the waiting arms of Mulder at home. But in the end it hadn't been real, none of it had. From the house to the giant ring on her finger, it was all a lie. Scully glanced at the diamond briefly, before slipping it off her left hand and transferring it to the right.

Someday, she mused ruefully as she exited the once perfect house in the perfect neighborhood, she perhaps would have the lazy dreams of a house and home and someone to greet her of an evening. Unlike Mulder, she still held on to that hope. She could perhaps wait just a little bit longer to see if it happened or not. And when it did…she certainly hoped that it was nothing like the Falls of Arcadia.

Chapter Text

"You know what is truly annoying?" Tara Scully nodded over her glass of Sonoma red, contemplating her sister-in-law with grave seriousness. "The toilet seat being left up in the middle of the night."

"Amen," Scully muttered around a mouthful of pie, as if her brother's wife had just uttered the truth of God. "Do men even get the idea that we have to sit, unlike them, and that if the seat isn't down, we just fall right in?"

"Yeah, those 1 am dunks in the toilet, not fun."

"Or wait, how about the clothes strewn across the floor wherever they fall?" Scully stabbed the air between them, as if the fork in her hand accentuated the point. "Men, they just decide to undress and leave bits and pieces of themselves all over the place. A trail of sweaty socks, dirty shirts, underwear all over, and then who is the one who has to pick it up?"

"I know, Bill is the worst. He comes home from the base and his uniform is flung wherever it lands, and it's not like I don't have Matthew to pick up after of a day."

"At least you have been married to Bill for a while, you can train him. I got Mulder for four days and that was plenty enough."

"Four days is hardly long enough to see the worst."

"I've seen his apartment, that is plenty."

"You know," Mulder sighed, frowning in bemusement at Bill Scully sitting at the opposite end of the table. "It's as if we weren't even here."

"I've noticed that," Bill glanced in confused amazement between his beloved wife and his younger sister. "Do you think they've forgotten we are sitting here listening to every word?"

"Of course not, dear." Tara finally turned to him, reaching over to pat her husband's cheek. "We are saying this in hopes that you are listening."

"So if you complain about us to each other in front of our face this is somehow…not insulting?" This psychological angle was obviously lost to Bill as it was to Mulder. He only shrugged in empathy and turned to Scully in the vague hope she could explain it any better.

"Sorry, I got nothing." She shrugged, swallowing another mouthful of cherries and crust.

"Women," he muttered, downing his glass of wine.

"Oh come on, Mulder, there had to be many things I did that drove you crazy over the last four days." Rather than lie about what they had been up to, Scully found that the wiser course of action with her brother had been to just confess their case up front to him. Surprisingly, far from being outraged, Bill had been vaguely amused by the idea of his baby sister pretending at marriage with the man that Bill considered to be only half-an-almond shy of a nut job. The fact that Mulder was still alive and hadn't run off to DC screaming on the first flight out of San Diego probably had a great deal to do with that.

"I don't know if anything drove me crazy," he replied smoothly. "Though I have to say you nagging went up exponentially with close proximity to you."

"Nagging?" One eyebrow cocked upwards threateningly. Sadly, Mulder was unimpressed.

"Is it such a big deal I pressed the tube of toothpaste in the middle?"

"Yes, because it's silly," Scully shot back, as if this was just a fact of the universe, like gravity or matter. "Everyone knows you start at the bottom of the tube and push your way up."

"But why does it have to be that way," he challenged. His lips twitched as he tried to keep the taunt off his face. He was baiting her, and she knew it, and she was taking it anyway.

"Because…it's rude otherwise."

"Just because it's rude, eh? So you couldn't possibly conceive that outside of your narrow, Dana Scully worldview that perhaps pressing the tube from the middle is considered the proper way to get toothpaste out of the tube."

"How in the world is that proper?"

"I don't know, I always grab the tube in the middle, never at the end. It's clumsier to press it from the end. I need two hands then, rather than one."

"So you use two hands!"

"But my other hand has the toothbrush in it!"

"So you get it started, then you grab your toothbrush and you put the toothpaste on."

"But then you make it much more complicated than it needs to be, and add whole variable that only confuse the situation rather than explain it. If you squeeze the toothpaste from the middle, it's simple, clear, gets right to the point, and there's no messy dealing with two hands, setting your toothbrush down, extra steps. It covers everything, and it's more hygienic!"

Was Mulder really suggesting that squeezing the toothpaste from the middle was more hygienic? "You so totally do not have any basis for your argument."

"Au contraire, Scully, I believe that I have logic on my side on this one."

"How is that even logical?"

"I don't know, let's ask Bill!" Mulder glanced to her older brother, who seemed vaguely surprised that the other man would ask him to adjudicate their argument. "Who do you think has the more compelling case?"

Bill looked slightly flustered for a moment. "Over toothpaste?"

Mulder waved his hand, brushing aside the facts of the matter in favor of the presentation. "Not just the toothpaste, the debate. Scully over here is relying on some ephemeral notion of politeness, some long ago standard set by people who are no longer here - likely some prissy perfectionists somewhere with no imagination - that toothpaste should be squeezed from the bottom."

"That way you can make sure you use all of it," she interjected pointedly.

"Hush, you've made your case." He cut her off, ignoring her outraged squawk and well-aimed toe to his shin. He grimaced but carried on. "Now, I made the perfectly logical case that squeezing it in the middle was not only less clumsy, but more hygienic, keeping all instruments in the air at the same time and taking out awkward, unnecessary steps."

"It's lazy is what it is," Scully rejoinder, grinning.

"I would say my argument is stronger than Scully's, it brings up a case, presents it's points."

"They would have to be right to be a strong case, Mulder."

"Here I thought you had a medical degree, not a law degree."

"Funny, when did your tutor at Oxford teach you the finer points of debate?"

"I had to defend my work before a panel of experts to earn my degree. You just had to what, take a test and regurgitate tired old, boring information, again?"

"I also had to do an oral diagnosis and course of treatment examination and then I had to take my boards, thank you very much," Scully retorted, now having completely lost the whole point of this conversation. Across from her, Tara started to snort and snicker into her wine glass as Scully frowned and turned towards her brother and sister-in-law. Tara's shoulders were shaking so hard, she looked fit to burst and Bill tongue was stuck so far in his cheek Scully was half afraid he'd bite it off.

"What?" She blinked blankly at the both of them as Bill finally lost what cool he had and burst into peels of laughter, Tara soon following him. The couple chortled loudly, much to Scully's discomfort, as her eyes glided over to Mulder's own mischievously sparkling ones.

"He…I….oh God!" Bill spluttered, his face pink and eyes running as he looked towards his little's sister's far from amused face. "He got you going so good." He giggled himself into a coughing fit, reaching for his napkin. "God…I've never seen anyone wind you up so fast, Shorty."

"Call me that again and you might just break the record," Scully warned, not finding any of this funny whatsoever. Tara took pity on her sister-in-law, still snuffling but at least calming down somewhat, unlike her husband.

"I have to admit, Dana, I've never seen you rise to the bait that fast, even with Charlie."

Mulder looked vaguely proud of himself and not in the least affected by Scully's deathly glare.

"I'm impressed, Mulder, you have that down to an art form." Bill finally managed to put himself together somewhat, still tittering quietly as he saluted the other man with an upraised glass. "Dana always did have a temper on her."

"Well, six years together, you learn a lot about each other." Mulder shrugged, trying to look apologetic, somewhat, and failing much to Scully's estimation. "And you know I'm right, Scully."

"Shut up," she snapped, crossing her arms across herself. "This is what I have to put up with."

"When you don't have to put up with my leaving the toilet seat up and clothes on the floor?"

Which was basically never, Scully realized, as Mulder grinned in triumph.

"Tomorrow will be a long flight home, I hope you know that," she hissed, stabbing the remains of her pie viciously.

"I'm sure," he nodded, setting his napkin on his own empty dessert plate. "And I'll likely be stuck with all the paperwork, but in the end, I win, and that's all that matters."

Bill's chuckling on Scully's other side did nothing to help her annoyance.

"And on that note!" Mulder glanced at the watch on his wrist. "It is getting late for me at least and we do have an early flight home tomorrow."

"Right," Tara nodded, rising as she began gathering dishes off the table. "You sure you don't want to crash here, Fox? We have a pull out bed in the den."

Mulder flinched only slightly, much to Scully's delight, at Tara's use of his first name. It was a habit she had picked up off of Maggie and Mulder was too polite to correct her. "No, thanks, Tara, I can check in at one of the motels down the road." He waved vaguely in the direct of several affordably priced, chain places just off the freeway from Bill's house. "Besides, I'm restless at night, best I stay someplace else."

"You sure? It's no bother?"

"Thanks, but no thanks," Mulder declined graciously, standing from his place, glancing awkwardly around the table at the present members of Scully's family. It was if he just realized that he was suddenly caught in a painfully domestic scene and he wasn't particularly sure what to do with himself. "Scully, I'll come by early to get you, head to the airport?"

"Sure," she nodded as Bill rose to show Mulder out. She watched the two men go with a worried eye, but was relieved that there seemed to be no hushed, murmured voices from the hallway as Tara bustled in the kitchen.

"I'm going to check on Matt upstairs, Dana. I have some coffee on if you like."

"Thanks, Tara," she called back, smiling at her sister-in-law as she climbed the stairs to her son's room. In the hallway Scully could hear the front door close as Bill's feet shuffled back into the dining room.

"So, you two were married for a week?" Bill unsurprisingly did not sound happy with this as he returned to his seat and the piece of pie still sitting on his plate.

"Well, more like five days." Scully had given Mulder back the exorbitant ring that she had worn for the last few days for safekeeping. "Really, Bill, before you get all big brother on me, it was perfectly well behaved. He slept in his room, I slept in mine, and everything was all above board."

"You assume that I would suspect you were sleeping with him?" Bill seemed amused by the idea. Scully felt her cheeks flush.

"Why, everyone else seems to," she groused, stabbing at a cherry and contemplating the coffee she could smell coming from the kitchen.

"You ever wonder why that is," Bill shot back, shoving a large piece of pie in his mouth before using his fork as a gesturing tool.

"Oh, don't you start on me," Scully snapped, glaring at her elder brother as she stabbed the remains of her piecrust. "Once and for all, Mulder and I are partners and friends, nothing more."

"Are you sure he knows that?"

Scully's head reared at the absurdity of that question. "What do you mean am I sure? Of course he does, what do you think?"

Bill's skeptical look annoyed her.

"When are you going to be honest with yourself, Dana?"

Scully's heart lurched mysteriously, her eyes cutting up to her brother. "Honest about what?"

"About Mulder," he replied simply, maddeningly uninformative in his response. Did Bill even suspect how she felt for Mulder? She certainly hadn't ever told him, most of their conversation regarding Mulder had been arguments, Scully defending him against her brother's dislike. But then Melissa had known. She had always known.

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about. I'm always honest about Mulder. He is the one thing in my life I am honest about."

"Really?" Her brother's right eyebrow cocked upwards in a mocking parallel of the look she always shot Mulder.

"Yes," she hissed.

"Than you are oblivious to the fact that he's in love with you?"

That hadn't been the words Scully had expected to hear. Eyes impossibly wide, she stared at her sibling as if he had grown a second head. To his credit, Bill didn't flinch or back down. Instead, he laughed.

"You really had no idea, did you?"

Have no idea? "Have you lost your mind?"

"Dana, you are the most intelligent person I know. Your brain scares me, but I never would have thought you'd miss out on something like that."

"That's because it doesn't exist and you are imagining things." Scully's pulse screamed as she rubbed at flushed cheeks. "Mulder doesn't…think of me like that."

"Really? Could have fooled me."

"How would you know? You don't even like him!"

"True, I don't, but I have eyes in my head, Dana." Bill leaned back in his chair, arms crossed defiantly to match her own stance. "No offense, but I was there with you in the hospital, I saw the two of you together. I saw what he did for you." He grimaced, frowning down at the plate in front of him. "I saw that look in his eyes. It's the same sort of look I know I'd have if it had been Tara in that bed instead of you."

Memories of Mulder, sobbing at her bedside, floated to Scully's mind as she shook her head. Yes, those had been dark, harrowing days for all of them, for herself, for her family, and certainly for Mulder, who had nearly convinced himself that this was all his fault. He had been desperate for anything to save her, anything to make her well again. That did not mean he was in love with her.

"Mulder cares a great deal for me, Bill, and I care about him." Perhaps she was understating her own case more than a bit. "We work together, we've…we've faced things you couldn't possibly in a million years understand!" How could she even begin to quantify the things that she and Mulder had shared and seen together, especially not to her brother, the ultimate of skeptics.

"I've worked closely with many people over the years and none of them would drop in the middle of everything to fly across the country just because I asked them to."

"Well, you haven't worked in the FBI," she retorted. "The bond between partners is a close one."

"Whatever you tell yourself to get you through the night, Dana. Tell me, how was it playing house with him this week?"

"You think that this was what it was all about?"

"I'm just saying, Dana, what he feels for you is something more than just your vaunted, FBI partnership, and I think you need to start being honest with him and yourself if you keep insisting on working with him and doing this. He depends on you being there. Hell, I'm not so sure he can function without you there. I think you've always known that, and I think that's why you've stayed, even when you knew it was dangerous, because you are afraid of what will happen to him if you leave."

Bill had hit so many nails on the head, it made Scully cringe inside. He understood much more about her reasons for staying with her partner than she gave him credit for. But as for Mulder's feelings for her…

"Bill, I hate to tell you this, but you're wrong on so many levels." Scully forced a laugh to her lips, one that somehow didn't quite feel as genuine as she wanted it to. "Mulder feels nothing of the sort for me."

She soon followed Bill's dramatic snort with her very plausible explanation. "Look, if you need any further proof, I can introduce you to his ex wife." She let that information tumble out heedlessly, feeling guilty for sharing it even as she did it. Diana Fowley's place in Mulder's life was his business alone. Clearly, however, that revelation shocked even her brother.

"He was married?" Bill had the same stupidly surprised look that Scully was sure had been on her face the day that Mulder told her while driving through Phoenix.

"Yeah, he was." She now wished she had not let her brother's words rile her so much and had not let that information out. "She left him to pursue her own career goals years ago. But I guess her career brought her back."

Bill was clearly still in shock at the idea that Mulder had ever been married in the first place. "Mulder actually found someone to marry him?"

Scully's foot kicked out hard under the table and met with her brother's knee.

"Oww," he grunted, rubbing at the offended body part. "Glad to know you still use the same tactics you used when you were three."

"Yeah, well that's only because I can't reach my gun right now, of course he was married. Mulder has never exactly wanted for female companionship, at least not when he wanted it."

"And since when has he not wanted it?" Bill had her cornered. Scully's eyes narrowed at him, as he suddenly looked smug.

"That's so not any of your business."

"And you still don't think that he's in love with you?"

"Just because Mulder has grown up from a junior high schooler and stopped trying to sleep with anything that moves? That's your evidence, Bill?"

"I don't know, Dana, maybe he's just waiting around for the one thing he wants to finally come around."

Bill actually sounded serious when he uttered that. Scully nearly believed him. Except then there was Diana…

"I think he's got other things on his mind than me, Bill," she muttered seriously, finding herself far too engrossed in crumbling the remains of her pie on her plate between her manicured fingers.

As usual, the two siblings seemed to find themselves at an impasse and neither one of them was willing to budge.

"Fine, Dana," Bill threw up his hands in defeat, shaking his dark head as he regarded his younger sister. "Look, I don't like the man, I still think he's dangerous and he puts you in danger every time you two step out on a case. But I do know this, he's a good guy despite it all. And if you really care about him, you need to stop and see how he feels about you, and think about that next time you two run off to chase down aliens. He's willing to stick this out because you're there. You just might want to think about that when you are considering how far you want to stick this out yourself."

Scully was too flabbergasted to reply.

"I suppose coffee is ready," Bill murmured into the stillness between them, pushing himself from the table and grabbing his dessert plate. "I'll go grab a cup of coffee and go watch the game in the other room. You interested?"

"No," she replied emphatically, not desiring to see either sports or her brother for the moment. "I think I might go up to the guest room, settle in, do some field notes. It will be a long flight tomorrow."

"Right," Bill nodded, knowing he had perhaps pushed his sister too far and looking slightly regretfully for it. "You know I love you, Dana. I just worry, that's all."

He was her older brother. That was what he was supposed to do. "Yeah, thanks Bill."

She watched her tall brother lumber off into the kitchen thoughtfully, wondering if even half of what he said was true. Somehow, Scully doubted it. Perhaps it looked like love to a brother who didn't see her interact with the man everyday, but Scully had been in love before, deeply so, and while Mulder perhaps was devoted to her and extremely loyal, that was simply Mulder's nature. He trusted her, yes…but he didn't show as much blind acceptance and affection to her as he did to Diana. Perhaps, for a moment, Scully could have dared to hope…now…

She sighed, eyes stinging as she gathered up the mess that was her dessert plate and wandered into the kitchen. She might as well help herself to coffee, she reasoned, as Scully doubted she would be getting any sleep tonight. So much for a pleasant visit with her older brother.

Chapter Text

Bill's discussion with Scully the night before she left did nothing for her mood on her return to Washington, especially not when she was forced to sit in close proximity to her partner throughout the plane flight. Mulder almost seemed to sense her unease as she worked quietly beside him on the flight, pretending to be reviewing case notes, but instead her traitorous brain kept reviewing scenes from their last week together, of the intimate moments between them. Mulder stretched across her bed, sweaty from his run, grinning at her playfully as he patted the bed beside him. The sight of him sauntering out of the master bedroom one morning in nothing but a towel, his wet hair dripping down his broad shoulders, the towel barely clinging to his narrow hips as he wandered past a dumb struck Scully, still trying to choke down her morning coffee. The rumble of Mulder's voice, low in her ear, as his fingers brushed across hers, the teasing glint in his eye as he suggested she come visit him down the hall if she got lonely in the night. Her mouth dried as Bill's admonishment drifted back to her. You know he's in love with you…

Bill was an idiot, she snapped firmly to herself, glaring at the same notes she had been trying to read for the last ten minutes. She had no idea what any of it was about, but she knew for certain one thing. Mulder wasn't in love with her, no matter what her older brother said. Bill had the observational capabilities of a hyper active Chihuahua, he should leave the spy work to Charlie who was in Naval Intelligence. Mulder was no more in love with her than he was ready to give up the X-files.

"You all right?" The center of her thoughts spoke beside her, frowning sideways at her.

"I'm fine," she replied quickly, trying to smile tightly to assure him that this was the case. Whether he believed her or not, he left her to her gloom as he dozed off, perhaps figuring it was easier to sleep than to pick a fight in close quarters on a plane. Scully was grateful he did not pry. That would make things far too awkward.

So they returned home, fresh from their first case together back on the X-files. Skinner declared it a success, was pleased with their work, and sent them on their way, left to their own designs in terms of casework. Scully had a feeling that this couldn't possibly end well, but Mulder surprised her. He waited a whole week before he sprung their first completely bizarre and nonsensical case on her. And when he did, it came with the flash and flourish of a Doppler radar. Scully blinked mildly at Mulder's screen, trying to understand why he was showing her the National Weather Service website.

"It looks like there's a hurricane heading for Florida," she shrugged mildly, leaning against his desk and wondering what he was supposed to be showing her.

"Yeah, I checked the airlines, I think we are good to get in before the storm makes landfall."

Scully nearly choked on the coffee she had been sipping, spluttering all over the back of her partner's head. "Excuse me, what?"

"I got a call this morning while I was out for a run." Mulder spun to face her, running a hand over the back of his hair in mild distaste. "Arthur Dales got a distress call from a neighbor. He said something about the call put his teeth on edge. He wants us to come down there as soon as possible."

"Something about his neighbor put his teeth on edge? Mulder we aren't the local police, that's who he should be calling."

"And it's who he would be calling if he thought it was something insignificant, but I know Arthur Dales and he'd only call me if it were an X-file."

Scully tried to wrack her brain for just who Arthur Dales was again. "He's the man who started the X-files, right?"

"Yeah, used to know my Dad," Mulder drawled, pulling at his bottom lip in slight distraction. "He didn't say what it was that spooked him, that's what bothers me. He's down there alone, retired there, probably has an ear to the ground on all the weird crap that happens down there."

"This is Florida, Mulder, What weird crap doesn't happen there? Do you know how many episodes of COPS I've seen take place in Florida?"

Mulder paused, then blinked up at her in mild amusement. "You watch COPS?"

"When I'm bored and there's nothing else on television, sure. I'm in law enforcement." She tried to make it sound like a perfectly normal activity for a single, attractive, mid-thirties woman to be doing alone, in her apartment, with a pint of ice cream. "The point is that it could be anything, Mulder. His neighbors could be nut jobs, and Arthur Dales is assuming that this is an X-file."

"Isn't that what you frequently accuse me of?"

"Yeah," she admitted, sensing he was going to prove a point in a moment.

"And how many times have I been right about it being an X-file?"

And there it was. Scully sighed. "Mulder, that hurricane will make landfall in hours. Have you ever been through a hurricane?"

"Sure, had a few come up to the Vineyard when I was a kid."

"I mean a hurricane, Mulder, not a nor'easter or a nasty thunderstorm."

Her protest was met by disdain on Mulder's part. "And just how many of those hurricanes did you get in San Diego then?"

"I had to live with Hurricane Gloria when I was in college."

"Liar, I bet it barely rained in College Park," Mulder sniffed. "I had to live through three hurricanes as a kid, and I was living on the Vineyard then."

"And thus this makes you an expert?" Scully eyed the violent orange and yellow mass twirling slowly on the screen toward the peninsula of Florida. "You should just leave Arthur Dales to the locals. Have him call the police."

"He called the county sheriffs, they said they didn't have enough manpower to send someone out there with the storm coming in."

"See, even they are worried, and you want to fly straight into it?" Mulder's insanity obviously knew no bounds.

"More than that, Scully, I want you to come too?"

"I'm not that crazy."

"You're crazy enough to follow me, aren't you?"

He was right there. "Mulder, saner people are evacuating and heading to higher ground."

"Which is why you and I should head into the heart of the storm. We can check it out, see if it really is an X-file, and set Dales' teeth right, and come on home."

"You really believe that this is enough of an X-file to risk our lives?"

"He wouldn't call us if he didn't think it was one," Mulder insisted as he turned back to his computer. "I can get a flight to Jacksonville in two hours, that will get us there before the storm makes landfall."

He was really going to do this. "I don't know who is crazier," she breathed. "You for doing this or me for going with you."

"That's the spirit, Scully," he grinned manically, bringing up the FBI travel page.

"I'm going to go make sure I have some galoshes to pack," she muttered.

Chapter Text

Heavy rain peppered Scully's face, washing away what little make up she had left as she turned worried eyes up to the swirling, gray clouds above her. The wind had yet to pick up, but she could feel it, whispering against her cool and clammy skin. The storm was coming and they were in the middle of it, not that Mulder seemed to notice.

"So tell me, what do you think?" Mulder's dark hair was plastered to his forehead, the rain creating rivulets down his cheeks. He was already leading the way to their car, where Scully sincerely hoped the heater would be turned on full blast.

"So that is the vaunted Arthur Dales?" Scully briefly turned back to the beat up trailer, with it's faded paint, and a box of empty, glass alcohol bottles soaking by the plastic trash bins. The trash cans at least had been chained down against the oncoming winds.

"It's at least slightly better than the old apartment he used to have back in DC." Mulder thumbed the keyless entry as Scully scrambled inside the car, uncaring that the seats were getting soaked by her rain gear. "I know he doesn't look like much, but back in the day, Scully, he was doing what we are now. He was who made the X-files, he was the one asking all the right questions when everyone else tossed those cases in a bin, never to be seen again."

"And now he'd reduced to living in Florida?"

"What, lot's of people retire and move down to Florida, it's what keeps this states economy going. I think the average age around here is sixty-five."

"For the weather, of course." Scully scowled at the flash of lightening that lit up the sky as the winds began to pick up around them. "I think I've had a revelation, Mulder,"

"No, that was just the burn of the lightening on your retinas."

"No, seriously, I think meeting Arthur Dales has taught me something very valuable."

Mulder shot her a sideways, dubious glance as he turned up the heater to full blast. Scully nearly melted in relief. "I now see what Arthur Dales represents to you."

"A man who started everything I've worked for during the last decade of my life?"

"More than that, Mulder. I've seen your future and it looks like Arthur Dales."

Mulder's derisive snort only served to spur Scully on in her line of reasoning.

"Seriously, Mulder, this man is your future! He was a promising FBI agent who one day got sucked into the madness of your father's world and discovered the X-files, and the next thing you know, he is hiding in some basement, working cases no one cares about, while the FBI humors him until he finally gets fed up and leaves of his own accord. Then he can collect his pension, drink away his life as he considers all the horrible things that he has witnessed and seen, but he's unable to escape the truths he knows. So he hides away and pesters the new, young blood, pulling him into his world so he can live out the good old days vicariously."

"So you think that Dales is using me because he's bored and lonely and wants to live out his glory days again?"

"Yes," she admitted bluntly. "But I also think that you are allowing him to because you know where he is coming from. Because in him you see yourself, maybe you see a bit of your father, too." Certainly Bill Mulder's fate towards the end of his life had been very similar to Arthur Dales.

"Since when did you get a degree in psychology?" Mulder clearly did not appreciating where she was going with this.

"I don't know, I don't think I need some Oxford don to tell me how to read Fox Mulder," she replied back crisply.

"And you assume there is something wrong with Dales' life? He doesn't seem to think there is."

"And yet he's calling you down here in the middle of a hurricane to investigate some nebulous claim about monsters attacking his neighbors."

"It's an X-file, Scully!"

