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locking out the ghosts

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Mulder drives her to a hotel after the funeral. He even calls Bill’s house to let him know that they won’t be coming back there. She can’t face her family right now. She holds the cross in her closed fist, tight enough to leave an imprint on her sweaty palm, closes her eyes and rolls the window down to let the California breeze blow across her wet face.

Mulder reaches across the console to take her spare hand, but she moves it away, balling it up in her lap.

It’s happened a few times now--the first time in Florida, after he’d come back from the Asekoff’s house and found her asleep across his bed. He’d gone to cover her with a blanket and she’d woken up and, in a deadpan, offered him some cheese. He’d apologized for leaving, and then they’d ended up talking--about what, she can’t remember, it runs together as a wine-soaked montage in her head--and she’d kissed him on an impulse across the hotel comforter. Nothing had happened that night aside from both of them falling asleep on top of the comforter, their hands pointed towards each other like arrows. She’d held him in the forest, later, cradling him in her lap and counting his breaths. It had felt like the start of something. In Georgetown, Mulder kissed her against the doorjamb and she’d tugged him inside by his tie. Since then, they’ve been something of a couple, guest starring in each other’s bedrooms or living rooms or hotel rooms. In Indiana, he’d asked her to dance.

(She’d looked at him kneeling beside her daughter on the ground and pictured them raising her together. Now he leaves a sharp, painful tug in her chest when she looks at him, then looks away. Between the grief and guilt crowding her head, there seems to be no room for him.)

“Are you okay? Do you want anything to eat?” Mulder asks softly.

She opens her eyes. They’re passing a blur of brightly-colored fast food restaurants. She hadn’t eaten any breakfast, and the food at the memorial service hadn’t stayed down well. “No, I’m fine,” she says softly, watching the colorful blur of lights.

The gold chain trails from her fingers. She swallows hard, pulling her knees up to her chest.

When they get to the hotel, Mulder gets two adjoining rooms because she says, “Please, Mulder, I need to be alone,” in a wavering voice and he clenches his jaw and nods. He offers to carry her bags, but her things are still at Bill’s. She just wants to be alone, take a sleeping pill and fall asleep. If Mulder is with her, he’ll offer to hold her and comfort her, but she’s never been someone who likes to be around other people when she’s upset. She’s always been the type to shoulder her own sorrows.

Mulder walks her to her room, and reaches out to touch her shoulder gently. “Are you sure you’re okay, Scully?”

No, she thinks. I’m fine, she plans to say, but if she talks, she’ll sob. The weight of incoming tears has been steadily building the entire ride here. She opens her mouth to tell him she’s fine, but the tears start falling before she can help it.

“Scully,” he murmurs softly, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and drawing her into an embrace. She sniffles against his chest. He doesn’t tell her it’s okay, which is what she was expecting; instead, he just kisses the top of her head, rocking her back and forth slightly. She doesn’t move to hug him back. She doesn’t feel like she’s able to do much of anything at the moment. She stands still while he kisses her temple, her forehead, her nose. And then she steps away.

“Mulder, I can’t… I can’t do this anymore,” she says.

He looks at her, briefly confused. And then he nods like he understands. “It’s okay, it’s been a long day, I’ll just…”

“No,” she says, her voice drawn out and hollow. She can’t remember where she decided this - somewhere, maybe, between Emily’s hospital bed and Emily’s empty coffin. “I mean… I want to go back to just being partners.”

(She needs him but she can’t have him, it’s too hard right now. She needs him to take a step back, back to the way they were before she got sick, until things make sense again. She needs to work through this alone.)

He blinks with surprise, maybe even something like hurt, and then he nods, looking at the ground. Whatever he’s feeling, he’s trying to hide it; she knows the technique well. “Okay,” he mumbles.

