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Heuvelmans' On the Track

Chapter Text

The resurgence of the old song rode its deeply etched groove, the diamond-tipped stylus bumping fast and true. Scully forgot things, and she was forced to sit holding an open file or a piece of paperwork so that, under the cover of thought, she simply existed in a fizzing pleasure of the mind. Every time she thought of Mulder she made herself counterbalance it with the image of a hitman getting the drop on him. Her mental anarchy was a danger to him, a danger to them both, but even so, it twisted restlessly inside her until she feared what love would make her do.

She was called out of work one afternoon, paged to the helipad. A jolt of apprehension flared before she could hide it, and Marcella's wide face broadened uneasily. 'Don't expect me to do all your typing, Mystery Lady,' she said, stacking knives in a dishpan, but she didn't mean it. She would, Scully knew, finish up the day's transcriptions and square up their work. Scully was not honest with her, but there was something honest between them. Marcella did not belabor delusions. She worried about Scully the way one might necessarily feel concern for a forthright young governess sent to a brooding country manor.

It was a short and rocky trip. Scully wished she had more than caffeine in her stomach as the helicopter tipped sideways across a network of wire fences and described a shattering half-circle above a rubbly field and a parking lot full of Jeeps. She checked the compass in her watch. They hadn't left Maryland, and it had to be Fort Marlene—the Farm, they called it—these vast infested fields crosshatched with wire and chemical waste pits, solvents filtering down through the karst. 'The wellspring, Miss Scully,' said Deep Throat. Labs full of Ebola virus and anthrax spores, baby creatures in jars, mosquitoes carrying yellow fever. The groundwater in horrible shape.

On a dark winter's day she'd faked her way in and plundered these labs, desperate to get Mulder back. She'd been so green, so scared, and the Scully she was then couldn't possibly have featured this ironic inversion, flying in on a dark errand for the Smoking Man.

They bumped down on a rooftop, a grim, emphatic look passing between the pilots as the skids touched the helipad. A soldier came running beneath the chopping blades, doubled over, and pulled Scully out of her seat. He held her head down as they scuttled through the rotor wash, and she came up short at the edge of the building ruffled, shaking him off.

Distantly, the weary doom of a siren rolled up and down. A squad of soldiers crossed the courtyard below, double-time. Near Scully at the parapet stood two soldiers with automatic weapons slung on their backs, perhaps spitting; they turned in tandem. They were hardly more than youths, with the stupid straight-ahead eyes of the military young, and as they seized Scully by the arms she became somehow non-existent. The helicopter, hastily, lifted away. Scully found herself in the middle of a progressing conversation. 'I heard she tried to do it with a taser,' one of the soldiers said, as the three of them marched through a doorway and into an elevator.

'Naw...' The other spoke over Scully's head. The cables jerked and they descended, jostled together. Pinioned between them, Scully was forced to absorb their heat and the smell of androstenol sweat. 'Naw, actually, how it went was she grabbed Worrell's semi, everybody hit the deck, and then she just stuck the barrel under her chin.' A pause. '...safety was on.' This struck both of them as funny, and the soldier on Scully's left absently kneaded her arm as this last detail was relayed.

Scully sucked in her cheeks.

'Crazy bitch,' said the soldier on her right.

The elevator hit bottom and rocked, and, in the moment before the doors opened, Scully, looking straight ahead, said: 'Actually, rather than assuming a psychopathological state, suicide—under certain conditions—may be interpreted as a highly rational act, or even an expression of free will.'

The doors opened. The soldiers, irritable now, and silent, perp-walked her along a corridor. A man in a biohazard suit ran toward them, and they put Scully against the wall as he passed. The lower floors felt oppressive, and the sullen silence of her escort seemed more particularly actuated by their approach to an imposing part of the building, rather than her mouthy comment. A hollow servomotor or giant fan thrummed close at hand. The soldiers opened a door and thrust her into a room, and then they were gone, as quickly as the helicopter.

A tech in a procedure mask came toward her. Several people were suiting up in the jumbled confines of the room. Scully took off her jacket, and tossed it on an exam table covered with clothing. 'Shoes,' the person said irritably, 'come on.' Scully put her hand on the tech's shoulder and stepped into the proffered biohazard suit, trying to get a read on the other people in the room, all gearing up as quickly as her. No one looked CDC, but Fort Marlene housed the Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and had been doing biological weapons research since World War II. The compound harbored a citadel known charmingly as the Anthrax Tower. Across from her, a slim young man disappearing into his giant suit was probably something like a field tech back from Kosovo, and the burly old fellow could be one of the short-sighted minds of clandestine research, a butcher passing for a medic. Black market doctors, expats, the next generation of sheltered Nazis, people responsible for human trials of biowarfare agents. And Scully. To be honest, she found the group suspect because she was in it.

