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locking out the ghosts

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He's hiding something from her.

It's subtle, in the way he seems distracted, absently chewing at his thumbnail as he works, jolting in an almost violent matter when she says his name. The nervousness he has around her. She couldn't place it if anyone asked her what it is, but she can tell something is there.

She's wondered more than once if it has anything to do with the interlude on the floor of her hallway a few weeks before. She only remembers bits and pieces, mostly just Mulder holding her. (She doesn't remember calling him and she doesn't remember him leaving. He's just there. The monumental constant shining through.) She doesn’t remember if it went as badly as half of their other vulnerable moments since the breakup. But she doesn't think it has anything to do with that. He'd apologized over the phone. He'd said he was worried about her. Whatever’s going on, it’s something else.

Her theory is nearly confirmed when she leaves for an appointment with Karen Kosseff around three o’clock, leaving Mulder alone in the office. When she comes back an hour later, he's gone. Over an hour before work ends and hours before Mulder leaves work, on a normal evening. Scully swallows, keys in her hand in her pocket, running her thumbnail over the Apollo 11 keychain. What the hell is he doing? she thinks.

Mulder had seemed happy, weeks ago, when she'd told him that she was going to go back to Karen Kosseff. He'd encouraged her; he's asked her about her appointments every time she’s had. She can tell he really is worried about her; she thinks he really does care. (She'd hoped this would be their chance to start to patch things up between them.)

Her appointments with Karen Kosseff have helped tremendously in the weeks since Dara Kernof and Roberta Dyer. Since what she would describe as her daughter's ghost (if she believed in ghosts) spoke to her, asked her to let her go. She told Karen what she saw (she'd called it a dream in the end, dubbing it as close as she could get to whatever the hell happened in that church), voice trembling a little as she traced the seam of her pants with one finger absently, looking at her knees instead of Karen. She'd cried, and Karen had listened. She'd started talking, and the words came almost easily.

She wasn't keeping Emily’s photo in her wallet anymore, but she still pulled it out to look at it, every now and then. She and Karen were slowly unraveling everything, the tangle of emotions she'd shoved down into the pit of her stomach all those months ago, and it felt good. Painful, but good. It felt like there was a lighter weight in her chest, like she could breathe again.

She hadn't told Karen about Mulder, or at least about their former relationship. In the midst of one session, she'd been describing how she felt like she couldn't talk to her family about this, and Karen had asked, gently, “Can you talk to your partner about this?” (She at least knew how close they were.) And for a while, it had seemed like Scully might be able to talk to him. (She'd thought in the back of her mind, just a little bit, that maybe they could even reconcile their relationship. In a month or two. When the time was right. She’d thought it was a possibility again.) But now… now, with the distance he is putting between them, she isn't sure.

She mentions it offhand the next day, when they're eating lunch over the top of the desk, just to see if he'll lie to her: “Mulder,” she says, stabbing at some lettuce and cucumber with his plastic fork, “where’d you go yesterday? You left early; you weren't here when I got back.”

He swallows hard, Adam’s apple bobbing as he takes a sip from his water bottle, avoiding her eyes. “Oh, I, um… I had an appointment with a contact,” he says, picking at the label of the bottle. He changes the subject quickly, saying, “How, uh… how was your appointment, Scully?”

She stares down at the plastic container, shuffling the lettuce around in the container. So he's not mad at her, for whatever reason—but he's definitely hiding something. She just wishes she knew what.

“Fine,” she says to the stack of files she balanced the container on. “Just fine.”

---

Nearly a month after the Kernof case, they get recruited for a task force. An attempt to catch Jacob Haley, one of the leaders of an upcoming terrorist group, the New Spartans. Mulder is instructed to be undercover at the site as a jogger, Scully providing backup from the surveillance van. Mulder's shoulders tense, just slightly, but he agrees without argument. Scully absently wonders why this assignment would make him anxious; they’ve been recruited for these types of assignments a thousand times before.

