Title: Beautiful

Author: J. T. Filipek (aka Livasnaps)

E-Mail: jodiefil@hotmail.com

Rating: PG-13

Category: Mulder/Scully Relationship

Spoilers: Milagro, Pilot, Memento Mori

Keywords: MSR

Summary: A post-Milagro journey into the head of Special Agent Fox Mulder

Written: 4/99

Feedback: Would love it if you're so inclined.

DISCLAIMER: Everything worthwhile in this world belongs to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions, and Fox Television. Will never get rich from fanfic, so don't sue me, please.





by J. T. Filipek


*every sense is heightened. i'm pushing the door open. i can feel the smooth varnish under my fingertips. i can feel every ridge and indentation in the grip of my gun. i can hear my heartbeat, feel my blood course through my veins. my gun is drawn and I step into the doorway turning to my left. a sweep to my right brings her into my line of sight. my gun hand drops to my side as i try to tell myself to breathe.

*oh, god! the blood, so much blood. there's no part of her shirt that's white anymore. just red against the black of her jacket. and the red, the red. it's rich and vibrant, a color that defies description, the final evidence of her life. red and black. the colors of our lives.

*i move on legs i can't feel, and find myself kneeling at her side. her heart is on the floor between us, still beating. i pick it up and it is warm and pliant in my hand, but firmer than I'd expected.

*miraculously, none of the blood has touched her face, although her neck is drenched in it. i watch the color drain from her face, as the blood stops coursing through her body, the means to propel it pulsing in the palm of my left hand. her eyes are half open, still shimmering with her unshed tears. i see the lower half of the irises, scully blue, and i know this is the last time i'll ever see that color. her pupils will dilate, forever obliterating the color of scully's eyes from my palate. i feel the loss of it tear at my soul.

*even in the horror of her death, she is beautiful. i never told her she was beautiful. god help me, i never told her she was beautiful. if i could just have a couple more seconds. i tear at the two top buttons of her shirt. my hand slides over her blood-slicked skin, probing, searching for the wound. her heart is still beating. maybe i can put it back and it will work long enough for me to tell her she's beautiful. of course, there is no wound.

*i lie down next to her, my face close to hers. i can smell the metallic scent of her blood and i breathe it in past the shaking sobs that are starting to rack my body. i touch her face, my bloody thumb leaving a trail across her cheek. her skin is just like i remember, velvety and delicate. i touch my lips to hers--finally, too late--and feel them cooling beneath my kiss.

*i look down and her heart is still beating in my hand. i raise it to my chest and hold it against my own heart. they speak to each other, as they always have. i realize then how useless my heart is without hers. maybe i can solve this dilemma. i want to believe i can solve it.

*i pull at the neck of my shirt until the fabric rips down the front. i press the fingers of my right hand against my chest, pushing until i can hear some of the knuckles pop. my fingernails dig into my skin, leaving blood-filled commas. but i can't push through, can't reach into myself as the stranger reached into her.

*no matter. i pull out my pocketknife and push the button in the handle, exposing the blade. i insert it, sharp edge down, at a point just under my collarbone and slide it down a few inches. it cuts smoothly, slicing through skin and muscles and tendons and bones with ridiculous ease. i throw the knife across the room, its purpose served, and it lands with a soft thud on the sofa. reaching into the wound, i locate my target easily and grasp it in my hand. i don't feel any pain, just a vague pressure, a subtle shift of the organs in my chest. i pull and it tears easily away from whatever anchors it. scully would know what holds the heart in place. she held my heart in place.

*i set our hearts together--touching, beating in unison--on her still chest and ease down to gather her in my arms. but even as i watch them slow and still, finally becoming silent together, my body refuses to die. i, it seems, can go on without my heart.*



I can feel the unuttered scream still occupying my lungs and I breathe it out in a searing gasp, trying desperately to breathe in something cooler, less toxic. I sit up straight and the sweat on my back makes my skin stick to the leather upholstery, taking off a few non-essential layers of dermal matter. I bend forward bringing my hands to my face and am not surprised to feel the hot wetness of tears on my cheeks. I wait for the shakes to stop and my breathing to return to normal. I know the course of nightmare recovery better than I want to.

Jesus, just what I need. A new feature playing at the Fox Mulder Nightmare Cineplex. Open all night. No need to buy your tickets ahead of time, there's always a seat.

Swinging my legs around, I place my feet on the floor for reasons completely unknown to me because I could no more stand up than I could throw a piano. I rub my eyes and it feels as if the insides of my eyelids have been coated with a thin layer of finely ground glass. My sweatshirt lies in a heap on the floor at my feet, drying stiff with Scully's blood. I kick it under the coffee table as shudders threaten to overtake me again.

I reach into the drawer in the coffee table for the pack of cigarettes I keep there for emergencies. I think this qualifies. The disposable lighter is yellow--a tad too cheery for me right now--but it lights on the first try. I puff, drawing the flame from the lighter onto the tip of the cigarette and throw the lighter back into the drawer, pushing it shut with my knee. I drag on the filter, inhaling the smoke deep into my lungs and expel it almost immediately in a fit of coughing. Christ, these smokes are stale, and I realize I don't have even a vague recollection of buying the pack. I drop the cigarette into the remains of a beer bottle on the table and it dies with a weak hiss. Too late, I wish I'd taken the last swig from the bottle before putting the cigarette out in it. Of course, it was my last beer.

My watch is on the table and I grab it, amazed anew at its luminous dial. One forty-seven--way too early to be up for the day. But the knots in my stomach make it pretty clear that my head isn't ready to go back to sleep and risk finding out what the second feature of the double-bill might be.