She extended her arms to have her gloves duct-taped to her sleeves and closed her eyes for her helmet. The suit was Level B, splash-proof, with a high level of respiratory protection. She was shoved forward, in a line of people, and the doors swung open. She drew a noisy breath through the breathing apparatus. God help me, Mulder, she thought, and went quickly through.

The first thing Scully saw, struggling along in her suit, was a cranium-only autopsy in progress behind a piece of plastic sheeting. She couldn't see much, as they were funneled past, but it looked like a gunshot wound to the head. The room was a hangar, with lights rigged up and plastic hung around a triage area, and a couple of Navy ambulances parked by the bay doors. There was a sense of chaos. Through her amplifier, above the noise of her own breath, she heard a deep voice calling for something in a hoarse, hopeless tone, as a lost man calls in the mountains.

The men lay on tables, under restraint, their voices rising above the muffled voices of the medics. Scully, looking out from the hollow seashell of her mask, was directed by a floating hazmat glove and came upon her frogman, a long-legged, dark-haired diver in a Navy drysuit peeled to the waist. His skin was intact but pale, evidence of poor perfusion. His airway was patent, his radial pulse strong, and he responded to verbal stimuli, but he was shaking, and pulling hard at the velcro restraints that fastened him to the gurney. The doctors at other tables around them began to call out their chemical demands, best guesses, she assumed, as the nature of the problem wasn't in the least obvious. She flicked on her pen light. 'Talk to me, Sir,' she said, finding anisocoria as she examined his pupils. 'What's your name?' Her face was mostly obscured by the respirator, and she had a difficult time distracting him from his private struggle with pain and pulling his eyes to hers. His physique was honed, his chest clean-shaven, a lubricant shone on his skin at throat and wrists, where his suit had sealed to his body. Kayley was tattooed on the wedge of his pectoral, near his heart.

The man on the next gurney was seizing, and she tried to ignore the escalating crisis, focusing on her own patient's vitals. There was a collective cry and a rush of movement from the other group as they jumped away from their patient. Scully was inflating the blood pressure cuff and missed what happened. Someone bumped into her, and she saw blood running down a metal rail. One of the techs turned around, looking stunned, steaming matter sprayed across his arm, and on the gurney behind him, the patient’s legs were twitching.

Scully turned quickly to the man in her care, and took his chin in her hand. 'Listen. We are going to stop this. You have to tell me what's wrong.'

He looked at her with some wonder, tears of pain running from his eyes. 'Karen?' he said. 'My head's killing me.'

The pain appeared to be neurological, but the simultaneity of the eight or ten total cases in the room ruled out migraine or tumor, and pointed to some outside instigator. After rapidly depressurizing on a dive, the gases in the brain might have been worsened by a life flight, but it was obviously something far worse than nitrogen narcosis.

She jerked at his wrist restraints, and pulled his hands free. 'Let's get these off you. Get me Lidocaine, two percent,' she snapped at a tech. 'Sir, I'm going to do an Occipital Nerve Block. I'll need you to sit up.'

After the injection, she rubbed between his shoulder blades and kept him upright. He sat on the gurney holding his head. His heart rate was strong. The anesthetic would take nearly twenty minutes to achieve full effect. Her technician leaned close to her mike, trying to whisper. Their helmets clunked together. She tried to look into his eyes through the faceplate, impeded by the gear. 'Necropsy on the first indicates extensive hemorrhaging around the auditory canal. Looks like a gun went off in there.'

Scully nodded grimly. She helped her diver lie back, and he turned his head and looked at the next table. 'Don't look,' Scully said quickly, shielding the side of his face with her fingers. 'Eyes on me. What's your name?'

'Crader, Kyle,' he said through his teeth. There was a wedding ring on a chain around his neck, and he squeezed it in one fist. The tech brought a microwaved blanket, and Scully helped cover him. Kyle held the tech's hand tightly with his free hand, turning his white face rapidly from side to side.

Scully and her tech exchanged worried looks. 'I want an imaging scan,' Scully said decisively.

