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locking out the ghosts

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Mulder ends up dropping Scully off at home after they leave the hospital, under her request to let her drive herself to work. She must have stopped somewhere for lunch, because she doesn’t get back to the office until hours later. By then, Mulder has already gotten the results he called about on their way back from Skyland Mountain. “Are you ready for this?” he asks as she enters the room, getting up and rounding the desk. “I've been going over the initial forensics and pathology reports from the incident at Skyland Mountain and, while the event itself remains unexplained, I think it's less than a mystery who's involved—at least for me, and certainly for you.” He’s handed her a report, and now he crosses to the UV light. “Our pathologists here haven't finalized their reports, but I was able to have three victims selected at random for x-rays.” She joins him in front of where he has put the x-rays up, watching. “That's how I found these—small pieces of what looks like metal in the charred cervical tissue,” he says, “here... here... and here.” He points to each of them in turn. Back of the neck, same spot as Scully’s. He has the spot memorized, has felt it buzz with her pulse under his lips. Her life rooted in one tiny piece of metal. He looks at Scully, who is staring at the board in astonishment. She turns to face him, still looking incredulous. “Implants,” he clarifies softly.

She seems speechless, to a degree, still saying nothing, so he continues on, crossing over to the desk. “I followed up with the families of the three victims and I found that none had any cult associations but two out of the three belong to the local mutual UFO networks, and both of them claimed abduction experiences, and both of them were being treated by a medical health practitioner over the past few months,” he says, showing her the file.

“For what?” she wants to know.

“Take a look.” He motions at the paper.

She looks down and begins reading aloud in a hushed voice, "’Major depressive disorder characterized by periods of sustained anxiety and paranoia. Patient believes he will be contacted or called to an undisclosed place where he will be abducted by aliens.’" She almost seems unsurprised.

“The implants triggered those responses. Those people were led to Skyland Mountain.”

“By whom?”

“By the same government that put the implant in you, to function as a homing mechanism,” he says, possibly a little less gently than he should.

“Mulder, that doesn’t make sense,” she insists, but she almost sounds like she is trying to convince herself.

“Why not? A tracking system using military app satellite technology to monitor test subjects. Or to stage what people might otherwise believe are alien abductions.” Believe the lie, that’s their game—or so he’s told himself a million times.

“But they weren't abducted,” she argues. “They were led to their deaths. And for what purpose?”

He shakes his head a little, biting his lower lip. “I don’t know that yet.”

She sighs a little. “Yeah, Mulder…” She sounds terribly uncertain, maybe even scared. The phone begins ringing and Mulder walks towards it. “Maybe you shouldn't be so quick…” Scully says, voice wavering, sighing smally, “... to rule out what Cassandra Spender has to say.”

He looks up at her, in some surprise. Of all the things he expected Scully to say, it certainly wasn’t that. She holds his gaze, her only sign of nerves the way she licks her lower lip. He nods, an acknowledgement, before turning away to answer the phone. It’s Marita, claiming that a similar event to Skyland Mountain has just occurred in the Soviet Union. She insists there is a connection, gives her location and tells him to go there and wait for directions. Then he hears a scuffling sound on the other end, a gasp. “Marita?” he asks, concerned. “Mar…” He’s turning towards Scully, to tell her that they have to go, and he suddenly sees that she is not there. The office is empty. He hangs up the phone.

His mind working quickly, he deduces that she must’ve gone home, that she has to have gone home. It’s been a long day—he took her back to her abduction site, for fuck’s sake—and she could probably use the rest. She seems more than done with all of this. Looking at the black receiver, he decides that Marita needs a more immediate response and scribbles out a quick note to Scully on the way out the door in case she comes back. He doesn’t see her on the way out of the building, but her car is gone from the parking garage. On his way to the payphone, he calls her cell phone three times, to try and find out where she went. She doesn’t pick up.

Mulling over it, he decides that she must’ve gone to see Cassandra Spender. If Scully really did believe her, then she’d do everything in her power to get all the answers. Maybe she’s with Cassandra Spender and she doesn’t want to interrupt their time talking to take his phone calls, or maybe her phone is dead. When he finds the payphone Marita directed him to empty, with a white substance smeared up and down the open door, he decides to call Cassandra’s room and try to get in touch with Scully.

Jeffrey Spender answers. Clear he has no special love for Mulder, he demands to know why Mulder is calling his mother. “I'm actually looking for Agent Scully,” says Mulder. “I haven't been able to reach her, and she said that—”

“She’s not here,” Spender says, exasperated. “Nor is my mother.”

“What are you talking about?”

“She’s gone from her room.”

“Gone where?” Mulder prods, his mind working. Is it possible that Scully could’ve come and gotten Cassandra? No, no, not in the time since they’ve both left the Bureau… and she had no good reason to do so that he can think of…

“Look, she's just gone,” Jeffrey says, frustrated. “Don't you get it? She's got nowhere to go.”