“I… I just can’t deal with this,” Scully says. Goddammit, it is late and she is exhausted and she doesn’t want to have to explain herself.  Not tonight. She just wants to sleep. “Right now. With everything. And I…”

“I understand, Scully.” His words come out jagged and sharp, so he backtracks, softening the next thing he says. “I do.” He reaches out like he’s going to touch her cheek, but moves his hand away at the last minute, lowering it to his side. “I… whatever you need.”

“I-I’m sorry,” Scully says, and she is. Fuck, she’s crying again. “I don’t… I’ll see you in the morning, Mulder. Thank you for bringing me to the hotel.” She turns and unlocks her door, closing it softly behind her. Inside, she sags against the door, pressing both hands to her mouth and shutting her eyes.

There’s a soft thump on the other side--Mulder’s hand, she thinks, pressed up against the door. And then, so soft she barely hears it: “I love you.” He sounds defeated. Done. Scully presses her hands harder against her mouth to muffle the soft sounds she’s making. Mulder’s hand lingers for a second before moving away. She can hear his door open and shut next to her room.

She can’t remember how she got to bed, but she wakes up the next evening still feeling exhausted. She thinks she had nightmares. She knows, judging from the darkness in the room, that she’s slept all day. Flicking on the lamp by her bed, she finds a plastic container of soup waiting for her. Mulder, she thinks - he asked for a second key to both their rooms and had handed her his. He used to do things like this for her when she was sick - usually with some kind of note attached. There is no note today.

Scully climbs out of bed and goes to heat the soup in the microwave. The light is on in Mulder’s room - she can see the soft yellow peeking out from the crack under the door between their rooms.

She can’t leave things like this, not between them. She isn’t in a place where she’s ready to have a relationship, true, but the least she can do is try to mend the rip, fill in the cracks. He’s her best friend, and when she moves all of the fucked-up things out of her head, she might be a little in love with him. She grabs the hotel pad and tries to write a note to him.

Mulder,

I love you, too, but

I can’t do this right now

You’re always going to be my best friend

Chewing her lip hard, she throws the piece of paper away and takes her soup out of the microwave. She heated it up too much, she burns her mouth as soon as she takes a bite. She sits at the little table and stares at the hotel logo.

How can she tell him what she’s really feeling? That even though she doesn’t blame him for any of it (she went down the rabbit hole, she was warned), she can disassociate him with the pileup of tragedy in her life? That grief is crushing her and she has to be able to move past it before she can be in a relationship? That she loves him, but she needs time? That all she could think about when he carried Emily in his arms was them raising her together and she can’t handle it, now that she’s gone? The daughter who was never hers.

She takes another bite of soup and scribbles out a short message in a shaking hand.

Mulder,

I’m sorry for last night. I just need some time to deal with things, and I need to deal with them on my own. I hope you understand. I don’t want to stop working together. We’re friends, Mulder, and I hope we always will be. - S

She slides the tiny piece of paper under the door and waits, eating her too-hot soup until the roof of her mouth aches. He slides the note back with a messy reply: I understand, Scully. I’m here for you if you need me.

She thinks about replying, something like I want to try again when I’m in a better place, but it feels wrong to ask him to wait for her. And after all this time, she thinks that they are a given, the two of them. It’ll work out in the end.

She folds the small piece of paper and sets it next to her cross before crawling into bed and turning the light back off.

---

Mulder doesn't sleep. He lies on the hotel bed and flips through channels on the TV. He doesn't let himself think. (Doesn't let himself picture how small Emily was, her tiny weight in his arms. How the way her blue eyes glinted when she smiled looked just like Scully's eyes. Doesn't let himself picture Scully. Doesn't let himself picture Scully pushing him away. Doesn't picture Scully pressed against him in bed, arm slung over his chest. Doesn't think.)