'We can't do that here. These men are under quarantine.'

They were losing another diver, Scully saw, the desperation around a distant gurney communicating like panic down the row. Kyle was breathing harder, looking at the ceiling and turning his head back and forth. 'Karen?'

'What happened?' she whispered, leaning close. He was calmer when he could see her face. He had her hand now, and he was grinding her metacarpals together, as the poor thug had done not long ago. 'Explain to me what happened,' Scully pleaded.

His face went white, and he didn't seem to hear. 'Kyle!' Scully said urgently. Blood slid from his nose in a stream.

His hand let go of hers and, unrestrained, rose to his head, and he squeezed at his skull as if it would fly apart like decelerating quarks. He stared past Scully in terror, and a howl began to wind out of him. The tech's hand slid beneath her arm, staunching the nosebleed, and she watched it all in a distant mode, her mind whirling through her training, fettered by her uncertainty of how to proceed.

A rotary saw started up as a medic began to explore the cranium of the dead man nearby. The saw put everyone in the room a little more on edge. Scully leaned closer to her diver, who was covering his ears. 'Kyle, you're going to be fine. You're going to be okay.'

A hand closed on her shoulder. 'Stay back from him.'

'What?' Scully cried angrily, over the sound of the saw.

'Keep back from him, Doctor. You see what's happening to them.'

'No, I don't see!' she cried. The tech’s hand on her shoulder, a heavy, tired hand, pulled her back. In her fury, Scully had half-turned away, and now she saw that Kyle's hands had slid away from his head. 'No!' Scully cried. 'Damn it!' His chiseled young face was a pale blue, and the gurney was dripping. Something had happened at the back of his head and he was blank now, gone, his eyes open and she had not known what to do, she had not saved him.

Within the next half hour they were dead, to a man, and the hectic war-zone of procedure ceased, but the hangar was still full of activity. Swathes of medical debris surrounded the gurneys, and bloody spray sparkled in the portable lights. At every turn she met the preoccupied eyes of the other medics, or the glares of military police, or the haunted, averted looks of the technicians who brought in the body bags. Beyond the row of gurneys there was another patient, a live patient, a woman in a mobile hospital bed with a little makeshift station around her, formed by a crash cart and IV pole. Her presence made little sense, and Scully mentally set her aside.

Scully stood contemplating her frogman, who seemed to wait, his eyes open, a clipboard on his chest, his arms and the slit sleeves of his dive suit draped beseechingly off the sides of the gurney. There was a child's pink friendship bracelet around his bare ankle. The tech had gently cleaned up his face, a princely face, the V of his jaws close-shaven to help seal his mask. His expression of open expectancy was painful to witness. In Vietnam they'd called casualties on the cusp of death 'expectants' for that recognizable look. Scully, ineptly, frustratingly, had broken the triangle he made with his wife and child, and left him like this, on his way to something new.

She and Mulder had spent years trying to get a read on the Consortium's projects, and now she stood in the middle of a cleanup. It was likely that the divers were submerged at the time of the incident. The use of sonar was certainly controversial when it came to marine life, and known to drive whales mad with pain, and oceanic noise pollution was an ongoing concern, the sort of thing the Lone Gunmen addressed. The divers might have been in the vicinity of an old moored contact mine, or the testing of underwater hypersonic weapons. Their secretive treatment, here in Fort Marlene, suggested guilt on the part of the Navy. True, they might have kept the men out of a general hospital situation for fear of contagion, but more likely it was a coverup. Scully's own presence suggested that they did not want civilian doctors involved.

She picked up the anomaly within the set pattern and crossed the hangar and had a quick look at the course treatment notes on the clipboard at the foot of the woman's bed. M. Covarrubias, and a cryptic round of injections and histopathological tests on the skin tissue. Scully looked around and saw that she had caught the attention of a soldier, who was fast approaching, shuffling in his hazmat gear, rifle held at port arms. The woman in the bed opened her eyes and looked at Scully. She had platinum hair raked back from her face and strange, raw eyes - mineral-grey, shiny and bloodshot. 'I'm not one of them,' Scully said quickly. 'I know your name: it was in Agent Mulder's Rolodex.' She cleared her throat. 'May I ask what course of treatment you've received?'

Covarrubias smiled coldly. 'Treatment?' she asked, swallowing stiffly. There was something strange about the color of her gums.

There was an implanted port in the back of each pale, restrained hand, and an unlabeled drip going in. 'Very poor treatment, I would say,' Scully said softly.

