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Seasons: First

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There were few things in the world that Dana Scully could imagine were more arduous in her the world than family dinner night. Perhaps climbing Mt. Everest in the middle of a howling blizzard would be one. Maybe crawling out of the Amazon rainforest with a broken limb would be another. Even walking single-handedly into the desert with just one canteen of water between you and horrible death under the scorching sun could trump the monthly gathering of the Scully clan at her parent's house in Baltimore to have dinner with her parents.

"I have a bad feeling about this," Dana intoned ominously.

"We could just ditch, right," Melissa asked beside her, looking about as enthusiastic about the whole idea as Dana felt. "I know this great Indian place not far from here, we could get some naan, some curry, have some beer, you could tell me icky stories about cutting up dead people."

"Not over dinner, Missy," Dana laughed. "Though, we could tell Mom I got a flat tire."

"Think she would buy that?"

"Yeah, but Dad wouldn't," Dana realized the fault in her plan. "He'd want to come out and try to fix it for us."

"Right," Melissa mulled over ideas for a moment, watching their parents house for signs of movement. "Perhaps we can tell her we're sick."

"Both of us? That would look suspicious. Remember, we don't live together."

"But we see each other every week. I could have given you a cold."

"No, then Mom will worry," Dana shook her head. "How about we call separately, and I say I'm stuck at work, and you say that a friend just got into a car accident, and you are going to the hospital to check on them."

"Dad checks caller ID, he'd notice it was the same number," Melissa shook her head, setting her earrings to jangle. "Besides, I think Charlie spotted us. The sneak was at the front window."

"Damn it," Dana whispered. "Maybe he doesn't recognize my car?"

"Nope, he's opening the front door," Melissa groaned as on the front porch of the Scully residence a short, fit man with the same sort of red hair of his elder sisters, and Dana's wide, blue eyes stood glaring at them both, arms crossed, in a perfect imitation of their father.

"Busted," Dana slid down behind the wheel, her high heels digging into the carpet on the floorboards.

"I suppose he'll tattle to Mom if we try to bribe him," Melissa laughed, reaching for her purse.

"He always was a whiner," Dana groused, opening her car door, and reluctantly stepping out.

"It's 'cause he's the baby. He was Mom's favorite."

"I heard that," Charlie called from the porch. "Dinner's ready. Mom's been wondering why you two have been sitting out here for ten minutes."

"Private girl talk, Charles, you wouldn't understand." Melissa winked at Dana playfully as the two sisters stepped up the walkway to their younger brother, each taking turns to embrace him tightly.

"That excuse worked when I was six, twenty years later not so much," Charlie teased, as he kept one brotherly arm wrapped around Dana's shoulders. "Some evil boy breaking your heart again?"

"What, you going to go kick his ass for me?" Dana snorted, punching her brother playfully in the arm.

"What, it worked with Eric Martin," Charlie pretended to be hurt.

"Eric Martin was when we were kids, and you did nothing more than kick dirt in his eye."

"Made him cry, didn't it?" Charlie crowed triumphantly as all three wandered through the front door. "Mom, they finally decided to come inside."

"Good. Dinner's ready." Maggie Scully peeked around the door of the kitchen, her blue eyes glancing each daughter up and down before smiling warmly at both. "Couldn't think of a way to get out of it, huh?"

"Missy was voting horrible disease," Dana confessed.

"Dana said she was going to lie about a flat tire," Melissa retorted, grinning at her little sister.

"Wouldn't have worked anyway, I taught both of you how to change tires before I would let you drive," Bill Scully, the elder of his name, came up behind his children, grabbing his taller elder daughter, and shorter younger daughter in each arm, kissing the tops of both red heads. "So what's this you trying to get out of it? Don't you want to come see your father in his old age?"

"Old age my eye," Dana snorted, grinning up at the father she had adored since she was old enough to toddle behind him, his uniform hat hanging askew off her tiny head. "Ahab, you don't fool anyone. You'd get back out there on a ship any day of the week, and whip them all into shape."

"Ahh, but not with this ticker I wouldn't, Starbuck." Bill laughed ruefully. He wasn't a tall man, not nearly as tall as his eldest boy, Bill Junior, but he seemed like a giant to Dana. He still stood with his officer's erect bearing, though his once flat stomach was considerably rounder and his former thick auburn hair was now mostly gone on top, and what was left was dulled to a brassy color. "Besides, you're mother is glad to have me around the house for a change."

"Yes! I finally get those cabinets fixed and my car's never run better." Maggie teased, as she carried platters out to the dining room table. Fried chicken, Charlie's favorite. Dana glanced at her little brother.

"I got here first, it was my call," he winked. "Hey, Missy, want to help me with Mom in the kitchen." He gave the eldest Scully daughter a pointed look and a jerk of the head towards the kitchen door. It didn't take an idiot to realize what he was about, and Melissa glanced sideways at her younger sister and father.

"Sure," she smiled brightly at her brother, following close behind him, and immediately leaning over to whisper furtively in his ear. Dana watched them with a bemused frown, before turning on her father in confusion.

"My birthday was two months ago, so they can't be planning my present."

Bill chuckled, as he pulled out his traditional seat at the well worn, Scully family dinner table. "No, but your brother is about as good at intrigue as the US Army."

"Must be why he decided to go into Naval ops then," Dana teased, settling beside him and curling her legs onto the rungs of the chair. "What's up, Ahab? Why did you need to get me alone?"

"Nothing, nothing," he pulled an unconcerned face, but Dana didn't buy it. She was an old hat at reading her father, and she prodded his arm gently with one finger.

"Spill it, Ahab." She already had a feeling what this would be about. It was the same argument they had every time she came over for dinner, and it was the reason Dana would rather put hot pokers into her own eyes than spend time with the family she loved and adored.

"How is work?" Her father mumbled, not meeting her eyes.

"Work is fine," she replied evenly, feeling as she did so the walls slam down between her and the man she adored. "I suppose that there isn't much trouble I can get into cutting up dead bodies all day." She tried to lighten her father's mood, remind him that she hadn't completely forsaken medicine all together.

"I hear you're amazing at it."

"Hear," she felt her face tighten as she sat up erect, her face flushing. "Dad, why are you snooping..."

"I'm not," he replied defensively. "I just have connections, that's all. You can't get to be a rear admiral, Starbuck, without having a few friends in high places in government."

"So you can spy on your daughter in the FBI?" She blazed at him.

"I'm not spying," he insisted, "I'm just checking in on you."

"Something you can do with a phone call, Dad, if you would ever talk me about it," she murmured through clenched teeth. "Or is it too much to recognize I have a career that you don't approve of?"

Bill now began to flush himself, whether with guilt or anger, it was hard to tell. "Dana, I'm just making sure you are doing all right. I'm your father…of course I care."

"As always," Dana murmured, her anger fading as her shoulders slumped. The same old argument every time, the same old disappointments. Her father had never and would never accept her career in the FBI. He would rather she have been a doctor, safe in a hospital somewhere, not out in the streets, waving a gun or doing something else dangerous and potentially stupid.

"Starbuck!" He sighed through his pet name for her. "Look, your mother says you are going to Washington on Monday. Something about a new assignment?"

"Yeah," Dana shook herself and plastered on reassuring brightness. "Section Chief Blevin wants me in on a special assignment."

"Don't know what it is?" He at least sounded more interested than he normally did. Dana realized he too was trying his best to make an effort.

"No... no, I guess I find out on Monday."

"Well, I hope it's local. With Missy running off half the time to go 'find herself'," Bill emphasized the 'find herself' with the annoying hand ellipses, "Your mother's getting lonely. There's just Charlie around for company anymore, and that's only till he's finished up with the training he's getting at Annapolis."

"I can't believe they are letting him be a Navy spy." Dana snorted, giggling conspiratorial with her father.

"Shows you what sort of people they are letting into the joint now at days."

"I heard that," Charlie backed out of the kitchen with two bowels in hand and spoons balanced in between. "If they'd let a shrimp the size of Dana into the FBI to shoot a gun, they'll let me into Navy intelligence."

"Watch it pal, or that Navy intelligence might just end up with a bullet or two from that service pistol of mine," Dana warned playfully. "And I learned how to fire a weapon from a Naval officer. I know what I'm doing."

"I'd listen to your sister, Charles, don't cross a woman with a weapon." Bill warned ominously.

"As usual, always taking her side," Charlie complained loudly.

Chapter Text

"You're leaving Quantico," Tom Colton nearly snorted beer up his nose. Scully handed him a napkin ruefully, as he coughed and spluttered all over the dark mahogany of the divvy, Georgetown bar.

"Yeah, up to the Hoover building, new assignment." She waited for him to gain control of himself, his face red as he cleared the phlegm from his throat. "I guess some of my scientific work has finally got noticed by somebody."

"Scientific," he croaked, wiping streaming eyes, and swigging another sip of Budweiser to try and clear his throat. "Ehm...you working in the labs up there?"

"Not exactly," she wasn't sure what to tell him. She knew the moment she told him the truth, she would hear the disbelief and the laughter. It was why she even hesitated telling Colton. He had never understood that her reasons for joining the FBI were never about climbing some power structure to the top. He had already set his sites for some cushy office one day, and had made for himself a comfy spot in the Baltimore field office that promised to be most rewarding, if he played it right.

"Look, with your brains, Dana, they would be crazy not to make you a full field agent," Colton wheezed as he finally gained control of himself. "I mean, seriously, how many times can you teach a bunch of green-faced kids how to cut up a dead body."

"I like teaching," she murmured in mild self-defense. "And I'm a doctor, Tom, it's not like I can throw away four years of medical school."

"No, but you can apply all of that skill and knowledge to case work. I'm surprised you haven't tried till now."

"What, and get thrown into the bullpen and hope to make it through the old boy's club, kissing ass till I get noticed finally?" She arched an eyebrow at him till he finally gave in, grinning. "Don't think I don't know that's how the game is played, Tom."

"You won't hear me deny that," he smiled weakly, coughing slightly still from choking on his drink. "What will you be doing here in Washington?"

"I've been assigned to a department that is a bit…unusual," she said slowly, sipping at the glass of cabernet sauvignon and praying to keep her face as schooled as possible.

"What, Counter-Terrorism?"

"Not as glamorous as that, no," she murmured.

"Don't tell me you are doing surveillance detail for the DEA."

"Tom, the DEA is hardly that unusual."

He looked thoughtfully at his bottle of beer. "Are they starting some new forensics lab that finds things no one else can?"

"I wish," she shook her head. "That would make my job a hell of a lot easier."

"Where?" He was mystified.

"Promise not to laugh?" She felt herself cringe even as she asked it.

"It can't be that bad."

"Ever heard of the X-files?" She dropped the words casually, but felt her cheeks flare a soft pink. She hid her face behind her wine glass, not daring to look at her old friend and former flame from 'ye-olde-Academy' days.

"X-files….no…" he frowned thoughtfully, before it hit him, causing his face to crack open with dawning realization. "Isn't that old Spooky's detail?"

"Old Spooky, yes," she bit her lip at the nickname everyone in her class at the Academy had heard was given to the brilliant special agent who had gone from being the FBI's rising star to chasing after little green men and things that went bump in the night. "He's my new partner, you know."

Tom stopped in mid-swig, Budweiser bottle halfway to his open mouth as he stared at her. She decided that it was a good time to polish off the rest of the glass she had been nursing. It caused her face to flush even more as she swallowed it quickly, the wine leaving an acid coating on her tongue.

"You are being partnered up with Spooky," Tom finally asked, lowering his beer bottle in disbelief.

"You know his name is Fox," she offered pointedly.

"What sort of name is that, anyway," Tom didn't miss a beat. "Why Dana? He's like a black hole down there! Anything that is attracted to his orbit will be sucked in and be destroyed."

"I know a thing or two about black holes, Tom, I did get an undergraduate degree in physics," Scully hoped to derail him, but he leaned in close to her, setting his beer on the bar top, his eyes intense under his worried frown.

"The guy's a whack job, Dana," he urged. "Says alien's kidnapped his sister or something."

"That's funny, I thought he got his nickname because of the way he was able to get into people's heads when he was a profiler. I heard he had the highest completion rate in the history of the FBI."

"Yeah, I think a few of those nut jobs he profiled maybe cracked his own brain," Tom growled, leaning back again in his chair. "Look, I'm not saying Mulder wasn't brilliant in his day. I've heard all the commendations he got back then, guy could have paved his way to an Assistant Directorship with those things. But he let the work get to him. He let whatever demons were inside his head get to him. He's bad news, Dana, and no matter how smart he is, or how smart you are, he'll drag you down with him."

"That's funny, I've been asked to debunk his work. That's where my science comes in."

"Really," Tom didn't seem impressed. "Dana, trust me, they are setting you up here. Something about all of this smells fishy."

"Setting me up?" She laughed at the idea. "I've been nothing but a model agent and a forensics teacher, Tom, what in the hell have I done to ever piss off the powers that be enough for them to want to tear me down." Her own words reminded her of Mulder's sardonic smile as he asked her, "So who did you piss off to get this detail?" He believed she must have.

"It's not who you pissed off, it's who he's pissed off." Tom's expression was dark as he reached for his beer again. "Mulder's made a few enemies. You hear things through the grapevine you know. People don't like some of the accusations he's making, and he throws shit out of his ass all over people and hopes that some of it will stick. If they get a scientist in there, someone with half a brain to go through his crack-ass schemes and prove him wrong, they have all the incentive they need to boot him to the curb."

Scully knew that. She had suspected it from the moment Section Chief Blevins had opened his mouth. She had known it for certain when she had looked into the eyes of the smoking man standing behind him, watching her with gimlet eyes, lazily watching the proceedings for no apparent reason.

"They're using you to snap Mulder's neck," Colton warned thickly. "You're the bar that comes down and catches him as he goes for the bait."

Scully thought of the man in the office, with his long cigarette, his beady eyes looking her up and down. "How do I know I'm not supposed to be the bait?"

Colton glanced sideways at her ruefully. "I heard Mulder prefers them taller."

"Heard?" She was curious now how Colton would have heard something like that.

"He's been going through the office pool in DC like it was going out of style," Colton leered, snorting softly. "Heard there was some bad break-up for him. Came after he'd taken to hiding in the basement. Ehhh, he wouldn't be the first man who tried to fix a broken heart by fucking everything he sees." Colton shook his head. "Still, I don't think that's the reason, Dana."

"You seemed to find me attractive enough," she teased, causing him to blush.

"It's not that you're not," he stammered. "Damn it, Dana. This just looks bad all the way around. It's not good for your career."

"Why should you care if I help get Mulder kicked out of the FBI, you don't even like him?"

"It's not that," Colton rolled his eyes in a patronizing tone, "Dana...look…I know a thing or two about how games are played in the Bureau. There is a right way of doing things, and a wrong way. I won't say you are the first partner to be assigned to reign in a hothead. But it can backfire on you."

"I see." Scully wasn't terribly sure she liked where Tom was going with this.

"You tear Mulder down too viciously, there might be sympathy for him amongst the ranks. Some people might think that you are using him as a stair step to some better position."

"I thought that was what someone like you should suggest." Her sarcasm was heavy and thick with her wine but Colton was already into his beer too much to notice.

"Yeah, but you have to make it subtle, you know, you have to be careful how you do it. You have to make sure that you don't hurt yourself while you do your job."

"Do my job?" Scully chuckled in sad irony. "Did it ever occur to you, Tom, that maybe I might actually help Mulder further his work?"

Colton nearly snorted his beer again. He laughed as he swallowed his mouthful, shaking his head.

"You always were funny, Dana! Help him further his work! Let me know when you find the little green men."

Scully felt her mouth tighten hard on the biting retort she wanted to say. It was Colton, she reasoned, pushy, ambitious Colton. He didn't realize how much of an ass he was at times. It was better to ignore it now. He rarely meant any real harm out of it.

"Besides, give it a couple of months to lay the whammy on a few of his cases, let Blevins see the work you do…and maybe I can do something for you."

"You?" Now it was Scully's turn to nearly choke on her drink.

"Hey, I know some important people, you know!" Colton sounded slightly nettled, hurt she would laugh at him. "And unlike your pal Mulder, I'm not about to piss all over a good thing. Just say the word, Dana, I'll see if I can get you out."

"I don't think it will come to that, Tom." She shook her head. "Honestly, you make this sound as if this is some sentence to a ruined career and an embittered life." Just like Fox Mulder, she realized.

"I just don't want to see you trapped in someone else's attempts to throw his own life away, okay." Colton patted her shoulder sympathetically. "Anyway, it's getting late and you have an 8 AM flight to…where again?"

"Oregon," she rose from the bar. "We are exhuming a body in Oregon."

"Sounds like a great time," Colton drawled sarcastically.

Chapter Text

At 6:30 in the morning, Scully thought she would be early for the 8 AM flight she had with her new partner to Oregon. She wheeled her small travel suitcase behind her. It clicked along the tiles as her shoes tapped smartly, echoing weirdly in the airport only partially filled with red-eyed, sleepy business travelers.

"Dana Scully," she passed over her badge to the pleasant woman behind the ticket counter, stifling her own yawn, yearning for the coffee she could smell coming from some mysterious corner of the airport. Why 8 AM, she silently complained? She hadn't seen Fox Mulder. She half expected he would come last minute, tumbling to the gate, tie rumpled and dark hair scattered, as he'd grant her an unapologetic smile. She doubted he was really used to having to do anything on time for anyone, or at least not for a partner. From what she had gathered from his personnel file it had been a few years since he had one of those.

"Here you go, Ms. Scully, if you could sign here," the ticket agent pointed towards a line on the receipt she passed over, and slid Scully's open badge over the counter. Scully's own serious face stared up at her as she signed quickly.

"Who did you con to get that good of a picture, Scully?" Mulder's lazy, monotone drawl was somewhere just above Scully's ear, and she snapped her head up, nearly knocking the top of it into Fox Mulder's chin.

"Jesus," she gasped, her eyes wide. "Where did you come from?"

"I've been here for," he pulled back his suit coat and glanced down at the watch on his wrist. "Half-an-hour already. I'm surprised I missed you."

"You've been waiting," she replied, flustered as she passed the receipt back over and took her tickets, grabbing her badge, and stuffing both into her briefcase. "Mulder, do you know what time it is?"

"Yeah," he shrugged his shoulders, weighted down with his own suitcase, and passed over a case file to her. "Got some early morning reading in. You'll want to take a look."

She accepted the file from him with a bemused smile. "Don't you, I don't know, sleep?"

"Sometimes," his face was serious, but Scully wondered if he wasn't laughing at her behind his closed off, wary gaze. She shook her head, and wondered where in the hell she could find that coffee. Patience, she breathed. Just get to coffee, and humor the man.

"Look, Mulder, I need to at least get some caffeine in me before we have a serious conversation." Her mouth watered as she sighted a small café, complete with muffins and other such dainty food that Scully was certain she would appreciate, but not Mulder. She wasn't disappointed as he glanced at the food with dubious interest.

"One large coffee, and a banana bran muffin," Scully pulled her wallet out of her briefcase, ignoring the faint rumble from her stomach.

"That sounds disgustingly healthy," Mulder's aquiline nose wrinkled with vague dislike.

"And I suppose an ideal breakfast is an Egg McMuffin and a coffee?" Scully was in no mood to defend her nutritional choices.

"Not a breakfast eater, really," Mulder did grab a bottle of water from a case by the counter. "Well, sometimes I like my Mom's pancakes."

"You know they say it's the most important meal of the day," Scully accepted the tall cup of coffee gratefully, and moved to add creamer and sugar, stuffing the case file into her briefcase for the moment.

"How very doctor-ish of you," Mulder seemed delighted by this, as he passed the cashier the money for his water. "Tell me, Dr. Scully, I have this ache in my shoulder, just about here." He pointed to a vague spot beside the strap of his case. "Every time I do this," he jerked his arm spasmodically away from his body. "It hurts like a bitch."

Scully felt her eyes narrow as she stirred her coffee, and then moved to grab her muffin. "Then don't do that."

He grinned boyishly, his green eyes twinkling as he followed behind her erect figure and shaking head. "Why in the world did you join the FBI, Dr. Scully?"

"I'm Special Agent Scully, remember," she glanced over her shoulder as she settled into one of the plastic chairs at one of the pseudo-wooden tables in the café, setting her rolling case safely close at hand. "I chose the FBI because I wanted to make a difference."

"Funny, I hear those same words out of suicidal med students." Mulder folded himself into the chair opposite her, stretching out long legs in front of him. He plucked at his well-made slacks, pulling them up slightly, and Scully noticed equally nice, expensive shoes. But her eyes moved up from his nicely tailored suit to the ugliest tie she had seen around any neck. His file said he was single, and she suspected with sleepless nights, bad eating habits, and a propensity for chasing little green men, he had no female companionship at the moment, or at least not the permanent kind.

"You have a degree from Oxford," she murmured over a sip of coffee and a bite of muffin. "What are you doing working for the FBI?"

"Chasing aliens and ghosts, or haven't you heard," he sipped at his water, his eyes meeting hers levelly. "I thought I was pretty clear in the office yesterday when I pulled the spooky factor."

"Surely you weren't always chasing aliens though. I read your Monty Props profile while I was in the Academy."

"A pretty girl like you poking around in Violent Crimes," Mulder pretended to be worried. "Not into fava beans and Chianti, are you?"

Scully only smiled sweetly at him.

"Did you even realize your profile was standard reading in the Academy now. You're famous," Scully teased.

"I doubt I'm famous for the good things I've done while in the Bureau," he snorted.

"I don't know. Quite a few people are impressed with the way you get into these people's heads."

"They just don't want to get into mine." Again his eyes met hers, half sarcastic, half pained. Scully felt her face flush slightly as he broke the eye contact, and chose to finish off his bottle of water.

"Anyway, did you want to get into the FBI to chase the bad guys like Monty Props?"

"More or less." He nodded, his eyes wandering to a crowd of business people all chatting amongst themselves as they walked down the causeway to the waiting gates. "My father worked in the State Department. He was in the position to get me into any career really. But so much of my work while at Oxford caught the attention of people in the Bureau, they got me in there first."

"To help society," Scully raised a speculative eyebrow.

"I think it's more to pay for rent and these stylish clothes," he pulled at his lapel.

"I see." This Mulder, she realized, was going to be difficult to open up. He distrusted her, and she had walked into this knowing he would.

"You don't trust anyone much, do you," she murmured thoughtfully.

He watched her with low, lazy eyes for several seconds, unconsciously pulling at his full, bottom lip with his teeth. Whatever he decided, his face closed up in a flash of a second, and he sat up straight, leaning his elbows on the tabletop.

"Scully, I don't know you, you don't know me." His voice was low and soft over the burr of voices and crowds making their way to early morning flights. "And I'm not going to be so presumptuous to make a judgment on you when we've spent less than half-an-hour getting to know one another. But I will say this, what you see here, what you learn on this case will open you eyes. It will cause you to question things that you and your scientific brain have taken for granted all of your life. And you will learn things about those you have trusted implicitly that you will start to question the fundamentals of everything you have ever learned. The one thing you must cling to is the idea that you can trust no one in any of this." One corner of his mouth quirked up in a sardonic half-smile, "I suppose I don't need to tell you about remaining forever the skeptic?"

She knew he was serious. She could see it in the line of his shoulders, in the burning intensity of his eyes as they locked on hers. She swallowed the last bit of her muffin in a mouth suddenly as dry as talcum powder, brushing crumbs off of her fingers.

"Is this how you greet all of your new partners, Agent Mulder," she asked coolly, sipping from her coffee as if her brain wasn't screaming at her that her new partner was a lunatic sociopath.

"Only the ones I like," the other corner of his mouth slipped up, and he relaxed, leaning back in his chair again, his entire demeanor becoming lazy and relaxed once again.

"Well, let's hope I'm never a partner that you hate," she finished her last swallow of coffee, and gathered the refuse of her finished breakfast. "I'll meet you at the gate then?"

He rose with loose-limbed nonchalant grace. "Sure. Just don't call for the loony bin just yet, okay, Scully?"

"Right." She turned away from him quickly, hiding her guilty eyes. Perhaps, she wondered half-seriously, Mulder could read minds along with seeing ghosts. What had she gotten herself into?

Chapter Text

"We can do those X-rays here, can't we? Is there any reason we can't do them right now?" Mulder's whole being seemed to flame with intense determination, but his eyes pleaded with her as she felt her jaw clench tightly. "I'm not crazy, Scully. I have the same doubts you do."

She turned to the desiccated corpse of whatever it was passing itself off as Ray Soames' body, doubtful that this could be what Mulder so hoped it was. "I'm not the one who is looking to find aliens here, Mulder."

"We won't know anything till we get those tests, correct,' he turned from her, whirling like the speed of light, placing the obnoxious camera on the table beyond. "Doesn't the scientist in you want to find that?"

He had her there, and he knew he had her. "Yes," she replies simply, as she prodded the leathery leg with one, latex covered finger. "But there is no guarantee that this has anything to do with extra-terrestrials."

"You seem to be convinced that's all I'm looking for." He spun again, dizzyingly, his face laughing at her as he leaned against the far wall, his arms crossed in front of him.

"Aren't you?" Scully couldn't help but sound irritable. None of this, not the case, not the body of Soames, not the screaming coroner at the cemetery made any hope of sense.

"I'm looking for the truth," he replied simply. "I thought that was what you were looking for as well?"

"Of course," she snapped, defensive, her mind flying immediately to his accusation of the day before. He'd accused her of being sent to spy on him.

"Scully, you said it yourself, you are here to check the validity of my work." His voice was low and even, but she could hear the hint of irony all the same. "If you are not here to debunk it or sabotage it, then you have to go along with it, at least for the moment, correct?"

"Scientific thought is based on a hypothesis at least, Mulder."

"And we are going on the hypothesis that this is some pretty strange ass shit." He waved a hand expansively over Ray Soames' supposed corpse. "I think that's a good starting point, don't you?"

She felt her tongue lodge itself firmly in her cheek, her teeth nearly drawing blood as she bit down on it. She would not say more, she would not instigate more of an argument. She was here to do a job, and nothing more. Tom Colton would be having a field day with this, she realized, and she shook her head hard against the idea of what he would have to say on the subject. She turned back to the body, grabbing the tape recorder she had set down beside it.

"It will take me a few hours to work on this," she replied evenly. "I can get you the X-rays you need though."

"Thanks," Mulder nodded evenly, but sounded grateful.

"Not a problem," she replied evenly, looking behind her for a scalpel. Where in the hell was she even supposed to start with this?

Chapter Text

"What are they?" Scully's blood roared in her head as her voice trembled. Her fear and the cold in the air caused her skin to spring into goose bumps, as she stood there in the dark of her brand new partner's hotel room, baring herself literally in front of him, standing in nothing more substantial than her cotton underwear and bra. She glanced at the top of his head, just out of sight as he knelt behind her. Mulder's fingers were warm against her child skin, soft as butterfly wings as he ran them over the bumps lying just above the elastic of her underwear.

"Mulder, what are they?" Her voice cut through the rumbling thunder outside, terror sharpening it to a knife's edge. Her manicured nails dug painfully into her palms through the fabric of her comfortable robe.

His soft chuckle startled her more than the flash of lightening outside the window. "Mosquito bites." He stood up, smiling at her stricken face.

"Are you sure?" Her voice sounded strangled around the heart she was certain was lodged firmly in her throat.

"Yeah." His eyes shined in the dim light of the candles as she felt her body go limp, her nerves release in shudders as she slipped her robe up as quickly as possible over her shaking shoulders. "I got eaten up myself out there."

"Oh God!" Without thinking she threw herself at him, solid as he was, and wrapped both her arms around his middle, burying her head in the fabric of his shirt. She clung to him her heart pounded against her ribs.

"You okay?" Mulder's voice was concerned, murmuring in her ear, soothing and warm, like a shot of whiskey to calm the nerves.

It certainly made her realize absurdity of her situation, standing there barely dressed in front of a man she had known for two days, terrified of mosquito bites. What Mulder was thinking of her at that moment, she couldn't even imagine. As delicately as possible she disentangled herself, nodding and managing a wobbly smile at him. "Yeah."

"You're shaking."

"I…I think I need to sit down." She huddled herself on the edge of Mulder's hotel room bed, feeling suddenly sick with both relief and a slight sense of shame.

"Take your time." Mulder was filled with magnanimous concern, as he settled himself in a chair across from her, watching her with an inscrutable face, avoiding her direct gaze.

Scully felt the blood rush to her cheeks, and was glad for the cloak of darkness to hide the embarrassment that suddenly cleared her senses and left her feeling more than slightly idiotic. She found herself suddenly busy adjusting her robe, and tucking her feet demurely underneath her.

"It's an honest mistake," Mulder tried to offer helpfully. "The placement of the bites…"

"I can't believe I let this case get to me," Scully replied firmly. "I'm not normally like this, you know. Making snap judgments, running into my partner's rooms half-dressed, convinced I've been attacked by aliens."

"I didn't assume you were." He sounded amused by the idea, and even in the dimness she could see his mouth twitch, desperately trying not to laugh. "I mean I'm not the sort to get that lucky."

This broke the tension between them, and Scully found herself throwing her head back and laughing long, loud, and slightly hysterically, snorting with the sheer strangeness of the situation she found herself in. When she finally gained control of herself, she choked back giggles as she snuggled comfortably into the lumpy pillows on the rather hard mattress.

"If my good, Catholic mother could know what I was doing now." She sighed, still grinning half-manically.

"I'd be more worried about your good, Catholic father." Mulder replied dryly.

"True," Scully laughed. "My father's a Navy captain, though, I think he might be more understanding. You know, sailors and all."

"Apparently you don't know fathers with daughters."

"Oh I do! Who do you think taught me how to fire a gun?" Scully uncurled slightly from around the pillows and stretched out more fully on the bed, her muscles beginning to unknot from the high tension. The hysteria began to ease.

"That makes a man feel better." Mulder didn't sound any more enthusiastic.

"Dad's not the one to worry about, my brothers are. You know how brothers can be."

Mulder was quiet for several long moments, and Scully propped her head up further on her left hand to glance to glance at him. She could see him in the candlelight, staring quietly at the floor, a look of profound pain and loss etching his face.

"Mulder," she murmured, leaning forward in the darkness to him. Her movement was enough to rouse him from whatever dark place his thoughts were in, and shook his head.

"You okay?" It was her turn to ask him that question, and it at least brought a ghost of a smile to him. He nodded as he sighed, slipping from his chair to the floor beside her, turning to lean his shoulders and head against the bed.

"I know how protective brothers can be, Scully." There was a well of sadness in his voice. "Your father is a Navy captain?"

"Was. He retired a rear admiral."

The top of Mulder's dark head nodded. "And your mother?"

"She was the house wrangler, kept us kids from killing one another, fed us, clothed us, kept the house together while Dad was out at sea." She smiled softly as she thought of her mother. "I think she doesn't quite know what to do without the whole lot of us at home, but Dad's retired now, and he more than makes up for it now." She glanced down at Mulder's inert head. "How about you? Your parents?"

"Divorced," Mulder said matter-of-factly.

"I'm sorry." She responded automatically, not sure what she had to be sorry for.

"It's all right, it's been twenty years." He shrugged. "Dad is retired from the State Department. He putters around his house now, drinking scotch, and finding reasons to tell me I'm ruining my life." He chuckled bitterly, low and soft. "Mom lives not far away in Connecticut. She goes in and checks in on Dad from time to time, but most of the time spends her retirement with her bridge club, or her charities, or all the other things she likes to do now at days. Occasionally she calls and asks me when she's getting grandchildren."

"I think that's everyone's mother." Scully had heard it from time to time from her own mother. "If your mother still checks on your father, was the divorce amicable?"

"Hardly," Mulder's tone dripped with sarcasm. "But I guess they do love each other in their own way. Maybe," he turned his head just enough to glance up at her by tilting his head up and back. "I think more than anything they simply understand one another. After Sam…I guess they only had each other to lean on for that, even if it was what drove them apart."

"Sam?" Scully now understood the pained look when she mentioned brothers. "You had a brother?"

"Sister. Samantha." He said evenly. "Four years younger than me. Pain in my ass." His laugh was full of regret. "I guess sisters could be like that, right?"

"We excel at it."

"Samantha was about the only one in the family who got me. I was a jerk even then." He glanced up at her knowingly. "You don't have to deny that you've thought that more than once over the last couple of days."

"I won't deny anything."

"Yeah, well Sam never put up with my shit. She saw through most of it. Of course, she'd tattle to Mom. That's what made her a pain in the ass."

"Sounds like she was your best friend." Scully wished she had that sort of relationship with Bill, her elder brother. The two of them had mixed together like oil and water even at the best of times.

"Well, at the time my best friend was named Jimmy Lewis. I didn't think sisters could be best friends."

"What happened," Scully finally ventured, propping gently.

"She disappeared," Mulder said with the finality of someone who had years to come to grips with a horrible truth. "She was taken from my parents house."

"Disappeared," Scully echoed in shocked horror. "Kidnapped?"

"No one knows," Mulder admitted in a pained monotone. "I was twelve when it happened. My sister was eight. She just disappeared out of her bed one night. Just gone, vanished. No note, no phone calls, no evidence of anything."

"You never found her?" All these years, Scully thought, and not even a whisper of what had happened, nothing of closure. Little wonder that Mulder preferred to keep his distance from everyone in anyway he knew how.

"Tore the family apart. No one would talk about it. There were no facts to confirm, nothing to offer any hope." After twenty years, it didn't sound as if Mulder had forgotten about it.

"What did you do?"

Mulder turned to lean an elbow on the bed, watching her directly. "Eventually I went off to school in England. I came back, got recruited by the Bureau. Seems I had a natural aptitude for applying behavioral models to crime cases. My success allowed me a certain freedom to pursue my own interests. And that's when I came across the X-files."

"By accident?"

"At first it looked like a garbage dump for UFO sightings, alien abduction reports, the kind of stuff that most people laugh at as being ridiculous. But I was fascinated. I read all of the cases I could get my hands on, hundreds of them. I read everything I could about paranormal phenomenon, about the occult, and…" he faltered finally, sighing heavily and drifting off and losing the thread of his thought.

Scully's curiosity was peeked, wondering what it was about these strange, weird cases that drew him from the brilliance his career had been before. "What?"

"There's classified information that I've been trying to access, but someone has been blocking my attempts to get at it."

"Who? I don't understand?" She sat up more, allowing her now numb arm to tingle as blood rushed back to it.

"Someone at a higher level of power. The only reason I've been allowed to continue with my work is because I've made connections in Congress."

Obviously, Scully realized. His father had worked in the State Department, and perhaps had many high level, political connections. But it made no sense why anyone would care about strange, unsolved cases in the FBI or why anyone would care why he was chasing after aliens or psychics.

"And they're afraid of what? That you'll leak this information?"

His jaw worked slightly, he regarded her with somber frankness. "You're a part of their agenda, you know that."

If she didn't know he was deadly serious, she would have laughed out loud at him directly. "I'm not part of any agenda. You've got to trust me." She emphasized the word trust, and watched him shake his head disbelievingly. "I'm here, just like you, to solve this."

Mulder shifted from sitting to kneeling, leaning so closely into Scully's personal space, she felt her stomach clench.

"I'm telling you this, Scully, because you need to know, because of what you've seen. In my research, I've worked very closely with a man named Dr. Hertz Werber and he's taken me through deep regression hypnosis. I've been able to go into my own repressed memories to the night my sister disappeared. I can recall a bright light outside and a presence in the room. I was paralyzed, unable to respond to my sister's calls for help."

He leaned even closer, if possible, nearly forcing Scully to scoot to the other side of the bed, and caused her to clutch nervously at the fabric of her robe, swallowing hard against the unnamed terror rising inside her.

"Listen to me, Scully, this thing exists." His insisted fiercely.

"But how do you know?" She insisted.

"The government knows about it, and I got to know what they're protecting. Nothing else matters to me." His gaze was so fervent, his eyes nearly glowed in the darkness. "And this is as close as I've ever gotten to it."

The words of a madman, Scully's mind screamed. That, or a man on a perilous and dangerous mission, and she was being drug into it.

The shrill ringing of the phone beside her caused her to jump as Mulder pounced on it, answering with a curt "Hello."

Government conspiracies, missing sisters, taken by strange presences, hypnotism, Scully's mind was unable to process all of this, to wrap her perfectly logical brain around the full dimension and scale of what Mulder had just said to her. He had known her only for such a short time, suspecting her from the first of being a spy, and yet he had just admitted to the type of thoughts, ideas, and suspicions that would cause any sane partner to run straight to Section Chief Blevens and recommend Mulder for a full psych evaluation.

Why had he turned to her with this? Of all people, why had he turned to her? Why had he just sat there, confessing his deepest secrets, his most certain beliefs? Why would he do that if he didn't trust her, believed her to be a spy?

Mulder hung up the phone, turning to her. "That was some woman. She said Peggy O'Dell is dead."

Scully blinked stupidly at him for several seconds. "The girl in the wheelchair? How?"

"She didn't say. Some accident," he rose, searching for his jacket, his keys.

"I'll…I'll go get dressed," she said, stunned, rising from the bed, and moving towards the door. She stopped there, turning to her partner as he slipped his shoes back on his feet. "Mulder."

"Yeah," he glanced up at her, his thoughts obviously now flying towards the now dead, disabled girl, and whatever this could possibly mean for their investigation.

"Thank you." She wrapped her arms tightly around her middle. "Thanks for letting me make a fool of myself there."

Unexpectedly, he smiled. "Anytime, Scully."

She found herself smiling back.

Chapter Text

Scully recognized the man entering Section Chief Blevins office just as she exited. He was the man from her first meeting with Blevins, the one who hung back, cigarette in hand, the man had remained silent during her first meeting, silent. He had cold, gimlet eyes that calculated her as she had discussed the particulars of her assignment. She said nothing as the man stepped into Blevins office, not even smiling by way of greeting. She wondered who he was and what influence he had within the FBI. DOJ, DOD, CIA? It was hard to tell at times with those in power within the government. Who knew who? What ties of politics and personal interest held people together in binds that went beyond the Constitution and law?

She was starting to sound like Mulder, she realized in startled amusement. She shook her head as she moved down the hall towards the elevators. She pressed the first button on the panel, the one that led to the basement offices where she knew Mulder would be hiding, most likely listening to the taped exchange between Billy Miles and Dr. Werber over and over again.

She wasn't sure what he expected to find. The truth? Some broken confession from the mind of a boy who had been in a comatose state for the last five to six years? She had listened to Billy Miles heartbroken sobs from the other side of the one-way mirror herself. Nothing was convincing to Blevins or to the strange, cigarette smoker, who had been in the room listening. Scully couldn't say that Billy Miles heart-wrenching sobs were any more convincing to her either, not one hundred percent, not without the evidence at least. She frowned, as the elevator slowed towards Mulder's floor. The evidence that had been so conveniently destroyed in the hotel fire that had consumer her computer, the photographs, her case notes. Everything except for the strange piece of metal she had dug out of Ray Soames' supposed remains, that she had just handed to Blevins, the one piece of proof that proved anything that Mulder said.

The office door was open a fraction as she stepped towards it, and as expected she could hear the cracking, tearful voice of Billy Miles, occasionally stopped and scrambled as it would run backwards, and the same section of tape would run again. Scully peeked her head through the gap in the door, finding the office much as she had the first time she had stepped inside of it just days before. Mulder's back was turned to her, his shoulder's hunched over a reel-to-reel tape recorder, pressing the magnetic strip backwards, listening to it yet again. She wondered how long he had been up to this, how many times the boy's tortured voice had been ringing in his ears.

"Find anything," she asked as she leaned a shoulder against the doorjamb. He startled slightly, turning over his shoulder to glance back at her with evident surprise, one dark eyebrow rising over his reading glasses.

"Just reviewing the tape," he murmured, gesturing back at the machine. He spun his chair around to face her more directly, leaning back. "Did you speak to Blevins?"

"I did," she nodded. "He…. seemed singularly unimpressed with the evidence I had to show, or rather the lack thereof."

"I'm not surprised." Mulder only sounded slightly bitter about this fact now. "He was there for Dr. Werber's interview, correct?"

"Yeah," she nodded, entering into the office more fully. "Mulder you know that hypnotism at its best is a disputed practice."

"You know what you saw." He was no longer leaning back, but flipped his chair forward, leaning towards her with the same sort of tension he had displayed that night in his hotel room, the same fierce determination. Then as now, she found her breath catch at the intensity of it, felt the urge to back away, to put herself on the other side of the door and bring a barrier between herself and his blinding belief. She didn't move, however. She stood her ground. "Mulder I know I saw a great many things I can neither explain nor can I substantiate." She crossed her arms in front of her serving as a shield against his verbal sparring.

"The X-rays, Scully, the lights in the forest, the missing time? Those are things you saw and experienced with your own eyes and senses."

"And I have no explanation for any of them," she returned firmly, but patiently. "I can't confirm or deny anything because I don't know."

"What do you know?" He spat back in obvious irritation, standing up so quickly his chair skidded away from him. With hands at his belt, it was only then that Scully realized how much taller he was than her, standing over her with the sort of half-mad courage of his convictions that made her cringe slightly.

She squared her shoulders though, and lifted her chin. "I know, Mulder, that whatever the truth is about what was happening in Bellefleur, you are right. It wasn't a simple case of Billy Miles murdering his classmates. That there are more answers to this. Ones we haven't discovered yet. And that perhaps it isn't a clear cut case of a disturbed child acting out of his mind." She swallowed as she remembered the metal probe she found in Ray Soames. "Someone is doing something out there. I don't know what, I don't know why, but those kids are dying for it. And I for one would like to get to the bottom of it."

Whether that was the answer Mulder wanted to hear or not was hard to tell. His green eyes searched her face for several long moments, his expression impassive, before he nodded, turning from her. He moved back towards the tape recorder, grabbing a notepad he had been scribbling on, shaking off a shower of spent sunflower seed shells.

"So you heading back to Quantico, Agent Scully," he asked with the fake sort of nonchalant air of someone trying not to sound curious.

For whatever reason, this made her smile.

"No, actually. I'm on permanent assignment with you now." She glanced around the cramped quarters filled with equipment, file cabinets, scattered piles of paper, and a strange pile of metal that seemed to have no reason for being there, but no other better place to go. "I suppose you'll have to make some room for me as well."

He shrugged, waving vaguely at a table where a projector sat, along with a bunch of clutter. "Help yourself."

"Thank you." She tried not to sound too sarcastic as she eyed the rickety table that looked like it was built sometime when J. Edgar Hoover was born.

"Don't mention it," he murmured, half-distracted. "Tell me, Scully, what do you know about spontaneous combustion."

"Excuse me?" She blinked, startled by this change in topic.

"People who are self-immolated without any evidence of a accelerant." He tossed a file to the desk beside her. "There have been hundreds of documented cases over the years, but in the last six months in Richmond there have been twelve documented cases of burned bodies discovered without proper explanation as to what caused their deaths."

Scully was startled by the rapid change of Mulder's train of thought. "What happened to Billy Miles?"

"What about him?" Mulder sounded confused. "He's still here. But even you yourself said we had no more evidence at the moment." He smiled crookedly. "The X-files don't ever go away, Scully. We will always have questions to ask, truth to find. Till then, how do you feel about taking a drive tomorrow? I know this great diner on the way down there. I'll treat you lunch."

"You're treat. How can I turn that down?" She teased lightly.

"Keep that up, Scully, and we may just have the beginning of a beautiful partnership." Mulder mockingly warned. "Be careful. People may think you actually don't mind creepy, old Spooky."

"They might, wouldn't they," she shrugged. "Doesn't mean you are getting out of my free lunch."

Chapter Text

"Sorry," her nose filled with the woody sweet tang of whiskey, as brown liquid, most likely Jack Daniels, sloshed over Scully's wrist, soaking her hand and just missing her long sleeve. A suited political-looking type rushed to sop up the mess with a small, cocktail napkin, stammering swear words and apologize with wide eyes and a flushed face.

"It's all right." Scully smiled tightly at him, reaching for another napkin further down the bar. The flood of watered down liquor and ice soaked through the paper as she quickly moved to stop the small puddle of alcohol from reaching the thick, annotated case file she was looking over.

"Tight quarters. " The young suit smiled apologetically, a brilliant, cocky grin under a mop of dark curly hair, and the sort of devilish air that set all of her internal alarms going. That smile and that air she had seen from all his ilk in the local dives and watering holes. Washington was filled with the brightest and best from across the nation, young men and women who came there to make a difference and got awful lonely in doing it. She had run over more than a few lonely Senate officers workers, IRS accountants, and White House staffers. Many of them saw her - single, somewhat attractive, professional female - and believed that they could sweep her off her feet with one dashingly bad pick-up line or another. She could nearly smell them formulating as they smiled at her and she knew in an instant this one wasn't going to disappoint.

Without missing a beat, there it was. "You come here often?"

"No, actually," she replied promptly. "Never. I'm here meeting someone." No need to explain to him that she was really meeting her partner, and this was supposed to be a working lunch meeting. She glanced sideways at the crowd of gathered government officials, all quickly trying to grab their afternoon alcohol fix over the brief lunch break. Mulder was late.

The man only seemed slightly disappointed. He looked to be about her age, maybe Mulder's. "I was only saying because, well, you look familiar."

Points for effort, she conceded, trying desperately not to laugh at him. "It's the hair. I guess red hair is so rare that it sticks out in people's mind."

"Maybe that's it," he agreed vaguely, glancing at the paperwork she had set in front of her at the bar. "Besides, looks like you are into something big and important."

"A case." She decided she'd lay it on thick. Perhaps he'd get the idea and move elsewhere. "I work for the FBI."

"Really?" Instead of looking shocked, worried, or vaguely concerned, he seemed to be thrilled by the idea. "One of my buddies works over there. Maybe you know him. He works in the anti-terrorism unit."

"I'm afraid not." She gave him a sympathetic smile and shrug. "I work in a unique unit in the FBI. My work tends to be much more forensic in nature." Vague enough he would likely not be able to query his friend for her existence, but polite enough he wouldn't have his feelings too hurt.

"That sounds…important," he offered lamely, and she could see in his eyes he was mentally kicking himself. She should go easy on the poor fellow, but he plowed on, turning on the self-possessed charm again. "So I work over in the Senate. For the senior Senator from Texas, actually." He dropped this as if the name should have some sort of meaning for her. And she hated to admit, it didn't. In a town where everyone was working for a Congressman or Senator, she had trouble keeping up just with the people she got to vote for on a ballot.

"I bet that's interesting," she replied tightly, trying, as best she could, to return to the case files in front of her.

The fellow seemed to be taking the hint at least. He cleared his throat nervously as he ran his hands through his dark curls, and with as much dignity as he could must, to straighten his dark, charcoal suitcoat and blue, silk tie. He sighed extravagantly so he knew she would listen. "Well, perhaps you'll run into him sometime…I'm sorry, I didn't get your name?"

"I didn't give it," she replied simply, pushing her reading glasses further up her nose.

"Right." There the disappointment finally registered. She felt bad. He seemed a nice enough sort. Not conventionally attractive, but had the arrogant attitude that screamed he liked playing political hardball in a town where up and comers like him could make a name for themselves very quickly. Much like Mulder, she realized, except a Mulder who preferred to make the back room deals rather than expose them. She suspected she would see this fellows face all over C-SPAN or CNN one of these days, perhaps speaking up for his senior Senator from Texas or maybe even working for a President in the very near future. By the time that happened he would have forgotten the random red head he ran into a bad at lunch in a crowded bar with hundreds of other hotshots such as himself.

"Well, I'll leave you to your work." Again with the shy, flirtatious smile, topped off by an audacious wink. "Sorry for the accident."

"Not a problem." She nodded genially as he turned through the crowd, making his way to a group that Scully suspected was made up of other young buck politicos. She smiled secretly to herself, shaking her head as she turned back to her notes. When was the last time she had been hit on in the bar? She tried to recall. Was it before Ethan? Maybe before Tom? Med school perhaps, she couldn't remember. Maybe it was some time with Missy that was usually when those things seemed to happen. Though, she ruefully admitted, it was often because Melissa had egged someone into doing it.

Still, when she thought about it, it was rather nice that this random guy, whoever he was, had thought enough to try and pick her up at a bar, when she had her nose in case notes and looking about as attractive as a lump on a bar stool. Smiling softly to herself, she tucked a curl of red hair behind an ear, and glanced at her watch. Her partner still no where in sight.

Chapter Text

Her father once told her to never remove her sight on a man she was aiming at until she knew he was no longer a threat. Her gun remained level and strong on Paul Redding, even after Mulder stumbled, confused and disheveled to the car. His eyes were hollow as he frowned at her, his expression wondering regarding what was going on around him. She waited till she could feel Mulder's weight as he slumped down into the passengers seat, and she followed suit, placing her gun in her holster as she did so.

"You okay, Mulder?" She gave him a hurried once over as she jammed the car into gear, spinning the wheel as she sent the car into reverse. He looked tired, filthy, and more than a bit lost. It was the latter that had her concerned. Not once in the few months she had known Fox Mulder did he look anything other than completely composed.

"I think so. Scully, I…" he blinked as if he wasn't sure.

"What?" She peeled the car as fast as she could down the lonely road, lined with desert scrub brush and sun-dried grass, away from Paul Redding and the guards who stood watch at the gates. She stared them down as she drove as quickly as the four cylinders would let her.

"How did I get here?" His voice was so frightened, so forlorn, that Scully turned her gaze from the rushing horizon to truly look at him.

"I thought you could tell me that," she replied, not meaning to sound so cold, but unable to help herself. She was terrified at what the last few hours had done to her partner.

"I don't know," he whispered, moving his fingertips to rub his temples. They looked slightly bruised. "How could I not know?"

"Mulder, memory lapses are common enough if with head trauma or drugs…."

"I have a photographic memory, Scully." There was the quaver again, the worry that something was horribly wrong. "I don't forget things."

She pressed her lips tightly together, calling on the reserves she used to have in her internship, during those late nights when she had been forced to do forty-eight hour shifts on call in the ER, before she had taken up her forensic residency. When the patient was hysterical, you tried to remain as calm and reasonable as you could.

"Mulder, you've been through a lot. I wouldn't worry, we'll get you checked out at the hospital before we leave."

"Budahas!" He gasped, dropping his fingers, his eyes desperate. "This is what they did to Colonel Budahas. We need to get to him!"

All hope of remaining reasonable flew out the window in that moment. "Mulder, we can't. You heard what they said! I'm lucky I got you out of there in one piece. We are messing in matters that have no relation to the FBI, and we'll be lucky if our asses don't get hauled into Blevins office for it."

"They are removing things from people's memories, Scully. They removed things from my memory, things they didn't want me to see."

"It's small wonder, Mulder! It's a top secret military base, and last I knew you had no clearance there." Her fingers gripped the steering wheel so tight, they were nearly white. "What if I hadn't been able to find you, to get you out of there?" The idea was causing her heart to beat erratically against her lungs. "I'm your partner, damn it Mulder. We work together. You do not go running off half-cocked to do shit like this!" She turned angry, bright eyes on him for a moment, uncaring for that second what he had been through. "You broke into a top-secret facility, and could have very well been arrested or even sent to prison."

Mulder at least had the decency to look apologetic. "I'm sorry, Scully." He slumped further into the seat, his knees knocking against the glove compartment painfully. "I had to know what was going on."

"By risking your own life to do it?"

He didn't answer her. Somehow she felt he didn't need to.

"All right, we'll go to the Budahas's. Then we are booking the first flight we can out of Salt Lake City. Before you do anything else that could get you killed."

"Thanks, Scully." He murmured, learning his bruised forehead against the glass of the passenger side window.

Chapter Text

"How was lunch?" Mulder barely looked up from the computer as his fingers clicked rapidly and softly at his keyboard, as fast as his own thoughts. The screen showed up white against his reading glasses.

"Pleasant." Scully settled her purse in one of the empty, unused drawer in one of the rusty filing cabinets. "It's been a while since I last saw Tom."

"Tom Colton? He is the new golden boy over in Baltimore, right?"

"Yeah." Scully bit her bottom lip, wondering how best to approach Mulder with Colton's dilemma. "Yeah, Tom's impressing quite a few people. He's been put on a new case over there, a strange series of murders." She crossed over to lean against Mulder's desk, watching him as he continued to type. "It seems each of the victims was found dead in rooms that had no visible outside access. No open windows, doors locked, security outside. Nothing to indicate foul play in terms of their death."

"Suicide," Mulder murmured distractedly, not slowing in his writing at he chewed on his bottom lip thoughtfully, only paying half attention to her.

"Well that's what I suggested to Tom, but it turns out that they each died due to extreme blood loss and massive trauma." She paused for the effect, hoping it would get his interest perked. "They all had their livers ripped out."

It worked. He did stop in his furious typing. He turned his chair slowly around, his look thoughtful.

"Ouch!" He pulled his glasses off, obviously intrigued. "What was the weapon of choice?"

"As far as anyone can tell, it was fingers. No signs of a cutting tool at all. And no signs of forced entry?"

"Huh," Mulder's eyes focused distantly and Scully could almost see the wheels turning furiously in his head. "Any fingerprints?"

"None so far, or not that Tom can tell." She shrugged her thin shoulders airily. "But then, I told him we were swamped with our current case load." She lifted her chin towards Mulder's computer, only feeling slightly bad for lying through her teeth. "Still, if you were interested…"

Mulder cocked an all too suspicious eye at her, crossing his arms across yet another ugly tie, as he leaned back in his chair. "Did anyone tell you that you suck at lying, Scully?"

"What?" Scully had been nothing but honest with Mulder since the day she walked into his office.

"So Colton's stuck on a case that walks, talks, and sounds like an X-file. After nearly six months of not hearing from him, you suddenly get a call to do lunch and he neatly drops this in your lap." He shook his head sorrowfully at her. "You've been played, Scully."

"I have not! Tom and I are old friend. Why can't he call me up for lunch?"

"Old friends? Is that all?" Mulder's waggled his eyebrows in a way that made Scully consider reaching for a stapler to throw at them.

"What business is it to you? It's my personal life," she shot indignantly.

"No business to me, Scully, but I'm the psychologist. And I know that when people have had a deeply personal relationship at one time in their history, it's often easy to play upon those old feelings to gain a persons trust and assistance."

"Oh, is this your professional opinion then?"

"I think it's my observational opinion," he smiled boyishly. "I think your old boyfriend didn't want to come crawling to old Spooky and went to you to do it for him."

It all made a very disturbing amount of logical sense, and Scully felt herself slightly nettled as she was forced to admit that Mulder might just indeed have a very insightful and disgustingly painful point.

"I told him I'd ask you to look into it for me, as a personal favor," she admitted sullenly, as Mulder crowed at her. "I thought I was being nice…lending an old friend a favor."

"That's what he wanted you to think," Mulder laughed. "Colton's the new hot shit in the Baltimore field office, and rumor has it he's angling for a prime spot here in the Hoover building. I'd bet my Yankee's World Series ball that he knows how to play ball if he wants to. And if he can manipulate all the brass of the FBI to love him..." He lifted his hands up and shrugged.

"You are saying I've been taken in?" The idea made her cringe inside to even think about it.

"I'm saying it's a distinct possibility."

"I think you are crazy, Mulder." It was the only defense she had left to her, falling into base assertions and angry accusations. Well…mostly angry. More like irritated that he could just be right after all.

"We'll see." He always liked a challenge and looked confident he'd be proven right in the end. "But I have a feeling human behavior will prevail."

"Bite me, Mulder," she growled, turning back to her neat table, and flopping into her shaky, ancient desk chair.

"Just for that, I'll go, Scully," he chuckled. "Gives me an excuse to not finish this report."

Chapter Text

Colton held up the thin film with the elongated fingerprint into the light. He glanced sideways at Scully as Mulder stood on one of the office chairs in the victim's office. He was unscrewing the grate that sat well above any of their heads, let alone the desk where Usher had been sitting the night of his death.

"Is he serious?" Colton blinked up at Mulder as if he half expected him to jump down on top of them and savage them with a Philips head screwdriver.

"You have to admit it's an overlooked potential clue." Though to be honest Scully herself had doubts about that. Whatever the fingerprint was, it wasn't viable, not from what she could tell. Not unless their perpetrator had smashed his fingers in a vice grip before crawling through an air duct to savagely use his mangled fingers to rip out a man's liver.

"Does he do this sort of stuff often? I mean, about the aliens?"

Damn Mulder and his Reticulans. "Look, Tom, Mulder's a bit hard to get to know sometimes."

"I'll say," Colton whistled low under his breath. "He's not serious about that business, is he?"

"No," Scully sighed. At least, she didn't think he was.

"Look!" Colton spoke up now, loud enough to catch even Mulder's attention. "I have to get back to the office if you have any ideas, Mulder." He just did manage to keep the sarcasm out of his tone, casting a doubtful look at Scully. "Have Dana give me a call." He graced her with one of his old, charming grins. "I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Sure," she returned his smile and waited till she knew he was out of the door and down the hall before turning on her own partner.

"What the hell was that about," she hissed as Mulder pulled a pen light from his trouser pocket, and peered inside the darkness of the ventilation shaft.

"What the hell was what?" He didn't even look down at her as he ran a finger along the inside edge of the metal. "It looked to me like Colton was trying to get you to do the thinking for him - and perhaps priming you for a hit." He held his fingers up, rubbing his thumb across both pads. "I guess the old flame never dies, eh Scully?"

"That's insulting, even coming from you," she snapped. "Tom is a professional when it comes to his work. Which is more than I can say about you at times," She glared up at him, annoyed. "And what the hell are you doing anyway?"

"The dust in the ventilation system has been disturbed," he murmured vaguely, peering in again with his small flashlight. "Dust and dirt tend to collect at the bottom of these over time, leaving a thick coating. Someone or something has come in or out this way?"

"It was probably just some service person working on the ventilation, or maybe a small animal." Nettled, she wasn't about to let the most obvious of explanations go for one of Mulder's flights of fancy.

"Maybe." He tucked his pen light in his pocket again and bent down to grab the grating for the vent. "The building management should have a log of service for all the offices. I'm sure we could give them a call…"

"Mulder, this is Tom's case," Scully reminded him warningly. "He only asked you here for advice."

"No, he asked you here for advice." Mulder began screwing the grating into place. "You asked me here because you know Colton's got nothing but wasn't about to ask me himself to get it. Remember, we established this, he's more 'comfortable' talking to you."

He had her there, and she knew it. "Is that why you pulled up the crap about the Reticulans?"

"Oh, that!" Mulder snorted while he dusted his hands lightly on his gray suit pants and moved Usher's office chair back where he found it.

"Yeah, that." Scully fumed. "He's a friend of mine, Mulder, and you made a fool of him for what?"

"I was bored," he deadpanned. Scully didn't even crack a smile.

"It was funny," he offered, shrugging.

"Tom thought you were serious."

"I know. That's why it was funny."

"Mulder!" Scully sighed.

"Scully, Colton's an ass. A pompous, arrogant one, who has the ability to turn on his puppy-dog charm and get people to fall over to cover his work for him." He moved past her to the door, favoring her with a knowing look as he did.

She followed close after him, unhappy with her assertions. "Tom is a good agent, Mulder. Graduated near the top of our class. He's impressed everyone he's worked with so far."

"Yeah, but at who's expense," Mulder asked as he ducked under the crime tape still roping off Usher's lone office and past the empty office desks to the elevator. "Tell me, Scully, when the two of you were in the Academy together, how often did he come to you the night before for some help with a paper, or needing the answers to a test?"

The question hit uncomfortably close to home. "No more than anyone else did."

"Right." Mulder didn't sound convinced. He pressed the button to call the elevator. "I saw your file, almost the top of your class at Quantico. Probably would have been right there at the top if you hadn't had to do the work for two people along the way."

"I didn't help Tom do anything," she replied angrily, as the elevator bell sounded, and the doors slid open. "He's brilliant enough on his own."

"Whatever gets you through the night, Scully." Mulder shrugged as if it were any concerns of his one way or the other. "But if you ask me, you want so much for people to see you as being smart and capable and not just a pretty face that you let them walk all over you."

"Is that your professional opinion, Dr. Mulder?" She felt her face harden as her words turned to ice in her mouth.

"Didn't bother with the PhD, remember?" He pretended not to understand her sarcasm as the elevator slowed and opened to the first floor as he waited for her to exit first. She stalked past him, straight to the security booth to sign out. She barely waited for Mulder to do the same.

"You're wrong, Mulder," she replied quietly.

"Maybe," Mulder admitted, as he reached into his coat pocket for his car keys. "But you were the one who saw through the Reticulan crap, not Colton. You think I'd say that sort of shit to you?"

She didn't reply immediately as they stepped into Mulder's car remaining quiet till they had managed to get on the freeway back to Washington.

"So Reticulans are gray because of a dependence on iron in their bloodstream?"

"Yes, you see they don't process iron the way you and I do, where it manifests in the red blood of many living creatures on Earth, but rather it turns black once processed by the Reticulan metabolism." Mulder sounded as serious as any scientific scholar on the subject, though there was a suspicious crinkling at the corner of his right eye.

"I see." Scully smiled slightly, despite the twitching at the corners of her mouth. "And you found this out by meticulous research?"

"I've discussed it with experts in the field?"

"And how are those Star Trek conventions, anyway?"

"An amazing place to go pick up women," he replied cheerfully. "You would be surprised."

"To the depths you would plumb, Mulder, not really."

Chapter Text

Tom was no where to be seen as she and Mulder walked through the bullpen on the office floor, filled with staring eyes, and suddenly busy office workers, whispering among themselves. Scully had a feeling Tom wouldn't want to see to her for a very long time. Somehow she couldn't bring herself to be sad about that.

She had no idea what he was thinking. How could Tom believe, even for a moment, she would abandon her assignment to follow him, no matter how out there Mulder's ideas were? But then again, she sighed ruefully, Mulder took gleeful pleasure in pushing Tom's buttons, tossing his half-baked theories out there to see if they would float or not. Perhaps she had told Tom that most of Mulder's ideas were 'out there'. She didn't believe that Mulder was crazy. Not with the way his brain worked.

"You knew they wouldn't believe you," she murmured quietly. "Why did you push it?"

"Maybe I thought you caught the right guy." Mulder was unconcerned with Tom's parting jab. "And maybe I run into so many people who are hostile, just because they can't open their minds to the possibilities that sometimes the need to mess with their heads outweighs the millstone of humiliation." Again there was the boyish, rebellious streak, the need to piss others off because it amused him or perhaps alleviated the pressure of always standing on the outside of the establishment, screaming his head off to those who never listened. Except to her, she always listened. Even when she thought he was insane for it, she gave him respect and always debated him on even terms. She wondered how many others in the Bureau had ever given him that sort of honest consideration in his career.

"It seems like you were acting very territorial," she mused, though territorial wasn't the exact word she was looking for. Territorial was a term that would indicate a lover or a boyfriend, someone who saw her as more property than equal. "I don't know, forget it," she shook her head, turning away to walk up the stairs. She was shocked as Mulder laid one long finger on the locket she wore that day, hooking it around the delicate, golden chain and stopping her before she got any further up the steps.

"Of course I was," Mulder expression was earnest and honest, surprising Scully. "In our investigations you may always agree with me, but at least you respect the journey." Uncertainty clouded his eyes, "And if you want to continue working with them, I won't hold it against you."

He let go of her necklace, and moved past her up the stairs, his manner composed. Yet, somehow she felt to leave him now would be taking something vital away from Mulder, something he didn't realize till recently he had - a friend. For the briefest of moments, she considered Tom, his angry assertion he would work to get her removed from the X-files, from Mulder. She doubted seriously he would be able to manage it, no matter how many strings he thought he could pull. And even if he did manage it, she realized she didn't really want to leave Mulder, his mad theories, or the weird whirlwind he had tossed them both carelessly into. Perhaps Tom's friendship was safer and would take her far up the ladder of the Bureau. But would she have done it with any self-respect?

Her steps followed lightly behind Mulder's, echoing in the open space in the stairwell. "I don't know, you must have something more than your polygraph interpretation to backup this bizarre theory, and I have to see what it is."

Mulder turned to look down at her in amused skepticism. "Do you really want me to open that door for you, Scully? Cause if I do, all hope of credibility in your career might be lost."

"I thought we were trying to catch a serial killer, Mulder, not kiss ass and gain reputation."

"That's what I like to hear!" His grin was dazzlingly boyish, delighted he had someone to share with. "Come on, I have some evidence back at the office I think might surprise you."

"What in this job doesn't anymore?" Perhaps, if she admitted it to herself, there was something to that she wouldn't trade for the world. Even if Mulder was crazy, at least the journey there would be as interesting as the outcome.

Chapter Text

"I'm just glad that madman didn't get to you!" Tom Colton's voice was unctuous and attempting to be soothing though Scully had long since stopped listening. She had instead been watching Mulder picking at the splintered remains of her doorjamb, shaking his head, and looking a tad guilty for having broken in the door of her apartment. Already her super had been inside and assured her she wouldn't be held liable for the cost of repair. Perhaps she should inform Mulder of that before he tried to whip out his checkbook.

"Hey, Dana, are you okay?" Colton's hand reached out for her elbow in a possessive gesture that made her stop to frown down at it first, then up at him in confusion. He immediately stopped and pulled away.

"Yes, Colton, I'm fine," she replied calmly. Somewhere beneath the surface her anger at him for his flagrant disobedience of FBI protocol and his resentment of Mulder still boiled, especially as both had nearly gotten her killed. "After all, how were you possibly supposed to know that Tooms really was a danger and that he was targeting me of all people?" Her voice was deadly even, but her eyes flashed and she knew that Colton saw that. He at least had the decency to look slightly abashed.

"How was I supposed to know," he murmured in a low voice. "I mean, liver-eating mutants? Do you really still believe that line of BS?" She knew that his entire career at the FBI was flashing before Colton's eyes and that he was begging her to see the same reason he saw.

She glanced over at Mulder, who was now speaking with one of the other agents on the scene. "Well, Tom, if you had even considered the remote possibility that there might be something to Mulder's theory, I might still have a front door." She rubbed lightly at her stomach, where Tooms had been aiming his attack when Mulder had burst in. "And if Mulder hadn't been so quick getting to me I might be the one dead on the floor right now."

"Yeah, I guess he's some sort of hero," Colton spat out in surprising venom, as she turned on him in irritated surprise. "Dana, the man is nuts."

"Nuts or not, he's the one who busted in her to save my ass tonight, something that wouldn't have been necessary if you had just followed procedure and protocol." She didn't realize her voice was carrying so loudly till all the eyes of everyone in her apartment, including Mulder, were turned to stare at the tableau. Scully felt her face redden, but she held her ground, her chin tilted as she crossed her arms, meeting Colton's anger with her own. They stared at each other for several minutes, before Colton finally broke first. Wordlessly he turned, his suit coat flapping as he stalked through the agents and past Mulder at the door, not even deigning to look at her partner as he flew by. Mulder watched him thoughtfully for several moments, before shooting a worried gaze at her. She only shrugged back, and turned to her bathroom, where the forensic team was gathering the last details before clearing out.

"Someone has his panties in a knot." Mulder's voice was low and amused behind her, and she turned to gaze up at him, his eyes both concerned and humored. "Colton doesn't strike me as the type who likes to be wrong."

"He's not," Scully admitted. "But I will file a complaint with the Bureau in the morning. His conduct on this case has been abysmal, worse than unprofessional, and…" She stopped in her rant as Mulder began to chuckle.

"What," she blinked at him in confusion.

"It's just that - I don't know - I think it's nice that you are sticking up for me." He didn't meet her eyes.

"Mulder, I'm your partner. I'm supposed to work with you and not try to embarrass you, no matter what you may have thought."

Instead of looking guilty, he only grinned. "I suppose I can't accuse you of being a spy anymore." He reached inside the pocket of his suit coat then and pulled out a ring with two keys on it. "Here. Have these."

Scully frowned down at the bits of metal between his thumb and forefinger. "What is..."

"The keys to my apartment." He said simply, jerking his head towards the busted doorjamb. "I think it's a bit more effective to unlock the door than to bust it in."

"Mulder…I…" She felt herself stuttering as she stared up at him. She had never given away or shared keys to her home with anyone she wasn't in a serious relationship with at the time and certainly not her partner.

"Well, I look at it this way, if we are partners, then we will be working a lot together. And sometimes that means we'll have to call on one another. You know, I have fish that need to be fed when I'm out of town."

"Fish?" She said weakly, trying to imagine her partner with fish,

"Yeah, fish. I'm more of a dog person, to be honest, but it's murder on a dog living in a tiny apartment in Alexandria." He smiled lightly. "When you get your door fixed, you can pass on your keys. Course, I don't see you having fish." He glanced around her apartment, the first time he had been up there. "You strike me as a cat person, Scully."

"No, I prefer dogs," she admitted. "But I've never had time to own a pet, really."

"Anyway, here," He passed her the ring. "It's the spare from my car."

"You keep your spare in the car?"

"I don't have a rock outside of my door to hide it in."

"True," she grinned at him. "All right, I'll get you a set next week. You can check on the dust bunnies under my bed."

"Liar! Dana Scully wouldn't have dust bunnies. Your place is too neat."

"Well, check on the possibility of dust bunnies, then. Or just come check up on me."

"That I can do." Mulder smiled as he turned to regard the forensic team, who were finishing up. "You think you'll be okay alone here tonight?" His concern sounded heartfelt and not contrived, and it warmed her.

"Yeah, I think with Tooms in prison I'll be fine by myself, Mulder." She tried to think of his long form squished into the small confines of her loveseat and couldn't.

"You don't think the super will be too pissed about the door?"

Scully laughed. "No…go home, Mulder. Get some sleep."

He regarded her for several long moments before assenting, "As you say, doc." He reached up then to squeeze her arm, a gesture that was meant to be comforting and assuring, and then turned to go. Scully watched is tall figure walking out the door, and then thoughtfully regarded his keys in her hand, before slipping them into her pocket.

Chapter Text

The last person she was in the mood to see before she had grabbed her first morning coffee was Tom Colton. He stood uncertainly by the bank of elevators, leaning away from the tide of busy, half-awake people. She half considered turning and taking the stairs but was fairly certain he'd only chase after her.

"What do you want, Colton?" Scully felt weary, her jaw ached as she formed the words. A nasty bruise left on her right cheek still remained from Tooms not so kind handling of her just the night before.

"I…" Colton glanced horrified to the purple bruising, before locking his eyes firmly on his well-shined shoes. "I wanted to say I was sorry about all of this. I'm sorry for putting you in danger."

"Yeah, that's what you tried to say last night." She was unsympathetic. "Before you got pissed at me for siding with my partner of all people, and I tossed you out of my apartment." She moved to walk passed him, but he stopped her, a hand on her shoulder that caused her to look down first at it, than up at him witheringly.

"Dana," he pleaded. "I'm sorry, really. I…I just didn't think that Tooms could possibly be the one. It doesn't make sense."

She took slight pity on him. After all, a century old, liver-eating mutant was not high on her list of things she expected people to accept without question. "The labs are running tests right now as we speak. From what they could determine last night when he was remanded he seems to be at least double-jointed to a degree not common among average people but not unheard of either. There are stories of circus performers and side-show freaks that could do similar things with their bodies, fit in impossibly small spaces, and work their fingers to do amazing things."

"But the livers!" Colton insisted vehemently, ignoring the sideways glances from other agents arriving for work.

"I suspect it is part of a deficiency on his part which has turned into a fixation that has driven him to murder." She rubbed the spot on her stomach where Tooms had tried to reach into her soft tissue and remove her own. The small gesture wasn't lost on Colton as he lowered his hand, his shoulders sagging.

"Dana, if anything had happened to you…"

"Nothing did, Tom," she replied simply. "Besides, I would have been a bit put out if it did."

"Really?"

"Yeah," she smiled brightly at him. "I'd lose out on the chance to kick your ass back down your precious ladder."

Colton looked stunned to the point of being ill. Scully felt a bit joyful in victory. "I've already sent a report explaining the particulars of how you disregarded warnings from Agent Mulder that nearly put my life in jeopardy, and your unwillingness to listen to the evidence given by collaborative sources on the veracity of Agent Mulder's claims."

"You aren't serious?" Colton nearly chocked on his own disbelief.

"Aren't I?" She couldn't believe he really assumed she didn't have the balls to stand to him. "It seems to me, Tom, that you have spent an awful lot of time assuming that I won't do something to the point I've let you get away with a great deal over the years."

"And what's that supposed to mean?" He at least found some righteous indignation but she didn't back away.

"It means that for years I pulled your ass out of the fire because I thought that you respected me as an equal and friend. What I didn't realize was that you needed someone to help you do the work so you could crawl to the top." Her head shook sadly from side to side, a pitying smile on her lips. "You wouldn't have made it out of Quantico without me, Tom. We both know that."

"You think awful highly of yourself, don't you Dana," he spat, his face flushing near purple with anger at her implication. "This coming from someone who got locked in a basement with the FBI's biggest joke." He laughed at her derisively. "You thought you were so much smarter than the rest of us. But the first field work they let you loose on is alien autopsies and reigning in a crackpot who believes in Retians!"

"Reticulans!" Mulder drawled lazily from somewhere behind her. Scully turned slightly in surprise to see him, leaning against one of the far walls and watching the exchange with bored interest. "Their home galaxy is Reticula."

Colton glared at Mulder angrily, but seemed to have no effect on the other man. He only shrugged mildly and pretended to busy himself with a copy of the paper in one hand as he held a coffee in the other.

"You made your choice, Dana," Colton turned back on her, half asking, half stating.

"That I did, Tom, and I've repeated it several times. You seem to not be listening." She tried to move past him, but he blocked her, a hand to her shoulder. Mulder glanced up sharply from his paper but didn't move at all to intercede.

"If you do anything against me, Dana," Colton warned ominously, his eyes dark with threat. "Anything at all, I will tear you and your new boyfriend down, so help me God."

Something about his threat made Scully start to giggle. Loudly. Not the scoffing sort of laugh, but the truly amused, somewhat disbelieving sort of giggle one would have for a small puppy who lept at you as if trying to rip your head off. She could barely get her words out around her snickering as the absurd image of Tom Colton doing anything to truly harm her reputation somehow made no sense in her mind.

"Tom…seriously, go away." She managed to choke, shaking off his hand as she crossed the hallway to where Mulder stood, folding his paper with one hand.

"I promise it, Dana!" Tom called back, less darkly than before.

"Whatever," she shot back, stopping in front of Mulder's laconic smile.

"Coffee?" He held out the steaming cup to her and she accepted it happily.

"That's thoughtful of you," she beamed, as out of the corner of her eye she could see Colton stalking off down the hallway, shooting dark glowers at the pair of them.

"He's the territorial sort, isn't he?" Mulder's eyes followed Colton but he remained leaning casually against the wall.

"Tom? He'll get over it." She wasn't concerned. "He never did like having his ego punctured." She punched the button at Mulder's elbow, calling for the elevator that would take them down to the basement office.

"You seemed to handle yourself well." Mulder finally stood up, shoving the paper under one arm and his hands in his trouser pockets.

"What, just because I'm a woman, I can't handle the likes of Tom Colton," she rolled her eyes, pulling slightly at the bruise on her face. "Please, I handled a liver-eating mutant, I can handle him."

"Bravo, Agent Scully," Mulder seemed impressed. "Remind me never to get on your bad side."

"Bring me coffee every morning and small chance you ever will." She grinned. The doors slid open.

"Well, I thought it would be a nice gesture after last night." He shrugged, and she thought she could detect a faint pinkness to his ears.

"Why, Mulder, I do believe you did something nice for me."

"Yeah, don't tell Colton about it, it would ruin my image of being an asshole." He removed one hand from his pockets to press the button for the basement.

"I don't think Colton's going to get any false ideas about you anytime soon." Scully smirked, before her faced softened and she found herself intensely interested in her coffee. "Thank you for coming to my rescue last night, Mulder."

"Not a problem," he replied, with a sort of forced casualness. "I'm just glad I got there when I did. It's hard to have you tell me I'm crazy if you're missing a liver."

"I guess you don't mind it so much?"

"No…I guess I had gotten so used to so many people telling me that I was insane, that I didn't know what to do with myself when I found someone who said I was crazy but went along with me anyway."

"Yeah, well..." Scully shrugged. "That was why I was put on this detail."

"That's funny." The doors slid open to the now familiar office door. "I thought you were here to spy on me."

"Who says I'm not?" She winked as he held the door of the office open for her.

Chapter Text

"You know what I like about the Midwest?" Mulder casually fiddled with another sunflower seed, the snap cutting through the drone of the Sioux City airport. Scully frowned as she watched the shell fly in the wind behind the car, dancing in the breeze, but said nothing as she navigated the car out of the rental parking lot.

"Dare I ask," she murmured dryly as she watched a semi loaded with a bright green, John Deere tractor roll by.

"It's so clean out here!" Mulder took a full, deep breath of the wind breezing in his rolled down window. "It's not like DC, full of pollution, car fumes, people." He inhaled again, pounding his chest lightly as he smiled in bucolic satisfaction. "It smells like freedom, of good, clean living, of…"

"Cow patties" Scully tossed out, as she turned their car onto the highway, just behind a livestock car that reeked of animal and fresh manure.

"You take the romance out of everything, Scully."

"Romance or not, you have the directions to Darlene Morris' house?" She held out her hand as Mulder slipped in the unfolded paper, glancing at it briefly before handing it back to him.

"Darlene's eldest child went missing. Ruby, age sixteen. Apparently they were on a camping trip when the girl disappeared from the family camper. The only witness to it all was a brother, Kevin, eight."

"And they were camping on Lake Okobogee?"

"Yeah, I suspect it was a favorite for Darlene, especially if she has a history of abduction herself."

"How can you be so sure that's why she was going there? After all, it's a lake, people like to camp."

"You see this behavior in victims of an attack or rape." Mulder reached down on the floorboards for his briefcase, tugging out the sheaf of paperwork he brought with him on the case. "It's not just the attacker that will return again to the scene of a crime, occasionally the victim will as well. Sometimes it is simply to face the demons of their past, other times it is to remind them of this incident. Never forgive, never forget."

Scully glanced over as his dark head leaned over the fluttering papers in front of him, studying them. "Is that why you take these sorts of cases, Mulder? Never to forgive, never to forget?"

He glanced sideways at her sharply, his green eyes bright, frowning with mild irritation. "Is that why you think I'm doing this, Scully?"