The undercover operation goes down a half-hour after they find out, but it's not without its hitches: Haley murders his contact with some sort of flesh-eating substance, and Mulder disappears right after. Panicked, Scully bursts out of the van and sprints across the park, looking for him. But she can't believe what she sees when she finds him. Suddenly, in a strange, panicked, nonsensical moment, all the time he's spent avoiding her and disappearing from work makes sense.

She sees him standing near a car. She sees him patting the hood of the car, the car pulling away. Mulder disappears and reappears a few minutes later, claiming he lost Haley—which seems impossible because he had him, he had him, and Mulder has never been one to let a suspect go, but this time, that seems to be what has happened. He's avoiding Scully's eyes.

She can't believe it. She knows what she saw, but she can't believe it. Not Mulder. Mulder would never… he may resist authority, but he would never…

She's seen the New Spartans’ methods, and they are brutal. They kill civilians. Mulder is not brutal. Mulder wouldn't kill civilians, or brush off the killing of civilians for a larger cause. She knows Mulder. She's seen him put himself on the line for civilians, do whatever it takes to keep people safe. She's seen him buckle her daughter in a borrowed car seat and feel her forehead with the back of his hand. She's seen the way he cares about his sister, tirelessly looking for her, for justice; she's held him while he cried over his mother's hospital bed. She's seen the way he's fought for her, heard the stories from Skinner or her mother or small-town cops over cups of coffee as they took her testimonies after all the times she almost died. He can't ally with someone like the New Spartans; it goes against everything he stands for. But maybe… she's seem him devoted to his cause to the point of ignoring all logic, ignoring her. Is it possible that he could have found what he thought he needed through the New Spartans? That the best way he could see to take the conspirators down was to join them, the man on the inside?

It can't be. She doesn't believe it, but she knows what she saw. The surveillance tape confirms what she saw. When she confronts Mulder about it, he shrugs her off. He claims not to know what she is talking about when she accuses him of aiding in Haley’s escape, but he doesn't look her in the eye. She thinks she might believe him if he looked her in the eye.

She wants to yank him back from the edge, stop him before he gets in too far, convince him that the New Spartans are too dangerous and their methods are inhumane, even if they believe what he believes. But he won't confide in her. “I expect you to tell me the truth,” she tries, because that's what always seems to be the most important thing to him, he's always encouraging her to tell him the truth, but he doesn't respond. Brushes her off with a statement about how they're late for the meeting and walks past her out of the room. She watches him go with the dumbfounded feeling she's been experiencing too often lately. Except for this time, it has nothing to do with their partnership or the lack of credit he's giving her. This isn't something he can apologize for and vow to change and make everything all right. The implications here are that Mulder is a traitor, and there is no coming back from that.

In the meeting, he stills refuses to meet her eyes as the CIA and fellow FBI agents lay out the implications of Haley’s escape: the guns he got away with, the true mastermind of the New Spartans, one August Bremer. Scully herself lays out the mechanisms of the deadly toxin. She keeps trying to meet Mulder's eyes during the meeting, but he always looks away. He makes a dry comment about how they know the toxin isn't airborne because they're all still alive. He points out Haley’s military background, his paranoia, and Scully wonders if he knows this from personal experience. When the meeting is ended, Mulder makes a beeline for the door, ignoring her when she calls after him.

He's hiding something, has been for a month, and now she knows what it is. She doesn't want to believe it (she can't believe it), but the evidence doesn't lie. Mulder's recent behavior patterns don't lie. He may have been genuine when he said that he wouldn't leave her behind, when he apologized for not being there for her, but maybe this is something separate. Maybe this is his way of caring about her, by dismissing her methods to pursue his own, those so dangerous and ruthless that he thought it better to leave her out. Maybe he still cares, or maybe he was lying. If he really is a part of this group, who knows how long it has lasted? He could've been a double agent for months, years in advance. Maybe even since Kritschgau told him that everything he'd ever believed was a lie. Maybe he's just now acting strangely because something is coming up, something big, and he doesn't know how to face it. Maybe she doesn't know him at all.