Night fades into day. Mulder waits for Scully to wake up, but there is only silence on the other side of the connecting door. He gets breakfast and comes back to the room. Still nothing hours later. Upon opening the door, he finds her curled in on herself under piles of blankets, tossing and turning restlessly against the pillows. If things were different, he may have crawled under the covers and wrapped himself around her, tried to comfort him. But. He swallows the lump in his throat and closes the door, leaves the hotel and grabs some lunch. Picks Scully up a container of that soup she likes and leaves it in her room. Doesn't touch her, doesn't brush the hair off of her face or kiss her cheek.

(He should've known, she hasn't touched him since Emily went to the hospital. Hasn't really touched him since DC. He had sat out in the waiting room for hours, just waiting. She'd come out of the back of the hospital at three in the morning, stiff and nearly unresponsive. Not crying. Her eyes were half closed, and he'd honestly thought she hadn't seen him when she walked past him. He followed her, catching up to her and touching her gently on the shoulder. She flinched violently, recoiling away. He yanked his hand back, asked gently, “Is she…” Her jaw clenched, her eyes snapping shut, she nodded. Then ripped away, shoving into the bathroom. He could hear her getting violently sick on the other side. He waited, but she didn't come out for a long minute. When he'd wandered down the hall towards Emily’s room, he'd seen the sheet draped over the tiny form and he'd felt a little sick himself, had walked to an abandoned part of the hospital and punched a wall so hard that it left his knuckles bruised. It wasn't fair. She was a little girl.)

He goes back to flipping channels until it is dark outside and Scully is slipping a note under the door. Her words make his throat burn, his vision blur. He wipes his eyes and scribbles out the only reply he can come up with: that he will be there for her. He slides the note under the door and sprawls out on the bed covers, turns off the light and tries to sleep. The light on the other side of the door goes off, too.

Mulder stares into the darkness of the room. He doesn't think about Emily, how good Scully had been with her, the smile tugging at the edge of her lips as she sat on the floor with her daughter. How he'd never seen her as a mother before.

---

Scully is dressed in a suit the next morning, her face scrubbed clean. She isn't wearing her cross. She says, “Good morning,” briskly when she opens the door between the rooms.

So that's how they're going to play it. “Hey, Scully,” Mulder says, leaning against the bed.

Scully tries to smile, but it comes out wobbly, strained. “When's our flight?”

“Hour and a half,” he says. “Are you ready?”

“Yes. I've just got to call Bill and tell him we'll be by the house for my things. Will you call a cab?” Perfectly normal, her face almost stiff in its formalness.

“Sure,” Mulder says awkwardly. She's already turning away. The words spill out of his mouth before he can stop them: “How are you feeling, Scully? Are you okay?”

Her shoulders stiffen. “I'm fine, Mulder,” she mutters. “I'll meet you out front.” The door slams shut behind her.

They don't talk in the cab, or at Bill's house, or at the airport. Scully won't look at him. Business as usual, she's pretending everything is fine. Like she wasn't lying next to her daughter in a hospital bed about five days ago. Like she didn't break things off with her partner the night before.

They're in a three seat row on the plane. Mulder takes the window seat, Scully sits next to him. No one takes the third seat. A little while after takeoff, Scully pulls up the divider between her seat and the empty third seat and stretches out between them. Mulder doesn't comment. An hour later, and she's curled completely in the third seat, putting space between them. Whether or not she's doing it on purpose, Mulder doesn't know.

Somewhere over Tennessee, the plane hits a bout of violent turbulence. The Seatbelt sign comes on, and the pilot's voice tells them not to panic. Scully, half-dozing under the makeshift blanket of her jacket, jolts awake. Face whitening, she fumbles for her seatbelt. Scully hates turbulence, hates any hint of a plane losing control. Seatbelt already on, Mulder watches her carefully for any signs of panic. On a normal flight (on the flight back from Florida, on the flight back from Indiana), she would hold his hand when they hit turbulence. As much as she's been avoiding touching him today, Mulder isn't expecting her to reach for it today, so he's surprised when she seizes his hand blindly.

“Scully,” he whispers, squeezing her fingers. “It's okay.”