I'm so tired. I'm so fucking tired.

And between spitless anxiety and the stale cigarette, my mouth feels like a rest stop for a camel caravan. I feel as if I'll turn to dust and blow away if I don't get something to drink. So I push myself up onto knees that are definitely thinking about not locking into place, but grudgingly comply after a brief bout of the wobbles. Luckily, my feet know the way to get me to the kitchen. A brief, hopeful stop at the fridge to see if the Beer Fairy dropped by while I was asleep. The only identifiable thing inside is an orange juice carton that I think might be the one I put back in there that weekend Scully went to Maine. I don't even take the time to contemplate how pathetic that might be.

To my surprise, there's a glass in the cupboard, actually one of those glow-in-the-dark cups they gave away a couple years ago at Taco Bell. That's not overly pathetic to me, either, because all I need it to do right now is hold some liquid. Leaning over the sink, I stand at the tap and let the water run over my finger, letting it run as cold as it gets in this building. My throat is so dry the first swallow stings a little, but the rest of the water goes down smoother and I drain the glass straight down without stopping.

Better. My knees are back, working like pros. I fill the glass again and head back to the living room. After the sound of my settling into the couch disappears, I'm amazed at how quiet it is--no traffic, no old building sounds, no sounds of stirring in the hallway or the apartment above me or next door. Next door.

Suddenly the nightmare plays back in my mind--highlights, like in a movie trailer. It's bad, even on the replay. I sit forward and rub my eyes with the heels of my hands, wincing a little at the pain. It's enough to distract me, to keep me from remembering.

I get the urge to do something, but I don't know what. TV's out, I don't want the flickering light. Can't bounce the basketball. The neighbors hate that. Probably going to be evicted next week anyway. Dead guy by the incinerator has to be the last straw. Guess I was lucky they didn't do it after evacuation by the CDC. Or dead guy in the hallway. Or poisoned water. Guess my status as tenant has been iffy for quite a while. No wonder they didn't make too big a deal about the waterbed.

What I want to do is call Scully.

But I can't. I may have fast food glassware. I may have two-year-old orange juice in my refrigerator. But even I'm not pathetic enough to wake her out of a sound sleep to tell her I had a nightmare about finding her heart on the floor. Just what she needs after all she's been through.

But I still want to. I want to hear her voice. I want her to hear mine. I wouldn't have to tell her about the nightmare.

The nightmare. A Freudian field day. A dream analyst's wet dream. But I know it for what it really is. Just the alternate ending. What would have happened if Padgett hadn't thrown the manuscript in the fire. The thing I didn't do. He saved her. I'm so glad, so fucking grateful, that he saved her. And I hate that he was the one to do it.

Padgett, that son of a bitch. Fucking psychotic stalker. How long had he followed her? Was he third in line behind her at the grocery store? Did he stand down the block and watch her bend over the trunk of her car to get her briefcase out at night? Did he follow her around the mall, watching her purchase her fragrances and lingerie--her secret things? Did he stand at her window and watch her reflection in the mirror as she took off her makeup at night?

The thought makes me sick. Literally physically ill. What if he'd hurt her? What if she'd been taken away again? What if he'd killed her? That's what stalkers do. The water I'd bolted down earlier churns in my stomach and I swallow hard to keep it in its place.

But what he'd done, was it that much different? Padgett had crawled into her head and laid bare things he should never have been able to know. Scully was right, it was just like I what I do. But--and I know this is rationalizing--I do it to criminals, people who need to be stopped. He did it to Scully.

I tried to profile her once. It was that weekend she was in Maine. The weekend the orange juice in the fridge was already four months old. The weekend that confirmed what I'd known for a long time. That I can't live without her in my life. The weekend I asked her to marry me and she thought I was joking--again. She must have realized that we didn't have much to joke about at that point in time. Wasn't that why she went away that weekend? To get away from us--what we'd become--for a while?

So I tried to profile her. I missed her so damn much and I just wanted to try and understand her. I sat at the computer and typed for a few minutes but I couldn't do it. I looked at the words and I was repulsed that I would even think to do such a thing. It felt, I felt, like I was stealing something from her, taking something that was hers alone, something that I desperately wanted her to share with me of her own volition. It was like how I felt in Allentown when I'd read that part of her journal, only worse because the journal thing was an accident. And I told her about it. I never told her about starting to profile her. I think she would have felt violated somehow.

And that's how I feel about what Padgett did. He went into her mind and stole the things that were hers. He violated her.

But the worst part was that he used some of the same words I did.

I go over to the dining room table where I've placed the typewriter and the box with the copy of his manuscript. Yeah, I went next door through the crime scene tape and stole the typewriter. I don't even know why, any more than I know why I made a copy of his manuscript before turning it in as evidence when I arrested him. Are these some bizarre mementos of this whole ordeal? I know it's not the completed version, but it's still a collector's edition, a one of a kind rare manuscript. I made a copy of the musings of a psycho stalker who imagined having sex with the woman I love. How sick is that?

I pull off the lid of the box I bought at the Snappy Copy and flip through the pages for what I'm looking for. I hate that I know this thing well enough that I can find it without a great deal of trouble. Here it is--"marshal of cold facts" and "ability to connect, shuffle, reorganize." The last words I saw before I deleted the file from my screen, appalled at what I'd done.

He used the same words I did.

But he didn't stop. He went deeper and looked further into her and put what he found there on stark white paper.