She follows him home. She follows him home because she has to know for sure (because this isn't him, and she can't face the idea that she doesn't know him, hasn't known him after all this time; he knows everything about her for fuck’s sake, and she… she thought she knew him). She follows him, but he doesn't go home. He gets on the highway headed east, and she follows him there, too. She follows him for over two hours until he pulls off at a hotel in Angola, Delaware. She hangs back while he checks in, while he goes to his hotel room.

She watches the door of the room for a while—room 130—but nothing happens. She decides on a new approach: going to the front desk, and asking. She claims that it's her hotel room, and asks for the name. The manager tells her it's Mr. Kaplan. So he is trying to cover his tracks. Scully feels a mixture of annoyance and fear bubbling in her stomach, and she turns to leave. The manager asks if she's the wife, and she scoffs. If she were, maybe she would know what the hell is going on here.

She's headed to Mulder's room with some wild plan in her mind—maybe to confront him, maybe to convince him not to do this—but he exits the room before she can get there. She ducks behind a parked car and watches, watches as an unfamiliar car pulls up, watches as Mulder gets into it. The car pulls away and she sprints to her car to follow them.

She stays behind them for miles, hanging back with her headlights off. If anyone asked, she couldn't tell them what she is doing—it's not as if she's going to barrel into a terrorist hideout and drag Mulder out by his ear—but all she knows is that she needs to know. Whatever’s happening, she needs to know. Know how far Mulder is, if Haley can be exposed without implicating Mulder, if she even should be protecting him. She hasn't formed a solid plan yet outside of needing to know.

Maybe it's fitting what happens next: blinding headlights, screeching tires, cars surrounding her and men in suits pulling her out of the car and leading her to another one. It's the type of military arrest situation that she's grown used to, but it's usually with Mulder. Or a result of Mulder, which she supposes this could be classified as, but she has no idea why, this time.

They treat her amicably enough, these men in black figures, but they won't answer her questions, which is annoying as hell. They lead her through the hallways of some government building to an office. Behind the door is Skinner, sitting across from a CIA agent she recognizes from the meeting earlier today. “Agent Scully, take a seat,” he says.

“What the hell is going on?” she snaps as she crosses the room, mostly addressing Skinner.

“I apologize for our methods,” says the CIA agent.

“They may well have saved Agent Mulder’s life,” adds Skinner.

“What about my life?” she says angrily. “I don’t appreciate being run off the road.”

“We had our reasons,” the CIA agent says simply.

Skinner says knowingly, “You’re suspicious Agent Mulder’s betrayed his country.”

“I don‘t know what you’re talking about,” she says, protecting him like a reflex. She doesn't know if he deserves it or not, but she is still his partner, and what will they do to him if they catch him?

“Your discretion is understandable,” the CIA agent says, like he knows anything about them. “In point of fact, Agent Mulder’s actions are entirely honorable. What you’ve stumbled into is a classified action, a deep-cover assignment.”

“Until now, Agent Mulder’s true mission was known only to the US Attorney and myself,” Skinner says.

“His true mission?” Scully demands. She's remembering everything she's thought about the New Spartans, the toxin she studied, every time she told herself that Mulder couldn't join a group this ruthless. If she was right, then that means…

“The council we sat in was front to make the New Spartans believe we were unaware of Agent Mulder’s complicity,” the CIA agent explains.

“Why him?” Why not anyone else, this is a dangerous assignment, Mulder's been through enough… “Why choose Agent Mulder?”

“We didn't choose him, they did,” Skinner says quickly, like he's trying to confirm that he, too, doesn't like this.

“He spoke at a UFO conference in Boston where he broadcast his feelings about the government and their conspiracies against the American people,” the CIA agent says with some disgust. Scully wants to say fierce, angry things, wants to ask if this is his punishment for his beliefs, but she doesn't. She silently crosses to sit down next to Skinner. The CIA agent is still talking: “Somebody from the organization was listening so the man who escaped, Haley, sent out feelers in hopes that Agent Mulder was a man whose politics were in line with his own. Someone on the inside that he could use.”