"Not exactly." She stepped carefully. "Look, Mulder, it isn't necessarily a bad thing. We all have things that make cases become a bit too personal for all of us."

"Do you think this is too personal for me?" The question was simple but there was anger behind it.

"There are those who think that perhaps your fixation on this case may have to do with Samantha's disappearance, yes."

"That's why Blevins called you in to his office."

"Yes." She didn't shy away from the truth with him. "He wanted to set the record straight with me about your sister. He was going to deny your request."

"You talked him out of it?" He sounded slightly surprised.

"I said that I wanted to talk to you, to see if there wasn't more to this than just a newspaper clipping from behind the supermarket counter. I wanted to see for myself what you wanted to get out of this."

He was silent, watching her as their car sped down the highway, and she could almost hear the whirling fears as if he were speaking them out loud. Was she lying to him? Was she playing him? Would she run and tattle about all of this to Blevins or Skinner?

"I'm not here to destroy your work, Mulder," she murmured softly, sad that this gulf of doubt still remained there between them after all of these months. She worked hard to gain his trust, and liked to believe she had earned it. But each conflict like this between them made her wonder if Mulder wouldn't always look at her slightly as an outsider, someone with one foot standing just at the door, ready to flee if things became too disturbing.

"I know that, Scully," he replied. "But I wonder if you really understand, sometimes, why it is I have to do this work."

He turned to glance out of the front window of their rental, pointing at the exit sign ahead. "That's the one you'll want for Darlene Morris' house."

Chapter Text

"I want to believe."

Mulder's desperate plea still rang in Scully's mind as she sat in the dark, replaying the tape recording of Dr. Werber and Mulder over in her mind. In many ways, it reminded her of the similar tape they had in the file on Billy Miles, the boy from Oregon months before. There was the same fear, the same raw, naked terror at whatever it was that had happened to them both, whatever it was they saw. It was heartbreaking to her to hear him, imagining him as a twelve-year-old child, horrified that he was able to do nothing to prevent his sister's disappearance.

"I want to believe," he had said, clinging to the hope that he still held on to, after all these years, that his sister would return to him, and that the gaping wound left in his soul would finally be allowed to heal.

For his sake, she wanted to believe as well. For his sake, she hoped he found the closure, because no amount of cases like Ruby Morris were going to ever make it right for Mulder. None were ever going to bring Samantha home for him.

"I thought you had dinner with your parents tonight?" A sliver of light cut through the darkness, and the now familiar silhouette of her partner stood stark against the brightness. She squinted and blinked, holding a hand over her eyes as he flipped on the lights in their lonely office, and glanced around the space quizzically.

"Just finishing up," she replied quickly, glancing down at her watch. "Aye, 6:30, Mom's going to kill me." She hastily threw the files together, and popped the tape out of the player, trying as best she could to discreetly put everything away without Mulder knowing she had gone through his sister's file. "My parents like to get as many of us as they can in for dinner once a month, just to reassure them that we aren't dead yet."

"Yeah, I know." He cocked his head wonderingly at her. "That's why I'm surprised you are still here."

"Just lost track of time." She shrugged, turning to the files and slipping Samantha's in the still open spot, before sliding the drawer closed, and whirling to her table to fetch her own things. "I thought you were gone for the evening."

"I was." He moved towards his desk, removing his long overcoat, and tossing it haphazardly over a stack of files behind his desk, the nature of which she had yet to ascertain. "I thought I'd come in and get some work done."

"We closed the Morris case this afternoon."

"Yeah, well, there's always work that can be done." He held his hands out expansively around the room as he settled into his creaking chair. "Besides, you're the one who's late to get on the road and traffic is a bitch to Baltimore this time of night."

"Mom's not going to be thrilled," she sighed ominously. "I'll see you tomorrow then?" She smiled brightly, beginning to make for the door herself.

"Scully." His tone stopped her before she got two steps in. She froze, hoping the guilt wasn't written too clearly on her face.

"Yeah?" She turned to look at him, looking as neutral as she could.

"You haven't lied to me yet. Why are you starting now?"

"Lying?" There was no need to fake the hurt surprise she felt. Perhaps she had snooped, but not lied, she reasoned.

He pointed towards the filing cabinet where Samantha's folder belonged. It was ajar, having bounced back out and not fully closed, with the top tab of Samantha's name stick out enough to prevent the drawer from shutting tightly.

"I may be nearsighted, Scully, but don't think I don't know exactly where my own sister's file is." He didn't speak out of anger but she could hear that he was hurt. She bit her lip nervously as he stared up at her speculatively.

"I hadn't looked before. I mean, I have seen her in there, but I never bothered." She shrugged, feeling like a child who had entered into her parents' forbidden bedroom, riffling through their grown-up secrets. She had seen things that she had not been supposed to see, heard his pain and knew his still aching loss.

"Did you find anything interesting?"

"I…I listened to your tape with Dr. Werber. I just wanted to understand."

"It's not a problem." She could see him pull away then, to shut down emotionally as he waved her off. "It's good you listened. If you are going to work on the X-files, you need to know what happened." He turned to his computer, powering it on as the machine whirred into life.

"Mulder," she started, but wasn't sure what to say. He didn't look at her; instead he shuffled around a stack of hand written case notes, chicken scratch on his notebook paper. She could tell he wasn't really reading any of them.

What was she supposed to say, she wondered to herself, feeling helpless in the situation. Empathy she had in abundance, sympathy was something else that was difficult for her. She was the daughter of a rear admiral, a man who had drilled her in keeping a stiff, upper lip, and "hold it together for me, Starbuck." She had been awkward at it in her internship, that ability to soften the blow when talking to a patient. Yet, she felt as she stood there she had to say something to Mulder, to let him know she understood what Ruby Morris' disappearance meant to him.

"Look," she licked suddenly dry lips, as he steadfastly pretended to be absorbed in his notes. "I can't say I understand what you are going through. But I do know what it is like to lose someone you love." Not that Daniel's betrayal could compare in the least to the loss of one of her siblings. The idea made her cold inside just thinking about it. "I can't say what I would do if one of my brothers or my sister disappeared." Perhaps, like him, she would use the full resources at her disposal as an FBI agent to find them.

Mulder set down his notes, placing them on his desk, resting each elbow beside them, and leaning his forehead against steepled fingers. He didn't look at her, and he didn't say anything. Scully wondered if she had crossed a line. She found herself rambling now, pulling half-spun ideas from her parents, things they would have used to comfort her in her youth when she felt the keen loss of yet another move from another school to another naval base. "People are taken from us all the time, you know, whether it is death, loss, happenstance." She paused, collecting her ideas, coalescing those old childhood wounds. "You never lose the love for those taken from you. You never stop caring for them. And that outlasts everything. Even when the world has moved on, your love for them will always be there."

Her words hung in the air there between them, as Mulder remained unflinching, silent. The sick feeling of worry that she might have stepped on sacred ground stung her. Mulder could be hot and cold; one moment sharing his most intimate thought and concerns, the next walling her out as if he suddenly remembered why it was she was there, partnered with him. And it was always difficult to know when she had pushed to hard, backing him too far against a wall.

"I probably should be getting on the road," she finally stuttered, turning to leave. She reached for the door again, pulling it open and stepping outside.

"Scully." Mulder's voice was soft and small, just like on his tape with Dr. Werber. She glanced back at him, still hunched over his desk.

"Yes," she asked.

"Thanks." It was a simple word. But it carried a wealth of meaning in it. It was a key, the quiet acceptance of Scully into that which was Fox Mulder. It wasn't much, she realized, but it was a start.

"You're welcome." She replied back. "Goodnight." Closing the door behind her, she stepped lightly towards the elevator.

Chapter Text

There was no such thing as the Jersey Devil and she knew it. Her logical, well-ordered mind told that it wasn't possible. And when had it ever lied to her about anything before?

"Mulder, it's the same story I've heard since I was a kid. It's a folk tale, a myth." It was as if she were speaking to a child. A man well into his thirties who should know better. Was there ever a mythical animal Mulder didn't buy into?

"I heard the same story when I was a kid too. Funny thing was I believed it." He handed the receptionist the requisition form, grabbing the keys. "Fact is, we got a cannibalized body in New Jersey, someone or something out there is hungry."

"You mean the Atlantic City PD has a cannibalized body," her steps hurried to follow after Mulder's much longer strides, her chunky high heals nearly running to keep up with him through the office and towards the stairwell. "Mulder, we can't just stick our nose into a local matter, the PD will start screaming their heads off, and I personally am not looking forward to explaining to Blevins or Skinner that you were interested in following a children's story up into the New Jersey Pine Barrens."

"Where's your sense of adventure, Scully?" Mulder lamented as he took the stairs, trotting down in front of her more careful, measured steps. "Isn't your scientific mind at least curious at the possibility of something out in the middle of the Pinies?"

"My scientific mind thinks your one wave short of a shipwreck." She stopped on the landing between the floors, her hands on hips. "Mulder, I have things to do this evening. I can't go commune in nature with you."

"I couldn't see you as a granola-eating, tree hugging type anyway." He stopped below her, the glimmer of excitement and anticipation in his eyes. "You know, Scully, if you did find a wild man in the woods of New Jersey, you could become famous."

"I think the only wild man in the woods we'll see on this trip is you." With a resigned sigh she continued behind him down the stairwell. "Some of us in this world have other things to do than chasing fairy tales."

"Even fairy tales have kernels of truth in them." Mulder reached the bottom first, and held it open to the parking garage allowing her to step through. "Our own literature is strewn with the tales of feral, wild humans, living beyond the reaches of society, in the forests and mountains, subsisting as animals do in the wild, even to the point of eating human flesh. From the Bible to Kipling to Tarzan there is this fascination with humanities ability to devolve into its most basic and primal states, surviving as any other animal would."

"Tarzan?" she couldn't help the note of incredulity as she stared up at him. "Do you think I can get away with quoting a comic book in our report?"

"The point is, Scully, that those stories are born out of humanities fear and fascination with what it thinks it is capable of becoming. Science has found many cases of children who, from either circumstance or abuse have been forced to flee to the edges of civilization to find shelter and sustenance, becoming feral, unable to even understand the basics of what we deem normal civilization. Those fears become the mythologies we pass down to our children and grandchildren."

"Your argument has a hole, you know." She glanced around the parking area and pointed to the car he had requisitioned for them both. "The fact is that just because a story exists doesn't mean that the origins, the kernels of truth, exist anymore. For all we know whatever sparked this myth has been gone for years, maybe even centuries."

"Not if it's been taking bites out of homeless men it hasn't," Mulder swung the keys to the car playfully around one index finger. "Calling dibs, you drive or I drive?"

"This is your show. I'm just along for the ride when you crash and burn."

"See, that's why I like having you around Scully. A man can never have too big of an ego with a friend like you."

"I do try." She smiled sweetly as she climbed into the passenger's seat. "But if we find that your Bigfoot is really just your average grade, serial killer, whack job out playing slots, you buy me lunch for the rest of the week."

Chapter Text

"So do you like Italian or French?"

Scully braked slowly behind a car that moved into her lanes, careful to leave space between her sedan and the white car with the New Jersey license plate, and a sticker that read, "Take a chance on Atlantic City!"

"Either, I'm not picky," she pressed the bureau issued cell phone to her ear as she checked her left lane mirror to see if it was open. "I have to say though, I'm glad you are thoughtful enough to ask.

"Thanks," Rod laughed. "It comes from being an investment accountant. You worry about the details."

"I know many accountants who skip over the details. Must be why I owe taxes." She smiled nervously at her own joke. These first dates were always so awful, she thought, her heart skipping nervously despite being three hours and several states away from her perspective date.

"Ellen said you were funny. I guess I didn't expect that out of someone who works in the FBI."

"Well, in the department I work in it pays to have a sense of humor." Otherwise, she reasoned silently, she wouldn't be able to laugh at the fact she just had to drive three hours to Atlantic City, New Jersey to bail her partner out of the drunk tank. Never mind the business about the Jersey Devil, and being found in an alley smelling of cheap beer and raw sewage. That was just the added spice in the relationship.

"Why was it you had to go to New Jersey again," Rod asked, as if reading her mind.

"Oh, just something having to do with the case. I'll be back in time for tonight," she reassured him.

"I thought you would have a partner you could send on errands." He teased and despite the distance she felt her face flush as her lips pressed themselves into each other tightly, as if keeping back the bitter retort dancing through her brain at that moment regarding Fox Mulder.

She played it diplomatic. "My partner is already up there with the investigation. Listen, Rod, I'll give you a call when I'm back in town. Can we meet at my place?"

"Sure," he responded cheerily, as she made her goodbyes and hung up, grinding her teeth sullenly and tossing her phone into her handbag. Ahead she saw the exit sign she wanted, and she maneuvered her care carefully into the lane she wanted.

Drunk tank. Jersey Devil. Obstructing justice. Scully felt her foot tap angrily against the brake as she pulsed to a slowdown at the end of the off ramp. Mulder seemed awfully sure that in the end, Scully would come through for him. And that's what Scully always did, she came through for him when he got himself captured by DOD agents, or NSA agents, or whatever other authority Mulder decided to piss off this time. Calm, reasonable Scully there to the rescue. Never mind that she had a date with some nice man she met her godson's birthday party. Never mind the fact it was the first time since she took on the X-files and the disastrous end to her last relationship that she had been out on a date with anything close to resembling a grown, adult male.

The idea of having a conversation with a man that didn't revolve around aliens, monsters, and an alarmingly large porn collection made her shiver to even think about.

Her life was spinning out of control, she mused gloomily, as the red light winked to green, and she pointed her car in the direction of the precinct where Mulder was jailed up. A mad, somewhat crazy thought floated into existence for the briefest of seconds, the idea of just turning her car around right then, of returning to DC and to Rod, and ignoring her hapless partner, letting him find his own way out of the hole he made for himself. Mulder was disgustingly smart, she reasoned, it wouldn't take much for him to find a way to get Detective Thompson to relent. Yet, she admitted rather reluctantly, Mulder's people skills might just mean that the DA would go through with her threat of pressing charges. That would single-handedly closing the X-files for good, and Mulder's quest along with it. Catholic guilt kept her going towards the police station, cursing silently as she turned into the driveway filled with shining black and whites. Somewhere one of the nuns of her childhood was laughing now, she knew it.

The desk clerk at the booking station knew exactly why she was when she waved her badge at him, her jaw set, eyes flashing as he grinned and nodded in mutual understanding. "You're here for Mulder, aren't you."

She only stared at him mutely, refusing to snap his head off as he shrugged good-naturedly.

"He's an interesting one, that partner of yours, carrying on about the Jersey Devil," he passed her a clipboard where she signed in her name, and filled in her badge number. "My dad used to tell me and my brother that story to keep us in bed at night. You know, stay in bed, or the Jersey Devil'll get you."

She wondered if, Mulder had been afraid of anything before Samantha was taken. Probably not. "My partner would rather chase after the monsters and poke them with sticks."

"Yeah!" The desk officer shook his head, laughing heartily, causing his round belly and jowly face to jiggle manically. "I guess they hire all sorts for the FBI these days."

"Something like that," she mumbled as she turned on her heels, and made her way to the holding cell door, a guard just inside opening it for her respectfully, and waiting for her to slip past before closing it again.

Catcalls greeted her as she stepped firmly down the walkway, a familiar cacophony to any woman who had ever worked in law enforcement. Stopping her nose against the combined aromas of vomit, urine, fecal matter, and sweat, she stepped down the long embankment of cell doors, till she spotted the familiar, lanky frame and lazy posture, watching her as she approached.

With the winsome half-smile he shot at her and the cocky set to his head leaning against the slightly scummy, institutional gray brick wall behind him, it was easy to see how it was that Spooky Mulder had managed to charm his way into the graces of most of the temps and young secretary pool at the FBI. Yet, Scully reasoned as she waited in front of the drunk tank bars, she had the sort of steely resolve that met his boyish charm with a wave or icy irritation. He seemed to sense this as he winced, shuddering as he unfolded himself off the plate metal cot, swinging his considerably grimy suit coat casually over his shoulder. The gust of breeze it stirred hit her full in the nose and she gagged at the smell.

"What? Did you role in a garbage can, Mulder?" She coughed, for the first time taking in his startling disheveled state.

"Nope, slept in one," he shrugged, running a hand through his dark hair and making it stand up at odd angles, made worse from two days without a shower. He moved towards where she stood one forearm against the bars and glancing over the top of her head down towards the end of the hallway. "So did you bring a cake for me, Scully?"

She wasn't amused. "I had to hand Blevins a cock and bull story about you spending a weekend at a bachelor party in Atlantic City that got a bit out of hand. Thankfully he seemed to buy it." Almost involuntarily she took the stance that her mother used to take, crossing her arms in sad resignation, and staring up at Mulder's only slightly sheepish face. It was not the first time she felt as if she were reprimanding her own child instead of her partner. "I thought it was easier for him to buy that than you were caught sleeping in an alley for no real reason."

"I had a reason," Mulder insisted.

"What a pissing contest with the local PD?" Down the hallway the heavy doors opened, and there was the general murmur and catcalls from the other holding cells, the same ones she received when she had stepped in minutes before. Detective Thompson seemed impervious as he nodded by way of greeting to Scully, but meeting Mulder's cock-eyed grin with a steady scowl.

"I was wondering if he'd call you to bail his ass out," Thompson passed Scully the thin, manila folder with Mulder's name at the top. "He's all yours, Agent Scully."

"Thanks," she smiled dryly. To be honest, she wasn't sure she wanted him back.

"Try to keep him out of my city, would you," Thompson asked, shooting daggers back at Mulder's impudent yawn and shrug. "I think I have enough cranks in this town, I don't need to chase one more." He waved towards a guard at the opposite end and Scully heard the rattle of keys.

"There was something up there, Thompson," Mulder insisted as the detective turned on them, his head shaking in the way people did when they were convinced of the insanity of those around them. And Scully, for one, couldn't blame him.

She stepped aside as the guard let Mulder out, and led them to the doorway, she staying five steps behind so as not to breathe too deeply.

"Man's just pissed off I was right," Mulder grumbled as they were ushered out of the holding area and to the booking desk, where Scully handed the officer in charge Mulder's file. "I saw something, Scully, I know I did."

"It was probably just another homeless person, Mulder. Did you think of that?" She recognized this conversation devolving into familiar patterns, he the voice of insistence, she quiet reason.

The desk officer handed Mulder a cardboard box. He barely glanced at it as he pulled out his belongings; weapon, badge, and wallet. "I thought of that, Scully, but humans don't look like this thing did." He frowned as he strapped his holster to his side, his eyebrows knit in concentration. "It could sense I was coming, sniffing the air, like a dog."

"The way you smell now, anyone could sense you coming from a mile off," Scully retorted mildly. Mulder frowned down at himself as if for the first time noticing his sweat and dirt smudged shirt, and his rumpled suit.

"Come on, its three hours back to DC." And, she realized as she glanced down at her slender watch, she would just be able to get back in town to change to meet Rod at 7:30. She allowed a small smile to play on her face as she thought of her evening's date, turning towards the precinct entrance, Mulder shuffling along behind her.

Chapter Text

"Look, Rod," never before in Scully's life had she sunk to something this low. "I don't think I can make it."

"Oh." Was it possible for someone to sound so crushed over a phone, she wondered, as Rod's voice came back, sad and small.

"Look, it's not that I wouldn't like to go to see Cirque de Soleil with you and Scott, or mind taking Trent, but work…."

"Yeah, no, I understand." Rod sounded like he understood all too well, much to Scully's dismay. This isn't what she had planned; it wasn't what she had meant to do, to hurt him.

"Look, Rod," what was she supposed to say. I'm sorry! You're very nice, but infinitely boring. I could never discuss my work with you because I'm either cutting up a dead body or bailing out a partner who believes in aliens and monsters?

"You don't have to explain, Dana," he laughed, sad and apologetic. "Look, I know it's a bit hard in your line of work. Especially with a single dad."

"Rod, I'm sorry. I…I am so flattered that you asked me."

"Why?" He sounded truly surprised. "Dana, you're an attractive woman. Why else would I ask you out?"

"I don't know. My glowing personality?" She elicited a chuckle from the other end. "Look, next time you have Scott and Ellen needs a night off, give me a call. We can watch the boys and make sure they don't kill one another."

"You're on."

At least she was leaving this all too brief relationship on a happy note.

"Look, I have to go. Take care Rod." She set down the receiver, watching the doorway of their office pensively.

Mulder was filling out the forms for another car though the Smithsonian wasn't terribly far away.

"Who was that?"

"A guy," she shrugged nonchalantly.

"A guy?" The idea seemed to amuse him for some reason. "Same guy you had dinner with the other night?"

"Same guy."

"You gonna have dinner with him again?" My, but he was inquisitive, she thought.

"I don't think so."

"No interest?"

"Not at this time."

Mulder handed the paperwork back to the receptionist, grabbing the keys and moving towards the door. She followed close behind much to his confusion.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm going with you to the Smithsonian."

Her answer seemed to amuse him. He grinned ironically at her. "Don't you have a life, Scully?"

"Keep that up, Mulder, and I'll hurt you like that beast woman." She opened the door to the stairwell that led to the parking garage below.

"Eight million years out of Africa?" He muttered, ironically.

"And look whose holding the door," she smirked, as he slipped through.

"Are you accusing me of being sexist?"

"No, I'm simply making a statement on the interesting nature of our situation." She followed behind, noting with some irritation that he always managed to get ahead of her, her shorter legs unable to keep up with his steps. "Women seem to always be the ones left holding the bag. You men run off and get yourselves killed, captured, or jailed while we women are left to hold down the fort and try to sort it all out."

Mulder stopped, mid stride, looking up at her. "Is that a sling against me or the beast man?"

"I think it's against both."

He smirked, rolling his eyes as he continued down the stairs.

"Just because you had a bad break-up, Scully…."

"Bad break up," she echoed in disbelief. "Is that what you think happened?"

"Another one bites the dust!" He shrugged, continuing down the stairs, even as she looked down on him, her jaw hanging wide open.

"Another conquest you mean?" Look who was talking, she thought to herself angrily as her legs suddenly scrambled down the concrete steps to follow him in outraged consternation.

"I'm just noting," Mulder opened the door at the bottom of the stairs, ignoring her angry glare as she stopped in front of him, refusing to go through. "Whatever happened to poor 'what's-his-name'?"

"Poor who?" She ground out.

"That photographer guy you were with. The one who spent an hour criticizing crime scene photos."

She blinked at him, her face stone as her teeth ground one against the other. "Ethan?"

"Yeah, him. I haven't seen him around."

"We broke up months ago, Mulder," she replied evenly. "If you hadn't been busy making your way through the secretarial pool you might have noticed."

She hit a nerve, and she knew it. His teasing had caused her to cross a line, and now it was his turn to look put out as his face flushed, and he hurried through the door, Scully following in triumph behind.

"I didn't think you paid so much attention," Mulder shot over his shoulder.

"How could I not, when they leave angry messages like, 'I hope you die, you evil, rat bastard' on the office answering machine."

Scully could almost hear him ground his teeth one against the other.

"Not as much fun when the tables are turned, eh," she whispered cheekily as he stopped at their car.

"Pour salt into the wound, Scully."

"You are the one who brought it up."

If looks could kill, she would have lain twitching beside their non-descript Ford Taurus.

"Get in," he barked as she climbed into the car, realizing that for the first time in our short partnership she had truly pissed him off. He scowled darkly as he pulled the car out. Scully felt her triumph waning significantly and the guilt starting to niggle at her brain.

"Look, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," she finally, grudgingly admitted. "It's just…don't you miss having a life, Mulder?"

"I have a life," he replied flatly as he pulled into the midday, DC traffic.

"You have an obsession."

"What's the difference, really, when you get down to it," he shrugged.

"The difference is, Mulder, that other people have normal, healthy relationships outside of their work life. Don't you have…friends, buddies? Guys you watch the big game with?"

"You mean a social life," he snorted derisively. "Our societies attempts to charge meaning into a bland, copycat world by encouraging us to fit into certain social norms in order to create the illusion of having a tribe, a group that the lonely individual can belong to."

Scully only blinked by way of response.

"What, you don't agree?"

"You are so sad, Mulder. Has anyone ever told you how sad you really are?"

"This coming from someone who just shot down a man she had all of one date with."

They were at an impasse. She pressed her lips into a thin line, her teeth digging into them softly as she bit back the angry retort. Bickering would accomplish nothing.

"Besides," Mulder's muttered peevishly beside her. "I don't think spending your weekend getting your nails done and reading medical journals is much of a life either."

Thank goodness she couldn't reach her gun.

Chapter Text

The clock in the hallway read 2 AM, black numbers against ivory, Scully's eyes blurring as she stifled a yawn. The space outside of Section Chief Blevins office was darkened, empty, and silent save for Mulder's measured, pacing footsteps against he marble tile. She watched him, back and forth, like a caged cat, occasionally flipping inscrutable glances towards Blevins' door. She glanced at her wristwatch, as if it could tell her a different time than the clock on the wall. It didn't. They had been waiting fifteen minutes already, and she had received the call an hour and a half before. Her rush into her suit and dash out the door had led to a slightly maddened and most likely illegal drive from Georgetown to the Hoover building, where Mulder met her in about as good a mood as she was in. Unlike her, however, he didn't look like he had even bothered to change out of his clothes when he had gone home earlier that evening. His suit was the same she had seen him in earlier that day. She wondered if he had even bothered with sleep yet when he'd received the call.

"Wonder what Blevins wants with us," she murmured sleepily, rubbing at swollen, gritty eyes. "And why he wanted us at this time of the morning."

Mulder's frown conveyed that whatever reason Blevins had, it couldn't possibly be good.

"I'm sure it isn't that bad." She knew Mulder had few allies in the Bureau now, but he was a good agent when it came down to it. Well…mostly good.

"Blevins and I haven't exactly been best buddies." Mulder's monotone was low and gravely in the silence. "He campaigned vigorously when I initiated the attempt to open the X-files. He was the loudest voice against it."

"Why? Well, besides the obvious?"

Mulder's pacing continued, and she could see his fingers probing in pockets for seeds, his habit when thoughtful or agitated. "Blevins kept a tight ship until I opened the X-files, well respected, with a perfect record with the Bureau. My insistence at re-opening the X-files, after they had been closed for years, was an embarrassment to him."

"Surely he knew someone would be interested in them sooner or later?"

"I guess he hoped he would have Skinner's cushy job before it got to be sooner." Mulder shrugged. "Anyway, in the ensuing argument I guess I was a bit…forceful in my opinions."

"I find that hard to believe," she replied drolly.

"Yeah, well Skinner gave me my way, and not his. Blevins hasn't exactly been on friendly terms with me ever since."

That went a long way to explain why Blevins had placed her on detail with Mulder, she mused. Blevins saw Mulder as more than an embarrassment, he saw Mulder as a threat. She was, she realized, a professional babysitter. "But Blevins recognizes the legitimacy of your work, correct?"

"Blevins recognizes that when weird shit goes down around here, he can toss it to me, and either I sink or swim with it. If I sink, no one cares, if I swim, he can take credit for it." Mulder pivoted neatly, the leather of his shoes scrapping against the tile. "That's politics in the FBI. It keeps him happy, and the more happy he is, the less likely he is to look to hard at what I'm doing." He shot her a pointed look. Scully cleared her throat.

"If you think I'm tattling to you to Blevins…" She began, but the door to Blevins office swung open then and cut off any reply.

Scott Blevins looked hardly better than either of them did, bleary eyed and rumpled, he motioned them into his office as he pinched the bridge of his nose where his glasses sat. He waited till they had filed in, then closed the door and showed them to the armchairs in front of his desk.

"Have a seat Mulder, Scully." He moved to his own and sat heavily in front of an unmarked file. "I'm sorry for the early hour. This was called into me from high-ranking sources within the government. I had to respond to it as quickly as possible." He flipped the manila open and rifled through the papers within. "There's been a suspicious death I've been asked to have you both investigate. The body will be waiting for you at Bethesda Naval Hospital."

"Was the body found in Bethesda?" Mulder pounced on Blevins, leaning forward in his seat, his face carefully neutral. Blevins paused, regarding Mulder briefly over his thick glasses before shaking his head.

"No, the body wasn't." He didn't elaborate but regarded them both grimly. "This matter is highly sensitive, agents, and must be handled with the utmost discretion and care. There are eyes beyond even the FBI looking at this case."

That was unexpectedly cryptic. Scully glanced towards Mulder whose gaze was fixed on the file before Blevins. "Can we at least see the information before we go out into the field, sir? So we can know what we are dealing with?" His tone was just on the side of politeness, but only just. Not even Blevins could ignore the current of sarcasm in Mulder's seemingly innocent question.

"I'm afraid not, Agent Mulder. However, you are expected at the Naval hospital in half an hour. I suggest that you both not keep them waiting."

His dismissal was curt as he nodded to them and Scully rose quickly to make her way to the door. Mulder remained, however, and looked as if he wanted to say something.

"Yes, Agent Mulder?" Blevins paused in placing the file into a desk drawer.

Mulder waited a long moment. Whatever thoughts, accusations, or insults might have fallen from his lips just then were reigned in. He rpse to follow Scully, chewing on the corner of his lip thoughtfully.

"What is it," she whispered as he closed the door of Blevins office behind him.

"Someone's calling Blevins on the carpet. He needs this case solved."

"How do you know?" Scully blinked at Mulder blankly, replaying the conversation, or lack there of, in her mind, wondering what about it even clued him into the very idea.

"Blevins has never given me an assignment on this little." His eyebrows knit together as his hand grabbed her elbow, leading her down the hall. "And the mystery act, the request for 'discretion'. Someone needs something found and they haven't been able to dig it up themselves. And I'll wager anything that whatever it is, it's just unexplainable enough that they requested us directly."

"How can you be certain," Scully wondered, confused by his leaps in logic.

"Blevins wouldn't give me a secret assignment if he could help it. Not unless he could benefit from it."

"It couldn't be a simple case of letting bygones be bygones? After all, what would he have to gain out of you and a secret mission that even he can't discuss the particulars about?"

"Get another few years in the field under you, Scully, and you'll learn there is no such thing as 'bygones' in the Bureau." His steps had carried them both to elevators. "So who gets to drive then, you or me?"

"You," Scully yawned widely. "I think I'll nap."

"Wuss," Mulder snorted as one of the elevators opened wide.

Chapter Text

If Scully were ever a woman afraid for her life the last place she thought she would go to feel safe would be a cemetery.

Lauren Kyte stood for long, silent moments as she bent over the gravestone, oblivious of the watching eyes of two FBI agents in the distance, both seated in their newly repaired, nondescript sedan. She finally moved away from the grave and out into the distance, wending through the other graves to her own car.

"Let's go." Mulder opened his door, heading straight for the spot where Lauren had been standing. They found the headstone with Lauren's flowers. Not surprisingly, it read Howard Graves.

"You don't see too many bosses' graves without people dancing on it." Mulder mused thoughtfully, as Scully wondered if he was thinking of Section Chief Blevins. Beside it sat another smaller headstone, the name Sarah Lynn Graves etched into the granite, with the dates of September 8, 1966 to August 3, 1969. She was just shy of three when she died.

"Look at this." She pointed the other gravestone out to Mulder, who glanced from it to a groundskeeper planting flowers nearby.

"Excuse me sir," he called, the groundskeeper looking up curiously at Mulder's summons. "Where do I get information on those people?" He waved vaguely at the headstones of Howard and Sarah Graves.

The groundskeeper pointed to himself. "I attend every funeral. I'm the last person to them put to rest."

"Do you know how Sarah Lynn is related to Howard Graves?"

"His daughter," the groundskeeper nodded promptly. "They were at home one day and he didn't latch the pool gate. She drowned. His wife left him a year later. She's buried in a plot in the Northeast corner."

"Thank you, sir," Mulder answered. Scully began to pull the pieces together as the groundskeeper returned to his flowers.

"She was only three years old." This fact struck her again, this time more poignant, made all the worse by the knowledge now that it was an accident on he part of Howard Graves. Guilt and pain could stay with someone years after the fact, effecting all of their relationships, particularly someone like Lauren Kyte.

Mulder's thoughts seemed to be moving in the very same direction. "If she had lived, she'd be Lauren's age." His eyes met hers and for a moment, Scully wondered if he couldn't really read her mind after all.

"Do you suspect Howard Graves took Lauren in as a sort of surrogate father?"

"More than that." Mulder nodded towards the grave of the long deceased Sarah. "I think that Howard Graves was trying to protect Lauren from something as well. I think he has been all along."

"Coming back from the dead? Telekinesis?"

"Didn't you see that movie, Ghost?"

"That's the one with Patrick Swayze and the pottery wheel, isn't it?" Oh yes, she remembered that one. What woman didn't?

"Right, the pottery wheel." Mulder's look of consternation bordered on horrified discomfort. "Well, if you got past the dripping sexual innuendo you would have seen the perfect example of spiritual telekenisis, ghosts effecting physical change in the living world."

"Mulder, it was a movie, a story, a piece of entertainment. Last I checked not everything we see on the silver screen is real. Else I would have a flying car and have a light saber by now."

"I always wanted both of those," Mulder sighed wistfully, earning him an eye roll from Scully. "Telekinetic behavior on the part of ghosts has been established for years. Poltergeists perform it with alarming effect."

"Perhaps on those strange programs they show late at night, the pseudo news shows where they interview people in the back of no-where about strange scrapes and weird sounds. Where is your substantiated evidence?"

"I believe the nasty headaches you and I are sporting and the damage to the car we have to put into our expense report just might be that substantial evidence you are looking for." Mulder nodded his head to their parked car.

"So you mean to tell me that you plan on putting in our report that the person who killed the members of Isfahan that attacked Lauren Kyte was the ghost of Howard Graves out to protect her because he came to see her as his long lost daughter?"

"Makes a hell of a lot more sense than what we got now, doesn't it?" Mulder turned to their car. "Write what you want in your report, Scully, but there is something to my theory and you know it."

She watched him lope to their car with easy strides before glancing down at Howard and Sarah Graves' headstones nestled in the soft, green grass. "Why is it that his crazy theories have to be the ones that make the most, logical sense?"

Chapter Text

The coffee was hot and warming but the taste landed somewhere between black tar and burnt chocolate. She tried dumping another packet of powdered creamer and two of sugar, stirring the concoction vigorously to work out the lumps. When she sipped it again it was no less disgusting but at least it was a bit more palatable.

"The coffee here will put hair on your chest, Scully." Mulder lounged in one of the hard, plastic chairs in the break room, his long legs propped on the table in front of him, his hands laced behind his dark, brown hair. "And I think I'm speaking for all men when I say that I'd be sad to see anything resembling hair on your chest."

"Thanks," she replied in dry amusement, leaning against the counter with one hip, still gingerly sipping at the mess all the same. "So are they DoD or Justice?"

"Investigating Isfahan's links to HTG Technologies? Judging by the amount of nonsensical silence and the general unwillingness to share any information with anyone, I'd say they were Defense." Mulder sounded on the whole unimpressed. "I suppose that's why they couldn't trust the likes of this sort of investigation on us. We aren't cool enough secret agents."

"Don't you get into a pissing contest with them, Mulder. They are doing their job."

"They think Lauren Kyte was in on it!" He snapped forward in his seat, swinging his feet to the floor. "They think that she knows the link between Isfahan and HTG!"

"And what if she does?" Scully felt she had to be the devil's advocate here, to bring some sense to the conversation. "You have to admit it makes a lot more sense than secret protection from the great beyond."

"What if she doesn't know anything, Scully," Mulder insisted, as almost at the same time she saw something click within his line of logic. Instantly dawning realization grew on his face, his fingers began drumming a steady staccato on the Formica table in front of him.

"What if Lauren doesn't know the informationm but Howard Graves did? What if he wasn't the one making the deals with Isfahan?"

"But the DOD has already traced it back to HTG," Scully puzzled out loud. "If Graves didn't sign off on it…"

"Then his partner could have. Didn't Graves have a partner?"

"Yes." She ran the articles she had poured through over in her mind. "Dorland."

"He assumed full control of the Board of Directors upon Graves' death, correct?"

"Yes. If it wasn't Graves, Dorland could have been the one dealing with Isfahan."

"And Graves could have found our about it, threatened to bring it all to light. Dorland would have panicked."

"And he could have had Graves killed and made it look like a suicide." Scully set her coffee in front of her, half drunk. "It's certainly possible. If his wrists were cut no coroner would automatically assume homicide. And like the medical examiner said, they wouldn't do a blood test unless they thought it was suspicious."

"Thus guaranteeing that no traces of any drugs in the blood work would be found."

Scully swallowed, the residue of the disgusting coffee and creamer coating her tongue thickly. "You realize you have no proof of this."

"No more proof than Secret Agent Man in there has or is going to get out of Lauren Kyte." Mulder rose, agitated energy moving him towards the break room door. "Come on, I have a feeling I might just be able to get Lauren to tell us whether Dorland has anything to do with it, and if so, if Howard Graves knew about it."

"He'd be guilty of more than just illegal arms trading, Mulder. This would be a full on murder investigation." Scully rose quickly to follow him, tossing her concoction away in the nearest garbage as she moved behind him out of the door.

"Bet that would piss Secret Agent Man off." Mulder shot back happily.

Chapter Text

"It's nine o'clock at night, Mulder, the Liberty Bell will not be open." She couldn't help laughing at him as he attempted to crane his neck around the ticket offices, calling inside for anyone to answer the booth.

"They don't close down national monuments, do they?"

"How long have you lived in Washington again?" Scully sat on the front of the hood of their rental car, high heels perched precariously on the front bumper.

Mulder pulled uselessly at a gate. "Think if we flashed our badges someone will let us in?"

"Unless you can come up with a probable cause as to why we should be investigating the bell at this time of night, probably not."

"I heard that there is a rumor that Paul Revere's ghost stalks the halls of this joint."

"Paul Revere doesn't have a ghost."

"How do you know? Have you seen him?" Mulder asked defiantly.

"No, I haven't."

"Of course not, because he's a ghost!" The logic seemed to make sense to Mulder, yet Scully broke out in peels of hysterical laughter. It carried through the darkness, causing Mulder to stuff his hands in his pockets sheepishly and shuffle over to her.

"Laughing at my expense?"

"I think you slid off your slippery slope, Mulder," she finally choked, giggling at him.

"Wouldn't be the first time I've been accused of that," he admitted, turning to sit beside her on the hood of the car, making the car sink slightly with his added weight. "At least you can laugh about it."

"I think I'm getting used to it." She conceded. "Maybe you're rubbing off on me, Mulder."

"Don't say that, they'll kick you out of here for sure." He laughed, shrugging his shoulders against a chill in the air. "I'm surprised I haven't scared you off yet."

"Why?" She snorted, truly perplexed.

"I don't know. Even I admit I'm hard to get along with."

"Well," she hemmed evasively. "I will admit, your porn collection is a bit large for one man."

"That's not mine," he replied automatically.

"Right," she continued. "And your tendency to ditch me at a moments notice is liable to get your shot someday."

"You say the kinkiest things, Scully," he teased, nudging her with his elbow. She stuck her tongue out at him.

"You aren't so bad as a partner," she shrugged. "Look at it this way, at least I haven't slept with you yet."

"Really? Do you make this a habit?" He sounded surprised.

"No." Why did she just admit that to him? "Yes…all right, I did date my only other partner…mentor, really. He was an instructor at the Academy and we partnered together briefly after graduation."

"Scully!" He was gleefully shocked. "Tell me more about this wild, crazy part of yourself."

"Wild and crazy? You can't tell me you haven't had someone you worked with you weren't attracted to."

"Most my partners were men and none of them attractive." He replied grinning. "Well, save one, she was a woman and was attractive."

"And did you sleep with her?"

He ducked his head. "Yes. I did."

"See," she felt justified. "It happens, I suppose."

"This coming from the queen of FBI regulations. I thought you could quote the book at me, Scully. As I recall, Section…"

"I know what the regulations say, Mulder." She punched him lightly in the arm. "And you'll be happy to know I have no intention of trying to seduce you."

"Way to kill a man's dreams, Scully." Mulder sighed dramatically.

"Please," she snorted. "Besides, I know there must be things about me that irritate you."

Mulder looked thoughtful for a long moment, before shaking his head. "No, not really."

"Liar!"

"No, seriously. I have to say as far as partners go, you have probably been the best I've run across so far."

"Mulder, I do nothing but argue with you."

"Arguing is a form of communication."

"I tell you your ideas are crazy!"

"You keep me grounded," he countered, smiling softly at her. "I hate to admit it, but it's your science, your need for concrete evidence that gives my work substance. Without you, I'd be howling at the moon, running mad with nothing but stardust and glamour with which to support my work."

She considered this carefully. She tried, at least in her heart, to be as objective as possible despite knowing what her superiors would wish her to do. She hadn't joined the FBI though to please her superiors or to climb some sort of ladder to success. She had joined the Bureau because she wished to help others, to do what was right and above all to never fail in searching for the truth, even if it was painful, even if it took away from or helped to validate Mulder's work. In the end, she was searching for the same things he was. She was making the same journey he himself was making. Despite his rampant belief or her doubtful skepticism they weren't so different, she and Mulder. In their hearts they were very much the same.

"You ever have a Philly cheese steak," he asked quietly.

It was the last thing she had expected, given the turn of their conversation. "Yes, when I was a kid."

"I think I need one. There's these two places not far form here; one serves sandwiches with Cheese Whiz and one with provolone. Which do you prefer?"

"Provolone," she wrinkled her nose. "Do you know what sort of things they put in Cheese Whiz?"

"Don't ruin it for me, Doctor Scully, I have a very steady diet of grease, saturated fat, and carbohydrates. You might just end it with this healthy talk." He waved his hands as he hopped up. "Come on, my treat."

"You buying?" She slid off the front of the car as well, careful to allow her heeled shoes to land evenly on the ground. "I can take you up on that."

"See, I knew if I offered to pay, you'd go along with me. I'm starting to read you, Scully. Like a book."

"Really," her mouth twitched upwards. "Tell me what I'm thinking now."

"I bet it has nothing to do with you finding me boyishly handsome," he sighed.

"You're right, Mulder! You are starting to read me like a book."

Chapter Text

"So what shall we play in lunch roulette today, Scully," Mulder perused the selection of sandwiches, chips, salads, and pre-packaged, dried soups with about as much enthusiasm as Scully felt.

The lunch cart proprietor was not amused.

"I thought you liked the roast beef?" She pointed to the large, plastic wrapped sandwich. She tried hard not to stare too hard at the oversized, chocolate chip cookie that seemed to whisper "Dana" in dulcet, dark, rich tones.

"I don't know if I'm in the roast beef sort of mood today." He wrinkled his nose at it looking for the entire world like a two-year-old who hated crusts on his sandwiches. She snorted and assiduously continued to ignore the cookie still calling to her.

"Mulder!" They both turned to the balding man waving at them from across the sea of gray, colorless cubicles and quizzical, curious looks. He was unfamiliar to Scully, but apparently he wasn't to Mulder, who actually moved to embraced the stranger in a hug, grinning in easy familiarity

"Jerry!" Mulder seemed genuinely pleased, grinning from ear to ear, actually looking happy. Scully tried not to let her mouth drop in too much shock. They typical reaction most other agents had to Mulder was wary respect at best, open hostility more commonly. To see someone actually take his hand and joke with him was disturbing…even upsetting.

Jerry pulled from the embrace; turning towards her with the sort of slick smile she had seen on many a used car salesman ad. "You're Dana Scully, right?" He reached large, eager hand for hers, pumping it hard. "Jerry Lamana."

"Jerry and I used to work together in Violent Crimes." Mulder supplied to the confused frown she shot at him.

"Work together?" Jerry shoved Mulder in the shoulder gently, the sort of "old-boys-club" gesture that Scully had never seen performed on Mulder. Perhaps the whole lone wolf persona was as much an artifice as she suspected it was.

"We were partners," Jerry quantified to Scully, as Mulder glanced at her, half apologetic, half embarrassed, and more than a little uncomfortable standing wedged between his former partner and his new one. Was this what it was like when exes ran into each other, she wondered vaguely.

"That's $8.50, please." The lunch cart woman held her hand out expectantly to the sandwich that Scully just now realized she had snagged. She pulled out her wallet, juggling sandwich and money.

"Jerry, what are you doing here?" Mulder voiced the question she herself had been wondering.

"Looking for you." Jerry reached a hand across to Scully's wallet, causing her to stop, freezing at the unwanted physical contact. "And I'm buying you two lunch."

His offer to buy lunch cart lunch somehow hardly struck her as that magnanimous of an offer. "No, really…"

"No, it's on me." He passed a twenty to the woman, before grabbing Mulder's elbow, and spinning him off, not even bothering to grab the change he was owed.

"Sir, you forgot…" the lunch cart woman started to call.

"I'll get it to him." She held out her hand, frowning after her partner and his friend as they moved through the desks back to the stairwell that led to their basement office.

There basement! It was the first time, she realized, that she thought of it as "their" office, rather than Mulder's alone. Just months ago she had wandered into the lion's den, expecting fully to have her head bitten off by the notoriously rude and taciturn Fox Mulder, before being summarily run out of his office as a disruptive spy out to destroy his work. She had worked hard to prove to him that not only was she committed to his work and to using her science and reasoning to further the truth but that she wasn't out to get him, destroy him, or use him any fashion. Getting that far had taken months of effort. Earning his trust that was in no way some small feet. Perhaps that was why it stung so much to see Mulder laughing and joking with a person who, in Scully's opinion, could have convinced Mulder the Director of the FBI himself was a demon controlled by Reticulans. Not that she knew Jerry Lamana from Adam, but there was something about the man a bit too friendly, a bit too generous, a desperation to his smile that screamed he needed to use Mulder for something. It reminded her a great deal, if she admitted it to herself, of Tom Colton, whenever he came sniffing around for Scully's assistance.

Well, well, she thought grimly, even Mulder was capable of being played once in a while. Hopefully his play didn't involve him loosing a liver.

"Scully!" Mulder finally noticed that she had not fallen right in lock step behind them. "Jerry's got a case he's working on, he wanted to run it past us to see what we thought about it."

"I bet he does," she muttered softly to herself.

Chapter Text

"Why would Jerry Lamana take the liberty of dropping your name for this case?" Scully was curious. She had held her tongue until they had both made it to Mulder's car and began the drive outside of DC to Euresko's world headquarters.

"Hmmm?" Mulder's thoughts had been elsewhere, his gaze distant as he glanced at her briefly from the traffic around them.

"Jerry? Why would he think to drop your name to Nancy Spiller?"

Mulder shrugged, his thoughts still only half with her. "Jerry knows what I do. He probably felt it was a fit. Got to admit, I have a knack for strange cases?" He flashed a lopsided grin on her but she wasn't buying it.

"It just seems odd is all? He comes running to you before reaching out to someone else in the Bureau?"

"You mean someone with a little less baggage?"

"No, I mean he wanted you specifically. You're assigned to the X-files, that's not uncommon knowledge. This is a case that anyone bright and shining star in Violent Crimes could have taken. And yet he came to you specifically."

"It's complicated." Mulder chewed his lip lightly as he turned left into traffic, pulling the car in a smooth arc before continuing. "Jerry is a good agent. Just things haven't been so good for him."

"Okay," she prodded, her conversation with Mulder over her own relationship with Tom Colton just months ago replaying in her mind. Pot and kettle. How ironic. Perhaps Mulder knew from whence he spoke there.

"Jerry was my first partner out of the Academy. We both worked together under Reggie Purdue." He chuckled to himself, one of the sorts that indicated there was a long history there, most likely full of things Mulder would rather not get out in public.

"Jerry was as green as I was and about as clueless. We got lost our first day in the office. We walked in on a meeting between the Director, several Assistant Directors, and someone I could only assume came from the some other intelligence branch, maybe NSA. I don't even remember what the meeting was about, but Jerry and I sat in the back for fifteen minutes before anyone noticed. And when they did he played it off that we were there on an assignment involving the brutal slaying of five suspected terrorists in some small town in Maryland and we thought the information would be relevant to our case."

"Did you seriously get away with that?"

"No, but it did give me time to slink back out the door while Jerry stood their stuttering."

"It sounds like the two of you got along well then." Surprising to Scully, who had only ever heard of Mulder's fall from grace. But there were still those corners where she heard the glowing praise of the wunderkind Mulder had once being, the rising star who had dazzled everyone with his analysis and intellect. "I guess Jerry got to see you in the heyday of Fox Mulder, eh?" She was curious. He hardly ever brought up his early years.

"Yeah, though I don't know how impressed he was." Mulder sobered considerably. Gone was the nostalgic grin. "Jerry is a bright guy, don't get me wrong."

"But next to Spooky Mulder whose first criminal profile became standard reading at the Academy?" She arched an eyebrow skeptically at him, as he shrugged in his suit coat, obviously uncomfortable with the reminder of just how much of a superstar he had once been.

"I don't think Jerry was jealous." Mulder replied defensively.

"At least not much."

"He tried. He did good work. Saved my ass from more than a few bad instances."

"I'm not asking you to defend him, Mulder," she pointed out gently.

He nodded silently. In the distance, she could see the large complex that made up Euresko's corporate headquarters.

"Jerry was a good friend back in the day," he finally murmured, slowing the car through merging traffic. "Back then it was hard to know who your friends were, especially when you were the next hot item coming up the ladder. I won't say it didn't bug Jerry. But he never screwed me. When I took over the X-files, and everyone else began avoiding me like the bubonic plague, Jerry always checked in, called me up for a beer."

In other words, Jerry gave Mulder a semblance of a life and respected him as a friend beyond their work. Scully thought of Colton, a man she had considered a friend, someone who she had been very close to. That was at least till the moment Coldton had pulled Mulder's detail off of Eugene Tooms. Colton had ridiculed her for siding with her partner, she had considered him a close friend as well, someone who had been there for during those rough days at Quantico as fresh recruits. Under stress, his true colors had shown through. She hadn't heard from Colton in the months since the incident. Rumor had it he had lost a lot of face for endangering another agent's life; she was gratified she had called him on it. But she was sure the smarmy jackass would find his way back again.

Mulder pulled his car onto the street parking before the tall, large office building Euresko's offices inhabited. For Mulder's sake, Scully hoped that Jerry wouldn't prove to be like Colton, someone using Mulder's talents to gain another step up the FBI's ladder. Yet, she had heard the desperation in Jerry's voice, and the plea in his eyes, that all-too-familiar look of "help-a-friend-out". Mulder had too few friends in his life, she realized, and he would fall over himself to help those that he let into the small circle of his trust. She hoped that he didn't land flat on his back as Jerry finally got to get some of the credit he had never had shine on him in the days when Mulder had been Violent Crimes new golden boy.

Chapter Text

The moment she heard about Jerry Lamana she prepared for the worst.

Mulder, as she was learning, was an interesting study in human emotions. He was a man who easily walled himself off from the rest of the world with scathing humor and indifferent intellect. His flippant treatment of everyone from superiors to suspects had caused no end of grief for those within the FBI concerned with internal affairs, and she often wondered if he deliberately fostered his asshole, spooky persona to just deter those he would rather not have to deal with or who he felt would not understand or appreciate his work. But when one wasn't looking too closely, Mulder was very surprising. She had only known him hours, really, when he'd poured his heart out to her about perhaps the most painful subject in his life. Over their months of working together she had learned that Mulder was more than the angry malcontent, hidden in the basement to keep him from the more respectable areas of government. He was brilliantly insightful, obsessed with the truth, but above all he valued those who showed they valued him. Those people were few in Mulder's life.

And he had just lost one of them.

Even if Jerry had simply called Mulder onto the case because he desperately needed a win, Mulder had thought highly enough of him to not call him out for it. Scully had thought, and still did, that Mulder had gone easy on Jerry's lifting of his profile, and perhaps that stemmed from Mulder's desire to please, his fear of losing one of those few people he had let into his life. Now Mulder's profile had taken that person away from him forever. And she had a feeling the weight of that on someone who already seemed to have a rather large guilt complex might lead him to doing something stupid.

Within the office she could hear the scrambling of video in reverse, as her slim fingers edged around the knob and she let herself in. Unsurprisingly, Mulder hunched over the television, watching an elevator plunging down, down, and Jerry Lamana on it, riding to his death. She wondered how many times so far he had watched that footage.

"I heard about Jerry." Her voice sounded startling against the silence in the room, broken only by the whirring of the VCR. "I'm sorry."

"I don't think Wilczek did it," Mulder didn't turn to look at her, but she could sense that fevered pitch, the tension created as Mulder's mind spun and danced in its own free-for-all.

"What?" She managed that question stupidly, glancing from the video to Mulder, wondering if he had seen something on the video that others had missed.

"It doesn't make sense. Why would he go back to Euresko?"

The explanation seemed obvious to her. "To destroy evidence, to cover his tracks."

"If you were going to destroy evidence would you pose for the cameras?" He made it sound so logical. Perhaps in his mind it was.

He rewound the tape, but she stopped it, turning off the television and kneeling beside him. His eyes avoided hers but she could still see the anger and the hurt. Despite the calm façade he threw up to her now, she knew he was hurt. Mulder's solution for the loss of those he was close to was to find explanations for why it happened and to bring the truth of the matter to the light. It was what he was doing for Samantha. And she had a feeling that's what he was doing for Jerry as well.

"Mulder." Her fingers moved to rest on his arm. He didn't move it from under her fingertips. "You've been through a lot. More than I think you realize."

Or perhaps he did. He was the psychologist after all. He set his jaw stubbornly, his mouth pulling in petulant lines.

"I think Wilczek is smarter than this." He turned the tape back on again, focusing again on Jerry Lamana helplessly clinging to the bars of the elevator.

He was convinced of his certainty. It left a cold feeling in her stomach, not just because of what he might do, but because she would have to be the one to make him see reason. She inhaled slowly, wondering how to even put it. "He signed a confession an hour ago," she murmured softly. "How much proof do you need?"

"Wilczek didn't do it, Scully." He paused the tape. "He's hiding something, covering up for someone."

"For who," she blinked up at him. "Mulder, there was no one else there to do it, and the security guard noticed how agitated Wilczek was when he came in."

"I think Wilczek might have created something he can't stop, something that he tried to stop, but Jerry was at the wrong place at the wrong time." He paused the tape as he leaped out of his chair, pacing around his desk to the door and back. Scully watched him as she raised herself, feeling suddenly very frightened by the turn of Mulder's mood.

"Listen to yourself," she urged, following him as he roamed, caged in his own circle of thoughts. "Mulder, Wilczek has admitted to murdering Jerry. What reason does he possible have for making something like that up?"

"I don't know for certain, but I bet if I get a warrant to search his house I can come up with it." He grabbed for the phone and had the receiver nearly up to his ear as Scully shot across the desk, pressing down the receiver button, cutting the line off.

"Mulder!" She didn't back down from his mutinous glare. "Listen to yourself. You are making up fantasy stories to explain a horrible accident. It won't bring Jerry back."

"I'm well aware Jerry isn't coming back, Scully, but I'm not going to let an innocent man frame himself for Jerry's death without knowing who or what he's protecting."

He was determined. He had the sort of look that said he would do this with or without her help. "Mulder, don't you see? You are doing the same thing with Jerry's death that you did with Samantha's disappearance."

The mere mention of his sister's name caused Mulder to react, rolling his eyes and turning from her, both hands and phone receiver to his hips as he swung back on her. "This has nothing to do with my sister. My sister isn't dead."

"No." She admitted that. No one knew what had happened to Samantha Mulder. "She isn't dead - that we know of." The scientist in her was always careful to quantify this. "But you feel just as guilty about her disappearance as you do about Jerry's death."

If she had been trying to hit him, she didn't think he could look more stunned or more hurt.

"Jerry came to you, but it was his case. He had no way of knowing what would happen. Neither did you."

"This isn't what this is about," he mumbled in agitation.

"Yes it is, Mulder," she insisted.

"No, it's not," he shouted, blazing, before catching himself as she stared back at him, stunned finally into a hesitant silence. As if realizing what he had just done, he pulled away, physically backing away from her and the desk, and gesturing with his free hand to his office door.

"Look, if you aren't with me on this case, then I'm sure there are other things you could be doing. I'd like to place a phone call now." He shut down, closed himself off. His entire manner became distant and cold. It cut her worse than if he had personally insulted her. Never before had she been summarily dismissed for disagreeing with him. Even at his most stubborn, Mulder had at least given her enough respect to disagree with dignity. He never completely cut her off, thrown her out.

"Yeah...I have some paperwork to complete." In response, she felt herself shut down, her expression become stony, her shoulder pushed back and the stiff upper lip of a good, naval officer's daughter. Don't ever let them see you hurt.

He must have realized just how much his words had wounded her. His stormy expression softened somewhat as she moved past him. "Scully, I..."

She stopped in front of him, as he towered over her. He was still infuriated. Was he sure what or who he was angry with? "It's all right. Tell me what you find, okay?"

She moved on out of the office, and was into the elevator before she let the facade drop and allowed herself a moment for her hurt to leak through the armor. Her eyes misted, her nose tingled, but she quickly sniffed against both, taking a deep breath as the elevator doors sprang open.

"Leave Mulder to his demons, Dana," she whispered to herself. God knows they were probably best left to him anyway.

Chapter Text

Sleep didn't find her easily that night. She'd tried a medical journal; she had tried Austen, and finally turned out the lights before tossing and turning an hour before drifting off into a fitful sleep. She had expected Mulder to call her…perhaps hoped was the more appropriate word. She hadn't spoken to him since she left the office after their argument. She had expected he would at least try to let her know what he had found.

Perhaps she had crossed a line. Perhaps her bluntness and honesty had pushed him too far. Perhaps…

Her sleep was filled with half-formed dreams of images she couldn't quite form or grasp, jarred suddenly by the shrill ringing in her ears by the phone at her bedside. Her eyes snapped open as she reached for it; the clock read 1:31.

Late, even for Mulder, she sluggishly wondered as she croaked groggily into the phone. "Hello?"

A series of long beeps and crackles responded to her voice as she frowned, confused. Stupidly she thought for a second that someone had misdialed a fax line when it occurred that the same noise was sounding from outside her room, in her living room. That was where her modem was…and her computer. Leaping from the comfort of her bed she ran out to the desktop monitor. She had left it on that night and was stunned to see files scrolling down the screen so rapidly she couldn't read which ones were being accessed. The panicked idea that private, FBI information was being hacked had her reaching for her second line, and dialing the Bureau switchboard.

"This is Special Agent Dana Scully, ID number 2317-616. I need you to run a quick trace on a number for me."

Files still filter across her screen, and one file name, the one for Brad Wilczek, caught her attention.

"Yeah, 202-555-6431. Yeah, that's my number. Someone is accessing my computer."

She could hear the keys of the keyboard click under the operator's fingers at the other end of the phone line. More files appeared, these containing other case files, other notes. The creeping feeling of violation spread up her spine, chilling her insides as she fought the desire to yank the modem off of her machine before whoever it was could steal any more of her identity.

"Agent Scully, the number we found is a branch, modem line that belongs to Euresko Worldwide. Do you want the address?"

Euresko. Somehow the knowledge didn't surprise her, but it didn't relieve her either. "No, thanks, I know where it is." She paused a moment, as she stared at her still blinking computer screen. "Have there been any calls going out of the Bureau offices towards Euresko this evening?"

"Let me check." More clicking from the other end of the line. "No, though the number did call in. Apparently someone there tried calling the line used by you and Agent Mulder."

"Thanks," she murmured, clicking off the phone, and immediately reaching for the cable that connected her modem to her computer. She pressed down the small, plastic tab, and slid it out, dropping the line behind her desk as the file download stopped and a window popped up stating "Error: Connection Interrupted."

Someone at Euresko was checking up on the both of them. Who? Wilczek was in prison, unable to access anything from the office building. Did he have an accomplice? And if so, what would it benefit Wilczek to investigate two other FBI agents who were only tangentially related to the case? After all, he was already in prison for the murder of one agent.

Unless, she theorized, Mulder was right, and Wilczek was innocent and was covering up for someone else. Perhaps someone within the company was trying to point the finger at Wilczek, someone who would be willing to risk FBI agents to remove Wilczek from the situation.

"Damn it!" Mulder had gotten it that morning, and she had not. She didn't stop to consider how or why he had understood it, she knew that whoever it was that had killed Jerry Lamana had just been in her own computer and very likely was still in the Euresko building that moment. She was out of her pajamas and into clothes in five seconds, her gun, cell phone, badge and keys in her hands, as she dashed to her car, already calculating which Georgetown streets would be the safest for her to tear through to get to the Euresko building. She punched at her cell phone as she started her car, dialing Mulder's number, praying he picked up.

"Shit," she muttered, as it went straight to his voice mail. What if, she worried, he had already come to the same conclusions and was already there? As was becoming typical, he was without her back up. Without checking for oncoming traffic, she peeled down the street, fearful that Mulder had gone off and done something stupid yet again.

Chapter Text

"Mulder…this is crazy." It wasn't the first time in the last five minutes she had said this, but she thought she should remind him of this fact, just to add emphasis.

He ignored her as he continued to balance precariously on the balls of his feet, screwdriver working out the screws holding the vent cover on.

"You crawl through the space to the other side, drop down through the ventilation opening there, open the door." It sounded so practical coming out of him.

Visions of Eugene Toomes oozed through her mind and she shuddered.

"I'm not some liver-eating mutant. What if I don't fit?"

The vent cover clunked loudly as Mulder pried it off with his fingers, setting it to the floor. He looked her over slowly, from head to toe.

"What are you, Scully…all of 110 pounds?"

"Flattery will get you no where."

"Would you rather you boost me up there to crawl inside?" He patted his very lean middle, though not lean enough for Scully to manage herself. She conceded defeat.

"All right." She kicked off her heels, and stepped as lightly as possible into Mulder's cupped hands. With a slight boost she crawled inside, the knees of her trousers slipping on the slick, aluminum metal. She turned left, towards the area where the locked door was at, looking for the light of a potential air vent opening. Somewhere in the darkness ahead, a fan kicked on, and warm air blew at her face, causing her to squint against the dust tossed on the breeze.

There was no opening just by the door. She thought she heard Mulder's voice, but the roar of the air had drowned him out. She pushed on, looking for an opening into the hallway beyond. There had to be something. The wind picked up remarkably. Scully blinked hard against the grit and air, her eyes drying against it. She ducked her head against it, crawling forward. The further she moved, the harder the wind became, pushing against the top of her head and her shoulders. Her knees began to move out of from under her as her palms dug into the slick metal.

It suddenly occurred to Scully that it was quite possible that someone knew she was in there. That they knew and had turned on the air to try and remove her, or to even kill her, and there was no way for her to get out, save for the way she came. She tried backing out, towards the open vent that Mulder had boosted her through, but around her the air was roaring furiously, blowing papers, grit, and debris straight for her face. She ducked against one particularly large article that turned out to be nothing more than paper, but in the process lost what little grip or balance she had in the metal death trap. She felt herself pulled, screaming, down the tunnel, her hands scrambling desperately to cling to anything.

She flew past the corner where she had come in, her fingers grasping desperately for an edge by which to hold on to. For a moment she had it, clinging tightly as her manicured nails attempted to dig in enough to pull her weight up into the crawl area, to safety. But one acrylic tip broke, and her fingers lost their purchase, as she went flying again, towards an industrial sized fan spinning, sucking up the debris, dirt…and soon enough Scully herself.

Her hands caught another corner, further down, stopping her progress finally. But the flashlight Mulder had passed to her in the stairwell fell from her grasp, and down towards the revolving blades, clanging into them horribly as metal screeched, sheering one blade off entirely as it and the flashlight flew into the distance. The blades were made of such flimsy aluminum they sheered at the mere hint of force.

Spens all your money on a computer with the personality of a sociopath, and nothing on the details. The irony of the situation would have made her laugh if she wasn't about to die. Thinking quickly, she reached for her gun in its holder under her jacket. Clinging to the corner with her left hand, muscles straining in her arm, she fired repeatedly at the fan below, well aware that she could just as easily kill herself if the bullets ricocheted just right off the spinning metal.

Two more blades sheered off, as the fan slowed, and the pulling sensation lessened considerably. Her left arm let go, relaxing, as she lined up her gun to fire again. One of the remaining two blades bent back, catching on something beyond it, and stopping the entire mechanism completely.

The wind died. The dust settled. And she lay there, panting, mentally checking herself over from head to toe, just like her mother did when she was a child. She felt a bleeding cut on her forehead, nothing needing stitches. Her hands and elbows were burned from friction. Several of the fake nails on her fingers torn off and bleeding. She was alive, for the moment, and she wanted out.

She squirmed back up the air tunnel, towards the open-air vent that she had come in through. The light was bright, but there was no sound of her partner.

"Mulder," she called, as she pulled herself forward, grabbing the edge of the air vent and pulling her weight through the opening. The landing was empty, and the door to the floor was open.

"God damn it," she swore loudly, as she backed up again into the vent, moving towards the T in the air shaft, turning feet first and backing out. Her feet and legs scooted out into open air and she angled them down carefully as she hung out of the opening by her waist.

It was a good four-foot drop to the ground below. It was one of those times she cursed her Irish genetics and her mother's side of the family for producing the only short female in the Scully line. She pushed herself out as far as she could, before letting herself drop, the impact rattling painfully through her ankles, shins, and knees. She sucked air between her teeth in a hiss as she looked around for her shoes. At least Mulder had left them right where she had placed them.

Slipping her heels back on, she held her weapon at the ready, slowly edging around the open door, and into the floor where Euresko's main computer was housed. Quietly, Scully listened for the sound of voices down the hall, and heard them murmuring three doors down. She slowly made her way there, gun at the ready, unsure of whether Mulder had found their suspect yet, and if so, what sort of danger this person would be.

She could hear Mulder's distinctive, nasal monotone, and another deeper, darker voice. Mulder didn't sound pleased and she wondered if he was stalling the suspect for time, expecting her to come in at any moment. She quietly wrapped the fingers of her left hand around the door handle, keeping her gun hand steady as she opened the door and stepped inside, training it on the tall, dark, broad figure of Peterson, the man maintaining the system engineer. He had a gun trained on Mulder and an attitude of one who wasn't afraid to use it.

"Put the gun down." Her voice was ice hard as both Peterson and Mulder turned on her with equal looks of surprise.

Peterson lowered his weapon and held up his hands, scowling as he regarded Scully, her windblown state, and her unflinching gun. "Look, you may think you know what you're dealing with…"

"Shut up and drop the gun." She repeated, her voice ringing command at Peterson, unfazed by his indecision. He finally appeared to give in, and set his weapon down, slowly. But not, it seemed, without something to say on the subject.

"You're making a mistake, Agent Scully. Compromising your sworn duty." He was trying to get to her, she knew it. "This operation is more sensitive than you can possibly imagine."

"Don't listen to him," Mulder warned. As if she didn't know after nearly being killed.

"The technology in this machine is of enormous scientific interest." Peterson insisted.

"The machine's a monster, Scully." Mulder countered angrily. "It's already killed two people. They won't be able to handle it any better than Wilczek did."

"Make no mistake," Peterson's dark skinned faced clouded ominously. "You will be held accountable."

Military, she decided as she watched him. She had been around the military all of her life. Intimidation and threats were their standard operating procedure. Make the subject feel personally responsible should something happen. But she was no fool and she knew that Mulder was right. This machine was a danger. It sickened her that the same sort of men her father had worked with every day of his adult life were the type that would insist on keeping a monster just because of the vague benefit it may or may not bring them in a war that was now very much over.

"Mulder, put in the disc." She didn't take her eyes or her gun off of Peterson. For his part, he didn't move or twitch. Instead he looked vaguely annoyed.

Mulder slipped the disc into the hard drive, as it whirled and spun. From somewhere, an eerie electronic voice began to whimper and beg, as every screen in the room began filing with nonsensical fragments of letters and symbols.

"What are you doing, Brad?" The voiced sounded nearly childlike. "Don't do this, Brad!"

Down the hallway she could hear elevator doors opening and closing.

"Brad," the electronic voice called. "Brad…why?"

The lights in the building came on, just as the last reverberating, plaintive notes of the voiced died and the computer's hard drives stopped just as suddenly. The screens around them went dark, crackling as energy left them. The entire room fell silent.

Scully lowered her weapon off Peterson, looking to a relieved Mulder. He first smiled at her, than frowned, as it suddenly dawned on him just what she looked like.

"What happened to you?" He rose from the CPU as Peterson moved towards it. The other man's thick shoulder's slumped as he sighed angrily, ignoring the both of them.

"Do I look that bad?" She patted her windswept hair as it caught on a torn nail. She lowered her hand and examined the carnage on her fingertips. "Damn! And that was a brand new set."

Her aggravation over her ruined manicure seemed to relieve Mulder, who surprisingly wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a thankful embrace. Surprised at the physical contact, she at first froze, before relaxing, returning the hug for what it was, an expression of gratitude and an apology.

"Sorry for not listening to you earlier," she mumbled against his jacket, as he let her go.

He at the cut over her eyebrow. "It's okay. Believe me, it sounded a bit crazy to me too." He glanced back over towards Peterson. "But I figured that if the government was so keen on getting their hands on something like this, Wilczek would be just as desperate to make sure that it stayed out." His eyes stared hard at the back of Peterson's head. "That's why he took the fall, so you wouldn't realize just how successful his work had been."

Peterson turned towards Mulder, neither angry nor insulted, but not happy either. "Years of work on this, all sorts of secret funding. This could have saved thousands of soldiers lives out their in the field. Imagine the uses for technology like this?"

"I think we have enough amoral drones running our military, thanks," Mulder replied glibly. "At least Brad Wilczek's name won't be attached to it."

His hand came to cup Scully's elbow. "You ready to go?"

"Yeah," she nodded as Peterson stared at her, his eyes fixed on her as if he meant to instill her with some sort of sense of guilt for what she had done. Whoever he was, he must know something about her to think he could pull that sort of game on her. Perhaps he'd been filled in on them both from the Department of Defense or maybe even Euresko's central computer. She turned on him, wordlessly, following Mulder's gentle lead as his hand moved from her elbow to the small of her back, pushing her in front of him, and out of the range of Peterson.

"Let's get you home," he murmured, not removing his hand as they moved out to the hallway. She was painfully aware of it, unused to others being in her physical space unless invited. And yet there was nothing particularly threatening about it. It was by far not the first time Mulder had performed the gesture, and she had always chalked it up before to his New England upbringing, the sort of old fashioned gesture that had died with corsets and proper table manners. Now it was a comfort. And it made her feel strangely safe, as she realized her pounding heart left her shaking, her fingers and hands suddenly cold. Fumbling, she managed to get her gun back in its holster, but only just.

"You all right," he asked again, concerned as he stopped them both.

"Yeah, just…well, I guess that's the closest I've ever come to death before." She giggled nervously, surprised at such a reaction. "I mean, that thing nearly killed me, nearly sucked me in." She found herself babbling and couldn't stop.

"Hey!" He grabbed her shoulders lightly, turning her to look at him. "Dana, it's all right. You're all right. And you were fantastic in there."

It was the first time he had ever used her first name. The thought grounded her even as visions of her own grizzly demise flew through her mind and she clung to that idea as she looked up at him, taking a deep breath and nodding.

"Welcome to the dangers of being a field agent," he grinned, squeezing each shoulder, before lowering his hands. "Of course, nearly being chopped into bait by a giant fan isn't nearly as glamorous as being wounded in the line of duty, but then…"

"I think I'm okay with that," she laughed, wrapping her arms around herself protectively. "I'll take a scolding from my manicurist over my parents any day."

"Tell me about it." Mulder shook his head dolefully. "My first accident in the field my mother hovered over me day and night. Thank God Jerry managed to get her out of my room once or twice so I could recover."

"You were shot?" She was stunned. She hadn't read that in his file.

"No, I was a klutz and fell off a fire escape while in pursuit of a suspect. Broke my arm and strained my shoulder." He rubbed his right shoulder as in the memory pained him. "Couldn't shoot hoops for weeks. And Jerry never let me hear the end of it either."

"You'll really will miss him?"

He smiled sadly. "Yeah, I will. He was a good friend."

"At least you stopped the thing that killed him."

"Small victories, that's what makes this all worthwhile sometimes." His hand moved again to the spot just above her waist. "Come on, I'll drive you home."

"Your car's caught in the security grate and is totaled." She wondered if he remembered.

"Then give me your keys! We'll take your car."

"Then what will I drive in the morning?"

"Here I am, trying to be chivalrous…"

"You aren't driving my car, Mulder. Look what you did to yours."

"That's cold, Scully, even for you."

Chapter Text

"Two FBI Agents, a medical doctor, a toxicologist, and a geologist." Scully glanced at each of the members of their party as they settled into their seats on board the rickety contraption Bear called a plane. It sounded like the beginning of some lewd bar joke. She echoed the geologist Murphy's words from minutes before. "Interesting the bunch they brought together for this mission." Her voice was low and carried only to Mulder who sat beside her.

"Technically they have two medical doctors." Mulder pointed out. "What do you think was going on up there?"

"No more than I thought when we left Washington." She glanced at DaSilva, the toxicologist, and Hodges, the medical doctor. "Interesting though those two automatically assume that we know more they do about this."

"I don't know. They are a couple of scientists called to consult on a strange case of deranged murders at a scientific instillation in northern Alaska, probably with little or no explanation as to what was happening or why they were being called. I can see where a certain, healthy sense of paranoia would set in."

"That's because you suspect everything." Scully noticed the pair, watching her and Mulder covertly out of the corners of their eyes. Murphy, the geologist, seemed oblivious for his part, turning up his personal tape player and closing his eyes. Scully thought she could hear the faint sounds of a San Diego Charger's football game.

"Well it takes one to know one," Mulder admitted. "I don't think we know anymore about the details than they do. I don't think anyone does. That's why we are being sent in the first place."

Still, there was something about the pair, a sneaky suspiciousness that promised to be inhibitive at best, dangerous at worst. "Why would they send Hodge on this case if they knew I already was a medical doctor?"

"Perhaps to get a second opinion on anything that you find?"

"Maybe." She doubted that. "Do you think that they suspect what is going on in there?"

"Now, who's sounding paranoid?"

"I'm serious," she frowned at him. "What if the sending of scientists and the FBI is just an attempt on their part to show good faith? What if they suspect something is occurring and are wanting us to find the details?"

"Now you are thinking like a proper paranoid should, Scully." Mulder leaned his head back against the seat, closing his eyes as the plane engines began to rev.

It took several moments for the truth of his statement to finally sink in. "You knew that when you took this assignment, didn't you?"

He said nothing, yet she thought she saw a suspicious smirk playing around the corners of his slack mouth.

"You could have told me," she hissed at him, as the plane took off the runway in a rush of engines, pulling her into her seat. It stilled her complaints for the moment as they whole group of them up into the air and to the unknown of the Icy Cap.

Chapter Text

In medical school you grow accustomed to death.

There is finality to it that you just can't escape as a doctor. Yes, those first few weeks in your first year were always squeamish and uncomfortable, as you looked on the face of what had once been a living person and wondered who they had been in life. Had they been a mother, father, lover, or sibling? Did they leave behind a grieving family, or did no one care and that was why they ended up there, beneath your first-year scalpel, preparing for a dissection by an clumsy, inept student who was still cringing at seeing the strange, gunky insides of a human being? There were whispered or silent apologies to the corpse as you poked and prodded the once vital organs, weighed their heart, studied their brain. You sewed up the remains with Y incisions and feel a slight bit guilty about what you saw, as if you had caught them in an intimate act, and learned all of their private, personal secrets.

But by second year you had well gotten over that. The dead were no longer with us, their bodies cold, impersonal, and only filled with questions, especially for the forensic pathologist. You don't care anymore about who they were in life, but why it was they died? How did it come about? Was it through another's actions or their own. If it wasn't through suicide, was it an innocuous death through disease or outside contagion, or was it the deadly hand of another bent on stealing that which man cannot grant. Gone is the face of humanity from the person and instead they are a giant, Petri dish of questions, answers, and often-ugly truths.

It was the ugly truths Scully was wondering over as she zipped up the bodies of the two men left from the scientific team, wondering how it was the strange worms had been introduced into their bodies and why it was they had such an effect as to cause to men who had been colleagues before to turn on each other in murder.

Heavy footsteps sounded as she finished closing the bags and she wasn't particularly surprised to see Mulder standing over her, eyebrows knit together as he himself puzzled the same question out from his own end. His gazed speculatively at her, and she was suddenly self-conscious.

"I'm just….uh…double checking. Making sure I didn't miss anything." She busied herself with closing the last of the body bags.

"Just some sleep, huh?" He was teasing her, but there was concern there as well.

"Sleep." The idea sounded good in theory, but her nerves were so strung out she doubted she could put it into practice. "I'm so tired I can't sleep."

"We're all wired and hypersensitive," Mulder fell into the psychoanalyst in him, a sure sign he too was worked up and his mind swirling in a million directions. "It'll be good to get a fresh start in the mornings."

Her body insisted Mulder's idea was a good one, but she shook her head, setting her jaw stubbornly, more against her own exhaustion than Mulder's suggestion. "Mulder, I don't want to waste a second trying to find a way to kill this thing." Stop it. Destroy it, before it got her, before it got him or the rest of them. She wanted to go home - to see home even. A grasping, irrational fear that she may never again see her parents or siblings again gripped her for no reason and she bit her lip hard, steadying her nerves.

Mulder stared through her, not really seeing her, even as she started to move past him back to the small lab that she and Hodge were working on. "I don't know if we should kill it."

It was comment so shocking, she stopped to stare at him, eyes wide with fearful surprise.

"This area of the ice sheet was formed over a meteor crater. The worm lived in ammonia. It survived sub-zero temperatures. Theorists in alternative life-designs believe in ammonia-supported life systems on planets with freezing temperatures."

She knew where his ideas were going. Proof of alien life, of something brought to this planet from elsewhere in the universe, scientific evidence that he and all of his theories were now all completely howling mad. She shouldn't be shocked, or surprised, or even angry really. On any other day the scientist in her might have agreed with him, been just as excited as those now dead men were on their video. But she was tired, and she was frightened, and she was trapped in the Arctic with a creature that she little understood, one that might kill her. And if Mulder's were to have his way, that creature could escape from this sheet of ice and rock alive and have the potential to infect others. And as a doctor she just couldn't abide that.