"It's a goose chase, Mulder, and you are letting him pull your strings." How could he not see this? She fumed quietly out of the window, the rain pelting against it so hard she could barely see outside of it.

"It's not as if he's called me before on a case. He's not that informant of mine that I use to have, the one who died."

"Which one?" Mulder seemed to collect people who played him for information, all of whom seemed to meet horrible ends.

"Any of them," he admitted, rumbling low, half to himself. "Why are you so against Dales?"

"I'm not against him, I'm against you running out here on a seconds notice in the middle of a hurricane." Guiltily she realized she had been harping on Dales as if he had been one of those shadowy men, like the tall, black stranger who used to wander into their life, or the man she had held in her arms on that bridge as he had died. "We came so close to losing everything this last year, and we've only just gotten it back. I'd hoped you had learned your lessons this time, that you would be more careful with the cases you took. Because I for one don't want you to end up the same way Arthur Dales ended up, run out as a lunatic, laughed about and forgotten, left to sit alone to drink yourself into oblivion and spy on your neighbors with a police scanner."

Mulder's square jaw twitched as she saw his teeth ground together, a tendon popping as it worked. "Yet just last week you were laughing at me for having dreamed of a family and telling me you didn't see me as having a normal, white picket fence, life. You sure do wonders for a guys self-esteem."

Scully winced. She deserved that. "I didn't mean I couldn't see you with a white, picket fence, life Mulder, you just said you never wanted one. And you hardly fit in at the Falls of Arcadia. But I can't really see you ending up like this, either. The idea of it just…makes me too sad." She admitted it out loud, the secret worry that lay behind all of this.

"You worry about me being alone?" The idea that she would seemed to surprise him for some reason. It was hardly the first time she had voiced that concern.

"Only because you seem so dead set to be alone." Her eyes stung at the thought, but she squeezed them tightly against the prickling at the corners. "I just don't want to see you become what he has, Mulder."

"You worry too much."

"Someone has to, don't they?"

Mulder didn't have a response to that. In silence they both stared into the pouring sheets of rain as Mulder carefully navigated the way to the Shipley residence.

Chapter Text

After four hours, a glass of whiskey all around, and many, many stories later, Scully watched the lights of Arthur Dales home fade into the distance as Mulder drove them through the now misting rain. Despite the ripped and torn bark and branches and random house debris that littered the roads, driving seemed passable as they maneuvered through the remains of what had been a hurricane back towards Jacksonville.

"Can you believe that he found that black oil substance back in the early 1970's?" Mulder's eyes were as wide as saucers as he carefully swerved around a large, fallen palm leaf along the slick roads. "And the creepy ghosts in that place in New Orleans?"

"It's New Orleans, you'd expect it to have creepy ghosts," Scully murmured, smiling as she recalled Mulder's expression during their protracted visit with the man who had once started the X-files. He had the rapt, awe-filled look of a young boy, listening to his father's old war stories, only there were no Jerries or Commies involved in this one, but strange monsters and secret conspiracies, tales that Scully was certain you usually could only find in the back of an old comic book.

"The things he's seen, Scully, they make what we've done look so…pedestrian." Mulder shook his head, wincing slightly as the action caused the strange, puncture wounds on his neck to pull. He rubbed at them fretfully.

"Don't do that," she admonished absently, leaning back into her seat. "I don't know, I don't think our cases are all that pedestrian. After all, we've dealt with that black oil substance and your footwork helped to link Scott Blevin to one of the largest cases of FBI corruption the Bureau has ever seen."

"Pity he was killed before he could talk," Mulder muttered darkly. Scully continued.

"And I think I have seen enough weird, icky, and gross things to last me a lifetime. I mean, seriously, flukemen? Eugene Tooms? That family in Pennsylvania?"

"The Peacocks!" Mulder remembered and shivered slightly. That had spooked them both for weeks.

"And just look at this case? We chase down a sea monster and you nearly get killed while I deliver a baby. I didn't see Arthur Dales doing that."

"Point," Mulder grimaced, frowning. "You are enjoying this, aren't you, this moment in the spotlight?"

"What spotlight? I don't see one. If I did I'd find it and stand under it and hope it warmed me up." She pointedly turned one of the car heating vents towards her face. Mulder got the hint and flipped on the heater, much to Scully's relief.

"You know, this whole saving my ass thing," he groused. Arthur Dales comments were getting to him. Scully felt the grin spread across her chilled skin, delighted that he was truly bothered by this. She never would have suspected that someone else pointing out that Scully had saved his ass would have bothered him.

"Oh come on, Mulder, I've saved your ass many times."

"Yeah, but today?" He seemed insistent on this point. Why should this time be any different?

"What, I saved your from that Jersey Devil lady, remember that? And that weird, African wind spirit thingy."

"Yeah," he acknowledged gruffly, ears pinking ever so slightly.

"And one of our first cases together, I held a man at gunpoint just to rescue you from that Army base, remember?"

"Scully," he sighed, clearly realizing that he had just provoked a serious debate with her.

"And let's not forget the time you took off to Alaska and nearly got yourself killed? Who was it that argued the emergency room doctors down from a treatment that would have surely killed you? And then there was the gunshot wound to the shoulder while you were hallucinating?"

"In all fairness, you were the one who put that gunshot wound in my shoulder."

"I wouldn't have had to do it if you weren't so dead set on killing Krycek."

"You say that as if it is a bad thing! Think how much better off we'd be now if that slimy piece of shit were dead?"

Scully wasn't going to deny that, but it would have been a nightmare for Mulder and his innocence if he had actually done it. "The point is I've saved you a lot of times and you didn't seem to mind then. Why now?"

"Because," he grumbled mulishly. "You didn't really 'save' me as much as you just dropped some scientific bits of knowledge that I was able to coalesce into the right information that helped to get the monster off of me."

"Dropped random scientific bits of knowledge?" Her voice echoed his phrase in almost the exact cadence. "Do you think that's what I do, Mulder, throw some science at you and hope you pick it up?"

"You are bound and determined to pick a fight with me today, aren't you?" He flushed as he glanced sideways at her. "What in the hell did I do?"

"Drag me into a hurricane, made me wetter than I've ever been in my life, had me schmuck with you in the driving rain to an apartment with a psycho with a gun and the Bickersons, one of whom was having a baby."

"As if we haven't been in crazier situations."

"True…but a baby Mulder!" She had no words for how terrified she had been in those moments. Despite the calm she had tried to maintain under fire, all with a screaming woman in her ear and a man with a gun over her shoulder, the idea of delivering a child had truly frightened her. She hadn't manned a delivery since her residency days and even then she hadn't had to do it all by herself. Any multitude of things could have gone wrong, and that wasn't including the fact that Mulder was being choked to death in the hallway, or that there was a sea monster threatening all of their lives in the slowly flooding apartment building.

"I think you did wonderfully." Mulder's grumpy edge softened. He shot her a proud smile. "Really, Scully, I don't think anyone else could have handled it better."

"Perhaps a proper OB/GYN in a hospital could have." Scully's heart fluttered, as she thought of that moment when the child finally was pushed out of his mother's womb, pink and healthy and screaming, with nothing noticeably wrong with him, and no blood gushing heedlessly from his mother. "And then on top of that, there was you, out there in the rain, could have been alive, could have been dead. Jesus Mulder, I can't do two things at once, and you…I thought for sure you could have been killed."

She had said it. Scully hadn't meant to say it, but there it was. She had been convinced he was dead, if not seriously injured, and there was nothing she could have done because she was attending to the Villareals, or the Suarezes, or whatever they were choosing to call themselves. "And I'm just damn lucky that you actually listened to something I was saying for once and took my words to heart."

"Or else I would have been dead, yeah I know." At least now he didn't shy away from her and the implications of what might have happened. "I'm sorry I frightened you, Scully."

"Yeah," she sighed, feeling very tired all of the sudden. "It's not the first time, and it couldn't be helped, you were trying to stop whatever that thing was."

"True. And I guess in a way you did save me."

A satisfied smile at least began to surface on Scully's lips. "Well, at least I got you to admit it."

"What, I can admit it!" He chuckled, shrugging his broad shoulders under his rain jacket. "You've saved me plenty of times, perhaps more than you will ever know or understand."

Something to his words caught Scully's breath as she turned to look at him, his eyes staring fixedly on the slick, waterlogged road in front of them. Whether he meant anything in particular by them or was just voicing some sort of appreciative sentiment, she wasn't sure. Bill's words floated to mind again, uncomfortable in the close presence of the car. You know he's in love with you...

Scully worked her tongue in her dry mouth but found she had no words to respond with. She simply smiled, nodded, and burrowed further into the seat, digging her hands into the pockets of her rain jacket.

Her thoughts drifted to the sight of her partner, laying so still and lifeless in the hallway, and she wondered just what she would have done if this had been it, and he had been killed. What would she have done? So many things left undone, so many words left unsaid. What would she have done if he hadn't listened to her words, if she had been too late getting to him?

The idea made her feel vaguely ill as she stared out at the beaten and battered, wind-swept landscape outside, the rain turning the picture into a fuzzy, gray impression. "How long till we get to Jacksonville?"

"Two hours, then home to your apartment and a nice warm bath, I promise," Mulder assured her.

"Maybe not a bath," Scully shivered. "Maybe I'll just crawl straight into bed. I don't think I want to see a bath or water again for a while."

Beside her she could sense Mulder silently agreeing.

Chapter Text

Scully hated Mondays.

She supposed she was like three-fourths of the American population. Mondays were met with a groan and a protest, with extra cups of coffee and a countdown to the Friday evening. Mondays made everyone slightly grumpy and hostile to other human beings, which is why whoever scheduled a budget meeting with Skinner at 9 AM was either a sadist or a masochist…likely they were both.

Scully's alarm buzzed annoyingly in the background of her fuzzy sleep, pulling her from some pleasant dream that melted in the face of the dim sliver of sunlight that crept in through her window. The clock face read 7:00 in big, angry red, digital numbers. She slammed her hand against it and groaned. She was sorely tempted to allow her eyes to drift shut for a minute more, but knew the moment she did she'd be late, slinking into Skinner's office while Mulder smirked at her for trying to get out of it. With that as impetus she propelled herself out of her bed, stumbling blindly to the bathroom, managing to fumble with the curtains and handles to get it going, steam billowing around her.

The shower at least made her more alert, as did the heavenly aroma of coffee wafting from her kitchen. Wrapping herself in a towel and bathrobe, Scully padded to the bright and scrubbed counter, where her most precious piece of technology, her automated coffee maker, waited with a full pot of the dark, brown brew. Nirvana, she sighed, as she poured herself a cup in her battered, old Navy mug, pouring in her cream and sugar before nearly drinking half of it in one gulp. This was heaven, she sighed, as she shook the last of the sleep from her system. Caffeine sang through her veins as she relaxed and contemplated her day. Budget meeting, meeting with Skinner, and going through cases…lots and lots of cases. Mulder was still trying to piece together the remains of their work, to restore what had been lost in the fire, and when they weren't chasing down some other new lead, he was perusing digital files, making copies, and had Scully doing the same.

Monday was beginning to look as unexciting as she had expected it to be.

Popping bread into the toaster, Scully took her mug into her bedroom, bee lining to her closet to consider her options for the day. Serviceable black suit, check, blouse, pumps that she could look professional in but still manage to run in should the occasion warrant it, check. She set her clothing out as the smell of caramelizing bread drew her back into the kitchen before her breakfast burned. She scraped on low-fat butter spread and munched thoughtfully as she poured herself another cup of coffee and wondered if she should call Mulder and remind him of their meeting. Chances were he likely was already at the office, puttering around something, having done loads of work before she could even get her brain functioning. Damn him and his insomnia.

Her toast consumed, she wiped off the crumbs from the counter before taking her second cup with her as she dressed. Hair was dried and styled, make up was applied, clothes were slipped on and studied for neatness, jewelry was added. Slipping her holster onto the waistband of her slacks, Scully felt she was armed well enough for the day, at the very least for trying to keep Mulder from snoring too loudly in their meeting. She gathered her things, briefcase, badge, purse, and keys and made her way downstairs to her waiting car.

The sedan was a new one, surreptitiously replaced by the FBI in lieu of the one that she had sacrificed the Potomac Railyard in their vain attempt to stop the kidnapping of Cassandra Spender. She wasn't complaining at the newer model of car, she hadn't purchased a new once since right after she started working with Mulder. The car purred to life without protest, and Scully pulled her way into Georgetown traffic, crawling through the few miles across the city from her home to the Hoover Building in the more central district. Despite the short distance, the congestion meant it took much longer than necessary, and she only pulled into her parking garage with fifteen minute to spare before she was to be in Skinner's office. Rushing through security to the elevator, she had expected to find the X-files office unlocked, Mulder inside wondering where the hell she was. To her surprise, the door was locked. Strange…

Pulling out her own key, she let herself in, moving to her desk and setting her things down as she flipped on the lights inside. There was no indication Mulder was even there yet. His computer was off. His collection of coffee cups had no new edition to them. His briefcase and trench coat were nowhere to be seen. Frowning, Scully glanced at her watch before gathering her notepad and files and bustled back to the elevator, locking the door behind her as she made her way to Skinner's office. Scully was shaving it close, she could tell by Arlene's disapproving frown as she slid into the Assistant Director's office and quietly took a chair near her boss. He nodded a greeting but allowed his dark eyes to drift towards the chair next to her. It was empty. Curious, Scully glanced around the table, seeing some familiar and unfamiliar faces, all busy with studying the budget reports that were being passed around. Scully took one and frowned. None of them were Mulder. Where was he?

That was the silently question Skinner was clearly asking her as she shrugged, perplexed. Mulder hated these meetings as much as the next person, but rarely was he ever late for one. Worried, Scully slipped her cell phone from out of her pocket and checked it quickly. No sign of Mulder calling her, letting her know something had come up. Had he forgotten the meeting? Was he all right?

Whether he was or wasn't, Skinner was clearly prepared to start the meeting without him. "Agent Wilson, if you could get us started with this meeting?"

A tall, balding agent nodded and stood, and proceeded to open the session in a loud, drawling, monotone voice that seemed to instantly induce slumber in the listener. Despite her now three cups of coffee, Scully felt her head become heavy just by listening to him. Her eyes fluttered and she jerked herself, shifting in her chair as she glanced at the clock on the wall beyond.

Dear God, it was only 9:15!

Scully twitched, shifting eyes to the office door, hoping to see Mulder trying to slip his tall body in as unobtrusively as possible. Instead the door remained closed. The phone in her pocket did not vibrate. The voice at the end of the table droned on, and on, and on, and on…

Her medical brain tried to determine if it was possible to slip into a waking coma while staring at the sheet of numbers in front of her. She wasn't even sure she knew what most of them meant. Something having to do with crime rates? Crime prevention? Crime retention? Speaking of retention, her bladder was grumbling loudly against the three cups of coffee she slammed on the way into work. She sighed, looking at her watch.

No sign of Mulder.

Sometime around 10:20, when Skinner's own baldhead began to droop somewhat before jerking upwards over the table, there was a suggestion for something of a break. Skinner seemed relieved as he agreed and Scully popped up from her seat gratefully as she made for the door with as much decorum as possible, down to the restroom, trying to wake herself up as she checked her phone for a message from Mulder. Still nothing. She frowned as she washed her hands and considered. Perhaps he was down in the office having forgotten their meeting all together. But that wasn't like him. Had something gone wrong? Deciding to check to see if he had at last made his presence known before she started making frantic phone calls, she made her way to the elevator, glad to get a singular car all to herself on her ride down to the basement.

The door was open, much to her relief, and inside sat a frazzled looking Mulder, trench coat still on, hair sticking up at angles it normally didn't. He was scribbling in distraction as she walked in, and didn't bother looking up at her as he tore what looked like his paycheck from the stub it was attached to.

"I know," he headed her off before she could even say anything. "I missed the meeting."

Well at least he hadn't forgotten. "You didn't miss the meeting." Though she bet he secretly wished he kind of had. "You are extremely late for the meeting. It's still going on."

Oh how she wished it wasn't.

"What are you doing down here?"

"We took a short break and I came looking for you. What are you doing down here, Mulder?" He grimaced by way of response, nearly throwing his pen across his desk as he pocketed his check.

"I'm having the best damn day of my life! Any moment I'm about to burst into song-zip a dee doo dah!" He sneered towards no one in particular, but mostly at Scully as she was sitting right there. He looked apologetic immediately. "My waterbed sprung a leak and shorted out my alarm clock. My cell phone got wet and crapped out on me and the check I wrote my landlord to cover the damages is going to bounce if I don't deposit my pay."

Rant over, he rose and turned to Scully, looking as if he wanted nothing more than to go back home and curl up in a fetal position on his couch. "You ever have one of those days, Scully?"

"Since I've been working here," she shot back flippantly. Mulder rolled his eyes and headed for the door.

"Bank is down the street, I'll be back in ten. Cover for me, will you?"

And he was gone again, leaving her behind to explain. "When do I not?"

Her toe tapped against the new tile of the floor, but it was no good. Mulder was gone again and she would just have to make some excuse to Skinner on his tardiness. She flipped through her mental Rolodex of explanations for Mulder's bad behavior and decided on simply explaining it as a personal issue that arose and that he would be there momentarily. Skinner could be disgruntled, but he couldn't argue against it. How did Mulder get a puncture in his waterbed? And did she even want to know? At least he was sleeping on it and not the couch. Of course, it could be he had someone over…

Why did her thoughts always have to turn so sour and jealous all of the time?

The meeting was in full swing again - or perhaps full drone was the better term - by the time she arrived back. Skinner's hard look behind his rimless glasses demanded an explanation and she mouthed "soon" before pretending to pay attention to the report that was being delivered regarding copy paper costs and filing. Something about recycled trees and toner ink and reusing the backs of old forms. Scully stopped listening sometime around the third table, keeping one eye turned carefully to the office door, waiting for Mulder to arrive.

The pale, oak door remained firmly in place. Scully frowned. Twenty minutes had passed already. Even if she gave Mulder a few extra moments at a crosswalk, he should have been there and back by now. Her finger twitched on her phone in her pocket, but she held it there, resisting the urge to leave the meeting and call him in annoyance.

"Agent Scully," Skinner whispered softly beneath the dry rumble of the agent presenting, too quiet to be heard by everyone else in their stupor. "Why don't you go and see what is holding up your partner?"

She sighed, sensing the irritation from Skinner, and slipping out of her chair and out of the office, pulling her phone out and speed dialing Mulder. The phone rang, and rang, and it was only when the automatic message from DC Cellular came on the line did she remember that his phone had been a target in the great water bed debacle. Realizing she was going to have to find him on foot, Scully stormed to the elevator, jamming the button that lead to the lobby, swearing under her breath as she considered just what sort of repayment Mulder was going to have to give her for putting up with his bad behavior this time.

Craddock National was barely half a block away from the Hoover building, and for that reason alone it was popular amongst many government workers who all happened to have offices on this end of town. Scully crossed at the corner, following the small crowd of people wandering across the street, and made her way to the building, expecting to find Mulder standing sheepishly in line, all bad attitude and excuses for his already crappy day.

The sun glare left her blinded for a moment as she stepped inside the glass front doors. Cool air stirred her hair as her mind tried to take in the entire scene before her all at once. The bank, it's wide, marble floor now littered with the bodies of people, quivering in fear, the man standing in olive drab, barking orders and waving a gun, and her partner, terror in his eyes as he jumped off the floor, pulling his weapon in one swift motion, aiming it at the man and his pistol.

Scully had barely begun to register what was happening when a woman screamed hysterically. Before Scully could react or even tell the stupid woman to shut up there was the rapport of a pistol, the smell of burnt gunpowder, and the surprised look of her partner as he jerked and spun, toppling to the ground like a well-dressed rag doll.

Scully's actions were automatic, her hand flew to the gun under her jacket and had it aimed on the bank robber before he could even turn around. Her heart hammered in her ears as the image of Mulder falling caused her mouth to tremble, but she couldn't spare him a glance as she kept her aim firm. The man turned to her, clearly surprised she had him in her sights so fast.

"Drop it," she yelled, her order ringing imperiously off the marble. "Drop it now!"

The young man flinched, but a lazy smile flittered across his face. He shook his head ever so slightly. "You drop it."

Everything that she had ever learned in the Academy and through dating Jack Willis kicked into play as she kept her level sure. She needed to speak reasonably to the man, assure him she was no threat, reason with him and let him know that she was there simply to see people safe.

Scully's eyes flickered to Mulder's crumpled body and the blood now pouring down what had once been a blue dress shirt. Her jaw tightened, as did her trigger finger.

The shooter hardly seemed worried. He raised his free hand to the buttons of his coat, flicking them open as he let it fall, revealing what was underneath. Strapped around his chest in silver duct tape was what were clearly explosives, enough to bomb the entire building to kingdom come.

Scully let her weapon drop. This man hadn't come to rob a bank. He had come to kill himself.

"I'm an FBI agent." Scully held up her hands, showing her weapon, indicating she was no longer a threat. The man glanced between her spread palms and indicated for her to set the weapon down. She did, bending over to gently lay it against the marble floor.

"You here because someone tipped them off?"

"No," she replied, trying to keep the quaver out of her voice as she stared at Mulder, so still on the floor beyond. "No, I was here looking for my partner, he was just here to deposit his paycheck. No one here wanted to play hero."

"Then why did he try to shoot me?" The man waved his gun at her viciously. His emotions were clearly strung tightly and one wrong word or false move would cause him to snap. Scully swallowed hard against the tears threatening.

"He saw me coming, he was…was just trying to protect me." Stupid Mulder, he knew what to do in a hostage situation. He should have laid low and allowed for Scully to be taken like the rest of them. Now it was so much worse. Was he dead, she wondered wildly as she tried to look pleadingly at the young man? "Please, he's my partner. He's injured and I'm a doctor, I can take care of him."

"I thought you said you were an FBI agent," he snapped, his grip on the gun in his hand tightening.

"I'm both," she rushed to explain, her heart thudding as she saw his knuckles whiten on the weapon. "I work as a pathologist for the FBI and I can take care of him." Her mind scrambled for some sort of reasonable explanation for him. "Look, you are in enough trouble right now as it is, you don't want to add murder to this. Just let me take care of him, please?"

Whether it was the tearful pleading in her voice or the outright terror in her eyes, something softened in the man as he lowered his weapon a fraction of an inch. "Fine…go to him. But no trying anything."

"I won't," she whispered, as he lowered his weapon. Gratefully, Scully began to rush to Mulder's side, when something changed the young man's mind. She heard the click of the gun engaging once again and it stopped her cold in her tracks. At her feet Mulder's lifeblood was already beginning to pool on the floor.

"You said you're FBI, right?"

"Yeah," she replied carefully, her mind screaming at the sight of her partner dying in front of her.

"Call them," the young man said simply, eyes flickering to the street outside.

"Excuse me," she asked, genuinely confused. It finally occurred to her that despite this being a robbery no police cars were screaming out front yet.

"They're just down the street. Call them." The robber held up his weapon again, his free hand stroking the device strapped to his chest.

"The FBI doesn't handle…" Her words were cut off as he angrily jammed his gun towards her face.

"Call them now or I swear to God I'll blow you all to hell! Do you hear me?"

With shaking fingers Scully dug in her pocket for her phone. Around her people sniffed and shivered, the hysterical woman from earlier sobbed, and at her feet Mulder's breath gasped in short wheezes. She dialed Arlene's desk directly.

"Assistant Director Skinner's office, how can I help you?"

"Arlene, this is Agent Scully, I am at Craddock National Bank with Agent Mulder. There is a robbery in progress and I've been asked to inform the authorities."

She could hear Skinner's secretary gasp on the other end and prayed the woman wouldn't panic. Blessedly, level headed Arlene did not.

"Is anyone hurt," she asked simply.

"Agent Mulder," she replied as calmly as she could.

"Hold on while I get the Assistant Director on the line."

Scully wanted to scream at the woman that there was no time, but the line went silent for several excruciating seconds as she imagined the woman breaking into the meeting and demanding that her boss pick up line two. There was a click and Skinner's gruff voice sounded from down the street.

"Skinner," he answered, clearly not thrilled with having the already overlong budget meeting extended any further.

"Sir," Scully's voice quavered slightly as she spoke. The young man held out his free hand, his weapon still aimed at her face, nodding to the phone at her ear. "I think there is someone who would like to speak to you."

The young man took her cell phone from her trembling fingers, lowering his weapon, as she finally was able to drop to her knees by Mulder's side. Tears shimmered on the edge of her vision as she took in the blood still seeping from a giant hole in his chest. But his glassy eyes still managed to look up at her, fluttering behind his dark lashes, the skin of his face a horrible shade of gray.

"Mulder, you are so stupid," she whispered brokenly, helpless in the face of the gapping hole in his chest. She was a medical doctor, trained in this. And yet this was Mulder, her Mulder, and he was dying.

He tried to mouth something, but he couldn't quite manage. Scully shook her head, turning tearful eyes to the man with the gun as he finally snapped off her phone and handed it back to her.

"So they are going to come," he said noncommittally. Scully had no idea if he meant the FBI or the local police. Likely both. In the distance she thought she could already hear sirens racing towards them.

"Did you tell them?" She nodded to his breastplate of explosive and silver tape.

"No," he smiled, somewhat manically. "But they are coming."

So he wanted an audience. That was what this was all about. All the reason that she had been taught in the Academy flew out the window. She hadn't been prepared for this, and she was no hostage negotiator, but she was a doctor, and her fevered thoughts turned to Mulder, shaking hands working the silk tie at his throat. Without bothering to work the buttons she simply grasped either end of the collar in her small fingers and ripped, white buttons flying, bouncing off the marble. Scully could imagine a more lucid Mulder cracking some wholly inappropriate joke about how he always hoped she would get rough with him.