She's not looking at him, but she nods. A toddler is crying a few rows ahead of them.

The plane shakes and shudders for a few good minutes before finally settling into a steady rhythm. The passengers relax, a few even applauding when the Seatbelt sign goes dark. Mulder unbuckles his seatbelt, breathing a sigh of relief, and turns to Scully, to check on her.

She still isn't looking at him. She's staring straight ahead, face still white, jaw still clenched. Her hand is stiff in his. Her chin is trembling a little, like she's about to cry. And then Mulder hears it: the toddler crying a few rows up, wailing, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”

“Excuse me,” says Scully, voice wobbly, and she gets to her feet and goes down the aisle towards the bathroom. Mulder swallows against the feeling of nausea in his throat. Emily had been so tiny. He'd never once heard her refer to Scully as anything. Not Mommy, not Dana. If she'd lived. If she'd lived, maybe. He rests his head against the window and closes his eyes.

Scully comes back almost ten minutes later, her voice steady but her eyes red. She sits without saying anything to Mulder.

He leaves his hand on the empty seat between them, but she doesn't take it again.

---

Two days.

After arriving home from San Diego, Scully spends exactly two days home from work. Two days that have nothing to do with the picture of her daughter she had tucked in her wallet, behind her medical insurance card. She won't admit it to herself, but she's hiding from Mulder. Hiding from the way he will check on her and speak too softly to her. Hiding from the fact that she fucking broke up with him. Hiding from Mulder telling her Emily was never meant to be, from him telling her that her ova had all been extracted in front of a fucking stranger who was deciding whether or not she could have her daughter. Hiding from Emily’s head lolling on his shoulder, Mulder buckling into her car seat, and Are you two the parents.

(She's not just hiding from Mulder. Her mother calls five times, and she lets it go to voicemail every time. There is plenty she isn't facing.)

She cleans her entire kitchen from head to toe and scrubs the mildew stains in her bathtub so hard that the muscles in her arms ache. She watches bad daytime television that she avoids religiously under any other circumstances. She tries to read. She jams a chair under the doorknob of her spare bedroom; she doesn't want to go in there. (Locking out the ghosts, Mulder might say. But they are everywhere. Inescapable.) She sleeps a lot, takes two sleeping pills and pulls the covers over her head. She is fine as long as she doesn't dream, doesn't think too hard. She is fine. Fine. She will be fine.

On the third day, she gets ready and goes to work just like normal. Rides the elevator down and doesn't think about how she and Mulder had made out like a couple of teenagers on her second-to-last day of work before Christmas, Mulder shoved up against the elevator door. (She'd had something of a boundless sense of joy after her remission. A weightlessness. Anything could happen because she'd lived and she had so much time now. Seriousness had seemed futile; it was time for her to have fun. She thinks that's why she kissed him the first time. And maybe even all the times after that.)

Mulder is waiting for her inside. His face lights up, briefly, before his expression turns neutral. She ignores it. “Hey, Scully,” he says, waving a little at her with a pencil in his hand. “How you feeling? Get a lot of rest?”

She will not (will not) say she's fine again. “Yes, lots of rest.” She sits across from him, crosses her ankles and folds her hands. “Any new cases?”

“We'll see. We have a meeting with Skinner later.” Mulder waggles his eyebrows at her. (He is teasing. He wants things to go back to normal. She wants it, too, but normal for her is probably very very different. Things haven't been normal in her mind since before she got sick.)

“A meeting concerning what?”

“Don't know. He just said it was important.”

Later, after welcoming Scully back with a fatherly sympathy in his eyes, Skinner explains to them exactly what important means. “Do you recall your ordeal with Robert Patrick Modell?”

Scully's eyes widen, stunned. She wants to forget that day, forget the smell of gunpowder and the click of an empty chamber, the pleading in Mulder's eyes as he tried to move the gun away from her. The muzzle against his head. She had forgotten, until now. She had forgotten. So many things to forget.