“To what aim?” Scully asks, because the pictures in the back of her mind are not pretty.

“That we don't know,” Skinner says.

She turns to face him. “You've put Agent Mulder’s life in danger by not telling me,” she says roughly. She is still his partner, for God's sake.

“Agent Mulder came to me, I advised him not to tell you,” Skinner says. “He’s at a very delicate point. Everything he does now must work to build trust.”

“Including letting this man Haley get away with murder?” Scully demands. They say nothing. “Sir, we know nothing about this bioweapon. We don’t know what they want to use it for. We don’t even know if they have the capacity to store it safely. Putting Agent Mulder in this situation is extremely risky.”

“They want something from him,” says Skinner. “We have no other way of learning what.”

An agent enters at that moment, claiming that the toxin has been used again at a movie theater in Ohio, and Scully's heart leaps into her throat. In the moments after, she tells herself that it couldn't possibly be where they took Mulder because they left less than an hour ago, but she knows this feeling won't go away. Who knows where he is or what they're doing to him? Who knows if they really want him for his connections, or if they just want to make an example? Who knows if he's even still alive? She thought Mulder had betrayed his country, and he's done just the opposite: he's going to sacrifice himself for it. And wherever he is now, she can't protect him.

The CIA agent is talking to the man who just entered. Skinner's hand lands on her shoulder. “You'd better go home,” he says apologetically.

Her shoulders stiffen and she stands up, effectively throwing him off and glaring at him a little. “I know now,” she replies firmly. “I know now, and I'm not walking away from this. He is my partner, and I'm not letting him do this alone. From now on, I'm a part of this operation.”

She's actually surprised when they agree. (She suspects Skinner knows how hard she will fight back if they refuse.) They lecture her about keeping her head down, about all of this being classified, about not attempting to contact Agent Mulder. She agrees, even though she has no intention of following the third order. She needs to know that he is okay.

They want her to come to Ohio and try to identify the toxin and she agrees to that, too, even though the panic is wild inside her, a live thing thumping in her chest. She goes with them to the airport and gets on a flight to Ohio, touches the glass of the tiny window with cold fingertips and tries not to think of Mulder out there somewhere, alone with no backup, maybe hurt, maybe dead. Tries not to think.

In Ohio, the crime scene is horrifying on the same level as the burn sites in March. People with their skin burned off, sticky blood and muscle and bone all that's left. Scully paces the theater, looking for the source of the toxin. She theorizes that it must be something that everyone touched—the tickets, maybe—but there is no clear source. The CIA agent interviews the only survivors, two teenage boys, and Scully watches through the two-way mirror. The only clue as to how they survived is one of the boys sheepishly admitting that they snuck in the back instead of paying. That could support the idea of the tickets being contaminated.

After the interview is over, Skinner sends her home. He seems to think there is nothing more she can do in Ohio. She's inclined to agree, if only for the reason of wanting to go and check on Mulder, to see that he's gotten home okay. She's terrified for him and trying to convince herself not to be, that he'll be waiting at home when she gets there. She gets on a flight back to DC and arrives in the early evening. She drives straight to Mulder's apartment and finds it empty.

Pulse pounding, she tries to tell herself everything is fine. She flips off the lights, locks the door behind her and settles in on his couch. Decides to wait here for him for the night. She thinks he'll have to come home at some point tonight. She hopes. She hopes he will. She hopes he is okay.

---

He knew this assignment would be dangerous, but he thinks he underestimated it. He thinks he had to have underestimated it. He thinks he wouldn't have taken the job if he'd known this was going to happen, but then again, he walked in expecting to die.

They strap his hands to a table and break his finger. They send pain shooting up and down his hand as they bend his finger further and further back, and he can't do anything to fight them off, rendered immobile by the leather around his wrists. They have him practically begging, still feeding them lie after lie so they don't kill him. He just wants to go home. He is caught between a rock and a hard place with no way out. He should've known he'd be crushed in the end.