The wound was worse than she feared. It at least missed his heart, but his left lung was punctured, likely collapsed, causing the short, wheezing gasps from him. Blood seeped out with each gasp, and while he was in no danger in the next few minutes, if the young man intended to keep this going much longer than that her partner would very likely bleed to death before she could get him to the hospital. His life was literally in her hands, as she tried desperately to press a hand to the wound and stop his precious life fluid from draining out any further. She set herself on the floor, pulling Mulder into her lap, trying to gain leverage enough to get pressure on the gapping hole, to control the flow somehow.

Outside sirens blared and car tires screeched as the cavalry finally arrived. There where whispers from among the other hostages as the young man turned to smile broadly at them, watching the gathered SWAT team standing just outside of the glass doors. They all stood, watching…waiting.

Scully pressed her hand against Mulder's ruined chest until her knuckles whitened.

"They're supposed to call, right?" The young man turned to her, questioning as a frown formed on his scruffy, youthful face.

That was what he wanted after all, for them to call, to make a deal, and to give him what he wanted. "They're not going to call," she finally told him, knowing that if they were, they'd have had a negotiator already on her cell phone by now, trying to talk the man down. The "man" was what she had been calling him. He had to have a name, though, something that he was called by others who cared for him, others who saw something more in him than just a cop killer and bank robber.

"What's your name," she asked simply. Perhaps, if she made a personal connection to him, she could get through to him.

Less than looking shocked by her question, he looked suspicious and skeptical. His eyes narrowed as she met his gaze evenly. "Yeah," he grunted, snorting as if he knew she really only cared because she was scared, because she wanted to get her partner and all these people out. It was the truth, but that didn't mean she didn't care what his name was.

"Look, I have got to call you something, right?" Her brain grasped from some sort of name to call him, to personalize all of this for him. "How about Steve? It's a nice, honest name, Steve."

He sneered, clearly not a fan of her suggestion. Finally something in him seemed to relent. "Bernard."

Bernard, a strong name, a brave name, maybe she could get him to believe that. "Bernard," she murmured, her voice shattering as she spoke. "I have to get my partner out of here."

Mutiny and something akin to fear blazed fiercely in his eyes. "I am blowing this who freaking place right off the map if they come in here."

He wanted the attention, but not to be interrupted. Scully felt exasperated but feared yelling at him out right. "Look, they don't know that. Don't you realize that? They can't see you. They don't know what your plan is."

Like a small child he glared out the doors towards the police cars gathered there. "They better know," growled, turning back on Scully. "They better damn well figure it out." His voice rang through the marble lobby as people sobbed and cried."

Scully's heart lurched as she closed her eyes against the tears, looking down at Mulder who hardly stirred in her lap. His breath was becoming more labored, the gasps shorter, and at the corner of his mouth she could see the froth of spittle and blood. Gently she reached up to stroke one, poorly shaven cheek with her non-blood covered hand, the skin cool and clammy to the touch. Dear God, she wanted to sob, just let her get him out, let her get them all out. She didn't want any of them to die, but least of all this man, not before they had found his sister, not before she had told him the truth about everything she thought and felt for him…

"I just want everyone to live," she pleaded quietly to Bernard, tears now coating her eyelashes thickly. "That's all, I just…" She sobbed briefly as she nodded towards the police outside. "Just show them. You have control over everything that happens here, you do, and it doesn't have to end this way."

The briefest moment she thought she could see Bernard acquiescing, listening to her. But out of the corner of her brimming eyes she could see dark shapes moving, rushing to the glass front doors, and her heart fell as Bernard turned and saw them as well.

"Yeah, it does," he sighed, almost apologetically. His hands moved towards the switch on the device strapped to his chest.

"Noooo!" Scully's voice ripped terrified through her throat as she heard the beeping sound of detonation. Waves of heat and power slammed into her so quickly she had not time to register the pain or the shock. Reality shifted from fear to nothingness, as everything closed to blackness, floating, cold, lost.

As the alarm clock by Scully's bed sounded, her heart slammed against her ribcage, the metallic taste of fear still on her tongue. Sleepily, she slammed her hand against the plastic noisemaker, sitting up in her comfortable bed, shoving down the downy blanket. She scrubbed at her face, disoriented, lost in the memory of a dream that suddenly she couldn't remember anymore. There had been terror, grief, loss, but why? She couldn't recall. It was as if something was dancing, just at the edge of her awareness, and she couldn't place a finger on it…

Meeting! They had a meeting today, nine o'clock, budgets! Frantically she glanced at the clock and made her way to her bathroom, slamming on the shower as she bustled about her bedroom. If she were late for this, Mulder would never let her live it down.

Mulder…something about Mulder in her dream…what was it?

She shook her head, stepping out of her pajamas and into the warm spray of her shower, rinsing away the troubles and worries of sleep. Such a horrible dream must have been because it was Monday. God, Scully hated Mondays.

Chapter Text

Scully thought that a break in this meeting would never come. The three cups of coffee she had chugged that morning just to get to work now made her jittery and wired as she looked pointedly at the clock on the wall. It was 10:15. Perhaps if she slipped out carefully…

"Excuse me, Agent Arnold." Skinner grunted an interruption as he stared at the paperwork in front of him with glazed eyes. "If we can pause right here for a five minute break, give everyone a chance to stretch their legs?"

"Of course!" The agent with a voice that could put a hyperactive child to sleep droned genially. There was a collective sigh of relief in the room as Scully nearly shot from her chair. Before she could pass, Skinner voice reached out and snagged her, making her pause.

"Agent Scully, while you are out, could you perhaps find you partner and bring him to this meeting?"

"Yes, sir," she murmured, flushing in embarrassment as she once again was sent on a chase for her partner. He should have been there. Scully had felt sure he would beat her to the office that morning. When he hadn't arrived by the time the meeting started, she had begun to worry. Mulder was notorious for being late to things he didn't care for, yes, but over an hour late for a mandatory meeting? And so soon after they had returned to the X-files?

She was unsurprised to see the office door unlocked when she made her way to the basement and was prepared to confront her partner, fully perturbed. But the look he shot her as she entered the office warned from pressing him too hard. Clearly, whatever happened to Mulder, he wasn't having a good day.

"I know," he sighed in exasperation, staring down at the mangled paycheck in his hand. "I missed the meeting."

"Well, not yet," she shrugged dryly. "Only because it is the longest in FBI history."

That clearly did not help improve his mood at all. "What are you doing down here then?"

"Well, I came looking for you. We took a five-minute break." She paused to glance down at her wristwatch. "Three minutes ago. Mulder, your cell phone's not working. Did you oversleep?" She should know, she only dialed it five times in the three minutes it took to get down to him.

He briefly ignored her as he attempted to tape the ripped corner of his paycheck together.

"Scully, did you ever have one of those days you wish you could rewind and start all over again from the beginning?"

Since she had been working with Mulder? "Yes, frequently." Scully was beginning to suspect that today could very well be one of them.

"But who is to say that if you did rewind it and start over again that it wouldn't end up exactly the same way?"

Perhaps that was her theoretical physics side talking? When did she get all philosophical so early in the morning?

"So you think that it's all fate? We have no free will?" He signed his paycheck hastily with the spidery scrawl that she supposed said Fox W. Mulder, if you squinted and turned your head sideways.

They were slowly sliding sideways from physics to religion. What was into Mulder this morning? Well, more so than most mornings? "No, I think we are free to be the people we are, good, bad or indifferent. I think that it's our character that determines our fate." That sounded nice and safely Catholic…maybe?

"And all the rest is just preordained? I don't buy that, there's too many variables, too many forks in the road. I meant to be on time to work this mornings but my waterbed springs a leak flooding my apartment and the apartment below me so that makes me late for the meeting. Then I realize I got to write a check to cover the damages to my landlord but, as I'm walking to work, I realize that that's going to bounce unless I deposit my pay."

He waved the check that he had in hand. "So now I got to go to the bank, which makes me even later."

"That's what you get for having a waterbed."

"I might just as easily not have a waterbed, then I'd be on time for this meeting," he snarked back. "You might just as easily have stayed in medicine and not gone into the FBI, and then we would never have met, blah, blah, blah…"

Oh the number of times she had this mental conversation with herself. "Fate," she postulated, knowing it was a lame answer almost as she said it.

"Free will," he countered. "With every choice you change your fate."

Well, if they kept up this sort of scintillating conversation, Scully had a feeling she could read their future with Skinner, and it wasn't pleasant. She decided to make the choice herself. Reaching across his desk, she plucked the paper from his fingers,

"Then let's change yours," she smiled at the surprise on his face. "I will deposit your check. You gather your files, go to Skinner's office, file your report before he takes it out on both of us."

Perhaps it was a good thing Mulder had put her as a cosigner on his account years ago. It had been a precaution taken in the early days, a way that should one of them go missing, like Scully had, the other could take care of the mundane things such as finances. Scully glanced at her watch. She would be late, but she could get down to the bank and back in twenty minutes, tops. She hoped she could remember Mulder's bank account number.

Scully crossed the street to the bank, ignoring most of the small crowd of people bustling around her. Craddock National was not far away, conveniently located for so many government employees. She was more concerned that her partner was upstairs to give his report and to make a good impression for once. This early back on the X-files, it would never do to have Skinner pissed off in public with the pair of them.

She hadn't noticed the man standing in the lobby with a gun until she was already past the plate glass doors. Instinctively, she knew something was horribly wrong as her brain caught up to the scene in front of her, just as a woman screamed shrilly for no reason.

The rapport of the pistol rang through the lobby with a deadly "pop" and Scully reached for her weapon with fluid ease. Her hand was steady and level as the man in the olive drab coat turned, his weapon aimed dead on her. Scully's eyes flickered to injured woman on the floor. Around her, hostages muttered, someone sobbed.

"Drop it," Scully ordered, her imperious command reverberating through the empty space, but it had no effect on the young man or the barrel that was turned right on her.

Outside tires screeched, horns honked, someone cursed. Footsteps pounded against concrete and Scully had a feeling she knew who was coming in to the rescue.

"Drop your weapon!" Mulder's harsh scream carried over Scully's shoulder and she knew he too had his weapon out. Scully echoed his sentiment. They stood, a wall between this young man and the outside, the two of them against him. Perhaps, if Mulder could keep him distracted, she could get off a shot…

"I ain't dropping anything," the young man sneered across his stubble-covered cheek. His eyes glittered at Mulder. "You put yours down." The hammer of his pistol clicked as he firmly aimed it at Scully's face. "I'll shoot her."

"What do you think I'll do then?" Mulder's voice was as cold as the wind off the Chesapeake Bay, but the young man didn't seem concerned. He took his free hand and flipped open the bottoms of his jacket, letting the folds fall open.

Underneath was enough explosive to blow the entire building to pieces, and all of them with it. Scully's eyes slipped to Mulder's, looking to him for ideas on what to do next, and in silent agreement he would take point, he turned back to the young man. Scully instead turned her attention to the woman who had been shot, now lying bleeding on the floor.

"Bernard," Mulder called to the man who started in surprise. Scully paused in her attention, shocked that Mulder had divined that.

"That's your name, right?" Mulder continued, oblivious of Scully's stunned reaction. His eyes flickered towards hers, ignoring the odd look she gave him and looking down towards the woman on the floor. Scully got the point and bent down to check on her, fingers reaching for the pulse at the woman's neck.

"Bernard, she's not dead." Scully looked up at the man in what she hoped was reassurance. "You aren't a murderer, yet."

The gun in Bernard's hands trembled, but his face remained impassive as he kept his gaze fixed on Mulder. Her partner's voice was soothing, as if he were dealing with a wild animal and not a scared young man with a bomb strapped to his chest. "You can end this the right way," Mulder insisted, nodding towards the gun, offering Bernard a way out.

"Sir, please," one of the tellers timidly called from the floor, watching the entire tableau with wide, frightened eyes, currently focused on Bernard. "Listen to them. Don't hurt anybody else. A whole lot of police are coming."

Scully held her breath as the man considered for long second. As he lowered his weapon it fled her in a sigh of relief as she turned to the woman fully to give her attention, leaving Bernard to her partner. She foolishly didn't understand as Bernard angrily turned to the teller.

"You tripped the alarm!"

Everything moved in horrible slow motion. Scully caught Mulder moving faster than she had ever seen him, heard him scream "no" as Bernard reached to flip the switch. She didn't even see her partner's tall form reach the young man before a cloud of heat and vaporization slammed into her and everything turned to darkness.

The alarm by her bed buzzed for a full ten seconds before Scully reached across to slam a hand against it. Her heart raced sickeningly in her chest as she listened to the grating sound, reminding her that she was still alive. What a horrible dream! Even now, while the details fled her, she could still feel the terror and helplessness, and hear Mulder screaming against…something.

Mulder…meeting! They had a budget meeting today and he was to present. She stared at her alarm clock. It was now 7:15, she was running late, and she would just make it on time if she rushed it. Throwing off covers and not bothering to remake her bed tidily like she normally did, Scully rushed to the shower, flipping it on as she threw of clothing and stepped inside. She didn't even have a chance to let the warm spray relax the knot of muscles in her neck, tight from whatever nightmare she had been having. She instead threw a dollop of shampoo into her hair and lathered, trying to scrub images of death and destruction from her mind.

Why did she have the feeling she had done this all before?

Chapter Text

This day was quickly turning into the sort of day Scully had wished she had stayed in bed. Skin still crawling from her unsettling - if ill-remembered - dream, Scully had rushed to work only to find Mulder not there, the meeting starting in minutes, and his cell phone not working. So she went in alone, knowing that Skinner's eyes were burning into the empty seat beside her, and wondering what in the hell had kept Mulder this time. As soon as the meeting took a break she was out of the door, cell phone to her ear. She got the same, dead end response.

She had no sooner hung up and punched for the elevator down to the basement than a woman's voice caught her attention. Scully blinked up at the frantic looking stranger who rushed up to her with a visitor's badge slung around her neck, eyes wide in a painfully thin face. She wasn't anyone that Scully knew, and certainly didn't look like she belonged at the FBI on this level.

"Yes," Scully frowned, glancing the woman over automatically for signs of something suspicious, like a gun.

"Please don't go inside the bank today!" The woman looked about ready to cry with pleading. Scully paused. She hadn't planned on going to the bank at all. Sure, it was payday, but she had her checks direct deposited, unlike Mulder who still insisted he wanted to know where the money went. His paranoia extended even to his personal banking.

"The bank," Scully wondered out loud. Perhaps this secretly meant something else? Was this one of Mulder's jokes?

"Craddock Marine, Eighth Street branch, a block from here."

Scully knew the one she was talking about, but it didn't explain why she needed to stay away from it or what this desperate woman wanted. "I'm not following," she hedged carefully, wondering if perhaps the woman was mentally disturbed. "Did you get separated from your tour?"

The woman simply rolled her eyes, becoming more insistent. "I'm here to see you. I'm begging you. Don't go in this time. Don't let Mulder go either."

Mulder? How did she know Mulder would go? The woman's wide, panic filled eyes seemed sincere enough, but then Scully had seen mental patients who seemed just as sincere. She swallowed as the elevator opened, wondering if it were wise to simply walk in and allow this woman to her own devices. To Scully's relief a tour guide wandered up, shooting the woman a reproving look.

"Excuse me, miss, you're not supposed to be in this area."

The woman wasn't deterred. "If you walk into that bank, you'll die, both of you," she called fiercely, even as the tour guide guided her away. Scully stared at her in surprise, snorting in disbelief. Why did all the crazies in the world come calling on Mulder's door? Like perhaps attracting like?

Scully tried to brush off the strange confrontation as the elevator took her down to the basement. The office was still empty when she entered, but the sound of Mulder's rushed footsteps came from the hall, soon followed by the man himself, who looked harried as he flew over to his desk.

"Oh, hey!" He barely looked up as he opened his paycheck, sitting on his desk, his finger sliding inside of it to tear open the envelope.

"Hey," Scully replied, wondering what had her partner so frazzled that morning. It was rare Mulder ever looked so completely flustered.

"Did I miss the meeting?"

He sounded far to hopeful about that. "No…no, we took a five minute break about…" She paused, glancing at her watch. "Three minutes ago. Mulder, you cell phone's not working."

Rather than provide her with an explanation, he paused, staring at her strangely.

"Wow," he breathed, eyes unfocused as he shook his head. "That is so strange."

"What?" This was Mulder, much of his life was strange. What about it had particularly caught his fancy?

"I just got the weirdest sensation of déjà vu." He shrugged, returning to tearing his check from its pay stub. "I've been having it all morning."

"Well that's fairly common." As always Scully shrugged and turned to her blatant, scientific brush off, but then wondered why she said that. Why in the world would this be common?

"Yeah, but never to this degree," Mulder reasoned, grabbing a pen and scrawling his name across his check in his spidery handwriting. "I mean, I woke up, I opened my eyes, I was soaking wet…"

Just what had Mulder been doing this morning? Scully arched an eyebrows. He sensed her bemusement and smirked, shrugging it off.

"It's a long story, but I had the distinct sensation that I had lived that moment before."

"Well you may have," Scully drawled thoughtfully. "Did you do a lot of drinking in college?"

Mulder glared up at her. Right, Oxford, drinking, that seemed to be ubiquitous.

"I wonder what it means," his glare drifted into a confused frown, his teeth sucking his bottom lip in and worrying it briefly. He would of course think that all of his gut feelings and pseudo instinctual reactions must make it some sort of mystery.

"Mulder, I don't see why it has to mean anything?"

Her words only seemed to spur Professor Mulder, renowned psychologist, on as he leaned back in that way that said a lecture on some sort of strange phenomenon was coming. "Well, you know, some Freudians believe that the déjà vu phenomenon to be repressed memories escaping the unconscious. That it represents a repressed desire to have a second chance to set things right."

"Set what kind of things right," Scully challenged.

"Whatever's wrong," he replied simply.

He spoke in ephemeral symbolism. She understood hard science and that's exactly what she translated his vague response to. "Mulder, it's more likely that we are talking about simple neurochemistry, a glitch in the brain's ability to process recognition and memory. Doesn't mean that the memory is authentic."

"Yeah, but what if it were?"

Did he simply take these stances because he loved to play devil's advocate with her? "What if you'd lived this moment before, and now you're living it again?"

"Yeah, so I could right some wrong or change fate?"

Scully was torn between amusement and irritation. He really was a hopeless romantic, thinking he could change the world. But they had no time for this, and Skinner would personally kick her ass if Mulder wasn't up in that meeting after the break. "Well, right now you are fated to go to this meeting."

Mulder waved his check under her nose, rising and moving to the door. "No, actually I am fated to go to the bank."

That brought Scully up short. He wanted to go to the bank now? The frantic woman upstairs came to mind as she paused, staring at the endorsed check in his hand. Of course, that was why he was signing it, to run it over there. "Mulder," she murmured hesitantly, a crease forming between her brows. "What bank?"

"Craddock…right down the street." He didn't seem worried, but the name struck Scully like a cup of cold water poured over her head. She shivered, her mouth going dry.

"Eighth Street," she asked, stopping Mulder at the doorway, causing him to look curiously at her.

"What?" He was half exasperated with her, but Scully didn't care, the woman's words coming back to her in a rush.

"Some woman just stopped me in the hallway not ten minutes ago. She knew both of our names and she warned against either of us entering into the Craddock branch on Eighth Street. She said that we'd die." It sounded so silly when she said it out loud. Why had she let those words get to her.

Mulder didn't seem particularly concerned. "What did she look like?"

Scully thought back to her mental image. "Five-eight, thin, dyed hair. Maybe you know her?" The woman hardly looked like the type that Mulder would have dated in the day, but strange things could have happened in the years since. Or perhaps she was just someone who knew Mulder from his apartment, or Jake's Coffee Shop, or any of the myriad of take out places Mulder ate from. Perhaps she was simply an acquaintance of someone, a friend used to wind Spooky Mulder up. Certainly, there were a lot of those types in the bullpen they had just exited, and they could have easily allowed the woman to slip onto that floor, unnoticed. "Maybe it's just somebody pulling a prank."

Whoever she was, Mulder seemed unfazed. "I'll use the ATM machine," he compromised, shooting pained smile. "Don't want to tempt fate."

Scully watched him go, suddenly uneasy, but unable to clearly explain why. The girl was obviously disturbed, nothing more. Yet, Scully's reason pointed out, the woman had known the exact branch that Mulder was going to go to and she had been adamant that they could not go there at all. What if…

She was beginning to sound like Missy. Scully hugged her arms to herself, shaking off the creeping feeling of dread through her brain as she marched herself back down the hallway towards the elevator, determined to get through this meeting if it was the last thing she would do. Mulder, his déjà vu and crazy women in the hallway could all be damned for the moment, she had federal crime numbers to listen to.

When she alighted on Skinner's floor there was no sign of the woman. The meeting had resumed and Skinner glanced at her as she slid into her seat, his arched, dark eyebrow clearing demanding the whereabouts of her partner. She tried to shoot him an assuring look and turned to the files in front of her, expecting Mulder to breeze in sometime in the next ten minutes. It shouldn't take him that long, he had long legs, a runner's body, and he could eat the distance up in no time.

But ten turned into fifteen. Perhaps he had run into a line at the bank? Perhaps the streetlight had taken extra long to change? Mulder wouldn't dawdle for any particular reason…well unless he was trying to get out of a budget meeting from hell that would bore him mind to numbness.

At twenty minutes Skinner was glaring at Mulder's chair. What in the hell was taking him so long? Wordlessly, she simply nodded at Skinner and slipped out from around the table, rushing out of the room and out into the hallway. Mulder's cell wasn't working, perhaps she could run down to the bank and figure out what was going on. Down the elevator she went, to the lobby, her heels clicking angrily against the marble inlay of the FBI seal, her eyes scanning the crowd there for any sign of Mulder.

Annoyance drove her down the sidewalk, glancing at her watch as she did so. He had been at this nearly half-an-hour, what should have been a ten-minute trip. She wasn't Mulder's keeper, no matter what people assumed about them in the bureau. Her face burned in the cool, spring breeze that blew in from the river as she crossed the street to the bank, thinking of the eyes that were on her as she slipped out of the meeting to track down her errant partner. Just a month back on the X-files, and already Mulder was pulling the type of stunts that caused unwanted attention the last time.

Disgruntled, Scully reached the bank, her temper already stewing as she flung open the door and entered, eyes adjusting as she scanned the lobby for the tall, rumpled figure of her partner. No sign of him. Had she missed him somehow? How could she, the most direct route was the one she had taken. Frustrated, she turned, expecting to find his dark head whipping around the corner.

She hadn't expected the man at the corner to turn from the counter with a gun.

A woman screamed as Scully blinked, stunned, brain not quite catching up to what was in front of her. Customers dove for the marble floor, as the screaming woman whimpered, completely hysterical. She was setting the young man's nerves on edge, and Scully watched as his fingers tightened on his weapon. Slowly, Scully sank to the floor, trying to calculate desperately what she should do? Should she take to the floor, play it cool like everyone else? Or should she try to do something to stall him till the police arrived. If she did that, this would quickly become a hostage situation. But could she as a federal officer just stand by and let him walk out of here, especially with the way he was eyeing the screaming, begging woman in front of him. Someone might die before police arrived.

If anything, it was the sobbing woman begging for the man not to shoot them that sent Scully into action. The fact she had lost her head could set this man off and cost more people their lives. Slowly she tried to reach behind her, to the weapon she had under her coat. But something about Scully's movements drew the eye of the young man, who swiftly turned his aim towards her.

"Hey, hey, get your hands up where I can see them," he barked, as Scully cringed, knowing she was caught. "Do it! Do it now!"

Slowly she complied, holding her hands up in the air, showing she was no harm to him at all. Across the way, a shadow crossed the light outside, there was a rush of air, as the door opened. The young man didn't have time to react as Mulder's voice barked out across the open space, snapping out a command.

"Drop your weapon!" Mulder's aim was fixed on the man before he even had a chance to react. As the would-be bank robber turned, Mulder fired, the single shot ringing across the glass and marble. It caught the man's shoulder as he spun like a leaf, a hand going up to clutch at the olive drab coat as he crumpled, gracelessly to the floor.

The breath Scully hadn't realized she had been holding left her in a rush as she pulled out her own weapon finally, more as a precaution than out of a sense of true threat. Her heart pounding in her ears, she rose, as around her the sounds of relieved laughter and grateful sobs sounded. Mulder was already approaching the suspect, aim still leveled on him as he sobbed on the floor, blood seeping slowly through the heavy cotton on his jacket. The man ripped at it frantically, and tearing open the buttons as underneath Scully finally realized why he was wearing such a bulky, military style coat on what promised to be a lovely, spring day.

There was enough plastic explosive strapped to him to put a hole in the earth right where they stood.

Scully froze, terrified as the man's trembling, blood-covered fingers reached for the switch attached by wires to his front. Beside her she could hear Mulder chant something to himself, but it made no sense as inside of her brain she screamed for something to stop this. She couldn't move faster than his fingers though, and a red light switched on with a sickening, high-pitched beep.

Somewhere in the ensuing darkness, Scully heard the beeping grating into her skull. The sound grew, louder and larger, reverberating off of her brain, through her ears, into her eyes. She groaned as she reached out to stop it, to make that horrible noise end.

Her manicured fingers met with her alarm clock and slammed it hard. Slowly, her eyes opened, blinking in the bright light filling her neat and tidy bedroom. She frowned, staring at the white walls, the filmy curtains, and the warm comforter she was snuggled under. She had just been somewhere…else…she had been with Mulder, there had been shouting, and then…what was it?

Head heavy, she sat up wearily in bed, rubbing her temples and trying to concentrate. Something had happened, something horrible, something out of her dreams, she had to remember…what was it?