"No." She shook her head firmly, standing her ground against the oncoming argument she could already seeing building in Mulder.

"The meteor that crashed here a quarter of a million years ago may have carried that type of life to earth," he insisted, that familiar fervor in his green eyes.

"Mulder, that pilot developed surface symptoms within a few minutes. Within a few hours, that parasite had total control. What would happen if this got into the population? A city the size of New York could be infected within a few days."

"Exactly! But what do we know about it? This organism might be lying dormant in another crater." He knew how to speak her language and was doing it well. But she wasn't about to be swayed.

"Mulder, if we don't kill it now, we run the risk of becoming Richter and Campbell with guns to our heads."

"But if we do kill it now we may never know how to stop it or anything like it in the future." His voice rose to that feverish pitch of his, his jaw set, blazing. It was always so hard to stand against him when he was in this mode, especially when in theory he wasn't really wrong. But fear and exhaustion had their own way of working on Scully and she wasn't about to back down.

"Future? Mulder?" She scoffed, her voice now rising just as loud and angry as his own. "How can you talk about the future when right now there's a creature here killing off innocent victims. I don't think you have a right to put all of our lives in that danger or that anyone has the right to?"

"Do we have the right to destroy an organism which can provide vital information not just on the existence of this creature but how to prevent it from infecting and destroying other lives?" Now he had changed tactics, moved from the strictly scientific card to the moral one. He always took that when he needed better leverage, and it was an area he always knew was difficult for her to defend against in any argument. And frankly the fact that he knew that pissed her off.

"Mulder, I can't believe you."

"What?" His stance became his typical defensive one, hands to waist, staring down at her in a way that loomed over her with his indignation.

"You want so desperately to prove your theories, you want to show the world that you aren't just some crank job in a basement that you would willingly put the lives of potential hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in jeopardy just to prove a point."

"You think that this is some game for me, Scully? That I'm doing this just so I can wave it in the face of Blevins and Skinner that I was right and they were wrong?" His face fairly flushed purple and she could see a vein in right where his jaw muscles clenched pulse dangerously.

"I think you care more about these creatures being the scientific breakthrough you can hang your alien-seeker hat on than you care about them posing a biological hazard." Her voice rang out in the sudden stillness, and it was only then that she realized how silent the three scientists were in the room next door. Had they heard everything they had just said? She dropped her gaze suddenly to her feet. They probably had, and she felt her own face brighten as it finally occurred to her she was airing her and Mulder's own personal laundry in front of people who already suspected the two of them and their motives.

"Why do you think it would get out into the populace if it were to be studied?" Mulder's voice quivered angrily.

"It can't be contained." She turned heel on him, moving to return to the lab and the others.

"How do you know it can't be contained?" He charged after her, nearly bowling over herself, Hodge and DaSilva, who had been walking towards their now obvious conversation with equal looks of worried interest at the two agents. She ignored them as she rounded back on her partner.

"It can," she countered, only not how he thought. "By extermination. We should take the bodies outside and incinerate them, worms and all."

Mulder mouth opened to defy that idea gain, but Hodge interrupted, glancing between the two as DaSilva and now Murphy watched the tableau with increasing looks of dismay.

"Something going on we should know about?" He's eyebrow was cocked in supercilious, suspicious interest, the sort of look that made her want punch the certainty out of his smug face. "Agent Scully, you all right?"

The question caught her by surprise. "I'm fine." Her standard answer, even though she knew she wasn't. Every nerve was stretched taught and Mulder's arguments were making it worse. "It's nothing."

Hodge seemed unconvinced. "You seem a bit stressed."

She almost knew this was what his line of questioning was leading to, and she felt her already simmering temper boil over at him in a flash of white-hot indignation. "What the hell are you trying to say?" She moved to confront him directly, moving her face just inches from his own, despite the fact he had nearly six inches on top of her. She wasn't about to cowed by some stuck-up, cowardly pill-pusher who sat comfortably from some desk somewhere, when she had as much medical knowledge, and perhaps much more experience than he…

Mulder glided quickly between her and Hodge, putting his own tall, lanky frame easily between her quivering one and Hodge. "Let's all settle down. It's been a hard day. We're all tired and scared." His voice slipped easy into his comforting monotone, the familiar, soothing pattern of the peacemaker, no doubt learned from his years of using it on the very killers and their victims families that had drove him from the behavioral science. "Let's not all turn on one another."

"At least not with good reason," Hodge dug in snidely, shooting a pointed glance once again at Scully.

"Maybe we should get some sleep," Mulder again tried to diffuse the situation. But Hodge seemed about as dismissive of him as he was of Scully.

"You kidding? You think any of us could sleep right now? Guys, let's face it; we've got to check for spots. Any person or persons who has them should be confined. Are we agreed on that?"

He had a point, now matter how much it pained her to admit that he did.

"Are you going to do the exam," DaSilva seemed to automatically defer to Hodge, and that bothered Scully.

"No," she said, glancing from DaSilva to Hodge. "We do them in front of each other. No secrets."

Automatically the men all glanced between each other, then the two women, then back at Scully with varying degrees of bemusement.

"Perhaps Hodge, if you take Mulder in Murphy in the next room, and DaSilva and I will stay here," she tried desperately to maintains some sort of professional decorum, though Mulder was making it difficult with his disappointed shrug. "That way we can at least all know that we are safe."

"Right," Hodge at least looked mollified, if not completely happy with the idea. "All right." He gestured to the other room, where Mulder and Murphy silently shuffled, as Scully turned to DaSilva. The other woman looked as white as the snow outside, and about as frightened as she herself felt.

"What if we do have spots," she whispered, glancing at Hodge's retreating figure.

"We'll figure it out when and if that is a possibility," Scully whispered back in what she hoped was a reassuring manner. Though, she covertly thought to herself, she best make sure she knew where her weapon was, just to be on the safe side.

Chapter Text

The worst nightmare she could possibly have would be this, she wildly thought to herself. She stared over the barrel of her weapon at her partner, her eyes never wavering, her hand not even flinching. She knew in her heart if she had to, she would fire at him.

Would Mulder forgive her for it? Would she be right in even doing it?

She stared at his own matching weapon, trained on her; those same doubts flying through Mulder's own steady gaze, the same fear and confusion pounding in her heart written on his own face.

What were they doing here, she wondered? How had they gotten to this?

"Put it down," he commanded in a voice as harsh as the wind outside. It was half in anger, half in pleading.

"You put it down first," she ordered, unflinching.

"Scully, for God's sakes, it's me." His eyes begged her to believe him, and there was nothing more in that moment that she wanted to do. Yet Hodge and DaSilva stood within Mulder's line of fire - as did she. And she couldn't. She wouldn't.

She wanted to cry.

"Mulder," she replied evenly, with all of the calm her training could muster. "You may not be who you are."

That statement, under normal circumstances, would have sounded ridiculous, even funny; if she wasn't threatening the one person she thought she could trust right at that very second.

Whether it was the firm instance behind her words, the strangeness of the situation, or Mulder finally coming to his senses, he lowered his weapon and nodded. She in turn lowered her own.

"Please, Mulder, Just for a little while."

He didn't look for an instant like he believed her.

She wasn't about to let Hodges be the one to force Mulder into the darkened storage room, if there was anyone who as going to do this to him it would be her. She followed his tall figure as he willingly stepped in and turned on the light, turning back on her as she stood in the doorway, willing him to understand this wasn't what she wanted or how she wanted it.

"In here, I'm safer than you." One would have thought it was a snide remark on his part, if you didn't see the true terror beneath the surface of the angry bravado.

She so wanted him to be right about this.

She slid the door into place, leaning against it as it closed, wondering if she had indeed done the right thing, if she had condemned herself to becoming infected, her one ally cut off from her by her own hand. Perhaps, she mused as she returned slowly to the lab, where DaSilva sat sleeping. But at least, she reasoned, if the rest of them were to die, Mulder would make it out if he wasn't the infected one.

And if he was, she asked herself? What should she do if he was the one who had contracted the strange worm?

Her eyes traveled toward the napping DaSilva, to the open patch of skin between hairline and collar. Curiously, she moved towards the sleeping woman's exposed neck. Quietly grabbing the back of the woman's shirt and glancing over the muscles around her spine, looking for the tell tale nodules. Hodge's hand snatched out and grabbed Scully's with a soft smack. The motion and noise just over her head was enough to make DaSilva to jerk awake with a sudden scream and leap awake, scuttling back from the both of them.

"What were you doing?" There was more of Hodge's unwarranted suspicion. It dripped off his words as he glanced from Scully to DaSilva.

"You know what I was doing," she spat irritably. Scully was getting completely sick of the situation and him.

His eyes thinned, cutting at the weapon in her hand, the one that had been Mulder's. The one he had been pointing at her.

"You know, I can't help thinking, Agent Scully, that you're the only one with a gun. If you get infected, we don't stand a chance, do we?"

That was the game he was playing then. She wondered, wildly for a moment, if he was indeed the infected one, and if the strange worms affects were enhancing his natural suspicions. But she dashed that notion, the reasonable, scientific part of her brain cautioned her. She could not, would not let herself to devolve into base worries and cowardly backstabbing at the expense of all of them, including Mulder. She nodded slowly, taking out the clip from Mulder's weapon, and reaching for the clip on her own. She placed both weapons on the counter as she marched towards the front door of the complex, nearly gasping at the rush of frozen, Arctic air as it blasted over her face and hands and penetrated through her clothing. She tossed both clips out into the deep snow, and quickly closed the door, turning to Hodge to see if he was satisfied.

DaSilva sat rubbing her neck, glancing towards Hodge, nearly hysterical. "Was there something there?" Her voice quavered like a child's

"You're okay, Nancy. We're all okay. Now is not the time for the three of us to break down and turn on each other." He had the pompous authority of a well-pampered medical researcher. Scully wondered just what was going on between DaSilva and Hodge, why it was he felt the need to coddle her so. They had both been strangely close, attached to one another's hip since the beginning of this trip.

"There's four of us," she reminded Hodge's sharply.

"Mulder isn't one of us anymore," he replied, glancing back with loathing towards the storage room. Already he was convinced of Mulder's infection. She wondered how long it would take before he would convince DaSilva of the same. Judging by the already clearly co-dependent relationship, probably not long.

"If Mulder is infected, it's not his fault! We can't turn our backs on him now. He needs us to help him!" She couldn't believe she needed to remind Hodge of his medical duty. She was stunned he was actually suggesting that the abandon her partner to certain death.

"She's right." DaSilva spoke up, surprising Scully by siding with her for once in this argument and not sounding on the verge of a nervous breakdown. "Who knows what prolonged exposure to the parasite could do to him? It could damage him to the point of permanent psychosis."

Hodge glanced between the both of them and finally seemed to acquiesce, though not happily. He at least didn't argue as Scully moved to return to the work of the laboratory, but he did grab her arm, stopping her, his tone hard and stubborn.

"But if he's infected, he doesn't go back. I won't risk the possibilities!"

Her own argument with Mulder just hours earlier came back to haunt her, her insistence they should destroy the worm and the body, and not allow it to even leave this place for study. How painfully, horribly ironic this had become. In the face of her own, clinical worries and fears, now her partner's very life was in danger, threatened by a doctor who viewed this creature in the same light she herself did.

"I suppose then I'll just have to find a cure for it them, right?" She challenged him, one eyebrow raised, daring him to argue with her.

"Cure," he snorted, disbelieving. "We don't even know for sure how this creature works? It would take years of study, of research."

"We don't have years," she hissed, pulling away from Hodge's grasp. "Neither does Mulder. And I'm not leaving here without him."

Chapter Text

Her fingers trembled as she unbolted Mulder's cell, Hodge watching her closely, for once truly concerned rather than just arrogantly dismissive.

"I want to talk to him. Try to make it voluntary." She wondered how willing he would be to listen to her though, after holding a gun on him and locking him up.

DaSilva sounded doubtful as Hodge shook his head. "You can't go in alone."

"If anything happens, you come inside." She sounded so cavalier about this, though her heart raced in her chest and she worried horribly that Hodge might just be correct about Mulder after all. "I can't do this to him until I'm sure." What if he wasn't infected right now, she panicked, what if she introduced this new worm to him and in the end she was the one to infect him after all? She had to be sure, she had to be.

She slid the door to the storage room open, forceps and jar with the extra worm in hand. She peeked her head cautiously inside, looking for her partner and not seeing him immediately.

Mulder had been huddled against the floor, but he rose to stare at her, actually flinching away from her for the briefest of moments. She had to admit that it hurt to see that tiny gesture more than she was willing to admit.

"It's just you?" Mulder glanced warily over her shoulder, towards the outside with Hodge and DaSilva.

"Yes," she assured him, even as Hodge slammed the door behind her, locking her in with Mulder. It could potentially be deadly or it could potentially isolate for her just who the real infected party was.

"We found a way to kill it. Two worms in one host will kill each other."

It didn't take long for him to come to the same conclusions about this exercise that she had. "You give me one worm, you'll infect me."

This was ridiculous, her mind raced. "If that's true," she hissed, not even certain why she was whispering at him. "Why didn't you let us inspect you?"

"I would have," he whispered back savagely. "But you pulled a gun on me."

Good point, she realized, and suddenly felt very foolish.

"Now, I don't trust them," he gestured towards the doorway, towards DaSilva and Hodge. "I want to trust you."

It was the first time in their partnership he admitted to that. She had tried desperately to earn that trust from Mulder, to make him see her as more than just the spy, out to ruin him. And in their first, serious test of that trust she had pulled her weapon on him.

"Okay," she maintained her low voice, glancing over her shoulder as if the pair was standing right there. "But now they're not here."

He nodded his head imperceptibly, and silently turned his back to her, breathing deeply as he bowed his head, exposing his neck. It was a stretch for her to reach completely up that far, but her cold, slim fingers gently probed the warm skin of his neck and shoulders, her fingertips probing, feeling nothing but smooth, tense muscles. Not a lump or swollen node, only the goose pimples that rose from what she surmised were Mulder's own nerves.

She expelled the breath she didn't realize she had been holding as she lowered her hands, trying not to think of the horrible mistake she was about to have committed on him. Hands shaking, she turned to leave and tell the others, but as she did, Mulder spun around, grasping her before she could reach the door.

She gasped and tried to turn back on him, but he gently pushed her back around. Without even asking for her leave, he pulled down the neck of her shirts, his long fingers probing her in the same way she had just done to him. Her instinct was to twist away, her private, physical space compromised without her permission, even as she knew why Mulder was doing this. Just as she had not trusted him, he had to now make sure for himself. She stood stock still, not twitching, as he completed his inspection, finding predictably no bumps.

"You're clean." His fingers moved from her cool skin, and onto her shoulders, turning her around easily to face him.

"I know."

"I didn't. You pulled your weapon on me"

"You were waving yours at Hodge."

"He was becoming unreasonable," Mulder defended.

"And so were you . Perhaps all of us were." She shuddered then, one arm crossing across, wrapping around her middle. "I was scared, Mulder. Scared that Hodge was right." She bit her lip nervously, "What if I had infected you?"

"I wondered the same myself," he replied solemnly.

"I was trying to find a cure, some way of helping you…Hodge had me convinced you were infected." She hated admitting this. "He swore he would leave you here if you were infected. And I wasn't about to let him."

Mulder smiled appreciatively.

"I found this out as a fluke, an accident." She waved at the jar, a sudden thought occurring to her. "It's the last one we have. If I had infected you, we'd have had no cure."

"Yeah," Mulder nodded gravely. "But we know it isn't me. And we know it isn't you."

"Then it has to be either Hodge or DaSilva." The weight of what that meant chilled her.

"I know who I would throw my vote for." Mulder's smile was grim as he glanced towards the door. "Do you think that Hodge will actually believe us?"

"He's a scientist. He knows the symptoms."

"The man's a more paranoid son-of-a-bitch than I am," Mulder snorted. "We'll have to do this together. Otherwise they won't believe us."

"Yeah." She reached for the jar with the last worm and the forceps she intended to use on Mulder. She paused, thoughtful as she turned back to him.

"Mulder. About the weapon…."

"Don't worry about it, Scully." His face was grim. He was already thinking of leaving the relative protection of his prison.

"No," she shook her head. "All of these months I've been trying to convince you to trust me and the first time the trust is tested, I fail it."

"I don't think this is hardly the most ideal circumstances." A ghost of a smile played on his face. "Do you?"

"No," she admitted.

"All that matters is that you trust me now." His eyes were dark as they regarded her. "You trust me. I'll trust you. And we'll get through this together, all right?"

"Right," she nodded softly, hugging the container with the last worm in it to herself. She glanced towards the door Hodge had shut so firmly behind her.

"You ready then?"

"Let's get this over with, shall we?" He reached to slide open the door.

Chapter Text

The note was dry in her chapped fingers, catching roughly against her skin made dry by harsh Alaskan cold and copious hand washing while working in the fragmented lab up north. A week from their dangerous trip to Icy Cap and already they were back into the covert games. She frowned at the nondescript paper, tracing the loopy lines of the plain, black handwriting with one manicured nail. Her eyes slid to Mulder's, watching her curiously through the wire rims of his reading glasses, speculative.

"Well, I can guess the note is from a woman," she admitted, tongue in cheek. "But I'm no handwriting expert, Mulder. You'll have to get this analyzed by them." She jerked her head upwards, towards the upper floors where the crime labs, and just about everything else in the FBI sat above them.

"My question, Scully, isn't so much who it is, as much as wondering if I should meet them." He reached up from desk chair, snagging the white paper out of her hands, glancing at the otherwise innocuous note and sliding it into the equally plain, white envelope. "It's NASA. Why would they be contacting me?"

"I think the bigger question is what for." Scully frowned thoughtfully, leaning a slim hip against the edge of Mulder's cluttered desk. "Whoever this is knows there are proper channels to approach the FBI about something they are concerned about. But they are foregoing those, anonymously so. If they are coming directly to you, you can only assume they want one thing?"

"My body?" One dark eyebrow quirked teasingly at her over his glasses. She didn't dignify it with an answer. "Scully, if I had a dime for the number of times I've had some nut job from somewhere tell me that they had secret information from NASA on the existence of extra-terrestrials, I wouldn't be stuck down here fending off cockroaches and spiders, would I?"

"Of course you would," she snorted, smirking at him as he rose from his chair and took off his glasses, rolling his eyes. "Mulder, this is your life. You don't have another."

"Oh ye of little faith, Scully." He snagged his suit coat from off the back of his chair and slipped into it.

"So are we seriously going out to meet this person?" She grabbed her own long, camel colored overcoat, slipping it on over her suit.

"We?" Mulder cocked his head inquisitively as he stopped at the door hand on the knob. "I seem to recall the letter was addressed to myself."

"Well, being your partner, and this being an X-file matter I assumed you would want me along." Shewas surprised at this sudden show of territorial behavior on Mulder's part. Since the alien worm-gun pointing incident of the week before their partnership had been on pins and needles. Try as she might, the images of Mulder aiming his weapon at her as she did the same to him couldn't really dislodge out of her memory.

"Scully, this could be a crank, someone upstairs pulling my chain for the sheer amusement of it all." He opened the door, striding out of the office as Scully determinedly followed, ignoring his warnings.

"It could be a joke. But then it might not. Do you plan on leaving me behind while you go against proper channels for this person who may or may not have an agenda behind it?" He stopped at the elevator as she laid a hand on his forearm, forcing him to look at her. "You can't be the only one out there having secret meetings and running off half-cocked. I need to know what is going on. I'm your partner. I have a right to know."

His gaze was studied and guarded, the unconscious reflex he had of chewing on the corner of his lip when he was thinking kicking in. As the elevator sounded, he turned, shrugging casually as he stepped inside.

"Knock yourself out, Scully. But I'm not doing anything particularly clandestine here."

"No?" He leaned against the far wall of the elevator, hands in his pockets as she watched him. "Mulder, you love the cloak-and-dagger. I know you do. And I know that you have your contacts in Washington."

He had a horrible poker face. His expression immediately went blank, his eyes refusing to meet hers, even as he remained casual and relaxed leaning there. "I think all my conspiracy talk is rubbing off on you, Scully."

"Is it?" The doors opened into the crowded lobby and she stepped out into the teeming mill of agents, office workers, visitors, and school children. She felt Mulder's hand cup her elbow and help guide her through a particularly thick knot of ten-year-olds who all stared up at her wide-eyed as a tour guide droned in front of them about the origins of the J. Edgar Hoover Building.

"I have no more secrets from you." Mulder continued the conversation as soon as they were free from the sticky hands and awed whispers. "The first day I met you I poured out my deepest one, which seems to be as open in the Bureau as a thirteen-year-old's diary."

"You have an X-file out on her. How can anyone not know?"

"My point exactly, Scully. What secrets do I have to hide? My father worked for the State Department, I work for the FBI, my life's been an open book since I was born." He sounded a bit bitter about this, something Scully hadn't considered about him. It hadn't occurred to her that very little of Mulder's life hadn't been overseen, fostered, or watched by someone in some place beyond Mulder's own control.

"I'm just saying Mulder that I know there are things that you don't trust me with, things that even now you won't discuss with me for fear of something." She stepped out of the glass doors and into the sunshine beyond, blinking hard as she wrapped her coat about her, against the growing chill of the DC autumn.

"Everyone has secrets, Scully. I obviously don't know everything about you."

"No, but your secrets might just effect our job and me as well." She brought the point home to him finally, the one that underscored the entire last week since they returned back from Alaska. "You have to trust me too, Mulder. I'm not here to tear down your work. I'm not trying to undermine you. But what we are doing here, together, affects me too. This isn't about just you any longer. And every time you leave me out of the loop and refuse to place that trust in me, we both lose."

Her words hit home, she could tell. His expression remained stoic but his stance became less tight, less guarded. She could see him nod his head nearly imperceptibly.

"I can't say I won't do it in the future," he finally admitted. "But I'll at least try not to drag you down with me." Before she could protest, he held up a hand, stopping her. "Scully, not everything I do alone is because I don't trust you. Sometimes it's because I do. But no amount of trust will allow me to drag someone innocently in to get hurt, especially you. You've been put here by someone else for their plans and designs. I trust you, Scully. I don't trust them. And it's not fair to risk you and your life because of someone's agenda."

"How do you know I fit into any agenda, Mulder?"

"Who in this town doesn't have one of those," he replied wearily. "All of us are part of someone's agenda. We just have to make sure we don't get crushed by it."

"A very cynical view of things, don't you think?"

"I suppose you missed the memo that I'm a cynical kind of guy." The corner of his mouth turned up slightly, his mood switching from pensive to teasing. "After all, you're the one carrying on about secrets."

"What? I can't find out a thing or two about my mysterious partner?" She played along as they moved down the busy streets towards their rendezvous point at the National Mall.

"What do you want to know?" He grinned impishly.

"I don't know." She suddenly felt caught now. She had asked for Mulder's trust, his respect, and this was part of it. But she felt surprisingly nervous asking him something so personal. How strange, especially since she had worked so closely with him now for months.

He must have sensed her dilemma as he started to ramble without her prompting. "My birthday is in three weeks. My father is from an old Dutch family from New York who migrated to Connecticut and Massachusetts. My mother's family was all Jewish, but no one bothered saying anything because they had stopped practicing years ago. It didn't go over well with my father's family, who were the sort of snobs who still frowned on a Jewish girl, even a non-religious one. I was a straight A student in school and the only reason I didn't get my ass beat for it was because I played baseball and basketball at my preppy school. My favorite teams are the Yankees and Knicks, mostly because my mother's father grew up in New York and swore by them and because all the pretentious pricks at school were Red Sox and Celtics fans."

He paused in his outline to glance down at her. "I don't have anything against the Patriots, but prefer the Redskins and Giants." He fished out a packet of sunflower seeds from his pocket, smiling thoughtfully. "My father is the reason I eat sunflower seeds. I look like my mother. I don't see either much, though I call Mom once a week and visit for Mother's Day and on her birthday."

"And your dad?" She watched him as he pulled a sunflower seed out of the packet and munched on it thoughtfully. He stopped at a crosswalk, looking off in the distance, something infinitely sad flickering in his eye for the briefest of moments, before the light changed and he continued across the walk, not missing a beat.

"Dad and I aren't what you would call close." He stated this with the matter-of-fact air of someone who was stating the sky was blue. "We had a falling out when I decided to join the FBI and take on the X-files."

Here, Scully thought, was something she for one could relate to, a father who disapproved of their child's choice of career. "I understand that. My father wasn't happy when I chose the FBI over a career in medicine. He won't come out and say it, but I wonder if he will ever approve. If all that I've done will ever make him proud of me and what I've accomplished."

For once Mulder didn't tease nor did he offer the sage advice of the older, more senior partner to the younger, junior one. Instead he looked painfully sympathetic.

"I wonder that sometimes too," he admitted. "I wonder if anything I do makes him proud of the way I turned out, all things considered." His sigh was soft, a gentle exhale of air as he pointed towards the large, spacious green area in the distance, the open space in the center of Washington referred to as the National Mall. "Sometimes, I wonder if my father hoped to use me, to live through me. I don't know, maybe to do those things he couldn't do when he was young, or perhaps to extirpate some sins he committed while in the State Department. To be the man that he couldn't be."

"Perhaps we can both learn a little bit from each other on learning how to deal with dreams of our parents," she mused quietly.

"Maybe," he responded distractedly. He tipped his seed packet into one hand as he walked, filling it with a small pile of salted seeds, before holding the bag in front of her, offering.

For whatever reason, she took it. She grinned sideways at him as she poured five, black and white, oval shaped seeds into her hand, and gave Mulder the bag back, popping one, tiny, salty shell in her mouth.

"I haven't eaten any of these since I was a kid." She tried to decide what would be the most lady-like way of spitting the shell out in public.

"They're better for you than smoking." Mulder folded the packet over, but didn't put it away. "So where do you think we should sit?"

"Someplace obvious, I guess. We want whoever this is to see us."

"Even if we don't know what they look like." Mulder scanned the area ahead and she could tell he was already calculating what would look the least obvious for prying eyes but the most open to the one person they were meeting.

She let him search while she popped another seed in her mouth, sucking the salt off before rolling it between her teeth with her tongue. He had at least given her his sunflower seeds and let her into himself as well. It wasn't complete and utter faith and trust, she realized, but it was a nice start.

Chapter Text

It was the sort of military funeral that was awarded to heroes and fallen presidents. Scully wasn't entirely sure if she would say Colonel Marcus Belt deserved all of these trappings, not for a man who perhaps had sabotaged every shuttle mission for the last twenty years, including the deadly Challenger mission. The lives of seven men and women lay squarely at his feet and that wasn't counting the near miss with the men from Belt's most recent mission. Yet today, with one of those men standing sorrowfully by Michelle Generoo's side, everyone was choosing to ignore the facts in front of them. They wanted to see Marcus Belt as something Scully wasn't so sure he was anymore; a hero.

In the distance she could hear the rumble of jets, first a low throbbing on the horizon, then a roar overhead as they flew past, all eyes in the crowd turning upwards to watch them, including herself and Mulder.

Mulder's fingertips on her arm turned her face earthward again. In the distance guns fired and four, blue-uniformed Air Force officers gently and formally raised the flag off of Colonel Belt's coffin, folding it with solemn ceremony. As the triangle of red, white, and blue fabric was neatly squared off, one of the young men turned and presented it to a teary-eyed, middle aged woman, sitting in the only row of chairs among the standing mourners.

Mulder answered her unspoken question softly. "Belt's ex-wife. He had been divorced for years, but still close to her and their children."

"Any idea from them on what might have caused what happened to him?"

"No," Mulder shook his head tightly. "The word seems to be from most corners that Belt was as upright as his image and just as honest. No one can imagine him being involved in sabotage, let alone covering it up."

"But the evidence," Scully began as one mourner in front of her glanced over her shoulder to give Scully a dark, disapproving look.

"The evidence, Scully, is that Belt knew that something may or may not have happened, nothing more. And given the condition that the medical staff found him in I have a feeling there will be a pretty strong case made for Colonel Belt suffering from some sort of mental incapacitation through much of this mission." Mulder looked no happier saying that than Scully did in hearing it.

"So they are going to sweep this under the rug? Deny what happened to those men up there?" Scully murmured softy with an eye on the already disgruntled mourner, recognizing how much she sounded suspiciously like Mulder on what of his low key days. "Belt is criminally responsible for what happened."

"Was criminally responsible." Mulder's eyes flew to his casket as around them mourners began to shuffle and move, filing away from the grave sight in soft, respectful whispers. "Belt is dead now, we can't escape that. Even if we did discover why it was he did what he did, how can anyone do anything about it. Besides," he nodded towards Michelle Generoo, who waved a hand towards them both from her place across the sight. "I still believe that it wasn't Colonel Belt who was responsible in the end."

"Alien demon possession, Mulder?" Scully couldn't help but be skeptical. "How would that stand up any better before the Congressional sub-committee?"

"I didn't say it would. Notice how it didn't make it into our report?" He followed the shifting crowd towards their rental car, hands slipping into his suit pockets as Scully strolled beside him.

"That's still what you believe though." She stepped carefully in her high-heeled shoes across the soft, grassy earth.

"Just as you believe that Belt wasn't the hero that everyone here chooses to see him as today."

"I can't help but think of all the lives he was responsible for, Mulder. Is there no justice for them?"

"I don't know, Scully. But if it wasn't Belt's fault, is there justice for him either?"

She didn't have an answer, and she didn't think that they ever would have find one, no matter how much the searched or how long they tried.

Chapter Text

She had never had to deal with Section Chief McGrath before and was a bit surprised by his abrupt call to her first thing that morning with the direct orders to come straight to his office. Scully glanced across to the still empty desk of Fox Mulder and had a sad, sinking feeling she knew what this was about.

McGrath's office was very little different than Section Chief Blevins, save in the amount and type of things in it and the man himself, of course. Unlike the querulous Blevins, McGrath struck her as taciturn, a military man in his bearing, harsh, direct, and used to having his orders implicitly followed. This was going to be ugly, she quickly realized, especially when he shot her the sort of murderous glare that most likely sent lesser agents fleeing for the hills.

"Agent Scully, sit," he barked, gesturing to one of the no-nonsense desk chairs in front of him. As she settled down at delicately as possible, her eyes flew to his desk nameplate, "Victor McGrath, Anti-terrorism."

What had Mulder gotten into, she quietly wondered, keeping her composure cool and non-descript in the face of McGrath's irritation. He worked his jaw silently at her for several moments, leaning back in his chair, watching with calculation, as if trying to glean whatever information he desired from her bearing. She didn't flinch.

"Have you seen, heard, or spoken to Agent Mulder at all in the past forty-eight hours?" He fired the question off like an order, demanding her reply.

"No sir," she answered simply. "I left Agent Mulder here in the office on Friday evening and have not spoken to him once since then." Which was mostly true, she reasoned. He had called late on Friday with a request to feed his goldfish as something had come up for him. She hadn't returned the call and had assumed he was going out of town for personal business.

"So you have no knowledge of his activities since you last spoke to him then?" McGrath's voice dripped with doubt.

Scully felt the urge to shoot off a question about how often he spoke to co-workers on the weekends, but felt that indulging herself in one of Mulder's childish tactics was perhaps not the best course of action. "No sir, I assumed that when he didn't appear for work this morning he was out for personal reasons."

"And you wouldn't know those reasons as all, Agent Scully?"

"Being by their nature personal, sir, I can't say that Agent Mulder would necessarily confide them in me." She was annoyed by his skepticism, but refused to give up the high ground. "May I ask, sir, what is this about?"

McGrath's jaw worked in irritation again in his rock-hard face, a vein bulging off and on from his jaw to his closely clipped, silver gray hair. He tapped one finger on the side of a bulldog nose, hard, bright eyes peering into her for the briefest of seconds, before he suddenly pounced on a file at the edge of his desk and fairly flung it her direction.

"Your partner has compromised a recovery mission of a terrorist aircraft shot down over Wisconsin two days ago." Scully opened the file to see the smoking, twisted mess of metal and trees. White-hooded hazmat crews were crawling all over it. "It was a Libyan made fighter, armed with a nuclear warhead."

"Over US airspace?" Scully's eyes flew to his, stunned. "Do you know its target?"

"That, Agent Scully, is classified," he snapped; jaw turning rock hard, vein nearly bursting through his temple. "I'll be damned if I know how Mulder even found out about it. You two are assigned to the X-files. What in the hell is he sticking his nose around a classified mission for?" McGrath was fairly bellowing by now, and Scully had to admit to herself that there was only one reason possible she could think of.

But she wasn't about to admit to McGrath that it was most likely Mulder's suspicion that it had something to do with extra-terrestrials.

"I know that Agent Mulder has…unique ideas," McGrath spat out, low and angry. "I know that he wants to chase ghosts and gray men, and thinks it's funny to flout protocol and regulation. Section Chief Blevins told me he assigned you to the X-files to rein him in, to remind him that the FBI is not here for him to pursue his personal crusades, but as the law enforcement wing of the Federal Government. As such there is procedure to follow and places where he is not supposed to be fucking with."

"Yes, sir," Scully murmured quietly, the full weight of McGrath's statement falling guiltily upon her shoulders. She knew what her job was. Despite the things she had seen in her short time, the things Mulder kept trying to make her see, she knew why she was there, and she knew that no matter how much she tried to play this game as evenhandedly as possible the blame for Mulder's behavior would fall just as squarely at her feet as his. She was the one not keeping him in line. Thus she was at fault.

"Agent Scully," McGrath's voice softened several notches, but his intensity did not. "Everything I've heard about you from every corner is that you are a good agent. You have a lot of promise as long as you don't get drug through Agent Mulder's mud. The X-files might be under Blevins purview, but I won't let that stop me from shutting Mulder down if he so much as steps a toe out of line and into my group. Do I make myself clear?"

Scully could only nod mutely.

"Right." McGrath's jaw loosened, the vein in his temple relaxed. "I've asked Blevins to send you to Wisconsin to fetch your erstwhile partner where he is being detained. You get him, you bring him home, and you have him face the disciplinary committee I'm pulling together tomorrow."

"Disciplinary committee!" Scully's eye's widened in surprise. "Sir, is that necessary?"

"Agent Scully, remember what I told you," McGrath's voice hardened again. "Mulder knew what he was doing when he stuck his nose into this. He has to face the consequences like any other agent. Just because he once was some golden boy around here doesn't mean he gets to walk all over the rules to do what he wants. His time here is finished. And I'm not the only one who won't be sad to see him go. I hope you remember that yourself." His tone was ominous, as was his glare. "You're booked on a flight leaving in an hour out of Dulles. Make sure your partner is here tomorrow, for both of your sakes."

His dismissal was as curt as his manner. Scully rose without a word, silently moving towards McGrath's office door with as much grace and calm as she could muster. It wasn't till she closed the door behind her that she felt her demeanor fall, her grace crumble, as she leaned against the door, breathing deeply, her mind racing.

Nothing Mulder had mentioned in the previous week or in his voice message had indicated to her he was up to anything potentially this stupid. She had assumed he had gone to Connecticut to see his mother or perhaps on a vacation. She realized now how irrational those thoughts seemed. Mulder never took vacations if he could help it. Everything he did was something related to his quest, his search for his truth. God damn it, but now his truth was threatening not just him, but her as well. Swearing loudly, she stalked down the hallway and to the elevators, cracking the button plate hard with the heel of her palm as one bank of doors opened immediately. She stormed in, punching the button for the basement, and glaring at it as if it had Mulder's face embossed on its front.

"Flaunting the rules, ignoring the protocol, Jesus, Mulder, I can't save your ass out of this." And that, above all, was what worried her the most, the fact that she could not save him from his own, single-minded, bullheaded determination. Sooner or later it would catch up to him and she couldn't always guarantee that he would have someone like her understanding enough to help him.

Chapter Text

As she stepped carefully from Max Fenig's RV, Scully took a deep breath of the much cleaner, fresher air outside and let out a low, long whistle as she shook her head.

"Wow, Mulder," she murmured as they crossed the parking lot to the hotel. "I never thought I'd live to say this, but that man made even you look sane."

Mulder seemed amused. "Yeah, you run into that sort a lot in this racket. I don't know, Max seems all right, decent enough sort of guy. Just…off beat."

"Any more offbeat and he would be syncopated." Scully snorted, glancing back towards the trailer sitting innocuous in the parking lot.

"His type are harmless enough," Mulder reassured her. "I think he had a crush on you though?"

She eyes flew up to his own laughing ones, startled as she realized he was teasing her. "What made you say that?"

"Enigmatic Agent Scully," he kidded. "I don't know you're not so mysterious as all of that."

"I hopefully am to him," she replied, horrified at the idea that her own life might be a book to a whole army of Max Fenig's, roaming the country and swapping stories about her.

"He doesn't know you like vanilla-chocolate swirl ice cream, which you like to eat while writing reports at home, or that you have a shoe addiction that would make Imelda Marcos look like a light-weight, bong toker."

"How do you know those things," she glared at him, knowing it was the response he wanted as he danced just out of the reach of her grasping fingers.

"Simple observation, Scully. You wear a different pair of shoes practically every day, except when out in the field." He immediately glanced down at her heels, which she admitted were different than the ones she had worn just the day before.

"And the ice cream?" She crossed her arms in front of her, cutting her eyes at him suspiciously.

"You smeared some of some paperwork you took home."

She stared at him, truly disturbed. "You are very strange, Mulder."

"You know my powers of observation have gotten me very far in life."

"Not this time," she replied sharply. "Mulder we have to be back in DC by 10. You have a hearing and if you don't go, your career at the Bureau is without question finished."

He didn't look concerned. In fact, he pulled out his car keys instead and seemed to ignore any warnings she had on the nature of his career.

"I haven't spoken to the widow yet." He unlocked the car, turning to look at her.

"Widow?"

"There was a victim in that crash, a forest ranger named Wright. His widow lived nearby. She's likely at the evacuation sight. I want to know if she has been told anything about why her husband was killed."

"Mulder!" He climbed into the car, as Scully stood there, torn as to what to do. She should force him back to Washington that instant, convince him that he was only making matters worse and return him to McGrath for his public spanking. Yet she had a feeling she wouldn't get very far trying that line of tact with Mulder. And she knew she would be much more successful if she let him look through all of his lines of investigation, hit his dead end, and pack him on the first plane back, whether he liked it or not.

"Fine," she murmured under her breath, as Mulder watched her speculatively, rounding the car to the passenger's side. "So much for reining you in."

Chapter Text

He was a boy. He couldn't be more than twenty-three, a kid who had his entire life in front of him, or should have, if he wasn't dying before her eyes. The ventilators pumped air in and out of his body for him, but Scully knew it was already too late. She was simply watching the monitors by his bedside, waiting for the inevitable beeping noise to sound as he flat lined, and the potential of his life slowly ebbed away from his charred, cracked body.

It was a damn shame, a damn, fucking shame. She held the boy's hand as his heart became weaker, his breathing slower, until finally the quiet emergency room was broken by the sharp, though not unexpected alarm of another life expiring. With evident finality, she turned the machine off, and gently placed the young soldier's hand on top of his ruined chest. She felt as if she had let this kid down, this soldier, who had been called to a mission she surmised he little understood, only to die in a most horrible and horrific of a manner. She had tried, of course, as had Dr. Oppenheim, the physician in charge of the ER, but every one of the victims had come in with severe, radioactive burns, some so bad that they were dead on arrival, practically cooked from the inside out. The luckier ones, and there were only two of those, still looked like horrible victims of a raging house fire, and she doubted that one would ever be able to see again.

"Daniels." Scully jumped slightly as Colonel Henderson approached with heavy, booted steps, his face grim as he regarded the disfigured face of his man, torn between stoic duty and true grief at the loss.

"Yes sir," Scully nodded, glancing at the man's vitals chart. "I'm sorry."

"I've lost other men, ma'am, many others. It's part of the duty you take on as a soldier. Course, that doesn't make it any easier." He nodded solemnly to the young man's body. "This one was new to my unit. Just married six months ago. Just found out he and his wife were expecting."

"It's a tragedy," Scully murmured, her heart aching briefly for the boy who now would never get to grow old with his young bride or see the child that they had created. It made his loss seem all that much more nonsensical to her.

"Not as big of a tragedy as what might have happened if that plane had gotten through." Henderson turned knowing eyes on Scully, all seriousness as he stared at her across his former soldier's bed. "I know why you are here, Agent Scully. I'm glad you could be here to try and help my boys. I'm sorry that I was so curt when we met."

"It was understandable," she conceded. "But what I can't understand, Colonel Henderson, is why you and your men have set about a campaign of threats and deceit about this situation. Surely informing the public about the truth of what happened here would be preferable than explaining to this boy's parents and wife that their loved one died under strange and unforeseen circumstances. After all, how will they explain that he can't have an open casket funeral?"

"Agent Scully, can you imagine the panic that would ensue if we admitted for even a moment that a terrorist action had not only crossed into American airspace, but had come this close." He raised his right hand, thumb and forefinger pinching together till they were only centimeters apart. "This close to having a nuclear weapon dropped on Chicago? The heartland of American, within striking distance of Canada. It would be devastating."

"I don't deny that, Colonel, but people will ask questions. People are already asking questions. By playing the cloak and dagger game it won't make those questions go away. It will only amplify them."

"Perhaps if your partner wasn't the one inciting all of those questions in the first place," he snapped back angrily. "What business does the FBI have in any of this?"

"None sir," she replied honestly. "Agent Mulder will be facing an inquiry tomorrow morning. I believe that he has finished causing all the trouble he is going to cause for the time being."

She hoped he was, at least.

Henderson's temper seemed mollified by her answer. He placed a gloved hand on the now inert knee of Daniels, looking for the first time truly grieved. "I serve my country, Agent Scully. What I do might seem covert or even underhanded to you. But my men gave their lives to ensure that tomorrow you can go home, not fearing that you may have been exposed to radiation from a cracked warhead that never made it to its target. This is a horrible way to die, but my men did. I hope you can convey to your partner the same weight of importance of what my men sacrificed here tonight."

"I don't think Agent Mulder was questioning their sacrifice, Colonel. I think he was questioning why they were being made to sacrifice themselves in the first place and for whom."

The colonel didn't respond to her nor did he look at her as she finally turned away from the body and moved towards the dressing rooms, eager to get the hospital issued scrubs covered in blood and ash off of her and into her own clothes. She glanced at her watch, realizing she had less than five hours to get Mulder back on a plane and to DC and in front of OPR and McGrath.

"Agent Scully," Henderson called back over his shoulder. "Thank you again for helping with my men."

"It's my duty, sir," she replied, simply.

Chapter Text

To say she was surprised when she saw Mulder limping into their basement office was an understatement. She had already been mentally preparing her consolation speech; how she was sorry they wouldn't be working together any longer, how she doubted any other work in the FBI would be nearly as challenging or rewarding as the X-files. Perhaps she would pop off a joke on how settled her life would now be now that chasing after aliens and mutant serial killers was no longer an option. She wasn't going to mention how much she would miss him in the end, his friendship, and the way he challenged her very ideas about the world and how it operated. That part she wasn't sure if she could quantify just yet or even understood properly. Yet it was superfluous now as he gimped over to his desk, acting as if nothing was wrong, as if his entire career didn't hang in the balance. He eased himself into his chair, carefully setting his injured leg in front of him, and propping his crutches against the filing cabinet behind him.

"Mulder?" Scully tried not to look surprised as he booted up his compute and carried on his business like he did on a normal workday.

"What did you think of that clean up job in the paper," he asked, smiling ironically at his play on words. "Not one word of a crash or of Max Fenig's disappearance."

"Mulder, what are you doing here?" She finally managed to get out of her stumbling mouth, rising from the table she claimed as her own and moving to stand squarely in front of his.

"Checking my email." He waved at his computer screen.

"But…McGrath! He was going to kick you out!"

"I'm being administratively disciplined, a written warning is going on my record." Mulder shrugged. "A slap on the wrist and they send me on my way."

"What?" she was confused. "How?"

"I don't know," he replied honestly, leaning back in his chair, crossing his arms so that his suit coat pulled slightly at the elbows. "But it was a surprise to a lot of people…including McGrath. I swore he was going to jump across the table and choke me with his own two hands." He looked childishly pleased at the very idea of the angry section chief losing his control.

"Mulder, this isn't funny. They were threatening shutting you down, of closing the X-files."

"And they didn't," he replied.

"That doesn't explain why."

"Because they aren't the only ones with an agenda out there, Scully," Mulder stated this as if it were a simple thing that any small child could understand. His green eyes were deadly serious as they met hers, all jokes aside. "For whatever reason there are those within our government that want to see the X-files continue, for my work to continue. And they have won this hand for a change."

"This hand? You make this sound as if it were a game."

"In a way, it is," he acknowledged. "A game that has deadly consequences, I will admit, but it is a game. And you and I are sadly pawns in it."

Scully scowled at him, pursing her lips together hard. She had no desire to be a pawn to anyone, let alone be puppeted about by unseen hands in a dangerous game of political chicken.

"I can't believe, Mulder, that anyone…any group of people within our government could be cohesive enough, let alone organized enough, to hide anything from the American people, especially something as big as your UFO's."

She was ready for Mulder's look of familiar disappointment; it settled comfortably between them, it was part of their now predictable repartee. "Scully, I can only lay the evidence out there for you to look at. You're the scientist. You're the one who needs the pieces laid before you. I can't put them together for you. And you can choose to believe what you want. But don't be so caught up on finding the answer for every little detail that you are blind to the picture that is forming. The answers are there, but you have to be the one who trusts in what they are telling you."

For once, she realized, she had nothing to say to that statement.

"Anyway," he continued, as his right hand reached to fiddle with his computer mouse in the distracted sort of way that signaled he wanted a change of subject. "We now have a new boss."

"We do," his statement stunned her out of her silence, frowning at him in surprise. "Who?"

"Skinner."

"Skinner was always our boss, technically. He was who Blevins reported to."

"Yes, and now the X-files are being moved directly under Skinner," Mulder didn't sound thrilled with this change. "OPR felt that perhaps having an Assistant Director riding my ass directly, rather than through Blevins, I might be more induced to behave myself and not overstep my bounds again."

"You won't be able to pull your insubordinate crap with him, Mulder." Her few meetings with Assistant Director Skinner had been curt affairs. The man was a no-nonsense, by the book player and had little patience for Mulder's often joyfully flagrant breeches of protocol.

"Skinner I think won't be so bad. He's fair minded." Mulder pretended to be busy with whatever was on his screen. "He's the one that authorized the X-files opening in the first place."

"And just who is pulling his strings then." Scully raised a dubious eyebrow at Mulder, who glanced back at her thoughtfully; chewing at his full, bottom lip.

"I don't know," he admitted, as if the thought had occurred to him before. "But whoever it is, they must have a use for me."

"Or they want to crush you so completely you can never hope to get back up," Scully replied, ominously pessimistic.

"Who rained on your parade, today, Scully? I figured you'd be thrilled! You get me back!" He made it sound as if the heavens themselves had opened up and blessed her.

"My cup veritably runneth over, Mulder," she muttered dryly.

Chapter Text

The file rested lightly on her slim lap, the grinning eight-year-old beamed up at her through her reading glasses. She appeared for the entire world like a normal, happy-go-lucky kid. She posed with her father, mugging for the camera so innocently it was nearly hard to believe that within months of this photo he would be dead and his daughter an orphan.

Cattle mutilation, Mulder had said. Somehow, alien abductions and strange blood loss really didn't seem to encompass the full scale of the tragedy in the file in her hands. A man was dead, and would never be able to see the little girl he so lovingly adored in these photos grow up to be a women. Lost would be first crushes, first dances, first kisses, all of the special moments in a girl's life that fathers watched with bittersweet chagrin. There was an infinite sadness about the idea, something that struck to the core of Scully, of who she was that was a painful ache. She sucked her breath between her teeth as she bit her lip, flipping the picture over in her lap, turning it so she could no longer see the proud father and his now orphaned daughter.

"You all right?" Mulder nudged her from the plane seat next to her, his long legs uncomfortably wedged in front of him. He shifted slightly in his seat, ignoring how he rumpled his suit.

"I'm fine." She replied automatically, shrugging as she grabbed both edges of the folder, and closed it quickly, reaching down below the seat for her briefcase to slip the file in. She nudged the case back under, avoiding Mulder's disbelieving frown as she took off her reading glasses. "I just wanted to familiarize myself with the case a bit more. It's strange that the girl was found by herself outside, and she didn't even think to call for help." That information had bothered her since Mulder had announced they were flying to Connecticut to investigate.

"Girl is eight-years-old and quite possibly the victim of an alien abduction. Adults in these cases are often disoriented enough. Imagine a child trying to come to grips with what had happened, what they had seen."

Trust Mulder to return her to the world of the fantastic and knock her out of her doldrums. She rolled her eyes as she slid her glasses into their case, and down into her purse. "Mulder, did it ever occur to you that perhaps there is a greater tragedy here than that of a girl who was abducted by aliens?"

"If you are going to say this is about Samantha again, Scully..." Mulder warily jumped on the defensive, and with good reason. This was familiar, well trod territory between them.

"I'm just saying that this is a very real, human tragedy. This little girl had a family. Now she's all alone." She felt her eyes sting at the idea, for no real fathomable reason. She wasn't precisely a sentimental type of person. But she was empathetic and the idea of this girl's loss bothered her in ways she couldn't quite really explain.

"I'm not denying the tragedy of it." Mulder looked slightly hurt that she even suggested it. "But Teena Simmons is one of hundreds of children who have had experiences like this and that's not to mention the number of children everyday in America who are left parentless just to the senseless crime that human beings are capable of creating all on their own."

"Such faith in your own species, Mulder." Scully felt the ends of her hair brush her cheek as she shook her head, leaning back further into the cramped space of her small, airline seat. "I don't know. I guess…just thinking of my own father. How I would have felt as a little girl had I lost him? It's just heartbreaking to me to think of that for this little girl, especially seeing how close they were."

"How's your dad doing, Scully/" Mulder switched gears on her so fast it was unnerving, almost as startling as his deduction that there was anything wrong with her father. He said nothing as she gapped at him, startled.

"Dad? He's fine, I suppose." She shrugged nervously, the feeling she always had around Mulder when he pulled those deep secrets out of her brain without her knowledge or permission. "Doctors tell him he should watch his cholesterol, lose some weight. He's heart isn't what it used to be when he was out at sea."

Mulder nodded quietly, his gaze sympathetic, his entire attention on her in that one moment of empathic understanding.

"Life isn't fair sometimes, Scully." He stated perhaps the most obvious fact in the world, but with all the seriousness of someone pronouncing a great, philosophical insight. His face remained grave, even as she snickered at him, believing he was kidding her.

"I'm serious, Scully. How many times do we tell ourselves that, 'that just isn't fair'? The man on the street corner panhandling for change, the little old lady kicked out of her home of fifty years, the promising teenager cut down in the prime of life before they even had a chance to live it, we constantly fill our lives with this idea of what is fair and what is not. And in the end life just isn't fair. It is cruel and often heartless."

The words were odd coming from him, uttered with such conviction that she felt her smile melt at the corners of her mouth. Scully had come to look at her partner as something of a cock-eyed optimist, a man who insisted that the truth was out there and his long-missing sister would return to him someday. It was the strength of his beliefs, his faith in those memories and ideas that made him so compelling. When everyone else wrote him off as half-mad, to hear anything else out of him seemed suspicious, even disturbing.

"But," he continued solemnly. "Despite all that darkness out there, there's always hope just beyond it. We hope that despite the world not being fair that somehow, someway things will work out for those that the world has wronged. We pray that when we get kicked in the teeth, there is someone there who will help pick us up and dust us off. It's what keeps us going at the end of the day, even when we are inundated with all the despair that our society has to offer. Teena Simmons story is sad, and I won't sit here telling you I don't feel for her. At the end of the day, though, I have to tell myself that something good will come out of this, we will learn something that will help us, or others. And I can't let the despair of the real human tragedy blind myself from that."

"How do you do it?" Her bemusement colored her words with a wondering smile.

"What?" He met her smile with one of his own, softly confused.

"Just…you. All the horrible things you've seen, all of the things you know, and yet you still believe at the end of the day that there are silver linings behind those black clouds of conspiracy and intrigue."

"You almost have to. Otherwise all of this would beat you down so hard you might never get back up. It's happened to many agents better than you and I."

"A bright beacon of light shining from out of the basement then?" The image was both ridiculous and fitting.

"I'm a regular ray of sunshine, Scully," he leaned back further in his seat, trying to ease the pressure off of his knees. "Who said an hour-and-a-half flight to Greenwich was a short flight?"

"You did," she reminded him, as he shifted his knees, and tugged at his trousers, trying to get comfortable. She figured he should know, his own mother lived there.

"I should kick my own ass." He grumbled loudly.

Chapter Text

"Scully, when did you learn the word 'exsanguinate'?"

She stopped in mid-stride as she pulled out the car keys to their rental, turning on him and frowning. He looked perfectly serious, standing in the driveway of the Simmon's home in Greenwich, hands resting lightly at the belt around his slacks, squinting with that sort of thoughtful confusion that said he wasn't kidding in the slightest.

"I don't know." She continued unlocking their rental, opening the driver's door but not getting inside. Instead she frowned at him over the top of the car, leaning lightly against the doorframe. "I guess sometime in high school, maybe college. To be honest, I can't remember." It was such a common term in medicine, it wasn't exactly like she could pin down when it had entered into the lexicon of her scientific speak.

"But at eight, did you know what it meant?" Mulder moved towards the car slowly, frowning back over his shoulder towards Teena Simmons window. Above he could see the quiet, sad little girl, bunny in her arms, watching them intently.

"At eight, I was lucky that I knew what blood was, let alone losing a lot of it would mean you would die. My oldest brother told me horrible stories about vampires and I remember being terrified." She shivered slightly at the memory of Bill Jr. hiding in the closet she and Missy shared as children. In her minds eye she saw the child her elder brother was, with a flashlight and a fake pair of Dracula fangs in his grinning mouth.

"That's my point! At eight you would barely know that people died from such things as heavy blood loss, let alone that there was such a concept as exsanguination." He bit at his full, bottom lip thoughtfully, his teeth tugging at it in concentration. "Do we know if Teena Simmons was a gifted child of any sort? In special classes or perhaps going to a special school?"

"Let me look." Scully stepped inside the car, case file in hand as she settled into the seat. She opened the file against the steering wheel, as Mulder settled in the passenger seat beside her, and riffled through the paperwork, scanning it quickly. "Nothing on her education. Just the particulars of the case. Any reason why?"

He said nothing for several long moments, seemingly mulling over the information, his dark head bent as he stared at his own feet, ignoring her as she blinked at him in mild confusion. For not the first time, Scully wished she had the ability to see inside his mind, to understand the leaps of logic he sometimes reached that confused and surprised even her.

"It just strikes me as odd," he finally murmured, still mulling his question. "There's a little girl up there, Scully, one who can use 'exsanguination' in a proper sentence and she doesn't remember or know what happened to her own father?"

"You said it yourself. She's just a child, that sort of trauma would shock an adult, let alone a girl."

"Yeah." He looked as if he was desperately trying to find a puzzle piece, and couldn't find it. "Any more on the girl in California?"

"Nope, except that her father's death matches nearly exactly. Where are you going with this, Mulder?"

"Perhaps no where." He squinted at the road in front of them as she pulled out into the mild traffic in front of the Simmon's suburban home, ignoring the gawking and solemn faced neighbors. "I want to get out to California, but first, can we make a side stop?"

Scully only just managed to hide her surprise. "What? Not rushing to check out this this other death?"

Mulder expression remained neutral even if his ears did flush a bright pink. "I want to check in on my mother while we re here."

Mulder's mother. Scully shrugged, more than curious to finally meet a woman who she knew so much of, though admittedly only through the sad circumstance of her daughter's disappearance. "Sure, if we got time."

"I think we do." He slouched into the seat heavily. "Just want to check that she's all right."

"Yeah!" Scully agreed without hesitation, realizing with a heavy heart just why another Teena would be top of mind.

Chapter Text

Do no harm.

These were the first words that Scully remembered learning in medical school in Stanford University. Like all new college and medical students, her first day in Palo Alto had been a blur of paperwork and note taking, but she still recalled vividly her first instructor of the day repeating the Hippocratic oath and reminding them the first lesson they should always keep in mine when handling any of their patience. Do no harm.

The stubby nubs of the well-worn, VCR remote were rough against her manicured nails as she searched for the pause button by touch alone. She stopped the running video with one press of the soft, rubber and studied at the smiling, sympathetic face of Sally Kindrick. For the entire world she looked like a highly qualified and intelligent doctor, a woman who exude true concern and a need to help those who nature and biology had denied the chance and right to have children of their own. It was the sort of noble profession you heard kids in medical school all secretly wondering if they could get into. She had briefly flirted with the idea herself, like everyone else, before settling quite happily in the study of the dead rather than the creation of life. Now, she couldn't help but think perhaps she had made the right choice after all. Just what had Sally Kindrick been up to? What was so important that she would willingly crush the hopes of these innocent patients and impregnate them with children that were not their own, lie to them about the very hope she had given then? Further still, why was she doing it at all and why was she willing to kill for it?

Kindrick's file sat beside her on the pastel, polyester bedspread. She pulled it to her and flipped through it again, looking for clues in the personnel information, the recommendations, and the ultimate AMA charges that the Stapes Center had filed against her. They had been very thorough, Scully realized. With the money they made off the infertility of others, she could lay odds they hired only the best lawyers to handle these sorts of matters. The charges of course had stated she had carried out gross malpractice, highlighted their suspicions that she had been flirting with eugenics and tampering with the DNA of the embryos before implantation, and their request to the California State Department of Health that an investigation be performed. Of course it had gone nowhere, much as the Stapes Center had intimated. She glanced at the official paperwork for cause but found only that they had been unable to trace the whereabouts of Dr. Kindrick and they were unwilling to pursue the case further without her there to answer charges.

Flimsy reasoning at best, but in a time of ever-growing budget cuts; she couldn't say she was surprised. People could getaway with murder in the health care industry. Sally Kendrick probably had.

"Find much of anything?" She only glanced briefly at Mulder as he slouched inside the door, brown paper bag filled with beverages in hand. He tossed them on the one table in the room, slipping off his suit coat, flopping casually on the bed beside her. His long legs nearly crushed the paperwork she was reading and she snatched it out of the way before he could cause further damage.

"I just don't get it, Mulder. What caused her to do this?" It was the one, over-riding question that had bothered her from the moment they had let the Stapes Center. "She thoughtlessly played with the lives of these people, using their dreams to further her own initiatives." She glanced sideways at the still image of Sally Kendrick, her fixed smile plastered on her plain, thin face as she stared back at Scully through the television screen. "She violated everything we were ever taught in medical school."

"We don't know yet that she did," Mulder pointed out, propping himself up on one elbow, his tie hanging haphazardly around his throat as he studied the screen as well. "Perhaps she was involved in some genetic hanky-panky, but…" He lifted the one shoulder he wasn't leaning against, frowning at the video.

"It's more than that, Mulder." She reached for the remote again, easily finding the rubber play button as Kindrick's frozen face became animated once more. Mulder rose from his prone position, scooting to sit beside her on the end of the bed, intently watching Kindrick as she spoke.

"Dr. Kindrick was the supervising physician in both the Reardons' and Simmons' IVF program. It seems she was experimenting at the clinic."

Do no harm. The mantra repeated itself over and over in her brain, as Sally Kindrick continued to converse with the unseen camera. It disturbed her. It angered her that there were people out there that would use their science to for such unethical ends and there was no reason for it. And now two little girls and their families would pay the price for whatever Sally Kindrick had been planning.

Chapter Text

Eve 6's laughter still ranging harshly in her ears, like a clarion call inviting you to join in on her psychotic madness, shrill, tittering, clawing at the walls, and babbling at the ceiling.

"Someone took a ride on the crazy train," Mulder murmured, clearly disturbed as stared back at the cell door, grim faced, his jaw set. "Nice to see that our taxpayer dollars go for such worthwhile causes like cloning and eugenics."

Scully said nothing as the guard took them out of the small cell area, and accepted back the flashlights and panic buttons. The whole encounter had left her skin crawling and she felt the need to run her fingers through her hair just to stop it from standing on end. She had seen a few mentally disturbed people in her rotations during medical school, but nothing like this. There was an amazing amount of intelligence in Eve 6, but it was hampered by the insanity that twisted her mind and cluttered her thoughts. Perhaps there was something to that idea about seeing knowing and understanding too much. It could drive a person mad.

"There are whole areas of the brain that they say the average human never uses. Imagine if you were born with the ability to use it from the start. Think about it, those are parts of the brain that, for whatever reason, nature hasn't seen fit to allow us to have access too. From the beginning you are able to have an awareness that no one else on earth has or was intended to have."

"You think her psychosis was pre-programmed?" It was a thought and Mulder with his psychology background was certainly intrigued. "Eve said that her family was pre-disposed to psychosis."

"Why didn't Sally Kindrick suffer from it," Scully frowned, her heels clicking against the tiled floor of the facility where Eve 6 was held. "All of them were pre-disposed to it."

"Pre-disposed doesn't mean affected." Mulder edged closer to her down the hallway, as if he feared that Eve could still watch them from her cell, stare at them through the concrete and tile, her teeth gnashing. "Maybe Sally was the one out of the Eve's that wasn't effected by the propensity for psychosis."

"Did the Litchfield files explain at all where it was she went to?" Scully had been surprised that morning when he had waved the files in her face, but hadn't asked where he had gotten them. She had long suspected Mulder had some sort of secret informant, and she knew he had been rushing her out of his hotel room last night. She had said nothing to him. He would only deny it anyway.

"No, though I suspect that one of the missing Eves is Sally Kindrick." Mulder worried his lip between his teeth again, a habit she now had come to know as one of his ticks, something he did while concentrating. "Any one of the people on this project could have taken her away. Perhaps someone did, raised her away from her sisters, in a normal environment. Her psychosis might not have manifested, or if it did, perhaps they were able to treat it much earlier than in the other Eves."

"You think they allowed the other Eves to degenerate mentally?" Scully feet halted as she turned heel on him, mouth open and horrified, the sour taste of fear in her throat at the very idea of what that would mean.

"Research and development." Mulder's monotone, matter-of-fact response made it sound so clinically business-like, as if the government were working out the bugs of a new computer or a different gun. "The government wanted to see what they were getting into by playing around with the human genome and doing things that nature never intended to happen. The Adams and Eves are probably just a prototype of a bigger human cloning project, one of many the government bred and tested to their limits to see what could happen."

It was straight out of science fiction, the sort of story that Scully would sooner expect on a movie screen than hiding in a cell, screaming and gibbering in the darkness. "Why?"

Mulder's look said it all. He stood over her, hands on hips, one eyebrow cocked in that knowing way. He didn't have to say it, she already knew.

"You think its aliens, don't you?" Her incredulousness oozed out of her lips before she could even stop it. She turned her back on him, moving towards the steel, double doors.

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Teena Simmons smiling face mocked her from the top of her desk, the contents of the case file strewn around Scully's laptop in a scatter of report writing flotsam and jetsam. She glanced at it around the edges of her reading glasses, her small, quick fingers gravitating towards it, studying it again as she had on the plane ride to Connecticut. A week ago this picture had pained her, the idea of a girl ripped apart from her father, left orphaned to the world with no one to care for those moments that were so precious to growing up. Now the photograph of Teena, her father's arms wrapped around her as the two stood in long gone summer sunshine was in stark contrast to what she knew about the case. Teena was no sad, parentless child, but a sociopathic psychotic, an eight-year-old who had deliberately and methodically set about her own parent's murder.

For what? That question still blinked at her from the dark blue background of her word processing program. Why had Teena and Cindy felt the need to murder their fathers, to set up this elaborate scheme to convince people of their innocence? For freedom? Perhaps from the other Eves of the Litchfield Project, raised as lab rats and treated no better, she could understand, but these girls had been born in loving homes, with families who had strived to give them the very best. Their reasons seemed as fathomless as the coldness in Teena Simmons far-too-old eyes.

"How's the paperwork going?" Mulder sat at his desk, glancing at her over the top of his own reading glasses, his face as pensive as she was sure her own was. For Mulder, most child cases were hard, especially with girls the age of Teena and Cindy. She always wondered if he ever completely stopped seeing the face of his sister in all of them. The truth had been bothering him since they had turned the girls over to authorities and much like her he seemed to have no more insight or answers.

"I've hit that stuck point where I'm trying to explain to Skinner how it is an eight-year-old girl could have the cold blooded temerity to slaughter her own father." Scully tossed the photograph lightly on her keyboard and leaned back in her chair, slipping off her high heels and massaging the bottom of one foot with the toes of the other. "What makes a girl drop her Barbie dolls and teddy bears for lethal plants and exsanguination?"

"Conditioning. Programming." Mulder scrubbed at his face, slipping his hands briefly under his glasses before letting them fall slightly askew on his aquiline nose again. "Eugenics isn't a precise science and in the 1960's gene manipulation was only in its infancy. Turning on that many extra chromosomes without understanding what they would do, who knows what those scientists created?"

"A monster," Scully whispered at Teena Simmon's elf-like face.

"Maybe or maybe just someone who is more human than human."

"Why would anyone want to do this to a child?" Scully fingered the portrait briefly before turning the image over, sliding it under the paperwork of the case to later be included with the official file. "Think what Mrs. Reardon must be going through, knowing that the daughter she gave birth to and raised all of these years isn't the daughter that she thought she had."

"She's a child and yet she isn't." Mulder's thoughts summed up their case. Children who weren't children, who never were and were never meant to be.

"What was Sally Kindrick doing, you think? Trying to perfect the governments work or to improve upon what she was?" She admitted she was curious. She couldn't imagine Kindrick, the one Eve who had been allowed to live a normal life, could ever bring herself to continue the work that made her the flawed person that she was.

"Perhaps she was simply trying to create someone like her. More Eves in the world, ones without the flaws that she and her sisters had. Ones that understood what it was like to be different, to be more than just human." Mulder's eyes fixed at a point just over Scully's head, as he considered and weighed the information. "Sally Kindrick must have missed her sisters. Despite the psychosis, they were the only creatures in the world who shared her experiences."

She didn't want to face this world alone, Scully realized. Just as Teena and Cindy had not. They reached out for each other. How strange it must be, she thought, to be someone who knows that they are different but are unable to find that other who shares their uniqueness. That desire to find those of a like mind, others akin to yourself perhaps was the most basic of human instincts, the need to fit in, to find a family unit and a tribe. It was true of every human being, whether they were a normal human being or a monster.

Chapter Text

It wasn't that she didn't find Fox Mulder attractive. Heaven knows you'd have to be deaf, blind, and perhaps a slight bit brain damaged not to notice. Scully, if she ever would admit such a thing, conceded that even she had been attracted to her partner when first she met him. His tall, dark, brooding looks aside, he was devastating intelligent and possessed a deadly wit, with the sort of cocky charm that often hid the wounded soul he so rarely let anyone see. She had witnessed him turn many a woman into goo with just a crooked smile and a gentlemanly gesture, and it was most often displayed when he was trying to get away with something he knew was either vaguely illegal or had the high probability of ending with him locked up somewhere.

Mulder was the sort of man that her mother, sister and best girl friends would all kick Scully for not falling all over. She could very easily point out to all of them that none of them knew him like Scully did, both in his good moments and his many bad moments. No one else had to take weekends to travel and bail Mulder out of yet another jail, to stand in front of yet another review board and answer for his unorthodox behavior or put up with his propensity for ditching her whenever it was most convenient for him. After one had gotten done explaining to their bosses yet again that Mulder wasn't insane for his latest, half-baked theory, pulling some strange bit of science from somewhere to save some face for them both, the attraction lost a great deal of its luster. The boyish charm started to wear very thin, the cutting wit became grating and in the end really Scully would rather just go home to a good book, some ice cream, and ignore any phone number with Mulder's ID on it. She had decided long ago there was a line she would never, ever cross with him. She had, of course, crossed that line with others, and perhaps those previous experiences had taught her to know better in the future. She had set a very firm spot in her life that Mulder occupied, that of her work partner. Perhaps a friendly work partner, one she would give the key to her apartment and occasionally bring coffee, but a work partner none-the-less.

She never allowed him to cross that line in her mind, shutting her imagination to every possibility that might exist as to why he kept his magazines in his lower desk drawer. Mulder's love life - or lack thereof - was a non-entity in Scully's way of thinking. Mulder was just Mulder, obsessed, intense, driven. No matter how much she teased him, Mulder had no life other than the X-files. Certainly he had no life that included someone like Phoebe Green in it. Especially not a Phoebe Green who felt so intimate and close that she could stand there in a public parking lot and kiss him in a way that said that they were much more than just old friends from Oxford. By the way she groped him as she pulled him close, Scully suspected that they had once been very, very, very good friends indeed.

"About Phoebe," Mulder muttered as he started the car, ignoring the tall brunette who waved with a smile reminiscent of the cat who had just caught the bird in its nest. "Our relationship is…complicated."

"Clearly." Scully didn't know if she should allow the laugh that was bubbling deep in her throat to escape or not. There was something hysterically funny about the dumbfounded look on Mulder's face, the nervous way he had scurried from Phoebe's embrace while trying to maintain some sense of dignity, brushing at his dark, suit coat as if she had somehow begrimed it with her well-manicured fingers. If she were to giggle at him in this delicate moment she had a feeling she would bruise an ego that was already quivering in the face of Inspector Green and her Scotland Yard hello.

"An ex-girlfriend?" Scully kept her tone casual and light, forcing the smile playing on her lips to stay firmly away.

Mulder grimaced so painfully it was hard to tell if her words struck home or not. Perhaps she was a woman who had played with younger Mulder's teenage emotions. After all, he had been a young man, a long way from home, in a foreign country. She could imagine a sensitive young Fox falling prey to the sophisticated charms of a woman like that.

"I'll tell you about it some other time." She thought she could hear his teeth grinding themselves together as his jaw tried to pop a tendon through his ear.

"It can't be that bad," she piped cheerfully. He glared by way of response, scowling blackly at the red sedan in front of them that seemed determined to move ten miles below the posted speed limit in the middle of lunchtime traffic.

"Whatever Phoebe is here for, I can guarantee it's nothing as simple as a small favor," he finally ground out, tapping long fingers along the steering wheel. "It wouldn't be nearly as amusing to her otherwise."

"What's to say she isn't here paying a visit to an old friend and getting you to help out a bit on the side," Scully offered in the interest of fairness. Not that she was particularly interested in being fair to this mysterious woman who had just frightened her to death but she at least granted that she didn't know the her well enough to scorn her just yet.

"With Phoebe, nothing is ever that simple," he muttered with the certainty of a doomed man.

Chapter Text

She had to admit, it was a bit of a compromising position.

Phoebe Green, striking and exquisite in her evening gown stopped, opened mouthed, in the doorway of her own hotel room, amusement warring with confusion as she stared at the tableau before her. Her former lover passed out from smoke inhalation on her bed, mostly undressed, as his current FBI partner kneeled over him on the bed, trying to wiggle free his belt buckle while he lay motionless on the white comforter. Scully looked completely unapologetic at Phoebe's startled reaction.

"Good evening, Inspector Green. Care to assist me?" She didn't even blush as her small fingers finally managed to undo the leather enough to slip it from the buckle, and finally free up the front of Mulder's trousers, enough that she could finally unbutton them and slip them off. She had teased Mulder not so long ago that she would get to see him in his underwear sometime soon given his propensity for doing all manner of dangerous things.

She didn't think she'd have such an incredulous and amused audience.

"Is this something you have to do with Fox regularly or am I just in for a one time showing?" Phoebe voice dripped with positively amused delight. She glided across the carpet to grab Mulder's left hand trouser leg as Scully scooted herself off the end of the bed and made for his right. Together the two women eased the fabric from off his hips and down his legs, letting them fall to the floor in a crumpled heap. Scully moved to roll Mulder's lanky but still heavy body over just enough to manage to pull the covers over him lightly.

"Will he be all right then?" Phoebe watched her work, a slight frown creasing between her eyes, the first sign of concern for Mulder that Scully had seen out of the woman since he had passed out in the hallway below.

"Fine, though I still believe we should have let the paramedics take him to the hospital. Smoke inhalation is nothing minor." As a doctor, Scully had been indignant when Phoebe had over-ridden her and demanded that Mulder be taken upstairs. As his partner she had been outraged. Yet Phoebe had blithely turned to her when she lodged her protests, and said, "But you are a doctor, aren't you? There's no need for all that fuss, besides you know Fox would only crawl out of a hospital the first chance he was given."

She was beginning to see what Mulder meant when he told her that Phoebe was fire. She was a woman that consumed everything in her path, leaving destruction in her wake. It was only later that she ever stopped to consider just what her actions cost her and those around her.

"I figured you would have him right as rain again." She leaned briefly against the tall bedpost, sounding as if Mulder had simply skinned his knee or had been clipped in the shoulder by a stray bullet. "He mentioned you were a doctor, you know. I thought it was convenient."

"Convenient for who?" Scully's eyebrows flew to her hairline as her eyes caught Mulder's all-too-familiar overnight bag sitting on one of the bedroom chairs, covered with the suit she knew he had been wearing earlier.

Phoebe clearly saw the direction of her gaze. She chose to say nothing, instead allowing a Cheshire smile to spread slowly on her face.

"I think Mulder will need his rest," Scully murmured in tones as dry as powdery sand. "Have you learned anything further on who started the fire downstairs."

No matter what games Phoebe Green liked to play, she was at her core interested in the truth, as she turned from vixen to business in the batting of one, mascara-covered eyelash. "The Boston Fire Department is already looking into the cause of the fire. They should have a report for me in the morning. In the meantime." She twirled suddenly from the bedpost a few paces to an elegant wardrobe, reaching inside to pull out a much more functional pantsuit. "I am seeing to his lordship and family. They are talking about returning home tonight and making for London in the morning."

"But they've only been here days." The news surprised Scully. "It's hardly been long enough to justify the expense."

"What's the point of coming to America if our murder just followed them here?" Phoebe pointed out, not incorrectly. "Lady Marsden is keen on getting the boys home again, back in familiar surroundings. They are heading back to Cape Cod today to get things packed and the house closed up." Something akin to regret fluttered for a moment in her dark eyes, an almost real human emotion, as she turned slightly on thin, stiletto heels to regard Mulder. He laid so still that not even his eyelids fluttered in unconsciousness.

"Well, so much for reliving ones glory days, eh? I suppose Conan Doyle will just have wait." Her eyes cut up to Scully's, wolfish glimmers above that slow, broad smile again. "Of course, not that he's particularly lonely it seems."

The suggestion was utterly flabbergasting to Scully. She couldn't formulate words or thoughts. She felt her throat strangle itself on the outrage that welled out of her, but all her mouth could physically manage was to hang open uselessly, a cry of protest unable to articulate itself.

"Not his type, usually," Phoebe mused as she swung her clothing on one arm, cocking her head towards one bare shoulder as if scrutinizing Scully with the same sort of eye she would use on a terrorist. "Fox usually goes for the tall, brunette, leggy type, with devastating wit and more than a bit of self-confidence. But then, you are a doctor, I suppose you can't be totally off the mark." She laughed as if to say "what do I know?"

"Anyway, I shall have to hurry up and change, the Marsdens are downstairs waiting." As if they had just been discussing the weather she turned towards the restroom, business once again, her free hand working at one of her expensive looking earrings. "Keep an eye on Fox won't you? He's horrible when he gets so much as a sniffle." She winked as she shut the door to a red-faced Scully who stood by her prostrate partner, arms crossed so tightly in front her shoulders ached.

"That fucking bitch," Scully breathed in barely controlled tones. She spun to glare Mulder, who was still blissfully unaware, and remembered his words about Phoebe, his cautions to stay away from her and her mind games. She had thought it was his effort to be alone with her, and to keep her out of the picture.

"I hate to admit it, Mulder," she breathed irritably as she reached across him for another pillow to place under his head. "But on this one I think you were right."

Chapter Text

He had the brooding, college professor looking going on again. Scully recognized it for a bad sign. She leaned against the doorjamb of their shared office, watching Mulder for long moments. He was lost in thought, and unaware she was even there.

She suspected she knew what was triggering the angst. Wise as it might be to let sleeping dogs lie and leave Mulder to brood over lost loves alone in the office by himself, her curiosity was getting the best of her. Mulder was secretive at his best and almost deliberately played up assumptions and half-truths to shroud who he really was in mysteries and lies. Much like her own firm, confident, and sometimes-cold façade, he played up the rebellious, anti-social lothario with a taste for cheap porn. But Phoebe Green knew better. The good inspector had turned Mulder into putty in her hand, stringing him along despite himself. Nothing short of Mulder's quest for the truth or his search for his sister drew his attention nearly as much as that. And it was stunning to her that he had happily allowed it to happen. It was a puzzle she couldn't possibly let go of.

"Care to take me to lunch?" She slipped into her best, fake British accent, a pretty good one if she did say so herself. Mulder nearly leapt out of his desk chair, panic freezing his face till he saw her grinning madly at him. His shoulders drooped in his dark suit coat, as he rolled his eyes behind his reading glasses.

"Scare you?" She hadn't meant to, but it amused her that she did. She wandered over to his desk as he breathed a quiet sigh of relief.

"You have no idea." He still looked vaguely ill.

"Where's Phoebe?" Scully had half expected her to be draped across Mulder's desk when she came down. To find her not there most likely meant her suspicious were accurate. Phoebe had returned with the Marsdens to England, her little game with Mulder now complete. Scully wondered if she had actually accomplished whatever she had intended to, turning to him instead of going through State Department channels.

"I don't know," Mulder replied emphatically.

"You don't know? She didn't call?" Even common professional courtesy would have said that she should, if nothing else to help close up the case for the American agents who had spent the time and effort solving the case for her, wrapping it up, and leaving it tidily in her lap before she went running off as suddenly as she came in.

"No." Mulder reached across his desk for a cassette tape lying on a manila folder, picking it up carefully between long fingers as if fearful it might spontaneously set itself afire, like the Marsdens' house. "She did messenger me this?" He held the tape up in front of him, frowning at it in distaste.

"Did you play it?"

"No." He stared at it briefly, a rueful smile gliding softly over his features, his sigh resigned.

"Why not? Aren't you curious what's on it?"

"Ten-to-one, you can't dance to it." He rose, unfolding from his chair as he tossed the tape into the trashcan, moving towards the door as he called to her. "You coming to lunch? I owe you."