Covarrubias had too much saliva, and she swallowed painfully. She followed Scully's gaze to her bonds. 'I'm an envoy to the United Nations. They're punishing me. I disarmed one of their stupid boys.' One of her bound wrists twisted, trying to point at the tragic row of bodies. 'They hope it's contagious and I'll be exposed.' She had a low, mesmeric lisp, and Scully leaned closer to make out what she was saying.

The soldier arrived, and grabbed her arm without much force. It occurred to Scully that they wanted her to see Covarrubias.

'How do you know Mulder?' Covarrubias rasped, with a touch of hope, as he began to steer Scully away.

Scully, indignant, with a thrill of anarchy, unsealed her helmet with her free hand and removed it with difficulty. The sound of pressure hoses was an assault, and the bustling beep of a forklift backing up. The hangar doors rumbled open. Head up, she drew an unrestricted breath.

'You're the red-haired partner,' said Covarrubias, from the bed.

Scully felt a flash of pride at the joint reputation she shared with Mulder, and which they had arduously built, even if it was only acknowledged in the shadiest of circles.

'You have to tell him something,' Covarrubias called. 'Tell him they have me here!'

'Is this because of Mulder?'

'They're punishing me for helping him!' Covarrubias cried. 'You have to tell him!'

The soldier hustled Scully through the hangar doors. In the courtyard they were swamping out an ambulance with a fire hose. The sky held the weight of its endless dimension, and dirty wind curled around the buildings. A Jeep pulled up, and the Smoking Man unfolded his long legs.

'Imagine finding you at the bottom of all this,' Scully called out, as she was dragged past.

'I've never been at the bottom of anything.’ He patted the breast of his jacket.

Scully swung around, elbow out, dragging the soldier. 'Where was the dive?' she asked breathlessly.

The Smoking Man glanced at the blood on her latex glove. 'You haven't been decontaminated.'

'It's not contagious. Call him off.'

He stood fingering a dead cigarette. He gave the soldier a look. 'How can you be so certain it's not contagious?' he asked, with some interest.

'Because apparently your enormous concern for contagion doesn't extend to that woman in the bay.'

'The suicide,' said the Smoking Man thoughtfully. 'She's under military arrest.'

'The unsuccessful suicide,' said Scully. 'She's a test subject. Clinical research without consent violates the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki, not to mention the National Research Act.'

'Tell me, how do you reconcile your equanimity with your new job?' he asked.

'The dive site,' she said. 'I'd like a lat and long. Whales that beach themselves after exposure to sonar are found to have acoustic trauma—hemorrhaging around the inner ear. It's exactly what we're seeing here.'

'Maybe it's just the bends.'

'Except that it's not!' Scully said angrily.

He smiled slowly. 'They say that when the Apollo 11 mission arrived at the moon they found it forbidding, sinister.'

'What does this have to do with the moon landing?' Scully thought of her keychain, and that heart-stopping moment when Mulder appeared to be handing her a proposal box.

His wide mouth turned up, clown-like as he watched her face, and he reached inside his jacket and took out her keys. She had left them in her coat pocket, her overcoat on a pile of clothes in the anteroom. He had gone through her pockets. She wondered if he meant to expose his fixation upon her, or if he was reiterating the point he had made by showing her Marita Covarrubias: that he controlled her life, and that he could do what he wanted with her. She was sweating in the giant stupid suit with the slop of death upon it, and she didn't want to reach out with her sticky glove, still duct taped to her sleeve, so she extended her helmet and, as if performing a genteel favor, he dropped in the keychain that Mulder had given her.

He had been present at her first interview, and after that he was always there in Skinner's office, watching her and Mulder report, smugly disconnected as if he knew more than anyone; he seemed more interested in Mulder, but he was Scully's parasite. Perhaps, subconsciously, he wished to be included. He thought he knew everything about her and Mulder, like copied keys, but it was impossible for his psychopathic mind to finesse human empathy, or love, or to imagine her so overwhelmed with the tragedy of the life that she had held in her hands and lost, and the woman and child who would suffer for this loss, that she would go home that evening and pray for them with her face in her hands, at her kitchen table. Nor could he imagine the way Mulder, blinded in the desert, had reached for her with instant trust, although she had abandoned him without a word; nor would he understand how baby Matthew, yet unhindered by doubt, bloomed with exultant joy whenever Scully picked him up, as if this were the only logical response to two lives so fiercely combined. She was lucky, so lucky, to be on the side of love.