Scully's alarm beeped again, she had only hit snooze, not off. She jumped in her own skin at the sharp noise and shook herself, staring at the clock. She had a meeting today, a budget meeting…yes, one that would be long and boring. She had to be there, because Mulder would be late. Had Mulder told her that? No…why did she know that?

Disoriented and disgruntled, Scully slipped from beneath her blankets and towards the shower, her mind tangled with images of a screaming woman and a man in a olive drab coat, waiving a gun in her face. Perhaps a hot shower would shake loose the threads of her mind, and a cup of coffee would get her going. Yes…shower and a coffee, that was all she needed.

Chapter Text

Scully would have felt more sympathy for the man's heartbroken sobs if he didn't have a bomb strapped to his chest. Still, the pounds of plastic explosive did him little good with his hands cuffed behind his back. He sat on the floor beside the woman, his legs splayed as his accomplice's life's blood crept across the cold floor towards him. He hardly seemed to notice as he sobbed her name.

Pam, her name was Pam, and Scully was frantically trying to save her life. The bullet that would have likely killed Mulder had taken her down instead, ripping through her left lung, tearing bone and sinew, collapsing the organ that helped keep her live. Scully could hear her breaths come in short, gurgling gasps. A collapsed lung in and of itself wouldn't kill her, but the blood loss would. The exit wound had left a gaping hole with blood pouring out faster than Scully could stop it. She had tried to staunch it with Mulder's suit jacket on one side, her hand covering the entrance wound on the other, but it was just so much. A puddle of dark, sticky crimson glistened on the polished floor. Even as the ambulance pulled up frantically to the front doors, Scully knew she was gone. Her eyes flew up to the broken man in his olive drab coat crumpled beside her, apology and sorrow filling her. Whatever reason he had for doing what he did today, clearly the man had been trying to do this for Pam. His scruffy, thin face crumbled as tears filled his frantic eyes and he tried to scoot closer to the body quickly cooling on the floor.

"Pam, baby," he croaked, heedless of Mulder's careful aim at him from above. "Pam, speak to me."

The woman's dark eyelashes in her gray face didn't even flutter. The man murmured her name again, insistently, but to no avail. An inhuman wail seemed to rise in him as he fell, face down, to the floor, arms still twisted behind him as he sobbed incoherently into the marble in gibberish that perhaps only made sense to his agonized mind. He didn't move, even as the paramedics raced in the door, gurney in hand, moving immediately to where Pam lay prone.

Scully's gaze turned to Mulder and he silently nodded, lowering his weapon and bending over the man as Scully turned to the emergency medics, explaining the situation, holding her hands out stiffly, covered in blood. There was little they could do now, they even knew it, but they gently went to work on her body, taking readings and confirming the inevitable. As they worked, police finally came screaming up outside, black and white cars screeching to a halt as officers raced in, perhaps expecting still to find the robbery in progress. They stuttered as they took in the scene, a dead woman on the floor, a sobbing man beside her, and Mulder, his jacket off, weapon still held limply in his hand.

Wisely he decided to pull out his badge and present it. "We'll need a bomb squad here, he's covered in C4." He waived at the huddled customers, still trembling and crying in the lobby, the hysterical woman sniffling right in the center. "You might want to get some people out to see to the customers, everyone is pretty shaken up."

Officers rushed to do his bidding, a bomb squad was hailed as others began to reassure the terrified customers, checking on injuries, ensuring everyone was all right. At her feet one of the paramedics offered Scully a disinfecting towel for her hands as the others lifted Pam carefully onto the gurney, her thin body so fragile on the portable bed. Carefully they laid a white sheet across her, covering her face before strapping her in. On the floor the man covered in explosives hiccupped and cried.

This had to be one of the most surreal days Scully had ever lived.

She stood back as Metro police arrived to do their jobs, absently scrubbing at her fingers. She could still feel Pamela's blood coating the grooves. Mulder's suit jacket was a total loss, but he didn't seem to care. He watched as bomb experts carried the still sobbing man away, his face softly confused as they gently led him out of the glass front doors. Scully breathed a sigh of relief as he went.

"His name was Bernard," Mulder noted quietly, hands stuffed in his pockets as he shrugged in his blue, Oxford shirt.

"How did you know that?" Scully couldn't remember if they had asked for his name or not.

"I just…remembered." Mulder's frowned, unfocused, as he stared out the doors where Bernard came. "I don't know, it's all so weird, I remembered him, and the bomb. I confronted him before he could do anything, but it happened anyway."

Remembered? "You called me in the meeting, Mulder, you had me get Pam. You didn't know about any of this until today."

"No, I think I did, and I think you did too." His piercing eyes turned to hers in that mysterious way only Mulder ever seemed to manage. Scully felt her heart skip slightly as her brain raced. She glanced down at her hands, skin still itchy with dry blood, as something pulled at her brain. She had done this before, she thought, in this bank lobby. Something about blood, and a gunshot, and dying. She glanced up at Mulder, eyes lingering over the broad expanse of blue across his chest. His blood…

"It's probably just a memory of a dream, that's all." She tried scrubbing at her fingers with the towel, but it was already spent. She needed to get to place to wash them properly, to scrub off the gore. It suddenly seemed vitally important to do that.

"Didn't you wonder why I called you out of that meeting for her? I remembered Pam, Scully. I remembered her, I don't know why. But I think she's been trying to tell us something for a while, trying to stop this."

"Tell us for a while, Mulder I never saw that woman before until I walked up to that car?"

"But you have, you just don't remember. I didn't remember until I saw her. She looked so familiar."

"Perhaps you saw her around town, or walking into work…"

He shook his head, agitated as he spun around in a circle, taking in the entire scene around them. "No, I saw her here, at this bank. I've been here, at this very moment, standing at this very lobby before, with Bernard, with you, with that hysterical, screaming woman." He gestured to the very woman still quietly sobbing with a female police office. "I know this, I have lived this before."

His word's made her skin prickle, the hairs on her head tingled as she shook it firmly. "It's the stress of the day. You had a bad morning already, then this…"

"Is it possibly for time to be trapped?" His head whipped to her, his mind already racing far ahead of hers. "What if you got trapped in a loop, like a video? Having to relive one event over and over?"

"I suppose theoretically, on the quantum level, it's possible," Scully hedged, memories of old physics classes ghosting to life. "Time isn't continuous, there is a theory that it twists and turns, and perhaps…I don't know. Mulder, this is all theoretical physics, not a girl's life."

"Yes and no. What if that is what happened to Pam? What if Pam had, for whatever reason, become a fixed point? What if things kept happening to her over and over again, and wouldn't stop until she broke that loop, changed one thing to make it all end differently?"

"So we all have been living in that loop with her, fated to live out this entire experience again and again till she did what? Stopped that bullet?" Scully blinked against the image Pam's body jerking as she dove in front of Mulder. "What sort of cosmic joke is that?"

"Perhaps it wasn't one, it was just the fate the universe had for her. What if she was meant to die here, today, and somehow, someway, perhaps Bernard, perhaps us, we kept intervening? What if she was meant to stop what Bernard was doing, to prevent him from robbing this bank and killing all these people? Let's say she didn't try at first, and he kept trying, again and again, but something happened? His fuse was short, he tried to set himself off."

Mulder's eyes took on that misty look again, as he frowned down at the pool of blood that had yet to be cleaned up. "What if you, and me, and all of these people were trapped in Pam's loop, always caught in Bernard's robbery attempt? What if he failed every time, but each of those times we all died…all except Pam? She was the soul survivor, and she had to live, everyday, knowing that truth again, and again, and again."

"I hope not," Scully cut into his soft, almost sadly dreamy murmur, horrified at the implications of what Mulder even suggested. An endless loop of her dying over and over again. The thought was too terrifying and unsettling to think about. Her heart raced in her chest, she heard her own screams ringing against marble, and it made her spine shiver.

"Let's get out of here," she whispered, stepping gingerly around the blood at her feet, trying hard not to imagine it as Mulder's.

"Yeah," Mulder nodded as she passed, and uncharacteristically reached out for her, looping one long arm around her slim waist. Scully paused, looking up at him in surprise.

"I hope I didn't have to watch you die over and over either," he murmured softly. "I think I'm done with blood for a while."

Scully's fingers itched, but she didn't dare touch him till they were clean. She smiled, leaning a head into shoulder as they stepped out of the bank. ""I think we've successfully gotten out of our meeting."

"Yeah…think we can get out of filing a report with the locals?"

"Nope," Scully shook her head. "We'll have them call tomorrow?"

"Good idea," Mulder agreed, eyeing the milling police and other law enforcement. "Problem is, my apartment is still soaked."

"Come over to my place, the fridge if full."

"You say such sexy things, Scully," he joked lightly, but his arm around her tightened ever so slightly and she wondered if he too could still hear Bernard's agonized cries and still see the look of shock and wonder on Pam's face as she fell.

God, Scully hated Mondays.

Chapter Text

There names had been Bernard Stull and Pamela Lawrence, that was all the more Scully understood about the two people so caught up in the events of the bank robbery. Both were unemployed with a history of problems, Bernard in particular. His co-workers at the small auto-repair shop said he had a history of drug use when younger, one thought he had some psychological problems maybe, (though who didn't assume that after someone had tried to blow up a bank), and that mostly he stayed to himself. Pam had seemed nice enough, would come check in on him. No one who knew the couple had expected something like this.

The girl's remains were given to a sister who lived in Maryland. She sadly seemed unsurprised, had never liked Bernard, but had been tearful it had come to this for her sister. As for Bernard, he had been placed on suicide watch and was awaiting arraignment. Everyone expected him to plead guilty, though he had a public defender that seemed to want to cop an insanity plea. No one expected Bernard to go for it and frankly it didn't hold much water, no one doubted Bernard was totally sane when he strapped on a chest full of plastic explosive. So the case was closed and Scully had been happy to let the Metro PD wrap up loose ends. She and Mulder kept tabs on it to report to Skinner, given their involvement, and let it be. Even Mulder hadn't wanted to prod it, even if he still did believe they had all been caught in a time loop. Scully humored him, theoretically he could be right, she supposed, and moved on. She didn't have enough energy to argue the point. Frankly it all still vaguely bothered her, unsettling her in a deep sort of way.

The weeks carried on, April gave way to glorious spring in Washington. The cherry blossoms in the tidal basin were blooming, flowers were a riot all over the nation's capital, and it was far too delicious to be inside. After a full day of being tied up in a sterile, tile covered autopsy bay, with harsh chemicals and the smell of human flesh, the idea of wandering in the late afternoon sun back to the Hoover Building had been so very tempting. The autopsies hadn't been onerous. She'd offered to do them for the Metro PD while helping them with the bank robbery case. After all, it was a bit of a change from picking through the charred pieces of the X-files cases and watching Mulder meticulously fit them back together. If only the work of years was as easy to fit back into one pieces as the human body was once she was done examining it. They had been at it for weeks, since returning to the X-files, the once empty, shiny, new filing cabinets now were restocked with restored manila folders filled with psychic phenomena, vague monster sightings, and mysterious lights hovering in the skies over dozens of cities. Each one of them was carefully relabeled, restructured, and renewed and put in Mulder's unique, if confusing, ordering system. It almost felt like home again.


Despite the return to their old casework, their old office, their old life, there was a difference. Scully could feel it every time she stepped into the office and looked at Mulder's clean, neat, and orderly desk. She could see it every time she looked at the clutter free space and then turned to Mulder and watched him palm his basketball, spinning it on long, nimble fingers. Long gone was the man she had first met, the one who hunched over his slide projector and light box, who demanded that she account for the strange chemical compound found in some dead cattle. In his place was a man who seemed at a loss what to do. He believed in the work, that was without question, but in the last two years he had everything he had ever placed his faith in turned upside down, twisted, and subverted. The confidence that had once defined Mulder as he sat in this office now was gone, lost along with the old, pockmarked ceiling tiles and his "I Want To Believe" flying saucer poster. The X-files might be their's again, but Mulder's head wasn't in it, not yet at least.

This had all been Mulder's life once and they had taken it away from him. The morose thought cut against the lovely evening that Scully had been enjoying, turning sour the soft light and gentle breeze off the Potomac. Her feet turned back to the Hoover building, somberly, as she thought of her partner. He had been such a force to be reckoned with once, a man who had terrified her with his intellect and drug her along in the swell of his own zeal. Scully had once feared being drug into the darkness with him as she stood on the edge, trying to hold him back. Now, Mulder seemed almost afraid to tread that edge again and for whatever reason, that bothered Scully.

She supposed she couldn't blame him. In the last two years he'd been forced to watch as his work was taken from him and given to another, his methods questioned, his results ridiculed. He had been made to believe that he was a simple pawn in a conspiracy that had done everything from kidnapping his sister, to killing his father, to giving Scully cancer. He had seen things that not even Scully could fully believe, had broken apart a legacy of lies that stretched back to well before he was born, and wrapped his entire family and life in it's deceit. He had no sense of what was true and what wasn't regarding his own life anymore. For even the most reasonable of people it was enough to make anyone lose faith. But Mulder was the man of boundless faith, endless faith. His belief in those things that no one else believed in was what defined him. If he lost faith…what then were the X-files all about?

That was the question of the century for Scully and one she didn't particularly have an easy answer to. Perhaps it would be a different sort of question if she had something else beyond this, their work, to fall back on in her life. Six years she had been with Mulder, since she was a fresh-faced, Quantico instructor put into the field for the first time. Back then she had been full of enthusiasm and skepticism in equal parts. But she'd also had something beyond the X-files to fall back on. She had her family in one piece back then, both Ahab and Melissa had been alive. She had a relationship to distract herself with, even if Ethan hadn't been exactly ideal in terms of a future life partner. She had friends she saw regularly, and people she made dinner plans with. She'd had a life.

Now she faced an empty apartment, sans even the pet she once had. No life mate to go home to and fix dinner for, (or better yet, have dinner waiting for her). No children to fuss over, ensuring that homework was done and bedtimes were observed. Her best friends were now either gone or preoccupied. Melissa was dead, and Ellen was caught up in her own family and life. Even her brothers were married now and starting families. That left Scully, thirty-five, single, married to her work…a work that carried with it the baggage of Fox Mulder and all of his insecurities. It was all she had left now…he was all she had left now.

The familiar ache that now accompanied thoughts of Mulder twanged in Scully's chest as she entered the Hoover Building, nodding to security as she checked past the gates and made her way to the elevators. The dull throb of knowing her own unrequited feelings for her partner only made this entire situation worse. For all the love she felt for Mulder, she also felt incredibly sad for him as well. In all of the time she had known him, never once had she known Mulder to allow anyone into his inner circle, into his trust. Scully was the closest person to him, she supposed, outside of Diana Fowley. The ambiguous place that woman held in Mulder's life nettled Scully as she punched the elevator button down to the basement. Outside of the pair of them, few people got beyond Mulder's defenses, not even his own mother. Scully wasn't even sure the two of them had spoken to each other recently. Now, with everything in their worlds turned upside down, that left Mulder with even fewer ties in his life than Scully had. No family, no friends, no lovers, just the X-files and his belief in those wasn't what it once had been.

What had become of the pair of them?

The elevator opened to the darkness of the basement, broken only by the light shining from the X-file office's open door. Mulder was still in, she should have realized that. He had no life other than this, as broken as it was. She sighed as she wandered down the hall to the doorway, and was unsurprised to find her tall, lanky partner inside, pinning articles to the corkboards behind his desk. Trying to go back to the good old days, the days before everything happened, to find his confidence.

Well if he was here this late in the evening, he must have something to do, she reasoned. "Aren't you going home?"

He didn't bother turning around to answer her. "I am home. I'm just feathering the nest."

That was perhaps the most honest statement of Fox Mulder's life. For him, this was home.

Chapter Text

Scully didn't think she had ever seen Mulder turn as pink as he did in that moment.

"We met online." He shrugged, eyes looking anywhere but at Scully.

"Online?" Scully glanced in the direction of the closed door that Karen Berquist had taken, the sound of dogs yelping following in her wake. Mulder had taken a case from a woman he had met online? Never in person? That was a bit…different. Well, considering the number of "secret contacts" he had, perhaps not, but Scully had always imagined them to be nameless, faceless, mysterious men in dark suits.

"Two professionals exchanging information," he quickly defended himself as he shoved his fists into his trench coat.

Scully wasn't so sure Mulder's idea of professional was the same as Karen's. Had he missed the way she dismissed Scully's legitimate question regarding the Dhole myth, one Mulder usually would have pounced on in a second? Had he not seen the way the woman had ignored Scully and gravitated towards Mulder, avoiding even looking Scully in the eye and only meeting Mulder's gaze, almost as if he alone was worthy enough to bother talking to? There was something else going on here, something that made Scully's hair stand on end, and something Mulder was missing.

"So you two met online? How?" Curiosity was getting the better of Scully as Mulder shuffled out of the study and through the house, back out front to where they were parked.

"Several years ago, on a user group I found regarding canid legends and folktales. Mostly stuff about werewolves and the like, but Karen was one of the few voices of reason in there. She was useful in weeding out what was hysteria verses what was legend based in some sort of reality."

"Hysteria on an internet forum dedicated to people who believe in werewolves? Who would have thought?" Scully snorted dryly, squinting against the bright, Southern California sunshine. The Berquist kennels were in the hills of the quiet, exclusive area of Rancho Palos Verdes, not far from the Port of Long Beach where these strange murders were occurring. Scully could smell the salt of the Pacific Ocean where she stood. She glanced at the woman in the distance, Stacy Muir, who was busily putting up posts and wire to keep out coyotes. Certainly, the wild creatures were common enough in the Los Angeles area, and t wasn't a particularly far stretch to see one of them coming down the hills from Karen's property to the cities of San Pedro and Long Beach below. Perhaps if one was rabid enough…

"Do you seriously buy her line about canid intelligence being far superior to humans?" Scully couldn't help but bristle at the statement as she glanced down the sweep of green hills and trees, past other houses, towards the blue-green line of ocean beyond. She could feel Mulder beside her hedge ever so slightly.

"Karen doesn't exactly have the best opinion on humans."

"Except for you," she replied, watching his face redden again. "Seems to think a lot of you"

"Well, we've spoken to each other for years."

"I'm sure that's it." She smirked, biting her tongue as she meandered towards their parked rental. "So, chatted each other up online for years, had stimulating, intellectual conversation, and yet, this is the first time you met her?"

Mulder's eyes narrowed at Scully who ignored his cutting stare as she wandered to the passenger's side of the car. "What are you getting at?"

"I don't know, Mulder, haven't you wondered why it is she sent this case your way?"

"She knows the type of work I do on the X-files, of course she would know to send it to me."

"Except she doesn't believe in the Dhole myth."

Mulder cringed. Obviously he had hoped she hadn't noticed how he had neglected that line of questioning, one he'd normally pursue vigorously. "Karen has spent her life debunking legends and myths regarding canines. She has the highest respect for those animals, and she doesn't like the stories humanity has come up with out of fear of the unknown."

"So she called you out here hoping you would debunk a myth regarding a super-intelligent dog, knowing that most rational people in the public wouldn't buy that story anyway?"

Clearly Mulder hadn't thought of this case that way. He paused, leaning against the car, arms crossed over the top of it, glaring at Scully. "What are you suggesting, that she lured me out here with a case to meet me?"

He really had no clue, did he? "Mulder, don't you find it odd that Karen would send you on a wild goose chase regarding a case that she doesn't believe in herself? Face it, if this is really just a really smart dog, like she suggests, why wouldn't Animal Control be called, or the US Parks Service, or anyone else who is far more qualified with handling wildlife than a couple of FBI agents?"

"It's a strange case, she knows I like them."

"And yet she doesn't believe in the supernatural aspect and you didn't pursue it." He was being obtuse here and clearly he either didn't get it or chose not to. "I don't know, Mulder, this is a woman who has separated herself from all other human contact save for the people she talks to online. She surrounds herself with her work, her passion, and nothing else."

"And," he challenged, dark eyebrow raised.

"She reminds me of you," Scully replied softly, watching something akin to realization dawn on Mulder's face. "And I think she sees that too, and she's lonely."

It took several, long heartbeats for it all to sink in for the normally astute Mulder. "You think she did this so that I would come out and she could finally meet me?"

"I think she feels a kinship with you Mulder." A kinship that Scully wasn't completely sure she was comfortable with. "Just…keep that in mind as you deal with her, okay?"

"So what if she does find a certain 'kinship'? I respect her intellect."

"I'm glad you do, Mulder, but I don't know if her convincing you to take this case was solely so the two of you could connect intellects."

The pieces started to finally come together for him. "You think she wanted me out here to hook up with me?"

"Hook up is a strong term." Scully sniffed, one she doubted Karen Berquist would even consider in her anti-social, analytical mind. "But I think she does see in you a kindred spirit. So remember that when you are dealing with her. Just be honest with her. Unless, of course…"

She let the sentence end tantalizingly, unable to stop herself from fitting in a bit of a tease, relishing the look of consternation on her partner's face.

"I see Karen as a friend and colleague and you are making more of this than is really there."

"Maybe so, but I'm not the one who herds around a pack of dogs wherever I go, now am I?"

"What, jealous?" Mulder's eyes were keen, flashing at her from across the top of the car. He was smarting from her ribbing and he wanted to get in some of his own. Unbeknownst to him, it did sting, a lot. Scully's cheeks flushed, but she shrugged off his flippant accusation with an airy smile.

"Mulder, I've long ago gotten used to the type of women who throw themselves at you. I hardly notice anymore."

"Really?" He didn't look as if he believed her, but didn't pursue the subject. "Fine, now that we've had a laugh at my personal relationships, I want to get back down to business, like what it is that attacked those men."

Scully sensed her time for idyll amusement was over. "What do you think? Karen shot down your dhole idea."

"Well, she shot it down, doesn't mean I still don't have it."

"She says that they are extinct."

Mulder shrugged, sinking down into the car, Scully following suit. "There are animals that science assumes are extinct only to find that they are so rare that they just haven't found them yet in the wild."

"And you think that what we are looking for is one of these?"

"Makes sense, Detweiler perhaps found a species he believes is one of these creatures and unwittingly it got loose." He started the car, teeth tugging on his bottom lip. "I think whatever it is, whether it is a Wanshang Dhole or just a creepy species of Chinese wolf, it's out there and it's killing people, and it knows what it is doing."

"I think your friend will be disappointed in your discounting of her professional opinion." Scully smirked.

"Well, she wouldn't be the first female in my life I've done that to," he replied dryly. "You're still talking to me."

"There are days I wonder if I should or not," she shot back as he started the car and pulled out of the drive. In the distance Scully could hear dogs baying and yapping, as their rental turned onto the winding lane through the Southern California sun.

Chapter Text

Trickster indeed!

Scully pulled the rental in front of Karen Berquist's property, her teeth digging softly into her bottom lip. She had made the excuse to Mulder of wanting to check up on the veterinarian, Riley, at the hospital, and he had agreed with little comment. She had not bothered to tell him about the photograph she had found in Riley's office, the one of him and Karen together. He'd likely have just brushed it off as coincidence. It was always coincidence when it was some woman that Mulder was personally involved with. Scully's thought invariably drifted to Diana Fowley, and she frowned darkly at the sprawling house. She had done her research on Karen Berquist, taking Mulder's axiom to heart, trust no one. While he might be blind to that phrase whenever it was anyone he liked, Scully didn't have the luxury of that sort of blind trust. How many times over the years had Mulder implicitly believed in someone, only to turn around and find his trust betrayed.

Karen Berquist on the surface had looked as if she was exactly what Mulder thought she was. Her education was in biology and zoology with an added specification in veterinary sciences, though her doctorate was an academic one, not medical. Her work in canid animal behavior started even before she finished her undergraduate degree, and her first published paper had made her almost an instant success with academia. But despite her growing reputation and fame, Karen had seemingly shied away from the spotlight of recognition. Even when younger she had avoided the politics of the Ivory Tower in favor of field work, spending years at a time in places as remote as Africa, Siberia, and particularly Asia.

It had been the time in China that had peeked Scully's interest.

Still, she had looked for some reason that perhaps drove Karen away from the social environs of academic circles and into the reclusiveness of her work. She had searched for the obvious signs, psychological trauma or abuse as a child. When that turned up nothing, she had wondered if perhaps the woman hadn't suffered from some sort of disorder. Asperger Syndrome had come to mind and easily could explain her anti-social behavior, but it hit her as she considered the photograph, Karen and her anti-social behavior, her dislike of the light, her love of darkness, of solitude, and disdain of human company. It perhaps wasn't a social disorder, but a physical one.

It hadn't taken much to confirm her suspicions. The tell tale, malar rash of course should have tipped her off, but a discreet look into Karen's financials had pulled up payments to several clinics in recent years Scully knew specialized in research, specifically lupus research. It certainly explained why Karen had shifted her work in the last five years away from the field and back into human society, if not into human company. The increased frequency of these visits either indicated she had just discovered it more recently than not, or that the disease was progressing at a rate that it hadn't before. Ironic, Scully thought darkly, the woman who was more at home with the wolf than the man had contracted a disease that brought the wolf inside.

She had seen people lash out at the world for lesser reasons. The young man Bernard with his chest covered in C4 came to mind. He'd been willing to kill an entire bank full of people just to provide for his beloved Pam. How much would it take for one angry, lonely, isolated woman to strike out at the world, especially to catch the eye of the one person she had met in her life that perhaps would finally understand her?

Scully's gut churned as she finally exited her car, straightening her spine as she crossed the expanse of green lawn only partially enclosed by Karen's assistant. Following her instincts was not Scully's forte, it wasn't usually even her first line of thought, but something about that photograph of Riley and Karen had pushed her. She had found it odd that out of all the victims they had found, the veterinarian was the only one left alive, albeit seriously injured. He was the only one who had a close, personal relationship with Karen, the one who tried to help animals and not harm them, and perhaps in the end that was what had saved him, though not enough to prevent him from harm.