"For what?" She had been half-joking about Mulder treating her for lunch. She grabbed his overcoat from off his chair and followed behind him.

"For busting your ass on the case I told you to stay off of. You're the one who caught L'ively, it's your hunch that paid off."

"I simply allowed myself to do as you do and look beyond the obvious," she admitted. "I knew something was up when I realized that L'ively's name popped up again and again in the records of a period of decades."

"Learning how to catch the spooks." Mulder stopped by the elevators, obviously pleased.

"Well I learned a thing or two hunting down liver-eating mutants with you," she admitted grudgingly.

"It was good work." He nodded in approval as the elevator opened. "Perhaps if I didn't have my head so far up my ass, I might have noticed it myself."

"I don't think it was your head that was the problem."

She at least made him laugh, but he disagreed as they elevator released them to the lobby. "No, it was my head this time and Phoebe knew it. She has the knack of using my weaknesses to get just what she wants every time."

"And did she succeed?" She was coolly curious, schooling her expression to that of detached interest. She knew Mulder would see through it in an instant, his sharp green eyes cutting sideways at her as he held the front door open for her. She stepped onto the busy, DC sidewalk, quickly slipping on her overcoat against the chill of the cool, fall air, passing Mulder his.

"I can't say I knew for sure what Phoebe wanted," he admitted, as he fell into step beside her, shortening his normally long steps to better keep pace with her. "Phoebe likes to wrap everything up in games. For all I know this was just a tease for her, an attempt to see if she still could charm me back into her bed."

"Did it work?" She shouldn't be this nosy about her partner's love life. She knew she was crossing into a potentially gray and dangerous area with her strictly work partner. Once one started getting involved in the personal life of ones workmates, suddenly that strict detachment between your personal and your profession life began to blur. And in her past that had always had nasty repercussions.

"Did I sleep with Phoebe?" Even Mulder seemed surprised she was asking. "No," he admitted candidly.

"You thought about it, though." She wasn't going to pretend she hadn't seen his overnight bag in her room or know what he meant when he had tried to brush her off from coming to Boston at all.

He looked for a moment as if he was going to avoid that answer. "I did," he admitted, looking less ashamed than thoughtful. "She was the love of my very young adult life, I admit. Perhaps there's a part of me that can't help but feel attracted to her, even when I know better."

"Like fire, you can't help but stare at it, even when you know it's going to kill you," Scully offered as they crossed one busy street, towards a sandwich shop she knew Mulder was particularly fond of.

"Phoebe and I met at Oxford. Both studying psychology. She knew even back then she wanted to join Scotland Yard. I think she was the one who might have planted the seed about the FBI, I don't remember." His face screwed up with the sort of distant, nostalgic look of someone trying to recall their ancient past. "I knew better, even then. I had seen her tear through the best and brightest there at the time, tossing them off as soon as she was done, leaving them emotional wrecks each and every time."

"How did she wrap her fingers around you then?" Scully was intrigued. Mulder wasn't an idiot with women, but he was a romantic, whether he admitted it or not.

"Oh the same way any woman can tie the noose around me. Putting an amazing intellect in the body of someone who toys with my libido just long enough to plunge the knife into my back." There was a wealth of bitterness in his worlds, underscoring anger and hurt she didn't realize he had. "Phoebe wasn't the last one to try that on me, but you'd think she would have taught me to know better."

Oh, if he only knew, she thought, as she recalled the fateful afternoon she had picked up the phone in Daniel Waterston's office, when she had first spoken to his wife and first realized just what was going on. "Everyone makes silly mistakes when it comes to love, Mulder. You wouldn't be the first."

He grunted by way of reply.

"So, how did things fall out with you two? Obviously you graduated. You returned to America,"

"How do any of these college romances end," he asked philosophically. "Phoebe was intense, bright, she obsessed me. When things became too much, she would simply dance away to taunt me, laughing as she spun her web around someone else. And when I'd get sick of it, she would come running back to draw me back in again with vague promises and a brief reformation." An ironic smile twisted his mouth. "I won't surprise you by telling you that even then I wanted desperately to believe. I wanted to think she really would change, that in the end all of her promises were something more than just her way of tying me to her for whatever she needed, whenever she needed."

Scully had a sense she knew where this story was ending up. "You asked her to marry you, didn't you?"

"Not quiet." Mulder grimaced painfully at her own keen sense of perception. "But I asked her to come to America with me. Live with me, try things out here. I offered to talk to Dad, see if he couldn't use some of his sway at State to get her over here and in a good position."

"Did she even seem interested or did she laugh in your face?" Scully could see Phoebe doing either, depending on whatever whim caught her fancy.

He chuckled bluntly. "No, she said she would give it a think and then promptly went off to have a quick fuck with someone else. I might not have even known about it, except it was my tutor and she had caught him during his office hours. I guess it never occurred to him students could see clearly through his office window." Scully winced at the imagery, shaking her head in sheer astonishment.

"Phoebe sounds like a lovely woman." It was the most polite phrase Scully could manage in public as they neared the restaurant.

"Well, ten years you sometimes overlook the things that drove you apart in the first place." He held open the door for her as she stepped lightly inside. "And Phoebe has the knack of making you forget."

"But you said you didn't sleep with her." Scully tried to find a bright side to the situation, something less depressing that Mulder could take away from this other than another reminder of how he seemed to be continuously drawn into the webs and schemes of others.

"Nope, I didn't." he shrugged, as he reached for his wallet. "But if you hadn't been stripping me half naked, who knows what might have happened."

His impish smile delighted at the horror on her face as he blithely asked her. "So what will you have, Scully? My treat."

Chapter Text

"It's Christmas Eve, Scully, don't you have a open fire to roast chestnuts on?" Mulder's voice was muffled as he bent over a series of slides on his light board, not even looking up at her as she returned from lunch overflowing with Christmas shopping bags, her red hair blown crazily about her face.

"Planning to hide out here for the holiday, Mulder, like some modern-day Scrooge?" She set her shopping down on top of her table, reaching inside one bag for the thin, neatly wrapped package on top, trying to set it nonchalantly on her desk.

"Contrary to popular belief, I've yet to ever see a ghost on Christmas, at least not when I was sober." He turned to his chair to her as he sat up, pushing his reading glasses up further on his nose, looking slightly perturbed and not particularly happy. "I've succumbed to the one thing in the universe no human being can possibly withstand."

He paused dramatically for effect. Deciding to play along, she tried to keep her face as serious as possible, but felt the corners of her mouth twitch upwards of their own volition. "That is?"

"Jewish mother guilt."

"Spending a holiday with your family, what a novel idea." She began peeling off her layers of gloves, coats, and scarves, discarding the lot on the chair behind her before straightening her flyaway hair into some semblance of its normal order

"Yeah, well Mom wanted to go to North Carolina to see what remains of her family. She has a sister down there, I have cousins." He didn't sound particular sure he had any of the latter. "We'll sit around the Christmas tree watching It's a Wonderful Life and eating chocolate Hanukkah gelt while my Aunt Mary insists on showing everyone a hundred pictures of her grandkid dressed as a sheep."

"Hanukkah gelt at Christmas? I thought your mother's family hadn't been practicing Jews in generations."

"No one said the Kuiper clan didn't have a sense of irony," Mulder shrugged. "The side of the family that did bother trying to remain religious have ham for Hanukkah." The sacrilege of the very idea seemed to give Mulder no end of subversive pleasure. "I guess pork's too good to give up, even for God."

"What about the Mulder side of the family?" Scully rarely asked too deeply about Mulder's family beyond what little information he volunteered. She knew he wasn't particularly close to his father, but had never bothered to ask what caused the fall out between father and son in the years since Samantha Mulder's disappearance.

"Dad's idea of holiday cheer is ironically similar to mine," Mulder grinned playfully. "A bottle of eggnog and a fifth of scotch helps to keep the season bright."

"Sounds awful lonely to me." Scully perched herself precariously on the edge of her table, trying to imagine Mulder alone on Christmas. His small, cramped apartment, bare of any Christmas cheer, some sappy holiday film on his television as he pulled slowly from some disgusting mixture of milky eggnog and cheap booze. It was perhaps one of the most depressing thoughts she had ever had in her life.

"I guess it can't compare to a large, Scully clan get together," Mulder expertly moved away from the discomfort, turning the conversation back on her. "Off to midnight mass and Christmas carols, then?"

"Not quite," she admitted, not that she could think of a time when her family was ever quite that prosaic, especially not when her father was out to sea. "My parents flew out yesterday to San Diego to be with my brother Bill and his wife for the holiday. They supposed that since Bill couldn't be out here this year, and with my sister off on one of her rambles, that Charlie and I could fend for ourselves this holiday. Since he's on post in DC at the moment, he's coming over to my house for Christmas."

"I'm taking it that this means no church, and you two will peek in your presents early since your parents aren't there to catch you?"

"That and eating nothing but Christmas cookies for dinner." She was actually looking forward to spending time with her younger brother. Charlie had always been the easy-going, peacekeeper in the family, much more like their mother and their sister Melissa. Being a girl who had at one time been very much the tomboy, Charlie had been her most common playmate, less bullying than Bill, less prissy than Melissa. The two had spent many afternoons covered in mud, doing things she was fairly certain in hindsight her mother might just throttle her over.

"Behavior like that, and Santa might not put anything in your stockings," he teased lazily, pulling his glasses off, his eye moving like sighting lasers to the present sitting right beside her computer. "I thought we agreed on no gifts."

Damn him and his perception, she thought silently. She had hoped she could have sneaked it on his desk when he wasn't looking. "I know, but it's Christmas, Mulder, and I couldn't just not get you something as a token of my appreciation for working with you this last year."

"Appreciation?" He stared at her as if she had suddenly grown a second head. "Did you get savaged by an elf while you were out?"

"I'm serious!" She laughed, picking up the flat parcel and moving across the small space between them to hand it to him, smiling shyly as she felt abnormally self-conscious. She knew he had been less than thrilled with the idea of co-worker presents, but what was the harm of one little gift, she had rationalized. Besides, she was doing it for her own benefit as much his. He shook it warily, eyeing it as if she had passed him a viral bomb.

"Keep it up, Mulder, and I may have to take it back."

"Can't tease a man like that, Scully, giving it away and then denying access." He slipped a finger under the edge of the paper, and began to tear the bright paper. "Can I eat it?"

"Don't know till you open it." She leaned one hip against his desk.

He had the paper off and the flat box open, his long fingers probing through the tissue paper to the ribbon of neatly patterned, blue silk within. He pulled it out slowly, with a bemused smile, as he held the tie up closer to his face to study it. "Are you trying to tell me something about my wardrobe?"

She swallowed past the nervous flutter in her throat, dryly regarding the tasteless, brown and tan tie he was currently wearing around his neck. "You do have an interesting collection of neck wear, I'll admit that."

"Interesting being a diplomatic way of saying 'ugly'?" He pulled up the tie he was wearing, glancing from it to the one she had given him.

"I will admit I wondered if a color-blind old uncle had died and passed them on to you." She smiled in silent relief as she watched Mulder take out the blue tie from the box and wrap it around his shoulders as the ends lay across to hang in front of his shirt. His fingers began un-knotting the objectionable, bland one at his collar.

"My uncle isn't the color blind one, I am," he defended lightly, slipping the old tie off and flipping his collar up. "Red/green color blind, makes it a bitch to dress myself in the morning."

"Red/green?" Her fingers flew automatically to her own copper colored hair self-consciously. Like it or not, her one vanity in her world was her hair. Being short and unspectacular was one thing, but having red hair often made her stand out against the cool blondes and mysterious brunettes of the world and it disturbed her somewhat to think that her own partner could only see her hair in some strange shade of gray.

He noticed her nervous movement and smiled softly at her gesture, shaking his head. "No, I see your hair fine. I have anomalous trichromacy. I can't tell the difference between Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber in the crayon box, but I can tell your hair is red. I have a bigger problem with green colors." He waved the brown tie at her before tossing it behind him, quickly knotting her tie. "That's why I try to play it safe."

"Playing it safe means 'ugly' then?" She turned his words on him lightly mocking.

"Keep that up, Scully, maybe I won't give you what I got you." He flashed her a crooked grin, rising to move towards his desk, a teasing cocky swagger as he pretended to busy himself with paperwork by his keyboard.

"And who was the one protesting that we weren't supposed to be giving each other presents," she pointed out, watching him as he shuffled the same three pieces of paper over and over again.

"I knew you'd break that the moment I said it. Women always do."

"Do what?" She moved away from his desk, her arms crossing automatically in front of her preparing herself for a confrontation.

"When men say, 'let's not exchange gifts', women always say, 'well, one won't hurt'. It's feeds the feminine need to be the caretaker, to make sure that everyone around them is provided for."

"Reducing me down to psychological clichés then?"

Mulder waved the tail end of his tie in her face. "The only other person who attempts to buy me ties is my mother."

She felt her tongue plant itself firmly in her cheek as she glared at him. He was merrily oblivious as he opened his top most desk drawer, pulling out a red envelope, sealed, with her name written on the front in Mulder's cramped, spidery script.

"You know, I can't take back gift cards, so you have to accept it." He passed it to her flippantly, but there was a suspicious anxiousness in his green eyes as he quickly looked down at his desk and the same three papers again. "I didn't know what to get you besides a deadbolt for your heating vents. Somehow I don't think your super would understand the fear of liver eating mutants, so I went with a gift card. Figured you could…uhhh…buy more shoes?" He glanced down helplessly at her black heels. "You like shoes, right?"

Mulder looked so pathetically worried she'd be offended, she couldn't help but soften at his apprehensive smile as he began shuffling his paperwork yet again.

"Thank you." She meant it. Yes, a gift card wasn't particularly spectacular, but for two people who had only been working together for less than a year it was as good as she suspected Mulder was going to get. "I appreciate it, especially from someone who said 'let's don't exchange gifts'."

"Yeah, well I didn't want to be the one looking like a heel." His apprehension melted under her acceptance and he grinned brightly with childish delight. "I mean, at least I know you'll like whatever you get with it."

"Very safe playing for you, Mulder," she giggled. "I was expecting a key chain or a goofy t-shirt."

"I thought about getting you a clam chowder key chain I saw in Boston, but thought the subtle humor might be lost on you."

"Thank goodness." She tried, and failed to imagine what a clam chowder key chain would look like.

"Yeah, well." The tips of his ears turned slightly pink. "Anyway, why don't you head out early? Go meet up with your brother, bake some cookies."

"What? Being magnanimous?"

"Spirit of the season and all." He waved one arm towards the door. "Get out of here."

"Okay." She beamed, eyeing his new tie around his neck. "I did a good job, didn't I?"

"Yeah!" He nodded, running the silk through his fingers. "Better than the ones Mom picks out." With no mirror he had tied his knot crooked. It sat sideways and funny at the base of his throat. She reached across the corner of his desk, ignoring his confused frown as her small finger straightened it, tightening it against his collar.

"There!" She patted the tie against his chest, leaning back to observe her handiwork. "Much better."

"Twenty years of wearing these things, no woman ever thinks I get them right?"

"Why every man needs a good woman around, Mulder, you might think about that sometime, see about getting yourself one of them."

"Who needs a woman when I got this?" He waved expansively towards the cluttered office, the piles of paper, and the copy of the Adult Video News he'd been reading that morning.

"My point exactly." She had wandered back to her table picked her warm coat and gloves back up, easing on the first, then the latter. "So I'll see you in four days."

"Maybe sooner if Aunt Mary brings out the Christmas pageant videos."

"I'll feel for you as I eat my dinner of homemade sugar cookies." She grabbed her bags and made for the door. "Merry Christmas, Mulder."

"Merry Christmas," he murmured after her, his fingers unconsciously moving towards the knot on his tie.

Chapter Text

"You don't like the roast, Dad?" Scully eyed her father's suspiciously full looking plate dubiously. Her father had one of the healthiest appetites she knew of after years at sea living on naval fair. After taking a desk job while she was in college he had grown the rounded tummy to prove it and he patted it gently as he shook his head.

"No, the roast is great. I see you inherited your mother's cooking." Bill winked at Maggie who sighed, smiling softly at her husband. "You know I married her for the food."

"It certainly wasn't because I was pregnant with your son." Maggie conspiratorial stage whisper caused her daughter's face to flush bright crimson, shrieking in mild protest.

"Mom, I don't want to know…and you're a good Catholic too!" She yelped, looking imploringly to her blasé father.

"Couldn't be helped, Starbuck. Cold War, man's out to sea for long periods, and it wasn't like we weren't engaged to begin with." He shrugged at his daughter's scandalized face.

"Oh Dana, it wasn't that far before the wedding. Honestly, you've seen the photos," she teased mildly. "I'm surprised you hadn't done the math before now and figured it out."

"I don't want to think about my parents…and…how babies are made." Scully stabbed at a Brussels sprout viciously, rolling her eyes at the both of them. Now well into their middle age and looking eagerly towards grandchildren, it was hard to imagine either of them as once being young, frisky newlyweds. William Scully had been a dashing and promising young naval officer, descending off his ship in his dress whites to scoop up Margaret Reardon, the dark haired beauty from Baltimore who had stolen his heart while he was still just a young mid-shipman in Annapolis. Their story had been the fairy tale romance she and Melissa had swooned over as girls and perhaps secretly longed for themselves now that they were adults. To have it shattered by her mother's admission of sinful, out of wedlock intercourse and the conception of her eldest brother seemed to somehow tarnish a very precious childhood fantasy.

"Does Bill know?" She finally asked, glancing sideways at her mother's amused smirk.

"Yes, dear, as does Missy."

"Am I the only one not to know?" Scully protested with indignation.

"No, Charlie doesn't either. But then your mother always did shelter him more than the rest of you." Bill sniffed playfully as underneath the table Scully could feel her mother's toe connect with her father's shin. He winced but said nothing.

"Speaking of Charlie." Maggie was obviously trying to change the subject. "Did he get of to his mission all right?" Apparently she was done with the subject of tormenting her daughter with images of her parents' love life.

"Set him on the train myself. He said that when he reached his location, and if it was secure, he would call." Much like her father and elder brother, Charlie had joined the Navy. Unlike the other two he had chosen military intelligence as his career. "He said he'd call you Mom first thing. He'd call me second."

"You two have a good Christmas without us?" Maggie glanced towards the small, tabletop tree sitting in Scully's living room approvingly.

"Yeah, stayed up all nigh, watched movies, ate nothing but cookies and snack food, and opened our presents at the stroke of midnight." Scully waggled her eyebrows scandalously at her mother, who always ran her Christmas gatherings much as her husband ran one of his ships. "And we didn't get out of our pajamas for two days."

Maggie only managed to roll her eyes. Bill seemed to approve. "That's the sort of holidays I wish we had."

"Not that your brother and Tara don't have a lovely little apartment though, close to base, and they had it nicely decorated." Maggie sighed wistfully. "I still wish they lived closer to home though.

"You know as well as they do what it's like in the Navy, Margaret." Bill pushed around the food on his plate, his tone speaking to the knowledge that he had this conversation many times over with his wife. "At least we have Starbuck around in our old age to pester."

"When I'm not working," she snorted, before stopping cold. Work was a sticking point with her father and she never knew how to proceed with it. Instead she chose to watch her father swirl his mashed potatoes around with a fork, before setting the utensil down restlessly.

"You all right, Dad?" She frowned at him, truly worried. No one had said anything that evening about something troubling, but it was far too unlike her father to be this picky about dinner.

"Fine, Starbuck, just not feeling so hot." He shrugged in the face of both wife and daughter who eyed him with the same worried suspicion. "Honestly, I'm fine. Probably just caught a bug on the plane. You know how those airports are."

Maggie seemed to accept the explanation, even if it didn't make her exactly happy. Scully wanted to press her father, but the set look on his face warned her not to push him.

"So what did your partner do for the holidays?" Maggie asked, again diverting the conversation, a skill she had found handy in the many years of playing peacemaker in the hot-tempered Scully family disputes.

"Mulder?" Scully shrugged, unsurprised her mother was inquiring about him. Maggie Scully had a strange fascination with Mulder ever since Scully had mentioned him. "He spent it with his mother and her family in North Carolina. He doesn't spend a lot of time with her normally. She lives up in Connecticut." She thought of the woman she met ever so briefly on one of their recent cases. She had seemed a very pleasant woman. Mulder bore a striking resemblance to her, from his heavy, almost lazy green eyes to the broad smile they both shared. Looks were not all they had in common, as they were tied together by the abiding pain of loss, something one could sense almost immediately upon seeing Mulder with his mother. Scully suspected that this was much of the reason why mother and son, as devoted as both were to one another, spent so little time together as a family.

"So his parents are divorced?" Maggie was asking mostly out of curiosity, not out of gossip.

"Yeah, years ago. His sister disappeared. It tore the family apart." Maggie shook her dark head sadly at the very idea, one mother connecting to another in a way only woman seemingly could.

"Is it true he believes his sister was taken by aliens?" Bill murmured around half a forkful of mashed potato, trying to sound mildly curious but coming off much more as dubiously cynical.

Scully lips pursed themselves so hard she felt them go numb.

"You know your brother, Dana." Maggie immediately jumped in, covertly shooting daggers at her husband as she tried to put a smiling face on things for her youngest daughter. "Bill has an old high school friend who works in the Bureau now."

"Oh really, who," Scully didn't mean for it to sound like an accusation, not towards her mother, but she could feel her temper rising somewhere behind her eyes as she suddenly became as listless with her plate as her father had been all evening.

"Tommy Monroe, one of the boys he used to play football with." Maggie tossed the name as if it was one she expected Scully to remember. In truth her brother's friends were almost all three years older than herself and had no use for a skinny, knocked kneed, pixie of a girl with frizzy red hair and braces. There might have been a Tommy Monroe at some point, but she couldn't put a face to a name.

"Anyway, Tommy is in the FBI as well and Bill thought he'd just ask about you, that's all." Maggie tried to wave it away as if it were common for siblings to use government connections to spy on other siblings. "And he asked about you and what you were doing."

Scully's didn't need to ask why her brother Bill was checking on her. She knew. And the guilty look on her father's face was all the more answer she needed.

"Dad, you could have just asked me." She felt her anger wash away in disappointment, the knowledge that once again rather than speaking to her directly about her work and life, he had gone through other methods, other channels. "I would have told you."

"What? That your partner was a whack job?" Her father's doubtful frown mirrored one of her own. "He's your partner, Starbuck, and even if you thought he was nuts, you wouldn't tell any of us that."

"How do you know?" She challenged sadly, without heat. It hurt her that her father, the man she looked up to and adored more than any other would trust her so little as to believe she would be anything less than honest with him.

"Because, honey, you're as honest and loyal as the day is long. And you would be less of a good agent if you weren't." He shrugged as he wiped his mouth with his napkin, rising from the table. "What's for desert?"

Scully wanted to peevishly say nothing, to retort that he hadn't finished his own meal, there would be no desert, as he would have said when she was a child. She wanted to tell him he could go without, since he felt the need to go behind her back for answers he could just get from talking to her directly.

"There's German Chocolate cake in the fridge, Dad," she sighed heavily instead, as he wandered into her living room to examine her tree. She looked to her mother who gave her a sympathetic smile and reached across the table to take her hand, squeezing it gently.

"Give him time, Dana."

"Time? It's been three years already." She had done nothing but give him time. She wanted to say more, to take advantage of her mother's sympathetic ear, but it was old territory, well hashed. And this dinner with her parents wasn't meant to re-open old, familiar wounds.

"Remember, for your father you will always be his little girl. And it's hard for him to see you as anything else."

"Yeah, well his little girl packs a pistol," she breathed low, under her breathe as she rose towards the kitchen. "Can you get the coffee Mom? I'll get the cake."

Chapter Text

It was an Irish wake after all. At some point the booze and stories had to begin.

"Maggie did we ever tell you the story of Bill, Jimbo and I in Barcelona in '72?"

"Don't tell her that one, Frank! Bill made us swear…."

"It's his wake, Jimmy, time for sharing our best memories of him! And Maggie, this one is a zinger!" Scully watched as Frank Fuller, one of her father's oldest, dearest friends wrapped and arm around her mother's shoulder's. Maggie Scully's blue eyes brightened as the two men began some convoluted tale involving shore leave in Spain, a French prostitute and a dog named Mercutio, the details apparently blurry and dubious after over twenty years. It didn't stop her mother from laughing gaily as Frank waved his glass of scotch higher in the air, his hands becoming more animated as the tale continued, the buzz of laughter and conviviality in her parents house a strange counterpoint to the small urn sitting prominently on the dining room table.

It wasn't a fancy urn. It was simple, unadorned bronze-colored metal, standing beside the framed photograph of Admiral William Scully, the last official one he had taken with the Navy. He looked proud, strong, every inch the man Scully remembered from her childhood. The formidable Ahab, both loving and stern, the man who at one time in her young life made her entire universe turn, all that remained of him was contained in that urn, a few ounces of ash and filler. That and bawdy stories of her father, told by the men he had spent more time with him than he had his own family.

Scully sat mutely by the low burning fireside, her knees primly together under the pencil line of her black skirt, a glass of her father's good whiskey clutched, untouched in her damp, cold fingers. She listened to the story with half an ear, trying to appear as if she were paying attention, but her heart ached painfully as her eyes slid to the urn in the distance, as she stared at it with words left unspoken, conversations left unsaid. Her last thoughts of her father that horrible night had been how disappointed she was that once again he had not come to her, had not spoken to her about her career, her job, her life. He had gone through intermediaries instead. She had been angry, yes, but more hurt, upset that he never once could accept the life she had chosen. He could never just be proud of her for what she had done. Her mother had asked her to give him time that night. But time had other ideas. And now his memory was reduced to nothing more than an urn and embarrassing stories from middle aged friends with balding heads, pale memories of the past selves. Her hero was gone, and she hadn't even been given a chance to say goodbye, to talk to him, to find out what he had to say. He had something to say, she was sure of that, something to tell her. Why else, she reasoned, would she have seen that vision of him, sitting in her apartment, just minutes after he had died?

If she had seen a vision, that was. Even now, days later, she couldn't be sure what she saw in her half-sleepy haze.

"And then Bill, he says to the prostitute, 'well if that's the case, why didn't you tell us this back in Toledo?'" The cluster of older men laugh uproariously between then, as glasses of fine, amber liquid were tossed back, and hands slapped each others shoulders, heads shaking at events that occurred when she was nothing more than a child. She envied her father's friends that night. They stood there, secure in their happy, even ridiculous memories of her father, knowing he had gone to his death with those same memories to send an old sailor on his way. She wanted to laugh with them, to feel the weight of guilt off her shoulders, to remove the load stone of never living up to the potential her father wanted for her. It was her father's wake. Everyone was smiling, laughing, remembering Bill Scully as he had been. A man larger than life, jovial, a good friend, and a great captain, as true and loyal as the good ships he sailed. Everyone wanted to remember him happily. Why couldn't she?

"Dana," Frank called from the small crowed surrounding her mother, as all eyes turned to stare at her suddenly, honing in on her like a wolf pack. "You've been quiet all night. You're a Daddy's girl. It's your father's wake. Share a story."

The moisture in her mouth evaporated instantly as her tongue suddenly clung to the roof of her mouth, her throat tightening so hard that she struggled to breath. She had hoped to come tonight and pay her respects, to be there to support her mother, nothing more. She hadn't thought to say anything, to speak to anyone. Not that she had a problem once in her life speaking before crowds. But what was she to say in the face of this week, of her loss, of everything left undone? She was her father's biggest and greatest disappointment, and he never had the courage to tell her that while he was alive? What sort of statement was that at a gathering to remember what was best about her father?

"Dana?" Maggie Scully's blue eyes met her daughter's, understanding and compassion flooding them as she gently detached herself from the group, crossing to her daughter with concerned purpose. "You okay, honey?"

Her mother's soft fingers on her cheek unglued her tongue as she swallowed and felt tears welling up so quickly, they threatened to spill before she even had a chance to stop them. She nodded mutely as she blinked them back, breathing deeply before smiling tightly up at her mother's worried face. "Yeah, it's just…"

She didn't finish her sentence. She didn't have to.

"Oh honey," Maggie knelt beside her daughter, as the friends of her father watched for the briefest of moments, before turning self-consciously among themselves, murmuring in low voices, their mood dampened, their spirits much more somber.

"I'm sorry for ruining the party," Scully sniffed, truly regretting the damper she had just placed on what had been the sort of event she knew her father would have wanted for his funeral.

"You're not," Maggie's hands rested on her knees as she looked up into her daughter's eyes, full of the sort of motherly concern she would have shown the child Dana when she had awoken from a nightmare. "It's perfectly natural to grieve, Dana. You were always Ahab's Starbuck, his little girl." She reached a thumb to catch a stray tear that trail it's way from Scully's eye, down the corner of her small nose. "You've been the strong one for me this week, Dana, what with all of your siblings gone. I don't know how I could have gotten through all of this without you."

"Mom," she began in a voice thick with unshed tears.

"It's true. You've been my rock. It's okay to cry, Dana. To mourn him." Maggie's words were full of the sort of wisdom she wished she could take to heart. If only her grief were as simple as that. If only she could cry away her loss and have it be made all better again.

Maggie turned her dark head ever so slightly to glance at the revelers behind her. "It's late, dear." She glanced back towards Scully, her smile gently encouraging. "Perhaps you should head to bed, get some rest. You can rest in your bedroom upstairs, if you want?"

"I have work in the morning, Mom." She replied automatically, without thinking, oblivious to the automatic pain in her mother's eyes, the obvious hope now fading and being quickly replaced behind her mother's understanding.

"I'll be back for the funeral." Scully setdown the glass of untouched whiskey on the hearth of the fireplace, the glass scrapping on the flat, river stone. She grabbed her mother's warm hands with her cold, damp ones. "I told Mulder I would be in first thing in the morning. He has a case to show me. I'll be right back. I just don't want to be stuck for three hours in Beltway traffic."

"You and work." Her mother's smile was rueful, the tilt of her head both disappointed and nostalgic. "Like father, like daughter. I won't try and stop you, honey. I know you'll feel better for doing it. But I do wish you would at least consider taking some time. I know all of this with your father is a great deal. And I've asked from you a great deal." She moved her right hand fingers our of Scully's grasp, up to smooth her copper-colored hair down at the top of her head. "Your father loved you, Dana. He wouldn't want you to be sad forever."

He loved her, yes. But did he respect her and the choices she made? If she could only make her mother understand, she thought, as she released her mother's other hand, and moved to rise, helping her mother stand as well.

"I'll be back in the morning, okay?" She kissed Maggie's cheek softly, smiling reassuringly at her. "Don't let Frank get too drunk on Dad's good whiskey."

"I'm sure they'll be in on the naughty, drinking songs from their Navy days soon." Maggie glanced sideways at them, eyes twinkling despite the sadness on her face. "You're father loved his life, Dana. He had no regrets."

"I know," she whispered. She wished she could believe that he had no regrets. She was fairly certain she might be one of them.

Chapter Text

The charm was tiny and delicate in her fingers. It was nothing more than a pendant on a small chain of gold, the only lifeline that connected a missing girl to those who were desperately looking for her, a fragile thread of hope. Scully wrapped the length of the bracelet around her fingers as she passed it to the officer in charge. Surrounding them, a forensic team combed every inch of the dank, dark, dreary warehouse with flashlights and prophylactic gloves.

"You said you just found it in here?" The officer eyed the chain with dubious surprise, like a needle suddenly pulled from an overturned haystack. "Just because you saw someone messing around in here?"

"Just what I said, officer," Scully murmured in a low reaffirmation. "Perhaps the suspect has something to do with Liz Hawley's disappearance.

She hadn't meant her statement to be ironic, but the officer took it that way. He rolled his eyes, his face sarcastic, as he turned from her, mumbling something about "the fucking Feds."

"Making friends and influencing people, Scully?" Mulder teased as the officer brushed past him with hardly a friendly smile, glaring at Mulder's suit as if it personally gave him insult.

"I think everyone is just feeling a bit stressed is all." She watched her partners lazy gait mildly. "Anything from Boggs on the situation yet?"

"Haven't spoken to him." Mulder didn't sound like he was looking forward to the conversation either. "After the forensics team ID the bracelet I'll give it another try, see if he's willing to talk."

Scully nodded absently, watching the officer in the distance for no particular reason than he was a spot to focus on. Her mind was elsewhere, to the falls, an angel of stone, and the tiny golden jewelry lying at her feet.

Mulder's open hand waved in front of her eyes, palm flat, breaking her thoughts as she turned to blink up at him, startled. "Earth to Scully."

"Huh," she vocalized, blinking at his troubled frown and nervous laugh.

"You were spacing out on me there." He reached to squeeze her shoulder, true concern filling his voice. "Dana, I told you to take some time."

It was the second time that day he had used her first name and it was disconcerting, irritating. She felt her mouth tighten as her defenses slammed up, "I'm fine, Mulder."

"You're not," He insisted, gently but firmly. "Boggs got to you in there, didn't he?"

She didn't reply but she wouldn't meet his earnest eyes either.

"Look, I know this guy, I know the games he plays. He's a killer, Scully, and behind all of that redneck charm is a man whose cold and calculating. I know." He raised one finger to his temple, tapping it lightly. "I got into the sick bastards head, remember."

Something about the gesture brought the first genuine smile to her face she had felt in days. "That explains so much about you, Mulder."

Even he had to laugh at her statement, "Yeah, well all the same, go back to the hotel, get some rest. I'll go talk to Boggs. I'll come let you know what I find."

"I'm not some delicate flower who needs to take to her bed at every emotional storm in her life." She had meant her statement to be light and joking, but there was an edge there. Mulder first glanced at the side where her weapon was nestled, just under the edge of her smart, fitted suit coat, then up to her stubbornly mulish face.

"Far be it from me to ever tell an armed woman that she is weak," Mulder replied solemnly. "But it doesn't mean I can't be worried about you as a friend. Go, get some rest, okay. For me at least."

His gaze was sincere, his concern real, and as far as she could tell she wasn't deliberately trying to be belittling. The protective walls she had thrown up instinctively at her mother's phone call cracked at his words, exhaustion suddenly slumping on her shoulders, like a physical weight being dropped on top of them from a very tall height. He sighed heavily, nodding her head and turned from his encouraging smile mutely, her entire body feeling suddenly drug down by the day, the week, the loss. Perhaps Boggs had gotten into her head, she reasoned. Certainly it couldn't be that impossible to find out about her father, about his death, if you knew how to look. Mulder would know better than anyone how Boggs could twist a persons emotions and fears around themselves to produce the effect he wanted.

Her steps echoed in the open space of the darkened warehouse as she moved towards the partially open door, mingling with the sound of Luther Boggs singing Beyond the Sea in his low, eerie drawl.

Chapter Text

Blood shouldn't frighten her. It normally didn't. It was regular a part of any autopsy as any other bodily fluid. It was the stuff that gave life, which caused the organs in the body to function, fed the muscles so they could move. It wasn't something to be terrified of. It was as normal to any doctor as paperwork to the office worker or heights to the window washer. She shouldn't be scared of the sight of it. Yet this was Mulder's blood, and it scared her into near panic.

"I promise you, Mulder, I'll buy you a new shirt after all of this is over." She grabbed one end of his buttoned down dress shirt, pulling as long a strip off as she could manage, long enough to wrap around his bleeding thigh.

"Officer down! Officer down!" Someone bawled into a handset in the distance, as beside her one of the other agents stood by, grim faced and helpless as to what to do.

"Help me tie this off!" She snapped as she tried as carefully as she could to lift Mulder's leg enough to wrap the makeshift tourniquet around it. He yelped and cried out sharply, his voice hoarse as she moved the muscle and she felt her own breath hiss between her teeth. The idea of causing him physical pain almost sickened her.

"It's all right, Mulder, I'm here. I'll take care of you." She tried to reassure him as the other agent held down the fabric, allowing her to pull it tight against his leg, as tight as she could manage.

"Stay still!" She ordered Mulder, who blinked up at her with glazed eyes as she resettled her suit coat over top of him, trying to wrap the much smaller jacket as close around his shivering shoulders as she could. Shock was setting in quickly and his whole body quivered.

"I always wanted to play doctor with you, Scully. I just didn't want to do it for real." He croaked feebly, his humor kicking in under the obvious stress. His smile was ghostly in his gray-pale face.

"Don't try to talk," she whispered, smoothing his soft brown hair away from his brow, the cold sweat making his skin slick and clammy. "We'll get you fixed up soon."

"Whatever you say, doc," he mumbled, clearly losing the battle with consciousness. She watched with dismay his green eyes flutter closed, wanting to scream at the other agent standing there haplessly to get an ambulance there that instant. Didn't he see her partner was dying? Her eyes flew to the darkly wet patch on his black trousers. There was no way of knowing from this angle if the bullet had hit a major artery. She couldn't tell if he was bleeding out on the cold floor as she sat beside him, if all of the life, passion, and energy that made Fox Mulder was seeping through the bullet wound like a flooding river, unable to be stemmed.

"Mulder, stay with me," she urged, knowing it was no use. His breathing became soft, shallow, and thready.

"Damn it! Where are they?" She glanced frantically to the other agent, straining her ears for sirens in the distance.

"They're on their way, Agent Scully." He tried to reassure her, but frankly he looked scared and ill at the sight of Mulder's blood pooling under his thigh. "I'll go check and see how close they are. A perfect excuse for him to duck away from the scene of death in front of him, she thought acidly as he scurried off, screaming orders to other officers milling about. She watched him go, silently scowling, trying not to dig her manicured nails into Mulder's limp, lifeless hand.

Above them a giant white cross loomed, a simple, happenstance meeting of two beams, spattered with droplets of Mulder's own blood. Boggs' own words haunted her mind as she stared at the gory crucifix. "Don't go near the white cross. We see you down and your blood spills on the white cross."

That son-of-a-bitch staged this. The realization was so startling, crystal clear to her in that moment she felt her anger nearly overwhelm her fear. Her blood roared in her ears in livid outrage. Out of Boggs' own mouth he had admitted it and they had ignored it for more of his sideshow trickery. It could have been a warning, yes, and part of her wanted to believe that it could be very valid and real. That part warred with the terrified part of her brain that felt her partner's pulse become weaker and lighter, the part that screamed for Boggs' blood should anything happen to him.

She could lose Mulder, she realized with a heart-sickening wrench. As a law enforcement agent, one went into the job knowing that there was a distinct possibility that one could lose their life. But nothing could ever prepare anyone for the potential death of his or her partner, the person they worked with everyday, the one who always had their back. No one ever prepared for it, until they were faced for it. Her thoughts spun to the first moment she had met Fox Mulder, his angry suspicion hidden behind his lazy drawl and reading glasses, his attempts to spook her with his talk of alien abductions and strange compounds. He had been an ass to her that first assignment in Bellefleur, taunting her doubt, deliberately playing up the mysterious factor in order to what? Put her off? Force her to run away so that he could return to his work in peace and quiet without the interference of the skeptical doctor and her hard belief in science? Perhaps that was what he was up to. If so, it had failed miserably. Scully perhaps was a scientist, but she wasn't a fool. She had seen through the façade of Mulder the Cellar Dweller, finding the boy who was still looking desperately for his long-lost sister. The young hotshot superstar who was able to make the leaps in logic that dumbfounded even their superiors in the FBI, often with little to go on than a hunch and a keen understanding of human nature. And above all of that was the man who was determinedly seeking the truth to the questions he asked, relentlessly pursuing every avenue to get it, no matter the cost. That man brilliance was fading before her eyes, perhaps forever. Who would carry on Mulder's quest if he should die? Should she? Scully, the skeptic, the disbeliever, she was ill equipped for such a momentous task. To find the truths that Mulder accepted so implicitly that she herself did not. She could fail at the task. She most likely would fail.

"Agent Scully!" Someone called from the distance. "The paramedics are out front and are on their way."

Thank God, she exhaled, releasing the breath she didn't know she had been holding. "Hear that Mulder, you'll be up and annoying me again soon." Hopefully. He was not out of the woods, and wouldn't be until the doctors at the hospital got a look at him. But she imagined that once he was out of surgery it would be only a matter of days before he would make his first attempt to break out of the doctor's ordered bed rest. She smiled softly as she ran the fingers of her free hand through his sweat-damp hair. "You can't die on my yet, partner. We've got too much work left to do."

Chapter Text

The Chesapeake Bay on January mornings was cold and heavy with the fishy smell of marine life, still in the silence before the true work around the docks began. The rubber souls of Scully's athletic shoes squelched wetly against the salt-warped boards as she breathed deeply of seawater, of engine oil, and of the pervasive scent of burning crab shells somewhere in the distance. It wasn't a pleasant smell at all, but it was a familiar smell. It was the memory of her father, of early mornings where he would sit out on the dock, watching the fishing boats moving out towards sea, that aching longing to be with them in his eyes.

She had stood there with her father several times, always in communal silence as they had sipped at convenience store coffee and munched on freshly-baked donuts. It was a ritual between Ahab and Starbuck, something none of his other kids had ever understood. Saturday mornings she would go with him and watch for an hour or so, before he would sigh heavily, turn to her smiling, clapping a large hand on her slight shoulder and ask her about her life, her plans, her dreams. It was here she had first apprehensively told her father about Marcus, her high school boyfriend, much to his fatherly chagrin. She had excitedly shared with him her plans to attend Maryland the fall after her senior year and when she had been accepted into Stanford Medical, she had driven home from College Park especially to tell him the news, sitting there on the dock with a jelly donut in her hand. She hadn't done the same when she had been accepted into Quantico. He hadn't been thrilled she applied, and she thought perhaps he would never have appreciated the significance of what it meant for her. Yet he had never say she couldn't do it, he had never put his foot down and forbidden it. Disagreed with, yes, but Bill Scully had never told his little girl no, not when she was so determined to have her way in the matter anyway.

She reached the edge of the quay, looking down into the gray, murky water briefly as she leaned over to set her coffee and donut on the worn boards, allowing her to ease herself onto the edge. Her short legs dangled over the water as she wrapped her large, fluffy ski jacket about herself, the only coat she owned she wasn't afraid of getting mucked by salt and residue. Not far away was the spot where her father's remains had been sprinkled into the bay, drifting forever as the currents took him. She wondered if anything of him remained here. He could be coating the wooden supports, clinging to the ships that moved swiftly through the water in search of crab and other marine life that had at one time thrived in the now much polluted Chesapeake.

"Hi, Ahab," she whispered as she reached for the coffee beside her, hot and pungent in the dank, winter air. "It's Starbuck. You knew I'd find my way here sooner or later, right?"

She smiled into the dark water, faintly seeing the dark outline of her own head as she bent over the edge of the dock.

"I can't say I agree with your burial methods. But then you were always happiest when you were out to sea, on your ship, without a care in the world," she laughed softly as she grabbed the bag of donuts near her, pulling out one fat, powder sugar covered pastry. "I brought donuts. Strawberry jelly, your favorite." She grinned as she set down the coffee to tear off a corner, oozing with bright, red filling, taking a small bite of the section before tossing it into the water below. Just as it landed into the brackish water, a nearby seagull, quickly eyeing the prize, swooped down quickly to pluck it off the top of the surface, flying upwards to the neighboring deck with its unexpected treat. Scully watched its flight, chuckling under her breath.

"I knew you would like that one," she giggled, as she took another bite, ignoring the shower of powder sugar that cascaded down the front of her jacket and to her jean clad lap. She munched thoughtfully, sipping cooling coffee between bites of fried dough and sticky, sweet jelly, licking at her fingers distractedly when she was done.

"I never eat jelly donuts anymore, Ahab. You're little tomboy grew up and realized she had a girlish figure." Her eyes following the sound of a ships horn in the distance. A trawler was coming into port further down the way.

"Besides, I told you for years those things were doing your heart no good." It had hurt her that her father had ignored all of the warnings she had given him as a medical professional. Yet she knew better than anyone that no one could tell William Scully what to do with himself at anytime, not even his favorite daughter.

"Mom's doing all right. She's getting by. She has her good days and her bad. Bill and Tara call every night and Charlie most nights. We still haven't heard from Missy." Her mouth twisted in an unhappy scowl, nettled her elder sister had been not only absent at her father's funeral but incommunicado as well. "I'm sure that Mom will let her know when she checks in."

She scooted back enough to pull up one knee to her chest, lacing her fingers tightly around her jean clad shin. "I'm sorry I rushed out of here on you after the funeral." She shivered slightly against a particularly chilly breeze. Scully didn't know why she felt the need to apologize to him. It wasn't as if she had dashed from the dock as soon as his ashes had been spread. But she hadn't stayed long at the lunch at her mother's house, flying directly out of Baltimore to Raleigh.

"I know you never liked hearing about my work before. Or maybe I just wasn't very good about sharing it. I don't know." Her breath was warm on her cold lips. "I was always afraid of discussing it with you, you know. I won't lie to you, what I do is often dangerous. I have been shot at, I have been in danger." She shuddered as the image of Mulder, his blood pooling on the warehouse floor flashing before her eyes. "I didn't want you to worry, to say I wasn't good for the job, that I should get out." Her teeth nibbled at her lip, she could taste the remains of jelly and sugar there. "I love my job, Dad. I love it, and I wanted you to love it too. Love me in it. To be proud of me and what I had done."

Tears fell unbidden from her eyes, and she wiped at them absently, the salt of her crying mixing with the salt in the air. "I'm sorry I didn't want to stay in medicine. I…I wasn't happy." She sniffed loudly, digging in the donut bag for a napkin to wipe her nose with. "I wasn't happy there, Ahab. I tried." She blinked back wet blobs from her eyes, rubbing them with the back of her hand. "I wanted to be a doctor from the time I knew what a stethoscope was. I remember how thrilled you were, the idea that I wanted to be a doctor, that I wanted to do something with my life other than chase after boys and flutter from one meaningless thing to the other. And I so loved that you would be proud of me. I wanted to do anything, Ahab, to make you proud of me."

She swallowed hard. "I stayed with medicine for you more than anything. I didn't think so at the time. I honestly believe I was in it because it was what I always wanted to do. And then, Daniel happened."

Scully had never told either of her parents about Daniel, about the first real love she had in her adult life. "I didn't think you'd approve of him, Ahab. I mean he was older by close to twenty years. But oh, he was handsome and amazingly intelligent. He made me feel so much older, so much smarter when I was around him." She could almost hear her father's sigh, that hunching of his shoulders as he would shove his hands deeply into his pockets, but would say nothing against her. He never did, directly.

"I guess Daniel in a lot of ways reminded me of you. He was someone I worshipped, that I looked up to. I seem to have that habit in my relationships, falling in love with men I look up to, like you." She shook her head so hard her red hair whipped around her eyes, tears spinning off her face.

"Anyway, Daniel was a very bad mistake." Even in death she couldn't admit to her father that she had an affair with a married man. "After that, I didn't have the heart in medicine anymore. Despite it all, I think Daniel taught me something very important." She paused, finding it hard to even vocalize this thought, even with her father now gone. "I couldn't live my life for the approval of those I looked up to. I had to start trying to live for myself. That was where the FBI came in."

She shrugged her shoulders in her jacket as she finished the last dregs of her coffee, the acidic tang cutting through the tears in her throat. "I enjoyed pathology. I was intrigued by the possibilities of discovering the puzzle behind someone's death. That was why I decided to do my residency in it ultimately. And that was how the FBI found me."

Why, she wondered quietly, had she not bothered telling this to him when he was alive.

"I thought you would be pleased with the FBI." She admitted this in a small voice, swinging her one free leg rhythmically against the deck. "After all, Bill and Charlie were in the Navy and I felt like I was following your footsteps in a way. I was out doing good, trying to help people, and to protect my country. I thought you would be proud." Again, she thought bitterly, making major life decisions based on her overwhelming need to earn her father's esteem. She wondered if Mulder would have anything to say on the subject.

"I suppose I never considered that at the bottom of it all, I was still your little girl." She sighed heavily. "I was a woman in a dangerous field. And as sure as you were I would do fine, you were still my father. And you still worried. And I'm sorry I didn't recognize that more when you were alive." Her voice broke, cracking in the cold with grief and remorse. "I know you were proud of me, Ahab. You were my father, and you were proud of all of us, even Missy."

She smiled, thinking of the many times her parents had wrung their hands over her elder sister's latest escapades. "I should have accepted that about you. I should have known that you would be proud of me no matter what I did. And I'm sorry that I doubted you."

She brushed at her damp eyelashes, grateful for the forethought she had that morning in not wearing make up to streak across her face.

"I thought you had a message for me, you know." She whispered this, as if afraid he could really hear her, and shake his head in bemusement at her. "Perhaps you did. I don't know. Luther Boggs seemed to think you did." Her ears still rang with his ear impression of her father, the way he intoned Bill Scully's voice down to his slow, lazy drawl.

"I don't know what game he was playing, Dad. Perhaps he really did want to save those kids, try to redeem himself before the inevitable end he knew was coming. Perhaps he wanted to lessen the wrath of those he killed when he entered the afterlife." The idea warred with everything her good, Catholic training had ever taught her about heaven and hell. "He said he was a psychic, that he could see what those kids were going through, the ones that were kidnapped. I wanted to believe him, Ahab. I wanted to believe he could speak to you, that he could bring you back from the dead just once."

She blew her nose nosily into the napkin. "But Mulder was convinced he was full of crap." Ahe continued, smiling despite herself. "If you knew Mulder, you'd know why that statement is so funny. Mulder would believe in the Loch Ness Monster even if you proved it was nothing more than a cardboard cutout on a windup water toy. And yet he decided Boggs was full of piss and wind." She borrowed a phrase that had been one of her father's favorites.

"Mulder has the knack for getting into people's heads, for understand their motivations, their intentions. I don't know, maybe he knew something about Luther Boggs I didn't." She stared out to the extreme, far distance, where miles away the curve of Maryland hugged and cupped the Chesapeake, protecting it from the Atlantic Ocean on the other side of the Eastern Shore.

"He knew things, Dad, things I know no one else could know. He knew about your wedding song. He knew about your nickname for me." That had startled her the most, causing her to flee from Boggs cell, her heart hammering in her ears. "And I don't know why he knew those things or how, but he did. And whether it was because he was channeling the dead, or he could read my mind, or whether he was full of crap, like Mulder said. He knew something Daddy. And I can't help but feel the slightest bit regretful that I didn't go there to see him die. That I was too afraid to believe."

That was the crux of it all, Scully realized. She had been too afraid to believe in anything, her father's love and pride, her partner's understanding of Luther Boggs, of Boggs own abilities. She had been afraid.

"Mulder keeps telling me I should open myself up to other possibilities, of things out there that science can't explain. I hate to admit when he's right." She smirked distantly at the very idea of it. "I hate to admit it Ahab, but despite all of his whacked out theories and strange beliefs, he's a good man. You'd like him." The thought boggled her mind, but somewhere in her heart she believed her father would like Mulder.

"He's a man of conviction, of honor, he believes unequivocally in the truth. And he tries to do the right thing. Most importantly, I know that if the chips were ever down, Dad, he would be the one there to make sure I got out of it safe and sound. And you can't ask for better than that in a partner."

"I won't say he's perfect. He has the annoying tendency of running off without me whenever it suites him, of leaving me out of the loop on a great many details, and I'm convinced he still doesn't trust me yet." She admitted Mulder had more than ample reason to not trust anyone it seemed. "But you would like him. I'm sad you didn't get to meet him before you died. Though, for a while there, I thought you both might just get to hang out together there in the afterlife." She felt slightly ill at the thought, Mulder so pale, the doctors unable to find his pulse as they wheeled him into emergency.

"He's in the hospital now, shot through the leg, just missed an artery." She stared frankly down at the water, as if she could see her father's face in the gently rocking waves. "He was just damn lucky you had wanted me to become a doctor, Ahab. I have a feeling I'll need to patch him up a great deal in the years to come." Not that she minded, she realized. As long as she could keep Mulder going, he could pull her out of fixes, and she could patch him up when he was done. Perhaps that was what good partnerships were made up, complimenting each other's strengths and weaknesses.

"Speak of the devil, Dad, I'll probably have to get going. They released Mulder to fly today and his flight should be getting back to DC this afternoon. He was practically climbing the walls to get out, I'm surprised he didn't trying sneaking out of a window when the nurses weren't looking." Mulder was a horrible patient, and she for one was very glad she didn't ever have to be his attending physician. "I promised I'd pick him up from the airport, deposit him safely in his apartment, and make sure he does what the doctors in North Carolina told him to do. Because God knows that he won't do it unless I make him." She eyed the water below with mild exasperation, knowing that her father was the exact same way when I came to hospitals, doctors, and illnesses.

Scully grabbed the last remaining donut sitting in the bag beside her, a plain cake donut without sugar, without frosting. She crumbled it easily between her cold fingers, allowing the crumbs to float to the water below, bobbing up and down on the waves.

"Enjoy your donut, Ahab." Scully lowered the knee she had pressed to her chest slowly and stiffly as she pulled her legs back up on the dock, and carefully rose, blood flowing back into cramped, unused muscles. Dusting the powder from the jelly donut off her jacket and jeans, she smiled out to the distant expanse of the Bay, where just south on the horizon she could see ships floating down towards the mouth of the Chesapeake in Virginia, where it met with the Hampton Roads, and flowed out into the Atlantic Ocean and the world.

"Goodbye, Ahab. Good sailing." She pressed a kiss to her cold fingertips before facing them outward to wave one last goodbye to her father, wherever he was.

Chapter Text

Scully at least waited till they were well away from the crime scene before giving Mulder one of her patented skeptical looks. He had enough perversity to actually laugh at her.

"Mulder what is this about?" She turned to shoot an irritated look back towards the crime scene, a non-frills sort of hotel. It was the sort that business travelers seemed to prefer while they were in town. "You wake me up early, you drag me out of my nice, warm bed…"

"Were you doing anything fun in that nice, warm bed?" Mulder's voice was low and suggestive, his green eyes wicked as without a beat she swung to backhand his stomach with a soft thump. He exaggerated a coughing grunt.

"I was sleeping in it, Mulder. Happily. Alone. Unlike the victim back there." She played the details of the case over in her mind. "Why is it that you are having the locals called in these cases anyway?"

"I've been following these cases for the last month, the first one appeared in Boston and there have been several subsequent ones over the last weeks."

"Subsequent ones?" Scully felt her voice become faint as Mulder opened her car door for her, stopping thoughtfully before she sat inside. "You've been actually following these cases?"

His face was blank confusion as he blinked at her, as if she were the strange one in this situation. "Why not?"

"I don't know, Mulder, perhaps because it's a local problem. Man walks into hotel with woman, has a quickie while in town on business, doesn't realize that the hooker and her pimp are really out to steal his money and take his life." It sounded like a cut and dry case to her, something that the FBI wouldn't be particularly eager to take on board.

"Except that not all the victims were men." Mulder's eyes lit with excited amusement as he waggled a suggestive eyebrow. "Of course, I do not limit my scope of sexual imagination to just men and women, but you have to admit that's a rather fun kink for the average girl going out on the town."

Scully felt her gaze narrow dangerously as she stepped inside the car, biting her tongue hard enough to bruise it. As usual, Mulder seemed pleased he had gotten the rise out of her and quickly closed the door, rounding the front of his sedan as he got inside. "Tell me you are watching these cases for something more than your own, perverse sexual voyeurism," she murmured dryly as he started the car.

He scoffed in effected hurt. "I'm a professional, Scully. You don't believe I'm taking this seriously?"

"Not after finding a copy of Dirty Dames in your bathroom when I attempted to clean it." She arched her eyebrows so high, she thought they would fly off her face. After Mulder's recent wound in the line of fire and his subsequent convalescence, she had, out of guilt, attempted to assist him in any way she could. The end result was that Mulder's house was still a strange cross between college frat boy and twelve-year-old child in terms of mess and she now knew more about Mulder's sexual proclivities than any woman would ever in her life have wanted to know about.

Mulder didn't seem to be embarrassed in the least despite all of his protestations that the material was not his. "Believe what your will, Scully, but there's more to this case than just my sick voyeurism. In this day and age, how many times have you had casual sex?"

It was a challenge on his part, not an attempt to sidestep a broader issue by employing a lewd question, a favorite Mulder evasion tactic. As such, she at least dignified it with a serious, a slightly stiff answer. "I don't think any of my relationships were what I would call casual."

"So no one-night stands, no drunken college mistakes?" He truly sounded regretful as if this was something he had secretly believed about her. Scully didn't know if she should be appalled or disgusted.

"Everyone I've ever been with has been through mutual consent in the parameters of the stated relationship we had." It sounded so clinical, so proper, like discussing with her elderly great-aunt her intimate relations with past, ancient lovers.

Even Mulder had to stare at her as if she had suddenly sprouted blue hair and orthopedic shoes. "Come on, Scully, no fun in your life? A little less conversation, a little bit more action?"

"Elvis Presley get you far in your love life?" She felt nettled by the turn of this conversation.

"Not being a religious person myself, I would like to think of the King as my personal spiritual advisor."

"How well did it go over with Phoebe then?" She smiled sweetly as the cocky smile immediately fled to be replaced by an irritated frown.

"I'm beginning to see why those encounters happened within the parameters of your safe, well ordered relationships." Sis tone was acidic and she knew she had gone just a tad bit too far in needling him.

"All right," she admitted contritely. "So casual sex, what does it have to do with anything?"

"You brought it up yourself in there. In this day and age when AIDS is a real threat, why would anyone just randomly engage in sexual intercourse with a stranger without protection?" His hurt feelings melted in the face of the puzzle placed before him. "What would you say would cause a perfectly healthy man to have a massive coronary right after the moment of coitus?"

"Perhaps he had an undiagnosed condition?" That sounded reasonable enough.

"All six of the victims?" Mulder couldn't buy it and frankly neither could she. But no other explanation made any sense to her.

Silence descended between them as they watched the passing traffic, each lost in thought, presumably on the case. Her mind was running through all of the possible chemical triggers that could be introduced to the body in order to bring on the onset of a massive coronary, some drug that could easily be slipped into a drink, perhaps under a fingernail. The report had mentioned something about scratches on the victim's side, she thought. Perhaps it was a type of gel, or maybe a lotion…

"Scully," Mulder murmured thoughtfully beside her.

"Hmmm?" She didn't look at him as her mind processed all of the possible conclusions she could draw.

"Did you ever get it on in the backseat of a car in high school?"

She nearly choked, the very idea he would even think about that outraging her till she caught the glimmer out of the corner of his eye, watching for her reaction, waiting for the horrified shriek.

That was how he wanted to play. She plastered her sweetest, most saccharine smile on her face, leaning over in her seat till her lips were merely inches away from his ear. "Wouldn't you like to know," she replied, happily satisfied as the tip of his right ear turned a bright, crimson red.

Chapter Text

She tried not to stare at the horse and carriage as they passed it on the small, two lane highway, filled with occupants dressed head to toe in black. None of them met her eyes as Mulder quickly and easily moved around them, glancing back at the carriage in his read-view mirror.

"Wonder whose funeral they are attending," he murmured, his eyes flickering back to the road ahead of them, winding it's way through New England farm fields lined with ancient maples, their straggling branches bare and crooked against the gray, early March sky. Green had just begun to tip each end.

"No funeral, Mulder. The Kindred always dress in black." She waggled a stack of print outs from him, all the information they had gleaned from the FBI databases on cults and off beat religious groups. "The Kindred arrived in Massachusetts one hundred and fifty years ago at a time in the country when new, fundamentalist religious groups and offbeat utopian societies were forming all over the country in the rise of the Industrial Revolution in America. They were created, to the best of anyone's knowledge, at the same time other similar groups were created; the Shakers, the Mormons, the Oneida colony."

"Oneida? As in china?"

"The very same. The Oneida group was formed in upstate New York and made their living off of the pottery they created to sell to those around. A lot of these groups did. The Shakers made and sold furniture and seed packets. They are all self-sustained communities, ones that believed that by separating themselves from the problems, tribulations, and temptations of the rest of society they could gain some sort of spiritual perfection, working for themselves and God alone."

"Doesn't it just make you want to pass the Kool-Aid?" Mulder's murmured dryly as the first signs for Stevenson appeared along the right hand side of the road.

"Mulder, religious aesthetics are hardly a new concept or even a modern one. Hindu gurus, Buddhists monks, the Jewish Essenes, Christians desert fathers, they all have had groups within their history who have decided to live their lives apart, to separate themselves physically and spiritually from the world by which they hope to reach a higher plane of understanding and closeness to their faith."

"Look who's been watching PBS!" Mulder sounded delighted as he teased her, ignoring the flush and mild glare she shot him.

"I took a class in college on world religions," she finally admitted under the weight of his mocking grin. "Mostly to impress a boy."

"Hopefully it worked. I'm impressed. But I find it odd that when most of these groups have died out, the Kindred have remained here, just the same, never growing, never changing."

"The Amish haven't changed in several hundred years. What's your point?"

"The Amish have a fairly large community, all things considered, spread across several states. There is only one group of Kindred. They have never grown. No one else ever flocked to their religious banner and joined the group. Even the Mormons, their numbers were augmented by those who felt the call, who sought out the same sort of life, to separate themselves from the vagaries of the modern world. But the Kindred stay the same. No converts, no shrinkage or growth over periods of time, no other communities branching out elsewhere." The tell tale sucking in of his bottom lip, the quirking of his dark eyebrows told her something about this situation bothered him.

"If you have utopia, Mulder, why change it," she offered, knowing that he wouldn't be satisfied with that sort of answer.

"Perhaps when you get down to it, utopia might be boring. Especially if you were in a dying community, one that kept to itself and never allowed strangers in. If you were a young person in that group, wouldn't you want to break out, see what the world outside has to offer?"

"That doesn't explain why, if I were that type of person, I would feel the need to kill people once I did get out there," she reasoned, unsure of where he was going with it.

"Maybe." Apparently he was unsure as well, as he let the thread of his thought drop. "You're a religious person?" It was a question, not a comment.

"I suppose as religious as any of us lapsed Catholics ever will be," she admitted. "I was baptized, I had my confirmation, and I attend mass on Christmas and Easter. I think that's the only requirement for being religious now at days for American Catholics." She had heard the long lament from Father McCue on the matter many times, and while she might be guilty about it, she couldn't say she particularly was in the mood to change it.

"Could you imagine being so suffocated in your faith you would feel the need to lash out? Perhaps at the world? God?"

He hadn't dropped the thread then, she realized, he had decided to attack it from a different angle. "It's been done. I know there are stories of frustrated priest, angry that they had no choices in their life, who leave the cloth to pursue a secular life free from the constraints of their vows."

"I suppose a hooker is better than a little boy any old day," he muttered glibly flinching as she smacked his right arm lightly.

"It's not just priests, though," she continued, ignoring his jibe as they pulled into the city limits of Stevenson, where a large sign welcomed them with promises of hand-crafts, fresh baked goods and the famous stoneware pottery the Kindred made and sold in the town. "My sister, I guess you could say, was one of those people who felt repressed by her faith. One days he looked at our parents, told them she wanted to become a Buddhist, and that she didn't intend to ever attend church again."

"What? A Scully who doesn't follow the rules and embraces unique, foreign ideas?" Mulder feigned surprise, looking very intrigued by the possibility. "How did that go over?"

"Surprisingly well, actually. I think they both assumed she would outgrow it one of these days and return to the fold." She thought of her still missing sister, most likely traipsing up and down the West Coast with some friend, trying to find her inner karma. "As much as the Church plays a role in my family, it has never defined us. I think it was more important to them that we were happy than our souls being fit for the great beyond."

"And you were worried about your father because of a career move?" His sideways glance was pointed and sympathetic, a gentle reproach. The recent loss of her father had caused her to reflect a great deal on her life and choices, especially her decision to join the FBI. Mulder, convalescing at home and itching to talk to anyone had been a willing and empathetic listener.

"Yeah, well sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees," she replied lamely. "How about your parents? Any strong religious convictions there?"

"Not very. Mom was raised with a vague sort of idea of God, but was mostly agnostic. Dad's family was the religious ones, but I figure it was more just a way to show off the Mulder name and good standing in the community, though I never saw Dad go to church a day in his life that didn't involve a holiday, wedding, or funeral."

"New England, Middle-class Protestantism at its finest," she murmured, as Mulder slowed the sedan through what appeared to be a town square, filled with shops and townspeople milling about despite the drizzle and the bleakness of the day.

"Well, at least we weren't part of some strange cult fixated on making handmade ashtrays." Mulder shot back, pulling the car towards a parking spot on the busy main street. "I suppose in the end it didn't matter much if I were raised a God-less heathen, I've never been much for organized religion. Once you start having to do funny dances and drinking colored beverages, it starts becoming a little weird."

"This coming from a man who chases UFO's for a living?" Scully murmured softly as they climbed out of the car, ignoring the sharp, perturbed glance from her partner.

Chapter Text

The car spun wildly through the trees as she felt her stomach lurch inside of her. What little remained of the meager food they had eaten with the Kindred threatened to spill out of her in as embarrassing a fashion as possible. Scully closed her eyes against the race of dark, tangled branches past her car window, as Mulder pulled out of the country lane onto the paved road as quickly as the regular grade tires could manage in the damp, New England clay.

"What the hell was going on back there," he demanded, half out of anger, half out of fear. He had never seen her this incapacitated and she knew it frightened him.

"Don't know," she whispered, feeling the bile threaten to rise in her throat again. She rolled down the window on her side, letting the cold breeze blow across her clammy skin. "I…he just wanted to talk." She croaked weakly at him, daring to open her eyes enough to watch his darkened expression beside her.

"Mulder…slow down." She sounded pitiful, hoping the need to get sick would ease with the decreased velocity at which he was hurtling them down the narrow, country road. For a long moment she thought he would ignore her, plow on in a fit of pique. But she saw his knee relax, as the car slow down. The arrow on the speedometer read a much more reasonable 55 miles per hour. She felt her nausea ease, her spinning head slowing down as she swallowed several large gulps of damp, cold air. He drove in silence for long moments, which was fine by her. Talking felt like too much of a chore at the moment while her head tried to clear itself of the thick, cloying gray fog that surrounded it. From the moment Brother Andrew's fingers had touched her skin, it was as if her brain had sunk into a deep well, where she could only just see the world above her going on. She recalled going with him to his room. She remembered their discussion about Martin. And then her world narrowed to a pinprick of sensation, swirl of muzziness broken only by Mulder's sharp, angry voice.

"Care to explain any of that?" Mulder's tone was now not so sharp, not so angry, but still very tense as she closed her eyes and swallowed hard against the constriction in her throat.

"He said he had information. He said he wanted to talk." The niggling, burning feeling of embarrassment was starting to cut through the confusion, bringing a fierce burning to her cool cheeks. "He just took my hand, and…" She waved her right hand helplessly, letting it fall limply to her lap. "I don't get it, Mulder, we were just talking."

"Radar love," he murmured with dark sarcasm.

"What's that supposed to mean?" She slit her eyes just enough to see the grim set to his full mouth in the dim light from the dashboard.

"The victims we found, they all were found with elevated amounts of pheromones. Enough to kill them."

"Right," she replied hesitantly, unsure where he was going with this.

"What if the Kindred can produce that level of chemical reaction naturally, just by touch."

Her eyes flew wide open now, her embarrassment now replaced by incredulity. "Mulder, the levels that we are talking about, the amount one would need to kill a human being, you would need to artificially create that. We don't even know if humans can produce pheromones, let alone produce them in high enough quantities to do something like that."

"Perhaps the Kindred can." Something was brewing, she could tell by the set of his jaw. He saw something there that was creating this latest theory.

"Even if they could, Mulder, all he did was touch my hand."

"For some people I guess that's all the magic moment they need." He replied stiffly. "How you feeling?"

"Better…a bit," She could still smell the sour scent of vomit on the front of her shirt and at the ends of her hair. It had been overwhelming, overpowering, less a sexual attraction than a total divorcing of her own mind from her body. She hated to admit it, but it wasn't terribly unlike that moment at the high point of sexual ecstasy, when one has climaxed and rides on the high of the chemicals rushing through their body, hormones that shut off the conscious mind from the bodily reactions. Why, she wondered clinically, did it make her get ill?

"There's a diner up ahead. Let me stop, get you something to drink." Mulder's anger seemed to have abated, if just a little bit. Instead it was replaced with concern. She wanted to be annoyed with him for it, but she had to admit some small part of her was secretly comforted by the knowledge that at least he cared.

"You know the crap I was giving you about your neat relationships and never having a one-night-stand" Mulder sighed as he pulled into the dark driveway of the dimly lit diner. "I think you should ignore my shit for a while. I'd feel much better if you weren't tumbling into bed with creepy strangers."

He at least made her laugh.

Chapter Text

"How's the head?" Mulder was uncharacteristically solicitous from behind his desk as she walked in. His face looked as if he'd been beaten with a bag full of grapefruit, purple and swollen under his left eye.

Scully fingered the large goose egg on the back of her own skull gingerly as she set her briefcase on her table. "Doctor says no concussion. I'll live another day, I suppose."

"Your optimism first thing in the morning is refreshing." He groaned, leaning back in his desk chair and away from the half-written report she saw sitting in front of him. "Perhaps you can think of a creative way of selling something to Skinner that doesn't involve the words "hermaphroditic aliens" or "crop circles" in it."

"They weren't hermaphrodites, in the strict scientific sense. According to you they were able to change their gender at will."

"Pot-tay-to, po-tah-to, either way I have a feeling Skinner's going to call us up there by three this afternoon wanting to know why we let a serial killer escape." The idea rankled Mulder, she could tell it did. His roots were in Behavioral Sciences, in trying to understand why it was humans did the things they did and to stop it. This case hadn't simply been about a human serial killer. It had been about something else. It should be right up his alley, she mused. But the unfinished nature irked him. It irked her too, when she admitted it.

"Where do you think the Kindred went?" She settled into her own chair and watching him, placing her chin thoughtfully into one cupped hand.

"Home." Mulder tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling, as if he hoped to see whatever home the Kindred had through the layers of tile, metal, and insulation. "My question was why they were here."

"You don't really believe they were aliens, do you?"

"After what you saw, you can still ask me that." He turned his gaze towards her in wonderment.

"I saw a bunch of flattened grass and an empty farm. That could have meant anything."

"Right." Something in his expression shifted, as if they were physically closing themselves off from her steady scrutiny. "Anything. It could be anything."

"Mulder, we had invaded their personal space!" Irritation rose inside her at the idea that he would so quickly shut her down at the slightest hint that she questioned his theory on the extra-terrestrial nature of the Kindred. "Not to mention that one of their own was rampaging across the countryside, murdering indiscriminately and drawing attention to them. For all we know they probably packed up and left because the outside world had finally invaded their home."

"Their home where they kept their one, treasured secret." He returned to staring up at the ceiling. "The fact that they weren't exactly the same sort of human you and I are."

That she couldn't argue with. Scully shut her mouth with a snap, exhaling through her nose in a long sigh. She didn't know what was the truth with the Kindred, she didn't know if she believed they could change sexes. Perhaps they were an entire group of people with the same genetic mutation who a century or more ago had taken to living in their closed community to hide their defect from the rest of the world. Who knew? She guessed she would never know and neither would Mulder.

One question did niggle at her brain, though, and she indulged it openly. "If Martin was a rebel to the Kindred, if he was breaking their silence by entering into the human world, why did they come back for him, do you think?"

Mulder blinked silently upward for several long moments, as if considering this. "You said Brother Andrew said he was family."

"Yeah." Scully saw the anxious, apologetic face of the young man who had nearly accosted her float in her mind, like a vague dream.

"If it were your sister, Scully, you know, the one who you said took off without a word. If you had to leave, your entire family had to go, wouldn't you try to at least let her know where you are. Urge her to come with you?"

"Of course!" The idea of not including Melissa, despite her many faults, seemed ludicrous to her.

"Family is family, Scully. With family, no one gets left behind." There was a depth to those words, a longing that radiated from Mulder. Not for the first time, she wondered if he was ever envious of the close knit Scully kin. "No matter what Martin did, no matter how much he tried to run and hide among humanity, he couldn't hide what he was. And they weren't going to leave him behind, cut off from his own. I suppose, in a way, you have to appreciate that."

"I guess," she replied softly, her eyes drifting to the small photograph she kept on her table of herself, her brothers, and her sister as youngsters, on some family outing somewhere twenty years before. "No matter how crazy your family makes you, they are the only ones sometimes who truly understand you."

Chapter Text

"Should I ask now what you want, Jack, or wait till after the dessert course? I want some of the chocolate soufflé I was eyeing on the way in." Scully glanced longingly at the molten chocolate-filled ramekin sitting on a neighboring table with undisguised envy.

"A man can't just want the attention of a beautiful, young woman?" Jack Willis was never a good liar. His broad, handsome face always tried to remain stoic and cold, but there was that glimmer in his eyes that always gave him away. She shook her head slowly at him, a soft smile curving up her lips as she laced her fingers under her chin and leaned her elbows over her salad plate.

"Nice dinner. Fancy restaurant." Her eyes flickered to the shadowy lighting and artsy décor of one of the many DC fine dining establishments she had eyed longingly on her drives home to Georgetown of an evening. "You didn't treat me this nice when we were dating."

"I did to," he protested mildly, quickly followed by an abashed shrug. "Just maybe not enough to keep you around."

"Jack," she sighed in warning, frowning at her glass of water with lemon, watching the large ice cubes dance in the light of the tables single, flickering candle. "Let's not start this conversation again? You asked me here as a friend. And I'd like to keep things that way."

He understood. Jack always did. He smiled, nodding. "Sure." His large fingers fiddled with the silverware by his plate. "I don't know, I figured it would be nicer to discuss our work over dinner than sitting in the old homestead."

"What? Afraid of the X-files office?" Her eyes moved to his frankly, her tone teasing, but her gaze serious.

"No, not really." There was that flicker in his eyes again, the uncomfortable shift from her probing expression to the linen tablecloth.

"Mulder isn't that bad, you know," Scully murmured softly, with a lot less heat than she would have used with anyone else…for example Tom Colton. Jack was a good man, he cared about his work, and she couldn't blame him for his reaction to Mulder. Even she had that reaction when Blevins first dropped his name on her almost a year ago.

"I didn't say Mulder was." Jack defended himself quickly, perhaps slightly guiltily. "Top notch profiler, though. I used him a bit back when he was working with Reggie Purdue, under Bill Patterson. Patterson was a shit, but Mulder was amazingly good. He helped me with more than a few tough cases, mostly bank work. Sort of frightening how his brain works."

"Tell me about it," she smiled, reaching for her water glass and sipping from the cool liquid inside. "Though sometimes I wish he would remember he isn't superman, no matter how intelligent he is."

"Yeah, well Mulder always was a bit of a rebel. I blame it on Patterson, really." Jack scowled as he brought up the head of the Behavioral Sciences unit, something of a legend as Scully had heard it coming up through the ranks of the FBI.

"I thought he wrote the book on modern, FBI methods on the study of criminal behavior?" She didn't know much more about Patterson than that. Locked away in Quantico teaching for two years, she had missed out on much of the rumor that seemed to be the grease by which the FBI's gears were run.

"Oh he did. No one is questioning that. But Patterson has a sort of, 'my way or the highway' mentality, tends to rub a lot of people the wrong way, myself included. That's why I stuck to bank robberies and not criminal profiling. Anyway, I think Patterson was just the start of where your partner ended up."

"You mean crazy and hiding in the basement, looking for the little green men that took his sister?" She hadn't meant that statement to sound as cold as it came out and immediately regretted it at the hurt look that crossed her old lover's face.

"You seem to think I'm here specifically to make fun of Fox Mulder and to tell you that you are throwing away your life." It was Jack's turn to be on the offensive, and he had a point. She was being aggressively protective and she knew it. Her pale cheeks flushed guiltily as she busied herself with the wine menu she wasn't reading.

"Everyone else seems to want to put their two cents worth in on the subject. I've already had to kick Tom Colton's ass for it." She scowled darkly at a list of Cabernet Sauvignons, as if the one of the 1989 Californian Cabernets had a particular grudge against her.

"Colton's an ass," Jack growled darkly. "Punk has been oozing his way around, trying to worm his way into a cushy job. Heard he got quite the set down recently though. Something about nearly getting someone killed."

"Yeah, me." She barked out a laugh, setting the wine list down, propped against the salt and pepper shakers. "He ignored Mulder's warnings and stopped tailing a suspect, who then subsequently broke into my apartment and tried to steal my liver - while I was awake."

Jack whistled low as the waiter came up to take their drink orders; her favorite, Pinot Grigio for her, scotch for him. He returned to the subject at hand as soon as the waiter left.

"I'd have kicked the shit's ass if I'd known, Dana." He was serious and she knew it.

"You have your own issues, Jack. And I don't need you watching my back anymore. I'm not the 'wet-behind-the-ears' kid, fresh out of Quantico with a big, shiny badge and a gun I barely know how to use."

"You always knew how to use your weapon, Dana, that wasn't the problem." He laughed, a soft, throaty chuckle. "But I still care. Even if things didn't work out, I still like to know you are safe."

"I'm fine, Jack." She met his worried frown with a smile, reaching across the table between them to take one of his nervously, fidgeting hands. "Believe me, I do okay out there chasing little, green men."

"Probably out there keeping Mulder from jumping off that cliff," he teased, knowingly.

"More like patching him up when he hits the bottom. Medical school wasn't a total waste. I can fix them up and take them apart again."

"I'm more looking for your cool head and steady eye." Jack squeezed her small fingers gently. "You know I've been on that Dupree and Philips case for the last year, right?"

"The couple that have been terrorizing banks all over the mid-Atlantic?" Her eyebrows met together in a thoughtful frown. "You told me you were on something big when last we spoke."

"Yeah, real big. These two started off by killing off an elderly security guard, and have been picking people off ever since." His mouth hardened into a grim line as the waiter returned with their drinks. He immediately took a long pull from his glass, the ice cubes in the scotch clinking loudly before he set it down.

"I can't tell you, Dana, this case…something about it..." Jack's frustration was evident as he hunched his broad shoulders in his suit coat, glaring past her shorter frame across from him, towards the diners and darkness beyond. "It's like they don't care about anyone or anything but themselves. Like the entire world is just their playground and they run through it causing mayhem and destruction at a whim. Its like some horrible, fairy tale romance turned into a horror film."

"Didn't they meet while she was in prison?"