Mulder leans against the side of the booth with one arm. “Do you have any theories? Any idea what might’ve happened?”

Jeffrey Spender hangs up, the dial tone harsh in his ear. Damn, Mulder thinks, he must really dislike me. Well, it's not the first time.

With no sign of Marita and no answers as to where Scully might be, he leaves. He tries Scully’s phone twice more on the way back; still no answer. He decides to go to Scully’s apartment to see if she is there, tell her Cassandra is missing. But no one answers when he knocks.

He uses his key and finds it empty, the rooms hollow. He spent the night here many times during their relationship, and several other evenings before that, working on casefiles at the table or on the couch. But it's not the same without Scully in it. He feels like an intruder here alone. When he goes back to check Scully’s bedroom, he finds a chair jammed under the doorknob of her spare bedroom.

“Scully?” he calls nervously, opening the door to her bedroom. It’s empty, blankets rumpled on one side. The other side is tucked in, neatly smoothed over half of the bed. His side. He swallows, turns and walks out.

He has no idea where or how to find Scully, so he does the only thing that feels right: he goes back to work and waits for her to show up. He flips through files of the Skyland Mountain incident, looking for any potential leads. He calls the coroner’s office where they are painstakingly identifying and autopsying the victims for any more intel. He tries Scully’s phone a few more times to no avail.

Sometime after eleven, Mulder leaves the Bureau and goes straight to Scully’s place. She’s still not there. She’s still not there, and he’s starting to get frightened. Chewing his lower lip and wondering if she’s avoiding talking to him in particular, he calls her from her home phone. No answer. Rubbing his forehead, he tries calling Skinner instead. (Home number, not office.) “Walter Skinner,” the older man says grouchily into the phone, sounded still half-asleep.

“Sir, it’s Agent Mulder,” he says, clutching the phone hard. “I haven’t been able to get in touch with Agent Scully.”

“Mulder, is it possible that she is asleep and not in the mood to answer the phone in the middle of the night?” Skinner growls, annoyed.

“I’m at her house right now, sir. She’s not here. I think she left the Bureau hours ago, and she hasn’t answered any of my phone calls.” Mulder’s fingers tap out a frantic rhythm on his knee. He can’t stop hearing her say, Maybe you shouldn't be so quick to rule out what Cassandra Spender has to say. “Sir, I found evidence… evidence of the burn victims in Virginia having similar implants in their neck. The kind Agent Scully has. I have reason to believe that it’s a homing device. I have reason to believe…”

“I’m going to stop you right there, Agent Mulder,” Skinner says wearily. “Scully is an intelligent woman, and I have no reason to believe she’s going to the site of another mass burning.”

“Then where is she?” he grinds out through his teeth.

“I don’t know, but it’s too early to start panicking, Mulder.” His voice is more soothing now. “If neither of us have heard from her by tomorrow, then we can start looking. But for now? For now, you’ve got to stay calm. I’m sure she’s fine.”

Mulder hangs up, buzzing with frustration. He considers calling Scully’s mom to see if she’s there, but he doesn’t want to wake her up in the middle of the night just to worry her. Especially if Scully is fine. (She has to be, she has to be fine.) He wants to go out and look for her, but he has absolutely no idea where to start. He presses his hands over his eyes, groaning. He tries Scully’s cell phone one more time. No answer.

He kicks off his shoes, unlatches his watch and puts it on the coffee table, and curls up on Scully’s couch in his suit and socked feet. The blanket draped over the back of the couch smells like her; he doesn’t move it, but he leans his face against it, breathing it in. He misses her. He misses her, and he’s an idiot for thinking he could push her away in Dallas, after the night on the couch. He’s been an idiot a lot lately.

Mulder doesn’t remember falling asleep, but he wakes up to the sound of his cell phone ringing, face pressed into the side of Scully’s couch. He fumbles frantically for the phone and answers with a short, “Mulder,” resisting the urge to ask for Scully.

It’s Skinner, and his voice was grim. “Mulder, there’s been another mass burning.”

“No,” he says immediately. Refusing to accept it. The phone feels like a heavy, useless thing in his hand.

“At the Ruskin Dam in Pennsylvania,” Skinner says. “Someone saw the fire and called the police…”

“Was she there?” Mulder blurts, swinging his feet off the couch. He can’t feel the phone anymore, can only register Skinner’s voice. God, how many times is he going to have to watch her die? “Is she…” He can't finish that sentence.

“We don’t know, Mulder. There’s no evidence as to whether she is or isn’t. I’m on my way up there now.” The sounds in the background of Skinner’s voice vaguely resemble a car.

“I’m going there, too.” Mulder shoves his feet in his shoes, stumbling into a standing position and reaching for his gun. “I’m coming right now.”

Skinner seems to hesitate before saying, “I think that’s a good idea.”