But did he, really? How much of it was really her and how much of it was his projection? And why don't I know the answer to that? There are things he wrote, ways he made her, that are just not true of the Scully I know. But what if I'm wrong?

God I hate this. I want to talk to Scully more with each minute that passes with me here on the couch in front of his novel. But I can't. Even if she were awake, what would I say? Would I ask these questions? Would I want the answers?

There is one glaring truth in Padgett's manuscript, though. His Scully is beautiful. My Scully is beautiful, too, but I never had the testicular fortitude to actually let her know. He did, though. He was a hack writer, but her beauty showed through on every page he wrote.

How did it make her feel when she read it? Was she flattered? Scared? Did what he wrote make her feel beautiful? Did she need to have that feeling so much that it overrode the fear she should have felt? Or was it more important to prove that she didn't feel the fear?

I've never told her she was beautiful. I've believed it, thought it, every single day that I've known her and I never told her. Of course she needs that feeling. Everyone wants to feel attractive to someone, cherished by someone. I try to imagine what it would be like if Scully told me she found me attractive. I can usually hear her voice when I have conversations with her in my head. Somehow I can't make her voice wrap around those words. But I know if I ever heard them, I'd be able to die a happy man. I've never told her she was beautiful.

But he did. And she went to him. She came to see me and she went to him. She went to the stalker.

When she finally showed up to do the autopsies and told me about him following her, I could hardly breathe, could hardly speak. She spoke like this kind of thing happened every day, and I could feel my fists start to clench. I remember how strange and thick my voice was when I asked if she had gotten his name. I was terrified. Why wasn't she? What did he say to her that touched her soul so much that she went to him? That she went to him instead of me?

Did she go to him or did he write her to him? He wrote the stranger and the stranger killed. Maybe he wrote her to him. I wish I could quit asking myself what would have happened if I hadn't broken in on them. Would it have been the naked pretzel, as I so sensitively described it to her? God, I'm such an ass sometimes.

Seeming to have minds of their own, my hands turn the pages to find that scene. I read it again and find the same feelings I had the first time I read about them having sex in an unfurnished fourth floor apartment. In the apartment next door to mine. Anger, almost blinding rage. Helplessness. Bitter jealousy. And at some level I don't particularly want to examine, arousal. His words are graphic, flowing, and I can picture his <my> hands gliding over her skin, making her want him <me>.

Would she have cried out in her climax? Would her voice have come to me through the vent like the incessant tapping of his damned typewriter?

But you know, enraged, incensed, consumed as I am, this is the part of the whole thing I can actually understand. Of course he would want her. What man wouldn't? She's beautiful. He wanted her because she's beautiful.

I wanted her that way in the beginning, when we were in Oregon on our first case. That night she came in from the storm and dropped her robe so I could examine the marks on her back. I remember, I bent down and ran my fingertips over the mosquito bites and she smelled like the rain. Her skin was so incredibly soft that I just wanted to put my mouth on it. I was afraid to stand up because there was no way I could have hid my erection. She was just so damned beautiful standing there in the in her little tiny bra and panties, the candlelight shining on her hair. I've always loved her hair. And those eyes. Hundreds of shades of blue. She was exquisite.

And then she threw herself into my arms and I really got scared because as much as I didn't want her to see my hard on, I really didn't want her to feel it. I was already y starting to forget my pledge not to screw women I worked with. My relationship with Diana had been a huge mistake on a lot of levels--professionally, mentally, emotionally. And I'm still paying for it now. But looking at Scully that night, I could have forgotten all about that. That night, I wanted her because she was so beautiful.

Now I want her because she's part of my soul. I've never not wanted her. At first I wanted a beautiful woman, now I want Scully, who just happens to be a beautiful woman. She's still exquisite.

But Padgett knew only *that* she's beautiful. And as I read the scene again, I realize that's what's wrong, why the scene is hollow, false. Padgett knew only *that* she's beautiful. He didn't know *why* she's beautiful. He knew he wanted her love, but he didn't know what was there to love in return. Not knowing those things, he didn't understand her. He wrote her to him but when she got there, he didn't know her, she wasn't who he'd imagined. He didn't know the why of her. He tried to create someone who'd already created herself.

I'm the one who knows why she's beautiful, what there is to love.

I take a long drink of my water and think about this. And I curse myself for doubting her.

But how could he have done it? How could he have written Scully to him, written the stranger who killed? The guy was a hack. There definitely was not a Pulitzer in his future.

God, I hate all these questions.

It just doesn't work right alone anymore. I'm supposed to ask questions and Scully's supposed to give me answers that make me ask more questions. The questions I get from her answers lead somewhere. The questions I ask without her just swirl around in circles in my head. She helps me ask the right questions because her mind never stops. She gives me possibilities that are as extreme to me as mine are to her. That's part of what there is to love. Padgett didn't about know that.

Or her strength. Or her compassion. Or her integrity. Or her absolute passion for what's right, for standing up for those who can't stand up for themselves. Or her unwavering loyalty. Padgett didn't know about any of these things. Or that these were the things that made her beautiful.

How could he hope, how could he even imagine he could have her heart without knowing about all those things? Another unanswerable question.

I asked endless questions before Scully came into my life. And the answers I got would lead to little intrigues that usually ended up in a dead end, and I thought I had made headway, learned something, when in reality I was just moving around. Motion equals progress, right? I really thought I must have been onto something when they sent someone to spy on me.