"Yeah, he was a guard there. I don't know what she did to the guy, but man was it one hell of a whammy." Jack didn't seem amused. "You can say what you will about me being a workaholic, Dana, and I won't say you're wrong. But there has never been a case I've worked on in the Bureau that's been nearly as warped as this case. These two, they don't do it for money, to make a better life, any of that. They do it because they like it. They do it for the god damn thrill of it."

"It's hard to imagine anyone doing anything like that out of love," she murmured softly, thinking inexplicably of her parents. She thought particularly of her father, who would go out to sea for months at a time, leaving his young wife and their large brood of children back in Norfolk or San Diego, wherever his port-of-call was. At the time she had wondered what made her mother stay with her father when he wasn't around like other kids' fathers. Her mother had told her that she'd understand someday when she fell in love with the right person. Somehow Scully didn't believe that she could ever love someone enough to go on a murderous robbery spree with them. But then, she ventured to herself, love made you do crazy, inexplicable things.

"We've had a tip on the two of them," Jack continued. "It's been hard to track their movements, they like to surprise us. But we got it from a reliable source where their next target is."

"Reliable," she asked curiously.

"You know I can't tell you. You aren't on the case." Jack waggled a thick finger in her face. "But I can remedy that."

She faked being hurt. "What, you want me on the case now, when it's almost done?"

"I'm putting a team together to put out the hit. It's supposed to go down in two days. And I need some people I know aren't going to come off looking like a bunch of Feds casing the bank."

"I don't look like a Special Agent from the FBI?" She was going to let him dig his own grave with that one, her smile a teasing challenge. But he waved it away, now focused on the case rather than the banter.

"You don't come off immediately as FBI. You could just be a regular, businessperson stopping in at the bank before it closes. The thing is, you aren't threatening enough on first glance, which is where they will make their mistake. I remember you on the firing range at Quantico." His intense gaze softened. "And I can't think of a better person backing me up in this one."

"You touch me, Jack," Scully snorted in wry amusement, though to be honest there was a part of her that felt deeply honored he did think that of her.

"You think Mulder would let you go to help me out?" She hadn't seen Jack this nervous since he had first asked her out on a date, practically the minute she had graduated from Quantico.

"I don't see why he wouldn't." Though in all honesty Mulder could sometimes be funny about these things. She had not quite figured Mulder out on this issue, whether it was his distrust of people in general, his traumatic experience with his missing sister, or his own insecurities that sometimes made him hyper-protective of his partnership with her. Perhaps it was just a male, territorialism that Mulder didn't realize he displayed in subtle ways from time to time. "I'll run it by him, but I'd be more than happy to help you out." She twirled the stem of her wine glass between her fingers. "So on to dinner and that soufflé."

"Why do I have a feeling you're going to take a hit out of my wallet," Jack groaned.

"Cause, you asked a favor of me and I want chocolate evilness," she replied gaily, looking at the dinner menu. "What's expensive on here I can guilt you into?"

Chapter Text

Dupree's hockey-masked face looked ominously blank as her gunfire ripped through his chest. The white, plastic visage with its dark, frozen eyes haunted Scully as she dozed fitfully. She felt each jerk of his muscles with the impact, the blood seeping out of his wounds, as jagged bits of flesh and bone tore out of his body. He crumpled in her mind, like a shattered doll, falling to the floor, his mask skittering across the marble as his wide eyes stared up at her, stunned that she of all people had been the one to kill him.

Scully remembered Jack's words of the restaurant; she was innocuous, she didn't look like FBI and that would be where they would mess up. Her eyes fluttered open to glance at Jack's immobile body, still under the hospital issued blankets and sheets. From her position, half curled into a hard, plastic chair, she could just see the top of the bed where he lay, his face covered in tubes, his hands taped over with IV's and needles. The monitors beside his bed beeped quietly, indicating little had changed in his condition since he had been brought out of surgery hours before.

"I was beginning to wonder if Sleeping Beauty was ever going to wake." Mulder's voice startled her, causing her to jump stiffly in the chair. She turned towards the door where his tall frame leaned casually watching her. His gaze traveled to Jack in the bed, his expression somber.

"Skinner gave me the low down on Willis. Said you'd probably be here. I thought I'd come check you out, run you home to freshen up."

"I'm fine." She yawned, ignoring the eager voice inside her head excited at the proposition of hot showers and home made coffee.

"You look worse than Willis does, Scully, and he's the one who was shot." He held a hand out to her, an offering to help her up. "Come on. I don't think Willis would like the idea of you sitting here watching vigil. I'll get you some coffee."

Her fingers easily curled around the dry, cool palm of Mulder's, as he easily helped her to stand. Her stiff limbs protested loudly against being made to walk in heels after so long forced into the small confines of the chair. She paused, stretching her back as she took one lance glance at Jack and his vital signs.

"He'll be fine. The nurses have your number. I'll rush you back if it changes." Mulder reassured her, his voice soft, his tone sympathetic. He reached for her elbow, gently grabbing it and guiding her out of the room and into the harsh, antiseptic lights of the hallway.

"What was that promise of coffee?" She groaned as he let go. She thought she could smell it somewhere.

"In the cafeteria. Not the best, but I figure it will get you alert enough to get you home and showered." Mulder jerked his head down a corridor that had a large, white-on-brown sign that read cafeteria. "Then you are staying in, Agent Scully, I don't want to see your face in the office."

"I have to give my report, Mulder." She yawned loudly as she said his name, making it come out more as "Mulyah".

"You're dead on your feet. Get home." He stopped her with gentle pressure on her arm. "Seriously, Scully. They won't get a decent report out of you if you can't even put two words together."

"But Jack!" She glanced back over her shoulder, towards the way they had come.

"Doesn't do Jack any good, either."

She knew Mulder was right. She knew it the moment she met his darkening eyes, full of concern. "He almost died on the table."

"I know." His long fingers wrapped themselves around her shoulders, the comforting contact she had come to know and rely on from Mulder. "He didn't die though. You did good, standing in there and sticking up for him."

"They were going to call him." The tears she was trying so hard to fight, to not allow to fall in front of her partner started to leak out of the corners of her eyes. "I wouldn't let them. Not Jack. It just wasn't his time."

Without a word he pulled her closer, wrapping long arms around her as she found herself returning the embrace. It was strange, the reasoning part of her brain considered. She wasn't a person who was keen on physical contact. She was a Navy brat, raised with the mentality of toughing things out. But in that heart wrenching moment when someone she had once loved dearly had nearly slipped out of her fingers, so close on the heels of first her father's death, then Mulder's injury, it was too much even for her strong reserves.

"I'm tired of hospitals." She sniffed with a gurgling chuckle.

"And here you thought you got away from all of that when you joined the FBI." Mulder smiled down at her as she pulled away, wiping her eyes. "Don't mind the tar mixed with hot water that passes for coffee around here?"

"I lived on it in med school." She shot him a watery smile. "I think right now it would be heaven."

"You are really not coming into the office today, not if that is your idea of heaven."

She didn't argue as they walked in companionable silence to the bustling cafeteria filled with sleepy-eyed doctors, quiet nurses, and family members all in various states of bleary worry. She could empathize as she slipped towards the closest, Formica table. Amongst the scrubs and white lab coats, Mulder's dark suit coat was easy to spot fetching two large coffees.

"This should put hair on your chest," he murmured dryly as he handed one to her, settling across from her. "Though I think I speak for all men when I say I hope you don't ever develop hair there."

She was too tired to shoot him a dirty look at a quip she had heard many times now from Mulder. She instead rolled her eyes as she made a grab for the sugar and non-dairy creamer.

Mulder watched her as she stirred in her three packs of creamer, four of sugar, as he sipped at his own black coffee. He waited till she had the lid back on her Styrofoam cup and had taken her first sip, before asking the question she knew he was dying to ask.

"How are you feeling?" She could feel his eyes penetrating her, as the psychology part of Mulder's brain kicked in, analyzing, probing.

"I told you, Mulder, I am…"

"They told me you took Dupree down in three shots. Closely clustered, almost as if you were on the shooting range and he was a target." Mulder nodded, impressed.

"He was shooting Jack," she offered weakly as Mulder held up a hand to stop her.

"Scully, I don't care what they say in the Academy about firearms and shooting people. The first time you ever take a man down never leaves you. The first time I shot a man, when it was all said and done, I sat in the nearest bathroom puking my guts out for fifteen minutes."

"How do you know that's the first…" she began angrily, but he stopped her again.

"Two years in Quantico, Scully, you have a lot of time to shoot at things while cutting up dead bodies? I know for a fact you haven't killed anyone working with me yet." His level gaze was concerned.

"Mulder, my father taught me how to use a firearm when I was eight."

"But did you ever kill anyone?" It was a probing question, and one she wasn't sure she was comfortable with, not at the moment at least, not after Jack.

"I killed a bird once. And I accidentally killed a rabbit I was trying to keep as a pet." She swallowed hard. "I shot the bird, not the rabbit."

"Dupree was a far cry from a rabbit or a bird, Scully. And you're a doctor, trained to maintain life, not take it." He reached a hand across the table, taking her open left palm and squeezing it softly. "I'm not saying he shouldn't have died or wouldn't have eventually. He who lives by violence most likely will die by violence. But it isn't easy knowing you have taken a life, no matter how just the cause."

Dupree's glassy-eyed gaze as he stared up at her from the marble floor flashed in her mind as she involuntarily clenched her fingers around Mulder's. She felt her mouth tremble ever so slightly, as she brought her coffee up to cover the tell tale sign of weakness.

"I was trying to save Jack, Mulder. I would have done it for anyone."

"I'm glad," he nodded solemnly. "It's your job, Dana. And it's OK to grieve over what you've done. It reminds us that we're still human."

She thought of Dupree, of all of those he killed, of Jack's life barely clinging to him, mostly by her sheer, stubborn force of will. "I wonder if Dupree was human at all."

Chapter Text

Blood filled her mouth with the tang of copper and salt, her lips immediately swelling as her head spun with the impact. She cracked aching eyes up at the face of the man she had once known, the man she had at one time loved.

"Jack, what are…" She cried in pain as Lula Philips wrapped her hands around the radiator and clicked the handcuffs tight.

"That's it, baby." He leered, his gun trained right between Scully's eyes. "Get them good and tight."

Lula spun from Scully, her long hair whipping around to smack Scully in the face as she hissed at Jack. "You bastard, who do you think…"

"Bastard?" Jack's handsome face went blank with shock. "Baby, it's me! It's Warren. You're Warren." His eyes softened as he lowered his aim, reaching a hand for Lula. The woman backed away, her eyes never leaving the weapon he let go limp at his side.

"You're that FBI prick whose been tailing us. I'm not stupid." She spat out the words viciously, her pretty face twisted with angry hatred. "I heard you were dead."

"Baby, no, no…it's me," Jack insisted, glancing sideways at Scully with contempt. "That bitch there killed my old body. She left me to die too. I saw it, in the hospital. I saw her." He turned on Scully, raising his gun again, leaning over to let it rest, cold, against her cheek. "Three bullet holes in my chest, you bitch. You didn't even care. All you cared about was your boy there, Willis. You bent over backwards to save his sorry ass, didn't you?" Jack's face twisted with raw hatred and anger. She had kissed that face once, in passion, in mischief, raining small kisses on him in the cold morning of their shared birthday.

"You are Willis," Scully moaned around the blood in her mouth. "Jack, what's wrong with you?"

"You fucking think I'm Willis?" He laughed, hysterical and long. He rose again, aiming the gun at her face. "I'm Warren Dupree, you dumb bitch. Do you think I'd have cut off my own damn finger otherwise? Do you think I'd have done this?" He glanced back to Lula, who had succeeded in backing off several paces from where they stood, into the next room. She met Jack's half-mad gaze, but Scully could see her watching the side room, as if looking for an exit…or a weapon.

"I've come back to finish what we started, baby." His voice was Jack's. His face was Jacks. But the gleam in his eye, the mingled love, desire, and lust that was never Jack's. Not even when he and Scully had been together had he ever looked at her that way, not the way he was devouring Lula Philips with his sharp eyes.

"I don't believe this," Lula replied simply, glancing to Scully as if for explanation. "I can't believe this."

"What do I have to prove it's me, baby? Huh? Talk about the birthmark you have on left boob? Or the way you liked to scream my name just when I…"

"Stop it," Lula snapped, her hands working as if they wished to reach for a weapon. "Shut the fuck up. You don't know those things. How can you know those things?"

"Cause it's me, honey," Jack insisted, slowly, steadily crossing the floor to where she stood, his free hand reaching out for the woman across the way.

Scully's dazed brain spun as Mulder's words from earlier hit her. Double heartbeats? Do you know if that is really Jack? She had ignored him, assumed it was more of Mulder's strange, half-baked weirdness. She had wanted to believe that was what it was. It made so much more sense than this. Her tongue probed her mouth, swallowing her own blood as she felt her teeth and inner cheek. She fought against the bile crawling up her throat, watching Jack and Lula square off, the man she had once been in love with now trying to convince them both he was someone else.

"Baby, I got it worked out." Jack's voice was silky soft, with an accent that wasn't his own. Jack had grown up in South Jersey, not far from Philadelphia. Somehow in the speech patterns, her Jack was lost, in the seductive murmurs of a man possessing someone she had once known so well.

"Look, Lu, we got the Fed bitch." His voice was hard as he glanced back at her with calculating eyes, not a note of memory or caring in them. "She's our insurance policy. She's what will get us out of here. We keep her alive long enough we can bargain with her, get the FBI to give us what we want on a silver platter." His gaze became truly dark, truly malevolent. "Course, we don't have to give her to them in one piece."

Lula's own eyes followed Jack's settling on Scully, thoughtful, predatory as they narrowed, cat like.

She had to act fast, to speak fast, and to rationalize with whatever part of Jack Willis remained in the body that bore his face. "Jack, its Dana! Don't do this. You know me."

He responded by raising Jack's service weapon on her again. "Did I tell you to speak?"

"Jack," she pitched her voice low and calm, just as they trained recruits to do at the Academy. "Jack, you know you can't negotiate for me with the FBI. They won't deal. You are an Agent, you know that. Remember it won't do you any good. They will come in here and kill you." She deliberately cast her eyes towards Lula. "Both of you."

She saw Jack's jaw clench and work as he stared her down, his thoughts spinning as he pressed his mouth into a hard, white line.

"She's right, baby." Lula's voice was soft, a bit hesitant, stumbling over the word 'baby' uncertainly, as if it were foreign to her. He turned back to her, but left his gun trained on Scully. "She's right. We can't force them to deal." She swallowed hard, her arms wrapping around, hugging her middle as she once again glanced towards the other room. "We better just get the hell out of here, take her with us in case they start following us. Get rid of her when the heat is off."

Jack cocked his head thoughtfully, a low, rumbling laugh, a strange, disturbing sound, gurgled its way out of his chest. He lowered his weapon on Scully and crossed the room to Lula in three giant steps, snaking his arm around her waist to pull her close to him, bending to kiss her neck, behind her ear. Lula allowed him to embrace her, stiff in his arms, but willing. She didn't turn away from his kisses, but her eyes stared over Jack's shoulder, and met Scully's. They were hard, dark, and distant, spinning and whirling plans of her own devising. And Scully had the very frightened idea that none of them boded well for her future.

Chapter Text

She had one photograph of her and Jack. It was the only Christmas they had together. She had invited him home. It was noteworthy in that Scully had never invited any man she dated home before, not for that most important of Scully holidays. Her mother had seen wedding bells. Her father had offered Jack the good whiskey. Bill had shot him disapproving looks for most of the day before finally warming up to him over football and beer. Melissa and Charlie had teased her relentlessly. Jack had enjoyed that Christmas. He sat on the couch, wrapping paper around his feet, eyeing the fluffy, badly patterned sweater she had gotten him as a gag gift, intending him to wear it up at the Pine Barrens when next they went to his parents' cabin. She wondered if he even remembered this memory in those last, fleeting moments as he lay dying, he and Warren Dupree, in the same failing body. She liked to think that in those final moments he had in that dank room with her, he remembered her, remembered how at one time she had loved him once.

Her phone jarred so loudly in her dark apartment, it caused her to leap off the couch, the photograph of Jack sliding to the floor, along with the warm, fuzzy blanket she had been curled under. She lunged for the sound, nearly knocking her large, lit vanilla-scented candle and her glass of wine over in the process, gasping a greeting as she placed the phone to her ear.

"Scully," Mulder's voice was a mixture of concern and bemusement. She nearly could see the vaguely confused frown on his face on the other end.

"Mulder," she replied, untangling her sock-covered feet from the folds of the blanket, kicking it aside as she reached down to pick up the glossy snapshot before she stepped on it. "Everything okay?"

"I guess I should be asking you that." He paused a beat, waiting for her to answer. When she didn't, he continued. "Did I call at a bad time?"

"What?" She straightened, flopping back into the corner of her comfortable couch, and grabbing the blanket back up around her comfortable, flannel pajamas. "No, I was just sitting here, thinking."

"About Willis?" Mulder, if anything, was astute and she suspected his call was born out of his concern for her loss. Wounded soul that he was, Mulder always had an uncanny knack for empathy at unexpected moments, something few men Scully personally knew possessed.

"Yeah," she breathed into the phone, fingering the picture with Jack's smiling face, her bright, copper-red hair spilling over the left shoulder. "I thought…I thought I had saved him Mulder. And instead I resurrected a monster."

"Scully, you had no idea." Mulder's voice was warm and comforting on the other end of the static-filled phone.

"You did. You saw from the beginning Jack wasn't who he was before. You pieced it together almost from the start."

"Not trying to sound my own horn, here, Scully, but you do realize that to come to that sort of conclusion, you would have to think like I do?" He was teasingly skeptical. "And I think you and I can agree one nut job in the basement is plenty, right?"

Despite herself, she laughed softly. "God forbid, Mulder, the day I ever start thinking like you."

"Willis was a good man." He was serious once again, his soft, monotone murmur fuzzy over the miles from her home in Georgetown to his own home across the Potomac.

"He was," she agreed, holding the photo in front of her face. "And I loved him…once."

Mulder apparently had no response. The other end of the phone was silent, save for his soft breath over the mouthpiece.

"I want to believe that at the end, before he died, that Jack - my Jack, the one who I fell in love with years ago, the one who was passionate and driven, and who drew me to him because of that - I want to think that my Jack died two days ago, and not a week ago on the table at Bethesda." She found herself wiping absently at tears she didn't realize were crawling down her cheeks.

"For what it's worth," Mulder replied, thoughtful and pensive. "I have to believe that as well. Dupree could have just killed your outright when your usefulness was at an end. But I think Jack, his memory, his love for you, it stayed his hand when much less sane minds could have prevailed. Otherwise I might not have been able to find you alive."

His shy concern, his very apparent worry warmed her, and Scully felt herself smile despite her tears.

"Thank you, Mulder."

"I'm your partner, Scully. It's my job."

Chapter Text

Reggie Purdue's dark head was bent over the paperwork cluttering his desk. He didn't see Scully at his door until she knocked, quietly, on the wooden door frame.

"Agent Scully!" Purdue's dark face broke into a white grin under his bristling, black mustache. "Mulder here with you?"

"No, sir, he headed over to the labs. He wanted to have that note you gave him analyzed." Scully stepped inside Purdue's large office, lined with shelves of books, commendations, awards, and photographs of himself and a lovely, tall, African-American woman. She was thin and gracious looking beside him, her arm wrapped around him in each pose in a manner that suggested that she was his wife.

"I had a feeling he'd flip if I handed him that note," Purdue murmured ruefully, tossing a heavy, ballpoint pen onto the files in front of him, his dark eyes scowling behind thick glasses. "Course it wouldn't be right not to tell him. He had the right to know someone was out there bound to fuck with his head." He grimaced as he leaned back in his chair, as if mentally cursing the bookcase behind Scully for offenses against her partner.

"Mulder said Barnett was dead." She couldn't help herself, she realized. She immediately gravitated to the known, quantifiable element in the situation. They were discussing the threat of a man who had, by all accounts, died five years before.

"That's what they said." Purdue didn't sound so certain. She watched his thick frames turn to her, his face impassive. "How long have you been working with Mulder then?"

"Just over a year." She slid into one of the chairs Purdue pointed to in front of his desk, crossing her legs primly in front of herself and folding her hands into her lap.

"You've only known him then since he was on the X-files." She noted there was no judgment in Purdue's tone, no snide insinuations or private laughter. He for one didn't have the sympathetic look that so many others had when she told them just what division of the FBI she worked for.

"I've heard stories of Mulder from before. And I studied some of his profiling work while in the Academy. Things he did before he even joined the Bureau." Scully had been impressed even then with the keen understanding Mulder had, the nearly scary ability he possessed to get inside peoples' minds, to read the way that people worked. She wondered if his often-bizarre leaps in logic owed more to his insight into human nature rather than raw intuition on his part.

"Wasn't he the shit back in the day?" Purdue laughed ruefully, with almost paternalistic pride as he chuckled low under his breath, a quiet rumble from his chest. "He and Jerry Lamana came wandering into my department, all cock-sure and wet behind the ears. Neither one of them could hardly shoot a gun, let alone find their way to the restroom to take a piss." A faint ghost of a grin pulled under his thick mustache. "Was a damn shame to hear about Jerry, though. I'm taking it Mulder took that hard?"

"He did," Scully acknowledged, noting the sadness on Purdue's face. "I think Jerry was one of the few people left in the Bureau Mulder calls friend anymore."

Purdue didn't look surprised. "He was a suspicious son-of-a-bitch when he came here. Didn't take any crazy, DOD aerosol accident to make him that way." He waved his hand dismissively, oblivious to Scully's confused frown as he sat up further in his seat, leaning his elbows on his desk. "Everything I gathered on him when he worked for me said he had a bit of a rough life. Course, you probably know about the sister. Not that big of a secret. Then there was his father, Bill. He was some big wig over at State back in the day, had a lot of clout. He came into the office once when Fox was out, tried to talk me into convincing him to leave the Bureau, for his own good. Something about not wanting to have to lose his last child due to some crazy man's bullet, and maybe as his son's boss, I could make him see reason."

"Did Mulder know he did that?" Scully had never heard him mention it, but it wouldn't shock her if he did know. Mulder was notoriously closed mouthed about his family, his father in particular. She couldn't blame him, not if Bill Mulder had actually tried to do what her father, Bill Scully had threatened to do once or twice. Her father had meant it more as a bluff than a promise.

"No," Purdue shook his head. "No, not unless his father told him. I kept my mouth shut. Frankly Fox had too much stinkin' talent for me to ever want to give him up. And I didn't want to shame the man by telling him that sort of thing. If you haven't caught on yet, Mulder's not exactly the type who likes a lot of people trying to look out for him."

"I hadn't noticed," she replied dryly, but with a smile that was met with Purdue's own knowing look.

"Anyway, I nearly wish I had listened to his father." Purdue smile melted into a heavy, pensive ponderousness. "Not long after that was Barnett. I should have taken Mulder off that case, not given Barnett the pleasure. I don't know if it had done me any good, cause Mulder would have just gone behind my back anyway to track the fucker down. Most of the shit Mulder had to profile, it was work, and he could shrug it off eventually. But Barnett…" Purdue whistled low, between his teeth, shaking his head slowly as his eyes fixed on Scully's. "Barnett was personal."

"Why?" She knew so little about Mulder's days as a profiler, besides the myth and rumors around the office. She couldn't get Mulder to even acknowledge his work on a good day, save in passing when referring to a case.

"Barnett was the one who took it down that road first. He was one of those sick assholes who gets pleasure out of thinking he's so much smarter than everyone else. He got miffed that Mulder was a thinking man, trying to mess with Barnett's game, to throw him off. His little love notes were born out of that, a desire to flagrantly taunt Mulder, to prove to him that Barnett was smarter than he was. In the end he almost was."

"Meaning?" Scully prompted.

Purdue studied her for several long seconds, thoughtfully, as if considering how much he should tell her. Whatever his decision, he then nodded firmly, reaching into one of his desk drawers, removing a large, black videocassette case that he tossed onto his desk.

"Mulder was the one who drew Barnett into a situation he couldn't get out of. He thought he knew Barnett so well, that he knew how he would react. And for the most part he was right. He was the one who figured out how to set Barnett up."

"But," Scully prompted when Purdue fell into a pensive lapse, staring at the videocassette.

"Mulder didn't realize that Barnett was a fucking psychopath." Purdue's face was grave, his eyes turning up to Scully's with real fear. "When they told me the bastard died. I thought for sure this was over. Till that moment, I kept worrying something like this would happen, he would come back and make our lives hell."

"We don't know that he isn't," Scully replied reasonably, despite the tremor in the back of her mind. It was the sneaking fear born out of her work on the X-files, that wonder that despite everything common sense told her, the most improbable answer was most likely correct.

"Agent Scully," Purdue's dark fingers wrapped around the videocassette, plucking it up to hold in front of her face. "I do know this. There are many people I know of who wouldn't mind taking a shot at your partner. Only one man I know of who would toy with him before he did it. And I'm just hoping, for both your sakes, that the fucker really did die four years ago. I'm just saying."

Scully nodded slowly by way of response. She hoped the very same thing herself.

Chapter Text

The note was simple, black lines on a white piece of paper, but it looked as loud and as bright as a neon sign laying on the desk between then, laughing back in their faces with the words "Funerals for Fox's friends - then for Fox." Scully's eyes flew to Mulder's impassive face. His eyes wouldn't meet hers.

"You think Barnett had something to do with this?" Around them the police forensic team was carefully covering Reggie Purdue's room, brushes and lights out, photographing every inch of what had once been a very quiet life for a very private man.

"You were the one who found his medical records, Scully. Tell me what that tells you." His voice was a soft monotone, as cold and controlled as his expression. That was unnerving coming from him. Mulder was like lightening in a bottle normally, his whole being would hum with the surety of his knowing.

"I know there is a possibility that Barnett is alive and that he is trying to do the very thing he promised," she conceded, somehow more frightened by this coldly passive Mulder than she ever was of the brilliant, animated one. She crossed her arms firmly, almost to ward off the chill she felt seeping from him.

"Possibility…I know that was Barnett's voice on the phone, Scully." Mulder quietly insisted. "He had his accent. He knew whom to look for. He knew how to hurt me." His blank eyes slid to the note on the desk, letters traced starkly against white.

"Mulder." She didn't know what to say to him. Didn't know what to make of his mood. It was strange and worrisome and not at all what she had expected out of him at the loss of someone he had been as close to once as Reggie Purdue. When Jerry Lamana died months ago he had been angry, sure that he knew the meaning behind it and willing to thrust Scully aside if she so much as stood in his way. When they had stepped into the room and found Reggie's body, throat crushed, she had expected more of the same. The moment Mulder's gaze had settled on those words on the page something turned very dark inside his mind. And Scully wasn't terribly sure she understood or liked what she saw lurking in the shadows of his stoicism. Hesitantly, unsure, her fingers moved towards his forearm on the desk, resting lightly. She had expected him to flinch away, as perhaps she would have done when agitated, or at the least to jump at the contact that she rarely, if ever granted to others. But he neither twitched nor twisted away nor did he acknowledge the gesture on her part. His face was fixed on the note in front of him, the line of his mouth set hard and white.

"Mulder, this could all be a sick game on Barnett's part, I'll give you that. But we have no way of knowing if he did this himself or if he planned this through someone else before he died." She glanced over to the gurney bearing Purdue's body. "Whoever did this had to have been immensely strong. They crushed his throat bare handed, Mulder. Barnett's right had was amputated, if Crandall's story is to be believed."

She knew he heard her, but he wouldn't look away from the damn note. Scully felt her stomach flutter, worry gnawing at her insides as she curled her fingers around his arm.

"Mulder, let's say for arguments sake it is Barnett, that he is alive, and he's trying to do just as he promised. We will catch him, we will find him, and we will bring him to the justice he escaped the first time around." It wasn't much of a comfort for Reggie's death, but it was the sort of platitude she felt she should say, something she thought Mulder should here.

"Scully." His voice was love and gravely, and pitched just for her to hear. "This is a man who took out his own accomplice without a single thought. He killed Steve Wallenberg without batting an eye. The sales girl at the jewelry store didn't have to go. Her death was more to make a statement, a point to me that he had returned and our game was back on." He turned to her finally. "Reggie was to prove that he could get close to me, that he could take away someone he knew worked with me. The next person he will go for is the person who he knows I'm closest to." His eyebrows rose as he turned to face her fully, leaning in over her as he carefully detached her hand from his arm, gently placing it by her side.

"Reggie died in a war that wasn't his to fight. Barnett wants this to be between him and me. I'm the one he wants to hurt. I'm the one he wants to fight. But Barnett is playing this war by his rules. And that means that anyone is fair game." His fingers closed around her wrist as it hung by her waist, briefly and painfully before they pulled away. "And that includes you."

Within the darkness the truth flared for the briefest of moments, and it suddenly made sense. She had seen Mulder angry, she had seen him pleased, she had seen him childishly delight. She had never once seen Mulder afraid, truly frightened. She saw it now, a darkness born out of a terrible night twenty years before when he had witnessed his own sister's abduction. It was more than a fear of loss. It was a rage against that loss, anger he could never focus before, till Barnett returned and began the game again, she realized. If it was Barnett, and she had no idea if it was or not, she certainly hoped they found the son-of-a-bitch before Mulder did. As he turned from her, wending his way through police officers and forensics investigators, she felt certain that should Mulder be left alone with the man, she couldn't say for sure if Barnett would get out of the situation like he did the last time with Mulder. Hostage or no, she had a feeling Mulder would end the war Barnett started four years ago, and this time for good.

Chapter Text

In the moment, it was slow motion, each second playing out so slowly she could nearly see the moment death was coming for her. The bullet from Barnett's gun cut through the air so slowly she could follow its trajectory with her own eyes. Follow it right towards the middle of her chest, in between her breasts, as she had time to gasp once in shock at the young face with the dead eyes leering at her behind the handgun.

The impact was so hard it knocked her breath out immediately. Scully felt her lungs collapse as the Kevlar vest wrapped around her small frame shivered and her feet flew out from under her. The sheer force of the shot knocked her to the ground and she felt herself crumple on the floor, her head knocking painfully against the carpet and concrete below. She was so startled at first she closed her eyes tightly. Adrenaline pumped through her terrified body so hard that her ears rang as around her people yelled. Blankly she lay there, too stunned to move, to surprised to react as she felt nervous fingers reaching for her throat, and terrified voices calling her name. Somewhere, the logical part of her brain wanted to respond to them, but her lungs were still compressed, and wouldn't force air through her throat enough to answer. Perhaps, she thought quietly to herself, she should just lie there till Mulder returned. Perhaps, by then, he will have killed the asshole that just shot her. Goddamn, she swore silently, but it fucking hurt.

"Okay! It's okay, Agent Scully!" The man speaking was young. She thought she remembered him from the briefing. A kid much younger than herself, but not much further behind her in experience, perhaps just out of the Academy. He sounded truly frightened, terror lacing his words, and she wondered for the briefest of moments if the Kevlar vest had failed her, if in fact Barnett's weapon had done far more damage than she had expected.

Her eyes burst open into the young agent's worried face, as wordlessly her fingers scrambled to undo the buttons on the front of her now ruined blouse. So far no blood had seeped through, but her own apprehension only subsided as her fingers brushed the thin mesh of woven polymers, the breath she didn't even realize she had gotten back releasing in a rush of gratitude. Her head fell back to the floor in relief, as the other agent gaped at her, surprised.

"You're all right?" His eyes were wide as saucers as he reached to help her.

"Yeah," she groaned as she rolled over, preparing to get up. "For what it's worth I'm alive, though for a moment there…"

A single gunshot rang out from the recital hall and Scully could hear Kathy's screams and cries. Her fingers raced to her gun, all thought of her now aching ribs and bruised chest gone as she moved to rush with the other horde of agents into the hall, visions of Mulder laying in a pool of his own blood inside a warehouse under a crimson-spattered white cross dancing through her terrified mind. She got no further than a step or two towards the door when she heard her partner's familiar, nasal monotone sound from inside, calling for an ambulance.

He was alive, she realized as she fell against a pillar in relief. He was alive, so was she, and Barnett, if fate was kind, was not, or if he was, he wouldn't be much longer for this Earth. At this moment she would settle for that. Through the press of agents she could see her partner stumble out of the auditorium door, his shoulder's slumped and head bent so that his dark hair fell into his eyes. Hardly the look of a man triumphant over his enemy, she though, wincing as she coughed slightly against the restrictive Kevlar, her ribs protesting loudly.

"Mulder," she called, bringing his attention towards her, his darkened face registering her leaning alone by the pillar, her blouse open to the vest underneath. Like a light-switch being flipped, light flooded back into his countenance as in two strides he had crossed the lobby to her, his eyes flying to the neat whole and single bullet lodged firmly in the middle of her chest.

"Did he hurt you?" His voice was dangerously ragged as without even asking her permission, his fingers went to the hole, as if fearful he would find it stopping up blood as it spread underneath her skin. Rather than feeling insulted at his blatant disregard for her privacy and personal space, something about her partner's actions was strangely endearing.

"Well other than probably cracking a rib or two and leaving me with a nasty bruise, he didn't do much damage to me." Her eyebrows met together, frowning. "Kathy?"

Mulder didn't even look up from the vicinity of her breasts. His eyes were livid. She could have found an appropriately tasteless joke there, but it was the first light she had seen in days out of him. His fears were very real, and she didn't want to make light of them.

"She's fine, though probably terrified out of her mind right now. Someone is looking out for her." He finally looked at her face rather than the hole in her vest, his expression both relieved and worried. "The ambulance will be here soon. Have them check you out."

"Mulder, I'm fine," she replied promptly, ignoring the wheeze that emanated from her lungs. "The vest did what it was supposed to."

"It nearly didn't." Again his finger moved towards the bullet hole and she half wished he would stop with the contact. "Another foot or so closer to you, Scully, and he'd have gotten you." His face grew black again, as she swatted his hand away, and attempted to cover the vest once again with her blouse.

"But he didn't. And I'm here and I'll have the EMTs check me out for broken ribs and bruises, okay?" She conceded to his wishes, but it did nothing to remove the fear and worry. "Did you kill him?"

"I don't know," Mulder, admitted, his tone even, even uncaring. "It wasn't for lack of trying."

Scully thought of Warren Dupree, his body falling to the cold, marble floor, his eyes boring into hers as his blood flowed across to mix with Jack's. Had she been so indifferent to Dupree's death when she had shot him? Was that why he hated her so when he, as Jack, had captured her later? Dupree and Barnett had a lot in common, their love of killing.

"It's over, Mulder," she finally breathed, as she saw the ambulance lights, red outside the glass doors of the recital hall, pull to a stop outside. Those concertgoers who hadn't rushed inside the auditorium to see the agents at work gaped at the EMTs who ran towards them with a wheeled gurney, equipment loaded on top.

"For Barnett its over," Mulder agreed. But somehow, for him, she wondered, would it ever be completely over? Would he be able to let go of the guilt and fear? As long as Samantha Mulder's fate remained a mystery she realized, for him it would never be over.

Chapter Text

Mulder hunched over his desk, quietly writing on his yellow legal pad. He looked like hell, she realized, hair mussed, his chin stubbled with a days worth of growth. His eyes were shadowed under his reading glasses, looking more heavily lidded than usual and twice as dispirited. She was fairly certain his white dress shirt was the one he wore yesterday, covering shoulder's hunched over in what looked like a vain attempt to shutter himself against the John Barnetts of the world, out to stalk him and tease him and then take away his life forever. At least he didn't have to worry about Barnett anymore. This time she had it officially, this time she double-checked for herself.

"I have the autopsy results from Barnett." She allowed herself to finally step through the open office door, waving the file at Mulder, who finally looked up. She had no doubt he knew she had been standing there a minute or more, but was too tired or too emotionally drained to acknowledge her.

"I thought the Defense Department was running that show." Mulder frowned quizzically at the folder as she slipped it into his outstretched hand.

She shot him a conspiratorial smile. "I used my Irish temper and a dollop of territorial turf war on them to have them let me perform it. Besides, they wanted this case wrapped up as quickly as we did. They were going to have to send the body to Quantico to be looked at. I'm a Quantico trained pathologist. Why ship the body an hour away when all I need is a scalpel and a room?"

"Anyone ever tell you that your sexy when you talk like that," he smirked. He flipped the file open without looking at her, his eyes scanning the documents so quickly they flittered from one page to the other in a blink.

"Though Dr. Ridley's work on Barnett meant that Barnett could regenerate certain parts of his body or at least that's what I gathered from what little Ridley shared with us. Barnett's hand grew back only because the cells they used to re-grow it were those of a salamander." She leaned against Mulder's desk, her eyebrows puckering into a thoughtful frown. "I can't say I completely understand all of what Ridley was attempting to do with his work or why it was that his hand could grow back, but the damage done by your shot was consistent with any other victim of gunfire. Whatever it was, Barnett couldn't regenerate from that, or at the least his body couldn't do it fast enough before the blood loss killed him."

Mulder's remained silent, leaning back in his chair with the file in front of him, the first knuckle of his right hand rubbing in thoughtful agitation at his mouth. In the reflection of his glasses she could see him staring at the photograph of Barnett's abnormally young face, lax in death over his open chest cavity. He wanted to believe that he was really dead this time, finally gone, no longer able to haunt him with cryptic notes playing on his first name, threatening those he was closest to.

"Mulder?" She reached for the manila folder, pulling it gently out of his fingers as he frowned up at her in surprise.

"Mulder, Barnett's dead. I triple checked myself. No regenerating hearts, no popping back to life while I wasn't looking." She tried to smile flippantly, teasingly. "There is no zombie Barnett wandering the halls of the medical center looking for brains."

He didn't laugh. He didn't even smile and he didn't look like he was one hundred percent sure he should believe her either.

"He's gone, Mulder. I don't know if I can make it any more plain for you than that." She sighed, closing the file and setting it down firmly on his desk. "You want me to produce his corpse?"

"No!" His voice was rough and hard, exhaustion fraying the edges. "But I might not mind to watch his body burn just to make sure the son-of-a-bitch is really gone."

"I can arrange that." She smiled softly as he removed his glasses and ran his fingers again through unkempt hair. He looked as if he hadn't seen any sleep since the day Reggie Purdue had called them on the note, not that Mulder ever got much in the way of sleep. She had only once been to his apartment and had seen no sign of a bedroom, but had noticed the well-worn nature of his couch and the convenient placement of the television nearby to allow better access for nighttime viewing. Scully had always suspected Mulder only slept when his body was too exhausted or his mind too numb to continue going any further.

"You should go home, Mulder. Get some sleep. Take a shower." She made a show of wrinkling her small nose, reaching over to pluck at the shoulder of his shirt. "I think your clothes can walk on their own.

A ghost of a smile played across his eyes, but never made it to his full mouth, which twisted in an ironic grimace. "I have a report to write." He returned to his notepad, his fingers closing around the pen he had laid down on top of it. She knew he was trying to shut her out, to dismiss her, to ignore whatever feelings Barnett had stirred up. He was clearly in no mood to prod into those feelings very far. Good thing she was a doctor, she reasoned. She was used to poking at things with sharp objects to get at the ugly truths underneath it all.

"Mulder you weren't responsible for what happened to Steve Wallenberg all those years ago. And you weren't responsible for Reggie Purdue either, or even me when it comes down to it." She wasn't about to admit to him just how ugly and sore the bruise that lay across her chest and down to her stomach was and she tried to gingerly avoid it as she crossed her arms in front of her.

"I'm an agent, same as you. I know the oath I swore on graduation day from Quantico. I know the dangers that are out there for all of us, we all do." She bit her lip as he continued to scratch against the legal pad, jagged, dark lines against lemon yellow. "You don't hold the premium on putting your life in danger. It isn't your job to protect every single soul that comes through here from the bad guys of the world. You can't possibly hope to succeed at it, and I certainly won't let you try to pull the guilt crap on me." Her words came out much more harshly than she had wanted them to, but she hoped they cut through Mulder's personal angst, the imagined remorse he so carefully wrapped his own shattered pain in. "I won't let you use me as a substitute for the fact that after all of these years you still hate yourself for not protecting your sister."

The snap of plastic against paper was as loud as a canon blast in the suddenly silent room, Mulder's pen slapping against his notes so hard it bounced off the desk and onto the floor where it clattered for several seconds and stopped by his feet. His hazel-green eyes thinned into hard points of flinty anger behind eyelids just barely open, his full mouth pursed so hard it was nearly white. At least, she thought to herself, this was better than the stoic, distant resolution, the horrible darkness she had seen lurking around him for the past week. Angry Mulder she could handle, diffusing him easily, like an over-inflated balloon. The other Mulder frightened her in-so-much as she was uncertain what that man would do should he be pushed past his limits, hurt himself, hurt others, perhaps take out his angry vengeance on someone. And it was the last that worried her. It was a side of Mulder she didn't realize he had and now she knew about it, she never wanted him to go there again.

They stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity, he glowering at her as if he would rather toss her from the office and never see her again, she meeting his irritation with an uplifted chin and stubborn, frank gaze that wouldn't back down. She wouldn't blink first. She wasn't going to be the one to turn away. Fox Mulder perhaps thought he was the FBI's Most Unwanted, but she wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of wallowing in that title. But he didn't blink first. He didn't even look away. But he finally spoke, in a sigh that seemed to be drawn out of the depths of his own personal well of hurt. "Scully, I'm not a good man to know."

"I don't know, Mulder, if you were a true nut case, the FBI would never have hired you." Her tone was even, her face serious. She wanted him to understand how very much she meant this. "I won't deny that you are hurting and have been hurt, and that this pain drives you in all of the work you do. You wouldn't be the first agent to come through here that has that story and I very much doubt you'll be the last. But the nature of our work, the people we face everyday - you can't make every horrible thing we see in our jobs your personal vendetta. Doing so will drive you..."

She paused, unwilling to finish her sentence. Mulder did it for her, a slight tug at the corners of his mouth lightening the angry scowl. "Crazy?"

Scully frowned.

"You know why Barnett targeted me?" Mulder's gaze never wavered, but his voice softened, his expression slackened into sad pensiveness. "Because I was the weakest link. I was the hotshot on the case. I was the one who was tracking Barnett's every move and it pissed him off. So he looked for what would hurt me most."

"He threatened innocents because he knew it would bother you." Scully supplied.

"Barnett was always a sick bastard. He liked to kill. After I took on the case he took a particular delight in specific targets, ones he knew would get to me. Once it was a note on Jerry Lamana's front door. Just a note, nothing else. Jerry laughed it off, but it scared the shit out of me. Another time he threatened and terrified the girl at the coffee house I went to, just to send me a message on how close he could get to me."

"Did he hurt either of them?"

"No, he didn't lay a finger on them. He saved that special honor for a completely innocent girl, age eight, dark hair, hazel eyes, was in the bank with her mother, completely innocent of what was going on. She died in her mother's arms before the ambulance even had a chance to get to her."

Eight-years-old, meeting all of the same descriptions as another girl, long ago, Scully felt her stomach drop and turn inside of her, her eyes widening in horror. "Oh, Mulder."

"He knew how to get to me, Scully. He enjoyed doing it. He hated me for dogging his steps, for not backing down, for eventually beating him, winning."

"It wasn't a game, Mulder. These were people's lives."

"You don't think I don't know that?" Mulder's laughter was ironic and hard. "Barnett didn't. And I grew tired of seeing innocent people hurt. Steve Wallenberg was the last straw, I think. I vowed the son-of-a-bitch would never hurt another person if I could help it." He grimaced down at his legal pad, the notes scrawled across the page. "And I'm not denying that it's because I couldn't protect my own sister that night. I got into the FBI because I wanted to find the truth about what happened to her, about where she is, and why she never came home. And I make a very piss-poor agent if I can't even keep my own partner safe from a raving psychopath, let alone finding out where my sister went to."

"Mulder." Scully found herself squatting to match his eye level as she sat on the back of her heels, her hands resting lightly on the fabric at his knees as she tried to keep balance. "Barnett's dead. He isn't coming back. You did your job. I'm safe. You're safe. Kathy is safe. And he won't hurt another person again."

He wouldn't meet her face, and she reached up one finger to turn his stubbled chin towards her, to force him to look at her. "I'm not going anywhere. And even if I did, I think I'm pretty handy with a gun. I'd at least give a firing shot to warn you to come get me."

He laughed, a low thrumming in his throat.

"Look, I know this is your quest Mulder, this search for your sister. You're seeking the truth. But I'm here with my truth and my reason, till they take me away from this. And you can't just wrap me up in bubble-wrap and set me in a closet thinking you are protecting me. I'd just tear my way out anyway." Her teasing smile was met by one of his. "Just remember you can't find your truths and you can't do anyone any good if you shut us all out."

"You know you are asking the mountain to come to Mohamed?" He is expression was serious, but his tone was light.

"Mohamed at least had the faith to believe it would." She squeezed his bony kneecaps under the fabric of his trousers, then rose above him, unsteady on her tall heels. "No more darkness for a while, okay?"

He frowned at her quizzically; as if unclear he understood what she meant. But he nodded in agreement all of the same.

Chapter Text

"Swamp gas," Mulder muttered darkly from behind the wheel as Scully played with the bullet shells she had gathered from around Ranheim's semi. She fiddled with them in their plastic, evidence baggie, her manicured fingertips smoothing the film over the metal she couldn't study in the black of night.

"It's a real, scientific phenomenon," she sighed heavily. "It's a more plausible explanation of why these lights are occurring than alien activity."

He said nothing, but she could hear him grinding his teeth thoughtfully, his mind elsewhere as they sped through the midnight black, Arkansas back roads. She had a sad, sinking feeling that the next hour to the sheriff's station was going to be nothing more than this, Mulder muttering and chewing his own lip, herself feeling up the casing in her fingers till the baggie broke through and she covered the evidence with her own fingerprints.

"Dodger dogs?" She finally asked, by way of something to say in the dark.

She could feel rather than see Mulder's frown as his face turned ever so slightly towards her. "What about them?"

"You mentioned them in relation to swamp gas." Mulder's sense of humor was always flippant, but that had surprised her. "You're a Yankees man."

"Yeah," he apparently didn't see where she was going with this line of conversation. Neither did she, frankly.

"So what are you doing eating Dodger dogs? Isn't that against some sacred oath or something?"

"The Dodgers haven't been in Brooklyn in forty years, and besides, all good Yankee fans hate Boston, not Los Angeles. Wrong league." He stated this as if this was something even three-year-old who could barely hold baseballs should know.

"So where did you get the Dodger dog?" She pushed, grinning inquisitively at the side of his head.

"At a Dodger game, of course." He flinched slightly as she punched his shoulder lightly, chuckling because he knew he had irritated her.

"Fine, fine. I was in LA, back when the X-files first opened up. I was investigating what turned out to be nothing more than some strung out teenagers and a television commercial shoot and while I was there thought I'd catch a game."

"Just thought you'd catch a game?" Scully snorted. "On the FBI's dime?"

"No," Mulder laughed, somewhat ruefully. "No, it was a present from the person I was with at the time."

"Person you were with? Fox Mulder having a real love life?" She grinned gleefully at him. "Whatever happened to it?"

"It fled to another country for a better job and more opportunities. Something about wanting to do the work in her own way." He didn't elaborate on what "the work" meant. "Anyway, Dodger dogs. That's how I had one. She thought it would be a treat, getting to go to a Dodger game with a beer, a hot dog, and a small radio with play-by-plays by Vin Scully."

"Why would you need a radio if you were there?"

Mulder snorted. "To hear Vin of course."

"Of course!" She smiled dryly. She had never understood baseball, the mysterious game that reduced her father and brothers into gibbering idiots each and every summer. Her father, an Annapolis man, was always most partial to the Baltimore Orioles. Her brothers who had spent much of their childhood in San Diego were fond of the Padres. Scully, despite all of her tomboyish traits had never picked up on the sports one. Nothing about running around with bits of leather, throwing them at people's heads, had ever once intrigued her.

"You grew up in Southern California, Scully?"

"At least for part of my life, yes."

"You mean to tell me you never once took in a Dodger game on a sunny afternoon, listened to Vin Scully on the radio while drinking lemonade?"

"No," she drawled, narrowing her eyes. "I somehow feel that's what you are imagining me doing though."

"With red pigtails," he admitted. "And overalls."

"It's baseball, Mulder, not Huckleberry Fin."

"Come on, Scully. You had to at least been curious. After all he's got your last name!"

"Your point being?"

"You ever wonder if you were related?"

"I'm sure we are, if you go back far enough." Scully being an Irish name, and the Irish being a tad clannish, she had no doubt they were related somewhere down the line.

"How can you be genetically related to one of the most legendary baseball announcers of all time and not like the game even a little?"

Somehow, she missed out on this part of her genetics class in med school, she reasoned. "I don't know, Mulder, how can your mother's family be Jewish and celebrate Christmas and eat ham?"

"That's religion, Scully! I'm talking about baseball!" He sighed with that sort of fanaticism that Scully had witnessed many a time with men and this crazy game.

"I'm sorry, I didn't realize the difference." She murmured in thickly dry tones, rolling her eyes towards the roof of the car.

"One of these days, Scully, I'll teach you about the game," he vowed happily. "Seriously, everything in life can be distilled into baseball. It's as if the universe, all of it's problems, troubles, worries, every conflict that we as mankind have can be set aside and forgotten for nine innings while you're there with a Dodger dog and a beer with Vin Scully on the radio."

"Are you sure you're a Yankees man, Mulder?"

"Just because I admire Vin Scully, do not discount my respect for the house that Ruth built," Mulder intoned in words so solemn, you would have thought he was reciting the liturgy. "Don't you have anything you find such idyllic peace in? Something in your life that cuts through all the crap and makes everything just…perfect?"

She considered her answer carefully for a moment. "Reading."

"Medical journals don't count," he sneered.

"Not medical journals, novels. Books. You know, those things that don't have the pictures of naked women in them."

She could see him make a face in the dim light of the dash.

"You like that Jane Austen stuff, don't you? Mr. Darcy and all that crap."

"That crap is fine literature, Mulder," she replied tartly. "And in fact my favorite novel is Moby Dick."

"Moby Dick?" He was surprised. "As in 'argh, there be the white whale'?" He affected a thick, Cape Cod sailor's accent, not exactly hard for a kid who grew up within spitting distance from the area described in Melville's book.

"Yeah. It was what my father had to share with me since I hated baseball and football and all of the sports things he loved."

"He shared with you literature." This seemed to mollify Mulder. "I suppose that is something worthwhile to pass on to your children."

Scully snorted softly through her nose, shaking her head, the ends of her hair brushing her cheeks. She leaned further into her seat, closing her eyes, and regretting seriously ever bringing this conversation up. She wondered how many more miles they had till they reached the sheriff's station where the shotgun-firing trucker was.

"Of course," Mulder drawled slowly as she felt the car accelerate slightly under his foot. "It would have been so much better if he had taught you how to read a box score."

Chapter Text

Never before in her life did Scully think she could appreciate fresh air more. She breathed deeply of it as she stepped away from the darkened, fetid construct into the light of day.

"Do they ever do their own laundry?" She glanced peevishly towards the small door with the sign "Lone Gunman Publishing" on the front, the sound of twirling tumblers and jangling chains announcing that their presence was now officially free of the three so-called "experts inside". She glanced in wary irritation up at the camera just above the door, and noted how it had concentrated specifically on her. She pulled her coat around her shoulders self-consciously, hunching them against the beady eyes of the one Mulder called Frohicke, the strange little man who had spent the entire visit staring at her through the lens of a telescopic camera. She didn't want to know what he watched with that thing, but she could lay even money it wasn't CIA or JFK's ghost.

"I'm fairly certain Byers gets a regular dry-clean," Mulder quipped as he unlocked the side door of his car for her. "I'd worry about Langley and the Ramones shirt. I think he hasn't washed that since he last saw them in concert."

"I like the Ramones," Scully replied, a trifle defensively.

"What? Dana Scully, punk-rocker extraordinaire?" Mulder stopped on his side of the car, looking positively delighted at this new information.

"It surprises you I like the Ramones," she sniffed, getting into his car with a secret smile.

"Just a whole, wild side of you I never knew about. Soon you'll be spouting stuff about anarchy and down with the man and I'll wonder what happened to the stiff, formal, by-the-book Scully I know."

"Don't get your hopes up, Mulder," she snorted, glancing back towards the Lone Gunmen's' gloomy hideout. "Speaking of anarchy, what about your friends?"

"Those three. They couldn't organize a revolution playing Risk." He chuckled as he started the car and pulled out of the alley. "They're skills lie in what they uncover. Some of the biggest secrets of the 20th century have come to light thanks to their scrutiny."

"If you believe that sort of thing."

"Scully, you've known me for how long again?"

"Seriously, Mulder, they have that joint padlocked as if it were Fort Knox. What are they trying to keep out, the CIA or the harsh light of day?"

"Some people are just strange and paranoid. Doesn't make them bad people."

"You speak from personal experience?"

"Touché, Scully."

"I don't know, even they weren't buying your latest theory. UFOs and Gulf War Syndrome? It should tell you something right there."

"You know as well as I do that the government used new and untried technology in that war. Everything from 'smart rockets' to targeting technology that they had been developing for years and never had a chance to test. Who is to say they weren't trying out an experimental, classified spacecraft?"

"One with alien origins," she asked dryly.

"Whatever was wrong with Ranheim, it was caused by a UFO. The description, his illness, and the fact that he can't remember clearly what was going on, it all fits a pattern of descriptions I've gleaned for years from the X-files. And I think the Gulf War was a perfect excuse to test out the same technology we saw at Ellens Air Force Base, the same stuff that cost that pilot, Budahas, his memory."

"You so badly want to connect the dots, don't you," she murmured, staring at him. "How in the world do you go from strange lights and swamp gas in the middle of a Midwestern road to Utah and a case we worked on a year ago with a suicidal test pilot?"

"It's not forcing the dots to connect, Scully, it's finally seeing how they all align."

"I'm beginning to think those Lone Gunman aren't as crazy as I thought they were," she sighed. "I'm beginning to think you beat them out in that score."

"You're not paranoid, Scully, if they really are all out to get you."

Chapter Text

"Why don't you just admit it, Scully? You're determined not to believe him."

Mulder's angry retort wasn't surprising, giving that it was Mulder. What hurt was the fact he was so willing to believe this Deep Throat person, a man she had never met, never spoken to, and from all of Mulder's accounts seemed to be as deep and mysterious as the shadows encircling her kitchen table at the moment. She met his challenging glare with her own, as she waved her fingers towards the supposed, hard evidence of Mulder's UFOs.

"Well maybe you're too determined to believe him," she countered, frankly, as she watched Mulder do what he always did when he didn't want to hear what she had to say. He shut down. He broke his gaze from hers, hurriedly gathering his photographs in a jumbled pile of glossy black and whites, and grabbed his coat from the back of one of her wooden kitchen chairs.

"I am determined to follow a lead that may result in proof of the existence of extraterrestrial biological entities." He was petulant, angry. "I need to go." He turned to the door, high dungeon in full force. A part of Scully wanted to let him go, to let him work out his sulk and figure it out for himself. But she had a sinking feeling doing so would result in a late night phone call from some police station, and another discussion with Skinner on why it was she was forced to pick up Mulder from some other military base somewhere in Arkansas, or Utah, or wherever he ended up this time.

"Mulder," she called from the kitchen as she followed slowly after him. "Listen to me."

"No," he replied peevishly, determined to ignore any reason on her part.

"Please, will you hear me out," she insisted, realizing that now her own voice was raised in irritation. Why did he always have to be like this, she wondered silently as he stopped and turned to her impatiently.

"I have never met anyone so passionate and dedicated to a belief as you." She swallowed hard around those words, feeling the fluttering fear that still flooded her sometimes when he got that look in his eye, when the strength of his belief became almost overwhelming. "It's so intense that sometimes it's blinding." Much as his intensity was now, his need to believe in the proof of what he held in his hands. Mulder blinked at her in wary surprise. Scully realized she had never shared this with him, and never told him how much his own intensity frightened her and awed her.

"But there are others who are watching you, who know what I know and whereas I can respect and admire your passion, they will use it against you. Mulder, the truth is out there but so are lies." She willed him to understand that, to believe her. Scully was no psychologist; it didn't take much to read Mulder like an open book. No other man in her entire life had ever worn his emotions and desires so clearly as Fox Mulder. He was sold, body and soul into his quest, his mission, his entire life was centered on it. And it didn't take a particular genius to figure out how to play upon those very desires.

"Thank you," he murmured softly, his anger giving way to true gratitude for the briefest of moments. Something else stirred in there, a ghost of a smile, but then it was gone as he turned towards the door, leaving quietly as she watched him go.

Scully stood for long moments starting at the door, wondering if her words had any effect whatsoever. Would she get that call in the morning, would Mulder blindly run off once again without her because he felt he couldn't trust her, that she stood would against him rather than join forces with him on yet another wild goose chase?

The beginnings of a mother of a headache throbbed in her temples as she leaned against the doorway between her kitchen and her living room, closing her eyes and rubbing the sides of her head with cool fingers. It was late, she was tired, and Mulder had once again stormed into the peace of her small apartment waving his evidence under her nose. For his sake, she had wanted to believe it, wanted it to be the proof he had spent so much time seeking. But she wouldn't be his partner, his friend, herself if she didn't question it, look beneath the obvious to what lay beneath, and from that find the real truths that Mulder needed and wanted to hear. Not just toss him things to keep him dancing to the tune of whomever it was out there who wished to string him along. And she had no doubt this Deep Throat character, whoever he was, had his own agenda as far as helping Mulder. Perhaps he was trying to get to the truth, the bottom of whatever conspiracy may or may not lie out there. But Scully worried something more nefarious was going on. She worried Mulder was being used as a tool for someone's game, and that all these hints of conspiracies and UFOs were really just ways of furthering someone else's own ends. And whether that end was to uncover something heinous or to hide it, she couldn't be terribly sure.

But then, what if Mulder wasn't the only one being spun around in this situation. Scully had considered the possibility that her own predilection for the quantifiable and accountable was being toyed with, knowingly used against both her and Mulder to obfuscate some larger truth. She had no delusions any longer as to what her role on the X-files was, that of someone who was to discredit Mulder's work, and to hamper him against whatever it was that the men who placed her there didn't want him to find. She worried that her quite obvious handicaps were being played just as surely as Mulder's were. And if so, where would they end up when all of this was said and done? And how could they possibly know what truths were right? What would they do if their usefulness to whoever it was out there were over?

Chapter Text

She stared hard at the front door of Mulder's apartment building, willing herself to just put her keys back in the ignition and make her way back across the river to Georgetown. She could speak to him in the morning about Deep Throat, about what he had found out, about what their next steps would be. She could get a night's sleep, watch a movie on television and maybe order in pizza. Tony's sounded good. Perhaps she should just do that instead of walking up to Mulder's fourth floor apartment, knock on his door, and drag herself further into this mess than she already was. Chances are Mulder had decided the same thing as herself, that Deep Throat wasn't to be trusted, that he shouldn't pursue this avenue till he had firmer, harder evidence to take with him.

And maybe someday she could shoot bacon out of the sky and ice cream would never go straight to her hips.

"In for the ounce, in for the pound, Dana," she murmured as she opened her door, stepping out into cool, spring breeze, her heels clicking solidly against the concrete with hard, determined steps. She glance towards the window she knew was Mulder's. Other than the slats of his blinds being askew, there was little to indicate whether or not he was home. She had tried calling him already, but his cell was turned off and his home phone gave her a busy signal.

Mulder's apartment building was old by anyone's standard. It had floors of creaking oak, with the faint smell of mold and mildew clinging to the dimly lit hallways and ancient looking paint. The only modern looking convenience in the whole place was the elevator, which by law had to meet certain codes, but even it screeched ominously under her feet, as it shuddered to a stop on the fourth floor. Mulder's unit was only a few doors down the darkened hallway. From it she could hear the shuffling and scuttling of someone inside. She still saw no lights on from within. She shuddered to think just what her partner was up to in the dark with no lights on. Raising one finger to press the doorbell, Scully waited as the scuttling inside increased in noise, as if someone was trying to get up…or maybe out. "Mulder, you home?"

Mulder's door burst open, with him on the other side, grinning in that warm and welcome way that said that he had expected her to stop by. Except he hadn't. She hadn't gotten through to him on his phone. And there was something entirely too brittle to the friendly glimmer in his eyes, to forced with the way his full mouth pulled up into a smile. She glanced round his shoulders to his apartment beyond and to the clutter that covered it. It looked as if a wind storm had hit his home, tossing everything about and leaving it in a pile in the middle of the floor. Clothes were tossed on his leather couch, every drawer of his desk was pulled out and turned out, and the slats to the blinds she had noticed downstairs hung crazily, swinging slightly in the cross-breeze caused by the open door.

"Hey Scully, glad you could drop by." He firmly grabbed her elbow, pulling her inside with him.

"Mul…" She began, but he shook his head, holding one finger to his lips as he reached for a notepad and pen from the pile of belongings that looked as if they landed there after a tornado.

"I been thinking about this whole situation, you know? And I think you're right. I think we won this one. I think we should just move on." It was the last thing she expected to hear from Mulder, and she stared at him sharply till he pointed to the electrical socket on the floor.

It had been opened, the wires hanging out. She knelt beside it and glanced in, angling her head just so the dim light from Mulder's windows could shine in. She was no electrical expert. She could barely wire her own stereo together. But she was at least intelligent enough to know that she was certain the strange, small piece of electronics she saw resting inside had nothing to do with keeping Mulder's apartment energy efficient.

She frowned up at him. He nodded knowingly.

As she moved to stand up, he began writing on the paper, and she glanced down as his sharp, spidery writing as he finished. It said "We have to find the truck." His eyes met hers knowingly.

This was crazy, she wanted to blurt out loud at him. This was insane. Listening devices in walls, chasing after semis that could be God knows where? She wanted to say she should have listened to her instincts. She wanted to turn around, go back home, and let Mulder find his own damn ship. But there was something about all of this and Mulder's crazy theories about spaceships and Gulf War Syndrome, that there was something in that truck that Ranheim was driving. She had to recognize it, because why else would Deep Throat or anyone else go to all of this trouble with Mulder if there wasn't something going on there. It didn't make logical sense to her others. There was some mystery to it all, and she had to admit it. And she couldn't just leave Mulder to it all alone without at least trying to attempt to help him figure it out.

"I think this time you're right, Mulder."

"I'm glad you see it that way." That familiar flash of brilliance, the gleeful look of the hunt. She recognized it so well by now. He nodded towards his front door. "Maybe we should hit up the office again. I have some files there we may want to look at." He grabbed his suit coat from off his well-worn couch, where he had tossed it at some point before he had torn through his apartment. He adjusted his tie from where it laid hanging over a shoulder and instinctively placed his hand at the small of back, leading her towards the door. He shut and locked it in silence and ushered her to his elevator, where they called it up and waited till they were inside before he began to speak.

"They've been watching me for years, Scully." His jaw was hard as he leaned over her, his voice barely above a whisper. "For all I know they have the office bugged too and maybe even your own place."

"Mulder," she began, instinctively wanting to laugh at loud at him, his mad ascertains were out there, even for him.

"I'm serious, Scully. Deep Throat admitted as much. He's been watching my career for years he said, waiting to see if I was the one he could trust."

"Deep Throat?" She felt her lips press together as if she had just taken a bite out of an unripe lemon. "Mulder, are we back to this…"

The elevator reached the bottom, and Mulder grabbed her arm firmly, nearly dragging her out into the lobby and outside, even as she protested his long steps.

"Mulder, what is going on," she snapped as she yanked her arm out of his grasp, stopping to glare at him on the patch of grass outside his building doors.

"You were right, Scully. He was lying to me. He was trying to divert me from the truth." His eyes were nearly feverish as he prowled in front of her, pacing a few steps before turning on her fully, hands to his waist. "He wants me to find the truth, but in his time, not mine. He knows the ship is out there and he threw us off because we were too close."

Scully stared at him, cocking her head sideways as she tried to comprehend the confusing pieces he had just tossed in front of her. "So you are saying that this Deep Throat character wants to help you and be trustworthy, but he isn't, because he wants to hide things from you and obfuscate them?"

When said like that, it apparently occurred to Mulder just how silly it sounded. "Scully, I know it sounds unreal..."

"Unreal? It sounds like something from a James Bond movie," she shot back. "The only evidence you have of alien activity is hidden in a back of a semi that we have no way of locating, except for the word of a man who says he's your friend but admits he's lying to you for his own gain."

Mulder didn't offer a counter-argument. He clamped his mouth shut firmly, snorting angrily as he threw up his hands.

"Fine, Scully, I'll go look for this one myself." It was the childish way out, and they both knew it. He was doing it to goad her. But she refused to reply in kind.

"Mulder, I'm going too. There is something not right here, I know there is. And I for one want to know why this Deep Throat character and all of these other men feel it's necessary to jerk you around."

Whether her response was mollifying him or not was hard to say. He still glared at her petulantly and looked as if he would say no.

"Face it, Mulder, if you try this on your own, you'll only end up in jail or killed. With me along, at least we cut your chances in half." She tried to smile jokingly, to soften the blow. It thawed his stony expression just a bit.

"Scully, this could be dangerous, to both of us. And it could be your career hurt as surely as mine."

"I know that," she admitted. "But I'm your partner and this is an X-file. And against my better judgment and all reason, I'm going too. If nothing else to make sure you get out of this one safe and sound and I'm not having to explain to Skinner why I'm bailing you out of yet another federal prison."

This time he did smile a bit, his mouth quirking up slightly, his eyes wrinkling at the corners as he attempted to hid his amusement.

"All right. I'll meet you at your place. Pack a few things to take with you."

"To where?" Her right hand immediately went to the car key she had in her pocket, her feet turning her to her own car parked on the street.

"I'll tell you when I get there. Make sure to stop by the ATM before you get home. You may need some cash." He moved towards his own car, already thinking five steps ahead of her as he began to weave ideas in his head.

Chapter Text

The man that Mulder knew as Deep Throat looked like an ordinary man. He had the sad, tired expression of anyone who dealt too long in secrets and lies, the sort of world-weariness that sets in when you have seen things you shouldn't have and dealt in things you regret. Scully had seen that sort of look among some of her father's friends. In truth this mystery man looked for the entire world like he could have been someone she would have seen over her parents' house in the years since her father's retirement from the Navy. He was a man in a suit and tie, who went to the office everyday, and drank too much scotch. And he was the man who had been stringing both she and Mulder along for the last year, playing them. For what? Some game apparently he alone knew the end to.

Two security guards eyed the pair of them as they watched Deep Throat, or whatever his name was, wander into the shadows and fog, disappearing from sight only feet away. It had all the mysterious eeriness of an old, spy film. It was as if he had never been there.

"Did you find what you were looking for, Mulder?" Scully's eyes not turning from the spot where the mysterious man had disappeared.

"No," he replied hoarsely, equal parts confused and angry. "It was another one of his games. He didn't want me to find it, but he wanted me to know it was there."

"What was there?" She frowned up at him in the growing mist.

"Alien life." His gaze was distant, thoughtful. "It's strange, he likes to wrap the truth within a lie. And he expects me to pick them out like a man panning for gold dust. He tosses these rocks at me, promising me diamonds, and all I find is some coal and flakes.

"Got any more geology analogies there?" She teased, quietly. He didn't even crack a smile.

"He's been using me, Scully. He's been using me since the beginning. He wants me to uncover all of his dirty secrets, but only the ones he wants me to know about."

"I know," she murmured softly, slipping a slight hand around his arm, tugging him away from the scowling security and the plain military building to the car that sat, waiting.

"You tried warning me." He followed her quietly, like a wounded child, stricken and sullen.

"I did," she replied, glancing back in the direction Deep Throat had disappeared in. "You remember once, not so long ago, you told me that you could only show me the evidence, but that I had to be the one that pieced it together, to finally believe. Sometimes, I think for all of our arguments on points of view and opinion, you and I aren't so different. We stand in our respective corners; the believer and the skeptic, insisting that the other be open minded. And yet in our own ways we are just as closed minded until, unhappily enough, reality comes and smacks us hard in the face."

"So is this your proverbial, face smack," Mulder asked, bemused beneath his anger and confusion.

"I think this is perhaps a reminder to you Mulder of your very own axiom." She stopped at the car, turning her face up to him and looking him straight on. "Trust no one."

He winced as the words fell from her lips, but nodded his head knowingly. "Trust some people, maybe?" He quirked an eyebrow at her, his tone more of hopeful questioning.

"That's up to you, Mulder." Inexplicably her throat tightened as her cheeks warmed despite the chill air. Ducking her head, she turned towards the passengers side, opening the door she had left unlocked earlier. "I hope after all of this time you've learned to trust me, learned that when I start questioning something it's not because I doubt you Mulder. It because I doubt them and what they are doing to you."

Mulder's face was impassive, but his eyes were sad and thoughtful. He nodded, nearly imperceptibly, as he moved towards the driver's side, pulling the keys out of his pocket.

Chapter Text

Somewhere in the distance Scully could smell the wood fire smoke, a sweet, thick scent of burning hickory and some sort of meat product roasting slowly over the low burning coals.

"You ever have Memphis style barbecue?" Mulder could smell it too and he had that gleam in his eye all men Scully knew had when the subject of fire and roasted flesh came up.

"I have," she admitted, though to be honest she couldn't say for sure she understood the difference between any of the so-called different "styles" of barbecue. She admitted that her culinary knowledge was limited to whatever tidbits she gathered from the few fine dining restaurants she had been to and the opinions of what few female friends she still spoke with.

"Nothing beats a good rack of Memphis ribs!" Mulder was practically salivating as he pulled out of the gas station they had stopped at to fill up before driving out to the small town of Kenwood, Tennessee. It was home to the Miracle Ministry and the Reverend Calvin Hartley and his son, Samuel, the boy who could supposedly heal those who were sick or dying. "Supposedly" being the operative word for Scully.

"I tell you what, Mulder," she replied absently. "We get out of this case in good enough time, I'll take you for your ribs somewhere."

"I should plan all of our cases like this," he mused thoughtfully. "Hit up major barbecue joints all over the country. I'm sure we can find something in Kansas City and I have stacks of X-files just for Texas."

"Don't you think that's a waste of FBI resources?" She smirked softly at the map she was reading, looking for the town of Kenwood.

"They already think I'm squandering them, I might as well get some good eats while I'm at it." Mulder was in a good mood, his spirits having lightened in the weeks since the back-to-back cases of John Barnett and the strange betrayal of his one contact, Deep Throat.

"Well remember this isn't an X-file, per se." She shrugged as her eyes fluttered to the rolling hills of Tennessee farmland. "Unless you count gullible holy rollers as being strange and abnormal."

"I have that feeling about most organized religions, but I must admit there is a special place in my cold, agnostic heart for holy rollers." He chuckled at her sideways scowl. "Come on, Scully, think about it. How is the average fundamentalist Christian that different than a Catholic or an Episcopalian anyway?"

"Besides our theology," she asked archly, setting down the map and preparing for one of those heated, religious debate she found herself engaging in with her partner from time to time. "Do we start with our interpretations of the Bible or end with the intolerance?"

"I've studied my history as well as you, Scully, and I have one word for you - the Inquisition."

She knew he was going to bring that up. "That's two words," she snapped peevishly.

"Doesn't mean that it isn't less true. The Catholic Church decades of persecution against Spanish conversos, Jewish converts to Christianity, and lets not forget the Crusades, the persecution of Jews, Muslims…"

"Mulder, do you really want to get into this with me," she cut in, her eyes narrowing dangerously at the side of his head. "I have never denied the culpability of my own church in these things."

"I'm just saying, Scully, before you can't point out the fleck of others people's religious failings, perhaps you should look at the log of your own."

"Cute, Mulder." She knew her scripture as well as he did. He shrugged, smug beside her.

"It's not even the intolerance," she began again, ruminating irritably on the conversation. "It's men like this Hartley that upset me. Most churches, especially most Protestant churches, have room in their faiths for the idea that while God can heal. Sometimes that healing takes its form in trusting in the doctors that give you the care and treatment you need. Men like Hartley play on the fears that all of us have concerning our own death and health. He trumps up the talents that this boy may or may not have, simply to bilk the believing faithful of their money, playing on their willingness to believe that these are miracles of God." It cut to the core of her scientific self, the heart of who she was as a doctor. "They want so hard to believe that God works beyond and above the realms of science, they don't stop to see that Hartley is little different than a snake oil salesman, peddling out panaceas for their woes and sending them home a few dollars lighter in the wallet and no healthier or better than they were before."

"Perhaps I'm a cock-eyed optimist, Scully, but sometimes all people are looking for in this world is faith, something to believe in. Reverend Hartley and his ilk are really doing nothing that hasn't been done before, for centuries, millennia, throughout human history. Why is it any more wrong for him to play into those deep seated needs and desires than it is for any other religious leader out there?"

Why did it sound so obvious and logical coming from Mulder's mouth, she groused privately.

"Because Hartley is giving these people false hope."

"Is it any different than the promise of eternal life, though?" He was in his philosophical mood, another sign his spirits had lifted. Unfortunately for her, it hit on the one major difference between the two of them. In this one area alone in their relationship were their traditional roles flipped, where she was the believer and he the skeptic. And it was unsettling, annoying. She glared darkly at the black ribbon of asphalt in front of them.

"I have an issue with anyone who comes in selling one thing and it turns out to be another, Mulder. And I have no qualms with disrupting this man's ministry if it turns out that what he's been selling is leading to murder."

"There, Sister Scully, I can agree with you," Mulder teased, his attempt to lighten her touchy mood. "And if we do, you still going to let me get my barbecue?" He knew he had crossed a line with her, and he played his sad, puppy-dog face well.

"Another crack about my faith again, Mulder, and you'll be lucky if the word "barbecue" crosses your mind again."

"A rack of ribs, that will put you back in a good mood," he insisted cheerfully as he opened the car windows to the late, Southern springtime.

Chapter Text

"I'll tell you, Mr. Mulder, God watches over his flock," Samuel Hartley called to Mulder, even as the sheriff's deputy led the bruised and battered boy away in handcuffs. "He gives us signs every day. Open your heart. He might just open your eyes."

Mulder's eyes were in fact closed for the moment, the boy's words ringing in the air around them in the dark bar. His hand covered his face where he sat, stooped over the tiny bar room table, Samuel's unfinished beer sour smelling in front of him. Scully watched the boy go, the desperation mixed with utter faith in his eyes. He was little more than a child, hardly old enough to buy the beer sitting on the table, but there was weariness to him, a certain wisdom that interfered with Scully's knee-jerk desire to write the boy and his father off. Common sense told her that they were both full of it. But something told her Samuel believed it. And looking at Mulder, she worried her partner did too. He was shaken by what Samuel had said, especially the fact that this boy, who hardly knew Mulder from anyone, could pinpoint the source of his pain so easily.

"How do you think he does it?" She watched as the deputies placed Samuel into their squad car. The boy cast one piercing look back into the bar, back at them. She shivered.

"I don't know." Mulder was hoarse as he stood, rubbing his face roughly with one hand. "Perhaps he has some sort of psychic ability. Maybe he's just really intuitive."

She thought of the psychics she saw on daytime television, their probing questions that led to some shocking revelation. "I don't know, Mulder. He hit you spot on."

Mulder nodded sullenly as he rose from the table, his face carefully blank. "Maybe it's part of his sideshow shtick." He moved past her, his motions almost wooden, his thoughts elsewhere than in that bar or with the boy who sat in the back of the deputy's car as it pulled away from the dingy bar, the light of a neon Budweiser sign reflecting on shiny black paint on the trunk.

"Do you believe the boy has a gift?" She followed in Mulder's slow steps towards the door.

"You're the person of faith. I'm not. You were the one who stated first off you thought this was all a line of BS." Mulder half-turned, shooting her an aggressively exasperated look before continuing out of the door of the bad. "Why are you questioning that all of the sudden?"

She'd known pushing this would be a sore spot. She only shrugged in the face of his irritation. "Because, Mulder, you are the one who doesn't and you are buying it." She stepped across the threshold of the bar and into the dimming light of day, blinking against the setting sun. "You don't buy into God and miracles but I just saw your face in there when that boy brought up Samantha. And you wanted to believe that."

Mulder clenched his jaw sullenly but didn't reply.

"I just wondered what you made of it," she continued as she moved to their rental car, standing by the passenger side expectantly. She studied the thick coat of dust on the dark paint, avoiding his sharp, stinging gaze.

He silently watched her as she continued to study the car, standing stock still in the gravel driveway, save for the fingers of his right hand that clenched and unclenched around the rental car keys with a metallic clink. They stood there, long moments, before Scully cast him a slight sideways glance, as if to wonder if he planned on standing there all night. Mulder relented, moodily moving towards the drivers seat, both of them climbing inside. Even as he started the car she could feel the confusion and uncertainty that spun in his mind, the painful sting of yet another reminder of his sister's disappearance. It was as if the universe was out on every case to play some sort of cruel joke on him. See that wound you have, Fox Mulder? Yeah, that one we will pick at so that it will never be allowed to heal.

"I prayed for Sam once," Mulder finally uttered, his tone so low it sounded more like a sigh than spoken words. "My parents weren't particularly religious, but I thought that even if they weren't, God would still listen to my prayers. I kept hearing it on TV, those television preachers always saying if you but have the faith of a child, God will answer you." His expression as he pulled out onto the country road was pained and sad, as if he was back to being that twelve-year-old little boy wondering why any of this was happening to his family.

"I didn't even know how to say a prayer. I think I'd last been to Sunday School when I was eight, before Samantha even started school. But I remember sitting in my room one night, listening to my parents argue downstairs, and I remember closing my eyes and whispering out loud. I told God that if he would only bring my sister back, I would give up all of my comic books, I'd give up baseball, and I would do all of her chores till we grew up and moved on our own. All he had to do was bring her back so Mom would stop crying and Dad would stop looking so damned guilty all of the time. I did that every night for a week. I'd go to bed and pray to God to bring Samantha home, to make everything okay again, just the way it used to be. I believed so completely that God would listen to me, that he would hear me and know my request was just, that when I got back from school I would run to her room, thinking she'd be curled up in bed and laughing because I had to go to school and she didn't."