Haley doesn't bother to believe him until his pinky finger is broken. Until he's nearly sobbing from the pain. Haley snaps his fingers and the gimp who was torturing Mulder puts the hood back over his head. All he can see is stifling black. Mulder tries to keep his breathing steady, ignores the tears trickling down his face. The gimp unstraps his hands and hauls him up, zip-tying his wrists in front of him and taking no care to be gentle. Probably still pissed about the head butt. Mulder yelps as his bad finger is jolted. “See you in a few hours,” Haley says easily as Mulder is pulled off in an unknown direction. He's shoved into some dark, musty-smelling room and pushed down on the floor. He hears the door lock behind him.

Mulder rests his head against the wall, lowering his bound hands to his lap. He tries to slow his breathing, teeth clenched from the pain. He thought they were going to kill him, right there. Gun to the head or a knife to the throat or toxin sprayed in his face that would slowly eat away his skin. He doesn't want to die. He can put on as many acts as he wants, but he doesn't want to die. Not here, not for this. He huddles closer against the wall, curling into himself for some kind of protection.

(Do they know they've sent him into a trap he might not be able to claw his way out of? Do they know there's a good chance he may never come home? He wonders what they will tell his mother if he dies. He wonders what they will tell Scully.)

Minutes or hours later, he hears the door open, hears footsteps approaching him. One or two people, he can't tell which because his head is spinning. Someone dragging him to his feet, shoving him forward. He stumbles into a standing position, holding his useless hands out for balance. Nausea coursing through him; he breathes shallowly in an attempt not to vomit. “I do believe you, Agent Mulder,” Haley says from somewhere in front of him. He claps him on the shoulder with a gloved hand, and Mulder's skin crawls at the thought of the toxin. “I do.”

“That's nice of you,” Mulder snaps when there's no pain, no feeling of his skin being eaten away. “I wish you hadn't felt it necessary to snap a goddamn bone to come to that conclusion.”

Someone grabs his bad hand, hard, and pain sparks in his finger like a match; he makes a sound somewhere between a yelp and a whimper. “I believe you,” says Haley generously, “but I need to know that you understand what needs to be done. I need you to earn your trust, because right now, your loyalty strikes me as weak enough that you could be persuaded to betray us if asked.”

Mulder shuts his eyes behind the hood. The hood gives him a certain advantage in the area of concealing his lies, but he'd rather be able to look Haley in the eye, see what he's thinking. Look for signs of a bluff. He can't breathe in this thing. “What do you want me to do?” he growls in an unsteady voice.

Someone grabs his wrists, and he tenses for a moment before he hears the snap of something slicing through the plastic ties, the pressure being released. He lets his hands drop to his sides in relief. “I want to know about fund transfer schedules for the eastern seaboard,” Haley says simply “Whatever files you can get on the federal reserve bank. We need cash, Agent Mulder.”

He nods, blindly. “Fine, fine.”

Someone grabs him by his shirt again, drags him forward. “You say you didn't sell me out?” Haley hisses in his ear. “That it was one of my own? I want proof. Get me surveillance files. I know your people have them.”

Breathing hard, Mulder resists the urge to pull away. “Okay, fine,” he blurts. “Fine, fine, whatever you want.”

He's let go, rocking back on his feet. “Take him out of here,” Haley says dismissively, maybe even with disgust, and one of Haley’s goons shoves him forward. Mulder stumbles blindly, grateful that his hands are free if only for the advantage of balance. “You're a valuable asset, Agent Mulder,” Haley reminds him as he's shoved in the other direction, out of the room. “But you'll do well to remember what we do to traitors.”

I remember, Mulder thinks. His finger throbs. I've never forgotten.