The front door was open, surprisingly. Perhaps to let the dogs out? Scully considered knocking, after all she hardly wanted to be accused of entering unlawfully, but decided that an open door was a good enough invitation to enter. The house was silent and dark, the curtains drawn making the hallway dim as she stepped into the coolness of the inside. She could hear the faint sound of clicking, a keyboard, and she wrinkled her nose against the distinct odor of many dogs brought together in one, living space.

The study door was open and behind the desk sat Karen, studying her computer monitor and oblivious to the stranger who had just entered into the midst of her own private pack. It was only the sudden alertness of her dogs that cued her as she looked up, surprised at Scully, frowning at her from across her desk.

"Where's Fox?"She clearly had expected him. Perhaps that was why her door was open, her inner sanctum laid bare? Scully tried not to bristle at the familiar use of her partner's first name. Of course the woman who was attracted to canids would rather call him "Fox" than "Mulder". A perturbed part of her wondered if Karen actually considered him such, both in the literal and figurative use of the word.

"Continuing his investigation," she replied coolly, stepping to one of the chairs ear Karen's desk. One of her many dogs sat there, looking up at Scully, clearly not willing to move for the likes of this stranger. Scully thought of Queequeg, and met the creatures shining, dark eyes steadily as it sensed the power struggle coming, and knew it was going to lose. Without even a yip it slid off, allowing Scully to sit as it scurried to its fellows on one of the couches in the room. She could play alpha female as well as Karen could, perhaps better. Scully lifted her chin coolly as she met Karen's skittish gaze.

"You're not working together," the woman wondered, clearly nervous without the presence of Mulder there. She had made it plain from the beginning she had little use for Scully, had little interest in her. Of course not, because Mulder was who she had been after the entire time. Still, she couldn't avoid Scully now, not with her sitting right across from her, her gaze as level on Karen as it had been on her dog. Like her dog, the woman couldn't meet Scully's eyes directly.

"No," Scully murmured evenly. "This is my investigation."

"Of?" Karen clearly was not pleased to have this interloper into her personal terrain.

"You," Scully replied simply.

Karen squirmed ever so slightly, despite the cool façade she struggled to maintain. "I have no idea what you mean."

So she was human after all, Scully thought idly. She was clearly capable of lying. "I thought at first that they were eccentricities or affectations." She let her glance drop to Karen's arms, the long sleeves that covered her pale skin. "The dark, the clothes. But it's photosensitivity. Your sleeves cover up skin lesions. It's why you're here amongst the humans instead of out in the field. Systemic lupus erythematosus."

Her eyes widened briefly, but she didn't deny it. Instead she simply jerked her head, a small conformation of what Scully had laid before her. "Lupus. From the Latin for 'wolf'. Ironic, isn't it?"

"Ironic," Scully admitted. "Or perverse?"

In a sense it was perverse, that an autoimmune disease named for a canid was the one thing keeping Karen from the work she loved. She'd feel more sympathy for the woman if she didn't suspect it of driving her finally over the edge. Karen, for her part, only looked regretful as she leaned back into her chair, regarding her dogs fondly for a quiet moment.

"I've ignored the symptoms for years," she admitted. "I've always felt more like a wolf than a person."

"But not with Mulder," Scully blatantly challenged, figuring she might as well lay her cards on the table directly. "With Mulder, you found somebody you could communicate with. Someone who challenged you."

Mulder did seem to have that way with women, didn't he, she thought regretfully.

"But that wasn't enough," Scully pressed, ignoring the pricking sensation of jealously, swallowing against it as she pushed on with her theory. "You needed to lure him out here."

Perhaps it was gut instinct telling her there was more to Karen's involvement than simple professional interest. Perhaps it was Scully's knee-jerk reaction to knowing how this woman felt about her partner. She couldn't deny a part of her resented this interloper's attention to him. Something told her there was more to Karen's involvement than simple professional interest, as she told Mulder. After all, she was a lonely woman, had always felt more "wolf" than "human". She was not trapped by a disease that kept her from what she loved and kept her equally from human contact, and there was a man whose intellect was attractive, who appreciated her for her mind and her insight. If anyone knew how intoxicating that attention from Fox Mulder was, it was Scully. After all, she was still his partner after six years and everything they had been through.

To her surprise Karen did not deny her accusations, but she did not confirm them either. Instead she merely shrugged, eyeing Scully for long, disdainful moments. "I lack your feminine wiles," she replied dismissively.

What did that statement mean? Was it a sideways admission that she had used this case to lure Mulder out, lacking any other means to charm him into seeing her? Or was it a cut at Scully herself, a way of deflecting suspicion by throwing insults and insinuations. Scully couldn't tell and she wasn't about to let the woman deter her.

"You don't believe it, do you? Not for a minute, that there's an animal out there killing?"

Karen finally met Scully's gaze evenly. Perhaps she felt she had gotten the upper hand. "I don't believe that this man, Dr. Detweiler, ever caught it. I lived in Asia. I know about the Wanshang Dhole. And if it survived for over a century, it was because it was more cunning than man. More cunning than this man Detweiler ever dreamed of. "

"More cunning than you?" Scully arched a challenging eyebrow pointedly at the woman. The question startled her and perhaps finally she was getting the point that Scully was making.

"I'm watching you," Scully warned quietly. Perhaps she was crossing a line, staking out her territory, but she didn't care. There was more to all of this than just ancient Chinese folk tales and rampaging, killer dogs. It was all to calculated for that, too well thought out. Why save the veterinarian and kill the others if it was as simple as a mindless animal?

"You watch," Karen replied evenly. "But you don't see."

Perhaps. Scully didn't flinch from the woman's enigmatic response. She simply rose, coolly nodding by way of recognition. "I'll see myself out. I suggest that if you know anything more about this, anything more personally insightful, you come foreword while you can. For your sake, and for Mulder's."

She rose, turning from the quiet woman as she picked her way through the gathering of dogs. They simply watched her go silently, her steps carrying her from the study out of the silent house, and into the fresh breeze off the Pacific outside. Her mind turned over Karen's parting words. What did you she mean by "you watch, but you don't see"?

Her cell phone chattered in the pocket of her slacks and Scully started guiltily as she reached for it, crossing the expanse of grass to the car, putting distance between herself and Karen before she took Mulder's call. "Hi! What's up?"

She didn't dare mention her visit to Karen, not this conversation. Mulder wouldn't understand. If he couldn't listen to Scully regarding Diana Fowley, he wouldn't listen to her regarding this, and there were just some fights that Scully was willing to avoid to keep the peace with her partner. This one was one of them.

Chapter Text

Scully was woman enough to admit when she was wrong about a person. Sadly, she would never be able to tell Karen Berquist that. Despite the animosity she had felt towards the strange, sad woman, Scully found herself feeling infinitely ashamed for her behavior and somewhat guilty. Nothing about this case had been what she had expected, least of all Karen herself. The ME report on both Karen and Detweiller had been fairly straightforward. Detweiller had been killed by the weapon found near Karen's body, a tranquilizer gun with enough of the drug in it to take down an elephant, let alone a fully-grown man. His heart had slowed, his respiration stopped, and he had died a relatively peaceful death compared to the woman he had killed. Karen had been quite obviously mauled by some sort of creature, likely a large canid such as a wolf, though it would take the ME some weeks to compare the bite marks to what the US Fish and Game service had on record. Whatever it was it had snapped her neck. She had died likely before Detweiller had, before she had even hit the ground. There was no evidence of where the creature had gone or where it could be hiding.

Mulder of course had his own opinions on the matter.

"It makes sense, Scully," he insisted as he reviewed the preliminary toxicology report, scowling darkly at the numbers in front of him. "Why else would he be filled with that much tranquilizer if he hadn't been an animal when Karen first encountered him?"

"So Detweiller was a werewolf?" Scully tried her best not to sound condescending as she stated the obvious, knowing that for Mulder this case was personal.

"Not a werewolf, a Wanshang Dhole." His long fingers snapped the file shut, tossing it on his still mostly clean desk. "Detweiller went to China looking for a myth, for evidence of an extinct species, only to find that it wasn't extinct, it was just much smarter than he would ever be."

Mulder's hazel green eyes stared unfixed at the manila folder, the familiar look of the weight of the world settling on him in that moment. Scully had worried and wondered since he had found Karen crumpled in the kennels outside of her home. Though he had only known Karen professionally, Scully imagined there was much more to their Internet connection than simple professional interest. How very few people Mulder ever managed to connect to in the world beyond the narrow confines of their office. Karen represented a highly intelligent, well-educated person outside of Mulder's work who believed in him and took him at face value. She made no extended judgments on what he was; only that he was a friend. And whatever her intentions were to Mulder, she had found in him someone who was like her.

"You know I won't be able to get the ME to support your supposition," Scully sighed gently, settling in a chair beside his desk. She reached out across the flat surface to pull the file towards her. "All we can say for sure is that Detweiller was shot, likely before Karen was killed, nothing more or less. Beyond that…" Scully shrugged, finding herself at a loss. Something told her that there was much more to this, perhaps that there was something even to Mulder's werewolf theory. Karen had tried to tell her something and Scully had been too jealously territorial to listen.

"I can at least write this up," Scully finally offered after long moments of silence between them. It wasn't what Mulder wanted, she knew that, but it was enough to close the case on Karen's death and perhaps lead down the rabbit trail for US Customs Officials and LA County Sheriffs. The story would likely come out that Detweiller had tried transporting a dangerous animal from Asia and tried to sneak it past customs officials. When it had gone horribly wrong, Karen's suspicions called them in on the case and had ultimately gotten her killed. As simple as that, case closed. It wasn't what really happened, but it was enough to make everyone involved happy. Everyone, that was, except Mulder.

"She deserved more than this," he grumbled softly, throwing himself back in his chair as he pivoted petulantly. He spun lazily to glance at the corkboard he had been working on just days before, now resplendent in cut out newspaper articles, fresher and newer than the ones he once had up before. Their edges didn't curl in, yellow with time, nor was the ink faded. A new start to his familiar work, and in the middle of it all was the new poster, a replica of the one he had lost in the fire a year ago.

I want to believe…

"Karen sent me her copy before she died," he murmured in open answer to her silent question. "I told her I lost my old copy, but hadn't been to buy a new one. It's funny, I was the one who sent her this one."

"Same place you got the old one," Scully wondered, recalling the strange, weird little novelty shop where she had purchased the very same poster for a small-town sheriff in Maine as a gift after a rather eventful vacation she spent up there. It occurred to Scully that she could have gone back there, purchased a new poster for Mulder, and yet she hadn't even thought of it. She tried to swallow the spike of jealousy she felt. It wasn't charitable to think that way of the dead.

"Yeah," Mulder nodded, sighing sadly as he turned back to where Scully sat. "She always thought my aliens were weird. At her heart Karen was a scientist, just like you, I guess. She devoted her life to her research, and she didn't have room for folk stories or tales of extra-terrestrials. But she always listened, and she always wanted to talk, and she never laughed at my stranger theories." He smiled softly, frowning at the folder in Scully's hands.

"I think in the end she knew the truth about Detweiller, even if she couldn't bring herself to believe before. I think she knew that the Wanshang Dhole was real and that Detweiller had become something he couldn't control. Karen wasn't the type to believe in fairy tales, however she came across to other people. I think that's why she called me on this, because there was a point when she realized that she couldn't believe. She needed someone in on this who could."

"Maybe," Scully considered softly, thinking of the strange, lonely woman, locked up in her kennels, with a city of millions surrounding her. She decided to share Karen's secret, one she was sure she hadn't revealed to Mulder. "Mulder, she had Lupus. Hers was becoming progressively worse because she had let it go unchecked for so long. People can live with the disease for years comfortably, but…I don't know how long Karen had ignored it. She might not have had that long, and what remained to her would have been painful."

If he was surprised by this information, Mulder didn't show it. "It's why she left the field, returned to America and settled at the kennels."

"She couldn't do her work anymore, Mulder, and she wasn't a people person to begin with. And this…this almost made it worse." Scully found her heart going out to the strange woman. She had misjudged her, she really had.

"Perhaps in the end she wanted this to end the way it did." Scully hated thinking of anyone willingly placing their life in danger in this way, of knowingly stepping into harms way because they felt they had nothing to lose. "She was the only one who truly understood the legends of the Wanshang Dhole. Even for all of your insight into the supernatural, Mulder, you didn't understand the canid mind like she did, and she felt she was more expendable than you in the end. It's simple pack mentality. Sacrifice the weaker member in order to save the stronger one."

His head reared at that, eyes wide as he stared at Scully's suggestion. "This isn't a National Geographic special, Scully."

"No, but it's how Karen thought. She said it herself, all of her life she felt closer to dogs than human." And Scully could see Karen Berquist sacrificing herself for the good of Mulder if necessary. She glanced at the poster, it's mat finish reflecting faintly the florescent light from overhead. "She knew you had something more to do with this life. I think she wanted you to have the opportunity to see that out."

Silence filled with heavy thought settled on the both of them for long moments as Mulder stared absently over Scully's shoulder and she considered the poster over his head. Mulder never could accept the idea of anyone caring so much for him they would sacrifice everything for him. It never sat well with him. Of course it wouldn't, Scully reasoned, he had known so few people who had actually given of themselves so completely for him. His family, his relationships, even in his career he had been pushed aside as an embarrassment by those with higher careers goals than the basement office. And when someone, like Karen or - if Scully was honest - like herself, gave so completely of themselves to him, he couldn't grasp it. That wasn't the way it worked in Mulder's universe, he was the one to sacrifice himself, the perpetual martyr to the cause of Truth.

"People believe in you." Scully murmured softly, her eyes sliding to his pointedly. "People do believe in your work, however few they might be. They believe in who you are, your faith, your tenacity. It's what keeps them going when their own faith runs out. I think that's why Karen sent you that poster. Not just because she wanted to believe in you, she wanted you to believe in yourself. You have lost that somewhere along the way these last few years and…" She drifted off, unsure of how to continue. She had told him over and over she needed him to believe in himself again. Scully was desperate for it. It was what made this whole, damn thing worthwhile.

"I need you to believe in yourself again," she finally whispered softly, clutching the ME report perhaps a bit tighter than was necessary. "I know at the end of the day, Mulder, this is our work but it's become your life and now its mine, too. Unlike Karen, I don't get the luxury of stepping away. I need to know that you believe in yourself enough to do this."

"So you can what, martyr yourself too?" His sudden anger caught Scully off guard. He glared distastefully at the report in her hand, sitting upright suddenly, his chair creaking with the effort. "I think you've done enough of that, Scully. Karen didn't need to die for me. No one does. I didn't ask her to."

She sighed. Really, she couldn't fault him for that reaction, no one would like the idea of anyone dying for them, least of all Mulder…especially not Mulder. Not the man who carried the weight of his guilt around him perpetually, the chain that tied him so to his work. Now Karen would become another link in that chain…just as Scully was.

And they were only going round and round in circles in this argument. "Perhaps I should go and write my report on the ME's findings. You want to file with Skinner tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Mulder grated, the heels of his palms finding his eyes. "Sure, get this over with. I'll forward it all to US Customs and the Fish and Game service, and I suppose LA County Sheriffs will want it for their input."

"Yeah." The joy of working with multiple levels of federal and local law enforcement. Scully rose, contemplative as made for her desk. "For what it's worth, Mulder, I am sorry about Karen, and I think I was wrong about her in many ways."

She had no idea if her words were a comfort to him or not. He simply nodded curtly, face grim as he turned from her to his computer. "I'll get started on my end."

"Sure," she breathed, settling behind her desk. The two of them worked in silence for the rest of the afternoon as Scully tried to ignore the niggle of guilt that worked at her conscience every time she typed in Karen Berquist's name into her report.

Chapter Text

Tornadoes scared the hell out of Scully.

Not that she had ever had to live through one, but the very idea of them terrified her. A finger of wind, straight from heaven above, tearing across fields and towns, picking up everything in its wake and tossing it about like so many toys, entire towns were wiped off the map by things like tornadoes, brick homes ripped to shreds, semi-tractor trailers tossed over buildings, cars and tractors stuck in the tops of trees, this was what tornadoes did. So when Mulder mentioned they had a case in Mississippi, the sight of a series of tornadoes just the day before, Scully was less than thrilled. Mulder, however, said she would like this case, it was strange. Then again if he thought a case was wonderful it was already strange. So with some trepidation she boarded a plane to Jackson, Mississippi, the state capital, to look at the body of a dead prison guard. The only detail she had was that it was a strange, tornado death. Mulder had maddeningly not told her any other details, smiling with a Cheshire grin as he handed her the ticket, nonchalantly strolling to the gate.

There were days she truly hated him.

The flight to Mississippi took two planes and five hours, and Scully was less than pleased when they touched ground and got a taxi to the county morgue. Mulder had been no more forthcoming on the flight, and was even less so on the drive over, assuring her that she would see on her own when they arrived. Whatever it was, it was strange enough to warrant calling in the FBI, and not just any department, but the X-files. Her mind raced with tornadic possibilities, perhaps a sign post through the chest cavity? Maybe it was a piece of straw through the heart. Hadn't she heard that once from some tornado in Indiana? But those were just freaks of nature, unlikely coincidences that while unusual were perfectly explainable in and of themselves. Nothing that would catch and sustain Mulder's attention in such a fashion that he would shrug so coolly and play coy with her the whole way to the prison warden's body.

What was with prison wardens in the south? And why did everyone want to kill them? It seemed so cliché, after all, but they had been on another case once before, in Florida, with the ghost of a dead inmate killing off guards and prisoners alike. Now this? Scully could only hope it was a ghost, or something equally strange, weird, and thoroughly Mulderish. She hoped it wasn't a piece of straw to the heart.

As it turned out, it wasn't anything nearly that prosaic.

The body of Raybert Fellows lay in two pieces, the top completely severed from the bottom. Scully removed the sheet, eyes widening at the two halves, bisected by a band of what appeared to be charred flesh in between. Mulder, for all of his smugness, predictably turned green at the gills at the sight, turning away for the briefest of moments as Scully's shock gave way to a brief, critical examination.

So this was what all of Mulder's secrecy had been about? "Should we arrest David Copperfield?" She smirked flippantly, glancing at the strange wound that tore him in half.

"Yes we should," Mulder agreed briefly, recovering himself, smirking. "But not for this. Now, this is Raybert Fellows, superintendent of Road Farm Six, Mississippi Department of Corrections. One of his guards found him in his office, not a drop of blood in the place."

Strange, Scully frowned, touching one, latex gloved finger to the dark, carbon on one side of the man's body. It crumbled under her probing finger, falling as a fine, black ash to the table. No blood? Unusual, this sort of injury, right across the body, through so many major organs and blood vessels, should have left a veritable torrent of blood. She should know she'd been shot twice in the abdomen just this year. She frowned between either burnt ends of his body. Whatever had killed him, it was hot enough and quick enough to cauterize the wound, burning the flesh to a literal cinder before it had a chance to bleed out across the man's office. Still….

"Well, maybe he was killed elsewhere?" He would almost have to be, she reasoned. She couldn't think of a single, simple piece of equipment that was portable enough to do this sort of damage.

"No, I don't think so," Mulder countered. "Whoever did it took forty minutes to do it in the middle of a tornado. What do you make of that?"

His leer meant he thought that this was very impressive and Scully found she couldn't fault him for that. The more she studied, the worse this man's wounds became. It wasn't as simple as a cut across his belly with a sword or other sharp instrument. An entire section of his middle was gone, as if it had been knocked out or burnt away by whatever had been used, leaving two carbonized ends behind.

"I don't know," she admitted, squinting at the wounds. "It's not a simple bisection. There's a considerable amount of his abdomen missing. I mean, it almost looks like a burning, but it's too localized." A blowtorch couldn't do this level of damage. "Maybe it's an industrial acid?"

Mulder glanced at the report in his hand, shaking his head. "There's no acid found in his office."

Hell, she swore silently. Really, an old, Southern style work camp and they didn't have acids on it? Didn't they do agriculture or something down here? Or was it simply working on roads? When was the last time she had watched Cool Hand Luke? Well, if it wasn't the obvious some sort of industrial acid or other flammable agent, what was it? It had to be something unusual, something different else Mulder would not have touched this case with a twelve-foot pole. The obvious didn't attract him.

Her eyes brightened as they met his, a possibility she wouldn't suggest in a million years coming to mind, but it made as much sense as anything Mulder normally brought up. "Spontaneous human combustion?"

She might as well have said she was willing to strip naked right in front of him. His full lips pulled up in a smile as he beamed in disbelieving delight. "Scully!"

Her face flushed as she realized that she was not going to hear the end of this anytime soon. "Well, isn't that where you're going with this?"

And he wasted no time on being insufferable. "Dear Diary," he opined, clasping his hands together. "Today my heart leapt when Agent Scully suggested spontaneous human combustion." He sighed, like a lovesick puppy, just for added measure.

If there weren't a steel table and a dead man between them she would have gladly kicked him. Her dignity smarted as she scrambled for some sort of elegant way of getting out of this. "Mulder, there are one or two somewhat well-documented cases." She nearly choked on those words. She didn't think they were well documented at all, but she had to do something to not look a total fool in this situation.

Rather than respond his eyes pretended to be rather interested in a spot of imaginary dust on the concrete floor as he nodded, barely concealing the smirk hiding at the corners of his mouth.

"Mulder, shut up," she snapped irritably, pouting as he shot her an all too falsely innocent look. "Okay, what do you make of this?" She knew she was at a loss, and that he had her. Obviously if he was such a smarty-pants, perhaps he already had something in mind.

To her surprise, he didn't. "I don't have a theory. But I know someone who does." His eyes sparkled with that old, familiar mischief. Fox Mulder was on the case of the weird again, and he had the scent for the strange and bizarre. Something about that not only thrilled Scully, as if she would ever admit that to him, but it also relieved her. Perhaps the recent case with Karen Berquist and the faith she had in Mulder, had revived the man she once knew, the man who would drag her off into the unknown, usually against her will. That was the Mulder she hadn't seen on a case in a long, long time, and God, had she missed him.

"Really," she replied with an arched eyebrow, reaching to snap off her gloves.

"The guard who found Fellows swore up and down to anyone that would listen that one of the inmates killed him. Said it was in revenge for sticking him in solitary in a tiny shed in the middle of a tornado."

A shed? In the middle of tornadic activity? Scully shivered at the idea, all the horror stories of tornadoes and what they could do coming to mind. "Mulder, that's dangerous. If it's true, it's small wonder the prisoner would want revenge, he should have been in an underground storm shelter, not left alone in a rickety shed with a tornado bearing down on them."

"Well, it's funny you mention that, because by all accounts the prisoner died in the tornado." Mulder's dark eyebrows waggled mysteriously. There was glee lying just beneath the surface, the weird delighting him far too much in this situation. "Seems the inmate in question had gotten into a tiff with one of the other inmates in the middle of storm preparation. He nailed the other man's hand to a piece of plywood over a window. As a form of punishment Fellows stuck him in this tiny shed, about the size of an outhouse, I guess it was commonly used for solitary."

"It sounds barbaric." Scully found her skin crawling at the idea.

"This is Mississippi, Scully, the brutality of their prisons is legendary enough to write books and make movies about it. In any case, the prisoner was forgotten in the middle of the storm, everyone took shelter. When they came back up, the shed was gone and so was the inmate. But sometime during all of that Fellows ended up dead and this prisoner is the only one not accounted for."

"In the middle of a tornado, though?" Scully frowned down at the body of the dead prison warden. "Whatever did this was highly flammable, Mulder, and hot enough to eat through the middle of this man quickly, turning the edges to ash in an instant. It had to happen quickly, else the rest of the body would have caught fire, but it didn't. Just this one swath that is gone. And I can't think of anything that could do that which could be easily concealed on the body in a small shed, nor could it be carried through a storm with such high force winds." Not to mention she highly doubted that if a tornado ripped through the camp that anyone could have lived through it in a shed in the middle of the grounds.

"Well, perhaps we should go to this camp and have a look?" Mulder waved a hand at the body of Warden Fellows. "I've seen Cool Hand Luke too. Maybe Fellows just pissed off the wrong sort of people."

"I want to know what sort of people could do this." She tugged fretfully at her scrubs. This case was strange, but she could expect no less of Mulder. "I don't know how you find this, Mulder, ut this certainly has all the markings of one of your weirder-than-shit X-files."

This positively thrilled her partner. "Thank you! I do try to please."

"Right," she sighed, sounding more long-suffering than she felt. "So a visit to the old chain gang then?"

"I'll got find my pick axe," Mulder replied, waving vaguely at the man between them. "I'll just let you…you know." His long nose wrinkled in vague disgust, and she could sense that Mulder's professional distance regarding Warden Fellows was rapidly waning. "Finish up?"

"You are such a wuss when it comes to dead bodies," she teased, watching his ears pink up at her taunting.

"That's what I keep you around for, Scully, you like feeling up the dearly departed." He couldn't help but stare at the carbonated bits right in the man's middle. "Just…come and find me when you're done."

"Right," she replied, shooing him away. Not that he needed much encouragement, he was already at the door and had it open, glancing back at her for any further, parting information. "I'll get some samples of tissue down to the FBI labs here in Jackson, see if they can't do further research and turn up anything that the ME's lab work missed."

"And I'll give a call to the Department of Corrections, set up an appointment to talk to their men." Nice and safe and not icky for Mulder. The less dead body parts the better for him. "Maybe we can get down the prison camp and see the conditions that the prisoner was in. Perhaps they can give us an explanation as to how he did it, if he did it at all."