A soldier stamped up, and saluted. 'Doctor X, you're needed in post-mortem.’

Scully turned and looked pointedly up at the looming Smoking Man, who regarded her with amusement. 'It seemed...an inevitable moniker,' he said.


They ate outside on the patio, with a tablecloth and cut hydrangeas, and candles glowing in jars, and a fruit salad that Scully had made, with her mother's instruction, and a parmesan penne with strips of grilled steak and red pepper, the smoke from the grill standing off in a little blue streak near the garage. It had been eons since Scully had winched open a can of mandarin oranges and assembled a fruit salad. Only old ladies had the time or the inclination to make such things. Scully ate cold salmon risotto out of styrofoam containers when she got home at midnight. She ate baby carrots out of the bag. With a lifestyle as extreme as hers, the act of cooking rarely extended beyond zapping a cold Americano in a cheesy break room microwave. As she mixed in the chopped apple and sliced banana and red grapes and yogurt she noticed that the salad resembled umbles, but for once she was building something instead of dismantling it, and was pleased with her work.

As she walked in the back yard with her brother, he laid his arm across her shoulders. He was one of the two men in her life who might assume such familiarity, but, unlike Mulder, his hand lay heavy and forgotten on her shoulder. Mulder's fingers in the chaste zone in the small of her back felt like the application of a particle accelerator.

She had signalled Bill with a head tip behind their mother's back, while he was taking off his tie and easing his way in with the sort of jokes their dad always told. At the edge of the patio Scully stepped out of her shoes. They walked among the little Japanese maples, holding their wine glasses, among the hydrangeas and bamboo, and a bank of delphiniums, the lawn mossy and soggy and clipped as sponge cake under her toes. ‘Did you get the lat and long, Bill?’ Scully asked.

'I thought you weren't doing any more investigations,' he said. He took his hand off her shoulder.

'My work with the medical examiner is part of the investigative process. I'm making the request under the authority of the Federal Communications Commission.'

'I found out some things for you, Dana,' he said. 'It was classified, and it wasn't easy, but our name, well, Dad's name, still has pull.' He stopped. 'It's a risk for me, though.'

'I understand,' said Scully. She grabbed his shirtsleeve while she plucked a bamboo leaf from the wet sole of her foot.

'It seems like you're used to taking that kind of risk,' he said, looking at her with concern.

'Six men who were Navy divers,' Scully prompted. 'I believe there was some kind of power surge.'

'How do you even know about them?'

'They flew me in during triage. I helped with the post-mortems. It's my duty to pinpoint what killed them.'

Bill had his hand on the back of his neck. 'We don't know what killed them, Dana!'

'How deep were they when it happened?' she asked him.

'About thirty fathoms.'

'What were they doing?'

'Routine maintenance work on an underwater antenna,' he said. 'They were all master divers. And they all came up—they came up—'

Scully watched him with pitiless fascination. 'Was there anything visibly wrong with them?' she asked.

'They'd all depressurized too quickly. Some of them were already paralyzed. Most of them were holding their heads. Dana, do you have any idea what could have caused that?'

Scully shook her head. 'I don't. But we are going to find out. And we are going to make certain it never happens again.'

He looked at her, shaking his head as he realized something. 'This is what you've been doing, isn't it? Working on these kinds of mystery cases?'

'I need the lat and long, Bill,' she said firmly.


'So, at Bethesda, do you work in that theater, that suite?' Bill asked.

Scully looked across at him. She had never taken him for a conspiracy theorist, but his eyes held the light of sheepish longing. It was a wary question, overridden by curiosity. Scully had lately begun to split the peoples of the world into two categories: those who were obsessed with the JFK assassination, and those who weren't. 'They've remodeled it, Bill. Sorry, but I can't get you in for a look.'

'Why did the autopsy take so long?' Bill asked.

'They couldn't find an exit wound for the first bullet,' Scully said. 'They never did find the bullet.' Of the Bethesda ghosts, Scully was most haunted by Forrestal, not to mention her memory of the time Mulder had finagled her in to see the salt-encrusted Norwegian sailor in Intensive Care; Mulder, standing close enough to whisper, hands sliding down her arms, wantonly manipulating her in that highly forgivable way that he had; manipulations that made her stomach warm and her attitude invariably compliant; thanks to him she understood rue and weak spots, all at once and nothing first.