Next to her, Mulder stiffens in shock, but he recovers quicker. “Yes, sir, of course,” he says too quickly.

Skinner folds his hands on the desk. “I'm sure you'd much rather forget, as would I, but unfortunately, we've been denied that luxury. Modell has escaped from prison.”

Bile rises in Scully's throat. He wasn't supposed to wake up, she wants to shout. Mulder doesn't say anything, so she speaks this time. “How did that happen, sir? Do they know where he is, what he wants?”

“From what I understand, Modell tricked a guard to get out. We don't know where he went, but I'm organizing a manhunt. As the only two agents who escaped your encounter with him unscathed, I'd say it's clear that you two are the best equipped to catch him.” Skinner swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing (the only signs of fear he'll show), and Scully remembers the thumps of Holly’s shoes against Skinner's body. “I'm putting you two as Special Agents in Charge.”

Mulder's hands ball into fists on his knees, unclench. He casts a brief, nervous look Scully's way. “Are you sure that's wise, sir? Considering what happened last time?”

“Agent Mulder, you're the only living person who knows Modell well enough to catch him,” Skinner says, exasperated. “You're not just the clear choice, you're the only choice. Despite what your reputation would suggest, you and Scully are some of my best agents and I have complete faith in your ability to catch this son of a bitch.”

Skinner never gets this personal, Scully thinks. She wants to deny, wants it badly, doesn't want to ever have to experience that again (doesn't want to fear for her life, Mulder's life, doesn't him to kill her, doesn't want to kill him, pull the trigger on him, it's unimaginable, she's hurt him enough already). But. Skinner won't let up, and if she argues, it'll only make things worse for Mulder. She can do this. It's not even the worst thing she's faced this week. She wants to laugh, bitterly, at that, but she purses her lips, touches Mulder's arm and says, “You're right, sir. We'll do whatever it takes. Whatever you need from us.”

Mulder is rigid, almost doll-like, under her hand. He says nothing.

“Report to Lorton Penitentiary in time for this briefing.” Skinner hands them a sticky note with the information written down. “And be ready. I expect only the best work from you, agents.”

As soon as they leave Skinner's office, Mulder stalks down the hall without a word to Scully, without looking back. Scully retreats to the ladies room to wash her face and wonders, staring at her drawn face in the mirror, if he's finally found it in himself to be angry at her. She wonders if she's relieved.

---

She spends most of the case worrying about Mulder. She was worried from the get-go, but it intensifies when she hears Mulder's briefing and remembers. (Handing her his gun. Modell’s hand shattering the camera. Gun to his head.) She tries to warn him after discussing Modell’s medical condition, asks if he should be heading this investigation. “As opposed to what? What's your point?” he says, and she wonders if he's upset because she agreed to head the investigation. He's thrown himself into it wholeheartedly, if that means anything. If his objections matter less. (If she knows Mulder, he's thinking about the people Modell will hurt. That's enough motivation for anyone, but especially Mulder.)

“That it's exactly what he wants. That once again you're playing his game,” she says instead of voicing her thoughts.

He doesn't say anything. He shoots her a look of irritation before walking off. So he is mad, she can assume. She certainly deserves his anger. It's just that she worries. No matter what happens, she wants him to be okay.

It intensifies more, her fear, when Mulder is talking to Modell on the phone. The longer he has the receiver cocked to his ear, the longer the fear closes in on her, her heart pounding in her ears, remembering how he killed a man with a phone call. She tells him to hang up and he listens, for once. But the fear remains, and it solidifies in her mind when they find Nathan Bowman with Fox Hunt painted across the wall. He is looking for Mulder, just like she feared.

Mulder finds Modell and loses him in Falls Church, becomes convinced that Modell isn't playing with him, that he didn't kill Nathan Bowman. They talk to Linda Bowman, Nathan's wife, and he becomes even more convinced. He thinks that Linda murdered her husband. He spells it out to Skinner, and Skinner doesn't believe him. “Scully, you heard her in there,” Mulder prods, and she can't, she's too afraid that if he plays into Modell’s bullshit that he will end up eating a bullet.