Mulder hangs up, unable to say anything else. Unable to move past this enormous lump in his throat. The burning in his eyes and nose. Fire has been one of his major fears since childhood; he’s had countless nightmares about burning to death. They say it’s one of the most painful ways to go. God, and Scully, and Scully could be…

No. He leaves the apartment, locking the door behind him, and walks outside to his car in a trance. It’s fine, he tells himself, starting the car. Everything is fine. She is not going to die. She can’t be dead. She can’t be…

Three hours to Pennsylvania, and his brain goes into overdrive for all of them. Picturing Scully hurt. Trying not to picture Scully hurt, trying not to picture Scully dead…  He wants to throw up or cry out or hurt someone. When he gets to the Ruskin Dam, sometime around ten in the morning, he notices that the smell is just the same as Skyland Mountain. Bile rises in his throat. He wants to cry out to the heavens.

He jogs past the helicopter to the bridge, where they are carrying away the bodies. The body bags are the same bright yellow as Skyland Mountain. He slowly picks his way through the corpses, looking over them, sucking in his lips so he doesn’t scream her name. Some of the bodies are slightly identifiable, but some of them are black crisps, curled in on themselves. Anonymous. He is wondering how he will ever find her (if he will ever find her), when he sees it and then he’s trying to run but he can’t move fast enough. A woman. A woman with red hair and a swelled face, red and black burns, being zipped up in a body bag. His stomach drops out from beneath him, he can feel every heartbeat. He goes to her side and kneels beside her. Trying to discern, to see if it’s… it’s not her. He can only barely see it, but it’s not her. Only someone who looks like her. The paramedic zips up the body bag sharply.

“Agent Mulder!” Skinner’s voice cuts through his stupor like a knife. He can suddenly hear the chopper blades.

“Was she here?” he asks, desperate. “Is she here?”

“Yes, and the medics are all over her,” Skinner says. An affirmation.

“She’s alive,” he says, relief washing over him.

“They’re working on her now. Come on.”

He follows Skinner into a medical tent. “An SAR chopper pilot found her huddled in the woods this morning with about fifty other survivors,” Skinner is explaining. “She has minor burns, but her fluids and electrolytes were abnormally depleted.”

Mulder is barely listening. Any settling of his stomach when he heard that she was alive has disappeared now, seeing her like this: strapped to a stretcher with a respirator over her mouth. Angry red marks on her hands. “Scully?” he asks, leaning over her.

She says nothing, her eyes closed. “She's in vasogenic shock,” one of the paramedics says. Mulder reaches down to touch her hair, try and rouse her. “Unless you gents are doctors, you're in the way,” the paramedic tells them. “This woman needs to get to a hospital. On three—one ... two ... three…”  

They lift Scully’s stretcher and carry her outside. Mulder follows a few feet behind, jogging to keep up, and stops when he sees her being loaded onto a chopper. Skinner catches up to him, yelling, “What happened here, Agent Mulder?” over the roar of the helicopter.

“The answer just got loaded onto that chopper,” Mulder shouts back. Scully is the answer to everything, he’s sure of it now. They’ve made her the answer.

Jeffrey Spender is there, looking for his mother. It is likely that she was here, if Scully was, but Mulder has no idea how she could have gotten here. He doesn’t tell Jeffrey what he thinks: that it is likely his mother is dead, if they haven’t found her already.

Instead, he just leaves. He wants to be at the hospital when Scully wakes up.

---

Scully wakes slowly. First noises, then the sensation of scratchy sheets. Then the feeling of someone’s fingers swiping across her face, pushing her hair back. She turns her head, opens her eyes and sees Mulder. “Mmm, what time is it?” she asks.

Mulder chuckles. “‘What time is it?’ It’s time to thank your lucky stars.”

Confused, she starts to sit up in bed. “Why are you laughing?”

“I’m not laughing at you.” He reaches past her and presses a button. The bed begins to move below her, elevating her. “I’m just very happy to be standing here talking to you, that’s all.”

Her surroundings start to sink in, and she realizes: she’s in a hospital. The last thing she remembers is getting a drink at the water fountain. “Mulder, what am I doing here?” she asks, uncertain. Did she fall down at work or something?

“You were airlifted here in vasogenic shock,” he says, sitting beside her on the bed.

“From what?”

“You have some first-degree scorching on your hands and face.” He motions to her hands for reference.

Astonished, mouth hanging slightly open, she reaches up to touch her face and feels the tender skin. The burns. Shocked, she repeats, “From what?”

“You don’t remember?” he asks.

Breathing unsteadily, she says, “Mulder…” And then she sees the TV over his shoulder. Police cars, firefighters, the subtitles announcing it as a second cult suicide. It looks just like Skyland Mountain. The yellow body bags.

Mulder, who was looking at the TV, too, turns back to her and prods gently, “Is any of this coming back to you?”

“I was there?” she says in disbelief. Mulder sighs in a way that all but confirms it. “Well, doing what?”

“I was hoping you were gonna answer that question for me,” he says in a way that hints he’s a little disappointed.

She can only stare at him, confused and incredulous, until the door opens and a nurse enters. “You shouldn't be elevated, Miss Scully, not until we get your blood pressure back.” The nurse presses the button to lower the bed and tells Mulder, “She really needs her rest.”