Wonderful. Down to a good, old fashioned, Mississippi prison camp. "Sounds like fun," she drawled. She'd rather dissect Mr. Crispy there.

"Come on, Scully, it's an honest to goodness prison camp! Just like the movies! You can say you've been to one."

"Sure, Mulder, but if I get pawed by a smelly, old hound dog and have to watch an egg eating contest, you are letting me drive the whole time out here."

Mulder only grinned by way of response as he backed himself out of the steel, autopsy bay doors.

Chapter Text

The girl didn't look to be anyone special. She was dressed in the type of clothes Scully could imagine would get her mistaken for a prostitute rather than Pinker Rawls girlfriend, for all Scully knew, that could very well be what the woman was. Her hair appeared as if it single handedly could account for hole in the ozone layer and her make up looked as if she applied it with a trowel, but there was still a certain sweetness to the girl, despite the hard look of her appearance, something of a woman child about her. She hardly looked old enough to be running around with the likes of the grim looking character she stood beside.

"I wonder what in the hell a girl like this saw in a man like him," she sighed, studying the photograph in between her fingers as she leaned further into the passenger's side seat of their latest rental. Mulder beside her was driving as he managed to munch on his latest package of his ever-present sunflower seeds, shoulders lifting in that breezy way of his when he hardly felt like such pressing questions were a concern.

"What would any girl like that see in the likes of Pinker Rawls? Likely he was a strong, male authority figure in her life. Perhaps she had no father, or if she did she wasn't close to him and Pinker came in, all bad ass boy, swept her off her feet."

Mulder's generalizations took Scully by surprise. That was a quick profile on the part of the psychologist? Scully frowned at the side of his head, waving the photograph briefly at him. "What, you and your keen, human insight just divined that from one photograph dated years ago?"

She had a point and she knew he wasn't about to concede it. "Come on, Scully, it doesn't take much to stretch that far."

"And boy are you stretching it," she snorted, glancing sadly at the girl in the photograph. "Are you just assuming she's white trash because of the picture or because of the south?"

"I wasn't assuming anything like that."

"Weren't you?" Scully wasn't sure why she felt the need to stand up for the girl, a perfect stranger. She didn't even know the woman's name. Perhaps it was because once upon a time she had been this woman's age, involved with an older man who was bad news. Worse, he had been married. At least Pinker Rawls was not as far as anyone had told them. What sort of assumptions would others have made of Scully?

She ignored her own vague presuppositions of the girl and her position in life for the moment, considering what it was a woman could see in Pinker Rawls, a man who obviously had a track record of making bad decisions in life. "I don't know, Mulder, perhaps this woman was just a regular girl, not very smart, not from the right side of the tracks, perhaps didn't have a lot of opportunities, but knew she wanted to be something in life. She wasn't sure what, but then this guy shows up, all smiles and sweet talk, and she goes along with it because he promises the world."

Something familiar ached in Scully's chest, the memory of another young, ambitious woman, falling in love with a man who she thought could get her somewhere in life. "Maybe this girl fell for Pinker because she thought he would give her what she wanted. Maybe she loved him, but in that girlish sort of way all woman have when they are young, thinking that they can change their frog into a prince, except one day she realizes that he's just an amphibian, nothing more."

"Are we talking about that woman, Scully," Mulder drawled softly, eyes never leaving the road in front of them. Scully's head jerked from the photograph where she was studying the woman's overly made-up face, cheeks flaming as her skin felt suddenly itchy with Mulder's words. Damn him and his insights, she thought raggedly as she squirmed slightly in the seat. She wanted to deny it out of hand, to roll her eyes and tell him that he was making too much of it. But she frowned, instead shoving the picture into her briefcase, hiding the girl and her smiling face from view for the moment.

"I was talking about the case, Mulder, of course," she snapped, her mouth forming a hard line as she watched the flat countryside outside of her window, the field about thick with trees and foliage. The weather in Mississippi could be sticky and oppressive in the summer, thick with humidity and mosquitoes. But in the relative cool of spring it was bright and green, pleasant enough, and Scully found herself wishing she could be out there instead in the closed, confined quarters of their rental vehicle with Mulder, especially not when he was in his "analyze Scully" mode. Mulder wisely kept his mouth shut for long moments, eyes focused on the black ribbon of road that stretched out in front of them through the thick trees and tall grass. Scully moodily slid her eyes sideways at him as he continued to drive in quiet, briefly wondering what was ticking in his brilliant brain and feeling distinctly bothered by the quietude. He was baiting her, goading her into continuing this discussion.

"Perhaps I was talking a little about me," she finally admitted, huffing as she did so, arms crossing over her seatbelt. "People are so quick to jump to conclusions about the nature of peoples' relationships and make suppositions on the nature and character of a person just because they made a mistake in their life. I mean…think of it, how many times did we castigate girls we knew in high school because they flirted with boys, or they didn't date boys, or because they dated the wrong sort of boy?"

"This is hardly high school, is it?" Mulder cracked a seed between his teeth absently. "And whoever this girl is, she got involved with a man who likely is wanted for murder."

"Doesn't mean that she was a bad person, Mulder, just someone who fell in love with the wrong sort of man."

Her argument must have carried some weight. He inclined his head in agreement. "We all make stupid mistakes in love, Scully. You, me, everyone, especially when we were young."

"Hoo boy, do you have that right," Scully muttered back, feeling herself sink into her seat. "I don't know, Phoebe could have been worse, you know."

"Yeah, I could have married her instead of Diana and then been made a fool of rather than just dumped for career placement." His tone was light, but Scully could hear the bitterness under the surface. "Diana at least was faithful in her way, Phoebe would have just pretended to be mine, all the while dancing just on the edges, out of my grasp.

Envisioning Mulder married to a young, beautiful Phoebe seemed somehow more impossible than trying to imagine him with Diana Fowley. And Scully didn't want to deign the "faithful" comment with a response. Quickly looking for anything else, she turned instead on herself. "Your young and foolish romances have nothing on me, Mulder. Phoebe was just being herself, she wasn't being dishonest, she wasn't lying to you about a whole other part of her life."

"Well, except for the sleeping with everything that moves part," Mulder snorted, tossing a sunflower seed haphazardly into the growing pile in the console. Scully had long given up being disgusted at the habit.

"Still, she had no commitments…well, except to you."

"Yeah, there was that part."

"I'm just saying, Mulder, she didn't have you completely believing that you would have an entire life together, build up a marriage and have children, buy a home, convince you completely that she would devote herself to you."

"No, she wasn't Dr. Gigolo," Mulder nodded, smirking at Scully's glare regarding his favorite pet name for Daniel. "What?"

"He wasn't a gigolo, Mulder, that implies he used a string of women and tossed them away." Scully neglected to remind him pointedly that this was exactly how he had acted with women when she had first met him.

"He seduced a young, impressionable, eager, and might I say very attractive medical student who looked up to him, then he convinced her that he was in love with her and wanted to marry her, and then he neglected to tell her about his wife and family that he'd been hiding the whole time. I don't know, Scully, screams gigolo to me." He cracked a sunflower seed triumphantly, as if this proved his point.

The sadder part was that she couldn't deny his argument. "Fine, call him what you want. I'm just saying you could have made stupider mistakes in life than being involved with Phoebe Green." Or with Diana Fowley, she added silently.

"Scully," he sighed, drawing her name out with his breath, frowning deeply at the road in front of him, though she knew that it was more directed towards her. "You weren't stupid."

"For not seeing that I was being used?"

"You were in love, just like anyone else." His frown softened as his gaze slid sideways towards hers. "And believe me, falling for the wrong person isn't a idiocy that is limited to just you."

Was he discussing Phoebe or Diana? "No, but I could have ruined a marriage over it."

"True, but then again, he was the one who broke his vows, not you." Mulder shrugged, reaching for another sunflower seed. "And if he'd had any sort of ethic at all, he wouldn't have tried sleeping with someone who was his subordinate."

"This coming from the man who married one of his co-workers."

Mulder winced only slightly. "Touché, but Diana never worked for me. It's different when you equals, there's no weird, power plays going on, no entanglements regarding sex and jobs."

As if there wouldn't be strange entanglements if they were partners? That thought made Scully's face flame as she found herself trying to look at anything other than the way Mulder's mouth puckered around the seed he was working with his tongue. That idea only seemed to make matters worse. She turned her head away from her unsuspecting partner completely, towards her window and the wire fencing that strung across the countryside beyond.

"Well, it's good I've sworn off romantic relationships with co-workers, right?" She tried to keep her voice even, her tone light and neutral. "Daniel, then Jack, I think the odds are stacked against me."

Her traitorous heart lurched at this, tried to whisper that Mulder might be the difference, but she squelched that ruthlessly as she stared hard at the fields beyond.

Mulder was quiet for long moments. So long it finally did rip her fervent gaze from the countryside back towards him. He too was watching the road in front of them with a neutral studiousness. "What, no witty comeback?" She'd half-expected it, it's what Mulder did. Scully had moments of self-doubt, he buck her up with some dry witticism.

"Not really," he replied. "Your romantic life is your own, Scully. Far be it from me to comment on it."

That was a first.==Mulder usually had a comment for everything. "Well, you know, it's not like I mind. I just…don't have much of one to speak of."

"Yeah," he nodded, reaching long fingers into the console between them, fishing for his bag of sunflower seeds. "So anyway, Pinker Rawls, I suspect wherever this woman is, she's tied up with that last robbery he pulled. And she may be the first person he goes and looks for."

Long used to Mulder's sudden change in subject, Scully blinked mildly, her brain only stuttering slightly as she caught up. "Uh…yes, maybe. I'll have to do more research into her."

Somehow a moment was lost. Scully wasn't sure what it was, or why the moment even came into existence. But something deflated in the cabin of their car, as Mulder threw up walls at an alarming speed. Was it something she had said? Something she had implied? She tried to turn over her words, but found nothing that should have been upsetting to him. He had never exactly been unwilling to discuss either Daniel or Jack before.

Puzzled at this sudden shift in behavior, she reached into her briefcase below, grabbing her notepad and pen. "I'll make a note to look her up when we get into an office, put in a call regarding all of Pinker Rawls known past associates."

"While you are at it, put in a call to the Secret Service regarding the bills from the money he stole, see if they ever turned up on the market. Perhaps whoever still has the money spent it, or perhaps they are sitting on it, in either case he might be looking for it."

"Right," she nodded, jotting everything down and reaching for her cell phone. At least she could do this, she told herself, and not fret on what had just happened in a simple conversation between them.

Chapter Text

Scully had to admit the file she was able to pull together at the last minute regarding June Gurwitch was impressive. She scanned the pages quickly, sipping coffee as she sat on Mulder's bed in his motel room. She pursed her lips against the scent of his after-shave and fresh soap wafting from the still steaming bathroom.

"So what did you turn up," Mulder called, the water from the sink running as he rinsed from his morning shave. Scully ignored the meandering thoughts of watching him with foam and razor and turned towards the business at hand.

"June wasn't so hard to find in police files as I thought, though she doesn't seem to have as much of a record as Pinker does." All in all the pages on June read more like a sad example of why girls should never fall for the bad boys than anything else. "Most of what she had on her record prior to meeting Pinker Rawls were minor things, kid things. She and Jackie both were busted at different times for underage drinking, minor shoplifting, nothing serious."

"After meeting Jackie, they don't strike me as the sort of girls who had life to easy," Mulder muttered loudly over the rush of water before turning it off. He wandered out of the tiny bathroom then, wiping hands on one of the rough, motel towels, dressed partially at least in his suit slacks and his undershirt. "Not to make generalizations, but my guess is that neither June or Jackie had a lot going for them even before Pinker showed up on the scene."

"Best as I can tell, you're right," Scully agreed, pointing to a matching gas station coffee sitting on the table near where Mulder stood, slipping into his Oxford shirt. "They grew up with a grandmother, no father on the scene, mother died when June was fifteen."

"And Pinker comes along to a young, impressionable June, who already lacked a father figure in her life, and sweeps the girl along in his chaos."

"That seems to be the sad truth of it." It was a cliché of the worst kind, but in poor June's case it was true. "The minute Pinker gets involved in her life her wrap sheet changes. DUI's, minor drug charges, but mostly it's assault." Scully's mouth puckered hard on that, eyes narrowing at a series of pictures of the same, mysterious young woman, her faced battered, bloodied, and bruised.

"Let me guess, Pinker had his dark side?" Mulder wandered over, buttoning his shirt, glancing at the photographs himself. Judging from his own stormy look, he was as impressed as Scully.

"If he was like this, Mulder, can you blame her for taking off with the money and hiding?"

"I don't think that Pinker is going to see it that way." Mulder flipped through the photographs briefly before handing them back to her. "If he did that to her for burning his dinner, Scully, he's going to kill her for taking his money."

"I know, I already called police in Meridian. They have patrols sent out to her house, they'll keep an eye on things till we get down there." Not that they would be effective against a man who could burn his way through a solid wall. Her mind rejected the very notion just out of hand, but there was no denying Jackie Gurwitch's response, and Scully doubted that the distraught woman would make something that outlandish up on the spot rather than simply saying he got away, and a simple explanation didn't explain the burned out message left behind for them at all.

"So what's your theory, Mulder," she mused aloud as he drank deeply of his coffee and made a face, wrinkling his aquiline nose at the sludge that passed for caffeine at the local gas stop.

"Guh…that would wake up the dead in the morning," he muttered, setting it aside and undoing his trousers enough so that he could neatly tuck in his shirt for the day. Scully felt her eyes widen as she cleared her throat and became busy suddenly with the papers in her lap, and not the sound of Mulder's belt buckle jingling as he adjusted his clothing and re-buttoned his pants.

He hadn't noticed her discomfort. "Would you believe me if I said I didn't have an idea."

"No," she snorted good naturedly, feeling it was safe at last to regard him as he flipped up his collar and looped his tie around it. At least his taste in tie patterns had gotten marginally better. "What, you don't have some strange, pseudo-scientific explanation for how a man could walk through walls? Nothing from one of your myriad of comic books?"

"I no longer have a myriad anymore, thank you, and no, nothing I've researched would speak to this exact phenomena. I've read about people who have claimed that through psychic abilities they were able to pass their bodies through solid objects, some who claimed that through meditation they were able to leave the material plane and enter into the spiritual. But none of those were ever substantiated with evidence, and certainly not with the sort of effect we are seeing now."

He paused, frowning down at the tie he was attempting to knot, long fingers fiddling with the silk. "I suspect that whatever happened that allowed Pinker Rawls to start walking through walls and cutting people in half with a swipe happened during that tornado. Tornadic events are highly charged electrically, thunderstorms, ions in the air. Perhaps there is something there."

Scully blinked at him mildly, pausing in the act of sipping at her God awful coffee to stare, open mouthed at him as he finished knotting his tie. Mulder frowned at her. "What?"

"You," she finally uttered, shaking herself. "That made a surprising amount of sense there. There was no mention of psychic waves, or ectoplasmic responses, or powers from the great beyond. Not even an alien death ray in sight!" She'd half expected Mulder to throw out a strange, alien meteorite as the cause for Pinker's sudden abilities.

Clearly, he wasn't as amused by her revelation. "Give me some credit, Scully, I'm not pulling my ideas totally from a comic book."

"Sometimes you make me wonder." She smirked, rising from his bed, tucking the file folder under her arm. His only response was to roll his eyes and mutter under his breath, reaching for his suit coat slung over a chair.

"How far is it to Meridian?"He adjusted his jacket and glanced down his front and looking futilely for a mirror that didn't seem to exist in this sort of motel room. He gestured towards his jacket and tie with the wordless request for Scully to give him a once over before walking out the door.

"About an hour-and-a-half, sits near the Alabama state line." Scully set down her coffee and folder and reached across to adjust the knot of silk at Mulder's throat. He lifted his chin as she set it right, patting the silk across his firm chest before standing back to eye him once more. "How you get by without a woman in your life, I will never know."

"It's why I have you around," he replied succinctly, grabbing his weapon and sliding it onto his belt before slipping his wallet and badge into his pocket. "Presentable enough to track down some convict with super-special, super-villain powers?"

"As presentable as you will ever be," she sighed, grabbing her things again. "They'll expect us in Meridian, we better get moving. We don't know if Rawls has figured out where June is yet or not."

"Let's be thankful that his super-villain power isn't GPS tracking then," Mulder quipped, gathering his coffee and following her out into the gray, pre-dawn outside.

Chapter Text

The ME report perhaps was one of the most interesting one that Scully had ever had to explain. Pinker Rawls died from injuries sustained from the impact of his body meeting the windshield of a car moving at 55 miles per hour. Somehow, mysteriously, the car managed to also bisect the man, separating his lower extremities from the upper part of his body. It was the latter that ultimately killed him. Scully attributed this anomaly to a freak accident and left it at that. Some things just couldn't and didn't need to be fully explained, even in a police report.

"How is Trevor doing?" Scully finished up her end of the paperwork, printing it out as she glanced over at Mulder. He was behind his desk, reading glasses on as he quietly typed away. He paused, glancing up at her question, half lost in whatever thought he had been trying to formulate when she spoke to him.

"Trevor? He's fine when I spoke to the authorities in Mississippi." He turned from his work, leaning back in his chair. "Course, the whole story has come out, that June is Trevor's mother and not Jackie, and then there is the whole Pinker angle. Of course, that will lead to a hell of a lot of therapy, but hopefully they will be all right."

"Poor kid," Scully agreed, frowning at the printed out sheets in her hand. "Is June being charged with anything?"

"Other than failure to report stolen money, no. I think that the DA is going to claim self-defense of her child in regards to Pinker Rawls and I doubt there is a judge that is going to go against that considering Rawls violent nature and the fact that he nearly killed Jackie to get to the boy. As for the money, she'll be forced to return it, but it's doubtful she'll see any time over it. Since she wasn't the one who stole it, they'll likely put her on community service. Might mean she will have to sell her pretty house though."

Though she knew that what June did was wrong, Scully couldn't help but feel slightly bad for the woman. "It's a shame, despite it all. All she really wanted was a second chance at life, a chance to do it all over again, the right way, without Pinker's involvement."

"True, but that doesn't make her taking that money any more right," Mulder reminded her gently.

"I know," she sighed, frowning at her computer and the report on there. "When you think about it, Mulder, that was all that either wanted of them wanted. June wanted a chance to live the life she felt was denied her because of her involvement with Pinker. Pinker wanted to have the chance to be the father that June denied him by not telling him about the baby."

"Both of them condemned still by the initial mistakes they made in their youth. I know it's a damned tragedy." Mulder sighed, contemplative. "But you can't escape your past, no matter how far or hard you run from it. It always catches up to you. June couldn't escape Pinker, and Pinker couldn't escape who he was. There was no good way for any of this to end for them."

"True," Scully acknowledged heavily. So many regrets, so many bad choices, and where did it lead the pair of them? Where did it lead anybody? Scully thought of her own life, the litter of regrets that trailed behind her, the things she wished she could take back, the choices she wished that could be different. To her surprise, it wasn't Daniel that popped to mind first, it was Emily.

"You know," she started slowly, eyes fixated on the words on the screen, but not really seeing them. "June and Pinker made their own decisions and they had to live with the consequences. But what about those who had their choices taken away, who had others make decisions about their lives, played and toyed with them, and then forced them to live with the consequences? What about people like us, Mulder?" Her eyes slid to his, pained as she thought about all of the twists and turns in their world that had been forced on them against their will.

Her words hadn't been what he had expected. His mouth turned down in worry, his voice soft. "If I could get those choices back for you, I would. You know that."

"I know," she said simply, not wishing to dwell on Mulder's personal self-chastisement for all the wrongs visited upon her during the course of their partnership. "But I couldn't help but think about Pinker Rawls and Trevor. He saw so much hope in that boy, so much possibility of something different with a son. He had his choice to be a father taken from him, and yes, perhaps June was right in doing so, but still. I understand that anger, Mulder. He wasn't even given a chance to be a father because it was denied him. All he wanted was a second chance."

"Scully," he murmured, removing his glasses to rub at his face fretfully. "I'd move the sun and the moon to get you Emily back, I would, and there are days I wish to God I could do it, but…"

"But you already have, Mulder. You know it, we've discussed it. You have my ova, and you said any time I wanted it, I could have it."

"Yeah," he replied, clearly given pause as she continued.

"I think I want it now, Mulder." She didn't know why the events in Mississippi had solidified this decision for her. It had been wandering around in her head for over a year, since Emily's death, but with everything that had happened with the X-files, and her abduction yet again, and then their reassignment, nothing seemed to have worked in her favor. But now, finally, things seemed to be calming down enough that she could consider it seriously for the first time.

"I want to take them to some specialists I know of to see if any of them are viable. It may take a while, but if they are…well perhaps I'll have the second chance I am looking for, too."

Rather than please Mulder, her words seemed to only deepen his concern. "And if they aren't?" That was the real rub for him, the fear of her reaction if there was no possibility whatsoever. To be honest, that was Scully's fear as well.

"If they aren't, then I can move on from there." Scully sounded far more confident than she felt. "I want my chance back, Mulder. I want the chance at least to have a child. And if it doesn't happen, then it doesn't, but at least I will have the opportunity and I won't let them take that away from me."

For long moments they simply watched each other, Mulder working his bottom lip between his teeth fretfully. She could almost see his mind racing, working every angle, and trying to find some way to prevent as much hurt as possible, and she loved him dearly for it, but she wasn't about to back down. Sensing this, he finally nodded his head, agreeing, but clearly torn about it.

"I'll get you the information before you leave today."

Something akin to a weight lifted ever so slightly off Scully's shoulders. Not completely, not by any means, but there was something, a small sliver of hope perhaps that filtered into her, brightening the smile she shot at him. "Thank you."

"Of course," he mumbled, haphazardly picking up his glasses, ears flushing the slightest pink. "Just be careful, Scully. I don't know what they did, and I don't want you to set your hopes so high and be disappointed. I just don't want to see you hurt again."

If she had been standing closer she would have thrown herself at him and hugged him for all he was worth, grateful beyond words for the concern. Instead she nodded, finding tears pricking unexpectedly in the corners of her eyes. "Believe me, Mulder, I'll go into this with my head on straight. No great expectations here."

Even in saying it, she suspected already that it was a lie. She would be devastated, she knew that, but she knew she also had to try.

"I hope it all works out for you, Scully," he replied softly, something aching and pained in his voice as he slipped his glasses back on and turned back to his computer.

For her part, Scully hoped it all worked out for her as well.

Chapter Text

As far as cases go, Scully had seen much worse, but none had left her with nearly the same level of vague horror. She had seen everything from bodies whose fat had been completely melted, to a baby so inbred it shouldn't have even have been able exist, to a man who had a detachable twin stuck in his chest. A series of victims with their hearts removed from their bodies should not have bothered her in the slightest. Perhaps it was the fact that the hearts had been removed without the slightest mark or indication on the body as to how they were removed. When Mulder brought the case in a few days before she had been skeptical at best. Of course he had jumped towards psychic surgeons, the kind that Scully had seen on National Geographic specials somewhere in the wilds of Latin America or the Philippines. She had doubted them and their so-called abilities then as she had when Mulder mentioned them, and she still doubted Mulder's theory now. But the removal, it defied understanding. She had studied as a cardiology surgeon once in her medical education, and after leaving that and Daniel behind had moved to pathology where she had performed countless autopsies. She knew the intricacies of what it took to remove a single human heart and she knew it was something you couldn't manage without at least some incision into the body, some indication of invasion.

A heart just couldn't disappear.

The front door of Mulder's apartment was open on that Saturday, like it was most Saturday afternoons as people came and went on errands and laundry. She recognized a few tenants wandering the halls, but no one she said hello to. With some sense of distraction she moved towards the elevator, pressing the call button and waiting, flipping briefly through the autopsy report as the bell sounded indicating that the elevator was preparing to open. She stepped inside and as always prayed a silent prayer that the rickety machine would make it the four flights to Mulder's floor. For once there was another person in the lift with her, an unfamiliar man, holding a wastebasket, another of Mulder's neighbors, out doing the Saturday chores that everyone else was up to. Scully shrugged, instead turning her attention to the lights flashing the floors above the door and the vaguely disturbing grinding sound of gears.

Humans had this unique ability of always sensing when someone or something is watching. Perhaps it was a sixth sense, a leftover from their days as hunters and gathers, nomadic tribal groups that roamed the plains and were open targets for bigger, faster predators. Scully had never really thought about how it worked, but she could sense it now, the feeling that this stranger was watching her just a little too closely. He stood nowhere near her, keeping within the personal boundaries that society deemed appropriate, but somehow his gaze felt as if it were right on her neck, as if he was just reaching out to smooth the hair off the back…

The elevator rang again and opened and Scully quickly exited, her heels clicking on the floor as her steps pounded towards Mulder's door. Behind her she could sense the eyes of the strange man still on her as she turned to glance back at him. He too had exited and was following her. But before panic could set in, he had out a key and was unlocking the door to the apartment next to Mulder's.

Scully knocked just below the crooked "42" half watching the other man as he went wordlessly into his own home. Within seconds Mulder answered, his toothbrush stuck awkwardly in his mouth.

"Mmm, sorry about that," he apologized, swiping one last time before removing it. "Come on in."

With a last glance towards the neighboring door, Scully stepped inside, vague relief washing over her as she entered the familiar confines of Mulder's home. No prying eyes, no strange encroaching. She shivered, frowning. That was perhaps one of the creepier feelings she'd ever experienced, much like these hearts. Perhaps the case was getting to her.

"I rode up the elevator with someone," she called as Mulder wandered back into his living room. "Someone from next door, I think."

Mulder nodded, grabbing his coffee. To Scully's quiet disgust, rather than spitting out the toothpaste he merely washed it down his throat with a swig of coffee. Really, some of Mulder's habits reminded her that yes, he was indeed a bachelor.