Beside him, Scully felt her heart ache as she watched his sad, green eyes glaze with unshed tears. She remembered those simple prayers too as a child, those quiet deals made between herself and God where if he would only make that one boy at school like her, she would promise to behave herself for a whole year. They were silly, childish prayers, but none of hers had ever carried the full weight of anguished expectation her partner's had, and that completely, instinctive belief of a boy that if he only had enough faith, things could go back to just the way they had been.

"When she didn't come back, I remember being so angry at God. I thought that any deity who would allow such bad things to happen to good people and not try in the least bit to make it right couldn't be any sort of good deity at all. I suppose in the end it didn't matter. When my parents broke up all pretense of religion went out the window too. I think they only got me back into church again for a cousin's wedding and temple for some distant relatives bar mitzvah."

"Fox Mulder, the man of ultimate faith. The one thing that most people believe heart and soul, he can't buy into." The irony was striking to her, as it was to him, because he graced her with a grieved, knowing smile.

"I know. Sort of makes you laugh when you think about it."

"I don't know, Mulder. It makes me incredibly sad. To know that there has been so much pain in your life and that you have never had a chance to find resolution for it. It hardly seems fair."

"Do you think I'm as crazy as you did before?" His question for once wasn't sarcastic, but curious, almost shyly so.

"I've never thought you were completely crazy, Mulder," she denied, ignoring one particular moment in Bellefleur, Oregon, where she stood in the rain laughing at him and telling him that very thing. "Someday you'll find your answers. You'll reach the end of your quest. And once that is done, what will you do?"

"I don't know," he admitted softly. "Depends on if I find her alive or not."

"And if you don't?" Scully feared what he might answer.

"Maybe I should just find her first." He replied wearily. She knew for him the conversation was over.

Chapter Text

Scully had never thought of herself as much of her mother's daughter. As petite, practical and stubborn as she was, she was so much more William Scully than Maggie. But in those moments, standing precariously on the roof of the Kenwood County courthouse, staring over its edge while her partner rooted around in the ventilation system, she could feel herself channeling her mother in ways she never believed she would be forced to do till she had children of her own.

"Mulder, what are we doing up here again?" She closed her eyes as he pulled off one of the ventilation grates and wavered dangerously near the ledge, praying he didn't tip. As was usual with the very athletic Mulder, he not only kept his balance, he didn't even notice that he could have plunged to his death.

He dusted his hands together, squinting at her under the sunshine. "Last I saw of the late Samuel Hartley he had neither a big stick or a long, white flowing beard." Mulder gestured to his own chin absently as he glanced down into the open ventilation duct, bending over to get a good look inside.

"You're point being?"

"Unless Samuel parted the local creek like it was the Red Sea, Scully, I'm not fully prepared to believe that his plague of locusts in the courtroom the other day was a sign from God or anything else for that matter."

"I thought Samuel had you going, Mulder." She pursed her lips together slightly, watching as he pulled out one of his pocket flashlights. "I thought he had you thinking you saw Samantha."

His lack of response told her she was more right than he was willing to ever admit to, at least not out loud.

She glanced down at the street level below her. In front of the courthouse now a small crowd of locals had gathered in obvious curiosity, staring up at her as she stood by. By now, thanks to the many small towns Mulder drug her to in search of weird creatures or alien life, she was used to being the subject of local interest and gossip. Still, she could only imagine what was going on through the minds of the citizens of Kenwood as they stared at the pair of FBI agents on the roof of the courthouse, digging around in the air system, looking for…

"Scully," Mulder muffled call from the vent opening caught her attention, as he held up something grayish and lumpy.

"It's a potato," he answered her un-verbalized question, continuing to stare inside the intake. "Someone left a trail of food in the ventilation system, leading to the courtroom. You dump your locusts in here, instant plague."

"Well, where did they all come from?" She glanced down at the small gathering below. If the antics of Mulder and herself were cause for gawking in Kenwood, how could anyone get crates of locusts to the top of the building and pour them down the ventilation shoot?

"Biological supply houses usually hatch them on order to farms and universities. It shouldn't be too hard to find out who set this up." Mulder dropped the potato down the hole again, wrinkling his nose distastefully at it.

She was impressed; Mulder didn't strike her as the type who knew anything about agriculture. "And you think whoever did this is responsible for the murders."

He nodded, reaching for the intake cover. "We can probably do a quick call around the area, look to see if anyone has made a huge order in the last few days."

"Do you think our suspect would really have bothered using his real name ordering something that traceable?"

"No," he admitted slowly as finished covering the intake and turned to her, face thoughtful. "But I bet his description can't be beat anywhere around here."

Scully frowned at him, as in her own mind she tried to lay the pieces out and fit them together, trying to find the mental leap that Mulder had jumped to.

"Think about it, Scully," he prodded with the childish excitement he always found in mental sparring with her, pushing her to see the things that were right under their noses. "Whoever committed these murders wanted people to start doubting Samuel, they wanted Samuel to stop believing in himself. They wanted Samuel personally to be hurt and question his own gift, whether it was God's hand working through him or not, to ruin his ministry and turn the faithful against him."

"It would have to be someone who was close to him," Scully murmured, working through the different pieces carefully. "Someone who had access to the victims just before they died."

"Someone who perhaps has all the reason in the world to hate Samuel and Hartley for the condition he is now forced to live in." Mulder's hazel green eyes shined at her knowingly, despite the seriousness of the frown on his face.

"Vance!" Scully unconsciously looked in the direction that Hartley's car had driven. She pictured the disfigured but gentlemanly man who had helped the grieving father back to his vehicle, who had promised to speak to the congregation regarding Samuel's death. "But he claims that Samuel saved his life."

"But at what cost?" Mulder cocked his head thoughtfully. "Look at him. Horribly scarred, unable to see properly anymore, and he is at the beck and call of Hartley because he had the audacity to save his life when in all rights he should be dead."

"Mulder, that's even saying that Samuel did in fact raise Vance from the dead." Scully countered logically. "We haven't seen a copy of his medical files, we don't know how serious his condition was..." She was cut off by a wave of Mulder's hand.

"Whether Samuel did or not, Vance believes that Samuel cheated him of a death where he would have escaped the deformity and pain he has to live with now. And I think when we get a hold of those records we'll find he's the one who probably let loose the locusts in the courtroom."

"But…why?" Something was still not fitting into place for her as she carefully followed Mulder to the rooftop access door. "Why would he go to the trouble with locusts?"

"To turn Hartley's congregation against him. To continue convincing Samuel that the Lord had turned against him, much as the Lord turned his face against Pharaoh." The door returning them to the safer and more stable floors below creaked ominously as he held it open for her to step through.

"Ah ha! Look whose been reading his Bible," Scully teased, knowing he had been flipping through the Gideon version that had been in the hotel tell room just the day before. She blinked against the dimness of the narrow stairwell, allowing her eyes to adjust. "I thought you didn't buy into that religious crap, Mulder?" She couldn't help but tweak him, just a little.

"I don't, but I loved The Ten Commandments as a kid. I grew up thinking God really looked like Charleton Heston."

She tried not to snort out loud. "So if Vance is our man, why is it he's the one playing chief consoler to Hartley then? He was the one with Hartley confronting the Sheriff downstairs."

"I don't think Vance killed Samuel," Mulder replied from behind her. "I don't think Vance had any intention of Samuel dying. Discredited, yes, to the point of forcing him to stop his ministry. But I think Vance really does believe in Samuel's powers and I don't think he would be the one to kill him outright."

"Then who?" Scully began, before stopping mid-step on the stairwell, whirling to look up at Mulder. "You don't think Sheriff Daniels had anything to do with Samuel's death?"

"Hartley said it himself. There's blood on that man's hands." Mulder dryly effected Hartley's Southern accent. "I think that Sheriff Daniels was tired of Hartley's influence in the area. And perhaps that means he looked the other way when there were threats on Samuel's life."

"If that's true, Mulder," Scully frowned up at him in the dimness. "Then we would have to get a hold of the DA immediately, have Daniels removed from this case."

"Hold up, Scully." Mulder shook his head ever so slightly. "Before we do that, let's get Vance. Get him in for questioning, see what he has to say before pointing fingers at the locals. Just to be sure." For once, Mulder was the one advising caution, while Scully frowned at him, ready to confront Daniels one-on-one.

"If Daniels has anything to do with this, Mulder..."

"Then it will all come out then. But you know how small towns are and how small town police are. If we want to reach an end to our investigation, we need to get Vance first. Then we can speak to the DA about whatever may or may not come out of that." He frowned as he leaned over her smaller height. "Whether Samuel really could or couldn't heal people with faith, he was just a kid and he didn't deserve to die the way that he did."

That he didn't, Scully agreed silently, as she turned to move down the stairs. No matter how she felt about faith healers and holy rollers, no one deserved to be murdered just because of what they believed, especially not Samuel Hartley.

Chapter Text

"What do you think about Montana, Scully?" Mulder caught her as she was just stepping in the office, her un-drunk coffee and briefcase in hand.

"Montana," she muttered stupidly, as she tried to move past him to her desk, but he simply and gently spun her around to follow him back down the hallway. "It's a big state. It has mountains, horses, not much else." Awareness was finally sinking into her brain as she gulped at the hot, pungent liquid in her covered, paper cup. "Are we going to Montana?" She glanced down at her functional pantsuit and her high heels in distant dismay.

"We are now." Mulder waved the file in front of her as he punched the elevator. "Murder case in Montana."

"Murder?" Again she sounded vaguely dull, her morning caffeine not quite hitting her cognitive reasoning just yet. "When do we handle simple murder cases?"

"Questionable deaths on Native American Reservations without a full police force always get reviewed by the FBI," Mulder reminded her as they stepped into the elevator. "You have an overnight bag in your car?"

"As always," she grumped softly, gulping more of the thick liquid in hopes she could finish it enough to take the file from Mulder for review. "I'm taking it we are leaving immediately."

"You would be correct." The elevator stopped on the floor with the easiest stairwell access to the parking garage. He lit out ahead of her with easy steps. "Apparently there was some sort of land conflict between two members of the Trego Indian tribe and a landowner that holds a ranch adjacent to the tribal lands. Problem is things got ugly, with guns. One of the two Native American complainants was killed."

Scully hurriedly swallowed the last dregs of her lukewarm coffee, tossing the paper cup in the closest desk trashcan, and snatched for the manila folder which Mulder willingly passed over to her. "This is the sort of case anyone in the Bureau could have handled. Why you?"

"Why us," he corrected brightly, holding open the door to the stairwell for her and waiting till she had passed through. "I asked for it personally."

"Why," she reiterated archly as she stepped carefully down the stairs, trying to manage to read and walk in high heels at the same time.

"Parker, the ranch owner, swears he didn't see anyone. He swears he shot an animal."

Sully would too, if she was being accused of murdering someone who was in some sort of land dispute. "Didn't these sort of things die with the Old West?" She knew it sounded painfully arrogant of her, but it was first thing in the morning, and she was being asked to fly - to Montana.

"Hasn't anyone ever told you that old cowboys don't die. They just slowly fade away," Mulder sighed with affected nostalgia.

"You know, I've seen City Slickers, and there's nothing romantic about cowboys, border wars, or disputes between Native Americans and ranchers." She wrinkled her nose as she reached the floor where she and Mulder usually parked, opening the heavy metal with one hand, her face still buried in the file. "It says here that Parker had been seen threatening the boy on multiple occasions, as recently as just a month before."

"Yeah," Mulder nodded knowingly, as he followed behind her.

"Though, it doesn't mean Parker didn't think he saw an animal. I mean, its Montana. Don't they have large things that eat you out there? Mountain lions, bears…"

"You are really not a nature girl, are you?" Mulder found this vastly amusing.

"I like nature," she protested loudly. "I like to enjoy it, walk quietly in it, stare at its untarnished beauty."

"As long as there is a bathroom and a shopping mall within easy driving distance?" He snorted derisively.

"And look who is talking." She pulled here eyes away from the file long enough to stare at him from the top of his neatly trimmed and styled hair, to the tip of his expensive, wing-tipped shoes, making sure to raise a pointed eyebrow at his well-tailored suit. "You scream 'Fox Mulder, man of the wild' every time you step out the door. You're a veritable REI catalogue."

"I would beg to differ, Scully. My father sent me through scouts as a kid, and I do know how to find my way through the woods." He looked only vaguely injured at her insinuation. "I can track an animal, find a trail, and you better believe I know the difference between a bear, mountain lion and human being."

"Because there were so many of them in Massachusetts?"

"Should I bring up now or later your father was a sea captain?"

"What does that have to do with anything?" She frowned as they approached her sedan. Two rows over she could see Mulder's. She reached for her keys, popping open the trunk to pull out her overnight bag, a staple that she now kept with her everyday on the off chance Mulder planned to drag her to yet another case last minute, in the middle of no where…like now.

"Aren't naval captains supposed to know how to survive?"

"Yeah, on the high seas," she retorted. "I can show you how to fish, I can navigate a boat through stormy seas, I can even get you around using only the stars. But Dad only took me camping once when I was a kid. Bill and Charlie wouldn't let me go after that because they said my legs were too short to keep up on hikes." Scully frowned in half-remembered childhood indignation. "I think they just didn't want the girls around, and they went out into the woods to do some primal, manly thing involving belching and peeing standing up."

"You know that whole urinating without sitting down thing is really handy when out in the woods," Mulder admitted brightly as she slammed her trunk closed. "Helps us mark our territory."

"I don't see what this line of conversation has to do with this case or why we are on it."

"First, let's get to Montana, talk to the Parkers and see if they are still sticking to their story about wolves in the pasture."

"I don't know, Mulder," she frowned down at the file in her hands. "This all seems too dull for you to want to volunteer on. Why do I smell a monster or conspiracy waiting for me around the corner on this one?"

He only grinned madly at her by way of response.

Chapter Text

The simple strip of rope and rawhide twisted between her fingers as three animals claws glinted in the dim light of the hotel room, spaced by simple beads. The whole ensemble looked handmade, as if by a child, the sort of thing one would have made at a summer camp or one of those kitschy, Native American trinket stores, pieced together by someone who wanted something that looked vaguely "Indian" and "different".

"What sort of animal do you think has these type of claws," she glanced towards Mulder who lay stretched out on his bed, across from where she sat at the small hotel room table with her laptop. He had been alternately glancing from the baseball game he had found on television, Seattle she thought was one of the teams, and the case file notes he had laying on his chest. He frowned towards the bauble she held out to him, studying it for several quiet seconds.

"Mountain lion is my best bet. They are too small for a bear and wolves are a protected species." He shrugged lightly as his eyes flipped from it to her. "Are you wondering why Gwen gave it to you?"

"Well, yeah." She frowned down at the bracelet, setting it on the table beside her computer. "I mean she has been nothing but antagonistic towards us since we stepped foot on the reservation."

"Can you blame her? She just lost her only surviving kin in what is looking more and more like a murder and as far as most Native Americans are concerned the US government just comes in here only to make nice and keep the peace. I don't think she believes we will charge Parker with anything."

"Do you believe we will charge Parker with anything?" She had to wonder. Mulder was the one bringing up werewolves and J. Edgar Hoover.

He said nothing, but grimaced as his eyes fluttered back to the game on the television.

"I wonder what Gwen will do now," she mused thoughtfully, staring at the jumble that was Joe Goodsnake's bracelet. "She has no family left, her case against Parker will be hopelessly mired by the death of her brother." She tried to imagine what the loss of her entire family; even just one of her siblings would do to her.

"Hard to say," Mulder muttered distractedly as he reached for his reading glasses on the nightstand, staring at one of the photographs from the file intently. "If she doesn't try to exact her revenge on Parker, she may take to wandering."

"Revenge?" Scully blinked at him, the thought having never occurred to her. "You think she'll do something to Parker?"

"She'll try." Mulder didn't seem overtly concerned. "There's nothing left for her here, what does she have to loose?"

Those words sounded so horribly final to Scully, having nothing left to live for, no one to care about, and no one worrying enough about you that you would think before you tried to endanger your own life or bring attention to yourself with the law.

""Mulder, what would happen if you were all alone," she asked quietly, watching him as he seemed lot in thought in the photo.

"Huh," he blinked sideways at her, clearly only paying half-an-ears attention to her thoughts.

"If you were to lose your parents tomorrow, what would you do?"

He was silent for several long moments, staring mutely at her, his gaze distant and thoughtful. It couldn't be the first time he had thought about the possibility, she knew it couldn't be. She had even thought about it herself with her family. Her father was already gone, her mother, while still having many years left to her, would go sometime. Both Bill and Charlie were military men, sworn to serve their country in time of battle. Either of them could see action at any point and potentially die in it. That would leave Melissa, her fleet-footed, romantic sister, who might take off one day to parts unknown, without a word, and never return. All Scully would have left to her would be her sister-in-law, Tara, and with no nieces and nephews yet to speak of, she doubted if Tara would remain close to the sister-in-law she barely knew now. For Mulder, who for all intense purposes was an only child, the question had to have weighed on his mind the minute his sister disappeared and his parents had divorced. She doubted he liked to think about it much. Who did? But certainly he had to have.

"You're on a grim sort of thought process, Scully," he hedged softly, glancing at the bracelet on the table. "Afraid that everyone is going to keel over on you?"

"No," she laughed, though the memory of her father's recent death still pained her slightly. "I just wonder. Our lives our so transitory. People we take for granted now can so easily be ripped away from us in an instant, turning everything upside down." She thought of that horrible phone call, just after the holidays, of her mother sobbing on the other end, of all the things she and her father never got a chance to say face-to-face with one another. "I can't imagine what it would be like for me to lose all of them. I can't imagine what I would do with myself if I found myself utterly and completely alone." The idea frightened her somewhat, thinking she would never have anyone to turn to again, no one who had a shared history or common experience with her ever again. To have those pieces of her heart ripped and torn away forever made her shudder.

"This case has made you morbid," Mulder sighed, sitting up in the bed, letting the notes and photographs tumble to the mattress around him. "For one, Scully, I don't believe that you will ever lose absolutely everyone who cares about you in your life. Just think about it, beyond your family, who make a big chunk of it, you have friends, colleagues, people you befriend everyday." He smiled softly. "You're the sort of person people seem to find it easy to like and admire."

His statement made her blush faintly. "Thanks," she chuckled softly, ducking her head.

"It's true. There is myself." He pointed both hands at his chest. "I have no friends, make nothing but enemies in the Bureau, and have managed to alienate both my parents at one point or the other in my lifetime. I would be in a vastly different boat.

"But they love you, Mulder," she insisted with the blind assurance that everyone had regarding parents. Scully couldn't imagine a parent who couldn't love their child, want to see them grow and prosper and to do well, even when they weren't there to take care of them.

Mulder apparently could. He frowned sadly before looking away, gathering up his scattered papers. "I don't know what I would do if they were gone and I was alone, Scully. But then, I've sort of felt that way since the day Samantha went missing." He didn't sound bitter or angry with this, just resigned. And it was the resignation that bothered and hurt Scully, bringing unexpected tears to her eyes, prickling just on the inside of her nose. She found herself blinking hard, clearing her throat and wondering at the ache she found there.

"You know, Mulder," she offered in a suddenly nervous murmur. "You'll always have me around, if it ever got to that." Could her face be any more on fire, she wondered, feeling her cheeks redden as she spoke. "I mean, well, I consider you a wonderful colleague and a good friend, and…and I would hate to ever see you…you know."

Mulder stopped in his paper gathering to look at her, his eyes unreadable as a soft, bemused smile tugged at his full mouth.

"Its just that….well, Mulder, no one should ever have to be alone, like Gwen. And I don't ever want to see you like her, angry and out for blood for what you had lost."

The bemusement turned to real gratitude as he nodded in understanding. "Thanks, Scully. I'm glad you consider me your friend."

"I hope you consider me yours," she replied hopefully.

"Enough that you wouldn't have to worry about being alone around me." He assured her quietly. "Just as long as you can put up with my taste in movies."

"I won't sit through three hours of porn." She giggled, as his flippancy once again broke the emotional tension between the two of them.

"Not everything I own is porn," he snorted. "I have great sports movies, too!" He gestured towards the Mariners' game.

"That makes me feel a lot better, Mulder," she replied sarcastically. Though, if she were to admit it to herself, in a small way it actually did.

Chapter Text

The moon was well up, silvery and large in the sky, as Scully pulled up to the Parker's rough-hewn ranch house. Lyle Parker was almost falling out of the passengers seat with weariness and emotion.

"You all right," she murmured gently, reaching a hand out for the boy, who looked as if he wanted nothing more than to crawl into his bed and hide.

"Fine," he sighed in response, reaching for his door and climbing out. Even in the dim moonlight there was no mistaking the anguish in his haggard, handsome face, and he paused as he looked into the house, towards the empty rocking chairs that sat on the front porch. Scully surmised that was where his father usually sat when waiting for his son to come home. It was where Parker had been sitting when whatever it was that attacked him had lunged.

"You don't have to stay here tonight, Lyle, if you don't want to," she assured him from across the car, watching him as he moved stiffly towards the steps. "Agent Mulder and I can get you a room at the motel where we are staying, I can be right next door to check up on your wounds if you want." She knew he wasn't feeling one hundred percent yet and was loathe leaving him at home by himself for the night. But he had insisted he wanted to return, to see to the livestock and to return to the familiar things, even if his father was no longer there.

"That's very kind of you, Agent Scully, but I just want to get to bed," he replied sadly. He paused by the shattered remains of one of the chairs, sitting like fragile matchsticks next to the gently rocking, fully whole companion. "My dad carved those himself one summer for him and Ma to sit in on summer nights. She died a few years ago. Breast cancer." He was matter-of-fact about his mother. Perhaps that pain was a familiar afterthought to him now.

"I'm sorry," she murmured as she came up beside him. "For what it's worth, I know how you feel." She looked over the wreckage of the hand-carved rocking chairs. "My own father passed away just a few months ago. It was sudden as well."

Lyle swallowed hard, the sound a small gurgle in his throat as he gulped a quavering lungful of air. "Does it ever stop hurting, ma'am?" He sniffed suspiciously beside her.

"I believe it will, over time," she said quietly in what she hoped was a reassuring manner. Though it would help him tremendously, she thought, if they could find out why and how the elder Parker died, to reassure the young man that it wasn't his fault that his father had passed. That was the sort of guilt that Mulder was good at, she reasoned, and not herself. She couldn't begin to start speaking to it. "Why don't we get you inside, get you cleaned up and into bed. I'll stay here with you, at least for a bit, just to make sure you get to sleep okay." She patted the boy's shoulder as he turned for the house, opening the door inside. She reached for the high light switch

"Power's out," she frowned, toggling it, glancing back to Lyle for an explanation.

"Yep." Lyle made it sound as if this were a common occurrence. "Happens to us all the time, being out here in the sticks. I'll fire up the generator."

He began to move across the room towards the back of the house but hissed suddenly, gasping as he doubled over in pain, tumbling towards the railing of the stairway and grabbing it for support.

"You okay?" Scully rushed to his side, hands immediately flying for his forehead in worry.

"I feel sick," he gasped, his face strained as sweat broke out across his brow, his skin becoming instantly clammy. "Please, help me into the bathroom." He jerked his head towards a wooden door only a few steps away."

"Okay," she whispered as she allowed the taller, heavier youth to lean on her much smaller frame for the few feet it took to get him into the bathroom. He closed the door behind him and she anxiously stood nearby, listening to him as he panted and whimpered inside.

"Lyle," she called worriedly, pressing one ear to the door to hear what was going on inside. "Are you going to be all right? Do you want me to take you to the hospital again?"

"No." His response was strangled, half a sob and half a groan. It wasn't reassuring to her.

"Lyle, I'm a doctor. I can help you out." She didn't know why she felt the need to remind him of this. Perhaps to reassure the boy, in case he was afraid that whatever it was wrong with him after last night was life threatening.

Water began running in the room as she heard the soft crumple of fabric against the door.

"Lyle? Let me come in. Lyle, I want to take you back to the hospital, okau?"

"No, I'll be all right," he insisted firmly. She didn't know if she should believe him.

She pulled away from the door, watching it for several quiet moments. She waited for the sound of the water to stop, for Lyle to open the door, pale and wan, ready to lie down and accept her expertise. But the water continued to run. And now strange moans and grunts could be heard, as a disturbing keening noise emanated from the other side of the door.

"Lyle?" She tried for the door again, but found it locked. Swearing softly under her breath, she moved towards the kitchen of the house, looking for anything she could possibly use as a lock pick or screwdriver.

Not that she knew for certain where the Parker's kept their tools, but as she kept hers in a drawer in her kitchen, she frantically began pulling out ones that looked like they might hold something she could use. She was in luck when one drawer by the sink held all manner of small, utility like items, including a flat-headed screwdriver she quickly grabbed, and ran back to the bathroom door with. Inside, she could hear the sound of the curtains ripping, of the rods holding them up clattering to the ground as Lyle gasped and groaned painfully on the other side.

She bent over to peek inside the keyhole, but saw only the faintest movements of Lyle with no explanation as to what exactly was going on. She stood, reaching on heeled tip-toes towards the highest hinge on the door with the screwdriver, intending to unscrew it from the frame and allow her to swing open the heavy oak rather than uselessly try to kick it in.

She managed to get the first screw out of the hinge when a horrific, animalistic roar emanated from the bathroom where Lyle had shuttered himself, as out of the solid, hardwood door a furry, clawed arm shot out of the middle, splintering wood and coming within inches of gutting Scully as she screamed and skittered backwards away. Tripping over her own feet, she dropped her flashlight and the screwdriver and fell heavily on her backside, the jarring causing her to cry out as the wind knocked out of her. Above her, the arm tried to retreat back into the bathroom and caught itself on the splinters that remained in the hole it had punched into solid oak.

"Lyle!" Scully received no response, only the low, deadly growl of some creature that began to work its arm through the tangle of wood fibers, as the handle of the door began to jiggle ominously to one side.

"Damn it," she breathed, as she quickly scrambled up to her feet and ran up the stairs, her small legs managing two at a time as she sprinted to the top, reaching for the weapon at her side as she did.

Her fingers met empty leather as she stopped, momentarily at the top-most landing, looking behind her for her weapon. It was gone, most likely knocked out during the tumble she had taken below. Her heart fell like a stone as below her she heard the creature finally break free the thick, oaken door and bellow outrage at her, the sound ringing in her ears as adrenaline kicked her brain into overdrive.

"Think Dana," she whispered, as she spied a small, linen closet between two bedrooms in the small hallway area upstairs. She quickly ran for it, opening the bottom most doors, pulling out the heavy blankets piled at the bottom, and crawling inside the small space, pulling her knees to her chin, and the door closed tightly behind her. She waited, holding her breath, watching the play of moonlight and shadow from under the door, waiting for the creature to come up the stairs in search of her. It seemed like an eternity with her sitting in the space, cramped as it was, waiting to hear the monster make its way up the wooden stairway. She felt her hands tremble and she tried to steady them as the skittering nose of claws on finished wood sounded, step-by-step, closer and closer to her hiding place. Was it the wolf creature Mulder was espousing? Had Lyle Parker been bitten, perhaps infected with something that had turned him into the hairy, feral beast she had seen punch through the door below. If he was a wolf man, could he scent smells like a wolf, hear like a wolf? Would he find her hiding there in the small, confined space of the linen closed, rip the door off its hinges as he attempted to get at her, sink his claws into her shoulder as he grabbed her and tossed her about like a rag doll? From under the door she could see the shadow of something large move across the moonlight. Her ears could hear the low, dangerous throbbing of a growl, humming in something's throat. She closed her eyes and prayed then, prayed like she hadn't since she was a girl in her catechism classes. Hail Mary, full of grace…

Somewhere in the distance, outside the house, she cold hear the screech of brakes against tires, as gravel crunched and flew under some fast-moving vehicle. It ground to a halt near the front, and the creature, whatever it was, stopped its low growl and persistent pursuit, pausing to listen. Scully prayed by everything she thought was powerful in the universe that the whoever the crazy person was that had just pulled up in front of the Parker ranch was Fox Mulder and that he knew what Lyle Parker was. Below, she could hear footsteps and someone's faint, hoarse calling. She didn't dare move, didn't dare reply, as the creature's shadow retreated from under the door and she could hear it creep down the stairway, moving slowly towards the bottom, as if wanting to catch the intruder by surprise. She stayed where she was, wrapping her arms around her knees, listening to what was going on below, and praying that the creature didn't kill whoever it was before they had a chance of getting to her. There was a roar from the animal, and the sound of someone firing twice. The creature skittered back up the stairs, its claws scrabbling on the polished wood surface as it ran across the landing and into one of the rooms.

Footsteps pounded up the stairs, heavy, labored breathing that she recognized from Mulder's frequent foot races with suspects. There was yet another roar by the creature as Mulder fired again, though Scully wondered what it was he was shooting at. She had heard the creature run into one of the rooms. Daring to risk it, she opened the closet door just a fraction, enough to peek out onto the landing and see just what was going on. Mulder tall figure stood in his firing stance, gun at the ready as he walked carefully across the landing, scanning both of the rooms. She could have cried in relief for seeing him, if she didn't know that the creature was just beyond one of the two doors, ready to pounce on them both should she distract him. As quietly as she could, she open the door more fully, crawling out of it carefully and standing on legs cramped from their confinement in the small space, wobbly on her high heeled shoes. The movement and noise was enough to distract Mulder, who whipped around on her with athletic quickness, managing to startle both of them as he yelped back in surprise.

"It's okay! It's me!" She held up her hands as Mulder immediately lowered his gun, looking both relieved and terrified all at the same time. "It's me. I don't know what happened. Something jumped me downstairs and I lost my gun." She felt lamely at her holster again, feeling suddenly very foolish and ridiculous for having lost her sidearm in such a stupid fashion.

"I heard it come up here." Mulder nodded his head towards the nearest of the two bedroom doors. "Come on."

"Okaym" she replied, breathless. He moved to level his gun again as Scully moved just behind him to follow him into the closest door, prepared to grab whatever she could as she entered to use as a weapon. Mulder held up his on flashlight as they entered the room, searching the darkness with the narrow beam, looking for any sign of the creature. There was no movement, not even the flash of a reflective eye, but in the next room Scully could hear the faintest of growls. A door connected one room to the other and Mulder carefully lead them both towards the door, gingerly probing the darkness with his flashlight and carefully peeking inside to see where exactly the creature hid.

In the far corner, the creature spotted them and was already prepared to spring. With a roar and a flash of coat in the small beam of Mulder's light, Scully could see the animal leap towards them even as she heard Mulder swear and aim his weapon to fire. But before he could get his round off of his pistol, Scully's eyes were blinded by the white-hot flash of a shotgun as the room echoed with the double barreled roar of gunpowder and metal. There was a yip and a thud just at Mulder's feet. Scully blinked her eyes again to the darkness and tried to see what it was that had nearly killed her partner and herself. Mulder's flashlight found the body lying on the floor in front of them, but it wasn't any animal, wolf or mountain lion. It was Lyle Parker, shot through the side, his blood oozing into a crimson pool spreading over the hand-woven rug on the floor.

"Oh my God," Scully breathed as she stared at the boy's face, now slack in death. "He was in the bathroom, sick, and then the next thing I knew we were attacked by the mountain lion."

"It wasn't a mountain lion, Scully." Mulder's own fear and adrenaline made his voice thin and tight.

Out of the shadow of the doorway to this second room, Sheriff Tskany moved, his shotgun now lowered to his sides, staring at the boy on the floor with a mixture of disbelief and horror. "It's still in a cage out back." He swallowed as he nodded towards Lyle's corpse on the floor. "I heard the roaring and I ran back inside."

"Thanks," Mulder nodded appreciatively as Scully moved towards Lyle's corpse, checking his pulse to make sure he was indeed dead. Though there shouldn't be any doubt as she glanced at the large wound torn through his chest, the two double barrels nearly at point blank range had shattered bone and ripped apart tissue. "He was just sick downstairs, and…and…" She felt her eyes watering suddenly, as disbelief and the unreality of the entire situation slammed into her chest with the force of one of those shotgun blasts.

"The doctor called from the hospital, Scully." Mulder's hand, shaking ever so slightly, found her shoulder and squeezed it gently. "He said he found traces of Lyle Parker's father's blood in his system. The only way it could have gotten there was by ingestion."

"Gwen Greensnake saw whatever it was that killed Parker." Tskany moved to stare over the body of Lyle. "It was enough to frighten her to death."

"A werewolf, Mulder?" She turned to frown up at him in the darkness. "He was just a kid. He had just lost everything."

"Maybe Gwen's curse at the funeral proved true," Mulder murmured thoughtfully. "He lost everything and his heart grew cold."

She sighed, staring sadly at the boy.

"I better give the non-reservation authorities a call," Tskany murmured tiredly. "You'll want to give them your statements, agents. Make sure that no one else wants to make trouble with us over this."

"Sure," Mulder replied as Tskany moved out of the room and towards the stairs, presumably to make the call from his squad car below.

"I don't understand, Mulder." Scully stood finally, turning to him quizzically and away from the tragedy at her feet. "What happened to him?"

"A Manitou, an evil spirit. Every few years the spirit needs to release its blood lust by inhabiting a human. That's what happened to Joe Goodsnake. This spirit overtook him, except he died. The Manitou needed to inhabit another body. And Lyle was an easy victim, there with his father."

How were evil spirits any easier to accept than werewolves? "Mulder, I saw that creature. It wasn't human."

"I agree," Mulder nodded, staring at Lyle's prone figure on the floor. "Not anymore at least. But it wasn't ever going to let Lyle go. Perhaps the Sheriff did him a kindness by what he did."

"Mulder!" She sucked breath between her teeth, shocked that he would say anything of the sort.

"Imagine if you were a man forced to kill those you loved night after night, Scully, unable to stop yourself from turning into little more than a raving animal. Would you want to live like that yourself?"

Lyle's worried pleading, his guilty doubt in the hospital flew back to her. Lyle had suspected he had killed his own father. She wondered if in his heart he had known that was exactly what had happened.

"He was all alone, Mulder." She stooped briefly to brush at the boy's dark hair on his quickly cooling forehead. "Whose going to mourn his passing then?"

Mulder said nothing in return.

Chapter Text

"Scully, I didn't know you owned flannel." Mulder eyed her blue and white flannelled shirt appreciatively. She ignored him as she tossed her backpack into the back seat of their rental car.

"It's what's in, Mulder. All the cool kids are wearing it this year." She closed the door to the back and crawled into the passenger seat, brushing a stray lock too short to be clipped inside her barrette out of her eyes and behind her ear. "All I need is to wear combat boots and not shower for a week and I will fit in completely with most everyone under the age of twenty-one around here.

"Nothing beats the scent of teen spirit in the morning," Mulder quipped as he pulled from out of the small, hole-in-the-wall motel they had stayed in, and onto the blacktopped highway that threaded its way through the tall growth of the Washington forest. She noticed he had prepared for their adventure with Mother Nature. There were few times she had ever seen her partner out of his work dress of well-tailored suits and despairingly ugly ties. It was almost startling to see him dressed in comfortable jeans and a large and fluffy sweater, the sort of clothes regular guys in the real world wore. They were clothes that would indicate to Scully that on occasions, when he wasn't up to his eyeballs in haunted mansions and faith healers, Mulder did have a non-professional, real life.

"So, Scully, I didn't know you owned a pair of jeans." Apparently he had been thinking the same thing about her.

"You know I do have things I do outside of the office." Though if he were to press her on those things at just this moment, she wouldn't know what to tell him.

Mulder eyed one jean-clad leg with playful thoughtfulness before his eyes moved back to the road. "I don't think I've seen you in a pair since…Bellefleur."

It took several long moments for Scully to even remember what in the world he was talking about. "Our first case together?"

"Yeah."

"You drug me out into the woods then too." She grimaced with teasing irritation. "What is it with you and the great outdoors?"

"What? Can't handle the smell of good clean, mountain air, the whisper of the wind in the trees?" Mulder's normal comfortable monotone became fairly poetic as he pretended to take a deep breath and stared up briefly at the towering trees above the road.

"Are you teasing me concerning my lack of appreciation for the great outdoors?" They had just had this discussion before traveling to Montana. It somehow delight Mulder that Dana Scully, the girl who was raised in the military, who could cut up a dead body, stare down a hardened criminal, and was the better shot between the two of them, couldn't tell a bear track from a tire track.

"Tell me honestly, Scully, did you go and get your nails done as soon as I said we were going to the forests of Washington to find missing hikers?"

Her right thumb ran across the slick, perfectly shaped nails on that hand. "You think I can't hack this case? Us running around the woods looking for - what was it again? Bigfoot?"

"I didn't say what it was," he snorted, pulling the car smoothly through a curve in the road. "And you aren't turning this back on to my crazy theories."

"What, so you can make fun of me and my love of civilization, with its hot showers and creature comforts?" She felt her eyebrows arch imperiously at him. "This coming from a man who can't go on a case without having the Knicks game on television."

"They aren't Knicks fans here, they are Supersonics fans." He waggled a finger at her. "And you would know that if you paid attention to basketball."

"And the baseball team is?"

"The Mariners," he replied promptly.

"The football team?"

"Seahawks."

"Their hockey team?"

"No one watches hockey," Mulder laughed derisively.

"I bet that sort of mindset goes over real well in Canada."

"Seattle doesn't have an NHL team, anyway." Mulder shrugged eloquently.

"Do you watch anything that isn't sports, porn or bad science fiction?"

"Is there anything else?" His smirk was teasing, the laughing wrinkles near the corner of his eyes taunting her.

"So you mean to tell me you can suffer for days trekking through poison ivy, snakes, and spiders without you regular testosterone laced fix of fast food and SportsCenter?"

"I think I will manage much more admirably than you will the moment you chip and crack one of those pretty, fake nails of yours."

"So you think. If the two of us go out in the wilderness, who would you say would have the highest probability of coming out in once piece."

He didn't even hesitate. "Both."

"I asked for only one, Mulder." She shook her finger at him, sensing he was cheating.

"No, I mean it," his teasing smile sobered just a bit. "You think I wouldn't stop at anything to try and get you out with me."

For a moment she paused, their friendly banter now taking an unexpectedly serious tone, a sudden disturbance in the back and forth she had gotten used to as their form of mindless conversation. She found herself becoming very interested in the way her usually perfectly calm hands suddenly twisted in her lap, her eyelashes fluttering over suddenly pink cheekbones.

"I mean seriously, Scully," Mulder continued in a cheeky murmur. "You'd hardly survive a night out there without your Ben and Jerry's ice cream and your organic, dandelion salads."

"Dandelion greens," she muttered, snorting softly.

"Things that should be left in a front yard," he retorted. "I wouldn't leave you out there alone, Scully."

"Thanks, Mulder."

Chapter Text

Mist rose like silvery ghosts over the Cascade Mountains, twisting among the tall stands of trees, draping over the taller branches in a scene that could have been considered romantic, even breathtaking. Scully wanted to capture it in her memory, to file it away in the part of her mind unsullied still from the visions of death, mutants, and strange conspiracies. To have this little nugget of sheer, exquisite beauty to take with her, whatever else they took away from this case. If only she could drown out the noise of middle aged, privileged, angry white male from the scene, she grumbled sullenly. Steve Humphreys walked well ahead of her, with the forest ranger, Larry Moore. Yet his voice carried clearly through the still, clear mountain air.

"Those damn, tree-hugging hippies, never did an honest days work I tell you! Most of them come from parents who were the very same, Army hating assholes from when I was younger, back in Nam." Humphreys reached a thick, meaty hand to thump the sturdy Moore knowingly, as if the younger man even remembered the 1960s. "They went around sleeping with one another, breeding all over the place and now those little shits are the ones who lost me some really good men."

"Should I point out to him now or later that some of his men probably had hippie parents, too?" Mulder murmured into her ear softly, his breath whispering across the soft skin of her neck as he grinned wickedly. Despite his long legs, he had chosen to stay further behind, sticking close to Scully who plodded along with much smaller steps.

She craned her head up and sideways to look at him, trying hard not to snort too loud with derisive laughter. "You know he's talking about people our age."

"Were your parents out' breeding all over the place' in the 1960s?" He seemed delighted with Humphreys' choice of words.

"Yeah, did I tell you I just found out my brother Bill was conceived before the wedding?" She still marveled at that bit of trivia, dropped on her the night of her father's unexpected passing. "I guess with four of us they really were breeding all over the place. How about yours?"

"Took them forever just to get me, let alone Samantha. I think the State Department at the time frowned on breeding. Obviously that was Communist behavior and un-American." It was apparent he was having too much fun at Humphreys' expense. "Wonder how long we'll have to listen to him rant like this."

"Honest, hard-working men, just trying to put food on the table for their families. And people like that Clinton in Washington want to give them all of these favors. Treat them like they have a right to complain and carry on their terrorism. Should make that son-of-a-bitch talk to those women I'm having to comfort cause their husbands are missing." Humphreys wasn't missing a beat.

"You know Mulder, he has a point" She hated to admit it, but the blow hard in front of them did. "Whatever these Eco-terrorists think they are trying to prove, there are innocent men losing their lives up here. What they are doing is patently against the law."

"It's no different in its way than the student protests of the 60s, I guess." His expression went from teasing to grave. "I suppose that sometimes when you feel so passionately about something, and no one is listening, the only recourse you have is violence."

"You believe passionately in aliens, Mulder. I've yet to see you whip out a gun and hold the Director of the FBI hostage."

"Don't start putting ideas in my head unless you really want to explain it to OPR when I really do pull that one off."

"Stop it, Mulder," she snorted, reaching behind her for the water bottle in her pack, finding her arms just unable to reach. Seeing her distress, Mulder helpfully plucked it out of one of the side pockets of her backpack and passed it over to her.

"I don't know, Scully, I mean you have to give some people some credit. They want to buck the system, to have their voices heard. And the system tries hard to ignore those people and those voices. Sometimes outrageous acts are the only way they will get anyone to listen."

"Spoken like the true basement dwelling, rebel you are Mulder." She grinned jokingly at him. He shrugged by way of acceptance and rolled his eyes heavenward.

"Still, I might have to pull out my gun on Humphreys if he doesn't shut it," she growled lowly as the man had started now ranting about political correctness and how no one could call non-Caucasian people what they were anymore.

"I mean, seriously, how many so-called 'African-Americans' do you know who actually come from Africa," Humphreys insisted to Moore, who looked as if he wished he had never heard of Humphreys or the term "African-American".

"Errr," he muttered, before Humphreys stepped in, ignoring Moore's attempts to respond.

"Seriously, just because in 60s they decided they wanted to be given equal rights, and that's good and well, I'm all for equal rights, but that doesn't mean you should set yourself apart from other Americans. Most of them haven't had family in Africa for longer than some of us Whites have had family in America!"

Beside Scully, Mulder made a strangled sound and began coughing fitfully, a noise that sounded as if he couldn't decide if he wanted to laugh or strangle himself to get away from the stupidity. The two men ahead stopped to stare at them as Mulder doubled over, choking slightly.

"He's fine," Scully called to them, turning to look at her nearly incoherent partner. "He….just has allergies." To stupidity, she thought to herself, as she grabbed Mulder's heaving shoulder with one small hand and leaned over to check on him.

Humphreys and Moore stopped, watching them uncertainly.

Mulder's face was red, his eyes were streaming, and he remained hunched over, hands on his knees. "I think we've found Rush Limbaugh's long lost, more svelte twin." He murmured just for her ears. "Maybe we'll get lucky and a mountain lion will pick him off as the weakest one of the bunch."

"I don't even think the mountain lion would want him. Too much of a belly ache." She felt her lips quiver as the need to burst into hysterical peels of laughter.

"Bigfoot then?" Mulder gasped softly as she stood up. "Maybe I'll hit two birds with one stone, find him and have him eat Humphreys."

"If Bigfoot won't eat a logger, Mulder, he's not going to eat a right-wing asshole."

"I don't know, Scully. Maybe if he's hungry enough." Mulder shifted his backpack as they started to follow Humphreys and Moore into the woods again, squinting up into the woods to watch them as they walked. "Of course, Bigfoot might have to be desperate hungry."

She snorted softly, picking through the underbrush to follow behind his long strides.

Chapter Text

Darkness was creeping over the mountain, slowly pouring into the valley of the camp sight, shrouding the forest in a thick blanket of velvet twilight. Scully watched the suns last rays disappear beyond the tops of the dense growth of trees, fear filling her throat, even as she kept her face cool, composed, and calm. Mulder could tell the difference though. He had developed the knack of breaking through the carefully constructed walls she slid around herself in times of stress. Call it his profiler's mind, or perhaps Mulder just had a keener insight than the average person did. He called her bluff without her even turning around from the window.

"We'll be fine until morning, Scully." His voice was a low, thrumming reassurance, though she could hear underneath his mellow monotone a hint of white lie just beneath the surface. Mulder was, in his heart, a protector and he found nothing wrong with such simple platitudes in order to reassure those around him that things would come out all right. But Scully didn't need protecting and she didn't need platitudes either.

"You think Spinney will keep his promise?" She turned her chin ever so slightly to catch her partner as he hunched over the cabin's one table, seated watching the darkness fall before Moore, their Forest Service guide, went out to turn on the generator.

"Scully, don't bring this up again." Mulder was testy, his green eyes flashing before he raised the heels of his hands to scrub at them hard. "I fucked up, I know it. Moore's given me enough crap as it is."

"Yeah," she breathed out softly, exhaling a puff of disappointment, but no anger. She had released her anger hours ago, almost the minute she had walked in the door to confront Mulder. It was enough he was had been engaged in self-flagellation over it since Moore had brought it up. She stood silently by the window, waiting for the electric light bulb to spark on overhead, for the circle of light to come over them and protect them from the glowing death she knew would be waiting for them otherwise. She could hear Moore in the back, starting the generator with long pulls of the chain, the engine sputtering to life.

"When I was in med school, they prepare you for death early on." She sighed softly, for no real reason than she just needed to talk. "It's one of the first lessons they teach you, that not everyone you have on the table will be saved. You can't fix every problem and no matter how hard you try, sometimes it's just the way it works. For life to exist, there also has to be death."

"Scully," Mulder's voice was harsh as he pushed back from the table, the wooden chair toppling behind him as his long footsteps came around the table and moved behind her at the window, his long fingers grabbing her shoulders and spinning her around. He wasn't so rough as to frighten her, but he was firm, his face determine despite the fear she saw lurking in his eyes. "We'll get out of here. We'll get the help first thing in the morning. Maybe Spinney will come with the truck, who knows." The familiar sucking in of his bottom lip, the quiet desperation in his eyes. "We just have to wait until morning."

"Morning?" She wanted to cry. Glancing at the graying sky, morning she knew would be ten to twelve hours away. And that was a long time for a quarter of a tank of gas to feed one generator to fuel one light bulb. Her rational mind began to try an ratio out just how much gasoline they would have, would it be enough to get them through the night."

"Stop over-thinking and just trust me on this one." His voice was quiet and insistent. As it always was with the two of them, it was a matter of trust; trust one another when things were at their worst, don't think, don't rationalize just believe. She closed her eyes briefly, internalizing those thoughts, swallowing those words, hoping they would keep her going when everything was threatening to suck her down.

The door to the cabin opened. Moore's heavy, booted footsteps stepped in and stopped. Scully opened her eyes to see him staring quizzically at them both.

"I got everything going for the night. We better hunker down, get settled." He nodded pointedly at both of them and as unobtrusively as possible stepped around Mulder, towards the back of the cabin, stripping off his thick, brown uniform jacket and tossing it on one of the beds like a pillow. He settled himself close behind it.

They both stood there, watching him briefly before allowing their gazes to skim back to each other quietly. She knew he wanted her to believe him, and she knew that if she admitted it to herself, she did. But the fear, the unknown of being in that ancient wood with something that should never have been let out, the idea of not being able to protect themselves from an unstudied, little understood organism terrified her. She had no hard proof they would make it out of this whole and in one piece.

"You think I wouldn't stop at anything to try and get you out with me?" He had said that, just the day before on the drive up into the mountains. His gaze still held that promise. As far as he was concerned, he was going to make it out of here and she was going to make it out with him. She had to believe that would be enough, strange, unnamed bugs be damned.

Chapter Text

The Center for Disease Control doctors had at least given her a mirror. It was a cheap, hand held plastic one, the type she could get at the drug store for a few dollars, but it did the necessary job. Her small, chapped fingers traced the red rashes on her thin face, brushing at the line of her red hair along her temple. So far the CDC dermatologist on staff at the high containment facility had little to give her for the angry, itchy red patches on her very pale skin, but had assured her they would fade in a few weeks. She wondered if she had enough make up to cover it up till then, or if that would only exacerbate the problem. What she wouldn't give for a thick, cool, creamy facemask at the moment and perhaps some cucumbers for the eyes…maybe a spa day…

She would need a spa day after nearly two weeks of confinement in Washington State, with no one but CDC doctors and Moore and Mulder for company. Moore was progressing well, to the point he was making happy phone calls to his wife and children, longing to get out of the facility and back to his home and away from this strange chapter in his life. Mulder, on the other hand, was likewise itching to be out of the facility, when he wasn't skulking in the corner shooting her vaguely guilty, furtive looks when he thought she wasn't looking.

Scully could sense him doing that just now, his sorrowful eyes watching her as she stared at the mirror. Mulder had a guilt complex that NASA could see from outer space, and it was just as predictable. This wasn't the first time in their partnership where she had ever been injured while on a case, but it was the first time she had been seriously laid up by it and much as his own shooting during the Luther Boggs case had startled and upset her, her much serious attack by the strange, glow-in-the-dark insects had depressed Mulder into a gloom she wasn't sure she could lift..a gloom that was seriously starting to grate on her nerves, she realized. She set down the mirror, turning automatically towards his intense gaze. Just as expected, his eyes quickly flew away from hers and he pretended to be grossly interested in a copy of the Spokane newspaper the doctors had allowed them that morning. He had been on the third page for the last three hours.

"So what's new in Spokane, Mulder?" She curled her knees up to her chin on her uncomfortable cot, trying to read some of the wording on the back page. "Find Bigfoot, yet?"

"No, but Crazy Mike's is having a sale on washing machines." He flipped the paper over to show a large, brightly colored add in loud, oversized lettering. "Maybe I should invest in that big-screen TV I've always wanted."

"It would never fit in your tiny apartment." She shook her head, knowing he was evading what she wanted to discuss. "They said we'd be out in three days. I can't wait to get home to some facial cream." She scrubbed at her face lightly. Mulder nodded as he returned to staring at the paper.

"Do you plan on sitting there sulking till we get back to DC, Mulder, or will you just continue to be fascinated by Crazy Mike's big sale?" She wanted to pluck the paper from his fingers, to force him to look at her and discuss this as grown adults. Though, she reminded herself softly, Mulder in many ways was never emotionally an adult, stunted forever as the pained boy who had never grown up. "You know, you can't hide from me forever behind newsprint. This wasn't your fault, Mulder, any more than the sky is blue or the trees are tall."

She had pointedly used the tree analogy to elicit a response from him. He finally did glare at her around the side of the paper, his green eyes slits behind dark eyelashes, his clenching jaws pushing his soft mouth into that irritated pucker that formed when he was angry or in avoidance. It was his warning to her to leave well enough alone, usually. But she was bored, cooped up, and tired of having him cast her angsty looks. She crossed her arms and cocked her head, meeting his irritated look with one of her own.

"What do you want, Scully," he finally droned, moving his face back behind the paper.

"I want you to stop acting like it's your own personal fault what happened out there." She flung a hand wide in the general direction of the outside of their small, quarantined hut, not even sure where the forest was in relation to where they were. "Last I knew, Fox Mulder no more controlled nature than he did his own eating habits, so why in the world are you acting like you were the one who personally cut down that tree and released those creatures into the world?"

"Scully," he snapped, lowering the paper with a singly flick of wrist, tossing it to the floor as the temper she had goaded out of him finally snapped. "You were lying beside me dying and you act as if it was nothing more than just an irritant that has ruined your complexion for a couple of weeks." He scowled darkly, leaning over from where he sat on his cot, his hand holding him steady as his tall body nearly covered the space from his cot to hers. "Do you know how close you were to not being here? Hours!"

"How were either of us supposed to know about what was out there," she replied evenly in the face of his frightened frustration. "It's an occupational hazard."

"It's one that nearly got you killed."

"Should I bring up that nice scar you have on your left thigh or not?" She tossed out her ace against him lazily, anger lacing her light words. She felt her own eyes narrow hard at him, even as he physically invaded her space. "I remember trying to staunch the flow of blood out of a leg wound you received in the line of duty. Since it was only four months ago, I doubt you've forgotten it.

Just as she suspected her words sank through. She saw his right hand move unconsciously from the cot frame to his thigh, rubbing the area she knew must still be pink and visible, before throwing himself back enough to rise from the cot and pace away.

Not that he could get very far. The area was completely enclosed, and save for the napping Moore, he had no one to talk to or anywhere to go. He turned on his heels when he reached the corner and glared back at her, his jaw set so hard she could see it working from where she sat. She only shrugged back at him, mildly, waiting for him to process her new parry and to blow up at her again. It was Mulder's way, he would blow up, throw a fit, and she would try to react reasonably and calmly. Well, if he didn't manage to push any of her buttons in return.

It took several long moments, before his shoulder's finally slumped under the flimsy, cotton gowns the CDC staff had passed on to them to wear. His face softened to weariness as he slowly moved back to his cot, his hands akimbo at his waist as he looked anywhere in the cramped, confined space but at her. "I promised I would get you our with me, Scully. And I nearly didn't."

His admission at once warmed her and frustrated her at the same time. "It nearly got you too, for what it's worth."

He grimaced, but there are least was a hint of a smile floating across his expression. "Somehow I think I would have been OK with that."

"I wouldn't have," she growled in exasperation. "Mulder, you can't save the world, you know. You can't even always save me. Not that I need saving, or want it. And certainly I won't stand for you sitting around beating yourself up or shooting me guilty looks for the next three days just to sooth your aching conscience."

She was going to go somewhere she knew he really wouldn't like and was sure to start an argument, but it had to be said, it had to be gotten out there. "Despite my close proximity in age to her, Mulder, I'm also not your sister."

The dropping of that bombshell had the expected effect. He reared his head back, his heavy eyelids widening as his mouth opened ready for a stunned protest. She simply held her hand up to stop the outrage before it even began. "I'm not saying you consciously equate me to her. But I'm a grown woman, Mulder, with an older brother and a younger brother who are bad enough, I don't need my partner to be the one playing hyper-protective of me every time I turn around." She tried to soften her words with a grateful smile. "Though I am glad that after all this time you see me as less of a threat and an annoyance and more as a friend who you care enough for to make sure that I don't end up on death's doorstep."

Her words had a slightly mollifying effect, his anger giving way to quiet frustration and grudging acceptance. "Of course I'd come for you, Scully. Despite every worry and misgiving you gave me that first case together, your insight and knowledge has furthered my work in ways I didn't even think possible before you joined the X-files." His eyes turned to hers, for a moment so full of unspoken emotion, it frightened nearly as much as those moments when they blazed with the intensity of his belief. "And if it weren't for you I probably would have been out on my ass months ago. I never want to see you hurt for the mistakes I've made and the decisions I've come to. It's bad enough my ass ends up in the sling more often than not, but I won't risk your life on top of it."

So there they where, she realized, watching him, her arms crossed as they stared at one another, unspeaking. She didn't wish to be kept in a bubble, and he didn't want to drag her down to the end that he himself suspected might be waiting for him because of his all consuming quest. What an impasse, she thought quietly, neither one of them would effectively win this argument. She would tug and pull to live her life by her own rules, and he would always fear for what his actions could do to her as his partner. And she couldn't say he was totally wrong in having those feelings. But she wasn't about to be hemmed in by them either. For now, at least, perhaps she could smooth them over, put this behind them for now, at least till they got back to DC. And at least till she had her first bath…and a cup of coffee…and a facial…and her own bed at home, all of these things could come before she tried to confront Mulder again about this.

"At least, Mulder," she sighed finally. "Don't stare at me as if I'm going to disappear on you. I promise that no one is taking me anywhere, at least not without me kicking and screaming first."

He nodded a silent affirmation, before collapsing moodily on himself, stretching his long, gown clad body out on a cot that was much, much to short for his very long legs.

Chapter Text

Scully wasn't surprised that Walter Skinner was a military man. She could tell the moment she met him months ago he had to have been a Marine. She had spent her entire life around such men as him, focused, determined, by-the-book players, loyal to country first, each other second, unflinching, unbreakable, and unrelenting. They were the type who would make good Assistant Directors in the FBI, she thought mildly, the sort of men who not only instilled confidence, but also brooked no argument within their ranks. She wasn't particularly surprised to see a man such as Skinner in the position of being her superior. She was surprised, however, to see the man who sat behind him in his office, unspeaking, nonchalantly watching her private meeting with him as if he belonged to the room, like a picture or a potted plant. He had been standing in the corner since the moment she arrived, hardly acknowledging her or the proceedings. Despite the no smoking rule in the building, he gazed out over the city of Washington with a lit cigarette burning lazily in his hand.

The acrid smell of tobacco smoke seemed to punctuate Skinner's words, as he scowled at her over the rims of his gold-wire framed glasses, a vein bulging slightly close to the top of his bald head. Scully felt her eyes slide from her supervisor's angry scowl to the cool, serpent gaze that stood behind Skinner, the tired old man who she had seen once before. He had been in Section Chief Blevins' office the day she had been assigned to the X-files. He was the man who had sat in on Billy Miles' interview with Dr. Werber after the first case she had worked on with Mulder. He was the shadowy figure that seemed to flutter on the edges but had no name and no reason for being there.
He met her steady gaze with his own, guarded, unflappable, even somewhat amused that she was studying him so. Smoke leaked lazily out from his full, chapped lips, encircling his face with a thick haze. Scully turned back towards her irritated boss, whose dark eyes hadn't missed her brief glance just over his shoulder.

"May I ask, sir, what more you require?" She was cool and professional, as always, respectful of AD Skinner and his title. But she was all too aware of the tension that lay in the room like a white elephant, the thing that no one wished to say or bring up.

Skinner was aware of it that was for certain. His dark eyes turned briefly as he glanced over his shoulder at his cigarette smoking compatriot. The old man seemed bored with the proceedings or at least unwilling to comment with Scully sitting there directly in the room. He instead pretended to be interested from the view of Skinner's upper floor office, staring out into the sunlight of the DC spring. He ignored them both as they watched him. Was he from OPR, she wondered? The Justice Department? The White House? Perhaps he was NSA or CIA? What possible reason could this man have for suddenly appearing in private meetings within the FBI obviously exerting some sort of influence on those who supervised herself and Mulder? She thought briefly of Deep Throat, the shadowy figure who had been pulling Mulder's chain for as long as she had known him. Perhaps Deep Throat wasn't alone in playing his sordid games with government officials. The idea bothered and chagrined her.

"What I require is increased frequency of reports. Conventional investigation. In short, Agent Scully, it is your responsibility to see that these cases are by-the-book." Skinner had turned his attention back to her with a tone that reminded her painfully of Daniel Waterston when she had been one of his students. Think within the lines of reason, Dana. Don't look outside for trouble. Perhaps that argument worked best when dealing with a patient's heart or their health in general. But in the short amount of time she had been assigned on the X-files, skeptic that she was, she knew that the cases they investigated, the work that they did hardly fit into the same investigative mold that your standard FBI led investigation would. After all, she remembered with distinct distaste, Tom Colton had tried the tried-and-true FBI investigative technique on the Eugene Tooms case just a year before. She sighed, thinking of Mulder on his way to Baltimore and Tooms' hearing,

Scully decided to play her diplomatic card, "I understand, however, conventional investigation of these cases may decrease the rate of success."

Behind Skinner, the cigarette smoker moved to put out the end of his still smoking butt, his nicotine stained fingers crushing it lightly into the crystal ashtray with the FBI logo embossed neatly on the bottom.

"Agent Scully you were brought on to the X-files to bring sanity and order back to a department that was getting radically out of control." Skinner glanced sideways at the man as he stubbed out the end, his fingers steepled in front of him. "With current budget cuts, we are being asked to do more and more with fewer resources. US taxpayers give you and Agent Mulder your paychecks and they don't pay for you two to conduct slipshod investigations, traveling all over the country chasing after half-formed ideas born out of Mulder's perusal of the Weekly World News." He scowled at one particular file he flung across his desk at her. She took it between her thin fingers, and flipped it open briefly, yet another browning newspaper clipping attached to the paperwork necessary to open a case file.

"Whether it decreases your rate of success or not, Agent Scully, I will not have good money go after bad with you two. Mulder knows he's treading on thin ice already. And I won't have a good agent go down with him, not when it's within her power to prevent that." His gaze was pointed, his face softening ever so slightly. "Agent Scully, I know it isn't fair what you were assigned to do, what we asked you to do. And I know that Agent Mulder by far isn't the easiest partner to work with. But your cool head and your reason was chosen specifically for this assignment." He frowned apologetically at her. "You're a damn fine agent, as good of an investigator as we have here. I am relying on you to keep Mulder on the straight and narrow and to report back to us when he is not."

"Spying, then?" Scully felt the word slip out of her before she could catch it, causing Skinner to grimace in brief alarm as he glanced over at the inscrutable face of the gimlet-eyed fellow in the corner. The other man's face remained passive, and he continued to say nothing.

"Sir," she cut in smoothly, wishing more than anything to get out of this office, to end this meeting, to extricate her from these circumstances. "I joined the FBI because I wanted to make a difference. Because I felt here I could use my intellect and skills to not only help bring about justice, but to find the truth." She emphasized the word truth as Skinner leaned back further in his chair, his alarm now hidden under a careful mask of military inscrutability. "While I will be the first to admit that I do not always agree with Agent Mulder's methods or how he comes to the conclusions that he does, the fact of the matter is that more often than not he is right."

Not that she would ever admit to that to his face. But it was the truth. And she wasn't going to shy away from it. "I will try, sir, to be more thorough in documenting his work, to try and bring more science and proper investigative methods to the cases." There, she thought, she could agree to play nice for the time being, something she doubted Mulder would ever agree to do.

"But," she continued, feeling the slightest hint of rebellion rise within her as she met her boss's gaze frankly. "Sir, Fox Mulder is one of the best criminal profilers that has ever come out of the FBI. Even before he took the X-files, no one quite understood how it was or why it was he came to the conclusions that he did. No one complained as loudly then when he was catching serial killers and bank robbers. I think, and this is speaking from my personal opinion, sir, Agent Mulder is best working just the way he always has. I think to ask him to do otherwise is not only unfairly hampering his gift as an investigator, it is denying the FBI of a valuable resource."

There was a long silence after she had finished speaking, one in which Skinner tore his eyes from hers and busied himself with studying the top of his immaculate desktop. The man in the corner continued to say nothing, but he did reach into his coat, pulling out a crinkling, plastic wrapped box of cigarettes, silently pulling out yet another pale tube of tobacco that he placed between his wrinkled, drip lips. As he placed the pack back into his coat pocket she noticed the Morley brand. Her mother had smoked those once, long ago.

"Your opinions are duly noted, Agent Scully," Skinner finally murmured into the silence, his tone that of military neutrality. Her father had used it often enough. It was the tone of someone who at least respected what you said, even if they weren't going to budge and were going to make you do what you didn't want to do anyway. "I will expect to see your reports with a little more regularity and further detail from here on in?"

"Of course, sir," she replied stiffly, not daring to give him the satisfaction of looking disappointed.

"That will be all, Agent Scully." He nodded by way of dismissal; reaching for a desk drawer for files he pulled out and made himself busy with. She watched him for the briefest of seconds, before glancing up at the other man. He seemed to be oblivious to the proceedings. Instead he had now lit his cigarette, and was pulling off of it in long drags.

Slowly she rose from her chair in front of Skinner's large, intimidating desk, and made her way out of his office. She stepped out into the outer office where Kim, his secretary nodded and smiled as Scully made her way out into the hallway. What business did this stranger have with the X-files, she wondered. And what pull did he seem to have over Skinner and all of those in the FBI who watched over the careers of her and Fox Mulder? More so, why was it they chose her of all people to assign to the X-files to work with Mulder? Much against her will, Tom Colton's words from a year before haunted her as she made her way to the elevators. He had warned her then, he had said she might be used to trip Mulder up. Either she would be the tool to tear him down, or she would be the bait to ensnare him in such a way that he would be distracted from his quest. A lump formed in her throat as she reached the basement office, her steps echoing loudly in what she knew would be an empty basement.

Mulder had shut and locked the office. He was already well on his way to Maryland to the hearing of Eugene Tooms. It had shocked them both when news had gotten back to them that the man who had attempted to viciously attack Scully just a year ago and rip her liver out in her very bathroom was now up for a mental health hearing in the Maryland courts, apparently "rehabilitated". Scully had been angry, but Mulder had been incensed. She was supposed to be there with him now if not for her impromptu meeting with their boss that morning.

She thought of Mulder's anger when he had found out about Tooms, his righteous indignation as he had carried on about how she had nearly died at his hands and what judge in the country would allow a man with that sort of history out to attack again? She imagined he was up there right now, trying to convince the courts that Tooms really was a hundred-year-old mutant surviving on the livers of the unsuspecting,and she had a sinking feeling Mulder wasn't going to get very far in his argument. She coupled Mulder's irritation with the their case of just a few weeks before in Washington state, where they had nearly died from their attack from the strange insects in the Cascade Mountains. They had argued then, Mulder feeling guilt over her near death by his side up there and insisting that he refused to have her sucked into consequences of his decisions, to be caught up in the dangerous games that others insisted on playing on him with the truth, with his quest, with his search for answers.

Too late, Mulder, she sighed unhappily as she grabbed her purse and briefcase from behind her table. Colton had been right, she realized. She had been put on this case to bring Mulder down, to question him and help tear down his work. But she'd also been put here for a much more insidious reason. Fox Mulder would come to respect her and her work and come to depend on her trust. And that was a much more powerful weapon to use against him than sending in a spy any day.

She swallowed hard as the predicament she found herself in finally smacked her full in the face, fear tearing at her reason for the briefest of moments. One misstep, she realized, one false move on her part, one unfinished report, one unsubstantiated claim, and it would be all the reason anyone in OPR would need to close down Mulder's work for good. And what was more, once it was closed, she could be reassigned to anywhere; Quantico, a field office, someplace far away from Mulder and his work. And if that were to happen, any hope of Mulder behaving himself or playing nice would be lost. His quest would be left unfinished, he would be successfully removed from the FBI and Scully would be allowed to continue her career as the rumors and stories of Fox Mulder would fade from everyone's memory. The strange case of Samantha Mulder would be forgotten, the truth of her existence buried forever.

Involuntarily Scully crossed to Mulder's desk, to the small, framed picture he kept of a dark-haired girl of eight, sitting on a playground set. She shared her brother's keen, direct gaze, her eyes slightly more gray than green and lacking the heavy lids and poignant expressiveness that their mother Teena and Fox shared. Her full mouth smiled despite some gaps in her bottom teeth, her long legs swung below her promising all of the height Fox had. She would be a tall, graceful woman now, Scully realized, probably doting on the elder brother who would be just as sarcastic and most likely just as annoying as he was now, but without the heavy cloak of sadness, the cloying guilt, the unanswered questions that seem to drive him. How life would have been different for all of them had she not been taken that November night in 1973? Would Scully be working with Mulder even? Would she be drawn into this unconscionable situation where either way she turned, she would be destroying a good man and his work?

Frustrated, she set the picture frame back on her partner's desk and turned for the door, her steps quick in anger as she moved back out the way she came. Mulder would be waiting for her in Baltimore, and it would take her at least an hour to get to him. Skinner's admonitions murmured insistently in her mind as she angrily slammed the door behind her, and marched down the short length to the elevators, wondering if there was anything she could do besides what she was told.

Chapter Text

"Scully I think you should ask for a security detail, someone to watch out in front of your apartment." Mulder was deadly serious as he loomed over her table, hands at his waist, leaning over her as if to shield her from something. She could see the variety of different, horrible possibilities playing across his burning, green eyes.

"Mulder, I'm not asking for a security detail," Scully rolled her eyes over a forkful of limp lettuce and non-fat dressing. "What would I put down in the request anyway? 'Excuse me, a liver-eating mutant was just released and may be targeting my ripe organs for harvest before he crawls into nest to hibernate for the next thirty years'?"

Mulder actually blinked at her as if this sounded perfectly reasonable to him. She shook her head and continued eating.

"Scully, I'm serious, this man targeted you once before."

"And in your professional, profiler's opinion he can target me again, I get it." Scully shrugged as she set down her plastic fork into the container, admitting silently to herself Mulder did have a point. He had been stalking about their office for the last hour since their return from Baltimore, yanking files, and shouting about the stupidity of the Maryland court system for allowing Eugene Tooms a second chance at freedom - and further victims.

"Skinner is never going to approve further security for me without a damn good reason, Mulder." She chided up at him, disbelief to irritation crossing his expression in a matter of milliseconds. "What am I supposed to tell him?"

"That a man who has already attacked you once is out and could be threatening you again!" He made it sound so simple.

"The judge and his court-appointed psychologist have already found Tooms rehabilitated. They've presented evidence that has satisfied everyone on this matter except you. And frankly, you are the one right now who is sounding like they need to be looked at by a mental health professional." It was the closest she had come to calling him crazy in a long time. "I'm not running in to Skinner with this little evidence, based on your paranoia alone. Skinner would never approve it."

The high dungeon, that righteous indignation that always liked to rear it's ugly head with Mulder when he was in one of these moods came out in full force, his full mouth snarling slightly. "Skinner would never approve it or you would be too afraid of what he thought to bring it up?"

If he had smacked her face she didn't think she could be more stunned. "What are you suggesting, Mulder?"

His temper was getting the better of him and he snorted derisively as he whipped around quickly towards hid desk, grabbing the NBA regulation size basketball he kept on his filing cabinet, and palmed it in one, large hand. "You had a meeting with Skinner this morning."

They had this discussion already, in the courthouse, as Mulder had stared at her, shaking his hard head sadly. "You already said it, Mulder, they reeled me in and skinned me. I suppose it is a crime if I want to do as my boss asks me and try to keep things sane for once around here." She leaned back in her chair, arms crossed under her breasts. "Did it once ever occur to you that part of the reason I was placed here was not just to reign you in, it was because they knew you'd come to depend on my place in your work?"

The idea apparently hadn't. He was so startled he dropped the ball he was tossing from hand to hand briefly, the leather slapping against the tile floor for an instant, before his hands quickly grabbed it back. "So you're saying that that you think they put you here with me not just to discredit my work, but to somehow mentally seduce me?"

"I don't know about 'seducing', but think about it. My reports are used to tear down your work. They close down the X-files. I get reassigned, you are left to flounder in wherever they stick you until you finally up and quit, thus ridding the FBI of a troublesome agent." She hated to bring it down to this. She hated to make these insinuations to him. "What if, hypothetically I was put here not to just spy on you, but to undermine you in the most nefarious of ways? If I don't play along with them, if I don't try to keep you honest here, they will use that as a way to take this all away from you."

"And take you away, too." His eyes narrowed at her as he spun the basketball around on one finger lazily, letting it fall back into the palm of his right hand. "But then you would get out of here, Scully. Go back to being a forensic pathologist. Wouldn't have to be 'Mrs. Spooky' anymore?"

Tom Colton had mentioned the derisive nickname and she no more liked it now than she liked it then.

"Mulder, I don't plan on going anywhere," she replied evenly. "And I don't plan on letting them take this away from you." She waved towards the worn, metallic gray filing cabinets where the hundreds of X-files resided. "But you'll have to let me do what they ask. You'll have to trust my instincts on this. And you'll have to listen to me when I tell you that something isn't going to fly well with Skinner or OPR will lock this place up tight, and there will be nothing I can do to save it or you from what is about to happen."

Whether Mulder was listening, agreed with her, or even disagreed with her was hard to say. He was too busy staring at the orange ball as it passed one had to the other in front of him, his face grim.

"I'm not trying to run with the devil here, Mulder. I'm not willing to put my career above your work. But I need you to understand the very real danger you are in at the moment."

She stared hard at him, hoping to gain some sort of acknowledgement. Instead, he set down his basketball on the desk, stood up from his chair and moved towards the doorway, his hands automatically going to his right hand trouser pocket where she heard the jingle of his car keys.

"Mulder, where are you going," she asked in slight alarm as he strode through to the hallway, his tall back straight in that indolent swagger he had when he knew he was doing something that would get him in trouble.

"Nothing you should know about, Scully. Not if you are playing by the rules," he drawled insolently as his footsteps led him down the tiled hallway to the elevator.

She was silent, staring after him for several long moments, speechless in anger until she heard the opening and closing of the elevator doors.

"God damn it," she finally shouted in the direction he went, her own temper giving way now that she was alone, her pen flying across the room to smack harmlessly against the office door, bouncing off to skitter across the floor. Her eyes welled up with angry tears as she slumped into her chair, livid. "So much for me trying to save your ass, Mulder."

Chapter Text

"Am I to believe, Agent Scully, that you are attempting to requisition FBI resources to further an investigation against a man whom the State of Maryland has just released?" Walter Skinner had the unique ability among FBI Assistant Directors to sound both sarcastic and angry without even elevating his blood pressure. He sat, cool and stern behind his large desk, his frown firm as he raised his eyebrows behind his glasses, Scully sitting in front of him in the now all-to-familiar position she found herself now at days where the X-files were concerned.

"I'm requesting resources that will aid in the furthering of an investigation that will help close a cold case from Powhatan Mill from thirty years ago, sir," she replied evenly, despite the fact that neither the local police nor the FBI had any real vested interest in further looking into the Ruxton Chemical Lab.

"The Baltimore police haven't put in a request and so far as I can tell, Agent, the only reason you have to dig around there is this crazy idea that Agent Mulder has that this Eugene Tooms is some sort of mutant freak out to steal people's livers." Skinner let the last words of his sentence drip with dubiousness. A vein worked in his temple beside the ring of gray-sprinkled dark hair around the sides and back of his skull. "Agent Scully, after our discussion yesterday, I was certainly not expecting for you to turn right back around and ignore everything I had asked of you."

"Sir," Scully cut in firmly and smoothly, knowing if she didn't the irate Skinner would begin a full-blown dress down without even hearing her reasons for furthering the investigation at the chemical plant. "Detective Briggs's theories are not new or unfounded. If you recall in our last report regarding Mr. Tooms it was his belief that our profile fit what he knew of the victims from thirty and sixty years ago."

"I recall, Agent Scully. I also recall Agent Mulder's allegation that Eugene Tooms, along with his penchant for eating fresh human liver, apparently lives forever."

"Yes." Scully swallowed, cursing the fact that it was her once again trying to make sense of the ridiculousness of the situation to their boss as Mulder was blatantly breaking the law and stalking Tooms. "Detective Briggs believes that the one missing victim from the 1930's murder might still be there, buried, somewhere in what is now the Ruxton Chemical plant. It is his belief that if Tooms is involved with this, that he hid the body there to cover up any evidence that would link the deaths back to him."

She waited quietly as Skinner blinked at her, his dark eyes unreadable as somewhere in his large, paneled office a clock ticked the seconds ominously. Scully cleared her throat briefly, looking away from her boss and studied her hands folded neatly in her lap. She wondered, briefly, where her boss's new best friend, the man with the Morleys, was today. Perhaps, since this was an unplanned meeting, he hadn't made time to come and snoop into the affairs of the X-files.

"Did it ever occur to you, Agent Scully, that perhaps Agent Mulder is becoming hysterical about Tooms's release and that you are feeding into it?" Skinner obviously believed this made common sense. Scully's couldn't dispute this. She had thought of this, of course, even as Mulder's angry ascertains that she had already sold out to Skinner and those who wished to shut him down reverberated through her head.

"Sir, I realize that Agent Mulder's theories are…unorthodox." To say the least, she thought silently. "But as we discussed yesterday, when I sat in this office with you, my purpose on the X-files is to use proper investigative methods and to end the waste of time and resources without hard results." She nodded her head towards the forms on Skinner's desk, her red hair brushing into her eyes briefly. She raised a hand to push it behind an ear. "I thought, sir, that you would appreciate the effort I am trying to make towards your instructions."

Skinner's frown deepened as her words twisted around him, turning his edict to her back on him. If she was being used to entrap Mulder, no reason she couldn't do it with style. She smiled silently to herself and kept her expression as neutral as possible as she confronted her supervisor in innocent confusion. He had no rebuttal, only working his jaw, silently clenching and un-clenching his teeth as his stubby, blunt fingers tapped themselves over the paperwork. Then silently he broke his irritated gaze from hers and reached for a pen on his desk. With hard, sharp scribbles he signed off on the bottom of the document, before spinning it around and sliding it hard and fast across the glossy top of his desk.

"You and Mulder better turn up some real God-damned evidence this time, Agent Scully, and I don't just mean having one of you jumped by Tooms and nearly killed." He glowered darkly at her as he nodded towards his door. "You're dismissed. And I want a full report on what you find there at Ruxton; a full, complete forensic report, and I want it on my desk in two days. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sir." She nodded promptly, her small fingers reaching across his desk, pulling the paper towards her, as she quickly rose from the chair in front of Skinner's desk, straightening her suit as her small steps moved smartly towards the door.

"Scully!" Skinner's voice was soft and hard behind her. "You realize that it won't take much to tear down everything that Mulder is working on. All they need is a reason. And there is no better reason than wild goose chases that produce nothing and use up resources that others could use for what is perceived as legitimate work." Scully turned ever so slightly to stare at her boss. He had turned his desk chair to her, sitting ramrod straight, ever a Marine in his bearing and demeanor. "Take my advice…make sure that whatever you find, you make it sound like it's important to this case. Don't give them the reasons they're looking for."

Chapter Text

It was useless trying to talk Mulder out of anything he had his mind set on, especially an illegal stake out that had cost him three days worth of sleep and had gotten him no further on finding anything concrete to pin on Eugene Tooms. His weariness was palatable as she sat beside him in his dank car filled with the unpleasant smells of half-congealed pizza slices and stale, greasy hamburger containers. He looked tired, nearly radiating aching exhaustion, but he was determined to see this through, stubbornly so, even when she was the one busting her ass in the labs and doing the forensic work that might actually yield the results he was so desperately looking for.

"Mulder, you know that proper surveillance requires two pairs of agents, one pair relieving the other after twelve hours." Perhaps reminding him of the regulations would clue him in on just how thin the ice they sat on was, just how little wiggle room for error Skinner was allowing them. Their boss's pointed warning as she had set of for Ruxton Chemical was an all to poignant reminder that one false step by either of them in this position and the X-files would be taken away and shut down, and her partnership with Mulder ended.