Mulder, who once fought off security in an ICU and came to sit by her hospital bed right before a hearing that would decide whether or not he’d go to prison, nods. He nods and says, “I’ll come back,” before getting up and leaving.

She needs answer. She protests, “Well, Mulder…” as the bed lowers, but he doesn’t hear her. He gives her a lame little thumb’s up as he leaves. Scully lies back in defeat.

“What happened to me?” she asks the nurse, who is now checking her out.

“I’m not entirely sure.” The woman’s mouth purses in disapproval when she sees that the news is on; she reaches to turn it off. “I do know that you’re making a quick recovery, and you’ll likely be able to go home by the end of the day.”

That doesn’t tell me anything about why I’m here, Scully wants to say, but she doesn’t. She pulls the blanket up over her shoulder and turns on her side. The last thing she remembers saying out loud before waking up here is, Maybe you shouldn't be so quick to rule out what Cassandra Spender has to say. But he did, and maybe if he hadn’t, she wouldn’t be here.

It’s a snap-reaction, and one that she immediately regrets. Mulder would never do anything to put her in danger. (He told her he loved her in San Diego.) But here she is, lying in a hospital bed, and the last thing she can remember is him rejecting any theories she threw his way. He doesn’t know what happened to her, which means whatever happened the night before was something she did alone. And he left her. He left her here. The nurse told him to, but he didn’t even argue. He left her here with no answers.

Scully presses her face into the side of the pillow and closes her eyes. She wants to go home. She wants to cut out her chip and seal the wound with a Band-Aid. She wants to burn Their facilities down to the ground.

Mulder comes back about an hour later with pictures of the site. Sitting up in her bed, Scully flips through them with no recognition. “I don't know what to say,” she says. “I mean, I—I don't have the first clue. There's nothing here.”

Mulder, standing by the window with his arms crossed, offers, “Well, at least you're not alone. None of the other survivors have been able to give a cogent account, either.”

“Mulder, I have never been here,” she insists. “I couldn't tell you how to get here, let alone drive it.”

“Do you remember when you last saw Cassandra Spender?” he asks.

“She was there, too?”

He nods slightly. She sighs, in defeat. Maybe her fellow abductees are doomed. Maybe she’d be considered the lucky one.

“I ran more x-rays,” says Mulder. “I haven't told anybody yet what I found, though.”

“You found more implants?”

He nods again. “That would explain how you were directed to the site, and why you can't remember,” he says, sitting on the bed beside her and leaning closer. She looks away. “It would explain the sensation Cassandra Spender was describing, her abduction fantasies. It would explain Skyland Mountain.”

“Yeah, but it wouldn’t explain why they would want to kill me,” Scully says. “And it doesn’t explain why I survived.”

He bites his lip and looks away. “It all comes down to a question, Scully. One that hasn't been answered or I don't even think honestly addressed: who made that chip in your neck?” He looks her in the eyes now, deadly serious and sincere. But maybe not in a way she’d hoped. “That chip was found in a military research facility. Our government made that chip, implanted it in your neck as part of a secret military project to develop a biochemical weapon, to monitor your immunity, or to destroy you like a lab rat, if the truth were to be exposed.” His voice is growing harsh, but his words are harsher. Scully has to look away. “And your cancer... your cure... everything that's happening to you now - it all points to that chip. The truth I've been searching for? That truth is in you.”

She's speechless, any response she might’ve been able to come up with caught in her throat. There are angrier ways she wants to react, things she wants to say, but she manages to keep all of it in, holds his gaze with a steely stare, an uncomfortable silence transpiring. He stares back at her, as if expectantly. She looks away, down to her lap. She speaks to her knees, slowly. “Mulder, when I met you five years ago, you told me that your sister had been abducted… by aliens.” He looks away, half smiling in a deprecating way that makes her want to shout at him. “That that event had marked you so deeply, that nothing else mattered,” she continues in a firm voice instead. This is her goddamn line in the sand. “I didn't believe you, but I followed you, on nothing more than your faith that the truth was out there, based not on facts, not on science, but on your memories that your sister had been taken from you. Your memories were all that you had.”

“I don't trust those memories now,” he says, as if that makes it okay.

“Well, whether you trust them or not, they've led you here. And me. But I have no memories to either trust nor distrust, and if you ask me now to follow you again, to stand behind you in what you now believe, without knowing what happened to me out there, without those memories, I can't. I won't.” This is her ultimatum. She can't keep doing this. She needs to understand why, to feel secure in her place in all this. But without her memories, she can't.

Mulder actually looks hurt—just around the edges, a stranger wouldn't be able to tell. But he does, he looks like he thinks she is abandoning him again. As if refusing to run blindly into a situation that has almost killed her and multiple loved ones is the same as breaking off a relationship because you need space. He stands and walks over to the window, looking out of it and away from her. Scully leans back into the pillows, exhausted. Angry, maybe. Tired.