"Hmmm, young guy?" He grimaced against the mixed flavor of mint paste and coffee.

"Yeah," she confirmed.

"New neighbor," Mulder clarified, waiving vaguely at the shared wall between apartments. "Why?"

How could she explain without making what was likely a poor, innocent guy sound like a lecherous stalker? "You met him?"

"Uh...briefly, yeah. He's a writer."

She had no idea that Mulder knew any of his neighbors. "What does he write?"

"He didn't say," he shrugged, settling on the couch as the leather creaked, removing pillows and blankets off of it to make room for her. Obviously, Mulder's interest in his neighbor had waned and he eyed the folder in her hands eagerly. Deciding to forgo further prodding into his strange neighbor, Scully obliged.

"These are my autopsy reports from the second victim." She sat next to him, moving Chinese food cartons and an empty beer bottles off his coffee table to spread out the file and its photographs. Mulder winced at the graphic nature of the photos, but took them from Scully and studied them with as critical an eye as his usually weak constitution in regards to gore could stomach. "As you can see the heart was removed in the same manner as the previous victim. No incisions, no scope marks, no cutting of any kind."

"No indication of how the killer did it?" Mulder studied the pre-autopsy picture the most closely, the perfectly whole chest of the victim showing no sign of entry nor of exit.

"No," Scully replied curtly. "There's no prints, no DNA material, no hair and fiber."

"And yet you refuse to believe my theory, that we are dealing with psychic surgery."

She so knew the moment she confirmed she had no idea how this heart was removed that Mulder would fall back on his witchdoctor theory. "Mulder, psychic surgeon is some man dipping his hand in a bucket of chicken guts and pretending to remove tumors from the sick and gullible."

"Or it's a grossly misunderstood area of alternative medicine."

He said "alternative medicine" as if they were talking of her sister Melissa's homeopathic remedies, or acupuncture, things that while not strictly medical science had some proven record of effectiveness. So far the only thing this stunt had managed was to kill several people in a manner that still baffled her.

"Well medicine, as your referring to it, is about keeping people alive," she pointed out, holding up the picture of the latest victim.

"Well, absent another theory, how else do we account for the impossible extraction of this man's heart?"

He had her there. She was lacking any other good explanation and she doubted that she would find one either. "I don't know," she admitted heavily. "I have no idea."

"I mean, we have no evidence, no MO to speak of." Mulder sat back into the couch cushions, they groaned slightly as he scrubbed vaguely at her face. "This could be the perfect crime."

Fox Mulder, psychologist and profiler extraordinaire conceding defeat on a perfect crime? That Scully couldn't buy. "Well, a crime is only as perfect as the man or the mind that commits it. Even if it were perfect, even if he made not one mistake, there's still his motive. You find his motive you find the murderer."

It was classic and textbook and Scully knew Mulder knew it. And she knew it would irritate him that she'd restate the obvious to him. He snorted and glared at her, throwing himself off his couch to pace his living room fitfully. "Scully, I've been profiling for years, and I can't even get into his head. Whoever this is, he picks his victims at random, male, female, young, old, of all races. The only consistent thing is the heart. Why the heart?"

Scully had only seen Mulder at work as a profiler in rare instances, usually never good ones. It was interesting to watch him on this case, the wheels of his brilliant mind spinning as he ran through possibilities and information, looking at all of the outside variables, making the connections that no one else in the FBI, herself included, could possibly make. When he was on his game he was frighteningly good. But this case, much as it had for her, had thrown him off somehow. Even he, with all of his insight, had hit a brick wall with it.

"Hearts, hearts," he muttered to himself in vague distraction. "Serial killers and hearts…paper hearts. John Roche?"

That name made Scully's stomach lurch with the memory of the very dark place Mulder went on that case. "Roche is dead, Mulder. You killed him."

"I know," he replied, hardly reacting to the name anymore. She didn't know if that was good or bad. "But Roche collected those hearts as trophies, little scraps of girls nightgowns to carry with him."

"Carrying a real heart around all the time would not only be obvious, Mulder, it would be difficult. The human heart is too large to conceal."

"But why take it?" He tugged vaguely at his hair, running his long fingers through it. "Why just the hearts? Let's forget the how. Why? The symbolism, perhaps? A man who was wronged in love?"

"Why a man," Scully asked, more just for arguments sake. "Why not a woman?"

"First of all most serial killers are men. Secondly, I doubt a woman could manage dealing with the victims long enough to get the heart out. And you already said, this doesn't look like a team effort, so I'm going on the assumption that this is a singular person, thus a man would have the greatest advantage."

"It could be as simple as a organ stealing scheme. We've seen that before." Memories of the den in Chinatown in San Francisco came to mind, but Mulder shook his head in the negative.

"No, there would be more damage if it was as simple as wanting hearts for the organ black market. It's the heart, once it's gone, people die, and they wouldn't care for making it look neat. No, this person wants just the heart, and he wants it for particular reasons. Perhaps because his was broken. Perhaps he feels a lover stole his at some point? Perhaps by someone he has unrequited feelings for?"

A sudden image of some poor woman waking up to find a series of bloody hearts in jars lining her doorstep gave Scully gruesome pause. "That's just disgusting."

"I've seen murder done for far less reason than that," Mulder grumbled, pivoting to face her. "What if that's what we are looking at? Our murder is trying to present someone a gift? Something he's thrown his entire heart and soul into, and he wants them to see his utter devotion."

"Wouldn't a bouquet of roses be nicer?" Scully stared, askance at the autopsy photos in front of her.

"Not to this person, no," Mulder glanced down at the same photo. "No, this is a particular kind of devotion. Now, we just need to figure out who the audience it's intended for is. That might give us more clues to the pattern and what we are dealing with here."

Scully wasn't so sure she wanted to know any more about the audience.

"Well," she sighed, reaching for the folder and arranging the photographs in it neatly before closing it. "I will leave this with you this weekend, alright." She rose from the couch, much to Mulder's consternation. Clearly, he had just gotten going into this case.

"What, leaving me so soon?"

"It's Saturday, Mulder. I've already spent much of it on that autopsy for you, and I promised to see my mother this weekend and have lunch with her."

Clearly he had been hoping for a lazy afternoon of brainstorming and profiling with her, because he deflated somewhat at her words. "Oh…I thought you'd stick around a while."

The puppy dog look, she must resist it. In exasperation, she sighed, rounding the table to pat his cheek. "You are very cute when you are sad, but I cannot live on cases alone. I need some time away from you, away from creepy cases and missing hearts and unrequited love. And I'll be in bright and early on Monday morning to cover all the particulars with you that you want."

He clearly wasn't happy with the idea, but he knew it was no use pouting. "Fine, bright and early! I have a feeling that there will something else over this weekend."

"If there is, it can wait till Monday." She gathered her things. It was perhaps a cold response to a series of murders, but they had nothing, no leads, no patterns, nothing to help them further this case. And until they did, others were going to die. "If you have a big break through before then, call me. I'll come running."

"Come running?" Mulder's pout brightened into a wide grin, clearly intrigued by this idea. "What else will you come running for?"

"Don't push your luck," she warned, heading for his door. "I'll see you Monday."

"Right," he called after her, making no move to see her out. Before she even had the front door closed she could hear the slapping sound of leather against his hardwood floors, Mulder's basketball bouncing up and down. It was one of his habits when he was thinking, something plucking at his brain. That was what made Mulder such a good profiler, that need to know, that unsettledness he had that wouldn't let him rest till he had figured out the mind of the killer completely, or at least enough to catch him before he struck again.

Scully paused as she passed by Mulder's neighbor's door. It didn't open and there was no noise within, no indication that he was even inside; not a television, not a one-sided phone conversation, not the banging of pots or the sound of a radio. Nothing…just emptiness, as if he was waiting for something.

The hair on Scully's skin rose, and she felt the need to run as she moved, stiffly, to the elevator. She scrubbed at her arms under her jacket and tried to still the creeping feeling under her skin. Whoever the man was, he bothered Scully on a fundamental level, much as this case did. Perhaps that was all that it was, just the case talking. Just the case…

The elevator door couldn't open fast enough to take Scully downstairs and to the safety of her car.

Chapter Text

It wasn't exactly unusual for envelopes to be slipped under their office door in the basement. In the early years strange envelops from unknown sources frequently appeared all over the place, but something about the plain, white, folded piece of paper on the tile floor gave Scully pause as she held the office phone up to her ear. Mulder was at the other end, at a crime scene, yet another dead body with another missing heart, frustrated at the lack of a pattern. Of course, his profiler's mind always looked for patterns. The lack of one must be driving him mad.

"Well there's got to be something," she murmured, bending over, her manicured nails picking up the envelope. "Something about his victims, why he chooses them, a pattern."

"So far there's absolutely nothing, Scully," H huffed and she could see him glaring at the scene in abject frustration. It appears to be just a series of random attacks. Scully only half heard him as she held up the unassuming package. There was no name on it, no address to anyone. But there was something inside. She held it to the light, but it was security marked on the inside. "An envelope's been slipped under your door," she murmured to him. Another informant he hadn't told her about?

"Yeah," Mulder perked up slightly at this. "From who?"

"It's unmarked," she replied, cradling the receiver against her cheek, pinning it with a shoulder as she ripped the flap of it open. Out of it tumbled a small, flat object attached to a chain…a necklace. She held it up, frowning at it.

"It's some kind of pendant. Like a charm." She studied it carefully as it dangled from her fingers. The chain wasn't that expensive, nor was the charm as she looked at it, flat metal shaped into the form of a heart surrounded by flames. A burning heart, an image that immediately triggered memories of Sister Spooky in Catholic elementary school, of the musty old chapel at the Mission of San Diego and visiting there as a child, of devout, old, Mexican ladies who would go everyday, lighting candles and kneeling before an icon of Christ. She could still remember the curious horror and intrigue at the idea of the very European looking Jesus, his long fingers opening his chest to reveal his heart, an organ burning bright within him, consuming him…

A clue? Was this what it was? Her face flushed. She felt strangely excited by this. Perhaps their first break in a case that had been driving her partner mad for days. She frowned at the envelope still in her hand. Perhaps there were fingerprints on this? Maybe DNA, a sample left on the glue that sealed the envelope shut? She set it aside, not wishing to mar it further, studying instead the charm dangling in her fingers.

If it was a clue, who was it from? The murderer? Scully's brain ran through all the information she had ever learned regarding serial killers from her time with Mulder. It seemed likely it was from him, a taunt perhaps? A way of trying to let them know that he was there, and that he indeed wanted some recognition? Was it something special to him? Perhaps it had some sort of deep-seated, religious meaning for him? After all, Mulder suspected they were dealing with a psychic surgeon. Whether Scully believed it or not, she knew that the cultures these charlatans came from often were very religious and spiritual, melding together ancient beliefs with the imported Catholic faith. Perhaps this was then a talisman for him, symbolizing why he took the hearts in the first place? Burning hearts, the heart of Jesus, burning, burning…what did it mean?

"Scully," Mulder's voice sounded very far away on the other end of the telephone and she didn't answer him right away. If this charm was from their murderer, she would have to know what it was and what it meant before she presented it to Mulder. He relied on her for her thorough information, for her hard facts and scientific understanding. Giving him a half-baked theory when he was already frustrated with so little to go on would only exacerbate this investigation, and do him no good.

"Scully," Mulder's voice was tight and taut on the other end, whether out of impatience or worry, Scully couldn't tell. She started at the sound and realized that she had been ignoring him.

"I'm sorry, just…thinking."

"What is it?" How many times had he asked her that question while she had been lost in her the quagmire of her own thoughts?

"A charm, a little heart surrounded by flames."

"Do you think it's from our killer?"

"Maybe," she set the necklace down carefully beside the envelope. "I need to see who it was that dropped it off and I'll have the lab look at the envelope. I'll get back to you if I think it's relevant."

"Relevant, Scully, we don't have anything to go on now."

"I know." His annoyance wasn't directed at her, but she couldn't help but snap at him. Did he forget that she had been running cases with him for six years now? "I'm on it, Mulder." She wasn't a complete idiot at these things, and she had been on several serial killer cases with him. Underneath it all it upset her that at moments like these he forgot her own capabilities to marshal facts and to organize evidence. She was as skilled an investigator as he, his equal in many ways, his opposite and balance in others. She deserved some respect for that. Serial killers always did bring out the darkest of moods in Mulder. With effort she swallowed her own injured pride and hidden anxieties and tried to plaster on some semblance of reassurance. Until Mulder felt he was on sure footing, he would be in a sore mood. "I will run up to the labs right now and when you get in I'll have something for you, promise."

He should have known she would give him nothing until she had hard evidence to back it up. That was how their relationship worked. He sighed, consternated, but at least accepting. "Fine, I'll wait here till they get the crime scene cleaned up and head back to the office. Do you want to take a look at the body yourself?"

"Yeah," she murmured, frowning at the charm on his desk. "Yeah, I'll do it. I know what to look for."

"See you in a bit," he grumbled by way of goodbye. When he hung up, Scully slid the receiver back into the cradle before picking up the necklace once again. She considered, rubbing the tiny bit of metal between her fingers, almost smelling the incense, the odd combination of frankincense and myrrh and beeswax mingled with the faint mustiness of old, oak pews, and musty, velvet kneelers. She remembered charms like this in the hands of old, withered women with skin like soft leather, whispering their prayers in soft, Mexican Spanish.

What was it about that image, the flaming heart that drew their killer? Was it as simple as a charm, or was it something else, something darker?

Gathering up the envelope, Scully made for the door, intent to first visit the labs upstairs, then run by reception and security to see who had slipped the envelope under the door. This case was becoming stranger and stranger, she realized as she called for the elevator, ignoring the feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach. There was something about it, and she couldn't put a finger on it, something strange and unnatural.

She clutched her fingers around the heart as she stepped on the elevator and squeezed it hard into her palm.

Chapter Text

I have to admit to a secret attraction…

Tears dribbled down Scully's face as she fled the church, the burning feeling of Mulder's neighbor's intense gaze scouring her skin. He had been following her! Her of all people! Worse, he had been watching her. That thought disturbed her more than she cared to admit. After years of government tails and secret cameras, the eyes of one, lovelorn man following her around the city disturbed her?

No…they frightened her. She bit her lip as she rushed to her car, praying he wasn't still following her. She threw herself into the drivers seat, jamming her keys in the ignition as she glanced out of her rearview window. Blessedly the man wasn't there. He had followed her to the church, all on the off chance that she'd bite at his little gift. He had seen the gold cross her mother had given her, had guessed from it she was a woman of some faith, and had sent her the charm because he thought she would get the reference, would understand it, and she had. How had he known that? God, how had this stranger divined that?

Scully shivered as she pulled into traffic, the writer's words tumbling around inside of her head. He had outlined her as clearly as if he had been Mulder, a man who she worked with everyday for six years. She was shocked that this fellow hadn't told her how she took her coffee and what sort of perfume she was wearing, all things she knew Mulder knew. This perfect stranger noticed that she was fit, that she liked to run. She didn't do so as often as she would have liked, so he had to have been watching her for long enough to ascertain that. How long had it been? He had only been living next to Mulder for a matter of weeks, had he been watching her before? Had he moved into Mulder's building to get closer to her?

She resisted the sudden urge to vomit all over her brand new car.

Violated wasn't even close to describing how she felt in that moment. How had he done it? How had this strange, weird little man gotten so close as to figure out these things about her? How had she not noticed? Scully noticed many things, perhaps not everything, but working with Fox Mulder, one took the axiom of "trust no one" to heart. She watched every shadow now, kept an eye on every strange car behind her. Hell, she had even once talked the boys into sweeping her apartment for bugs and then threatened Frohike's life if he ever told Mulder about it. This man waltzed in, all vague smiles and burning eyes and told her things about herself that he shouldn't know.

What else about Scully's life did he know about? That thought sent chills across her clammy skin. She had thought his attention the other day in the elevator disturbing, creepy, far too personal. What went on in that brooding head of his? What sort of ideas did he as a writer spin about her? Did she want to know? Far from feeling flattered or attracted to the idea, she felt repulsed. How did this man see her? Was it as simple as merely a model for the heroine of his novels? No, not if he admitted to a secret attraction to her. There was more to it for him than simple admiration. Desire, perhaps? Lust? Did he imagine himself in love with her?

Why was it the crazies that imagined themselves in love with her? The injustice of that thought caused more scalding tears to tip down her lashes. What had she done to deserve this? Yes, she was an attractive woman, she realized that, despite all her pretenses at a lonely state. She threw herself into her work, but she wasn't unaware that many considered her lovely. She could, if she wished, have a string of lovers at her beck and call, much as Mulder once had. But she hadn't wished, she had held herself back, first out of her devotion to the work, and later…hell if she admitted it, later it was because of the fact she was hopelessly in love with her partner and that's what made this whole thing wrong. She was in love with a man she could never have, and now some lunatic was professing attraction to her. It seemed so very unfair. What did he really expect from her? Did he think her to be delighted that he had noticed her? Did he think she would flatter, charmed by his little Milagro pendant? She had honestly considered that a part of their murder investigation and it had been nothing more than a creepy love note from a stalker.

Humiliation burned as she considered what Mulder would say to this. To be honest, she half didn't want to say anything to him regarding his neighbor, but she would have to tell him about the charm. He'd be upset about it having nothing to do with the case, but would laugh at her regarding her newfound admirer. She sure knew how to pick them. First Frohike, the Eddie Van Blundht, now this guy? Mulder would likely giggle himself sick over it.

Face flushed, Scully felt the fool as she pulled numbly towards the building she was shooting for, the morgue where Mulder had told her the latest victim would be waiting. He was likely already impatiently wondering why she wasn't there to do his bidding and hop on the autopsy. That was what Mulder kept her around for, after all, to do the science bits for him.

Glaring at her reflection in the rear view mirror, Scully scrubbed viciously at her face, rubbing at the tear stained trails down her cheeks, hoping to somehow repair the damaged make up. She would get control of herself and this situation. And she would not show weakness to Mulder in this. He was already on edge, frustrated at the lack of evidence in this case. He wouldn't tolerate her crying over something as dumb as some loser neighbor of his sending her creepy love notes to the office. He would likely be more annoyed that it had nothing to do with his case.

Several deep breaths later, Scully stepped out of her car, spine stiff, chin up, face firm. She would apologize to Mulder about insisting there was something about the charm, honestly tell him what happened, and move on to her autopsy. She would not dwell on this writer and his advances, and she certainly wouldn't think about how disturbing she found it all. She was a professional, this was her job, and she could do this without falling apart.

Scully sincerely wished this case would get over with soon.

Chapter Text

Was this really how Philip Padgett saw her?

Scully stared at the pile of neatly stacked pages in front of her, standing across the small room from them, glaring at them as if they were a time bomb. She had read through the book, most of it at least, through the twisted and dark pages that wound through one death after another. Every one of their murders was displayed in meticulous, purple-prose, the details awash in flowery metaphors. Scully, however, was a surgeon, a woman who had cut her teeth on cutting through the fat and detritus to the heart of the matter. Padgett's words were as good as a confession to having committed the crimes. What she couldn't figure out was how he had committed them. There was no evidence, absolutely none, that linked the strange writer with his soulful eyes and soft voice to the brutal crime scenes, and certainly nothing about him struck her as having the ability to mystically pull a beating heart out of a chest without laying a hand on his victims.

The how she couldn't prove…the why was disturbingly evident all over the pages of his magnum opus. It ran through every scene, from the gruesome deaths to the most intimate moments…and there were several. Scully felt something under her skin crawl as she swallowed hard against the revulsion clawing at her stomach. Every word on those typewritten pages dripped with attraction, desire, a sort of unrequited, distant love. It was not a real emotion by any stretch of the imagination, but an idealized version of it, something akin to the poets of old, writing about the muses they adored. Except this was twisted and perverted, voyeuristic in the worst sorts of ways. The scene in the bedroom alone…had he imagined that the other day when she sat with him on his mattress? Was that the uncomfortable undertone she felt as he handed her something to drink? Had he thought of her, splayed across his comforter, cheeks flushed with passion, eyes bright as he peeled off the armor that she surrounded herself with and tried to find the woman underneath it all?

Her nails bit into the meaty flesh at the heels of her palms as she pushed roughly away from the table, eyes stinging. Violated wasn't a word that perhaps fit this exact situation, as Padgett had done nothing physically wrong to her, but it was the word that best described how she felt. He had watched her, followed her, stalked her and turned her everyday life, who she was, into some sort of sick, twisted fantasy, one that was playing out grossly in real life, with real people. How many had died? Was this his plan? Had he meant to do this to inspire his muse, to better create his story? Or was it meant to impress her, a psychopathic love letter from an author to his muse?

The door to the tiny room opened quietly. She didn't turn to look at whom it was. After all these years she could practically sense Mulder, his burning eyes on her as she stood, arms crossed around herself as she frowned out of the frosted glass window criss-crossed with thin filaments of wire. She wished she could see outside, to feel that she was doing something other than staring aimlessly at a blank wall.

"Well, it's not a New York Times best seller, but you have to admit it's an interesting read." Mulder's wit, as ever, cut through the quiet. She could hear him perching on the corner of the desk, his weight causing it to scrape ever so slightly against the concrete floor. "You doing okay there?"

"I'm fine." She blinked hard, her voice amazingly even for the tears that seemed to threaten at the corners of her eyes. "I can't decide if I should be flattered or horrified right now. I think I'm settling on a bit of both."

"I can't blame you." His tone was light, but she knew he was serious. She turned to glance at him, his gaze pensive as he studied his shiny shoe tips braced against the floor. "Padgett shows all the signs of a classic stalker, Scully. He's fixated on a singular person, he's learned everything he could about you, and he's worked hard to be close to you, so he can perpetuate in his mind the fantasy that he has built up around you."

The thought of it made her insides squirm coldly. "Why would anyone stalk me?"

"The question should be, Scully, who hasn't stalked you?" He meant it as a joke, but it came out much harsher than he intended. "For once, at least, this one didn't kidnap you in the dead of night and carry you off. He seemed pretty content to leave you alone for the moment."

"For the moment?" She thought of Padgett sitting in his cell and wondered if there was something Mulder wasn't telling her. "What do you mean?"

"Stalkers like Padgett like to build up fantasies about the object of their affection. They break from reality, creating stories about this idealized version of their target. It becomes so all consuming that often they can't bear to have it challenged. And when that happens…"

Mulder paused, grimacing. He didn't need to continue. Scully had seen and read about enough of these cases to know what sort of thing happened. She sighed, turning to face him fully, leaning her back against the cold, concrete wall.

"Mulder, as creepy and frankly terrifying as this is, the truth of the matter is that Padgett has not done anything to me until recently, and believe me, I'd know. I'm as paranoid as you are anymore, and not once have I ever noticed him." That was perhaps the part that scared her the most. Padgett was rather obvious in his affections towards her, but in a silent way that made Frohike look simply like a smitten puppy.

"All the evidence we have on Padgett is circumstantial at best. We have no physical anything that ties him to these crime scenes and I bet if we asked him he could cop an alibi for every single one of those murders. All we have is the description of them in his book." Her eyes skittered to the pile of papers sitting behind Mulder.

"Descriptions which explain everything to a tee, Scully."

"A man who can psychically take and crush hearts? Really?" Something of Scully's usual doubtful fire sparked within her, brought on by Mulder's stubborn insistence. "Far more likely is that's a plot device rather than the real method of murder."

"You yourself did the autopsies. How else could those deaths have worked?"

He had her there, shooting her a challenging look she knew she couldn't best. "I don't know," she admitted sullenly.

"Alright, then let's just go with the theory then that this is a psychic surgeon and that he's our main suspect." Even for Mulder that sounded strange and unrealistic, but that had never been known to stop him before in an argument. "Whoever this person is, he's working in cahoots with Padgett. My suspicion, Padgett needed inspiration for his work and the object of his obsessions, you. He wanted to present an appropriately weird and spooky case, first to make his plot workable, but second because he hoped it would intrigue you, to draw you in. He has you dancing at the ends of his strings, putting all the pieces together so he can live out his sick fantasy."

His last words were spit out, his face darkening suddenly as he scowled at nothing in particular. Scully knew exactly how he felt…perhaps more so. Was this what this was all about, playing at a fantasy for Padgett? Create a case that he could watch the woman he was obsessed with spin into?

"I'm no denying that as a possibility, Mulder, but we still have no evidence that he had anything to do with this." She had to play devil's advocate here and she wasn't sure why. Despite her growing discomfort about the man, she hardly thought it fair that he have the entirety of their case laid at his feet unless they could successfully prove that he was at fault.

Clearly that wasn't what Mulder had expected out of her at all. His eyes flashed angrily, mouth twisting as he waved an exasperated hand at the pile of papers on the desk. "I don't know, Scully, what more evidence do you need? He spells out every single one of those crimes on that paper, in minute detail. And I already have units out canvassing for that little 'confession' he sent your way."

He glared blackly at her, disappointment and something else burning under the surface. "This man is the only lead we have on this, Scully. I don't know how he did it, but he did it. And I would bet whatever vague reputation I have left as a profiler on it, because I do know this, Padgett isn't a profiler. He's a writer, and a bad one at that. He's not me, he isn't getting into some strangers head, learning what makes him tick, learning what secret urges drive him to kill, to murder, to feel people's hearts quiver in his hands before he crushes them into non-existence. Philip Padgett isn't that talented. Say what you will about imagination, but we both know from your experience that he prefers to have first hand knowledge of his subjects before he spins his tales about them."

Scully's mouth felt dry as she watched her partner throw himself off the desk, standing as if to get away from the jumble of words that rested behind him, evidence that was nearly as good as a confession. Instead he stalked quietly over to her. It was one of those rare moments in their relationship when Scully remembered how incredibly tall he was in comparison to her. She felt herself holding her breath as he leaned in ever so slightly, his voice dropping down to a gravelly murmur.