But instead she came into my life and made me better than I had any reason to expect to be. And together we asked questions and found answers that brought the monsters to our door. And the monsters would come and we'd beat them back and they'd come again, trying to kill me through her. It doesn't seem like anything we do can keep them at bay. I can't keep them at bay from her and she can't keep them at bay from me.

So instead she stands and fights them with me. Through everything. Through abduction and illness and the murders of our family and barrenness and lies and deceit and more visits to death's door than I can count--still she stands and fights beside me. And lots of times in front of me. Padgett couldn't have known that.

He did know two things though. He knew that Scully is beautiful, even if he didn't know why. And he knew that she's in love. With me.

Scully is in love with me.

I really would like to say those words out loud but I'm not sure I can do it, so I try it on a whisper. Scully is in love with me.

The thought makes me sit up straighter on the sofa. It's a ridiculous thing to hope for, but I want it more than I think even I understand, and I search my mind, my memory, for proof. I remember every word, every touch, and the memories make me smile but offer no concrete proof.

<She didn't deny it.> Some long-forgotten optimistic voice spoke in my head and I reach for the idea the enthusiasm of a drowning man. That had to mean something.

And suddenly the proof is before me. Just the fact of her existence in my life is proof that she is in love with me. She stays with me. When they've tried to take her away, when I've tried to push her away, when she's wanted to walk away, she stays with me. When there is absolutely no reason for her to.

Scully could be anywhere, doing anything. Her life could have been happy, been sane, been normal. If she's not in love with me, why does she stay? It's too much to hope for, but I can't think of any other explanation. She's with me.

Except she's not. And that's why it feels so wrong to be sitting here in the dark in the middle of the night. I should be with her. She's probably awake. I don't just want to call her, I want to call her and tell her I'm coming back. Even though she kicked my ass out.

That's not really accurate. She asked me to leave and I left, wanting to stay more than anything. But I don't think it's an "I'm fine" thing this time. I think she just needed some time and space to process what happened to her. She said we'd talk about it later.

I drain the last of my water and run my hand along the back of my stiff neck. The skin seems slightly bruised there and I know it's from Scully's frantic clawing earlier. I can't help shuddering a little thinking about what happened.

Lying there on the floor, she looked just like she had in my dream, except her heart wasn't on the floor. She was so still, I couldn't see her breathing and it's like I went on shutdown. I thought I was too late--again. I don't remember how I came to be kneeling beside her. She was so still. And the blood. My nightmare didn't have anything over the real thing.

I couldn't stop looking at her face and all I could think about was how beautiful she was. I was transfixed.

Then her eyes flew open and I could literally feel my heart start up again. And the look in her eyes, sheer terror. I've felt the terror I saw in her eyes, but I never thought I'd see it in her eyes. I hope I never see it again. She sat up, reaching--not for me, just reaching--and I saw in her eyes the instant she knew it was me. And for just a second, I saw her know me, actually know who I am. I felt it happen.

And then she was in my arms, scratching at me, pulling, like she couldn't get close enough. It was so unreal. My body was just getting used to breathing again, my mind still trying to wrap itself around the idea that she wasn't dead.

It might have been the way she was trembling, but I think it was her crying that brought me back to the moment. Scully was alive. Scully was crying. My Scully was weeping in my arms, racking sobs that tore at my guts. I tightened my grip and the scratching stopped, her hands relaxing and coming to rest at the back of my neck. But still, she cried, and I could feel her remembering what happened.

I sat down and gathered her to me, rocking her back and forth. Trying to soothe her, trying to soothe us both. Gradually her tremors lessened and her sobbing grew more quiet. But still we held on.

I heard the sirens approaching. Of course, someone would have heard gunfire and called the police. This was not good. I moved my hands around to her shoulders to move her away so I could see her face. I expected her to look away, ashamed that she had broken down in front of me, but her eyes met mine unwaveringly. And I almost forgot about the sirens when I saw what was there. Almost.

"Scully, the police are on the way. They're going to have a lot of questions, I think." I looked into her eyes. She was there, she was with me.

"I can't." Her voice was shaky, barely above a whisper.

"I know. I'll get us out of here." I released her, and tried to stand up, but she wouldn't let go. "Listen, I have to go and close the door. They'll be here soon." She nodded, her eyes never leaving mine, and I stood up quickly to close the door and throw the deadbolt.

Crossing back to her, I was startled again over the blood she was covered in. Had to fix that. I stooped and started to pull her to her feet. "Can you stand? Come on, Scully, we don't have a lot of time." She nodded again and bent her knees to help me help her to her feet.

I pulled her down the hall to the bathroom and helped her to sit on the lid of the toilet seat. Grabbing the towel I'd used for my shower that morning, I wet it down in the sink and began to wash the blood from her face and throat, rinsing and re-wetting the towel several times. I threw the towel in the bathtub and pulled the shower curtain closed.

"Come on." I pulled her to a stand and started to push her through the door when I looked down at her blood-covered hands. Turning her toward the sink, I turned on the tap and squirted some liquid hand soap into my palm. I stood behind her and washed both sets of bloody hands under the running water. I looked up and our eyes met in the mirror above the sink as a single tear fell down her cheek.

"I can't talk to them, Mulder."

"I know. You won't have to. Let me get us out of here, okay?"

She nodded and I guided her back into the foyer. I pulled my trench coat from the rack and wrapped it around her all the way up to her neck, carefully covering her clothes. I grabbed my leather jacket and zipped it over my own bloody shirt, slapping at the pocket to make sure I had my badge.