“Mulder, no,” she says, and he looks shocked and hurt, stunned. “I'm sorry. You said it yourself, you said "don't listen to Modell, don't trust him". But you've done both.”

“But what if she can do what Modell does?”

Skinner exchanges an uncomfortable look with Scully, says to Mulder, “I think you should go home.”

“You think I should go home?” he repeats incredulously, and Scully thinks of Skinner telling them that he had complete faith in them.

“You're suspended until such time I'm confident your judgement is sound,” says Skinner. “Give me your weapon.”

“Who are you afraid I'm gonna point it at?”

Yourself. “Mulder, I think you should do what he says,” Scully says.

He's staring at her, hurt, like he can't believe it. She immediately thinks of the expression on his face when she broke things off with him and she breaks eye contact, she has to. Mulder caves, pulls out his weapon and gives it to Skinner.

Clacking footsteps sound off behind them, and then Linda is there, asking for water. “I'll prove it,” Mulder says, determined, and then he's walking away.

“Agent Mulder?” Skinner calls.

“Go fetch her some water!” Mulder snaps. Scully's eyes burn. She blinks hard and hopes that he's not going to get himself in trouble.

He calls her from the prison, later, insisting that Linda Bowman called and convinced the physical therapist to electrocute herself. He convinces her that something is wrong at the safe house and he is right: Modell is there, Skinner has shot him because he saw a gun. A gun they cannot find.

Mulder shows up at the hospital. He's convinced that Modell drew Skinner's fire on purpose, to take the fall for Linda Bowman, as soon as he hears what happened. “For what possible reason?” Scully protests as Skinner walks away, clearly irritated and embarrassed, clearly fed up.

“To protect someone.”

“Linda Bowman?” she asks in an unbelieving deadpan.

“To take the fall for her,” says Mulder.

“That's one hell of a plan, Mulder,” she says. “A serial killer makes us believe that he's guilty, in turn diverting the suspicion away from the real estate lady? Well, he had me going.”

“Where is she?” he wants to know.

“They've taken her home,” she says carefully, firmly. “There is no reason to keep her in protective custody, Mulder. It is over.”

“No, it's not.” He's turned, walking away.

“Where are you going?” she calls after him. Home, she hopes, where he's going to stop acting like an idiot and listen, for once. Where he's not going to get himself killed.

He turns briefly, says, “If Modell makes it through surgery, I want to be the first person that he talks to,” before turning and going on.

“Mulder, talking to him has already done you enough harm.”

He turns again, annoyed, and says in a heavily mocking tone, “OK, look, you do me a favor, Scully. You give me a call when you think I've come to my senses, all right?”

Hurt, she starts to say something else, but there is nothing really to say. He keeps on walking, fists clenched by his side.

She turns away, rubbing at her forehead. Maybe she should've listened to him, at least given him the benefit of the doubt. But he sounds insane. There is no credibility to his statements, aside from the fact that Linda Bowman seems a little emotionless and that Modell didn't kill Mulder when he had the chance. But it makes no sense. It makes no sense. But he deserves the benefit of the doubt, after she… after she…

Scully sighs, rubbing at her face again. At least it's over now. Modell will likely survive surgery, and then he will go back to prison. He can't hurt Mulder anymore.

She leaves the hospital and is almost home before she receives a phone call. It's Skinner, his voice weary. “Modell’s dead,” he says gruffly.

“What? How did that happen?”

“We don't know. Mulder claims it was Linda Bowman.”

“He's still there?” She pulls into a parking lot to turn around.

“Um… no,” says Skinner. “He was here. He says a nurse told him to leave the room, and when he came back, Modell’s heart had stopped. He was headed out when he claimed that Linda Bowman was the reason Modell was dead.”