"I may not be a writer, but I know that I would never, ever objectify you in the way this man has, nor would I violate you or your trust and splash it all over the pulpy pages of a two-bit novel for everyone to see. That's what this man has done, taken someone I respect and care for and turned her into a mockery of who she is. That woman in there isn't the woman I know. She may be close, but she is a facsimile, the dream version of the person I know."

Something electric nearly closed her throat so tight she couldn't speak. The images of the book came flooding to her, of what Padgett described, of the way he saw her, imagined her. He had hit many things on the head, whether Mulder wanted to admit to it or not. The way she used her professionalism as her armor, to protect from the slings and arrows of office gossip, directed at her both because she was a woman and because she was partnered with Spooky Mulder. Padgett had also picked up on the insecurity she felt working with someone as brilliant as Mulder was, the fact that she felt as if she needed to be on top of her game at all times, otherwise she would fail him and be of no further use to him.

But he'd picked up on the key piece, the one that had hurt the most as she flipped through the cigarette smoke stained pages. Padgett had seen how lonely she was, how bone-achingly alone she was. So few people understood her work, fewer still supported it, and she had devoted everything to it…and to Mulder. To this brilliant, terrifying, amazing man whom she had risked her entire life for and he had done the same for her. She loved him for it and he would never know that. That was the loneliest feeling in the universe nd Padgett had found it, without even speaking to her, without even being around her. Mulder perhaps thought little of Padgett's skills of perception, but at this moment Scully had to hand it to the man. He had her pegged in a way that Mulder clearly didn't. She turned sad eyes up to her livid partner.

"I don't know, Mulder, I think perhaps he sees more of me than even you do at times."

She hadn't meant her words to cut him, but they did. He reared back as if she had slapped him, eyes wide with shock before narrowing in anger. "So tell me, is it your habit to sleep with random strangers just because you think they 'get you'?"

His snap was in retaliation, but it cut the quick. He knew her better than that! And that was the problem. She knew, with that perfect memory of his, that he recalled a certain incident in Philadelphia now several years back. A random stranger she met on a case, Scully in one of her more self-reflective moods, and a night of passion that ended up with her sporting a tattoo and a goose egg on the back of head, and Mulder livid as she told him that who he slept with was none of his business. Did that still bother him after all this time?

"You don't mean to tell me that you are bothered by a few, racy scenes in a trashy, crime novel, do you?" Scully tried to laugh off her sudden discomfort, raising her chin defiantly. "I thought you were the one who just told me that person in that novel wasn't me."

"I'm more bothered by what Padgett was implying, Scully. You say he seems to know you so well, I hadn't thought that he was your type."

Hadn't he just told her in Mississippi that her love life was none of his business? "And does it bother you that some other man might see something beautiful, even sexual about me?" Her crossed arms dropped now as she planted her hands on her hips, turning to glare up at him. "Is that why you want to nail Padgett to the wall with this case, Mulder? You're angry that he sees me as something other than a coolly collected investigator who mindlessly does your autopsies for you and goes home of a night to read her medical journals and watch mind-numbing television, only to do it all over again the next day?"

She had rubbed something wrong, the muscle in his jaw clenched, the tendon just below his ear twitching as he worked it sullenly. Was that it, she wondered in vague shock? Was Mulder really jealous that Padgett had seen her as something other than an FBI machine, working her cases, without a heart, without the need for someone meaningful in her life…someone like him? Did it bother him that Philip Padgett, his strange, weird, creepy neighbor could see more of Scully than Mulder did, even after six years of working beside her everyday?

If he did, he closed that emotion off so fast she didn't get a chance to over analyze it. "Well, if that sort of thing turns you on, Scully, far be it from me to say anything about it. But that doesn't mean Padgett's not our killer and I will find out why and how. And maybe you can write him a fan letter in prison when it's all said and done."

She wanted to snap at him that he wasn't being fair, but he pivoted away from her so fast he nearly gave Scully whiplash as moved to the door. His long legs carried him away before she had a chance to come up with a proper retort. Her face burned as she watched the door slam shut, and she felt herself fall back against the wall, arms coming up defensively once again.

Well that hadn't gone well.

Chapter Text

This was a bad idea. Scully didn't know exactly why it was a bad idea, but she could feel it. The gut instinct she always tried to pretend she didn't have screamed at her as she followed Mulder down to Padgett's holding cell. Mulder for his part tried, and was failing, to look as if he was a contrite law officer coming to apologize for wrongful arrest. Mulder would have made a horrible actor. As soon as Padgett's cell was open, he stepped in, passing the plastic wrapped package that was the other man's manuscript over to the surprised inmate.

"Mr. Padgett, you can go. We apologize for our mistake. You're free to finish your book."

Scully tried to ignore how Mulder's tongue nearly tripped over the word "book". Padgett accepted the manuscript with a nod, his dreamy, sleepy façade hardly rousing even to mild irritation as he hugged the thick packet of pages to himself. Instead, he simply walked out of the cell doors, towards the waiting guard beyond.

He paused at the door, turning to regard them both. His eyes flickered to Mulder, not with annoyance or irritation, but with something akin to curiosity, before settling back on Scully. She tried to resist the urge to turn away, her spine curling as she stubbornly met his unabashed stare.

"I made a mistake myself," he murmured, glancing back to Mulder, with a voice filled with sad understanding.

Scully could feel Mulder tense imperceptibly behind her. "What's that, Mr. Padgett?"

"In my book." He nodded at it briefly in indication. "I'd written that Agent Scully falls in love. But that's obviously impossible." He met Mulder's curiosity with a small smile and something else. Envy? For what?

Padgett sighed ever so softly. "Agent Scully is already in love."

Whatever Scully had expected to hear, it wasn't that. Blood rushed from her face to her suddenly aching middle as Padgett turned to leave, feet shuffling in his slouching walk, with no explanation of the words he had just uttered. The words that Scully had hoped would never, ever be uttered.

Dear God, how had he known?

She had wanted to rush after him, to demand an answer, but he was already gone and Scully stood there, feet rooted to the concrete, as Mulder's eyes burned into the side of her face, asking silent questions she couldn't give him answers to. She knew he wanted to ask him, his ever-churning mind was screaming to ask them. But he remained silent. Thank God for small miracles, she breathed in silent prayer. She couldn't face this. She couldn't speak to this, not with Mulder standing right over her, so very close.

"I need to finish the paperwork on Padgett," she muttered, not even sure if she was speaking English as her eyes suddenly found her shoes extremely fascinating. She couldn't look up at the curiosity she was sure to find watching her. "I'll get that worked up, and I'll meet you back at the office, yeah?"

"No," Mulder replied, and she thought he might have shaken his head. He drew out his response, thoughtful. "No, back at my place. I suspect that is where Padgett is heading back to and perhaps even his accomplice. I'm going to see if I can't get a warrant to set up some surveillance equipment, maybe we can keep an eye on him for a day or two and see what turns up."

"You think that Justice will agree to it?" The intricacy of federal protocol regarding the surveillance of suspects was something safe to fall back on. She clung to it as she turned to wander out of the cell, keeping her steps measured so as not to appear to be fleeing as fast as she could. She'd have rather been running.

"Considering the number of bodies we've turned up and Padgett being our only honest suspect, I think they will agree to it if nothing else than to close this case up." His steps followed behind her, now caught up in the flurry of their case, their next moves. "If we do it right, I can catch it when he isn't home, set up something in the ventilation between our two apartments."

Padgett had spent how long watching her in secret? Somehow Scully couldn't bring herself to feel badly about returning the favor. "Do you think his accomplice will show up?"

"I have a feeling that once Padgett is free and clear of here he's going to be placing a few discreet phone calls. He knows we are onto him and he'll want to cover his tracks as quickly as possible, only I don't know if his buddy will be too happy about it."

"Right," Scully murmured, finding it was as good of a theory as any. Really, she couldn't think. Padgett's parting shot still rang, sad and forlorn, in her ears. How had he known? How could he have possibly discovered her most hidden secret, the one thing she could never voice out loud? Her heart landed somewhere in her throat. She suddenly wanted to put as much distance between herself and Mulder as she could possibly get.

"Why don't you go and get that warrant," she managed to choke as she moved up the stairs of the precinct that led from the jail cells to the offices above. "I'll go work with the locals to finish the paperwork on their side. I'll see you at your place in a bit?"

She didn't dare look at him. If she did she would break into a million pieces. Did he realize? Had he guessed? She frantically reached for the door of the landing, flinging it open to throw herself through it, but it stopped, as Mulder's arm blocked it. Before she could manage to step through it, he had an hand at her elbow, a familiar spot, his fingers wrapping gently, cupping it, stopping her before she bolted. They might as well have been made of red-hot iron for all that they flamed through the suit of her jacket.

"You alright," he murmured, voice low and filled with concern, gentle and worried in that way only Mulder had. It was tempting, so very tempting, to look up at him, to meet that anxious gaze, his eyes softening and to allow herself to dissolve right in front of him. But she couldn't and she wouldn't.

"I'm fine," she replied simply, knowing that he'd see it for the lie it was.

His finger's tightened, not hard, but enough to try and impart…something. He let go, his breath exhaling heavily. "Don't let him rattle you, Scully. He doesn't know you as well as you think."

Oh, Padgett knew her well enough. That was the disturbing problem. "Yeah," she murmured vaguely, trying to smile in agreement. It came out as a flat twisting of lips. "Call me if you need anything."

She didn't give Mulder a chance to respond. She pushed the door enough to slip past it and onto the precinct floor, not waiting for her partner to follow. She had paperwork to fill out, forms to fill in, busy work to occupy her for hours. Perhaps by then Padgett's words would fade and she could compose herself. Perhaps she could then face Mulder with her cool façade and pretend that everything was normal. Perhaps she could forget what Padgett had so nearly exposed to the man who meant everything to her, the one man she couldn't possibly tell the truth to. It would make everything so strange, so different, so strained. not when they had finally gotten the X-files back, not when their work was finally their own again.

Mulder couldn't know the truth on this, he couldn't. Their work meant too much and she was too invested in it. Something like this, it would only take away from that. And Scully hadn't stayed with him, hadn't returned to the FBI, and hadn't put up with months of Kersh and his bullying just to have it all fall apart because of her traitorous feelings. She wouldn't allow that to happen…couldn't allow it.

Numbly she made her way to the desk duty sergeant, not bothering to look back to see if Mulder had left or not. "I need the paperwork you have on Philip Padgett, I want to complete what we need and have copies sent to the FBI for our records."

Busy work, she thought, watching the sergeant print out the necessary forms. She could do busy work, and this would all be taken care of soon, and Mulder would forget Padgett's words, and he would move on and never be any the wiser. Or, at least Scully breathed, she hoped he wouldn't.

Chapter Text

Her sobs seemed to go on for hours. The more she tried to stop them, the harder they came; great heaving, ripping, tearing rivers of tears, of blinding fear, of pain, and the horror. She had felt the fingers ripping into the tender flesh just above her stomach, tearing and pushing their way through skin and muscle. She could still feel nails slithering across her lungs and hot, slick fingers wrapping around her heart.

Hysteria was not something Scully ever gave into. She was typically too calm and too rational to lose her head. Perhaps that was what terrified Mulder most of all as he slipped onto the floor finally, cradling her against him, rocking her back and forth, crooning softly as she cried into his sweater, gulping, wrenching, choking sobs that hurt as they tore through the very flesh that still believed on a nerve ending level it had just been ripped through. Not even the arrival of the Alexandria Police calmed her as she clung harder. Mulder muttered something about him being downstairs. It was only after someone returned from the basement to announce that Philip Padgett was dead that Scully managed to get some sort of hold on herself.

There were questions, of course, mostly answered by Mulder. Scully tried to explain what had happened. Why she was covered in her own blood when clearly there wasn't a mark on her. Frankly she couldn't explain her own experience any better than she could explain the autopsies she performed or the other victims that they had found. Neither could the paramedics who were called and who did their obligatory check. As far as they could tell Scully was fine and would be fine, save for the blood loss. Rest was what they told a grim faced Mulder, his jaw tightening in that way it had, the muscle twitching. Scully tried to give him some reassurance. But her head ached with tears, and her chest ached with the dull memory of pain, and she wanted nothing more than to simply go home, to get away…far away.

It took seemingly forever for the police to finish their work. Blessedly the neighbors, perhaps used to the strange happenings that emerged from Mulder's apartment, paid little attention to their coming and going. Really, it was a wonder that the management didn't raise his rent on him, Scully wondered quietly, bundled as she was on Mulder's leather couch. She watched as he sent the last of the officers off with reassurances that he would love to talk to them more about the case, and any insights they might have would be helpful to his investigation, et cetera, thank you, good-bye. He closed the door firmly behind them, turning to lean against it, head hanging wearily.

Scully watched him, wrapping the blanket around her, not knowing what to say, or how to say it, or where to begin. All she felt at the moment was nothing, a blank. Everything was an empty slate, except for the painful rhythm of her still beating heart.

"How you doing," Mulder sighed from where he stood, eyes bright in the darkness. Scully tried to shrug and smile, her familiar "I'm fine" automatically rising to the surface and dying behind her lips. She couldn't say it. She couldn't feel it. She wasn't fine. She was scared, and she was broken, and she just wanted to be safe, someplace safe, not that she knew where that was.

"Let's get you home, okay," he rumbled softly, reaching for the keys and wallet he had tossed haphazardly onto the table by his door.

Something akin to her normal independence cracked to the surface at his suggestion. "I can get myself home, Mulder." Besides, she couldn't just leave her car there some logical but wholly irrational part of her brain reasoned.

"Dana." His voice was soft yet firm as he came to stand over her, kneeling to look her in the eye. "You're in shock right now, you know it, and I know it. You're the medical professional, would you let me drive in this state?"

A better question was whether or not she could convince him not to drive in this state. She knew he was right, deep down, but petulance seemed to be winning out. "I'm fine, Mulder, they said nothing was physically wrong with me."

"Except for the blood loss covering your shirt." His face whitened even at the mention of it. "Look, tomorrow is Sunday. I'll bring your car back bright and early in the morning. We'll do lunch. That sound okay?"

For whatever reason his suggestion worked. She nodded her head as she tried to stand, feeling woozy and wobbly kneed. Immediately his arm looped around her, pinning her to his lean form. "You okay to walk?"

"Yeah," she croaked, though not entirely sure she was. The sight of the now rust colored stain on what had been a pristine white top earlier made her stomach lurch. "I just want to go home, Mulder."

"I know," he murmured softly, leading her out of the door before locking it behind him, keeping a hold on her as he eased her down the hallway to the elevator. "We'll get you home, get you into a bath."

A bath? Hadn't she been attacked in there once, by another man who had been determined to tear into her flesh with his bare fingers? That time had been for her liver. She had never forgotten Tooms, his nails raking across bare stomach. The strange man had done the same, pushing into tender skin, violating her in the worst of ways, like Philip Padgett had.

"You'll be alright, Dana," Mulder kept murmuring as he somehow maneuvered her shaking form into his sedan, settling her haphazardly in the passengers seat before crawling in beside her behind the wheel. With worried looks and muttered reassurances he started the engine and began the drive back across the river to Georgetown and her home.

It was so much faster on a Saturday night. Scully couldn't tell if she had drifted off or not, it seemed she had blinked and suddenly Mulder was easing her out of his car. Any passerby might have assumed she was just another Georgetown bar-hopper who'd gone out and had just a bit too much fun that night. She shivered tightly, despite the warmth of late spring as Mulder wrapped his arm hard around her shoulders.

"Let's get you inside, okay?" He deftly managed both her and the front door of her building, hardly stopping till he was at her door, keys in hand. He had her apartment open and her inside, and was beginning to unwind her from his Navajo blanket that she still found herself cuddle up in.

"Shower…now…go." He ordered, dropping the blanket on an armchair and pushing her to her bedroom. He flipped on lights as Scully mechanically did as he bid. She wandered into her bathroom, reaching to unzip her boots and slip off her shoes. The cool tile beneath her stocking feet revived her somewhat as she began flipping the faucet and testing the water, the spray pouring down as she removed the rest of her clothing. It took the longest of moments to realize that the water was even hitting her skin.

When she did, it shocked her that the wetness on her face wasn't just water, it was also her tears. They fell again, fast and hard as her hands slid across slick skin to her middle, feeling and prodding. Above the scar left from her gunshot she could feel the bruising, though there was nothing there, as if her mind could remember what her body physically could not, the mental evidence of a great wrong done to her.

Her sobs broke and cracked, fracturing in the spray above her as she curled into herself and sank to the bottom of her large, claw-footed tub. Her arms wrapped around her knees as she hugged them to her chest, her tears searing. It was only when the water around her turned cold, little ice needles puncturing her skin, that she managed to collect herself enough to turn off the water and stand again. She shivered as she reached for a towel and scrubbed her frozen skin, turning it pink as she wrapped it around herself and wandered into her bedroom.

She should have expected the comfortable pajamas placed on the corner of her neatly made bed, the slippers tossed almost haphazardly on the floor nearby. It surprisingly brought a smile to her lips, Mulder's small gesture, as she quickly dressed, the warmth of clothing finally starting to melt the edges of the chill she had felt since she had woken on Mulder's floor. With deft fingers she wrapped her wet hair in her towel and trundled out to her living room.

He was still waiting there, on her couch, the light of her fireplace glowing in the dimness. She frowned at the cheerful brightness of it. "Mulder, it's May, it's too warm for that."

"No arguments, Scully, get over here." His order was firm, but the tone was gentle enough as he pointed to the spot beside him on the couch. She did as he said, settling into the soft cushions as she watched him reach for a bottle on the table in front of him.

"Dad's whiskey?" She recognized the label instantly. Her father had cases of fine, Irish whiskey in his study, collected by himself and given to him by friends. Scully had managed to get a case for herself from the leftover stores, pulling out a bottle only on those nights when she most missed the comfort of Ahab, nights like this one.

"Found it in your kitchen. Take this." He passed the glass of amber liquid, no ice, and poured another for himself. "Drink up. Doctor's orders."

"I'm the doctor," she grumbled lightly, raising the glass to her lips. "You never got your doctorate."

"Stop being so damned literal and drink up." He tipped his own tumbler back, grimacing against the fire that likewise filled Scully's mouth and throat as she too drank. She ran her tongue along the roof of her mouth, tasting the oaky, smoky flavor that her father swore was what made it some of the finest spirits in the world. All Scully knew was that it trailed fire down into her stomach immediately, spreading out like a flame, soothing nerves that were frayed and muscles that were sore. She felt herself melt somewhat into the couch.

"This is the good stuff," Mulder murmured, himself sinking into couch cushions. He stretched out his long legs in front of him, contemplating the drink in the light of the glowing, gas fire. "This from Ireland?"

"Yeah, Dad would have it shipped every few years or one of his friends would buy him a case. Usually it was both." She smiled as she thought of her father's poker nights in the garage in their house in San Diego, the large door open to the cool, Southern California evening, the officers and other friends of her father gathered around a card table with glasses of whiskey, bottles of beer, and cigars burning in trays around the table. "Ahab first gave me a sip of it when I was seven. Told me never to tell my mother. I thought I was drinking gasoline! And I was so determined not to cough in front of him, to show him I wasn't a wussy girl."

The smile slipped off her lips somewhat as she thought of her hysterics earlier that day. She'd been far from the strong, determined woman in that moment. Never had she lost herself so completely in front of Mulder, not even when her sister died, not even when she was sick and dying of cancer, not even with Emily. She shifted, embarrassed, tucking her feet under her as she sipped from the liquor again.

"My Dad was always a Scotch man, preferred Laugavulin, but he'd take whatever was handy. He wasn't picky." Mulder set down his own glass. Scully noted he was even thoughtful enough to pull out coasters. "When he and Mom separated, he took to making it his dinner, then his lunch. When he retired I think he was up to a bottle a day. Problem was he held his liquor too well, he couldn't keep a good enough buzz to always forget, I guess."

Poor Bill Mulder, Scully sighed. What things he must have seen, what failures he must have been frustrated by, what loss he must have felt. She gripped her glass tighter. "I don't want to forget this afternoon, Mulder."

"I know." He sighed, reaching across the space between them. Gently he grabbed her arm and pulled her, tipping her towards him. Surprisingly she let him. She tumbled into his side, her towel turban tucking against his shoulder as she curled into him, his right arm wrapping around her protectively.

"I saw you on my floor, Scully….God it was like one of my nightmares come to life." She felt the rattling shudder of his breath through his sweater.

"You have nightmares of me dying?" She shouldn't have been surprised, but somehow she was. She tried to frown up at him, but the towel around her head got in the way.

"Yeah, of course I do. You've nearly died on me enough over the years, and this makes what…number four in the last few months alone?"

"Well, Christmas hardly counts. That wasn't real."

"Close enough to scare the hell out of me," he muttered darkly.

It had scared the hell out of Scully too. There were so many similarities between that time and this. She had literally felt the pain of the injury. Only this time was so much worse. At Christmas it had been a bullet, clean, neat, impersonal. This time…this had been an invasion. It was fingernails cutting and fingers tearing, groping, reaching. She had felt the strange man's presence physically in her body, reaching through her cavity to her heart, as easily as if she had been working on a body on her operating table.

"I was so…terrified," she breathed finally, curling tighter against him. "I could feel him in me, Mulder, I could feel his fingers around my heart, and it burned as he squeezed. And all I could do was scream…I didn't think I had the breath for it. And I felt the blood, and I felt his hand, and it…" Her skin crawled as tears spilled again. Hadn't she run out of those?

His arm simply tightened as she sniffled, castigating herself for being so silly. "You know, when you're a surgeon, you never think of what the person under your knife feels. It's so impersonal, they are out, and you are working, or if you are a pathologist, they are usually dead. It never occurs to you the pain that they might feel, the horror if they were awake. You have to put that out of your head to be a professional, you can't think of that. And there he was…just…reaching. And it was the most horrible feeling."

"It's all over now, Scully," Mulder gentled softly. "Padgett's dead. And whatever that was, however he was doing it, he can't get to you anymore."

No, he couldn't. That thought was small comfort though. "Mulder, I was such an idiot!" A wet, self-deprecating laugh escaped her lips. "I stood up for that man, even when he terrified me. I thought…maybe perhaps a part of me was sort of flattered he noticed me. Saw something in me that wasn't a special agent or pathologist. Saw…I don't know, who I was. A lonely woman who just wants…"

She couldn't finish that sentence. She wouldn't. Scully's cheeks flamed as she ducked her head, feeling suddenly foolish for allowing her jangled nerves to get the better of her. She stared haphazardly at the liquid in her tumbler and busied herself with that. The whiskey burned on her lips, but she drank it down, hard, in one gulp.

She didn't fool Mulder though. "You thought he saw the real you, a lonely woman who just wants someone to see her, appreciate her, and love her as the beautiful, attractive person that she is."

The alcohol nearly caught in her throat. Tears, now because of choking and not of fear, blurred her vision as she set reached to set the glass down. She turned to glance up at her partner who only smiled softly at her bleary amazement.

"Criminal profiler, Scully, remember." There was something cocky in the upturn of his full lips before he pulled her towards him again. "You really think that's all of who you are?"

She didn't dare answer him. Scully didn't like the turn of where this conversation was going.

"I don't know, I think Padgett missed some important bits in his analysis," Mulder continued, as if they were having a normal conversation in the office. "The parts where you are devastatingly intelligent, absolutely fearless, brave beyond belief, and loyal to a fault. He missed how you are a loving daughter, a good sister, an amazing friend, and perhaps one of the best people I've known in my entire life."

Whether it was his words or the alcohol, Scully's skinned flushed a bright pink, burning even in the warm air of her apartment. "Thank you." She didn't know what else to say other than that.

She thought of Padgett, this strange man who had wandered into her life, presuming to know so much about her, almost literally presenting her his heart on a chain. And she thought of Mulder, the man she worked beside everyday, who currently had her nestled so close to his own heart. She could hear it beating just below his t-shirt and sweater. Mulder had been with her through so very much, had seen the worst and the best of her. He understood her enough to know how she liked her coffee, to recognize the kind of perfume she wore, to know where she kept her pajamas and slippers, and where she hid her father's whiskey. Mulder had seen her covered in manure, literally sick and dying in a hospital, raging and screaming at her boss' secretary, and sometimes just being plain unreasonable. He had seen her at her worst and he'd seen her at her best. Padgett had seen none of those things about her and he had fancied himself in love with her?

"In the end, with Padgett, I think that what upset me the most was that he made presumptions on my life and he wasn't even a part of it. He was a voyeur, an outsider, someone who sought to puppet me around for his own, artistic wishes. He imagined me to be someone I wasn't and determined that he would make it so I would fulfill his desires. Whatever those desires were - whether as a muse, maybe something else - I couldn't live up to those."

"No one could." Mulder's voice rumbled beneath her cheek. "He was a writer, Scully, he saw you as his perfect muse, his totally to control. He forgot, at some point, that you were a human woman, one who had human flaws and more than that, your own desires independent of his, and when he realized you couldn't give your heart to him like he wanted."

"He tried to destroy me." It was utterly horrific and so incredibly sad.

"Well…perhaps," Mulder sighed philosophically. Why did he have that way about him in strange cases like this? "I think in the end Padgett realized what he had become. And he didn't like it. I think he realized he couldn't go through with it."

"And so I ended up not having my heart ripped from my chest?" Her eyebrows grazed the edges of the towel wrapped around her head.

"I think he sacrificed himself rather than allow his own story to carry itself out. Perhaps that's the mark of a good author, realizing when your tale won't be a good story and stopping it."

"Except it nearly killed me," she growled, sitt