I heard running in the hallway and had the door open before they reached it. I pulled out my badge, identified myself to the cop. He identified himself to me and said they'd received a report of screaming and gunshots from my apartment. I confirmed this in my best fake SAC voice (as if) and told him that this was a case already under federal investigation. I told him that there was a man in the basement, probably dead, and that Scully was a material witness that I had to get to safety. For some reason, the cop seemed to accept this with a lot less trouble than I would have in his shoes. I gave him my card and told him that the Bureau would liaise with the Alexandria PD. I actually used the word "liaise" and the cop actually nodded in agreement. Must have been Scully's guardian angel. Not willing to press my luck, I gathered her to me and headed out the door and down the hall.

In the elevator, I could feel Scully slump against me and I knew that whatever extra reserves she'd dragged up to get her this far were failing fast. I pulled her closer and felt her arms come around me weakly in return. "Still okay?"

She looked up at me, just a trace of panic still in her eyes. "Yeah. Just don't let go."

"Not a chance."

I felt better once we were outside. I'd been lucky enough to find a parking place right in front and I opened the passenger side door to help Scully into the car.

We were both quiet driving to her apartment. From the corner of my eye, I could see she'd laid her head back against the headrest, her eyes closed. Her breathing was shaky again and I knew she was reliving it again, and that she probably would for a long time to come. I reached across the space between our seats and squeezed her shoulder, not knowing what she needed from me, but wanting her to know that I wanted to know. I pulled my hand away and rested it on the gearshift lever.

She reached for my hand and brought it to her lap, between both of hers. Her hands were icy cold and I twined my fingers through hers. I looked over at her and was surprised to find her looking back, straight and direct. I tried to smile at her, but I don't know how successful I was. She seemed to understand, though. She nodded and looked down at our clasped hands.

I got her home and inside without too much effort, got my coat off of her and draped across a chair, and that's when Scully's extra reserve got used up. I helped her to the sofa and she sat, sighing deeply. Suddenly she bent deeply, her head nearly touching her knee, and looked up at me--imploring, begging me for something that I'd longed to give her for years. Tears were streaming silently down her face and she gave them to me, unashamed.

I sat beside her and put my arms tight around her. To my surprise (and maybe inappropriate delight) she turned and scooted herself up to sit in my lap, the shaking starting to take her over again. I held her close as she began to weep again, my own tears stinging my eyes as we rocked back and forth. I held her until she was finally silent and still, hoping against hope that she might have fallen asleep. I knew she needed to sleep. But I also knew she probably wouldn't be able to for quite a while.

Finally she spoke. "I need to get cleaned up." Her voice was small, soft, almost apologetic. But she didn't make to move away.

"Can you do it?"

"I think so." She eased away and tried to stand. I placed my hands on her hips to help steady her and, after a moment, she was able to stand, although she was a bit shaky.

I helped her into the bathroom and she sat on the toilet seat, her head in her hand, obviously trying to get her bearings. "I'll run the water for you," I said. "Bath or shower?"

"Bath." I was glad to hear that because I didn't think she could stand in the shower just then.

I looked at the bottles lined up on the shelf to the left of the tub. "Want bubbles?"

She gave me a small smile and for the first time, I had the feeling that things might be okay. I opened one of the bottles and was surprised at the concentration of a scent I associate totally with Scully, and I breathed in deeply. I poured some of the bubble bath in under the running water, quickly checking the label for the name. I have to make sure she always has that stuff. Mounds of bubbles began to form in the tub.

I crouched to be at eye level with her. "You gonna be okay?" I looked down and saw that I was holding her hands, unaware that I had grabbed them. She nodded at me, and tried to smile again. That one wasn't as successful, and her lips begin to tremble again.

"Okay." Suddenly I simply had no voice anymore and I had to swallow past a lump in my throat. "You get in the tub and I'll go get you something to wear when you get out." It took all my effort to rise to stand, having to pull myself away from her eyes. Leaving the bathroom, I pulled the door closed behind me. I waited until I heard her turn the water off.

It felt funny to walk into her bedroom and start going through her bureau drawers. I was amazed at how neat everything was and smiled to see the almost military style in which she folded her clothes. I opened several drawers looking for pajamas for her, and every one of them smelled great. I finally found the right drawer and pulled out a set made of some light blue shiny material. They felt soft and delicate in my hands, as if the skin of my fingertips could snag the fabric. I looked into the drawer and saw a small envelope in the bottom. I picked it up and read lavender sachet on the label and its scent reached my nose. She had these sachets in all her drawers and for some reason, knowing that about her delighted me. I turned and found her robe draped across the foot of the bed, so I grabbed it and her slippers and headed back to the bathroom.

I knocked on the door and waited till I heard a muted "mmhmm" before entering. She was in the tub, her arms wrapped around legs drawn tightly to her chest, her head resting on her knees facing me. She cried rivers of tears, rolling down her face and landing in the bubbles with a sound something like a hiss. Our eyes met and she didn't look away, or even look as if she wanted to.

And I realized the gift she was giving me. She was giving me her fear and her anger and her sorrow, without reservation and without regret. And the impact of it, and of all that had happened, finally hit me. I put her clothes on the counter next to the sink and fell to my knees beside the tub.

"Jesus, Scully." I could only whisper. "When I saw you there on the floor..."

She nodded and reached up to place her fingers on my lips. "Don't talk." Of course, it was already in her head, she didn't need to hear me talk about it. I just looked at her for a while, profoundly grateful that I was able to.

"Mulder," she said after a while. "Let me finish up in here. Wait for me in the living room. I'll just be a few minutes." But it wasn't her *you're hovering* tone of voice.