“If I could give you those memories,” he says suddenly, turning back to face her, as if pleading, “if I could prove that I was right and that what I believed for so long was wrong…”

He always has to fucking be right. This has nothing to do with proving he is right. Scully swallows, says, “Is that what you really want?”

He looks uncertain, his jaw working back and forth. Scully balls up the hem of the blanket in her fists. “I honestly can't tell what you want, Mulder.”

He runs a hand over his face, snaps, “I want to find out what happened to my sister.” He collapses in the chair next to her bed. “I want to know what they did to you.”

“So you still want to know the truth, but you won't bother to follow the facts?” Scully snaps right back. “Aliens or not, Mulder, I don't care! You know I don't believe in aliens. But you ignored Cassandra Spender’s story, every single sign that the mass burning on Skyland Mountain might’ve been related to what happened to me. Maybe if you'd believed Cassandra Spender, I wouldn't have ended up at the Ruskin Dam last night.” She motions pointedly to the spots of red along her face.

“That's not fair,” Mulder says, sounding sick.

“Oh, it's not? What about what you've just said? The truth is in me? What the hell does that mean? Do you want to take out my chip and study it? Because you know very well what will happen if you do.”

“Stop,” Mulder says.

She doesn't listen. Her anger is spilling over, every hurt feeling she's had in the past few days. “You say that the government gave me that chip, but you know damn well they didn't. You did. You stole it to replace the first one so I wouldn't die. If you hadn't taken it, if I had died… then I guess the truth, as you call it, would still be in the Pentagon.”

Stop,” says Mulder, his voice full of pain. He looks like she has slapped him. Good, she thinks; that's how he has made her feel.

“I really don't know what you're going for, Mulder,” Scully hisses. “I can't tell what game you're playing."

“I'm just trying to find the truth,” he says, and his voice is grating. He's looking at the ground, chewing on his lower lip. “I'm just trying to find out who took my sister, the people or things who have done these terrible things to you. Who killed your daughter.” Scully intakes a sharp breath, and he immediately flinches. They haven't talked about Emily out loud since she died. He looks up at her gingerly, his eyes full of apology. “If I can give you these memories…” he says again.

Scully barks out a brief laugh sadly. She's not far off from full-on crying all over the place. She's not far off from screaming at him. “How are you going to do that?”

“Regression hypnosis.”

She's already shaking her head. “Mulder, no…”

“Scully, I know you don't believe in this stuff, but hear me out.” He grabs her hand earnestly. “He really has helped people. He's helped Cassandra Spender.”

Scully bites her lower lip. She doesn't know why she doesn't pull her hand away. “I don't know…”

“He's not a magician, Scully. He works in helping people retrieve their lost memories. And I do think that he can help you.”

She sighs, nods. She'd do anything to get rid of this knot in her stomach, this blank space in her mind. “I'll do it,” she says quietly.

The corner of the left side of his mouth turns up, and he squeezes her hand gently, avoiding the burns. “I can set it up for this afternoon, if you want,” he offers, rubbing his thumb across the top. “After you're discharged.”

“Sure.”

“Okay.” He stands, a little eagerly, lets go of her hand. “I'll go give him a call. I think they said you could leave soon.” He leaves her room, the door practically slamming behind him.

Scully eases back into the pillows, her mind racing. Her heart pounding from head to toe. She wants to hate him for bringing up Emily, for the way he's been treating her. But. He says he is doing these things for her. She is furious, but she can't hate him. He is Mulder and she can't hate him.

---

She sees fire and faceless men and lights in the sky. Cassandra being carried up into the sky by a white beam of light, like an angel. She sees the snow falling backwards. Cassandra is gone. She really couldn't save her.

It all faded away when she wakes up. The visions were like a hot knife behind her skull, and she can feel it receding as she opens her eyes. She can't remember.

She's surprised, and maybe even embarrassed, to see Mulder sitting beside her on the couch. She thinks he was holding her hand. He gets up and walks out.

She tries to get up and sways dangerously in place. Dr. Werber reaches out to steady her. “I'm fine,” she says, shaking him off and thundering after Mulder. He's halfway down the hall, pulling out his cell phone. “What are you doing?” she protests, reaching his side. “Mulder…”

“I'm going to call Skinner,” he says, dialing.

“Why?” She grabs his arm, pulling the phone away from his ear.

“He needs to hear this,” says Mulder gently. “It's the only account we have of what happened last night.”

She bites her lip and lowers her arm. She hadn't thought of that beforehand, and she's not entirely sure she wants him to hear this. “I listen to it first,” she says, like a compromise with herself. “Before we ever show it to Skinner.”

He nods, lowering the phone. She exhales heavily, brushing hair back from her face, and turns to retrieve her things from Werber’s office.

“Scully?” She turns back to see Mulder watching her, cautiously. “Was that what you wanted?”

She sighs again, putting a hand over her face. “I don't know, Mulder,” she says quietly. “I don't know.”