"Article 30, paragraph 8.7?" Mulder quoted the line and page as if he had it memorized and knowing the arrogant bastard he probably had. Which made it all the more irritating that he was ignoring the very rules by which the FBI functioned for both their own safety as well as good, investigative techniques.

"This isn't about doing it by the book." She snapped angrily, wondering if he even understood the gravity of their situation. "This is about you not having slept for three days. Mulder, you're going to get sloppy and you're going to get hurt. It's inevitable at this point."

The soft frown he shot her way wasn't unreasonable, but it was tired. "A request for other agents to stake-out Tooms would be denied. Then we have no grounds."

He wasn't wrong in this. She knew he wasn't. But the man was barely keeping his eyes open as he sat in his reeking car, and no amount of pine-scented air freshener was going to keep him awake should Tooms actually attempt to make a move or worse yet, if someone in the neighborhood began to question why this strange man was sitting day after day watching that house and called it into the local police. Mulder's cover would be completely blown, and no amount of charming wit or raw insistence would save his ass from OPR should they want to know why he was commencing in an illegal stake out, without proper verification or forms, on a man that had committed no crime. Well…no crime that had been proven that was. Scully was still working on that.

"Well, then I'll stay here." She offered finally, her better judgment kicking her hard at that moment and telling her she was an idiot. "You go home." Scully half wondered if Mulder could even drive home in this condition.

Mulder shook his head, sighing heavily and for a moment she thought he would give her a flat out "no" and insist that he stay there, mulishly rescinding her offer as he might have done early on in their partnership. Instead he smiled softly in the darkness, glancing towards the simple, suburban Baltimore house that Tooms had called home since his release from the Maryland courts earlier that week.

"They're out to put an end to the X-Files, Scully." His soft monotone was grave and sad and it was the first time since the meeting she had with Skinner just the other day that she realized he really did truly understand the full ramifications of just what was going on and what might happen to himself and his work. "I don't know why, but any excuse will do. Now, I don't really care about my record," he shrugged his shoulders in fatalistic acceptance, as if he would expect nothing less from his career with the FBI than to be tossed out on his ear with nothing to show for his years of work.

"But you'd be in trouble just for sitting in this car and I'd hate to see you to carry an official reprimand in your file because of me." His expression was the same one she had seen from him as they sat, terrified, in the cabin in the Washington woods. There they were, at that crossroads again. Mulder seemingly unconcerned with his own self but determined to protect her, and Scully just as determined to do what she wanted. Under any other circumstances, she might have railed against him, become angry at his efforts to shut her out, to wrap her up and send her away for "her own good". Yet there was nothing in his tired voice and concerned words of the all-too familiar personal guilt that he carried, or his insistence that he carried the weight of her personal well being on his shoulders. Instead it was the concern of someone who worried about the steps Scully was planning to take, the path she was agreeing to just by sitting in this car talking to him. It was the warning of a friend who wanted to make sure that someone he cared about didn't end up following him somewhere that might ruin both of them.

A friend...that was something she hadn't expected to make out of Fox Mulder. A partner, yes, a respected colleague, certainly, but she had not thought she could ever have a real, considerate friendship with this man outside of the bounds of their tiny, basement office. Yes, they had the keys to each others apartment, a convenience born out of their shared work. And he would often fetch her coffee of a morning and she would sometimes buy him lunch, all the little things that co-workers did for one another within the bounds of their shared relationship inside of the FBI. Work partners looked out for each other on the job, but work partners in this day and age rarely, if ever, put themselves in the line of fire for one another, personally let alone professionally. It was never done. Career first and career second was the motto of most Americans when it came to this sort of tenuous situation, look out for your own self interest if there was little hope of looking out for your partner.

Except, somewhere between the forests of the Pacific Northwest and the basement office at the bottom of the Hoover Building, Mulder had grown to become more than just a co-worker and partner. He had strangely enough come to be the only friend she seemed to have in this odd, Alice In Wonderland world she had been tossed into by the powers-that-be within the Bureau. He had no reason to, less reason than most. She was supposed to tear down his work, and somehow she found herself using the very science and reason she had asked to use against his work somehow strengthening it and him. And she could never and would never be sorry that it did. A thousand times over she'd rather be honest with herself and to the work than to be dishonest just to bring down someone for the benefit of unnamed others. And for that reason, if nothing else she had earned Mulder's worried concern and the friendship he so rarely gave to anyone.

"Fox," she began, in that moment daring to use his familiar first name, something she had not, until point, ever used with him. The effect, however, left him snorting and chuckling. She paused, hurt that he would laugh at such a weighty moment between them.

"And I... I even made my parents call me Mulder." He sounded embarrassed, uneasy with the familiarity of her use of his first name, even though he himself had used hers on many occasions when he wanted to add emphasis, to bring their conversation down to the personal level. "So... Mulder."

He really did hate his first name, didn't he?

"Mulder," she began again, losing the shyness of the moment as she met his eyes firmly, wanting him to understand that she meant this in every sense. "I wouldn't put myself on the line for anybody but you."

She had said it and she meant it. For an endless moment they watched each other and she could see the mingled resignation and elation cross his face, the realization he couldn't talk her out of staying here even though she knew it was dangerous and the relief because he didn't want to either. For the briefest of moments, Scully realized, Mulder was doing something she had never seen him do with anyone else. He was letting her in, not just into his work and his passion, but into something much more personal. He was allowing her to be his friend as well as his work partner. It was a poignant gift after the long year they had together. It terrified and thrilled her, knowing what this would mean from Mulder and just what it would mean for herself and her loyalties to him and duty to the FBI. It was frightening to think about and overwhelming. But perhaps she had already made her choice, a year before, when she had returned to the basement office after their trip to Bellefleur and announced to him she was to be his new, permanent partner. She could have told Blevins and the strange, cigarette smoking man to go to hell and returned to Quantico, where it was safe and sound. Instead she had chosen to remain, to be chased by glow-in-the-dark bugs, military police, and the liver-eating mutant that happened to be sleeping peacefully in the house across the street, oblivious to the life-changing conversations being held regarding him in the innocuous car on the corner.

Just as the amazement of these thoughts settled heavily in Scully's mind, it was broken by Mulder's uneasy shift, his breaking of the long gaze between them as his eyes slid to the white paper bag still on her lap, the one she had brought his disgusting, liverwurst sandwiches in. A slow, knowing smile turned his mouth upward, his eyes sparkling with gleeful mischief. "If there's an ice tea in that bag, could be love."

Trust Mulder to be a buzz kill she mused. Surprisingly his words caused a fluttering sensation in her veins that both startled and annoyed her. She rolled her eyes as she reached inside of the bag, pulling out the single Styrofoam cup, chill and wet with the condensation from the ice as she passed it to him with a dry smile. "Must be fate, Mulder." For a moment something brilliant flashed in his eyes as she steeled herself to quash it. "Root beer."

He sighed in fake disappointment, accepting the soda and sipping from it quickly. But something akin to regret seemed to linger in the air and Scully found herself increasingly uncomfortable with the implications of what his playful remarks really might mean. "You're delirious." That had to be it; she rationalized as she tried to gently prod him and his stinky car back home. "Go home and get some sleep."

He was losing this argument, he knew it, but he was so exhausted he wasn't going to try and fight her on it any further. Perhaps those in roads she had made were indeed working. Wrapping what was left of his vile sandwich, he handed it back to her. "Here. Take my sandwich, I only had one bite. You're going want it later, believe me."

Scully highly doubted she wanted to eat anything that even vaguely resembled something that a cat would puke up into her shoe, especially not when the object of their investigation ate the human version of this for breakfast. She felt slightly ill as she set it gingerly back in the bag.

"And you'll call me if anything happens, immediately." He frowned at her in brief worry. "I'll be here."

He didn't look terribly happy about leaving her alone to stake out the man who had nearly murdered her once before. She rolled her eyes at him as she reached for the car door.

"Oh," Mulder called as she stepped out onto the sidewalk. "And 11:30, station 790, Pete Rose Late Night Sports Talk Radio Show."

She snorted, shaking her head as she grinned at him, wondering if stakeouts were such a good thing for Mulder to be involved in. It was obvious that sports talk radio had eaten what was left of his brain. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."

Chapter Text

She tried hard not to choke on the smoke dancing through the air like a pale, gray moth, wreathing itself around Skinner's bald head, a ridiculous halo as it caught the pale light from his office window. She glanced at the smoker, the familiar old man who seemed to be more interested in the death stick he was sucking between thick, wrinkled lips than the proceedings for which he was intruding. An irrational anger at the man and his continued presence in her life boiled up inside of her, even as Skinner's deadly grave voice cut into Mulder, turning her attention to the dressing down at hand.

"These are serious allegations, Agent Mulder. The evidence is incriminating." Skinner spoke with the sort of paternalism you would expect to hear out of a father chatting with his delinquent thirteen-year-old.

Mulder of course replied with the sort of confrontational rationalism that certainly sounded reasonable enough on the surface, but look deeper and one began to question his sanity. "A good forensic scientist would know that there is not only a shoe print but also an impact point from inside the shoe. An in depth analysis of Tooms's injury would show that my foot was not inside the shoe at the time of impact."

Skinner blinked slowly behind his thick lenses, his chiseled face impassive save for the dubious light in his dark eyes. "Mulder, are you suggesting that Tooms is framing you?"

"Of course!" Mulder made it sound so matter-of fact. If the situation hadn't been so dire, if Mulder wasn't up on assault charges with the Baltimore Police Department, Scully might have snorted in delighted laughter. But it wasn't funny and Mulder was playing a dangerous game here, one that could very easily backfire should Skinner choose to lose patience with his theories. She knew what Mulder was going to say, knew he would insist that Tooms had crawled in through the heating vents and had self-inflicted the wounds he carried. And as much as Scully knew it was scientifically impossible, even illogical, to believe that story, she knew from painful experience that it was in all actuality the most probable explanation as well, much more plausible than the partner she had seen barely functioning enough to drive home the night before somehow sneaking into the house she had been watching, unnoticed, and beat the living hell out of Tooms.

"If indeed you were engaged in an unauthorized round-the-clock surveillance of Tooms," Skinner's gaze flickered towards Scully accusingly for the briefest of seconds. "How could he possibly gain access to your shoe without you seeing him?"

Here was the moment, she realized, when Mulder would open his mouth about double-jointed, liver-eating mutants, something they had no scientific proof of, and try to convince their boss that the man had squeezed himself through a duct that no human being could possibly fit through. In her minds eye she could see Skinner's dubious reaction, his disapproving frown and his pronouncement that they would both be tossed out on unpaid leave, beginning immediately. And Tooms would still be out there, waiting to get his last victim.

She could hear Mulder's reply forming as she quickly cut him off, ignoring his startled frown as she barreled over him to reply to the question that was in no way directed towards her.

"Sir?" Skinner's eyes turned to her, as startled that she even broke in as Mulder. "I was engaged in the unauthorized surveillance as well and Agent Mulder was orienting me on the situation at the time Tooms was admitted into the hospital." She swallowed hard, schooling her features to the unmoving stoicism she had perfected in medical school, not flinching as Skinner's gaze narrowed in disbelief. "Agent Mulder could not have done it because he was with me."

It was only partially a lie, she reasoned, she had been doing that very thing, discussing Pete Rose and root beer in his front seat of his car as she had tried to prod the delirious Mulder home. She wasn't lying. She was merely altering the facts slightly.

To Skinner those technicalities wouldn't make a bit of difference. "Agent Scully, you wouldn't be lying to me, would you?"

There was a certain irony in this situation, she realized, a man who seemed to be in bed with shadowy figures, determined to use any means to destroy her partner's work, calling her out on whether or not she was lying to cover her partner's ass. She let her eyes flicker briefly to the smoking man in the corner, the shady figure, eloquently watching him before turning her gaze knowingly back to Skinner. He glanced back over to the man with a nervous flicker at his jaw line.

"Sir, I would expect you to place the same trust in me as I do in you." It was pointed, it was precise, and she could nearly see her boss physically flinch as if she had slapped him sitting at his desk. His stoic face-hardened just perceptibly as he cleared his throat harshly.

"Agent Scully, may I have a word with Agent Mulder, please?"

It was a dismissal. She knew she had pushed enough buttons for this meeting. With a sideways glance to a stunned and grateful Mulder, she rose gracefully, in one motion before walking straight backed, chin up out of Skinner's office. It was only once she was in the outer office with Kim, her boss's secretary, that she let her shoulder's slump, her face fall slightly, and release her breath in a pent up sigh of angry frustration. She ignored Kim's inquisitive frown, and stepped out into the hallways filled with bustling agents. She wandered past the doorway of the bullpen nearby where young, wet-behind-the ears kids straight from Quantico sat doing background checks and other mindless, drudge work, the things they stuck the newbie recruits and the old veterans doing when they couldn't exactly chase after suspects anymore. She stared at the field of cubicle desks, with their mindless, busy drones, buzzing between the files and the phones, their voices a humming of quiet, dull platitudes as she stood by. Would this be Mulder's fate should they shut down the X-files, she wondered? At least she had the comfort of knowing that if the division was closed she could be shipped back to Quantico, to another dead body, another autopsy, and that her talents would be utilized, even if it was only routine. She tried to imagine Mulder, with all of his brilliance and insight being trapped behind one of these desks, bored to tears, a pile of spent sunflower seed shells collecting slowly as he would slowly fall into dreary catatonia. He would turn in on himself, neglect even this most minimal of duties till out of sheer frustration either he or the FBI would give and he would be tossed, unceremoniously, on his ear. And Samantha Mulder would still not be found. Mulder's quest would be ended effectively and for good. This thought depressed her.

Behind her the door of Skinner's office opened, and she turned to see Mulder stride out, first glancing down one end of the hallway, than towards her, his face intent and anxious as he crossed the short space of hallway between then and grabbed her arm, pulling her away from the bullpen. She didn't argue as he led her gently, but firmly, away from towards a quieter section of hallway, his eyes a dark as he loomed over her. "Scully, what were you doing in there? Skinner's not an idiot. He knows what you're up to."

"What am I up to, Mulder," she replied just as quietly, her eyes meeting his.

"Scully, don't do this! You don't have to protect me!"

"This coming from you, Mulder, who'd pack me in a shoebox if he could just so I wouldn't get hurt." The irony of the situation wasn't lost on her and she snorted softly as he grimaced. He knew she was right.

"Scully," he began, but she stopped him with an irritated glare.

"Mulder, they are trying to shut you down, to stop your work, to drive you out." She waved a hand in the general direction of the bullpen. "You had a brilliant career once. Do you know how well you would fare doing mindless paperwork, making pointless phone calls on background checks, day in and day out. And that would be the nicest things they would do to you if they shut you down."

"I know that." He shrugged dismissively.

"I can go back to Quantico, but you would be assed out till they got done with you and sent you packing, and where would that leave your work…the X-files…Samantha?"

He said nothing but she knew that silent fear in the depths of his gaze. For all of his bravado, Mulder was terrified of just that.

"Mulder, as much as you want to protect me here, I'm not willing to allow you to lose all of that when I can do something to stop it. Even if it means I stick my neck out there and tell one little white lie."

"White lie? Jesus, Scully!" Mulder snorted.

"Okay, slightly gray lie." She smiled at him. "It's my choice to do this. I'm the one risking my career here. You aren't forcing me. And for once, I'm taking a risk that isn't driven by rebellion or the need to stand up against the authority of someone else." She thought briefly of her mother's cigarettes as a girl, of the time she had driven home to tell her father she was joining the FBI rather than pursuing a career in medicine. "I'm doing this because no matter what I think or how much I disagree, Mulder, I believe in your work and that you have the right to pursue it. And I think its bullshit that there are those out there who want to crush it for nothing more than their fears of embarrassment for the Bureau."

If she had just professed undying love to Fox Mulder, she didn't think she could have seen a more beatific expression on his stunned face. He swallowed hard, his mouth pulling up to a soft smile that matched the gratitude shining from his expression.

"Thank you." It was a simple response. It carried so much emotional depth in those two words that Scully felt herself turning away from the weight of Mulder's feelings, tearing her eyes away as she found her hands extremely steady and calming to look at in that moment.

"As you always say, Mulder, I'm your partner. It's my job." She smiled cheerfully at him, but still refused to look at the deep appreciation written on his face and instead turned away, towards the elevators, towards their offices down below, where there was work and business, a way to damper herself against Mulder's outpouring of thankfulness. "So did Skinner dress you down?"

"Errr…yeah," he replied vaguely as he followed behind her. "He told me we are to stay away from Tooms though."

"And you really plan on listening to him on that?" She snorted, not for a second believing he would.

"Unless I have good reason not to, I might have to obey the rules on this one."

"And who is the one you said has gotten skinned, Mulder?" She teased him, using his own words against him jokingly. "I got a call from the anthropology labs at the Smithsonian before out meeting. I had an idea."

"On?" Se frowned.

"Remember the bite marks I mentioned on the victim from Powhatan Mills?"

"Yeah, the coroner thought they were rat marks."

"Humans have very distinct biting patterns, different from rodents because of the formation of their teeth." She shrugged eloquently. "Every human's dental pattern is different due to wear on the teeth, what they eat, the shape of their mouth…"

"You are matching the teeth marks on the rib to Tooms," Mulder murmured in delight. "Think that you can get something then?"

"I don't know…maybe. But if I do, that's the proof you need, Mulder, to go after Tooms legally this time, at least for the murders sixty years ago."

Life seemed to spring into Mulder's steps, as his right hand came to rest firmly at the narrowest part of her back, guiding her towards the elevators, the manic gleam in his eye. "Did I ever tell you that you're brilliant, Doctor Scully?"

"No, but it doesn't hurt hearing it now," she grinned as they made their way to the elevators

Chapter Text

It was now late May, almost June, and spring in Maryland was giving way from balmy warmth to sticky humidity. Scully stepped out into the sunshine, still chilled from the city morgue, welcoming the press of heat through her jacket and the warm touch of sunshine on her scalp. She breathed deeply of the flower-scented air, clearing out the antiseptic smells of chemicals, the pungent odor of blood and human flesh and smiled. It was a nice day, she thought. Pity she had spent it poking around in what little remained of what had, at one time, been Eugene Victor Tooms. Even she shuddered slightly as she thought of the gooey, mangled mess that had been scrapped off the escalators at the City Square Mall, the shopping center built on top of what had at one time a year ago been Tooms's only home. Not much had been left of the man once they had pulled him out of the gears and belts, not enough to determine whether he was in fact a mutant or just a man with a very sick fetish. Perhaps they might be able to prove his uncanny ability to stretch his musculature, which would go a long way to explain how it was that Tooms was able to gain entrance secretly to all manner of places, but she doubted they would ever be able to definitively prove Mulder's theories as to why it was he was driven to kill.

She looked for her intrepid partner in the dazzling sunshine, finding him standing tall against one of the newly leafing trees, squinting up into it as if searching for something. Scully smiled as she wandered over to him, wondering if Mulder ever stopped looking for the unexpected in the world. She moved up behind him, she tugged gently at the tail of his suit jacket, letting him know it was here sneaking up behind him. "Okay, let's go."

Mulder turned to glance at her, pointing out what it was he was studying so intently. On the low hanging branch above him hung a single caterpillar cocoon, still and quiescent in its natural slumber. Mulder smiled at it as a three-year-old would when confronted with the strange anomaly of nature for the first time, the husk which the tiny, worm like creature slept until it burst forth, fully formed as a brilliant, bejeweled butterfly. "It's amazing how things change."

"The caterpillar?" She frowned up at it, wondering what about this fairly normal aspect of the East Coast spring would cause Mulder to become so philosophical on her.

"No," he shook his head as he turned to look down on her. "A change for us. It's coming."

He had the same sort of misty, knowing look she had seen on Melissa many times when she would toss out the same sorts of cryptic warnings. She didn't believe Mulder was any more psychic than her sister was, but she chose to humor him.

"A hunch," he murmured mysteriously, turning away from the tree, long strides leading him to their parked car.

She glanced up again at the caterpillar, safe in it's tiny space, locked away from the dangers that awaited it once that cocoon was ripped away from it, and it was forced to deal with the harsh world on its own. She frowned as she turned carefully, and followed Mulder to his car. She decided it was best to give Mulder the bad news first. At least he was already mentally prepared for it. "I wasn't able to definitively prove that any of your ideas concerning Eugene Tooms were correct." She sighed as he frowned in resigned acceptance.

"I saw what they were able to pull out of there. I didn't expect much."

"It's not all a lost cause though," she offered in what she hoped was an upbeat note. "I'm having the University of Maryland run some samples of his tissue, perhaps prove that there was some sort of abnormality that allowed him to stretch his muscles and bone, to fit into tight places such as the ventilation systems. With that alone, Mulder, I think we can perhaps close the case on this one as tightly as Skinner wants it."

"Yeah," he nodded vaguely as he paused, leaning against the driver's side door of his car, his long legs stretched out in front of him as he contemplated his shiny, wing-tipped dress shoes. "It will close it up neatly, won't it?" He didn't sound happy about it. He sounded, if anything, worried that it had made matters worse.

"Mulder, Skinner can't complain about you not doing your job on this one. You didn't approach till you had proof there was a connection and he attacked you without provocation. The fact that he died in that attempt is unfortunate, but it happens on this job, you've said that yourself."

"It doesn't explain why he would be connected to the modern murders though." He frowned as he looked up at her, eyes squinting in the late spring sun. "It's not neat, it's not pretty, not tied with a bow."

"How many of our cases are, really?"

"True," he nodded. "But if there was ever a time when I needed a case to be, it's now." He sighed heavily, standing up again, reaching for his car door. "It's just a matter of time from here on out, Scully. They'll find something. And they'll close us down, separate us."

"You worry too much," she chided him, knowing that this was a statement coming out of a man who usually quite happily didn't ever worry enough.

"Maybe," he shrugged loosely in his suit coat. "You still in till they drag you away."

"Of course," she smiled brightly, shaking her head at his worried doubtfulness. "They're the ones who put me with you, Mulder. They're going to have to be the ones to take me away."

"Good." He smiled slowly and warmly, the sort she saw so rarely out of him. It was the easy, relax smile of companionship, so different from when he was teasing or when he was ironic. Scully found herself responding to it in kind, moving easily towards the passenger's side as he opened his own door.

Chapter Text

"You have kids, Agent Scully," Detective Sharon Lazard was frowning thoughtfully at the window of the interrogation room that was now covered with cardboard and duct tape. There had once been a thick pane of glass between it and the harsh Buffalo winters. Just the night before Lazard's partner had taken a flying leap through plate glass onto the wet pavement below, with no rhyme or reason that anyone could think of, outside of being locked alone in a room with a little girl. Scully looked up from the window adjoining it. She had been studying the area where Rudy Barbala had nosed-dived to his death, a patch of rain slicked cement bordered by spring-green grass, caught glaring white in the lights of the intruding news vans across the street. The police detective's random question caught her by surprise.

"No, Detective, not even married yet." She waved her left hand briefly at the nodding woman, for once ignoring the mild irritation felt when approached by someone well meaning on the status of her personal life. "Someday, maybe."

"That's what I tell my mother, too." The other woman smiled knowingly from a plain, honest face. Lazard had the rough, street-tough, hardworking expression most female cops Scully encountered in large cities did. It was a man's world, law enforcement, a lesson she knew all to well in the FBI.

"Not that I'm good with kids," Lazard continued, frowning towards the small table where in the surveillance video Scully had seen the girl, Michelle Bishop, seated quietly. "I sent Barbala in because he's pretty good with them. He had nieces, nephews, was always going to visit them, bring them presents. He was just fine when I left him." The conundrum of her partner's death puzzled her; enough that she dared to call the FBI in to investigate what her own department was deeming a suicide.

"Do you know much about kids?" The detective cocked her head

"I don't. I have a godson. He'll be seven soon." It only just hit Scully she hadn't seen Ellen or her godson, Trent in nearly a year. Nor had she been on a date in that long, the nagging voice in the back of her head reminded her depressingly. All work and no play for Dana. She pushed aside all thoughts of her last candle lit dinner with Rod, the divorcee, along with the all too familiar reminder of late that her life had become a series of strange and unexplainable cases punctuated by little more than pizza at home on a Friday night curled up with a good book. No wonder she didn't have kids, she mused sourly.

"I don't, either." Lazard nodded towards the opposite side of the table that sat in the room. "But I do know one thing. That little girl, Michelle Bishop. She wasn't a normal kid. You know, not like you regularly see." She shrugged helplessly at Scully, willing her to understand her lack of explanation.

"You said she was found wandering around town?"

"In an alley near here. She was sitting there and I brought her in. She was the most composed lost kid I had ever seen. And it's not like she's one of those kids you know are used to hanging out by themselves on the street. You can always tell them right off the bat. They are hard, tough, and they can smell a cop from a mile away. Doubt I would have caught her if she was one of them." Lazard settled one hip on the table, sitting on it as she looked towards Scully. "This kid was as composed as could be, wasn't even scared really. But she didn't want to talk to me. It's kind of odd, when you think about it. Usually the kids like talking to the women first, they see the men as being scary and threatening."

Most of the time, Scully would agree, except it was her experience that the kids she and Mulder dealt with just as often gravitated to him as to her. Mulder had a knack with children. She wondered if it was born out of the part of Mulder that just refused to grow up. Still, Scully had no idea how Michelle Bishops reticence to speak to Sharon Lazard related to Barbala's sudden desire to become one with the hard concrete down below.

"Are you suggesting, Detective Lazard, that Michelle Bishop had something to do with your partner's death?" She had wondered when Lazard had mentioned that she had heard of her and Mulder's exploits through her brother, a cop in Baltimore. Why was it exactly she had specifically hunted out the pair of them and their particular expertise on this case? Lazard didn't quite meet her probing gaze and Scully knew her suspicions were probably spot on.

"I know it sounds stupid," Lazard mumbled in embarrassment, her face flushing as she picked nervously at the elbow of her jacket, hugging her arms to herself. "It's why I couldn't bring it up to anyone in here. I mean, seriously, you should see the kid. All wide eyes and innocence. She couldn't hurt a fly. But it doesn't make sense, does it?" She worried her bottom lip thoughtfully. "Seriously, it isn't like I was close to Barbala. He was a jerk, personally, but he wasn't a bad cop. He came, he did his job everyday, and he wasn't the sort that would just get a wild yen to take a chance at flying in front of some kid."

"And you gave us a call because your brother told you about the case of Eugene Tooms?" Scully nodded slowly as she moved to table beside Lazard. "I suppose Mulder and I have a reputation that proceeds us. We handle the unexplainable that the local police can't wrap their heads around"

"Or won't," Lazard added, her countenance darkening. "Look, I know that there are going to be questions. I got Internal Review to let me call you in because I gave them some sob story about a case we were working on and how I felt getting the FBI involved would be a good idea. They aren't thrilled to have the Feds in here on what they think is a non-issue. They like to police their own, to take care of their own problems." She shrugged uncomfortably and smiled almost apologetically at Scully. "I'm winning no points by bringing you two in here."

Scully could almost feel for her. She didn't have the heart to tell the detective she'd lose even more points with her peers once Mulder had concocted whatever explanation he had for this case. And she knew he wouldn't have agreed to come up to Buffalo, New York for anything less than something he suspected involved the paranormal or supernatural. Except if it involved aliens and somehow this didn't ring true of one of Mulder's alien cases. Was it frightening, she privately wondered, that she was starting to guess the nature of the weirdness of Mulder's mind and how it worked just by the nature of the work he drug her on?

As if sensing she was thinking about him, Mulder's tall frame encompassed the window outside of the room, and he quickly strode into the room, his notepad in hand. "I just got a hold of Mrs. Bishop, Michelle's mother, she's willing to let us come and speak to her." He shot Lazard a speculative look. "Think we can borrow a staff artist, I want to see if I can have Michelle draw what she saw?"

He didn't seem at all ruffled by the surprised and perplexed looks he received from both of the women.

"I'm convinced that Michelle saw something in here with Barbala, perhaps something that the rest of us couldn't see."

"Like a ghost?" Despite being the one to call them on the cases, Lazard sounded nervous, glancing wildly around the room as if she expected a specter lurking in the corner.

"More like a poltergeist, a harmful spirit or entity. They are often attracted to children." Mulder recited this as if poltergeists were standard operating procedures for all unexplained cases law enforcement dealt with. "Perhaps Michelle draws such entities around her because of her youth. This explains why she is the only one to see them. But she couldn't prevent what happened to Barbala from happening."

"Mulder," Scully murmured warningly, not even daring to see the "Is Your Partner Crazy" look she was certain on Lazard's face. She had become familiar with knowing stare shot at her from local law enforcement, the cross between pitying and apprehensive, mixed in with a generous helping of, "he isn't serious, is he?" Usually it only took a raised eyebrow or a whisper of his name to get Mulder to back down from his spookier pronouncement to the locals.

To her shock, Lazard seemed to take it all in stride. "Err…well, we don't keep an artist on staff regularly. Usually we can just contract one from one of your local field offices." Lazard looked perfectly serious, if a bit startled. "They have a computer. If you give them a call they can probably bring it on over."

Scully turned first from the Lazard, then to Mulder, and back again, trying to remain as calm as possible, though in her mind she was blankly wondering what to say in this situation where her normal fall back of fixing whatever insanity Mulder was spewing was now no longer necessary. She finally settled on just staring at Mulder in mute awe, as he met her silence with a faint, amused smile. Perhaps a tad of a smug amused smile, if she had to call it. She bit her tongue as Mulder thanked the detective, and jerked his dark head towards the door, a silent call for her to follow.

They were out in the hallway before he said a word. "Admit it. You are stunned she didn't start calling me a nut."

"She obviously called us down here, Mulder, knowing what our reputation was. She said her brother was with the Baltimore PD, he probably told her all about the Tooms case."

"You just hate that for once the locals are taking me serious on this," he needled with obvious glee.

"I do not. After all, that's what you want, isn't it? You want people to take your work seriously and listen to you, for people to realize that there are things in this world that science and reason can't explain."

"I'm not doing this work for the locals," Mulder shrugged, "I'm doing this work to find the truth. And I think that's why Detective Lazard called me on this case. She couldn't accept the fact that her partner's death was just a simple suicide. And whether it really does have something to do with poltergeists, or depression, or if it was just a simple accident. I think she's entitled to have someone find that truth out, don't you."

Of course, she replied silently to herself. That was why she was right by his side as well. Out loud she muttered irritably, "You'd risk looking like a fool and an idiot for the truth?"

"When you don't have much of a reputation left, Scully, it makes it easier to get to the heart of the matter rather than beating around the bush. Why keep up the pretense?"

"You know, you make my job so much easier," she sighed in playful exasperation.

"I know. I do try."

Chapter Text

Detective Fiore firmly shut the door in their faces, not rudely, but in such a way that it was clear he was done speaking to the FBI for the present.

"Is it me," Mulder murmured as he turned down the doorstep and towards their car parked by the sidewalk beyond, "or did we just get the brush off?" He frowned in disgruntlement towards the Fiore's house.

It was more than just a brush off, Scully realized. They had come there to discuss the death of Charlie Morris, Fiore's former partner, and had been given the run around instead. If his evasiveness wasn't enough, the clear lie he had given them regarding what he wife was up to was a sure sign he was hiding something. "Did you notice her hands?

"What?" He shook his head in the negative.

"He said she was sleeping. They were covered in baking flour," Scully replied, remembering the way Mrs. Fiore had unconsciously dusted her hands, covered in fine, white powder as she had glanced curiously between the two agents standing on her doorstep.

Mulder cocked his head slightly as he processed this, leaning against the car as she could see his eidetic memory almost rewind and replay the images of the last five minutes over in his head. She envied him that ability to remember things, even the minutest details. She couldn't name the number of times he had been able to pull up every line of information from one of the hundreds of files in the X-files cabinets, then proceeded to find exactly where the file was kept in his often confusing filing system and present it to Scully where she would see the information, nearly verbatim. Only Mulder's most closed off memories, like those of his sister's abduction, did not benefit from his freakish ability. She wondered if that was perhaps a blessing in disguise.

"She was dusting her hands when she came out," Mulder nodded vaguely, long fingers reaching up to tug at his bottom lip thoughtfully as his green eyes frowned up at her. "Seems odd he'd lie about his wife sleeping inside."

"Except if he didn't want us to come inside to talk with him. Either he doesn't like talking shop at home or he didn't want us discussing the death of another officer in front of her."

"How did he knew what we were coming to talk to him about?" Mulder gently nodded his head towards the closed front door. "He didn't even allow us a chance to come in, but obviously his wife wasn't sleeping. She was in the kitchen baking."

Good point, she realized. "You think he's hiding something."

"I think that Detective Fiore knew Barbala by more than reputation," Mulder mused, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully. "There might be something that Fiore and Morris got involved in something he's afraid of, and he suspects might be involved with Barbala's death."

"He could have just heard the rumors we were in town asking questions about Morris's death. You know how local police are, they are quick to close around their own."

"The thin blue line?" Mulder quirked an amused eyebrow thoughtfully. "Maybe. But it doesn't account for why he wouldn't even let us talk to him in front of his wife." Something was dawning on his face as a vaguely perturbed frown creased in between his eyes. "How did you know that her hands were covered in baking flour?"

"What do you mean?" Scully wasn't clear what was particularly funny about flour or what it meant for their case.

"How did you know it was baking flower on her hands?" Mulder challenged again, this time grinning from ear to ear.

"What? Mulder, I know what flour is. Just because I'm a woman in the FBI doesn't mean I don't abide by some of the ingrained prejudices towards females in this country."

"Oh please tell me you bake cookies, Scully!"

She responded by glaring at him.

"You know what they say about a man's heart and his stomach."

"That both are bottomless pits?"

"So cynical, Scully," he whistled. "I'm having sudden images of you at home in an apron playing Betty Crocker."

"I don't need to be in your sick fantasies, Mulder." This conversation was quickly devolving, she could sense it crumbling around her as Mulder attempted to push some button she wasn't going to allow to be pushed. She moved towards the passenger door, a quick and easy excuse to end what was rapidly turning into another of Mulder's silly excuses to test the limits of the FBI's new rules on sexual harassment. She was determined to never allow him to get that rise out of her, even if she did feel her face flush and her mouth twitch at the corners, dying to grant him just a brief, amused smile.

Chapter Text

Police lights reflected in a swirl of blue and red in the shattered remnants of the late Charlie Morris's fish tank. Grim faced, blue uniformed Buffalo cops skirted the mess carefully, unwilling to touch the evidence. On the couch in the Fiore's living room, Anita Fiore shivered under a hand knitted afghan, silent and tearful as she stared quietly in front of her. She hadn't said much since the strange attack on her husband and had watched mutely as the police had handcuffed Tony Fiore and led him sorrowfully away.

"How are you holding up, Anita," Scully asked kindly, moving to sit alongside the woman whose whole world had been turned upside down by the arrival that night of a very strange little girl.

"I….I don't know," she murmured, softly and confused. "I guess I don't know what I'm supposed to say or how I'm supposed to feel." She turned wet, swollen eyes towards Scully. "The little girl, Michelle, is she…"

"She's fine," Scully nodded. The little girl had broken into confused sobbing shortly after the attack had ended, almost as if she had awoke from a mere sleep wal, and found herself standing in the shattered remains of the Fiore's house with people staring madly at her. "Her mother came to pick her up. They're taking a look at her at the hospital as we speak."

Anita nodded, trembling slightly. "Was she…is she….you know?" She finished helplessly, unable to vocalize the theory that Mulder postulated to her.

"Your first husband, Charlie?" Scully didn't know the answer to that question. She wasn't sure where to begin finding the answer to that question. "I know that whatever Michelle Bishop was or wasn't, she never intended you any harm."

Anita nodded softly, pulling the afghan tighter around her shoulders, silent tears falling down her already tired and worn face. "I can't believe it's true…about Tony and Charlie…I just…I didn't know." She shook her head, a tattered sob tearing out of her throat. "When they told me Charlie was dead, that it was a gang hit, I just believed them. I didn't have a reason not to. I had no idea!" She sobbed harder as her shoulders crumpled in on themselves, her hands letting go of the blanket just enough to cover her misery stricken face. Unsure of what to do, Scully quietly wrapped a soothing arm around Anita Fiore, rubbing the other woman's back in the consoling manner her own mother would do. It was heart wrenching to see the poor woman who had already been through so much in her relatively young lifetime have to find out the horrible truth, that the man she had married after the tragic loss of a first husband was responsible for that man's death.

"Scully!" Mulder appeared in the doorway of the Fiore's living room glancing at Anita Fiore with a pained expression. It wasn't any easier for them as FBI agents to break the news to her about Charlie's death. The hurt and loss in her eyes as she had looked towards her husband as confessed everything to her and to his fellow police officers was hard to take, so ultimate of a betrayal in a life partner that Scully could hardly imagine. She rose with a murmured apology to Anita, and crossed to Mulder, who pulled her quietly out into the front hallway, where the broken fish tank and police officers stood.

"Fiore's speaking to the DA. He's confessing to everything and it looks like he'll plead guilty to the death of Charlie Morris." He glanced at the scattered fragments of thick glass on the floor, like diamonds scattered across the still wet hardwood. "There's no word on what they will do, if anything, on the deaths of Barbala or Felder."

Scully nodded slowly, wondering if there was anything they could prove. How does one go about proving or disproving a dead soul inhabiting the person of an eight-year-old child? Who would believe it if they could? She wasn't terribly sure she believed it herself. "If Charlie Morris really was inhabiting Michelle Bishop, as you believe Mulder, why is it that he waited until now to act? Why didn't he try something earlier, or even more so, why would he choose the body of a small child rather than finding an adult who could more easily assist him in his vengeance?"

"I don't know." Mulder was pensive as he studied the shards of glass, poking at one particularly close one with the tip of his shoe. "There are theories that souls of those who have died violently or who do not wish to move on often attach themselves to people and items they consider dear, such as a house, or a former loved one. Some religious beliefs hold that children who are newborn are easy prey to such spirits, as they are new into the world, their soul is easily supplanted by that of another."

"So which of those are you putting in your report to Skinner?" She had to ask. These days every theory they placed into their case reports was scrutinized and picked over prodded and questioned again and again. She feared what going into this report with vague ideas and half-baked theories would mean for their work and the X-files.

He didn't answer. Instead he turned from her, towards the small table below the picture of Noah's Ark, where Charlie Morris's origami animal collection sat, untouched by the destruction wrought by his angry spirit. Mulder studied it for long, quiet moments before reaching a silent finger to tap Scully's shoulder, gaining her attention.

"Scully." He moved quietly towards the table, glancing over the elegant, folded paper figures, to one in the back. A tall, stately giraffe, in yellow paper, stood neatly among its fellows in almost the same position it inhabited in the framed artwork above it.

"Anita Fiore said Charlie never had a chance to finish the giraffe before he died," Mulder murmured as he picked it up gently between his right thumb and forefinger, studying it quizzically. "How did it end up here?"

"I don't know," she shook her head, staring at the delicate paper art, peering up at it in Mulder's large hand. "Perhaps Anita didn't realize she had it all along."

"Maybe," Mulder said, doubtful. "Or perhaps Charlie wanted to leave one last gift for the wife he left behind."

He stared at the object thoughtfully for a long moment more, before setting it down gently. "I want to see if I can get Mrs. Bishop to agree with one more session with Michelle. I need the evidence to prove what Charlie did."

"Mulder, even if you got it, you can't think that Skinner will take a hypnotherapy session from an eight-year-old as serious evidence." She sighed, once again finding herself the voice of reason as Mulder fought for the evidence he so desperately wanted to use to show he was right. "I'm just saying I think you should just let this one go. Say that Barbala and Felder's deaths were accidental and they were responsible for Charlie."

"But it's not the whole truth, Scully," he insisted mulishly.

"I know Mulder," she conceded. "But it's probably all of the story you are going to be able to prove conclusively anyway. And it's all the story Skinner is going to accept."

"I have to try," he murmured softly; staring at the tiny, paper giraffe. "Because Charlie Morris refused to be shuffled away and forgotten. And that's what will happen to him if I don't give them proof somehow."

"The proof of a terrified little girl?" Scully doubted that Skinner would buy it anymore than Anita Fiore sitting in the other room did. "Mulder let it go. Let's take Tony Fiore's confession and close the case."

Mulder stared at her for long moments, his face inscrutable in the darkness of the front room, save for the play of red and blue lights from just outside the Fiore's door. He slowly shook his head.

"I'm sorry, Scully, I just can't do that."

He turned slowly away and moved out of the Fiore's house. Scully watched him go, half wanting to stop him but knowing it was no use. Mulder wanted his answers, and even if he was going to fail getting them, she had to let him try.

Chapter Text

"Dana, they're going to toss the bouquet soon. You should get up there."

Scully tried to hide her pained look at Ellen's eager smile. She couldn't quite catch the grimace at the small cluster at the front of the reception hall, squealing and giggling among themselves like a gaggle of bored and hungry chickens. It was made up of teenage girls, middle-aged divorcees, and the six-year-old flower girl from the wedding party, currently spinning giddily on a fluffy blue dress the same color as Scully's own.

"You think if I don't go up, anyone would notice?" She moaned as Ellen tugged at her arm, pulling her from out of her plastic, folding chair and up on to her shoeless, stocking feet.

"Dana, it's Sarah's wedding. Make it fun for her."

Scully glanced towards the bridal table where Sarah, one of the small group of friends from her undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, was busily probing the throat of her new husband with her tongue. She somehow doubted Sarah was going to notice anything, especially given the fact that she was fairly certain bride and groom were five sheets to the wind. Sarah's new husband looked ready to slide drunkenly from his seat and unto the floor under the table for a long, intoxicated nap.

"Whose idea was it to have an open bar at a wedding anyway," Scully murmured as she fussed with the massive satin bow at her waist, glowering at the taffeta monstrosity that threatened to carry her off on the first stiff breeze that ran through the room.

"The same person who came up with the idea for those awful bridesmaids dresses." Ellen grinned, tugging at one puffy, capped sleeve that swathed Dana's slight shoulders. Ellen at least had gotten out of the duty, and was comfortably attired in something tasteful that didn't look as if it were designed for parachuting out of airplanes. "Seriously, Dana, why did you let Sarah talk you into being a bridesmaid?"

"I was the only one of our gang who still wasn't married," she replied heavily, glaring at the giggling group of woman warily. One particular girl, who looked to be no older than nineteen, seemed to eye the rest in the group with a glower that threatened violence should the bouquet fall into the hands of anyone other than herself. Maybe, Scully mused, she should have brought her service weapon with her to this wedding. She could have probably fit it in the God-forsaken, giant bow.

"You think Sarah's sober enough to toss the thing?" Ellen glanced at their inebriated friend, who wobbled dangerously from off her husband as the mother-of-the-bride carefully tried to detach her daughter from groom long enough for the traditional flower toss. Scully tried not to snort too loudly, remembering Sarah as the prim and proper one of their college circle, who would never in a million years imagine getting thoroughly trashed at her own wedding and making a scene.

"How much coordination does it take to toss a nosegay in the air over your head?" Scully replied.

"Have you watched 'America's Funniest Home Videos'?" Ellen murmured. "Listen, you go head into the fray. I've got to go track down Trevor and Mike, else he'll let my son eat nothing but cake and punch all day and I'll never get him to bed tonight."

Scully tried hard not to whimper as she watched her dearest, female friend rush off in the direction of the buffet line after husband and child, abandoning her to the vagaries of the other single women standing in the idle of the reception hall. As Scully stood watching them, she had the distinct impression that she was the wounded, plump antelope and they were the heard of ravenous lionesses. She swallowed hard as she shuffled across the dance floor, sans her uncomfortable heels, picking up her trailing, sapphire blue taffeta skirt. She frowned at the wad of shiny fabric that made her feel at thirty-years-old that she was some sort of reject from a John Hughes high-school prom film. She could only imagine how she looked, copper red hair curled and puffed in some impossible rats nest held in orbit by a judicious use of a giant can of Aqua Net hairspray. It was the setting for disaster, she knew it, and she smiled tightly as she edged closely to one of the nearest ladies, a woman who looked old enough to be her mother. Taller than Scully by some three inches, the middle-aged lady kept eyeing her up and down as if she was contemplating how much force she would need to knock Scully's slighter, petite frame to the dusty dance floor in the trample to the bridal bouquet. Scully contemplated what would happen if she would happen to mention she was a federal agent and thus armed. Yet somehow, Sarah's mother had convinced her drunken daughter to totter giggling to the front of the reception hall. Resplendent in white satin and a veil that sat askew on her highly piled hair, she waved the bunch of silk flowers and shiny ribbons enticingly at the catcalling women, waggling suggestive eyebrows and stumbling over the flounces of lace and silk as she tried to stand up straight enough to look sober.

Dear God, why couldn't Mulder get a liver-eating mutant to investigate for this weekend? She'd take an alien autopsy, a close encounter with another strange life form, hell, she'd make another desperate attempt to clean Mulder's apartment again if it meant she could get out of this Dante-esque level of purgatory. Anything to prevent her from standing in front of all of these people in her God-awful dress, with hair that looked as if it had walked straight out of a 80's hair band music video, alongside women who looked so desperate they might just actually kill one another for a five dollar bundle of silk flowers and ribbon put together at a craft store. Her mind boggled at just how sad and sorry this picture was, and how she prayed to all that was holy in this universe she never had to attend a single other wedding like this ever again. In front of her Sarah turned a slow, drunken pirouette. She stopped, teetered a bit, and then crouched down low, flowers in hand, before popping back up like an intoxicated jack-in-the-box, the bundle of flowers flying in a wide arc through the air.

Scully didn't even bother to reach for it as the other women shrieked and screamed, lunging for the be-flowered missile before it even completed its flight through the air. Instead, she stood right in her place, watching as it aimed squarely for the top of her over-curled, over-fluffed, over-sprayed bangs and smacked her right in the forehead. She didn't have time to cry out as her hands flew up and pinned the plastic stems to her giant hair, as around her the women in the crowd cheered and moaned. The teenager girl who had stared daggers at her earlier now glared at Scully as if she had stolen her future husband away from completely. Scully could only blink in startled surprise as she tried to pry the bouquet gently from the shellacked strands of crushed bangs, staring at the blue and white silken petals as if they were handfuls of be-ribboned, writhing snakes.

"Dana, tell me, whose the lucky fellow?" Ellen gleefully snorted, crossing the dance floor from where her husband and child sat looking supremely bored and wrapping an arm around her friends slight shoulders. "Tell me he's hot and loaded and will take you away from the FBI and dead bodies forever!"

"Yeah, something like that." Scully sniffed dryly as she spotted the small flower girl looking forlornly at the bouquet in her hands. It was clear the little one wanted the bouquet more than she did. She shot girl a friendly smile and kneeled to her level, handing it over to the child's shining delight. With blonde curls and rumpled skirts, she took the flowers and gleefully ran with them to her waiting mother.

"Didn't want to keep your good luck?" Ellen grabbed Scully's hand, and drug her off the floor as the band started playing again. The wedding guests who were in the mood rose to dance to some horrible, sleazy sound version of the Tears for Fears song, "I Know This Much Is True".

"I didn't want to create unwarranted expectation," Scully replied promptly, flopping into the nearest chair at the closest empty table, uncaring where here ugly, blue dyed shoes were or who else was sitting at that table for that matter.

"I thought you mother was champing at the bit for a wedding. Seriously, do you see Melissa ever getting married?" Ellen laughed at the very idea of Scully's hippy-dippy sister ever marrying. Sliding into a chair across from Dana, she scanned for her husband and son sitting three tables away. "If she does, she won't go for the fancy, white dress type of wedding. Face it, your mother's only hope is you!"

"Thanks, El," Scully sighed despondently. "I think she's satisfied enough for a while. Bill just got married."

"Bill's not a girl," Ellen replied pointedly. "Aren't you still partnered with that cute guy?"

"Mulder is still my partner, yes." Scully's eyes cut narrowly at her friend. "My work partner. Not my best friend, not my crush, not even the guy I fantasize about. He is my co-worker."

"And he's still a jerk," Ellen sighed regretfully.

Damn it! Scully bit her lip. She had said that about Mulder. And she had said it in irritation with him more than anything. He had drug her up to New Jersey to chase after the mythical Jersey Devil forcing her to spend five hours in traffic driving back to make it to Ellen's for her son's birthday. But despite her irritation,Mulder had been correct, sort of. There was a woman out in the wild, whether she was the Jersey Devil or not. And she supposed he couldn't exactly be a jerk for that.

How a year changed things between she and Mulder, she wondered quietly.

"Well, he's not as bad as all of that," Scully admitted grudgingly. "But none-the-less, he's my partner, and I'm done with sleeping with people I work with."

"Jack wasn't that bad," Ellen blurted, before realizing what she had said. Her eyes widened horrifically as she slapped her fingers to her mouth.

"It's all right," Scully began, her brain stuttering a minute as she tried to process what her friend had said.

"Oh Dana, I'm so sorry, I didn't think," Ellen murmured, lowering her hand. "I mean…I'm sorry. I forget, you know, that…what happened, happened."

"Yeah," Scully nodded, blinking against the prickle that formed in the corners of her eyes. "It's all right. It's been a while."

"Four months, Dana." Ellen looked apologetic. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought him up."

Scully shrugged. "It's all right. I mean, you're right; Jack wasn't so bad, while we were together. But then he couldn't let his work go. He couldn't make time just for us." She thought briefly that this was a trait her former lover seemed to share with her current partner, that inability to let his work alone, to take time just for himself.

"Still, he was nice," Ellen, mused softly, looking contrite after her faux paux. "The only other one I remember you mentioning being serious about was Daniel, and honestly Dana, you aren't still pining after him are you?"

"Daniel Waterston? No!" She snorted. "That was what, five years ago. Seriously, I'm more kicking myself in the ass still over that."

"You didn't know, Dana. As I remember it, you thought he was charming, handsome, and debonair. How were you supposed to know he was married?"

"I could have asked those questions from the start," Scully replied dryly, eyeing Sarah's new husband as he quietly set his head on the wedding party table and began to snore loudly, drooling slightly on the white, linen fabric. His bride had taken to twirling around on the dance floor with the best man, laughing loudly and giddily and starting to take on a tinge of green around the gills.

"I could have asked myself why a middle-aged man as successful as Daniel was doing dating his younger charges when he was 'separated' from his wife. I didn't think about it till after the damage was already done." She sighed heavily. "No more dating men I work with on a daily basis."

"Well see, Dana, that's the rub," Ellen began carefully. "You'd have to have a life outside of your work to see those mythical men."

"You're some help," Scully scowled playfully at her friend.

"Seriously," Ellen tugged thoughtfully at her dark hair, "You've always been obsessed with your work since we were kids in college. And you're amazing at it, no one is denying that, but can your work at the FBI be so consuming you can't even go out for drinks now and again?"

When was the last time she had been out at a bar, she wondered, frowning? "It's just hard, especially with the work I'm doing now. I get called out of town on a moments notice, I spend days at a time out in the field." Not to mention having to prevent her partner's work from being shut down by shadowy figures within the government who sought to run him out.

"And when you get back you don't spend time even with your old friends," Ellen teased playfully. "Whatever happened to Rod, the guy I set you up with?"

"He didn't work out." She had never really elaborated to her friend the truth behind what had happened during that date. Not that he wasn't nice enough, or settled enough, or sane enough, and perhaps that had been the problem. Rod had been too nice, to settled, too…normal. How in the world could she explain chasing after aliens and performing autopsies on mutants to anyone else she hoped to meet out there, if she couldn't even explain her work to him or to Ellen for that matter.

"Ellen, the nature of my work, I can't just drop it and let it go. I'm too invested now. But I also know that few people outside will ever totally understand what it is that I do or the things that I've seen."

"Gees, Dana, you make it sound like you've seen aliens or something," Ellen laughed light-heartedly.

If only she had, she sighed. Perhaps she could be out of this quandary. Fox Mulder would have his answers, she would be back to a normal life, and the FBI would be happy. "Something like that."

One of the members of the service staff, an older teenage kid, wandered around the tables and zeroed in on theirs. He was dressed in the sort of uniform tuxedos the reception hall made their service staff wear and he looked hot, stuffy and uncomfortable as he stared right at Scully and directed his steps straight to her.

"'Scuse me? Are you Dana Scully?" His bored gaze fell from her teased rat's nest of red hair to the low cut, sweetheart décolletage that just did manage to stay modest over her rather average bosom.

"Yes," she sighed, rolling her eyes, as the kid blushed, clearing his throat nervously.

"Errr, phone up front for you." He shuffled nervously away, ducking his head between skinny shoulders as he scuttled off past the tables filled with chattering party guests.

"Well, at least one person thinks you're hot," Ellen laughed, winking.

"Wonder who called me here," Scully frowned, "I'll be back in a moment."

With skirts in hand, Scully wended her way to the lobby of the reception hall. In the front sat the reception desk, where a bored looking woman eyed Scully speculatively over large, hot-pink glasses and lazily handed her the phone receiver. "This is Dana Scully."

"You're still sober." Mulder sounded surprised.

"Yeah, well give me another round of that song from the movie Beaches and believe me I'll hit that open bar like a sorority girl in Cabo." Scully couldn't help but to grin madly at the sound of her partner's voice, hoping this mean an easy excuse to duck out of her duties as bridesmaid and wash the stink of ozone-killing hairspray off of her.

"As long as someone gets pictures for me when the dress comes off, that's all I ask."

She snorted softly. "What do you want, Mulder."

"We got a case." She could hear a car honking in the background as his phone crackled slightly.

"Are you at the airport?"

"You are right, Dr. Scully. I'm heading to your favorite state and mine, Washington." She could hear Mulder shiver slightly. She knew that he still remembered the glow-in-the-dark bugs from nearly two months before.

"Please tell me no more woods, Mulder," she whimpered pathetically as she shifted from one aching, shoeless foot to the other.

"Nope, we're going to be in a field more comfortable for you for a change," he teased, knowing she was not the rough and ready, nature sort of girl. "There's been a murder at a jet propulsion lab in Seattle, a group working on a powerful engine, supposedly the fastest to date."

"Okay," Scully frowned, plucking at the stupid bow on her dress, waiting for the other shoe to drop in Mulder's explanation. It always did. "So what are we talking about? Ghosts? Gremlins?"

The bored looking receptionist stared at her over her giant lenses as if Scully had suddenly grown an alien head.

"That was a great Twilight Zone episode, the one with the gremlin on the plane," Mulder digressed briefly with misty nostalgia. "But no, apparently one of the scientists was accidentally locked in the room when the engine turbine was on."

"Oh," Scully gasped and winced painfully. The bored girl was suddenly becoming very fascinated, openly watching Scully now, despite the private nature of the conversation.

"Yeah and so I'm out to give it a look and I booked you a flight for later this evening," he replied in his airy monotone, the tone she had come to know as his way of trying to gloss over the fact that he had once again just stomped all over her personal life for his private pursuits. "I figured you needed some time to sober up after they start into the Chicken Dance."

Any other time she perhaps would be angry with him for just assuming she would drop everything and run to meet him. She wasn't even sure what the X-file was in this situation and she didn't believe Mulder had said, but somehow she couldn't bring herself to care that much. Somewhere in the hall though, she could hear the ominous call for people to come to the front and the tuning of something that sounded suspiciously like an accordion, wheezing to life. She'd figure out Mulder and his X-file out later. Let him waste Bureau resources, she'd cover with Skinner, anything to get out of this abominable, blue parachute.

"Right, I'll see you tonight," she murmured, elated to have an excuse to flee.

"With or without the photos of you ten tequila shots down?"

"Stone cold sober, Mulder." She felt her mouth twitch despite herself.

"One of these days," Mulder sighed ruefully.

Chapter Text

The comfortable, caring looking woman who answered the door at the Heritage Halfway House frowned in confusion at Mulder's serious demeanor as her face turned between the two well dressed agents wonderingly.

"Mrs. Stodie," Mulder immediately flipped open his badge, as Scully did the same, only deepening the woman's expression. "I'm Agent Mulder, this is Agent Scully, and we are here to see Roland Fuller."

"Our Roland?" The woman blinked at Mulder's serious tone as if he had just asked her to produce the Pope. "Why?"

"Mrs. Stodie, has no one told you about the death that occurred at Roland's place of work," Scully smoothly interjected, hoping to allay some of the woman's immediate fears. Mrs. Stodie blanched visibly and glanced over her shoulder in alarm, turning back to the agents, stammering.

"No, Roland didn't even mention it. I hadn't even heard. Oh, dear!" She bit her lip, stepping back from the doorway and allowing them to enter quietly into the neat, snug hallway of the large, family house. There were coats and shoes gathered at a coat wrack in the corner, and in the distance Scully could hear the sounds of a television in a far room, playing what sounded like children's educational television.

"Would you come this way?" Mrs. Stodie directed herself and Mulder into a shabby but neat study room, obviously used by Mrs. Stodie as an office. There was no door on the front, perhaps so that the middle-aged caretaker could easily listen for her charges, and it was filled with battered filing cabinets and a desk piled with paperwork. Mrs. Stodie glanced at them apologetically as she directed them to two, worn but comfortable looking armchairs by her scuffed and cluttered desk.

"Forgive the mess, it's hard to keep up on it when you are trying to look after everyone else." She smiled tightly as she sat behind the cleanest spot, folding her hands worriedly in front of her. She glanced between the both of them. "What happened?"

"One of the scientists, Ronald Surnow, had an accident last night at the lab," Mulder supplied. "He was caught in the room they are testing the experimental engine in. It turned on mysteriously."

Mrs. Stodie gasped with understandable horror, eyes wide as she stared at them both. "How did it happen?"

"That is what we are investigating," Mulder assured her, continuing. "Six months ago another scientist on the same project, Arthur Grable, died in a car accident."

Mrs. Stodie nodded knowingly as Mulder paused.

"You knew of Dr. Grable's death," he asked.

"Of course. Oh, Roland was so upset." Mrs. Stodie shook her head grievously. "He was the one who got Roland the job at the lab. Very nice man. He was genuinely interested in Roland. Always made sure he was well looked after." She shrugged. "So few people care about those with Roland's type of condition. Back in the day they usually just shut children like him away and forgot they existed. Once they reached adulthood, they would land in places like this." She waved a hand around her dull, cramped office. "And the rest of the world forgot about them. Roland was lucky to have a job. It's difficult at times finding positions for adults with profound learning disabilities."

Scully felt her heart tug sympathetically as Mrs. Stodie spoke. It was a familiar argument she knew well, one she had in medical school many times with her fellow students and teachers. During her rotations as an intern and young resident it wasn't uncommon to go to the ER and find all manner of people dumped on the doorstep of the hospital, children whose parents no longer wanted them, teenagers with drug and behavior problems, adults with behavior and mental disorders. It was left to be some other person's problem, something that others could clean up. And while she had no doubt that in many cases they were left by desperate parents and caretakers unable to handle the realities of caring for them on their own, it was more upsetting that there were no safety nets, no places to turn to other than abandonment for the unexpected or unwanted in the world.

"Whatever happened to the meek and the innocent inheriting the earth," Mulder murmured thoughtfully, almost mirroring Scully's thoughts exactly.

"I know," Mrs. Stodie murmured sympathetically. "But Roland has a good home here. And he'll be most upset to hear of Dr. Surnow as well."

"So, he didn't hear anything about it last night?" Scully found it strange that Roland, the only other person at the facility, wouldn't have heard the man's screams.

"No, usually those things agitate him a great deal and he was fine this morning." Mrs. Stodie's kindly face looked thoughtful." It's possibly he might have been cleaning elsewhere when it happened and didn't even see or hear the event. He tends to get focused on one thing sometimes and forgets."

"What sort of condition does he have," Scully asked curiously.

"I can't say for sure," Mrs. Stodie glanced towards her battered filing cabinets as if hoping to divine the answer there. "He was placed in the system at a very young age, in the 50s, before anyone truly understood many of the mental health conditions like they do now. He was listed simply as having mild to severe mental retardation as a boy, though he does show some savant like signs. I couldn't tell you much beyond that. I'm not a mental health professional."

"Do you think we can speak with him," Mulder pressed.

"I don't see why not." She rose, directing them back out of the door and across the hallway to a large room, filled with the same sort of shabby, out-of-date furniture that filled her office, comfortable and well used. The room seemed to be sectioned between the living room area of the front and a dining and activities area of the back. A large, wooden table seated two figures, one a girl who watched a man at work on a piece of paper.

"Roland," Mrs. Stodie called, as the man looked up slightly from his work, a dull, round face regarding his care taker with guilty concern.

"There are some people here would like to talk with you." She patted his thick, hunched shoulders reassuringly. He didn't look at either Mulder or Scully, but instead returned to his paper, pointing to one spot where his magic marker had traced off the edge of the paper and on to the table.

"Uh-oh," he breathed slowly, clearly it upset him his small mistake. "I went off the paper. Sorry."

"That's all right," Mrs. Stodie reassured him, glancing to the girl. She was curiously watching the two agents without a hint of concern as to who the two strangers where. Scully noticed she possessed facial trademarks of Down syndrome. "Tracy, would you like to come help me in the TV room?"

"Okay," she replied brightly, smiling happily at Mulder and Scully as she left and following behind Mrs. Stodie. They were alone with Roland, who had returned to his paper and his large container of small, metallic star stickers. They were the type Scully remembered well from grade school, the ones that Sister Martha loved to put on her math tests for those students who did well.

"Hi, Roland," Mulder began gently as he settled at the table beside the man, watching as he stuck a silver sticker on the paper with grave diligence. "We're here to ask you a couple of questions?"

Roland didn't acknowledge Mulder's words as Scully settled on the other side of him and studied the man. He appeared to be in his early forties, of fairly decent health for a child of the mental health system, with a sort of pleasant ambiguity to his expression that made Scully wonder how helpful he would be in their investigation.

"Do you remember working last night?"

"Uh-huh," Roland grunted as he pasted yet another star on the paper, his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth in studious concentration.

"Do you remember seeing anything unusual? Seeing strangers?' Scully asked softly, trying to make eye contract with him. He shook his head but didn't look at her or meet her eyes.

"Did, um, did Dr. Surnow, or Dr. Keats, or Dr. Nollette do anything unusual?" She prodded.

"Nope," he replied simply.

Scully doubted Roland knew much more than what he was telling them and judging by his single word answers he wouldn't be able to be particularly descriptive even if he did. She watched quietly for several moments as he tacked yet another star onto a quickly crowding field of them on his paper.

"You must like stars," she smiled at him as he continued to work.

"One hundred and forty-seven." He murmured distractedly, not even looking up from what he was doing.

"Sorry?" She glanced at Mulder, confused at Roland's answer.

He pointed towards her chest, as Scully looked down at the dress blouse she was wearing. It was a cream colored, lighter than the ivory jacket she had on that day, and covered with golden brown stars that speckled it. Not particularly attractive as far as blouses went, but it had been a gift from her mother and she was loath to just toss it out without wearing it a few times to justify getting rid of an ugly article of clothing.

"Stars," Roland murmured.

Mulder glanced from Scully and her blouse to the container of stars, to Roland again, his thoughts spinning as he leaned in close to the man, his voice soft and non-threatening. "You like numbers, too?"

There was nothing Mulder said that particularly was intimidating and nothing in how he said it that Scully thought would be upsetting. Without warning, Roland's eyes rolled in their sockets, his head jerked suddenly, as he angrily pushed the container with his precious stars off the table. Surprised, Scully paused, glancing at the equally stunned Mulder. Just as suddenly Roland came out of his fit and gasped in agitation at what he had done. Rising to move towards the spill of stickers across the floor, he quickly began to gather the scattered, metallic stars back into their container, counting them each one by one with single-minded focus.

What had Mulder said? What had he done? Scully replayed those last few seconds in her mind as she rose, quickly moving to crouch beside the worried Roland, attempting to scoop some of the papery stars in her fingers and put them back for him. Roland said nothing as he continued to count, as if there was nothing outside of himself and his world other than his stars and the need to ensure that each and every single one of them made it back into the container he kept them in, safe where they belonged.

"Roland, let me help you." She murmured. The sound of Roland's commotion drew Mrs. Stodie in, her footsteps coming up behind Scully. "Roland? Is everything okay?"

He didn't answer his caretaker, continuing to count his stars as Scully tried to scoop up the worst of the mess. She gave Mrs. Stodie apologetic looks as she did so.

"What happened?" Mrs. Stodie glanced from Scully as she knelt on the floor to Mulder who stood quickly from the activity table, looking shamefaced and confused. "What did you say to upset him?"

"Nothing unusual," Scully supplied as Mulder flushed, practically stepping in before Mulder could answer. She placed a large pile of the stars into the container, Roland oblivious to her efforts as he continued to count. "He seemed to have a seizure as we were talking to him and he spilled his stars, that's all."

"Seizure?" This didn't sound like a particular surprise to the woman, who sighed sadly as if this wasn't the first time such odd behavior had come out of her charge. "He's been having quite a few of those lately. The doctors can't explain why." She knelt beside Roland, wrapping an arm across his broad, bulky shoulders. "Roland, sweetheart, that's all right. You don't have to clean this up, Tracy and I will gather it."

He ignored her, counting his stars into his hand and carefully pouring them into their cup.

Mrs. Stodie grimaced and sighed. "I'm sorry about this. I'm afraid I can't let you question Roland further." She smoothed Roland's hair. For his part, the man looked unperturbed as he continued to count through the small pile of gleaming stickers in thick hands. "You can come back tomorrow if you like. Perhaps he'll feel better then."

Scully looked to Mulder before answering. His nod was imperceptible as she rose, smiling reassuringly at the caretaker. "We'll come back." She placed a hand on Roland's shoulder. He didn't even look up at her. "I'm hope you feel better Roland."

They saw themselves out of the front as Mrs. Stodie coaxed Roland to give up his task, and to sit in his chair while she tidied up. As they entered the hallway, Tracy, the girl who had been with Roland earlier, peeked around the doorway, watching the proceedings with shy fascination. As she saw the two of them she ducked her head quickly and turned to move down the hallway, guiltily glancing over her shoulder.

"Tracy," Mulder called softly. The girl paused, turning slowly to look back at them, her bright eyes curious, but worried as she shuffled slowly back towards them.

"You're Roland's friend, right?"

"He's my boyfriend," she replied with a small smile, her speech slurred slightly. "Roland and I go together."

"You care about him a lot." Mulder didn't even blink or smile at her statement, with no condescension or derision, just warm concern and curiosity. Mulder, when he wanted to be, could be amazingly good with people, Scully realized, especially those who didn't immediately throw up Mulder's defenses. He smiled encouragingly at Tracy as she scuffed one of her toes in a childish action, her cheeks turning pink at Mulder's words.

"Yeah, cause we take care of each other," she shyly shrugged her rounded shoulders, her thick fingers reaching up to play with a lock of long, dark hair. "Roland says he'll marry me someday. I help him with his pictures. I write and he puts the stars on." She nodded proudly. "We like to walk together in the park." She pointed vaguely in a direction somewhere out in front of the house.

"Has Roland been upset the last few days?" Mulder continued carefully, as if worried he might upset Tracy as he had Roland minutes before.

"No." Tracy shook her head, her dark hair spinning madly about her friendly face. "But sometimes he makes me go away. He says he just wants to be alone."

Mulder shot Scully a knowing glance, though she wasn't sure what it was the girl was really telling them. Apparently it meant something to Mulder who nodded and smiled the sort of heart-melting smile he gave when he was being particularly charming. "Thank you, Tracy. If Roland remembers anything, will you have Mrs. Stodie call the FBI agents?"

The girl nodded helpfully at them both, as Mulder moved towards the door and held it open for Scully. She waited on the porch as he stepped out, watching him expectantly.

"So what was that about?"

"I'm not sure," he muttered, patting his front pocket. "I want to check out handwriting on the whiteboard though, the new equation left there last night."

"Why?"

"Part of the handwriting is different. It doesn't match the rest of the work on the board. Now, I'm no rocket scientist, Scully, but I wasn't half bad in advanced math in school and it looked to me that whoever it was that had added to the notes up there might have thought of a new and different approach to the work that they are doing at the lab."

"And that someone might have killed Surnow, okay." This much made sense to Scully. "But what would Roland Fuller have to do with that."

He was silent for several seconds before answering her. "Roland seems very fixated on numbers."

"Not unusual for anyone who has savant abilities. Even Mrs. Stodie mentioned it."

"It's as if his brain fixates on one ability, something it can make sense of, in his case numbers." Mulder chewed his lip thoughtfully. "Don't you find it strange that he was the only other person at the scene of a crime, he has this amazing facility for math, and yet he can't remember seeing anyone there last night who could have been in the lab with Ron Surnow?"

"Mulder, he could barely speak in complete sentences," Scully replied archly. "You're a psychologist, you of all people should know that the brain is a mystery at best for scientists and we don't understand how it is that savant brains work. He might not be able to remember because he just can't. You saw that seizure he had. Perhaps…perhaps it affects his memory. Perhaps he is just mentally incapable of putting the pieces together."

"Or perhaps something else is trying to get through," he murmured as he stared thoughtfully out into the distance, towards their parked car.

"Getting through?" Here they were again, Scully mentally sighed, back to the weird, the strange, and the unusual. "Mulder, did it occur to you that perhaps he's just a plain, old-fashioned, mentally challenged man, whose family cared so little for him they dumped him here to fend for himself. Why do you have to turn this into something weird?" She threw up her hands in frustration as Mulder blandly blinked at her, looking surprised she would even explode at him on the subject.

"Did you have too much Tequila at the wedding yesterday?" He responded promptly.

"No, apparently I didn't have enough," she growled as he pivoted to move off the porch and down to their car.

"I can't put my finger on it, Scully, but Roland Fuller knows something more about this case. I'm not trying to make an X-file out of nothing. He is the only witness to this crime, the only one physically there and yet as you say, he can't even communicate in clear sentences." He stopped when he reached their rental. "He's the only possibility we got at the moment."

At least, she grumbled silently as she sighed and followed behind him, his theory didn't involve a ghost this time.

Chapter Text

"Mulder, you told me once it took your parents a while to get pregnant with you." Scully flipped through yellowed paperwork and faded, handwritten notes, coughing slightly at the smell of mildewed dust stirred up as she thumbed through Roland Fuller's medical records and state case file. Her eyes watered as she rubbed them absently and looked across at her partner who was copiously writing, his hand scratching quickly on a legal pad as he flipped through files of his own.

"Yeah, what about it," he mumbled, rubbing tired eyes under his reading glasses, yawning slightly as he cricked his neck.

"I imagine that they were thrilled when you arrived, right?" She felt the puckering of a frown between her eyes as she glanced up at Mulder, who shrugged as a matter of course.

"I assume so. My parents regaled me with the story of my birth like I was the Christ child and it was some sort of miracle." He continued to flip through old papers. "I don't remember it being so spectacular when Samantha came along. I mostly noticed Mom getting bigger, then being trundled off to my grandparents to be filled full of sugar and then set loose on an unsuspecting infant."

"Please tell my you were nice to your little sister."

"The wiffle baseball bat to the head was a complete accident," he replied, frowning at the file. "Why?"

"I'm just thinking," she pursed her lips as she flanked down at a black and white photograph of a young Roland Fuller. "What were the Grables thinking in the 1950s when they gave their own son up?"

"You mean Roland?" Mulder pulled at his lip speculatively. "It was a different time, Scully. People had different ideas then regarding how to handle a special needs child."

"It wasn't that far away from when we were born. He's just ten years older than you," she pointed out, watching as Mulder nodded in concession. "You're parents would have died rather than give you up."

A faint glimmer of something passed across his eyes, before he agreed. "I don't think my parents willingly would have given up either of us." He carefully stepped around the still aching wound of Samantha.

"And yet the Grables just tossed aside a son who perhaps wasn't as gifted as his brother, not as smart, but who still had so much to give to his family." It stung her, hurt her that the Grables were callous enough to toss aside a child like that, just because of an impairment that he neither asked for nor could he prevent. "He's never known his own mother's touch or what it was like to have the love of his own family. You heard Mrs. Stodie, he's only ever grown up in the system, has only ever known caretakers and others just like him. And he could have grown up to be so much more." It angered her, perhaps more than it should, and she felt outraged at two such parents who would be so indifferent to their own child as to toss him so callously away like that and to tear him from his own twin brother.

"I don't disagree." Mulder looked thoughtful and tired over the stacks of files. "We are both lucky that our parents were never put in the decision to choose like that. But I know from my own training that this isn't an uncommon story, thousands of children like Roland in the early 20th century were locked up in sanitariums and mental institutions and most didn't end up nearly as well off." He picked up a photograph of Arthur Grable, Roland's twin, heavily bearded and be-spectacled. "Arthur at least never forgot the twin brother he had lost years before. And he did try to make the amends his parents never could. He's the whole reason Roland lives where he does and has the job that he does. I've checked Roland's records, he was transferred to Mrs. Stodie's care by Arthur."

"But he left his brother with others rather than take him on himself," Scully insisted stubbornly.

"Grable didn't know how to take care of Roland. And besides, look what happened to him. Road hamburger and a deep freeze in some science lab and then where would Roland have ended up." Mulder had a point, and she hated to admit it. "He is where people care for him and he's taken care of. And Gable could still try to do what was best for his brother without disrupting the life Roland had. I don't think that means he loved his brother any less."

"Perhaps," Scully grudgingly granted, but unhappily so. "I suppose in my family, in our Irish Catholic upbringing, such thinking was just unheard of. Iit was sinful." She tried to imagine her mother ever giving up one of them for anything short of death. "You took care of your own, in sickness and in health."

"I couldn't say about mine," Mulder replied absently. "I still don't know what happened to my own sister."

Scully watched Mulder silently as he returned to his file, quietly reading through papers and making notes. She returned to her own work, ruffling through evidence, searching for the evidence that definitively linked Arthur Grable to Roland Fuller.

Chapter Text

The kindly Mrs. Stodie looked close to tears as they escorted Roland up the walk. Surprisingly, Roland had said little on his car ride back from the police station. He had been told, of course, that he was being taken to a different place for a few weeks, just for doctors to look at him, and that he would be back home with Mrs. Stodie soon. Roland had taken it with the sort of equanimity Scully hadn't expected out of him. Perhaps he understood about Arthur Grable better than she had given him credit for.

"Roland, are you all right?" Mrs. Stodie held her arms out to him as he stepped inside her embrace and suffered the other woman's fussing as she looked him carefully over. "Are you all right," she murmured again, glancing up at him, then towards Scully who hovered nearby.

"He's fine, Mrs. Stodie. Nothing physically wrong with him in the least." She gave the other woman a meaningful look, before glancing towards Mulder who watched silently, a binder tucked neatly under the arm of his suit coat.

"I have to go away, Mrs. Stodie," Roland mumbled as he pulled away. "I have to go and get my things."

"What?" Mrs. Stodie's voice was sharp with alarm, her eyes bright as she looked to the two agents. Scully ducked her face away from the angry confusion. She hadn't been thrilled with this idea on the part of the District Attorney to send Roland to be evaluated. It was clear that he remembered very little of his experience, save for the fact that he knew that someone else had been in his mind and he vaguely understood that Arthur Grable had been his brother. Otherwise Roland Fuller understood no more about how or why those men died than he did about the jet propulsion theory he personally had been working on. And it seemed so wrong to Scully that a man who life had already treated so unfairly would have to suffer through separation from the only environment he could come close to calling home because of circumstance, one she and the DA both admitted was one that neither of them could explain. The DA had been no more willing to accept Mulder's insights into Roland's mysterious behavior than she was and even less patient.

"Mrs. Stodie," Mulder began as Roland pulled away from his caretaker and began to plod inside quietly without them. "Can we go inside?"

The woman looked as if she wanted to say no, but finally reluctantly agreed, ushering them both back inside the shabby, comfortable front room. Roland's heavy footsteps sounded down the creaking boards of the hallway as he gathered his things.

"Mrs. Stodie," Mulder continued once she had shut the door behind them. "We believe that Roland was unwittingly involved in the murders of two of the scientists at the facility he worked at."

The woman's mouth dropped open dully, as if Mulder had told her that Roland had just found the cure for cancer. Flustered, she shook her head in disbelieving negativity. "That's just not possible."

"I'm afraid it is, Mrs. Stodie," Scully weighed in, feeling she might be the voice of reason that the other woman might be able to trust. "He'll be held in psychiatric custody for evaluation." She tried to soften her words somewhat, to assure the woman that it wasn't forever, but somehow the words sounded harsh and judgmental from her lips.

"Is he being charged with a crime," she asked, fearful worry for her charge lacing her words.

"The DA hasn't made that determination yet," Scully tried to reassure her again, still sounding painfully stiff and formal. She looked to Mulder to soften the blow somehow; he had that way of taking the edge off of painful explanations, of bringing empathy and humanity where her logic seemed to always get in the way.

Mulder must have read her silent plea. He smoothly stepped in, full of warm reassurance and confidence. "We've recommended that he be remanded to your custody as soon as the court deems it appropriate."

Relief and grief flooded the other woman, her shoulders slumping as she waved one hand in sad frustration. Scully could almost see the self-recrimination and guilty wonder build up to Mrs. Stodie's next question. "How could this happen? Roland never exhibited any violent tendencies."

"It's my belief that he wasn't acting under his own volition," Mulder continued, ignoring Scully's glare. If she had been standing close to him, perhaps she would have been able to catch a sleeve or murmur quietly to him to distract him, but instead she watched in consternation as Mulder produced the folder form under his arm. He opened the incomprehensible calculations to Mrs. Stodie as if he hoped they explained everything. Hell, to Scully they explained very little and she had majored in physics.

"This is the work of Arthur Grable, Roland's brother. It's a new theory of jet propulsion, unfinished at the time of his death. In the last two weeks Roland has completed the calculations."

"How?" Mrs. Stodie's tone was predictably incredulous. Scully hadn't wanted Mulder to jump into his strange theories, she had endured it with the District Attorney, but knew that poor Mrs. Stodie, still trying to wrap her head around Roland's involvement, would not in a million years be able to understand the idea of psychic connections between long lost twins, especially not when one of them was in a cryogenic freeze.

"We're not sure, Mrs. Stodie." She cut Mulder off from what she suspected would be a drawn out explication on his theories of sibling bonds, silencing him with a pointed look. "All we know is that Roland was somehow able to finish his brother's research."