I got up and wandered out into the kitchen to heat up some water for tea for her, thinking about what had happened. Suddenly I realized I better let Skinner know what was going on, especially since the Alexandria PD would probably be contacting him soon. I reached into my jacket pocket for my cell phone and it rang in my hand as I pulled it out.



Shit. Too late. "Sir, I was just about to call you."

"I'm sure you were, Agent Mulder." His voice was tight, controlled, and I knew he was pissed. "What the hell's going on? I just got off the phone with head of homicide for the Alexandria Police Department. He says they found a dead man in the basement of your apartment building holding what appeared to be a human heart in his hand. He says your apartment has blood all over the floor and bullet holes in the wall. And that you left the scene in the company of a woman you claimed was a material witness in a federal investigation with a promise that the Bureau would *liaise* with Alexandria PD. *Liaise* Agent Mulder? Would it be too much to ask for an explanation?" He thought it was a stupid word, too.

In the silence that followed, I tried to formulate an explanation and realized how little I wanted to talk about this. I didn't want to lie to Skinner. He'd been a good friend to us. But at the same time, I didn't want to get into a lengthy explanation. Scully would be out soon, and I didn't want her to have to listen to me explain things to Skinner.

"The woman was Scully. It was her blood on the floor."

"Scully? Is she all right? Where are you?"

I sigh. "We're at her place. She's fine. She's not injured, just shook up. She needs some time, sir. We need you to buy us some time."

"They said there was a lot of blood on your floor. If it was her blood, how can she not be injured?"

"It's a long story, sir, and this is really a bad time. Just believe me, she's not injured. I'll make a report to you sometime tomorrow. She's the important thing right now."

"Who's the dead man in the basement? Alexandria PD hasn't been able to ID him?"

"Phillip Padgett."

"The man you held for suspicion of those murders." He took my silence as confirmation. "The one you had released in the hope that you could catch his accomplice." I still didn't answer. "What happened? Did his accomplice kill him?"

"Yeah, I guess you could say that," I replied.

"I guess I'll have to. When I *liaise* with Alexandria PD."

I sighed in relief. Skinner would help us--again. "Sir, I'm sorry, but Scully can't deal with the questions now."

He was quiet for a while. "I can get you a couple of days, Mulder. Then we'll decide where to go from there. I don't want to make this a jurisdictional thing."

"I know."

"But I can if I have to." The tightness was gone from his voice, replaced by a worried tone I'd heard from him in the past. "You'll have a report for me tomorrow?"


He sighed. "I'm not going to like this report, am I Agent Mulder?" Again, my silence was the answer, and he continued in the resigned tone he seemed to save for Scully and me. "See that Scully is okay, Mulder."

"Count on it." I replied, even though I'd heard the click of him ending the conversation.

She came out as I was putting the phone back into my pocket and she looked at me questioningly. I was glad to see that her color was better and she didn't seem quite so shaky. She was wearing the pajamas and slippers, but not the robe.

"I just talked to Skinner. He'll hold off the police until you're ready to make a statement."

"You mean until we can think up something to tell them."

There was a weariness in her voice that worried me and I led her to the sofa. I pulled an afghan off the back of the couch and tucked it around her, half afraid that I was going to get the *you're hovering* look. But she suffered my ministrations with a small, indulgent smile. "I've got water going for tea," I said. "I'll be right back."

I returned with the tea and set it on the table beside her at the arm of the couch. Her eyes never left me as I moved around the coffee table in front of the sofa to go and sit beside her. I wanted to take her in my arms again, but I didn't know if that was what she wanted or needed, so I draped my arm across the back of the couch to see what she would do. She gathered the afghan more tightly around her and leaned against me and I let my arm fall loosely around her shoulders. We were quiet for a long time.

Finally she spoke. "It was Naciemento," she said softly and seemed surprised when I nodded. "He looked just like his picture from the file. But he's been dead for two years. But, you know, I never did get that fax copy of his death certificate."

"Scully," I said with a sigh and she nodded in resignation. We both knew that the fax would be waiting for us when we got back to the office.

She reached out from the blanket and twined her arms around my waist, and in response I brought my arms around her to encircle her. "I was so scared." She spoke so softly I could barely hear her. "Terrified. And it hurt so much. I could feel him digging into my chest. I could feel his hand on my heart. Then he disappeared and I didn't know whether it was because I'd fainted or if he'd really just... disappeared." She sniffled, her head against my chest, and I knew she was trying to fight off crying again.

"The next thing I knew, there was a face still hovering over me, but it was yours. It was you--like it always is--and I was safe. You were there and I was safe." She hugged me once before pulling away slightly and I dropped my arms, hating to let her go.

She looked away momentarily and then looked back at me, her eyes swollen with her tears. "You make me feel safe, Mulder, and I love you for that."

I smiled weakly and touched her cheek. I could feel the big "but" coming.

"But I have to be able to make myself feel safe, Mulder. I have to."

Of course she did. It's who Scully is. Her independence is another thing that makes her beautiful, another thing there is to love. "You want me to go." It wasn't a question and the words felt dead in my mouth.

"Yeah," she whispered. "I have to sort this out, figure out what it means to me."

"I know." I stood to leave and she stood with me, leaving the afghan behind on the sofa, and followed my footsteps to the door.

I reached for the knob, and she took my hand to turn me to face her. She stepped toward me and wrapped her arms around my waist again, burrowing her face into my chest. "We'll talk about this," she whispered. "I promise." I pulled her closer and she took a deep breath, relaxing against me for a moment and rubbing her face against the leather of my jacket. She looked up at me with the closest thing to a genuine smile I'd seen since Padgett walked into our lives. "Never get rid of this jacket, Mulder."