'Why did the pathologist burn his autopsy report?' Bill asked.

'Because it was smeared with Kennedy's blood,' said Scully. Their mother drew in her breath and looked at them sharply and picked up the empty wine bottle and went into the house. Scully had forgotten herself. She and Mulder didn’t think twice about discussing death over dinner, but she had not meant to upset her mother. 'You think she was a fan of Bad Back Jack?' Scully muttered, embarrassed, reaching across the table for her brother's steak knife.

He leaned on his elbows and smiled conspiratorially. 'It's different for the people who remember it.'

'It’s believed they lost the bullet during the tracheotomy at Parkland,' she told him. 'He was also given a heart massage, although half his head was blown away.' She picked a grape out of her salad and ate it. Her most delightful advantage over her brother was her iron stomach.

'Well, it was the damnedest thing, to burn that report.'

'It’s pretty obvious he was afraid someone would get hold of it and sell it for sensational reasons.'

Bill looked around and lowered his voice. 'So, what are you really doing there, Dana?' he asked her. 'Mom says you travel a lot.'

'I've become a bit of a freelancer,' Scully admitted. She was unable to lie properly, to convincingly disguise the real job under the cover job, so she had begun to tell variations, shades of the truth. ‘The medical group I'm working for is a company with multi-national interests.’

'What's it called?'

'You've never heard of it.'

Their mother appeared in the doorway, and looked at them pridefully. Bill got up to hold her chair, and she sank down slowly and put her napkin on her knees and pressed at her pearl necklace as he filled her glass and moved the fruit salad to her end of the table. After he was settled again, she asked, 'You want to know what I remember about the Kennedy assassination?' The candle flames guttered and then stood up, stretched out and blackly fizzing. A frisbee came over the fence and landed in the middle of the lawn, and Bill picked it up and winged it back. Scully thought of Mulder's face in the sunlight, his high cheekbones between her hands. 'Well, I was six months pregnant,' said Margaret Scully. 'It was very difficult, thinking of the First Lady. She had already lost two babies. And that afternoon, coming back on Air Force One with her husband and the Johnsons, coming here to Maryland, how desperate she must have felt to see her children, but instead she went straight to Bethesda Naval Hospital and waited upstairs until midnight while they performed the autopsy. She still hadn't changed her clothes. My heart was with her. And I thought, she is still his wife. My God, she was strong. I saw Oswald get shot, on live television. But you want to know what I really remember about it all? When we got the news about Kennedy my heart started beating so hard that it made the baby kick. I sat down and took Little Missy on my lap and the baby inside me kicked, and I thought, what kind of world am I bringing this child into?’ She looked at Scully, misted up, and her face was consumed with love. ‘And that baby was you.'

'I'm sorry, Mom,' Scully said, ashamed. A wasp buzzed into her wine glass. There was an interlude of drunken, high-voltage outrage, and the wasp trundled wetly away on the grass. Bill went inside for a fresh glass. Scully felt that he sympathized with her, and that he was pleased with her now because she didn't have cancer and she wasn't with Mulder. It was not that he felt that he had won a round, but that he had got her back into reach. She was surprised by the universal relief her family exuded now that she was out of the FBI.

Her mother held her own glass in the tips of her fingers and swirled it, smiling and reproachful and worried. 'This attitude you strike, Dana—I worry that you've become so detached you don't see the human side of things.’

'I do, Mom, I do,' Scully said quickly, chastised.

'Pathology is the very opposite of healing.'

Bill reappeared with a clean wine glass. 'Dana, do you remember when Melissa was dating that boy, Boris?' he asked her.

'Boris Dearborn!' said Scully gratefully. She gulped her fresh wine.

'And he was up at our house on Halloween and he and I were hucking pumpkins off the roof across the fence into the neighbor's Impala—'

'— they owed him money for mowing the lawns—'

'— and you and Melissa were standing down in the driveway screaming at us, and then here comes Mom and Dad around the corner in the station wagon and up the driveway, and you girls are pointing up and there I am hanging onto the chimney and holding a pumpkin and Boris is already down on the roof over the back porch, getting ready to jump, and he jumps all the way down, probably ten feet onto wet grass, and just saunters around the corner and says 'Evening, Mr. and Mrs. Scully,' walking on a twisted ankle like it's perfectly fine, smiling through the pain, and then puts his arm around Melissa and looks up at me with total disapproval.'