On the way back to the Bureau, Scully listens to the tape again. She can't remember any of the things she is saying; it's all vanished from her head since her session, dissipated like smoke. But fear bubbles up in her throat at some of the worse-sounding parts. Mulder doesn't say anything outside of flinching a few times when her voice grows more desperate.

Mulder offers to take Scully home to rest before he gives Skinner the tape. She shakes her head, jaw clenched. She goes down to the basement while Skinner takes it upstairs and naps in Mulder's chair (the comfortable one) until he shakes her awake hours later. “Skinner's finished reviewing the tape,” he says, almost shortly. She nods and stands up.

Skinner, too, seems to think Mulder has his head up his ass. He claims alien abduction is the more likely explanation compared to Mulder's claims of a military aircraft. “Then I suggest you put that in your report,” Mulder snaps, and storms out. He is gone by the time Scully exits Skinner's office. He is gone from the parking garage without explanation, and she is tired of doing this. She is so tired. She wants this to be over. She wants her memories and her sister and her daughter back.

Scully goes down to the X-Files office, to get her things and leave, and finds Jeffrey Spender waiting for her. He shows her a video of his hypnotic regression sessions from his childhood, tells her his mother fed him the stories until he believed them and Dr. Werber egged him on. His story feels familiar, but Scully pushes the feeling down, ignores it. “I appreciate your opinion, Agent Spender, but I don't have a mother feeding me abduction stories,” she tells him.

“You've got Agent Mulder, don't you? How many times have you heard the stories he's told? How about the one about his own sister?” Jeffrey Spender takes the tape out, tells her seriously, “Don't let yourself be used.”

---

When Scully leaves the Bureau, Jeffrey Spender’s words are turning over and over in her head. She doesn't want them to be, but they are. Don't let yourself be used, he said. She never would've thought that Mulder was using her, but now… after the scene in the hospital, the way he ran out on her multiple times…

Scully smacks the steering wheel with her hand, glaring ahead at the road. Mulder is not using her, he can't be. He said he's doing this for her. (He said he loved her in San Diego.) But the things he said in the hospital… he said the truth is in her. What can that mean outside of…

No. Mulder may be self-centered and hyperfocused and occasionally an asshole, but he is not using her. Or if he is, he cares about her an awful lot. More than anyone should care about a tool. He may have been distant and awkward in the hospital, and he may have pushed her away when he thought her dead at the warehouse in Falls Church, but before. Before that, he faked his death to go undercover and look for a cure for her. His entire face had lit up when she told him she was in remission, gathering her up in his arms and squeezing her so tightly that she couldn't catch her breath. He hadn't believed she was dead when they abducted her; he fought for her and fought hard. He held her after Pfaster and Schnauz and the Dudley cannibals; he comforted her after Emily. He can't not care.

He has a habit of this, she reminds herself. As her cancer drew to a close, he'd become selfish and self-destructive; he ran after his sister, almost shot her in his summer vacation home. He didn't come to his senses until it became clear she was dying, really dying, and quickly. He has a habit of acting out with grief. And this time the grief would be… their ruined relationship? Devastation at everything he's ever believed being alternately proved and disproved?

When Scully gets home, she doesn't go inside like she likely should. Instead, she takes a walk. A long walk that leaves her fingers numb with brisk March air. And by the end of it, she's come to two conclusions: that their shared quest cannot continue in this matter, and that maybe the things she thought were true are not—which will have to be proven, whether she's right or Mulder's right or neither of them are right. But either way, she needs to talk to Mulder. She climbs back into her car and drives to Alexandria.

She finds him sitting in the dark after he tells her to come in. “Mulder?” she calls out and he grunts out an answer. “What are you doing sitting here in the dark?” she asks.

“Thinking,” he says.

Thinking. How original. “Thinking about what?”

“Oh, the usual. Destiny, fate, how to throw a curve ball. The inextricable relationships in our lives that are neither accidental nor somehow in our control, either.”

She wonders if he means theirs. She wonders if he is talking about something else entirely. “Well,” she says, “I've just taken a long walk and I've reconsidered that I may have been wrong about what I believed happened to me.”

“I've been doing some reconsidering of my own,” he says, standing up and passing her a piece of paper that reads, Things are looking up. Upon flipping it over, she sees what is written on the back: Wiekamp Air Force Base.

“What is this?” she asks.

“Maybe an answer... to a question you and I seem to have been destined to ask,” says Mulder. He walks past her, on his way out of the apartment. He seems to be making a habit of that.

Irritation rising, Scully follows him. “Where are you going?” she calls, slamming his door behind her.

“Wiekamp Air Force Base,” he says over his shoulder, like it should be obvious.

She catches up to him, heels clacking on the tile, and grabs his sleeve. “No,” she says firmly.

Confusion flickers over his face as he looks back at her. “No?”

“You don't get to keep doing this, Mulder.” She motions wildly with her hand. “You don't get to keep running out on me, and keep treating me like a stepping stone on your way to the truth. Why are you going to Wiekamp Air Force Base, Mulder? Who did that piece of paper come from?”