I smiled back, understanding the significance of what she'd said. "Have to get rid of it, Scully." I unzipped it, took it off and draped it across her shoulders. The leather was a slightly ridiculous contrast to the soft blue fabric of her pajamas. She grabbed the open ends with crossed arms and pulled it snugly around her, rubbing her face on the collar. I grabbed my trench coat from the chair and left, hearing her quiet thanks as I closed the door behind me.

I went home and actually got around two hours of sleep before the nightmare that brought me to this point in my life, sitting in the dark in front of Padgett's crappy unfinished manuscript with terminal cotton mouth and several dozen unanswered questions swirling around in my head. And wanting to call Scully so much that it's causing my stomach to knot up.

Cotton mouth I can do something about and I head to the kitchen for more water. On the way back to the living room with another glass of water, I pass the typewriter where I left it on the table. It's strange to see one now, a machine rendered almost obsolete in only about ten years. I bend over and plug it into the socket behind the table. I turn on the power switch and it hums to life, louder than I remember an electric typewriter being. It vibrates and shakes the table almost imperceptibly.

I cross the room to my computer and remove a sheet of paper from the printer tray to insert into the typewriter. I like the sound of rolling the paper into the machine.

I haven't used a typewriter since I was at Oxford. I found one cheap in a junk shop in London. Only they called it a "junque" shop. It was an electric typewriter, but it didn't have a "return" key. It had a manual carriage return. I sort of liked that. You typed a line, you got to do a little physical thing at the end of it. Just zip that carriage back.

There's something substantial about typing over word processing. Typing implies a kind of commitment, I think. You are actually putting words on paper. Electronic words aren't really words at all. You can type hundreds and thousands of words--days and days worth of words--and make them disappear in the blink of an eye. If you typed like that on a typewriter, you'd have a stack of paper--like Padgett's cheesy manuscript. Typing is just more substantial.

The typewriter hums expectantly, ready to print out whatever wisdom might come from my fingertips. I type the most profound thing I can think of right now.


I look down at the table and realize I want to call Scully so badly that I've carried my cell phone to the table with me. I hate that I want to do this so much when all she asked me for was a little space. Part of me is afraid she'll use that space to rationalize away what happened to her. Just a little part. But I've got to do this the way she wants to do it, the way she can do it. It happened to her.

But it happened to me, too.

I take another sip of the water, still thirsty, but definitely tired of the *wateriness* of the water.

It happened to me, too. Does she have any idea how it felt for me to see her laying there on my floor, covered in her own blood, thinking one more time that I lost her? How can she need space so much when I need closeness? Doesn't she see that one of these times while we're jacking around here, one of us might really be dead?

Still I can't call her. She's never asked me for much, but she asked me for this.

God, I'm thirsty. Maybe the juice isn't two years old. Maybe I still have one of those Kool-Aid packets I bought a while back. Yes, we have hit rock bottom on the pathetic scale. I, at one time, bought Kool-Aid and I would be happy to see it in my cupboard right now.

I head out to the kitchen, turning on the overhead light so that I can better poke around in the cabinet. But fate is not kind. No Kool-Aid to be found, not even a lame flavor like lemon-lime. My last hope is the juice, which is like no hope at all.

I open the refrigerator and reach for the carton in the door. Reading the freshness date, I confirm that it says *OCT 97* and put it back on the shelf. Sucks to be me sometimes. From the corner of my eye, I see something on the top shelf of the inside of the fridge. A can of beer. I know that because it says *BEER* in big black letters on a white background. Generic beer, like you can find in a supermarket. This is very strange, I tell myself as I reach for the can. It's cold, as if it's been in there a long time. I pop the top and it hisses, spraying a fine mist. I take a swig and while it's not particularly good as beers go, it beats the hell out of water.

Where the hell did this come from? Another question unanswered.

I take it back to the table by the typewriter and contemplate the options. None of them are good.

Maybe I suffered from lost time and went down to the Jiffy Mart and bought a generic beer. Difficult to prove since I haven't looked at my watch in a while. I do now, however, and note that it's three-eighteen. This doesn't seem like a good possibility. Why wouldn't I have bought a six-pack?

Then there's the Beer Fairy option. Also a difficult one to prove because you just never catch the Beer Fairy in the act.

The last possibility is weak, too. I wished the beer there. Unlikely, because I've wished for beer before and it never showed up. But I've never typed the wish before. And this hypothesis I can at least test.

I hit the carriage return and begin to type.


I wonder if I have to wait or if it shows up right away. Unable to contain my curiosity, I go back to the refrigerator, pulling the door handle so hard I'm afraid I'll pull it off. There is a six-pack of Sam Adams and a deli-wrapped sandwich that I'm certain is a reuben. Neither of them sounds particularly appetizing now and I make my way back to the table.

The typewriter. He did it with the typewriter. He didn't write a character so true it came to life. He didn't have that kind of talent--just had a good machine. He asked for a killer just like I asked for a beer. He asked for someone who steals hearts like I asked for Sam Adams.

The hum of the typewriter starts to grate on my nerves as I realize what it is. I switch it off and pull the plug from the wall. Turning it around so I can see the back, I find a sticker saying it came from Joe's EZ Pawn. I bet if I tracked down the sale, I'd find it was a fairly recent purchase. Hack writer catches a break and buys a magic typewriter. But was it really a break? He asked for a killer.