---

They drive him around in circles for a few hours, likely to confuse him about where their headquarters are, before dropping him back at the hotel in Delaware. They whip the hood off and shove him out of the car in an obscure portion of the parking lot. Blinking in the bright sunlight, Mulder staggers forward, towards the room he'd left earlier. He doesn't go to the hospital. He goes back into the room and sleeps for a few hours, curled stiffly on his side, before driving back to DC.

It's dark before he gets home. He parks the car and takes the elevator up to his floor, sagging hard against the metal wall. He's regretted taking the phone call that morning in Scully's apartment for the past month, but he regrets it more than ever now. His hand hurts. He just wants this all to be over, but he knows it's not. It's just beginning.

His apartment is dark when he enters. He can't remember if he left any lights on. Sighing, he tosses his keys aside, looking at his pinky where it sticks out at an odd angle, and then jumps about a foot when Scully says, “Don't be alarmed,” somewhere from the depths on the apartment.

She appears in front of him, and what the hell is she doing here. He knew he was suspicious, but he didn't know… she can't be here. She can't, it's too dangerous. He rubs his face, says wearily, “Scully, get out of here.”

“Mulder…”

“Get out of here!” he snaps, half-shouting.

“I know what you're doing,” she says, walking towards him. “Skinner told me everything.”

Well, Scully is nothing if not persistent; she must've had to tear apart a great deal of their charade for Skinner, who never wanted her to know in the first place, to tell her. “I don't know what you're talking about,” Mulder says bluntly, hoping she’ll believe him and go away.

“What happened to your hand?” she prods, gently.

“Nothing,” he insists, but she doesn't listen. He winces as she takes his hand in hers, laying it flat across her palm.

“Oh, Mulder, what did they do to you?” she whispers in horror, studying it, and he remembers the hours he spent in the New Spartans cell, pain rattling through his hand, wishing she was there. His doctor. She prods the hand, and he winces, clenching his fingers together protectively. “Okay, this needs to be set,” she says, moving his fist to rest against him. “You're in pain.”

“Yeah, if you keep pulling it around like that,” he tries to crack. She pats his clenched fingers a little before heading for the fridge, assumedly for an ice pack. He goes to the couch and sits beside the fish tank, the faint light of it.

Scully approaches, whispers, “Let's get the swelling down,” as she sits across from him on the coffee table and puts the ice on his hand. Their knees brush. He swallows roughly, looking away.

Scully sighs. “”They've killed again, Mulder,” she says, and he looks back at her in surprise. “Fourteen people in a movie theater in Ohio. The same toxin they released in the park.”

“Fourteen people?” he repeats incredulously. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Unless it was a test… for something bigger,” Scully says softly. She's still holding the ice pack in place on his hand; she begins a smooth motion of her fingers across the back of Mulder's hand. He shudders a little under the feather-soft stroking, but he doesn't pull away. “Why do this to you, Mulder?”

“They’re testing me, too,” he says. “Haley’s paranoid and spooked. I was sure he was going to kill me.”

Scully winces, just a little, and it is a small reaction, but it is there. “What stopped him?” she asks, her voice still calm. Her middle and ring finger still tracing lines on his hand.

His good hand reaches out, fumbling, before it finds her knee. He covers her kneecap with his palm and squeezes. She doesn't pull away. “They still need something from me,” he says, “and I’m sensing there’s someone Haley trusts even less—the man giving him his orders. Someone I haven’t met yet. A guy named August Bremer.”

“The man Skinner told us about in the meeting,” Scully says.

“Yeah.” Mulder squeezes her knee again before pulling away, looking at his shoes flat on the floor. If Haley is second in command behind Bremer, then he's not particularly looking forward to meeting the guy. He’d hate to see what the leader would do to a traitor.  

Scully moves the ice pack to check Mulder's finger. “Swelling’s gone down,” she murmurs. “Supplies still in the cabinet?”

There's a cabinet in his kitchen that she stocked with medical supplies a long time ago. He hasn't moved it since she patched him up after the AI case. “Yeah,” he says again, bobbing his head up and down absently.