He gulps, nervously, says, “Krycek.”

Krycek?” Her grip on his sleeve tightens. “What did he… why did he…”

“The purpose of his visit seemed to be shoving a gun in my face and warning me about the likelihood of alien colonization,” Mulder says tensely.

Scully lets go of his sleeve in a fluid motion; alien mumbo-jumbo is the last thing she thought she'd hear tonight. “What?”

“Apparently an alien rebellion was staging these burnings at abduction lighthouses to stop the plans for colonization,” says Mulder grimly. “And one of them is being held hostage at Wiekamp Air Force Base. A rebel that I need to go save, or colonization will continue and we will all die.”

Scully blinks, genuinely stunned. “Mulder, that's insane.”

“Exactly,” he says bitterly. “Want to come along?”

“You don't really believe that bullshit, do you?” she asks incredulously. “Mulder, this has all the warning signs of being a trap. Of being part of this insane game.”

“I thought you believed Cassandra Spender’s story,” Mulder says pointedly. “This isn't that far off.”

“I thought there were parts of Cassandra’s story that it was unwise to ignore.” Scully crosses her arms. “As I think the event at the Ruskin Dam proves. But I didn't believe all aspects of her story. And like I said, Mulder, I've reconsidered. I don't know how much substance my original theories had…”

“So as usual, we're on the opposite pages?” Mulder crosses his arms, too. “Whatever you think, Scully, I need to follow this lead. And I'll understand if you want to go home—God knows you could use your rest—but I'd like it if you were there with me. So whatever we find, we can find it together.”

She must be insane. She pinches the bridge of her nose, closing her eyes, and mutters, “Fine. Let's go.”

Mulder looks legitimately surprised but he nods, pulling out his keys as they walk towards the elevator.

He doesn't speak again until they get into the car, until they're barreling down the highway. “What you said, about… me treating you like a stepping stone…” he starts tentatively.

Scully sighs, pressing her fingers to her temple. “Don't tell me that you don't know what I'm talking about,” she mutters.

“This is about what I said I'm the hospital, isn't it,” he says in a hushed voice, staring hard out the front window. Scully fidgets in her seat, pulling at the seatbelt. “Scully, you know… you know when I said the truth was in you, that I didn't mean the truth was the only thing I need you for.” She says nothing. His voice faltering, he continues, “I need you for so much more than that… you know…”

“No, I don't know,” she says. She'd thought her words would be rough and harsh, in her head, but she has no strength to fight with Mulder anymore. She hates fighting with Mulder. Her words come out sounding like she's just been punched in the gut. “If I based it off of your recent behavior, I don't know that you don't want me for anything more than my status as an abductee.”

His voice extraordinarily soft, he asks, “Is this about what happened in Dallas? Me saying that…”  

No.” Face red, Scully yanks at her seatbelt angrily. “It has nothing to do with that, that is a completely different… I understand why you did what you did in Dallas. This is about you ignoring me on this case unless I was in some kind of danger.” She sneaks a look at him and finds that he is still staring out the windshield, face white and jaw clenched. But he lets her continue. She says, “This is about you just running out on me at the hospital and at Dr. Werber’s office and at Skyland Mountain and in Skinner's office… you know how I feel about the ditching, Mulder, but this was different. It feels like this quest of yours was more important than giving me an explanation, or listening to what I thought. You've ignored what Cassandra Spender has said to the point of ridiculousness, when her stories have substance you should recognize based on what's happened to me, but you want to chase after a half-assed lead that Krycek gave to you while holding you at gunpoint? It doesn't make any sense, Mulder. I'm your partner, and I have been left in the dust on this case. You have contributed everything.”

“I should've believed Cassandra,” Mulder says, his voice as rough as gravel. “You're right. I should've. Scully, when I realized you were gone, when I heard about the Ruskin Dam… I thought you were dead…”

“I know that must've been hard for you,” Scully says softly. “And I know you tried to find me. Skinner told me. I'm grateful for that.”

“But you really… you really think I'm using you? That I don't care about you?” He sounds horrified. Legitimately horrified, as if her thinking he doesn't care is the worst thing he can imagine. “Scully…”

“I don't think that,” she says, looking down at her knees. “Not really. I just… I want you to realize how you're treating me. And I guess I want to understand. Mulder, everything you've done on this case is so unlike you… not believing Cassandra Spender… not making the connection at Skyland Mountain… not seeing the facts in the testimony I gave Werber…”

“I did all those things because…” He intakes a sharp breath. “I want justice for you and for Emily and for our sisters and everyone else who have suffered because of them,” he says softly. “I want to bring those bastards down. I want them to pay for everything they've done.And I thought… I thought whatever means I could use to get there the fastest was worth it. I didn't want to get distracted by… by things that didn't matter, I wanted to do whatever it took…  I thought if I could ignore the clear facades, if I could break down these barriers and find a clear path to them…”

Scully takes a shaky breath. “I understand your dedication to your goal, Mulder, and I appreciate it,” she says. “You know I share the same goal.” Her throat is stinging with unshed tears. “But you can't… you can't ignore facts right in front of your face to the point of close mindedness. You can't ignore me. You can't… you can't treat me like some tool on this massive quest of yours. Because if you do… than I can't do this with you.”