"His brother?" It was almost too much for the other woman to take in, and she leaned against the doorway between he hallway and the comfortable, well-worn front room as if hoping the solidness of the wood behind her would make up for the lack of a solid explanation from the agents in front of her. "I've been through his records, I know Roland better than I know my own family. He has no brother."

This wasn't surprising to Scully, and as she shot a sideways glance at Mulder she could tell it wasn't surprising to him either. "Roland was given up by his parents as a small child, given to the state to raise because of his developmental disabilities. Arthur Grable was his identical twin brother. As best as we can tell, Grable searched for his brother later on, after his parents death, and tried to take care of his twin in the best way possible."

It was as if puzzle pieces had fallen together mysteriously for Mrs. Stodie, as a light went on behind her eyes, and her expression finally registered something other than shock. "I remember that Dr. Grable was the one who helped arrange for Roland to come here. He took a personal interest in Roland, drove him home from the lab on nights he worked late, would sometimes slip him extra pocket money or just take him out to ball games. I just thought he was being nice, that he had a soft spot for Roland."

"Arthur probably remembered Roland as a child better than Roland remembered Arthur," Mulder murmured. "He couldn't hope to care for Roland as well as you could, but he could try to make his life better in little ways."

"And he never said a thing to Roland about it…or to me for that matter." Her eyes misted as she sniffed slightly. "But what does this have to do with everything?"

Mulder looked as if he wanted to speak again, but he caught Scully's warning eye and her imperceptible shake of her head. He reluctantly remained silent as Scully tried to provide an answer that at least sounded plausible enough to be believed.

"It was a case of industrial espionage," Scully at least tried to spin it in a half-truth sort of way, she wasn't completely wrong, but then it was so much more complex than that. "The other scientists died trying to steal the work of Dr. Grable. We don't know how or why, but Roland was able to finish it before any more harm could be done." She nodded her head towards the notebook Mulder held. "Perhaps Roland's affinity with numbers, coupled with Arthur's desire to share something with his long lost twin, helped create this."

It was something akin to the truth. Somewhere between Mulder's mystical theory of twin links beyond the grave and the DA's concern that Roland might have something more going on his brain than even previous psychologists had recognized. It was about as much of the truth as Mrs. Stodie was going to recognize. And it was enough of the truth to satisfy Scully.

From down the hallway, they could hear Tracy's distraught voice as she spoke with Roland, quiet and patient as he gathered his things.

"I better make sure I get Roland's medical records to take with you. Just so they know what he's on now," Mrs. Stodie murmured, wiping damp eyes as she moved between the two agents and into her office, shuffling through papers, and opening drawers in her rumbling filing cabinet.

Mulder closed the giant notebook with Grable's theory, staring at it sadly. "Do you think we should leave this with her for Roland. Something to remember his brother by."

"I don't know if he'd even understand what it meant to Grable," Scully replied, seeing it sit on the shelf in Roland's room, along with the toys and odds and ends of a man who had the mental and emotional capacity of a child.

"I wouldn't be so sure, Scully," he frowned down the hallway as he heard Roland and Tracy speak. "I believe Roland knew exactly what Dr. Grable was to him, and knew just how much this meant to his brother. After all, he came back from the dead to inhabit his twin just to finish it."

Tracy stormed out of Rowland's room; obviously hurt that Roland was leaving her behind. Scully watched as the girl's normally cheery face crumpled into tears, her heart going out to her. She little understood why it was that her friend and companion had to leave her. How could anyone explain it to her when they hardly understood the whole crazy situation themselves?

"Tracy," Roland called from his room, causing the girl to turn tearfully around. "Wait!"

He shuffled over to her, his jar of metallic star stickers in hand, as he passed them over to Tracy reverently. "Keep my stars."

The girl looked up at Roland, disbelieving, before accepting the jar with a tearful sob as Roland grabbed his bags and moved past her gently, back down the hallway where Mulder and Scully waited for him.

As if sensing that this was when he would finally leave, Tracy's head whipped up quickly, her eyes streaming. "I love you," she called, as Roland turned to smile back at her.

"Me too," he replied simply, turning back on his way. He moved past the pair of agents as he waved goodbye, before stopping in the mirror in the front to check his appearance one last time.

"Roland," Mrs. Stodie called, as Roland turned to his caretaker's voice and moved into her office to speak with her. Scully watched him thoughtfully, as down the hallway Tracy cried softly over his jar of stars.

"You know, we are always arrogant in our intelligence." Mulder sighed softly besides her, earning a questioning look from Scully as she looked up at him.

"You and I assume that Roland and Tracy don't understand certain ideas because of their mental impairment." He turned to glace at Tracy as she sniffed and shuffled despondently into Roland's room, clutching the stars to her chest. "Funny how they can teach us more about honesty and feelings than we can teach ourselves. Maybe Roland and Tracy get something you and I don't."

"About love," Scully asked thoughtfully.

"About a lot of things." Mulder shrugged, smiling down the hall towards the girl who loved her friend so simply. "It's simple for the two of them. No confusion about attraction or morality, of whether it is right or it is wrong, nothing we so called 'intelligent' people use to clutter or romantic entanglements with. It is just simple with them, so easy. They love each other because that's just the way it is."

He sounded achingly regretful, and yet romantically philosophical about the point. It was rare Mulder ever opened up to her about his ideas of love and the heart, that wasn't something that necessarily came up in their everyday conversations regarding the X-files. She had long suspected her partner of being a hopeless romantic, and she smiled teasingly at his speculative gaze.

"Better watch it, Mulder, before you start waxing Byronic on me?"

"What? I'm tall, dark, brooding and handsome," he replied promptly, looking vaguely pleased about the fact. "Can't I have a wounded soul to bleed?"

"All you want, Mulder, let it drip all over the place." She chuckled. "I don't know, perhaps you are right. All this time I've been privately assuming that Roland and Tracy wouldn't understand. I've been feeling sorry for them with the assumption that they didn't. And yet, here they are, getting this all much better than you and I ever would."

"Because our intellect complicates things," Mulder supplied.

"How about our reasoning?"

"How about our fears," he countered.

"Fears of what?"

"I don't know, Scully. What fears do you have when it comes to affairs of the heart?"

"How much time do you got?"

"For you, Scully? All the time in the world."

"I'll think about it," she smiled quietly, as somewhere in the back of her brain a bell sounded, warningly. Why it was sounding, and for what reason, she didn't know. All she knew was that she had the distinct feeling that under Mulder's teasing laughter and carefully schooled, joking façade there was something to those words, something she wasn't terribly sure was complete chatter on his part. She couldn't lay her finger on it, and yet, just a feeling, a silent, unidentifiable presence between them, ever since the moment he had asked about the iced tea while sitting in his car staking out Eugene Tooms.

"Agent Mulder," Roland called thickly from down the hall. "I'm ready to go now."

"How about we see Roland safely to the Sheriff's hands, shall we?" Mulder snapped to attention, patting Scully on the shoulder as he moved past her, towards where Roland waited patiently for them both. Scully watched him, his tall swagger down the narrow space and glanced back to the teary eyed girl on Roland's bed, clutching her jar of stars. She would wait for him to come home and reclaim his most precious possession, Scully realized, as she smiled softly to herself. For Tracy, it was simple. She loved Roland Fuller and he would come home to her one day. Scully wished everything in her life was as completely uncomplicated as that.

Chapter Text

"You'll be happy to know, Mulder, I just got a call from Mrs. Stodie in Washington. She says Roland was released yesterday from the psychiatric facility. He's coming back to her care." She smiled happily as her partner whipped around the corner, looking tired and distracted as he set down his briefcase and pulled out a videocassette. He didn't look as if he'd even heard a word she had said.

"Tracy was thrilled to hear Roland was coming home," she offered, wondering why it was that hadn't even gotten a rise out of her partner's surly, morning mood. Mulder had been the one who had pushed the District Attorney's office in Washington for this very outcome. She thought he'd be the first to cheer the result. Instead he ignored her perturbed frown as he pulled up the cart with the television and VCR and jammed the cassette inside.

"Bad night," she asked in forced cheerfulness.

"Something like that," he mumbled waving her over. "There's something here I want you to see."

"If you want to know if those breasts are fake, Mulder, I can tell you right now they probably are."

"It's not that." He shook his head as he fiddled with the remote control, frowning as the heads inside the VCR whirled loudly. "I got a call last night to turn on the 11 o'clock news on Channel 8, something going on in Baltimore. I taped it. I've been watching it all night, but I can't figure it out." He moved his chair over slightly to allow Scully access to move in front of the TV. He stopped the video on the news reporter's grim face as she stood in front of what looked like the ship works near Baltimore, in an area known as Ardis.

"We have Captain Roy Lacerio standing by. Captain? How was the man able to escape and how seriously injured were the officers involved?" The reporter spoke directly into the camera, her microphone emblazoned with the Channel 8 News logo. Beside her a man in uniform, she assumed he was the mentioned Captain Lacerio, waited patiently as the reporter passed her microphone over to him to speak.

"Those details are still unclear. I'll be talking with several of the off..." the officer began, as someone behind him called for his attention and he excused himself abruptly from the interview, startling the reporter who quickly tried to cover the situation with a brief but unclear explanation of the situation she found herself in.

Scully stared at the screen as Mulder paused it, confused, as he rewound the tape again.

"I guess I don't understand, Mulder," she murmured, leaning against his desk. "She said there was a manhunt. What is there to watch?"

"The manhunt was for a guy who drove into the Chesapeake and still got up to tell the tale." He frowned, his eyes searching the video even it whirled in reverse. "I don't know any more than that, really. Deep Throat didn't say."

"Deep Throat?" Scully choked on the name as she stared at the side of her partner's head, disbelieving. "Mulder, we've been through this once already, why do you continue to listen to him."

"Scully," he drug her name out in a tired moan, clearly not wanting to get into this with her once again.

"No, Mulder, the last time this man called you with 'mysterious' information, we were drug into the middle Arkansas at midnight, chasing after some semi trailer filled with alien space parts. The time before that he's showing up randomly on a case that had nothing to do with aliens, but he mysteriously had the answer to all of our questions regarding the Eves. When he isn't sending you off to be threatened and beaten by military guards, he's standing in the shadows tossing you unexplained tidbits and sending you off to do the dirty work he is too cowardly to come out and do himself." She scowled at the television, crossing her arms angrily in front of herself. "Why do you let him do it?"

Mulder didn't answer her. Instead he played the clip again, scrutinizing the scene, the captain, and the reporter. There was nothing there that looked particularly spectacular to Scully, nothing that would stand out enough to make her wonder what difference it made about a man driving into the bay. "How many times have you watched this?"

"I couldn't sleep," he shrugged, pausing the film again.

"Couldn't sleep? You mean you've been at this all night?" She wanted to rip the video from the player and send him home till he became cognizant again.

"I wanted to you look at it, see if there was something I was missing."

"Mulder, I don't see anything," she sighed, cocking her head sideways at the video and seeing nothing strange, unique, or unusual.

He rewound it again, his jaw working in silent consternation.

She opened her mouth to chastise him again, to urge him to stop this need to follow every scrap of detritus this man threw his way, to let it go and continue with there other work, the work that they could do and did understand, work that wouldn't have Skinner breathing down their necks and threatening their careers. But she recognized the set of Mulder's head, that tension in his neck and shoulders, the gleam in his over bright, feverish eyes. It was the manic look of a man obsessed. Once a year ago it would have frightened her enough to cause her to meekly step aside as he went about whatever he wanted to do. But now, with so much riding on the line, she couldn't, in good conscience, allow him to blindly bluster into this alone. Not without her to lend some sense and sanity to the situation.

"Mulder, you've been through this tape a hundred times. What exactly are you hoping to find?"

"I don't know." He pressed a button on the VCR that kicked into a printer on one of the tables he used as a workstation. It was a still shot of the current frame the video sat on, filled with men in trench coats at Captain Lacerio walked past them. He frowned at it as if there was something there that made sense to him.

"And all he told you to was to watch Channel 8?" How were they to believe that it wasn't a ruse to start spinning Mulder in circles for no other reason than to hide some other bit of truth from him? After all, she doubted Mulder would have even noticed anything about this news report if Deep Throat hadn't directed him to it.

"Yeah, that's all he said."

"Do we even know why the suspect was being chased?"

"As far as I can tell, he wouldn't pull over for a moving violation."

That was all? Running a red light, not stopping for a stop sign, not using a turn signal. Those were fairly run of the mill, average things she faced on her commute everyday. "Well, that ought to put him in the Ten Most Wanted list," she murmured dryly.

"There's got to be something here. Some detail. Something we're not seeing." He printed another picture from off of the video, and passed it to Scully. It was a silver car, nothing particularly threatening about it. She raised dubious eyes to her partner.

"How do you know he's not just yanking your chain, this Deep Throat character?" She finally asked the question she had been dying to ask since he had brought out the video.

Mulder's response was as quizzical as she had feared it would be. "Why would he do that?"

I don't know, Mulder, she wanted to say, her thoughts vicious a she considered all the questions she wasn't voicing. Why would he drag you in the middle of nowhere? Why would he throw cryptic information at you and not once come clean about any of it? Why would he repeatedly give you tidbits of information and hide the evidence just as you reached the truth, with paltry apologies and lukewarm excuses as all the reward for hard effort?

"Well, he has lied to you by his own admission," she managed to feebly offer, rather than to rant openly about her concerns, something that she knew would only turn into an angry argument. It would set her partner off by himself once again, chasing after Deep Throat's demons.

"I don't think he'd call if there wasn't something there, something I was supposed to see. something he wants me to see."

He so desperately wanted to believe Deep Throat, without question, without even common sense. What was it about this man that turned her usually intelligent partner into such a childlike believer without even questioning the source or why he was doing the things he was doing?

"Then what are you missing?" She asked, not just about Mulder's video, but also about Mulder himself. What was it about Deep Throat he was missing that she could see and understand so clearly?

Chapter Text

"No."

The word tumbled out of Scully's mouth almost without her realizing it. She had of course been thinking it as Mulder once again moved to take what little evidence they had and attempted to create a mountain out of a molehill. He stopped in his frantic motion, standing stock still in the hallway of the Emgen Corporation research facility, stunned to silence at the simple word she had dropped between them like a bomb.

No.

It wasn't the first time she had called him out, by any means, nor was it the first time she had challenged him on any course of action he wished to take. It was the first time in their short partnership, however, she had stood up to him and put her foot down, refused to follow along with him as he planned to chase yet another snipe hunt, more running through darkened fields in the hopes of finding…what, exactly? Had they even established that yet?

"No?" Mulder let the world roll off his tongue as if it were a swear word, his tone angry and accusatory as his eyes blazed to life, angry. "What do you mean, 'no'?"

A year ago she would have simply allowed him his temper tantrum and been done with it. But she was tired, she had to go to the bathroom and a monkey had nearly just bitten her finger off. She frowned down at the skin thankful it had not been successful. She wanted to go home. She didn't want to argue with Mulder, but she wasn't about to chase vague ideas tossed at him from some shadowy figure who did nothing more than drop enigmatic hints and left the two of them to try to understand their meaning on their own.

"I mean this has reached the point of absurdity, Mulder." She finally breathed, turning defiant eyes to his own burning ones, unwilling to budge from the stance she now took. "We're out here on half a hunch off of a cryptic phone call chasing down a clue that's based on nothing but speculation."

"Well, that's all we've got," he insisted hotly.

"That's all he's given us." She glared at him, wondering what in God's name he was thinking. "Who is this Deep Throat character? I mean we don't know anything about him, what his name is, what he does."

"He's in a delicate position. He has access to information and indiscretion could expose him."

Trust Mulder to find a reason to rationalize all of this secrecy and silence, to continue reveling in this cloak and dagger game. And it was a game to him, she realized. A game of half-truths, dribbled out before him, dangling promises of answers and realizations that never quite materialized. If he followed the breadcrumb trail left by his informant, he might just happen upon his dearest dream. If he didn't, he would never know if it led there or not.

"You don't know that this isn't just a game with him." She insisted. "He's toying with you. Rationing out the facts."

The idea incensed Mulder. His jaw clenched as he snorted loudly. "You think he does it because he gets off on it?"

"No," she responded sharply, her arms crossed in front of her. "I think he does it because you do."

Mulder looked for the briefest of moments as if she had slapped him in the face.

She turned from him, her steps leading to the ladies' restroom, hard and sharp in the silence that hung between them. As she reached the door, she turned to look at her partner. He looked strangely deflated, the anger and fire that had been burning deep within him only moments ago had been quenched, replaced by a pensive thoughtfulness, his green eyes dulling as his lean shoulder slumped. She felt like she had just shot his puppy right before his eyes.

"Mulder," she began, but he turned away from her at the sound of he voice, whipping around to move down the hallway, shuffling in dejection away from her angry assertions. Perhaps, she thought as he moved towards the stairs leading out of the complex, she had been harsh on him. It was no secret she had never trusted Deep Throat, and if she were honest with herself a good portion of her distrust was centered on the fact that he was a man she didn't know, she hadn't tested. Mulder had his reasons for believing the man, reasons that he had chosen not to share with her. And it bothered her that he would so blindly follow someone like that and expect her to do the same.

But it didn't mean that Mulder was wrong in doing so, a small voice in the back of her mind cautioned her. She snapped against it instantly, banging her palm flat into the door as she opened it and stepped into the cold, tile bathroom. Her reflection greeted her in the large mirror hanging over the sink, her face green in the blinking, florescent lights overhead. She wasn't going to back down. Mulder had to realize he couldn't continue like this, not if he wanted to keep the X-files open, not if he wanted to find the ultimate truth about his sister. He had to learn to play by the rules, to follow the book, or else they would slam the basement doors shut for good. And for all she knew, that was exactly what Deep Throat had in mind all along with his half-truths and crumbs of information. For all any of them knew it was all part of an elaborate plot to shut Mulder and his work down forever.

Perhaps Mulder wasn't the only one who was paranoid, she realized as she smiled dryly at herself in the mirror.

Chapter Text

Science had always been a refuge for Scully, a place where the upside down nature of life as a Navy brat could take form and meaning in structure, rules, logic, and form. Unlike the complicated nature of her ever-changing home life-new houses, new towns, new schools, new friends-science was always the same. It didn't matter if she were living in San Diego, Norfolk, or Baltimore, she would still find that Newton's Laws of Physics hadn't changed, Einstein's Theories of Relativity were ready for her to explore and stretch, and that all life on Earth could be easily explained by looking simply around you, to the very things that made up everyday existence.

That was until this very moment. She stared at Dr. Carpenter's screen. The gene sequence scrolling across like a biological Mores code, huge gaps in the sequencing laying bare, chasms between them open wide, waiting for a coding of genetic pairs to fill the spaces in between. Except it wasn't supposed to be that way. In nature you never saw gene sequencing that way. It was bio-engineered, an open space to add extra nucleotides, ones that didn't occur at all on Earth. Nothing in her science, her foundation, had ever taught her that such a thing could possible exist. But there it was, staring her in the face, mocking her and laughing at her. It didn't belong, and yet she couldn't deny the proof in front of her eyes. Something that was, by its very nature, extra-terrestrial.

"Well Mulder," she breathed softly to herself. "It isn't gray, but it is alien." She glanced at Dr. Carpenter's notes as the other woman wrote furiously, her brows knit so hard together that she wondered if the other woman would wear a permanent frown.

"Is there anything in the CDC databases about this," Scully wondered aloud. It was Dr. Carpenter's opinion it had to be government made and it made sense. It was a well-known, open secret that the government kept designer viruses on file, illnesses that had been eradicated for decades to be kept for various purposes. Most liked to believe that it was for the testing purposes solely of the CDC, and while that was partly true, there had long been a rumor that the military kept their own store of viruses and bacteria on hand for biological warfare purposes. No one spoke of it, but it was one of the favorite conspiracy theories of many of the Infectious Disease interns she had known in school. It was from them she had even heard of gene therapy in the first place.

"I checked out the CDC. Nothing on it so far." Carpenter yawned as she rubbed tired eyes, setting down her pen and staring at the screen. "Though I'd lay my money on the DoD. Defense Department is said to have all sorts of crazy, bio-engineered viruses around."

"You heard that story, too?" Scully smiled despite herself.

"Yeah, well now at days it's getting harder and harder not to believe that. Biological warfare is the new Atom Bomb and everyone wants to have the bigger and badder weapon. Of course no one is admitting anything, but frankly I wouldn't be surprised if your Dr. Berube was working on this side project for the military."

Scully blinked as she looked at the strange sequencing, the unnatural nucleotides that had no business being there. "Could the government have created something like that?"

"I've not heard anything of the sort in my work," she shook her head, staring at the screen in amazement and awe. "Something like this would be huge. It would be larger than just the scientific community. Could you imagine what the ramification of something like this would mean?"

Scully could imagine, all right. That's not what worried her. What worried her was why it was being engineered into viruses and then piggybacked into bacteria for gene therapy. That sort of experimental treatment was used only rarely, often in cancer. It could be as simple as an experiment to find a cure for the horrible disease. But where did they get those extra nucleotides? How did they come into existence? Where did they come from?

"You know," Dr. Carpenter murmured softly, still fixated on the screen. "I'm not a religious person. But seeing something like this, it makes me wonder if there is a God. And as soon as we think we have all of the secrets of nature figured out, he throws a curveball at us just to see what we make of it, and laughs and laughs when we are completely confounded by what we've discovered."

It was a funny way of putting it, Scully admitted. She chuckled as she closed thin fingers around the cross at her neck, tugging it along a small length of its chain thoughtfully. "You have to wonder what God is up to with something like this."

She reached in her pocket for her cell phone, redialing Mulder's number for the fifth time in the last hour. Each time she had called it had gone straight to his voice mail and after the second call she hadn't bothered with a message. She waited as once again it rang through to his message service, his lazy drawl laconic as she hung up again in frustration.

"Still no word from your partner," Dr. Carpenter asked sympathetically.

"Yeah, nothing. He's probably off doing something incredibly dangerous and stupid without me," she muttered. "You know men."

"I do," she shot Scully a knowing look. "My husband likes to take off for the mountains with his buddies to climb rocks and drink beer and never once remembers to take his phone or to call me while out to let me know he's all right. I suppose with men it's always about calling you after they've gotten in trouble."

That was about the size of it with Mulder, she grimaced. "Yeah, well hopefully he's all right. Listen, it's late and you have a family to get to. I won't keep you." She smiled gratefully at the weary doctor and extended her hand to her. The other woman took it happily.

"I'll stop by tomorrow to see if you've come up with any further results," Scully assured her as she gathered her own things and made to leave. As she did, she glanced back once more at the astonishing discovery on Carpenter's computer, frowning briefly at it before she turned to walk out of the door.

What connection was there, if any, between Dr. Berube, the man working on this strange alien virus and the man who had jumped into the Chesapeake Bay the other day and had yet to be found? And was this what Deep Throat had wanted Mulder to stumble on, some sort of inexplicable virus that was genetically designed with things that could not possible happen at all in nature? Where did it come from? Why did it exist? What's more, what did Mulder's mysterious contact know about it? Her mind whirled with no answers, only more and more questions brewing out of her discoveries. Science was supposed to have her answers. It was her dependable fail-safe when everything else in the world fell apart. How was it that when she needed science the most to explain to her what it was that was going on, it could only throw more puzzling and disturbing things at her, truths that shouldn't exist and had no known causes, no reason for being there?

Was this how Mulder felt all of the time, she wondered to herself?

As her steps led her out of the night-quiet hospital and to her car, she tried her partner one last time. Once again there was no response and she cursed loudly as she clicked off her phone, stuffing it savagely in her pocket as she unlocked her car door. When she needed Mulder's unique and strange insight the most, he was incommunicado, doing God knows what, God knows where. And she had no way of finding him and no hope of helping him should he truly be in any real danger. Damn him all to hell and back, it pissed her off this habit of his, running off into danger thoughtlessly and heedlessly while she stayed behind, trying to gather the real evidence, the hard proof, which is what they needed in this case, not just Mulder's crack-brained theories. And as usual, when she had made the discovery and insight and needed his mind to help her connect the dots, he was off chasing his monsters. Would it be the call from the military base, she wondered, or perhaps the local police. Maybe it would be Skinner gracing her with a phone call directly this time. "Agent Scully, do you know where your partner is this time of night?"

Damn him, she swore again, as she threw her car into reverse, and backed out of the parking space she inhabited hours earlier. She busted her ass, found proof of his alien life, and he couldn't be found to tell him about it. What in God's name could he possibly be up to after 1 AM? The same thing she was up to after 1 AM, she realized sadly. She was going home, she was going to bed. She would attempt to attack this all again in the morning. And she would hope that Mulder would make it home safe and sound as well, without the need to call her in two hours needing her to bail him out. She had enough questions swirling around her head at the moment, questions about what she saw and what it meant, and it would be difficult enough to find any rest tonight.

What did it mean, she mused as she stopped at the first red light. What did it possibly mean?

Chapter Text

For the second night in a row Mulder's phone had remained unanswered as she called and called. Scully wanted to scream angry obscenities, to hurl her Bureau issued device into the nearest wall and then curse Mulder for once again doing something dangerous and idiotic without her there to back him up. She had gone to Georgetown Memorial just to pick up the information on the bacteria that she and Dr. Carpenter had discovered. She was only supposed to be gone half an hour, no more, and then meet Mulder at her apartment ten minutes away. When she arrived and found the doctor had been killed. It had taken her hours to get into the doctor's office to see if any of the evidence from their work remained only to find Dr. Carpenter's office had been ransacked, her computer hard drive taken, and no record of the perpetrators on any of the hospitals security cameras.

She had expected Mulder to be waiting for her when she finally made it back to her home later that afternoon, or at least, she reasoned, she had expected a note, even a phone message stating where he was and what he was doing. But there was nothing. She had no idea if he had actually found Dr. Secare and if so where the doctor and Mulder both were located. As usual, she thought sourly, Mulder neglected to inform her just what he was up to before running headlong into danger. And she had no idea where he was or if he was safe.

Damn it!

Morning had barely lightened the sky as she stood in front of her partner's apartment. No one else seemed to be stirring in the moldering, brick building and no one came out of the locked door to allow her in and access upstairs to check to see if he was there herself. She punched the buzzer to his building angrily, hoping against hope that he was upstairs sleeping or something else sensible and had just thoughtlessly neglected to call her. There was no answer over the speaker and the front door to his building didn't unlock. She tried pressing it again.

"He's not home." A deep, gravely voice rumbled from the shadows behind her, causing Scully to whirl in fear and surprise, her hand reaching automatically for her weapon at her side. She paused as the shuffling figure of the man Mulder referred to as Deep Throat emerged, hands in his pockets, a doleful, worried air about him as he glanced up towards Mulder's darkened apartment window.

"Where's he gone? He's been out all night?" She glared at the mysterious man accusingly, but he shook his head, guiltily shrugging his shoulders.

"I wish I knew."

There was something about the fearful look in the old man's eyes, the confusion and the regret in his voice that caused icy fingers of panic to creep around Scully's heart, sending it pounding against her chest. "Something's happened to him." She stated it as a matter of fact, not a question. She could sense it almost from the man's stance, could read it without him even admitting to it.

"They won't kill him," he responded automatically, as if he knew whom it was exactly who took Mulder, and just what their motives were.

"How do you know that," she barked sharply as he held up reassuring hands, his eyes following her right hand as it inched ever closer to the holster where her weapon sat.

"He's become too high profile and you've got evidence that could expose them."

Expose whom, her mind screamed, as glared at him disbelief, "I don't have any evidence. They took the evidence and they may have killed in order to get it

"Listen to me!" Deep Throat leaned in closer to her, instant, a pretense of mysteriousness now gone as for the first time she saw naked fear. "Evidence still exists."

"Where?"

"It might be difficult to obtain, but with your medical background I might be able to get you inside."

"Inside where," she demanded, as her brain screamed at her for even half a moment considering following this man anywhere, even at the cost of Mulder's life.

"The high containment facility at Fort Marlene, Maryland."

"What do they have there?"

Deep Throat demurred visibly, shifting his gaze to the ground between them, his mouth working, as if looking for words, thoughts, something to throw at her that would be evasive enough to hide the truth, but pointed enough to keep her listening.

Is this what he did to Mulder every time?

"The wellspring, Miss Scully, the original tissue. If they've got Agent Mulder, they might be willing to make a deal. It could save his life."

"The original tissue of what?" She felt the words, sharp and crisp in the air as she moved towards him, pushing beyond his miasma of vagary. "I won't take a step with you till you tell me the truth."

Surprisingly, her words made him smile, a rough chuckle as met her eyes again, clearly amused. "I can see why he likes you."

She stared at him stonily, unwilling to be swayed by a shift in conversation.

"I've been watching Fox Mulder's career for a very long time, Agent Scully." He nodded, more to himself than to her. "You could say that everything Mulder has become, I've had a hand in. I know him almost as well as he knows himself."

"Well enough to set him up for a fall? Well enough to allow him to be captured by these people?"

"I'm not alone in my interest in Mulder. He has had very powerful people watching him all of his life, many of whom are concerned at just how close he, and you by extension, are to the truths that we've spent our lives concealing from everyone."

"You keep telling me we are close to some 'truth', and yet you refuse to tell me what that truth is." She scowled darkly at him, Ann Carpenter's face surfacing under her angry thoughts as she turned on her heels briefly, pacing the small length in front of Mulder's building. "A woman died because of what we found in that Purity sample, a woman and her entire family, who were no more mixed up with this than anyone. What is this 'wellspring'? Why is it that Dr. Carpenter had to die, that Mulder is being held?"

"Nothing short of the proof of alien life, Agent Scully," he replied simply.

She stopped in her steps, her face hard. "You expect me to believe that?"

"You'll see for yourself when you get in there."

"How do I know it isn't a hoax, some game of yours you are orchestrating to pull Mulder in and me along with him?" She knew that the one thing that would convince her of Mulder's truths was hard, physical, scientific evidence. She had no way of knowing that what was presented, what this Deep Throat was giving to her was just enough of a ruse to draw her down with Mulder, to wrap her up in his lies and deceits as surely as her partner.

"Your skepticism is to be commended, Ms. Scully. But can you take the risk? When Mulder's life is on the line?"

Scully knew she couldn't and so did he. She swore silently to herself as she lifted her chin, watching him for long, hard, silent moments. He watched her consider quietly, betraying nothing as he waited, as secretive as he was always.

Damn it.

"I don't trust you."

"As well you shouldn't."

"Unlike Mulder, I don't plan on becoming your friend after this, your new contact you can have performing the dirty work you dabble in."

"I don't plan on asking you."

She nodded simply. "What do I need to do?"

"Nothing," he replied, holding up a hand to calm her as she startled angrily. "Give me a few hours, till noon. I'll get you the documentation and pass you need to get into the facility. I will have it delivered to you along with instructions on how to get to the facility." He paused, his expression darkening. "I believe I don't have to tell you how dangerous this is or how much you will need to take care in this endeavor. These men will stop at nothing, even killing you should they know they have this in your possession. One false step at this facility and it won't be just Mulder's life that will be in danger."

Danger? Her mind spun. Everyday as a member of the FBI she faced danger in some form; it was part of her job. But there was something infinitely more terrifying in the thought of what the word implied here. It didn't mean rampaging madmen with guns, or trying to hurt the harmless, or deadly situations they as agents were being called to help handle. It was involving themselves in plots and plans, in covert actions that members of the government would stop at nothing to keep from being revealed. The insidiousness of the word 'danger' left her cold.

And yet, what could she do? They had Mulder. And as many times as he had sworn to her he would never leave her behind, he would do everything in his power to make sure that whatever creature our outside force would not get or harm her, she could do no less for him. She had told him that night in front of Tooms' house. She wouldn't stick her neck out for anyone but him, and now she had no choice.

"It must be fate, Mulder," she whispered softly to herself, squinting against the brightening early morning sun in front of Mulder's apartment.

"I can expect your assistance then?" Deep Throat watched her inscrutably.

"Just get me into the damn facility," she replied, spinning away from him and back to her car, to drive through the bustle of the early morning, rush crowd.

Chapter Text

For all intense purposes Washington DC was a swamp. It sat close to where the mouth of the Potomac River that separated Virginia from Maryland and emptied into the Chesapeake Bay. Hundreds of creeks and streams fed into what had been at one time been nothing more than a stretch of marshland filled with beavers and other wild life. Humans had changed the shape of the area that had been ceded by the state of Maryland to create the District of Columbia, and as the water was drained out, the hundreds of streams and creeks directed the water away from the lands where marble edifices and hallowed halls now stood. And across each of these streams elegant bridges laced the city, concrete and asphalt, lit only by the solitary lights of the old-fashioned, wrought iron lamps that dotted the length of the small spans. Scully studied each and every one of those lights, watching for mysterious cars parked nearby. She had no idea what it was the men she was supposed to meet might be driving or if they would even show there. Deep Throat had instructed her to wait there, after dark, with the mysterious flask she had taken from the facility in Maryland sitting in a box in the front seat beside her.

She knew she was imagining it, but she could nearly feel the cold seep out of the box beside her, the liquid nitrogen container carrying the strange, deformed fetus, with its large, inhuman closed eyes, and its rounded, impossibly long head. The creature had looked like a sadly misshaped human, a child who had faced serious congenital birth defects, a creature perhaps engineered with mutations that no human being should ever posses. Except Deep Throat insinuated it was alien life, the proof that Mulder had been looking for nearly all of his adult life. She stared at it briefly beside her, this myth become touchable reality. She had no way of knowing if it was real, how much of this was fabrication. It could all be an elaborate hoax, meant to further draw in her partner into the web of schemes and lies spun by Deep Throat and his associates. Much like herself, it could be another tool used by the strange, cigarette smoking man who sat in her boss's office, a way of tearing down the X-files and suppressing Mulder's work. It could be a secret government experiment, a horrible effort on the part of her own country's defense department to test and experiment on live, human embryos in their attempts to further biological weapons research or it could all be exactly what Deep Throat said it was, the proof that they were not alone in the universe. She watched the box, almost as if she expected it to twitch to life. It remained still beside her, silent, with a clue so valuable they would willingly give her back the life of her partner for it.

Headlights flooded her rear view mirror, causing her to glance over her shoulder. In the distance behind her she saw a nondescript, dark sedan pull up slowly to the curb, parking innocuously and turning off its lights. She waited several, long moments, watching to see if the passenger got out. When no one stirred, she reached across the seat to the box beside her, plucking it up, her skin crawling as she clutched it to her chest and pulled the keys from her ignition. Slipping them in the pocket of her trench coat, she stepped carefully out of her own car, locking the door, marching quickly and purposefully towards the vehicle behind her. As she stepped up, she could hear the mechanical whirl of the window's electrical gears as the man she knew as Deep Throat watched her, his eyes never leaving the package in her arms.

"You're late," she stated by way of greeting, not caring how rude or unfriendly it sounded.

"Do you have it?" He was equally brusque, almost disbelieving that she had carried out his instructions to the letter.

"Yes," she replied.

"Good. They're willing to make the exchange."

Willing? Pieces began falling into place. "You talked to them?" While she was getting the bargaining chip, he had been out arranging the entire deal.

"Yes." He didn't elaborate, only reaching an arm out of the window. "I'll take the parcel."

Alarm bells clanged as her familiar distrust of the man roared up and she suddenly feared what would happen if she gave him the only key she had to gain her partner's life back from whoever it was that took him.

"No, sir," she shook her head. "I'll make the exchange." She wanted to see Mulder with her own eyes, know that he was making it back alive.

Deep Throat pulled his hand back in the car, his dark, beady eyes glaring angrily at her from inside of his shadowy sedan. "I made the deal, Scully." All pretenses were dropped, as he used no title in front of her last name, hissing it angrily as he nodded towards the box. "They're expecting me."

And that was just it, she reasoned. He had set this all up, without her say or input. "I don't trust you," she shot back angrily, clutching the box with its disturbing, unreal contents inside closer to her.

"You've got no one else to trust."

"I don't know who you are. I know nothing about you." She had no proof, no evidence to back up or support anything he was doing here, right now, in these moments when her partner's life hung in the balance. Mulder trusted him, that much she knew, but she also knew this man had admittedly lied to Mulder, had led him astray, had covered the truth from him when it was convenient. Not a particularly good track record if one was trying to convince someone else of his or her intention to do well in a situation as delicate and dangerous as this.

"Oh, for God's sake, don't screw this up!" His normally calm, collected façade crumbled in the face of snapped patience, his voice harsh and irritated. He stared at her as if she were a small child, unwilling to listen to reason. "Let me tell you something you should know. In 1987, a group of children from a southern state were given what their parents thought was a routine inoculation. What they were injected with was a clone DNA from the contents of that package you're holding as a test. That's the kind of people you're dealing with!"

Scully felt a chill run involuntarily through her shoulders and down her spine at the thought of the bacteria, of the strange virus inside. Purity. They were inoculating children with genes engineered on DNA level with nucleotides supposedly pulled from this creature, strange ones not found naturally anywhere on earth. Why, she wondered desperately. Why put such strange, unknown, untested bodies in humans, US citizens, for biological purposes? Weapons testing? Terrorist threats? Her head spun dizzily as she tried to process all the reasons that they would even consider this.

What if it's all a lie, a voice in her head whispered back. He's not to be trusted, what if he's twisting the truth?

"So why give it back to them," she croaked in confusion.

"To save Mulder's live."

That's all? She wanted to laugh out loud. One man, a man who the FBI would cheerfully love to see removed permanently from the building, in exchange for the one key that would open a million questions wide open upon the world. "At the risk of so many other lives?"

"Oh, it's the tip of the iceberg. You and Mulder are the only ones who can bring it to light." He reached out again for the package. "Now, give me the parcel.

Scully clutched at it, her fingers digging into the soft paper, unwilling to turn over something so precious to him, not without knowing that the great sacrifice she was making would be returned with exactly what she wanted. She stared at his outstretched arm, torn as to whether to believe a man who had done so little to earn her trust, or to refuse him and attempt to do this alone and potentially get her partner killed in the process. As it turned out, she didn't get much of a choice. Lights turned the dark fabric of Deep Throat's suit coat clad arm gray, as she turned squinting eyes to see a white van pull up in front of her sedan. She blinked at it in confusion. Beside her Deep Throat shifted, opening his door as his voice became deadly serious.

"Give me the parcel, Scully," he ordered softly and without thinking or questioning any further, she passed it to him, wordlessly. He took it and ever so imperceptibly nodded his head towards her car, his eyes directing her to move there without argument. Her heart thumping painfully in her throat. She did as she was told for once, running in quick steps to her car, her keys out and unlocking the door as she quickly slid into the driver's seat, waiting. The white van pulled around her. Inside the driver, a plain faced man with a close, military style of haircut watched her with glittering hard eyes as he passed her, pulling his vehicle up beside Deep Throat's own sedan. He placed the van into park, stopping in the middle of the bridge, heedless of any oncoming traffic. She watched in her rear view mirror as the man stepped out.

He was tall, dressed in street clothes, though his bearing screamed of someone who had seen service time. He waited as Deep Throat stepped carefully out of his own car, package in hand. She was struck again how much the older man reminded her of all the other middle aged, bureaucrats and politicians in this town, men who sat around drinking scotch and playing poker with cigars, discussing how to best balance the budget while getting their favorite agendas passed, men who planned foreign policy over giant Porterhouse steaks, discussing warfare as if it were a game of chess and the world a giant board. She could see why it was Mulder would trust a man like Deep Throat so implicitly. He must remind Mulder of his own father, someone who looked as if he moved and shaped the world, not one who floated through it's shadows. Not that she knew what a man like the latter looked like, she realized. She thought again of the cigarette smoker in Skinner's office. Perhaps such a shadowy person should look something like him. Wreathed in smoke, clouded in a smokescreen, silent and looming over everything.

She shivered as she watched Deep Throat hand the other man the package, holding her breath as the exchange was made. The stranger took the package and she turned in her back seat to see if he would produce her partner or not. He carried the package carefully to his van, setting it inside safely. She assumed he was arranging it in there so that the liquid nitrogen canister wouldn't tip over, the impossibly cold gas spilling into the car and freezing everything that the vapor touched. She didn't see the gun the man produced till he had already turned and fired. She screamed as Deep Throat jerked once, then crumpled to the ground, a rumple of suit coat and tie huddled on the asphalt as she mindlessly threw herself out of her car, her hand reaching for her gun under her long trench coat. As she rushed over to the scene, the van began to pull away. Before she could even take aim at it, the back doors opened wide, and a dark bundle was pushed out, hitting the pavement with a sickening crunch. A low moan sounded as rubber screeched loudly, and the van tore off into the darkness beyond, Scully unable to get even aim for anything that would even come close to stopping it.

"Mulder?" There was an answering groan from the ground. "Mulder!" She dug through the tangle of suit coat and trench coat, finding her partner's face, eyes and mouth red and irritated and swollen painfully, as if some allergen or acidic chemical had been used on him while in captivity. His entire face was swollen puffy as she reached small fingers below his chin to his neck and to the pulse she searched for. It was steady and strong, and considerably better than the one she suspected she would find for the man laying still across the way beside his car.

Deep Throat's breath rattled raggedly in his chest, as blood seeped out of the bullet wound faster than she could possibly staunch it. She reached immediately for his throat, checking his pulse, and opening his collar. His mouth worked soundlessly and shook her head, trying to urge him not to speak, but he continued, unable to get air out enough to form words. Finally, he gasped out one single word: Trust. His chest heaved, sending more blood gushing through what remained of his dress shirt, spilling down his front as she tried to clamp a hand down to staunch the flow. She reached her free hand up to his head, helping his neck and shoulder's up just enough so that he could continue what he was saying. Deep Throat's eyes were glassy with pain, his breath short and wet as he gasped, voice thin and reedy. One hand reached up to clasp Scully's own as she attempted to hold the blood that was flowing so freely in his chest.

"Trust…no one." His hand squeezed her slight one so tightly she could feel the bones crunching before just as suddenly all strength left it. As it did, she saw the light of life leave his eyes, the fevered brightness flee as they rolled up into his skull and his shoulder's fell slack against her arm. Deep Throat was dead. She never even knew the man's real name.

Mulder moaned behind her, a stuttering cry for help that tore her attention away from the dead man in her arms. Gently, she laid Deep Throat's head on the pavement, wiping her bloody right hand on her trench coat absently, and crossed to Mulder.

"Help," he croaked, his eyes sealed shut by his eyes reaction to whatever he had been exposed to, lips chapped and cracked as he murmured into the darkness.

"Mulder, it's me," she whispered, as she smoothed his hair away from his face, trying to see how extensive the damage was to him. "Can you tell me what you were exposed to?"

"Scully," he sounded disbelieving at first, his hands blindly reaching for her, pulling at her coat, reaching for her face. "Scully! Dr. Secare, he's dead."

"Mulder, I need to know what you were exposed to," she insisted as she tried to wrestle his hands away enough to reach into her coat for her cell phone.

"I don't know," he murmured, shaking his head from side to side, his eyes moving just under the sealed lids. "They shot Secare, and…and his blood was green. And the fumes..." He waved a hand clumsily at his face. "It was alien blood, Scully."

"Mulder, I have to call the paramedics." She successfully wrestled her phone out of her bloodstained pocket, dialing 911 quickly as she pulled out her badge from the other.

"Scully, Deep Throat was right," Mulder insisted, plucking, agitated, at her sleeve.

She paused, looking at his blind face pityingly, not knowing how to break the truth to him.

"Mulder…Deep Throat is dead."

Mulder's face was too swollen to look shocked, but his voice carried the weight of his confusion. "What…"

"He was shot by the men who brought you here, Mulder." She didn't know why. And she doubted she ever would fully understand.

It was odd and terrifying not to be able to see Mulder's eyes, so much of what he was thinking and feeling was telegraphed through them, and she could no more read him as he slumped heavily to the pavement than she could a closed book. He sighed hoarsely, rolling on his back and laying quiescent as she continued to dial for the paramedics.

"This is Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI, badge number 2317-616. I'm requesting police and paramedics at the scene of a shooting." She glanced down at Mulder who lay silent and still as she rattled off her location, automatically filling them in on the immediate needs of the two people down, and the fact that the suspects had fled the scene in a white van, no license plate. It wasn't long till the sound of police sirens in the distance could be heard, wailing through the night.

"He died to get me back, didn't he," Mulder finally asked softly beside her, his head turning slightly to the sound of her turning off her phone.

She wished she could answer that with any sort of certainty. "I don't know, Mulder. I do know he died because of whatever it was he used to bargain with them in return." She swallowed; thinking of the lifeless creature inside, frozen with its dark eyes no more than slits under wide, wrinkled eyelids. "I don't know what it was, Mulder, but it was the key to everything. Your key to everything." Her voice became thick as she glanced towards the prostrate body of Mulder's informant. "And he stole it and gave it back to them in order to get you back to me."

"Why?"

"I don't know," she whispered as the first signs of red and blue lights flashed around the corner. She rose to meet them, murmuring orders to Mulder to stay put, as she held up her badge in the shine of their headlights.

Chapter Text

He hadn't answered his phone in days.

Scully watched his apartment building thoughtfully from her own sedan, as the bright green leaves danced just outside of Mulder's window. She had been sitting there for an hour already, the heat and stickiness of the Northern Virginia summer baking her car as beside her the sandwiches and sodas she had purchased as a peace offering threatened to melt in the humidity. She could have just taken them, gone up to the door and leaned on the buzzer till Mulder, in irritation, finally let her in. Or else she could have waited till any one of the inhabitants of the apartment building was called out into the warmth and sunshine of summer, and opened the door for her to slip inside. But she sat, calling his phone, hoping he would pick up and instead getting his answering machine. She had already left three messages there, two on his cell. She had even tried the office, but had spotted his car parked in its spot even as the office voice mail picked up. He was in there or at least she suspected he was.

Well, she reasoned, he couldn't hide out forever. She had the keys to his apartment.

The bag of sandwiches and soda sat in the very seat where just two weeks before the flask with the strange creature had sat, the very thing that had set all of the events in motion that culminated into the one thing she had worked so hard to avoid. The X-files were closed. She and Mulder were separated. And as of Monday she would begin teaching her first classes at Quantico in over a year. As she sat before the OPR representative, a smiling but hard-faced blonde woman, sandwiched between Assistant Director Skinner and Section Chief Blevins, she had found it difficult not to feel bitter, even angry towards all three of them. Skinner had nearly fallen over himself to try and reassure her that in no way did the events in question reflect poorly on her record as a Field Agent, and that if a new opening should come up anywhere he would be the first to recommend her for the position should she choose to pursue it. By no means, he reiterated, was this a failure in his mind for the work she had done.

Why did it feel like a failure anyway?

She dialed Mulder's number again, her cell phone battery nearly worn out from the repeated calls upstairs. She wiped at her sweating face with the back of one hand, watching Mulder's window as she dialed, expecting the answering machine to pick up once again.

To her surprise it didn't. Mulder's voice was hollow and croaking on the other end of the line.

"Scully, why are you staking out my apartment?"

"How do you know I'm not sitting comfortably in front of my air conditioner with a lemonade, painting my nails?" She replied trying to keep their conversation light hearted. He was silent for several seconds as she heard rustling in the background and ahead she could see something stirring the blinds in his window.

"Because I'm standing here staring at your car as you are staring at me." There was a hint of a smile as he raised the shades fully and she could see him leaning against the glass, phone up to his ear. "Should I do a strip tease now? I don't have the red light out."

"Sorry Mulder, I've already seen you naked, the thrill is gone." It was partially true. She had seen him mostly naked in the hospital as they frantically tried to staunch the blood from his bleeding thigh.

"Since we aren't partners anymore, Scully, you should reciprocate sometime." There was the bitterness she was expecting, just barely contained under the veneer of childish humor. She bit her lip, wondering how to best diffuse the anger now that she didn't have the threat of their working partnership to leverage his temper.

"I brought sandwiches, Mulder. Will you let me up?"

"You got a key," he replied ambivalently. "It's the weekend, the front door's not locked."

She thought, somewhere in the mists of her memory, she knew that. Feeling incredibly stupid, she murmured into the receiver. "Give me a few minutes, I'll be right up."

He clicked off without so much as a goodbye, as she gathered her purse and the bag of sandwiches, stepping lightly out of her car and adjusting her light, cotton summer skirt into something more ladylike, the thin fabric clinging damply to the back of her sweating legs. She had been an idiot, sitting out there, melting while he ignored her. She should have just gone in, tried the door, gone on up and let herself in with the key. But it felt wrong to do that now they were no longer partners. It seemed improper, invading his space for nothing more than just a social visit. That was something the two of them never did for each other. There were the exceptions, of course, when he had been shot in North Carolina, she had of course gone over several times to check in on him and make sure he was comfortable. But under normal circumstances once they were out of the office neither of them ever saw the other socially, even for drinks. Mulder's life or lack thereof was his own as far as Scully was concerned. Their contact beyond the four walls of their tiny, basement office was limited to the random, late night phone calls she would receive from time to time on topics ranging from Carl Sagan to what sort of idiot would buy anything that Ron Popeil had to sell on television. Mulder had wanted to buy a juicer. Never mind the man could only cook soup as far as she could tell. And fruits and vegetables were nasty swear words in his kitchen…well, what passed for a kitchen. The last time she had even looked in his fridge, during his convalescence six months before, he had nothing more than a bottle of sour orange juice, a dubious carton of milk and a pack of Kraft American Cheese slices, no bread, no cold cuts. The man really needed someone in his life, she mused, as she stepped inside his building, and made the terrifying and disturbing journey up the grinding elevator towards Mulder's floor.

Despite the soft murmur of televisions from neighbors enjoying their weekends vegetating in front of bad programming, Mulder's apartment was eerily silent. She knocked quickly on the door, plucking at the tank top that stuck to her, praying to God Mulder had thought to turn on the air if nothing else in his apartment. She could only imagine how stifling the place would get in the thick air of summer and Mulder's lack of anything resembling proper cleanliness would make it all the worse. She wrinkled her nose as she recalled the Lone Gunman's hideaway, how it wreaked of sweaty clothes and used Cheetos wrappers and how she had feared then that this would be Mulder's future should he ever give up the Bureau for full time alien chasing. That possibility seemed sadly more realistic today than it had at the time and the thought depressed her.

Mulder didn't answer the door, and she knocked again. From somewhere inside he bellowed "It's open." She turned the knob and stepped inside cautiously. The air was cool, the hum of the air conditioner in the far window throwing cold air towards her damp skin. The apartment didn't smell of stale food or unwashed body parts. This was a plus. She stepped more fully inside, closing the door behind her and moving in, her sandals tapping on the hardwood of Mulder's home. His television was on, but on so low that she marveled that he could hear the sound at all. It was an old black-and-white film, something involving giant ants in the desert. She glanced at it briefly as her eyes roamed the small area, searching for Mulder. From the bathroom she could hear soft shuffling noises and the sound of the faucet running as a toothbrush scrubbed against teeth.

She set the sandwiches on the coffee table, and glancing at Mulder's leather couch. A blanket and pillow lay tousled together, his basketball caught up in the folds. She separated the mess, placing the ball on his cluttered desk, the pillow in a corner, and folded the blanket neatly to set on the back of his couch. She had just tidied it enough to allow herself to perch gingerly on the leather, her cotton skirt tucked neatly under her, as Mulder entered, still tugging on a white undershirt, his stubbled face looking freshly scrubbed, though his dark hair looked greasy and unwashed. At least he had made something of an effort; she smiled as he avoided her gaze, going straight for the bag of food on the table.

"Where did you go," he asked by way of greeting, his voice flat and indifferent.

"The place a few blocks from here. I thought it might be one you liked." In truth she had no idea what Mulder liked in the way of food with any certainty. He obviously enjoyed pizza and burgers, it was the one thing she saw him eat with any consistency. She had hazarded a guess on the sub shop, stopping to get something that looked appropriately large and manly for him, dripping with meat and dressing, and just disgusting enough to make the doctor in her want to faint.

"Which is mine?" He rooted in the plastic bag, pulling out to soda bottles and eyeing the paper wrapped sandwiches speculatively.

"The big one, the other one is a grilled Portobello sandwich." she held her hand out as he picked it out the much smaller sandwich, frowning at it dubiously, his aquiline nose wrinkling at it as if he had just unearthed a maggot under the stack of paper napkins.

"That's not a sandwich, Scully. That's salad."

"It's a grilled mushroom between two slices of bread, Mulder."

It's not a sandwich without meat on it," he insisted stubbornly, pulling out his own sandwich with much more satisfaction.

"What do you say about peanut butter, then?"

"It's a meat-like substance, a protein that can substitute."

"Have you ever had a Portobello mushroom sandwich?"

"Why on God's earth would I want to?" He snorted as if the idea was as foreign to him as aliens and the paranormal were to her. "Mushrooms belong on pizza and burgers. Occasionally they are appreciated when I want to get in touch with my inner Zen." He flopped inelegantly onto the couch beside her and she noticed he was wearing the same pair of dress slacks he had on when she had last spoken to him two days before.

"Have you eaten anything in the last few days," she asked quietly, watching as he unwrapped his sandwich and swallowed half of it in a single bite.

"Haven't felt in the mood to see people," he replied as soon as he was physically able to.

"Not even the pizza guy?"

"He's the most suspicious," he shrugged, swallowing another bite before setting the sandwich back on its paper on the coffee table, leaning back into the couch to regard her for the first time since he stepped into the room. He frowned as he glanced from the top of one bare shoulder to the end of one bare knee.

"Dressed down for you, Scully." He reached a long finger off the back of the couch where he had flung an arm and plucked lightly at the light blue fabric of her top.

"It's Saturday, Mulder." It was the best response she could manage, suddenly disconcerted that he even noticed what she was wearing.

"And I'm not dragging you off to perform alien autopsies in Timbuktu, Idaho." He let go of the fabric between his fingers and pulled his arm back to his side so quickly you would have thought the knit had burned him.

"There is no Timbuktu in Idaho," he tried to tease him.

"There might as well be. That's where they'll stick me if they have any say in it." He rose suddenly, nervous energy exploding into a sudden, swift movement off the couch, his long legs easily rounding the coffee table and moving towards his desk to stare out of the window looking out to the street. The blinds were still open and he jerked them shut angrily.

"Did you find out your permanent assignment?" She had hoped they would stick him back in Behavioral Sciences, having him do what he was best at. She could tell by the way his face-hardened and the tendon just below his jaw worked that she'd thought too highly of the people who had shut down the X-files.

"Since I'm so fond of surveillance work they have me listening in on hours of tape from the Spinoza case." His words were dry and lifeless, despite the smirk that crossed his lips. "Good thing I caught up on all of the Godfather movies recently."

"Organized crime isn't so bad, Mulder." She tried to put a good face on it. It could be so much worse, she realized, thinking of the background checks, calling little old ladies in Delaware regarding people they barely remembered from twenty-five years before.

"I think I already know all the best places to get a blow job between here and Atlantic City, thank you," he grumbled. He turned to lean against his desk, his eyes glittering. "Quantico, right? Back to teaching?"

"And cutting up bodies." It suddenly sounded so very banal to her, she realized. A year ago it was a job she was proud of. Now it was a demotion, something to shuffle her sideways into for a while to see if she could toe the line enough to be trusted as a field agent once again. It was back to endless rounds of paperwork, punctuated by hours of standing in the forensics morgues, slicing through body after body, calculating each and ever aspect, running test after test, for cases and conclusions that weren't her own.

He was silent as he watched her, his face inscrutable, before he looked away. In the year since she had met Mulderm had begun to work with him, to get to know him, she had seen almost every mood she could think of out of him. He had been arrogant and cocky, reveling in his status as a pariah to thumb his nose at the powers that be. She had seen him vulnerable and hurt, a broken child still mourning the loss of a sister decades gone and a family torn from him by suffering. She had seen him at his most charming, with a smile that could melt even her cold heart and reversely utterly terrified of an old flame that had once toyed with his. She had seen the worst side of Mulder, the dark, brooding, angry side that frightened her out of her wits and the possessive, over-protective side that irritated her more than she thought was possible. She had never seen this side of Mulder. It was the look of a man cornered, a man helpless and drowning without a clear sign of what to do and where to go. From the day she had stepped into Fox Mulder's basement office he had been a bright and shining force of nature, blinding in his belief, able to move mountains and turn tides just because he believed he could. She had almost believed he could as well. Till he finally hit a mountain that would not be budged, and he stood in front of it, helpless. And it was breaking her heart to see him like this.

"Mulder," she began, sandwich forgotten on the table.

"Don't think I'm giving up." He shook his head slowly. "I did this work before you even began working with me. I refuse to let them cover it up and hide it because they fear what it will mean." The entire spark that was Mulder hadn't left him, but it was dampened now. There was something there now that hadn't existed before…fear of defeat. "I won't let them take what I know away from me. I just have to work as they do, to operate from the same covert layers that they seem to like to hide under."

"Covert layers," she murmured blankly, frowning at him as the sound of those words frightened her inexplicably. "Mulder, don't do anything foolish here. They've taken away the X-files, yes, but…."

"But what?" he cut in with soft irony, cocking his head as he finally allowed his eyes to meet hers for the first time since she had arrived. "They'll take my job away from me? They don't want that, Scully. They want to beat me, to humiliate me, to shame me so completely that even if I were to find the truth, no one would believe me. I'd forever be Spooky Mulder, howling about the sky falling, my truths buried under a broken career, a forgotten reputation, and the label as the worst failure in FBI history."

He believed himself a failure. She saw that now. Even with all of the belief and truth he clung to still, even after all of that, she saw the despair and loss all of the same. It didn't matter if the FBI took his job, not to him. It mattered that he knew what was happening and no one took him seriously enough to listen. Except one person, she realized…herself. Perhaps she didn't have conclusive evidence that aliens did exist, perhaps she had only dimly seen the edges of a shadowy conspiracy that she could not explain any more now than she could a year ago. But she did believe something was there, that something was going on. She believed because Mulder believed.

"Mulder," she rose, moving slowly towards him as he stood, motionless by his desk, reaching for one arm to force him to regard her, to not close her off. "I can't say I believe every theory or that I stand by every idea that comes through your head." She smiled, softening her words as she thought of some of Mulder's more outlandish hypothesis. "My father used to say that failure in war didn't come from losing the battle. It came from never engaging the enemy to begin with. No matter what anyone tells you, no matter what you come to believe, I will never think of you as a failure."

He was so still beneath her fingers, that she wondered if he had even paid attention to a word that she had said. For several long moments she stood there, staring up at his stoic face, his guarded eyes, before she felt the color rise to her face and she pulled her hand away hastily, wrapping her arm in front of her as suddenly felt painfully exposed and dangerously open.

"I'm just saying," she found herself stammering as looked towards the closed blinds, wishing they were open now so she had something to stare at wordlessly. "You aren't alone in this, Mulder. They may have separated us, but I won't let you do this by yourself." She shrugged, forcing a teasing laugh. "You need me, if nothing else to save your ass when you get it shot."

A soft snort, a gentle exhale of air, something that could be akin to a chuckle, finally escaped Mulder as he nodded quietly. What else was there to say, really? He had his quest. She had her new orders. What could they do now? No longer partners, now just…friends? Scully glanced around Mulder's shabby apartment helplessly, wondering what this meant, where would this go for his work, for his quest, for her investment in it.

"Since we are no longer partners," she cleared, her throat, looking towards the purse she had brought in along with the sandwich bag, carelessly left on the table, her car keys spilling out. She picked them up and found the brass colored one she knew led to Mulder's own apartment. "I probably should give this back to you."

"Keep it," he replied immediately, glancing at the metal in her fingers. "You never know, they may send me out of town for some sort of shit job to get me out of their hair. I'll need someone to feed my fish." He glanced at the tank that sat bubbling quietly just over her shoulder.

"Sure," she nodded, smiling tightly as she glanced backwards to the silent goldfish, swimming oblivious to the troubles of the world outside of their tank. "Keep mine as well." It only seemed fair after all, she reasoned. "You can come in and check in on my rampant dust bunny population under my bed."

"Liar," a ghost of a smile played on his lips as his eidetic memory recalled this conversation from the year before. "Dana Scully doesn't have dust bunnies."

"Perhaps they just hide really well," she offered jokingly.

"They're afraid of the utter neatness of your apartment, it doesn't offer them good grazing lands." He laughed, but just behind the laughter came a moment of piercing sadness. "I'll miss you, Scully."

Tears misted her eyes so quickly she almost didn't have time to stop them. Her nose prickled as she felt the betraying shine form in the corner of her tear ducts, but she nodded and grinned despite herself. "I'll miss you too."

She sniffed loudly, throwing her hands up and laughing in a watery choke as she slipped her keys back into her purse again. "Listen to me! It's not like we won't ever see each other ever again. I mean, seriously, I'll be in the Hoover building often enough and I can swing on by to see you…"

"Scully," Mulder's voice was grave as he stopped her. She turned to look up at him as he shook his dark head. "We can't meet anymore after this."

She paused in mid motion, the strap of her bag hanging loosely in her fingers. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that they are watching us," Mulder jerked his head down towards the telephone port she knew they had found a bug in just months before. "He used to watch us, you know."

She knew he was referring to the now dead Deep Throat, the man whose name and occupation was still as mysterious to her now as it had been a week ago.

"These people we are dealing with, the men that killed him, they will stop at nothing, including separating the two of us."

Immediately the questions rose in her, unbidden. "Why do they care?"

"That's what you and I have to find out." He replied ambiguously. "The danger doesn't go away just because they have separated u, no more than separating us will top the work. Frankly, I'd keep you happily in Quantico without involving you, but I know you'd just chew your way out just to spite me."

She chuckled guiltily.

"I can't stop you from doing what you are going to do." Mulder became serious once more. "All I can ask is that you be careful. Don't come to me unless you have solid evidence. And under no circumstances let them see the two of us together. They will only use that against us."

She wanted to ask him why? What purpose did it serve? Without the X-files, without the FBI backing, what harm were they creating? Perhaps now, yes, there was a danger, but really in the grand scheme of things how much damage could the pair of them do? She almost said no, she almost told him that this spy game was ridiculous, serving them no more purpose than it did Deep Throat. She remembered that man's dying words to her as he lay in her arms. Trust no one. That included the invisible enemy that Mulder was convinced was watching their every move.

"All right," she nodded, reluctantly. "No where in public. I'll send you smoke signals when we want to talk."

"Smoke signals are a bit obvious, don't you think?"

"Got another idea then, secret agent man?"

"I'll let you know when I come up with one. Till then, you can always give the Lone Gunmen a call. They know how to reach me."

"No way am I letting Frohike have my home phone number."

"Call from a payphone. Probably safer that way."

"From what, these men, or your friends."

"Frohike's harmless," Mulder shrugged. "Most of the time."

Scully wasn't exactly convinced.

"Will you agree to it, Scully?" His face pleaded with her to do so. What other choice did she have?

"Yes," she nodded. "I'll do it. But on one condition."

Mulder looked reluctant to agree to anything. "Depends on what it is."

"Don't do anything stupid. Don't take off anywhere without letting me know first where you are going."

"Scully," he groaned, shaking his head, already hating where she was going with this.

"Damn it, I'm serious. I won't be able to depend on Skinner or anyone else to let me know when you turn up missing. Just have the Gunmen tell me you are out of town. If at the very least so I can feed your fish." She jerked her hand back to his fish tank.

"If I can," he began.

"No, Mulder, every time. Just let me know if I have to be the one covering for you, that's all I ask."

"You don't need to cover for me anymore. You're not my partner."

"No," she acknowledged sadly. "But I am your friend."

He wasn't going to be able to wiggle out of it, she knew that. He finally nodded his head in agreement.

"Fine. But don't take any unnecessary risks."

"Look who's talking," she snorted, eyebrows raised.

He didn't deign to give her skepticism an answer.

This was as good as she was going to get and she knew it. Silently, she grabbed her purse and reached down for the unopened and uneaten Portobello mushroom sandwich.

"I suppose I won't be able to convince you of eating this yourself." She waggled it playfully in front of his nose.

"Leave it. I might get desperate enough."

She tossed it back on the table, imagining it sitting in his refrigerator six months from then, moldering and forgotten behind some stale carton of ancient Chinese take out and covered over by a plastic baggie filled with what had been, at one point in time in its history, pizza.

"What will you do without me to try and ply you with healthy, tasty food, Mulder?" She sighed, shaking her head.

"I don't know," he said simply. He looked lost and forlorn.

"I better getting going, then." She nodded to his half-eaten sandwich. "Finish that up. Take a shower. I'll see you around the office, then?"

He nodded in affirmation, standing up straight to see her to the door.

"Seriously, you promise, Frohike won't get my number?" She murmured as she moved the short distance to the front, turning to face him as she opened the front door.

"I can't promise such things with him. I hear not even restraining orders can stop him when he gets that urge."

"You are frightening, Mulder."

"Oh, not so much." The slow, charming smile she had seen him pull on many a case to get his own way returned, if for the briefest of seconds. "I seemed to have kept you around for a year despite myself."

"Maybe I'm just a particularly stubborn woman, Mulder."

"Nope. Just a very brave one." He grabbed the door as she slipped out. "Be careful, Scully."

"I will." She waved briefly as she turned from him, wondering if she'd even have a reason to visit is cramped, lonely apartment ever again.

Chapter Text

"Mom, you got the good chocolate chips!" Scully waggled an eyebrow at her mother as she pulled the silver, foil bag of Ghirardelli's chocolates chips from the cabinet.

"I knew you were coming and since you're my favorite child, I thought I'd spoil you," Maggie Scully teased, pulling the recipe out of the tin on the counter.

"Favorite child, we're all your favorites, remember?" Scully snorted, tossing the chips on the counter and reaching up to tug a strand of her mother's dark hair, shot here and there with fine threads of silver. "We are equal opportunity worriers. I say I've put as many gray hairs there as Bill has."

"You'd be surprised with your brother, some of the stories he doesn't want you knowing." Maggie adjusted the glasses on her nose as she read through the cramped writing on the note card, "Do we have vanilla?"

"Sent from Mexico by First Brother Dearest." Scully reached back into the cabinet and pulled out a plastic bottle filled with vanilla scented, brown liquid. "So what sort of shenanigans did Billy get into that he bribes you with Mexican imports? The ones he doesn't want me to know about."

"Oh, Dana, harass your brother about it sometime."

"That would mean I'd have to talk to him." She wrinkled her nose vehemently against the idea. "Ever since Dad died he's been in this horribly paternalistic tear."

"He's your brother. He loves you." It was her standard 'mom' answer, and no matter how true it was, Scully rolled her eyes and busied herself digging under the marble counter tops for her mother's mixing bowls.

"How are he and Tara doing, by the way?"

"Oh, okay. They are trying to get pregnant." Maggie tried to hide the excitement under a cool, detached tone as she reached into the cabinets above for her last cookie making ingredients. "She's on Clomid right now."

"Polycystic ovary syndrome," Scully asked from under the counter, as she pulled out the mixing bowls and ancient mixer that had followed the Scully family from more households than she cared to remember.

"I think so. Anyway, they are giving it a go. I warned them, it might take a while. You know the Piersons down the street?"

The shift in subject didn't bother Scully. "Yeah, go to your church? The eldest boy went to school with Charlie?"

"Well the daughter, the middle one, she got married a few years ago and had the same problem. Took them three years before they finally got results." Maggie shrugged philosophically. "I suppose, looking back on it, your father and I were lucky with you kids. We hardly had to try at all. I turned around and there was another one of you."

"Oh, please, don't tell me any more about you and Dad and how we came about." Scully groaned in mock horror. "We need butter?"

"It's softening on the counter over there." Maggie pointed, laughing at her daughter's discomfort. "Seriously, though, I don't think it ever occurred to us we couldn't have children."

"That's good, because who would have changed the channels for Dad before the advent of the remote control," Scully teased, passing her mother the butter, and leaning against the counter as her mother began processing the wet mixture for the cookie dough. "Anything from Charlie?" Of the two brother's, Charlie was the one she missed the most these days. Sweet, sensitive, jovial Charlie, she needed a laugh and a beer and horrible sibling teasing from him. She hadn't spoken to her only younger sibling since the Christmas holidays six months before.

"Well he calls every night, checking in. He worries since your father passed," Maggie hesitated a little at the mention of her lost, beloved husband, Bill Sr. "He says he'll be back in town sometime in the next few months. He'll take some leave then."

"That's good," Scully nodded, thinking of her two brothers stationed in the Navy, like their father, and how little she got to see of either of them. "Any word from Missy?"

It was a touchy subject, her elder sister. Melissa had taken off a year before with little warning other than a request to Scully to spend a frantic week packing her things in her small apartment to store in their parents' garage, and asking her younger sister to drive her to the airport. The two sisters had spent the week arguing over Melissa's plans to live in an artist commune in California and hadn't spoken to each other sense the acrimonious parting. It bothered Scully more than she cared to admit. She was close to Melissa, her only sister, and it annoyed her that she had abandoned her family like that with nothing more than a fleeting wave and a vague promise to stay in touch. It was the one quality in Missy that bothered her more than anything else about her flighty, crystal-loving, New Age sister. In many ways it was something Missy shared in common with Mulder…beyond the belief in psychic powers and personal auras.

"She's planning on coming home soon," Maggie replied tightly, looking as conflicted as Scully felt on the matter. "I told her of course about your father. She was broken hearted she wasn't here for that."

"Whose fault is that," Scully murmured, not-so-quietly, under her breath.

"Dana, how was she supposed to know? None of us did." Maggie frowned in disapproval at her younger daughter.

"I don't know, Mom, perhaps if she bothered to get a hold of us more than just once every blue moon, she would."

"She spent some time with Bill and Tara you know. Last fall. They saw her and let us know at Christmas she was fine."

"It's not the same as calling you," Scully insisted stubbornly as her mother carefully measured and sifted dry ingredients onto a wax paper sheet. "You and Dad had family dinner night once a month, you'd make us all call, come hell or high water. Missy and I would complain and grumble every time, try to find ways out of it, but we were here, all of us."

"And a year later it's only you and me and you are feeling lonely," Maggie asked sagely, her blue eyes blinking at her daughter speculatively.

"I miss them," Scully admittedly sullenly. "Don't tell Bill or Charlie that, but I do. It's so strange." she paused as she remembered the screaming matches she would have with her elder brother, the fistfights she'd have with Charlie and all of the times she'd have to cover for her sister's late nights with boyfriends. "It's strange because when we were growing up I couldn't wait to get out on my own, to get away from them. And now, everything's different - changing."

Everything was different. Her entire world had shifted, all because of one person's decisions to pull her from her safe and sanitized autopsy table and throw her headlong into Fox Mulder's world of aliens, conspiracies, monsters, and ghosts. She had seen things the science she had clung to in her youth couldn't explain fully. She had experienced things she didn't understand. A man she had spent so much time and energy distrusting had died in her arms, his blood spilling over her as he begged her to "trust no one."

"Dana?" Her mother's hand was curled on her shoulder, a worried frown creasing her careworn face. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." It was Scully's first line of response, even to her mother who knew better. Maggie only replied by fixing her steady blue gaze on Scully's own until her daughter finally caved in.

"Work has been rough of late," she fibbed, finally turning away to reach for a mixing spoon to fiddle with nervously.

"Having trouble with that partner of yours?" Maggie was always inquisitive about Mulder. Frankly if it had been anyone male, younger than forty-five, and breathing in her daughter's life, she would have been thrilled.

"Not exactly." She realized her mother would ferret out the truth sooner or later. Maggie had over thirty years of experience wheedling such information out of her children. "The division they assigned me to a year ago has been shut down."

Maggie stopped suddenly as she tipped the powdery flower, sugar, and baking powder into her mixing bowl, staring open mouthed at Scully. "Dana…why?"

"It was a small division to begin with," Scully had worked out all of the rational explanations she would give her mother when she inevitably gained the truth out of her. "And solving unsolvable cases doesn't have the sort of high-profile turnover that the other divisions do."

"This doesn't have anything to do with your partner believing in those aliens, does it?" Maggie's shock turned into a deeply, troubled frown.

Scully wanted to say no. But somehow she knew Maggie wouldn't buy it. "Yes."

"Oh, Dana," she sighed heavily, setting down the paper, careful not to spill its contents, and wrapped her arms around her little girl, heedless of the flour on her hands. "I'm sorry. I know how much you had come to enjoy that work."

Surprisingly the tears she hadn't allowed to fall in front of Mulder began to fall, unbidden in her mother's arms. "It's so unfair, Mom. They drove him out. They used me to drive him out." She sniffed loudly as she pulled away, searching for a paper towel to wipe at her eyes. "I was put in place there to tear down his work and to debunk it. Except I didn't! I tried to help him. I thought…" She sniffed, swallowing tears as she dabbed at streaming eyes. "I thought that I was doing the right thing, helping him. And now I feel like somehow I just made it worse?"

"How," Maggie smoothed back her daughter's red hair as she would have when Dana was just a little girl.

"I should have worked harder to legitimize his work. I could have pushed him harder to give concrete evidence, to not give them a reason!" She shrugged helplessly.

"Dana, no offense, but it sounds as if they were determined to close him down before you even set foot in his office." Maggie's cool fingers rested on Scully's cheek. "You tried your best to do what was right."

"Did I?" Scully asked, confused in the face of her mother's reassurance. "Mom, three weeks ago a man died for Mulder's work. I spent the better part of a year distrusting that man because I didn't know who he was or what he wanted. They shot and killed him because he tried to bring to light evidence of government biological experiments of an unknown origin." She felt her mouth tremble again under the weight of mother's suddenly horrified stare.

"He died in my arms, Mom. And I couldn't stop it. I'm a doctor and I couldn't stop it." She sobbed harder as her mother wrapped her arms around her again and allowed her to cry, dampening her mother's cotton blouse with her tears. For a moment, Scully could pretend she was small again and that the worst issue she faced in her world was Bill teasing her for being too short and small to do anything. She could pretend that the bullies outside couldn't touch her in the arms of her mother, that Ahab was still alive and well, and that she could crawl into his lap for comfort and listen to stories about the great white whale. But she wasn't a little girl any longer. Though still shorter than her mother, she was a grown woman, and she pulled away guiltily, more than embarrassed at her breakdown in her mother's kitchen as she busied herself with un-crumpling the now wadded up paper towel.

"I'm sorry, Mom," she sighed, chuckling in self-recrimination. "It's just been hard."

"I know," Maggie's words carried a world of understanding. "You're too much like your father, dear. He'd bottle everything up too. It's OK to let it out, to let your guard down, just to cry because the world isn't fair."

"I know it isn't fair," Scully replied in a watery sigh, blowing her nose now plugged with tears. "If it was fair, Fox Mulder would never have lost his sister in the first place. And if he had, he would have found out where she was long ago and he'd never be on this path." It was brutally unjust in her mind that her former partner's life, everything he worked for, everything he wanted was taken away by the whims of a shadowy hand in some hole within the nation's government.

"So what is your partner going to do now?" Maggie asked, her gaze sympathetic as she returned to their cookie dough, as if Scully hadn't just told her that she'd witnessed a murder and had been part of a government conspiracy to hide the truth from the American people.

"Mulder? They have him on some surveillance. I'm sure he's already going stir crazy." A week into there dissolved partnership and she hadn't heard from her former partner, not a word, not a note, not even a late night phone call to check in. She knew Mulder had told her they could no longer communicate openly, but not even reassuring her that all was well seemed to be extreme in her mind. "I haven't spoken to him since they separated us."

"I'm sure he's fine, Dana. He worked for a long time before you arrived as his partner, didn't he?" Maggie carefully poured the rest of the dry ingredients into the mixture, and reached for the ancient, 1970's era electric hand mixer.

"Yeah, he did." Scully chuckled softly. "But no one could get him out of trouble nearly as well as I could."

"You had practice with your sister," Maggie smiled, turning the giant mixer on low to begin the process, not wanting to stir up the fine powder in the air. "Anyone who could hide the number of times Missy was out late with one boyfriend or the other can certainly pull anyone else from the fire."

"You knew about that, huh?" Scully smiled widely despite her swollen face.

"It was hard to miss sneaking up the stairs at night." Maggie chuckled. "Your father let it slide, though. He always trusted your sister to do the right thing in the end. Just like he trusted you."

"Did he?" Scully blinked, the dull pain of her father's loss and her guilt over it resurfacing for the briefest of moments in her already shaky emotional state.

"Your father wasn't happy with your choices, Dana, but he was your father. And he always trusted you knew you were doing the right thing." Maggie glanced up from her mixing to fix her daughter with a pointed look. "And you have been doing the right thing. And I don't think he could have been prouder to hear that despite it all you did what you thought was right."

It was perhaps the best words of praise Scully could have received in those moments and she resisted the urge to break down into a whole fresh set of tears. Instead she moved to the sink to wash her hands and grabbed a spoon from the drying wrack beside it. As her mother mixed, she leaned around her elbow to snag a small spoonful of cookie dough, much to her mother's amused disgruntlement.

"Keep that up, Dana, and we'll have nothing to bake with."

"Who says we have to bake them to eat them?" She licked the batter off the spoon impishly.

Maggie pretended to look thoughtful for a moment. "You have a point there."

"Let's just eat raw cookie dough for dinner."

"I'm your mother, Dana, I won't allow you to eat like that."

"What, it's just you and me. I won't tell the others Mom's letting her guard down." She winked playfully at her mother.

"At least let's eat a salad and cookie dough."

"Salad gets in the way of the chocolate." Scully wrinkled her nose.

Maggie's eyes twinkled as she turned off the mixer, her hands going to her hips. "Keep this up, you'll be the death of me."

"Nah, but I can teach you all of the really bad eating habits I learned off of Mulder."

"Do I even want to know?" Maggie shook her head fearfully.

"I'd tell you what his fridge looked like if he had anything in it."

"That's just men dear, as best as they can tell, fridges are for keeping beer."

Scully laughed, dipping her spoon into the cookie dough again. "You know you really want to have some of this."

Maggie's eyes slid to the chocolate chip bag on the counter, then back to her daughter. "Let's at least add the Ghirardelli chips first?"

"Deal!" Scully grinned gleefully as she reached for the bag. "See, there's a reason I'm your favorite daughter."

"I don't have favorites, Dana," Maggie replied promptly.

That Scully knew, Maggie had no favorites. But for this evening at least she was glad she had her mother, the cookie dough, and a shoulder to cry on all to herself.