Scully presses the ice pack back into place. “I need to set this,” she says softly. “I'll be right back.”

He leans back into the couch as she goes, eyes slipping closed. He hears rather than sees Scully's approach, feels her hand on his forehead. “You look exhausted, Mulder.”

“Yeah, well, I am exhausted,” he mutters.

“Yeah, well, this will probably wake you up,” she says apologetically, rubbing circles on the palm of his bad hand. He opens his eyes in nervous anticipation. “This is gonna hurt,” Scully says, smoothing the pad of her thumb over his life line, catching the hook of his thumb. He nudges her thumb with his, a faux thumb war. “You ready?” she asks.

He nods. “Ready as I'll ever be.”

He sucks in air through his teeth as she sets his pinky, tapes it to his ring finger. “Sorry,” she mutters, smoothing his hair. He closes his eyes again, breaths coming shakily. His hand presses against her hip. They're leaning into each other a little, just enough so he can feel her body heat. Scully covers his hand with hers on his thigh, her fingers cold against his. “Why wouldn't you tell me?” she whispers.

He exhales slowly, looking at her. Her eyes are shining in the half-light of the fish tank; she looks near tears. “I wanted to tell you,” he says. “I swear I did. Skinner… he told me it wasn't a good idea. He thought they'd find me… or you. It seemed safer to…”

“Don't do that again,” she blurts, sternly and softly and tenderly. She leans forward, their foreheads bumping together; he doesn't pull away. She shuts her eyes as if overwhelmed. He lets his own slip shut. Scully is whispering, “Mulder, I don't want… I thought you had gone over to the other side. And then when I found out you went over to the other side… if they broke your finger because they thought you had betrayed them, Mulder, than what will they do if they find out the truth?”

“They won't find out,” he mumbles. Their noses brush.

She sighs again. He can't see her, but he knows she's there, can picture her perfectly. He could recognize her in the pitch black after not seeing the light in years. “I can't lose you, Mulder,” she whispers, and it feels like they have torn something apart, like they have pulled everything into the open. He opens his eyes to look at her, and she is looking back at him, eyes just a little wet. Just a bit.

“You won't,” he whispers back, even though he doesn't know. “You won't.”

They breathe shudderingly in tandem. Her hand presses harder over his. He pushes a loose strand of hair behind her ear with his good hand, rubs her cheekbone with his thumb. She leans further into him. He brushes his thumb over her cheek again, says, “You should go.”

Her hand briefly tightens over his. “Mulder,” she starts, warily.

“If they're watching,” he replies, and that's all it takes.

Scully tenses, relaxes, pulls away a little. Puts a hand on the back of his neck and kisses his forehead lingerly before standing up. “Stay safe,” she tells him sternly. And then she turns to leave.

She's halfway to the door before he tries to stop her. He's standing up and following her. “Scully, wait,” he's saying, and then she's turning and kissing him for all he's worth. Different than how she kissed him in Dallas; soft and sweet and desperate. One arm curling around his shoulders as she leans forward on her tiptoes to meet him, and the other wrapped around the hem of his shirt. Holding him to her. Overwhelmed, he pulls her closer, cupping her head in his bad hand. She kisses him harder, their teeth clicking. Her mouth soft under his.

Finally (regretfully), he pulls back, hugging her hard and burying his face in her hair. Breathing hard, she doesn't pull away; in fact, she tightens her hold on him. “You've got to go, Scully,” he whispers.

She nods, regretfully, leans forward to breathe in his ear, “I love you.”

It almost feels like he can't breathe, like she's sucker-punched him in the best way possible. He leans back a little and kisses her forehead, tightening his arms around her. He's loved her for so long now. “I'm coming back, Scully,” he whispers against her cheek, hugging her close again. He might be lying, but he hopes he isn't. He hopes. “I'm coming back, I promise. You don't have to say your goodbyes.”

“I know.” She kisses his cheek, pushing his hair back. “I know you're coming back,” she whispers, inches away. “That's why I'm saying it.”