'He was on the bench the rest of the season.'

'Boris Dearborn,' said Bill, holding up his glass.

'That boy was in line when they handed out the charm,' said Maggie, getting up and gathering a few dishes. 'Those poor neighbors, living next to the Scully kids.'

When they were alone, Bill gave his sister a commiserating look. 'Dana, I'm sorry about your partner. Mom told me. Tara feels terrible about it. We tried to call, but the number didn’t work.'

Scully was startled. All the miserable days she’d endured that summer were suddenly visible, in a row, and his sympathy carried part of the weight.

'We certainly had our differences, but you should have seen the way he sat out there in the hall when you were in the hospital with your cancer. He sat there staring at the floor. He looked like a man on a ledge.'

Scully gasped and pinched her nose to pull herself together. She had thought Mulder was gone when he wasn’t in her room. It was startling to learn that he’d been unable to leave her. 'Jesus, Bill,' Scully whispered, into her hand.

'I don't even think he hated me back.'

'Because he's a nice guy,' Scully said cuttingly, closing her eyes.

'Who, Fox?' asked their mother, appearing with a chocolate raspberry torte. 'He's a wonderful man.'

Scully, vindicated, said quickly, 'To give credit where it's due, Bill, I have spent my entire life emotionally shut off from other people, even if I didn’t show it, and he was the first one who circumvented that. He taught me to trust, to connect, and the rest of my life will be significantly richer because of him.' She shut her mouth before she talked too much about Mulder, but from the looks on their faces, the damage was done.

'Wait, he's alive?' Bill asked. He looked from one to the other. 'I'm sorry, but Mom said you lost him. That's what she says when people pass on.'

Scully rose from her chair, drawing a tremulous breath. 'You thought my partner was dead, and you didn't think to offer your condolences until the dessert course?'

Bill had brought up this exact feeling in her when she was thirteen, when she was seven, this rage that was stronger than anything she'd ever felt. As a girl she'd practically deflated a lung screaming at him.

'Dana,' said her mother.

Scully picked up her ice water and took a turn near the zen rustle of the bamboo thicket. She breathed out. Starbursts seemed to flutter around her eyes. The bamboo thicket whispered. For no logical reason, she thought of the time Mulder fell on a bed of nails. She snorted. It was odd how quickly the anger passed. Bill would defend her with his life, she knew that unquestionably. He freely confessed that she was his favorite sibling, and she was more like him than she cared to admit. Losing his own sister had nearly destroyed Mulder, and he had always encouraged her to forgive Bill. In that light, Mulder seemed like the most selfless human she had ever known.

'I'm sorry, Dana, but you lead a very shadowy life,' said her brother, behind her. 'It's hard to know what's going on with you.'

She turned towards him. He loomed, looking worried. 'Every time I see you you're in the middle of some sort of classified crisis that you can't even talk about. You've changed completely.'

Scully elided all that, shaking her head. 'What were her exact words?'

‘What?’

‘Mom’s exact words.’

'She said, 'Go easy on Dana, she's lost her partner.''

Scully scoffed.

'Tara said it was the saddest thing she'd ever heard. She read somewhere that the FBI is the most dangerous job on earth.'

They grinned at each other. His tilted eyes nearly closed as he smiled. 'Jesus Christ, Bill,' Scully said momentarily. She had forgotten, for a moment, to feel alone, had forgotten her grim struggle in the narrow existence of self. She was dizzy. She held his shirt sleeve and leaned against his warm, Aqua Velva solidity. The layers his wife and child added to him were there, substantive and comforting, worn like clothes.

'How's it going, Sis?' he said, holding her up.

'The first thing you've got to understand about me, Bill,' Scully said, as though stating a rule of physics, 'is that I need him, and he's staying in my life.' She looked up, and, like a promise, a little white airplane buzzed in the evening sky. Even though she was drunk and shivering, blabbing stuff, half-joyful, half in tears, she felt the scaturient rising strength behind her pronouncement. She would never let go of Mulder, and she would not let threats separate them.

She had stopped on the highway on her return to Phoenix, and found the spot where Mulder had parked, the two soft 'v's of dust over macadam where he'd turned around. The sundown sky hung with such airy solitude that her heart ached. She walked into the middle of the road and bent her knees like a snowboarder and pressed her palm to the warm yellow stripe and looked down the centerline at the arrow of highway that shot ahead, empty, all the way up to the Arizona sky.