There's a tickling sensation along her hand as Mulder's fingers brush across the top. He reaches across the console and takes it, and she lets him. “Scully?”

“Yes?” she says softly, turning to look at him.

“I'm sorry.” And he does look sorry. Sincerely sorry. "I'm sorry about… a lot of things.”

She won't tell him okay. But she holds his eye contact, says, “I know.”

He smiles, just a little. A tiny bit. “I won't leave you out,” he says, still looking at the windshield. But she can read the sincerity on his face. “Or put you in danger… I never meant to… I got distracted. But I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.”

“I know,” she says again, and squeezes his hand before letting it go. She's not sure where she stands on all of this. On her relationship with Mulder—in terms of partnership or romantically—or in the goddamn conspiracy. But at least they've cleared some air between them. At least they've reached a stalemate of sorts. At least she knows he still cares.

---

They don't talk much on the way to the base. Mulder is forming a plan in his head. When they get there, it is the same song and dance he's used to: he bluffs to the guarding officer to the point at which the kid goes to check on some made-up problem. “Buckle up, Scully,” he says.

“Mulder, he's armed and well within his jurisdiction,” Scully says.

They're watching a truck exit the gate. As it draws closer, Scully says, “I know this man.”

“Who?”

“That driver. I know his face.”

Mulder watches the truck as the officer looks over at them. “Scully,” he says quietly. “I'm going to go after the truck. You stay here.”

“What?”

The officer looks away. “I swear this isn't a ditch,” Mulder says, before making a break for it.

He makes it into the truck, and then everything else grows fuzzy. He thinks there is a light. He wakes up in the truck, being arrested, with no memory of what just happened. His throat is raw from screaming.

They take him back to the car and shove him inside. He steadies himself in the seat, eyes and nose burning. He was so close, so fucking close, and now they're back to square one. Both left with nothing.

“What happened?” Scully asks gently. More gently than he deserves, probably.

“I don't know,” he says, covering his face. He understands why Scully insisted on retrieving her memories after Ruskin; this blank space in his mind is the most frustrating thing in the world. His eyes burn, and Scully is pulling his hand away from his face, squeezing it in hers. He looks at her and she looks at him in the dim light of the car, and god, he can't believe he ever made her think he didn't need her. He needs her like air. He wouldn't make it anywhere, through anything, without her.

“It's okay,” Scully whispers, squeezing his hand in both of hers. “It's okay.” He nods, leaning his head against the cool window pane. Scully rubs her fingers over his knuckles, her hands warm around his, and they just sit there for a minute. Up until a military officer shows up and taps on the window, glaring at the both of them.

Scully squeezes his hand again before leaning back in her seat. “Let's get out of here,” she says softly, and how is he only just now noticing the circles under her eyes? She looks exhausted. “Before they change their mind about arresting us.”

“Fine by me,” he mumbles, putting the car into reverse and backing out.

They drive home in silence, but not a tension-filled one, for the first time in ages. It's a companionable one.

---

Mulder drops her off at home close to midnight, and Scully is genuinely close to falling asleep in the elevator. She craves her bed, her sheets and soft mattress, like a smoker craves a cigarette. She wants to sleep for a year.

When she exhaustedly stumbles into her apartment, she misjudges her amount of space and bangs her knee into the coffee table. Swearing, she collapses on her couch, rubbing her eyes. And that's when she sees it: a watch on her coffee table. Mulder's watch, she immediately recognizes. But she has no idea what it's doing here. She can't even remember the last time he came to her apartment.

She calls him out of a sense of curiosity. “Mulder, is that your watch on my coffee table?” she asks when he answers.

“Oh, yeah,” he says, bemused. “I forgot about that.”

“You forgot about your watch?” She raises her eyebrows even though he can't see her. “When were you here to take it off?”

“I, uh… I came over there looking for you last night.” He sounds amazed, like he can't believe what's happened in under 24 hours. “I couldn't find you, so I decided to, um, wait… I might have fallen asleep on your couch. When Skinner called to tell me about the Ruskin Dam, I guess I just forgot to grab it.”

A lump rises in her throat, and she couldn't tell a single person why. “You stayed here all night waiting for me?” she says, like she can't believe it.

“Well, not really all night, just a few hours… Scully? Are you okay?”

She smiles a little, running a finger over the face of the watch. “I'm fine,” she says, wiping her eyes. “Just tired. Thank you, Mulder. I'll bring the watch to work tomorrow.”

She goes to bed with some unexplainable happiness building in her chest. Some sentimental feeling that makes her want to wrap her arms around him and never let go.