She smacks the steering wheel with the flat of her hand. “Where is he now? Where was he headed?”

“Well, he wouldn't tell me, but… we found an address on a paper with Nurse written on it. We found it in Modell’s room. I assume that's where Mulder's headed.”

“What's the address?”

“214 Channel Avenue. That property where we found Linda Bowman in Falls Church.”

Scully smacks the wheel with her hand again. “I'll go after him. I'm just as close to him as you are.”

“What do you think he's going to do? Is it really necessary to chase him down?”

Her mind is working, picking away at the information Skinner has given her. Who would've written that address for Mulder to find? It couldn't have been Modell… “Did you say the address was on a piece of paper that said Nurse, sir?”

“Yes, written on the back.”

Linda Bowman could've used that, she realizes. If Mulder's right and she has the same power that Modell does, she could've used the paper to imitate a nurse.

“Mulder's right,” she says, and hangs up, tosses the phone on the seat beside her.

---

The warehouse is cold in the January night. Mulder walks cautiously through the darkness, moving his flashlight around the room. He wishes Scully were here, if only for the backup. He wishes he had his gun.

He's nervous in the moment, if only for his complete lack of knowledge of Linda’s plan, but he's not really scared until he hears Scully's uncertain, “Mulder?” cutting through the silence of the warehouse.

Terror shoots through him, and he gasps unevenly as he runs towards the sound. He rounds a corner and sees her, standing alone at the end of a corridor, gun in hand. “Scully, what are you doing here?”

“You were right about her, Mulder,” she says, and it's the only time in his life where he's horrified to hear those words. (Linda got to her somehow, she knows, how does she know…)

Scully raises her gun slowly to point at Mulder. A shortened game of Russian Roulette.

“Scully…” he says desperately. (How does she know, did Modell tell her, oh god, I hope she doesn't know that I…)

“She's making me do this,” Scully says, cocking the hammer on the gun.

“Where is she?” he demands. He's not going to let her play with them like this.

“She's here,” says Scully. “Mulder, make her stop. I can't help myself.”

I know, Scully, I know. “Linda Bowman!” he bellows.

“Mulder, make her stop!”

“Show yourself!”

“Mulder!” Scully cries out, and this one is the most distressed. She's turning the gun, no, she's pointing it at herself, at her head, and Mulder realizes Linda’s game now…

“No!” he shouts, a plea, taking off in a run towards because this cannot happen, it cannot… “No--”

But it's too late. Scully pulls the trigger. It happens too fast and too slow and all at once and the room seems a million miles long. The gun explodes in her hand and she crumples to the ground.

Mulder skids across the floor, landing on his knees at her side. His hands go to her face, her neck, her shoulders, searching for a pulse, for any signs of life, and this cannot be happening. His stomach is knotting, he feels sick, his face crumpling briefly as he pushes back her hair, and she can't be, she can't be…

Footsteps behind him. He turns and sees Linda Bowman approaching, gun in hand.

Fury and grief coursing through him, he pulls the gun out of Scully's limp hand (god, Scully, god) and turns to Linda, growling, “I'm gonna kill you,” with all the bloodlust building inside him.

---

After it's over, Mulder won't let her touch him.

He was going to shoot her, when he thought she was Linda Bowman. When he thought she was dead. He'd been screaming at her to shut up, her words going right through him. She saw her opportunity, Linda Bowman coming into her line of fire, and she shot.

Mulder jolted in place, thinking it was him who was going to be shot, not really looking at her. He looked behind him tentatively, in the place where he'd thought she'd fallen. Where he was crouched when she came in. Where Linda Bowman lay sprawled now. He looked behind him, then back at her, seeing her now. “Mulder,” she said, hoping to anchor him to earth.

He looked horrified as he realized, the gun lowering to his side. She walked to him, squeezing his arm comfortingly, and then past him to Linda. She crouched beside her. “You think you can hold me,” Linda taunted in a scratchy voice.