He wrote Scully to him.

I want to call her and tell her about the typewriter. But I realize I can't as the implications of its existence sink in. I have to destroy it. This case will never come to prosecution, so it's useless as evidence. It'll sit there in the evidence room until they decide they've kept it long enough. Who knows what happens to it then--sold at auction, sold to a broker for scrap? The last guy asked for a killer. Who knows what whoever gets it next will ask for.

I lift the cover and peer inside. It has a spool type ribbon like the typewriter I used to have. I pull out the ribbon, unwinding much of it in the process and a big thing inside the machine catches my eye. I don't know anything about typewriters or how they work, but that piece is held in place by small Phillips head screws. I have a Phillips screwdriver in the kitchen.

My hands shake a little as I try to loosen the small screws, but I finally have all four of them out and lift the piece I've loosened, placing it on the table beside the typewriter. I see another piece with a small belt attached to it and use the screwdriver to pierce the belt, breaking it. I plug the machine back in and turn on the switch. Nothing happens and I sigh with relief.

I think it might be a good idea to take what's left of it back to Padgett's apartment because it's definitely giving me the creeps. Should be easier to break in at three-thirty in the morning.

I'm back in almost no time and that creepy, slightly slimy feeling is still hovers in the air. I go to the kitchen and pull out the Sam Adams, opening each of the bottles and dumping them down the sink. Unwrapping the sandwich, I turn on the disposal and the water and run the sandwich through. None of this makes sense, but I don't know what else to do to get rid of the feeling. I look across the room at the manuscript still on the table. That's it. The last piece.

I turn on the shredder behind the chair next to my desk, wondering if it's going to make too much noise. No wimpy one page at a time personal shredder for me. Mine takes ten, fifteen pages at a time and in the quiet of the night it sounds like a World War Two tank to me. The neighbors are going to have to sue me.

There's kind of a chunky tearing sound as I start to feed the papers through, but not as bad as I thought it would be. And I feel better, cleaner, with each handful I put through the shredder and the stack of pages grows smaller and smaller.

I think about Scully as I shred the pages. I know she's awake. She almost had her heart ripped out yesterday. That's not something you follow with a good night's sleep. I wonder what she's thinking about.

I imagine her sitting on her sofa wearing my jacket. If this were twenty years ago, giving her my jacket would mean we were going steady and the though makes me smile and wish I still had my high school ring for her to wrap in angora and wear on a chain around her neck. It's way too late and I'm way too tired.

But not too tired to want to talk to her. I'm finding it harder and harder to respect her need for space and I don't understand it at all. How can she want to be alone now, when all I want to do is look at her, reassure myself that she really is alive? Maybe she asked me to leave because she didn't know how to ask me to stay. God knows, I haven't made it easy for her to know how I feel. I reach for my phone, almost unable to resist. The compulsion is overwhelming.

And someplace in the shreds of Padgett's manuscript are those very words from him.

I hit the number one on my speed dial, not sure what I'm going to say when Scully answers the phone. Guess I'll play it by ear. I wait for a ring that, strangely, never comes. There's a breathing sound at the other end of the line.




"I was just calling you, but I didn't hear a ring. You were just suddenly there."

"I was calling you, too. We must have called each other at exactly the same time. Weird."

"Yeah," she says with a chuckle. Then she grows serious. "You're up, too."


"What are you doing?" Her voice is soft and low.

"Just cleaning up some stuff." Best answer I can give when I'm destroying potential evidence in a murder investigation.

"Cleaning?" she asks doubtfully. "At quarter to four in the morning?"

"You know what they say about the early bird."

We sit in silence for a moment or two and I listen to her breathe softly. "Did you sleep at all?" I ask her finally.

"Some. You?"

"A little."

We are quiet again but it doesn't feel awkward or uncomfortable to me. This time she's the one to break the silence. "Why did you call?"

It automatically springs to my mind to answer her back with her own question, to see if she can answer it any easier than I can. But I bite back the impulse. It's time to take one more leap of faith for the woman I can't live without. I take a deep breath and wonder if she can hear how shaky it is.

"I called to tell you you're beautiful." When the words are out, I'm amazed at how good it feels to have said them. I wait for an *oh brother* or some other snappy comeback.

"Oh." There's my Scully, master of understatement. But there's a subtle change in her breathing and I imagine I can hear her smiling on the other end of the line.

"Why did you call?" I ask her a moment or two later.

Now she takes a deep breath and I can, indeed, hear how shaky it is. "I'm lonely..."

"Do you want me to come over?" I ask, not really intending to interrupt her, but I sense that I did.

She goes on as if I didn't. "I don't mean just now. I mean in my life. Padgett told me I was lonely and I told him loneliness is a choice."

"Is it?"

She sighs again. "Yeah, I think it is. Everything is a choice, isn't it?"

"Sometimes it doesn't feel like it," I reply.

"I know. Sometimes we only get a choice between two bad options. But sometimes we get a choice between a bad option and a great option and we choose the bad option just because we've always chosen it. Because it's easy and you know what to expect."

She pauses and I don't reply, unsure how to respond. She takes my silence as encouragement to continue. "Padgett and I were both right. I am lonely and it has been a choice." Her voice drops to a husky whisper that arouses me as it tears at my heart. "I don't want to be lonely anymore, Mulder."

"I will be right there."

"I'll make coffee."

We hit the "end" buttons of our phones simultaneously.

I put the piece I removed from the typewriter in a paper bag. A quick stop to drop it off a bridge into the Potomac shouldn't cut too much into my travel time.