She stood, pulling her phone out, and dialed 9-1-1. Mulder turned away, face warming, shoulders slumping in devastation. By the time she was finished with her call, he was halfway across the room.

“You have to help me,” Linda said, and her melodic voice washed over Scully. “You have to. It's your duty as a doctor, you know.”

Scully clenched her teeth. For a second, when she was coming into the warehouse, she'd thought Mulder was dead. She'd heard him crying out, and then the gunshot, and it had taken everything in her not to run, to remain calm and try and surprise them, in case Linda was tricking her. And then she'd rounded the corner and seen Mulder crouching on the ground, horror across his face, and Linda telling him she was dead. “You can wait for the fucking paramedics,” she said calmly, and walked over to Mulder.

He didn't look at her, pressed his forehead harder against the wood of the boxes. “I'm sorry, Mulder,” she said quietly. “I'm sorry I didn't believe you…” She put a hand on his back and he flinched, stepping away from her touch. “Mulder,” she said quietly. “I know she…”

“You don't have to do this.”

His voice echoed harshly across the empty warehouse. She recoiled a little. “What?”

“You broke things off. You said you needed time.” He was pressing his hand over his eyes, like he was trying to erase the image of her dead. She winced, biting her lip hard. “You don't have to do this,” he said, and the harshness of his voice broke her a little.

“Mulder…” she said, uncertainly, and suddenly all she wanted to do was put her arms around him, to feel that they were both okay. They could do that platonically, couldn't they? They'd done that as friends a thousand times before.

“I'm fine, Scully,” he hissed, and she winced again, tears stinging the back of her eyes. “It's fine. You didn't believe me. I don't expect much different from you. But I'm fine now, and you don't have to comfort me.”

Her throat was dry, her eyes wet. He was going to shoot her because she was dead. He loves her, he'd told in San Diego. She turned away, wiping her eyes, and walked over to stand by Linda’s side.

The ambulance arrives and leaves with Linda Bowman. Scully clears her throat until she can speak without her voice wobbling and calls Skinner to tell him what happened. He wants them to meet in his office the next day. Scully thanks him and hangs up. She turns and Mulder is gone. She gets outside just in time to see his car speeding away. Her stomach hurts. She climbs in her car and drives away.

She's home within a fifteen-minute timespan, kicking off her shoes and collapsing on the couch. She pulls the knit blanket over her, curling into the cushions, and buries her face in a throw pillow. It's too much, Mulder was right, they never should've taken this case. But Linda might’ve come for them anyway. There is no fucking telling. It's too much. She is applying for vacation time as soon as humanly possible.

She doesn't remember falling asleep, but the sharp ringing of her cell phone wakes her. It's still tucked in her suit jacket, she didn't bother changing before falling asleep. She dislodges the phone from the thick wool edges of her coat and turns on her back, answering it and tucking it between her ear and shoulder. “Scully,” she answers wearily, closing her eyes.

Nothing on the other end but soft breathing.

She opens her eyes, rubbing her forehead. “Mulder, is that you?”

No answer. She sighs. “Mulder, what do you want?”

Silence. He breathes. She says nothing. She blinks hard, wiping her eyes again, turns on her side and lies the phone parallel to her head. She doesn't hang up. He doesn't, either.

She closes her eyes and listens to his breathing, imagines for a second that he's lying beside her, her arm tucked around him. She breathes in and out slowly and loudly, so he can hear. Her fingers rest at the edge of her collarbone, where she took off her cross. She lets herself drift towards sleep.

An undetermined amount of time later, she hears his voice crackling over the line: “I'm sorry, Scully.” It sounds like shattering glass. She opens her eyes as the phone clicks and the dial tone sounds.

She touches the phone on its speaker, whispers, “I'm sorry, too.” Puts the phone on the coffee table, climbs off the couch, and goes into her bedroom alone.