Book II - Mulder's Story

By J. T. Filipek

Title: Itinerant Stasis - Book II, Mulder's Story
Author: J. T. Filipek (
Rating: PG (for language)
Classification: MSR, A
Keywords: MSR
Summary: Picks up from *Biogenesis and tells the story of a long and perilous journey-both inner and outer. All good journeys begin with clarity.
Spoilers: Lots and lots of spoilers. Too numerous to mention
Disclaimer: You know the drill. They belong to CC, 1013 Productions and Fox Television. Not mine, but I'm glad I get to play with them. This is better than the action figures. Also, I've used fragments of a lot of songs I don't own either. And, of course, I've used David's poem, which I also have no claim on, other than loving it. It appeared in the June 1998 issue of Movieline Magazine.
Post: Anywhere as long as it's complete and my name is on it. (It would be nice if you'd let me know.
Acknowledgement: A very special thanks to Zuffy, whose input and assistance has been invaluable to me, and who has graciously allowed by little tale to be posted at her site.
Comments: Will do almost anything for feedback. Please. It's how I feed my children.

Cliché Juice

Home is where the heart is and my heart is
out traveling. Up into the wild blue yonder;
wingless, prayerful that this miracle of flight
will not end, just yet.
Also at home with you, on the ground
wherever you might be at the moment, grounded
like a highschooler; like a wire, a bird and a wire,
feet on the ground and my heart is in my throat now, now
in my feet, lawfully descending with gravity
to the lower; lowest, most sought after
most beautifully bound, home.
Aspirations involve reparations. We reach
for the stars wondering what we are.
But my Reason has been found
by finding you and looking down. And it is there,
not in the stars of fantasized worlds, fifth
dimensions, sixth senses, holy parallel potentates of
potentialities--that my feet will trace
their slow as history itself dance;
a walking calligraphy so subtle that it will take 40 years
and more and a view from above
with an impersonal remove and lofty attachment I hope
to barely fail at that mythical two-backed beast; itinerant stasis;
like the one I enjoy up here in the well attended air;
to read the cursive strokes of my aggregate footsteps,
like some fairy tale dissolve, "Once upon a time" or twice
written upon our little page of earth, ground,
wherever our home may be
will be
wherever we happen
to be.

--David Duchovny
(published in
Movieline magazine, June 1998)

Mulder's Story

Chapter One

Scully was jarred awake by the jostling of the van, and she blinked her eyes against the light and a fledgling headache. Hot. It was so hot. As she came to herself, she remembered where she was and why. Her eyes came into focus and she saw she was face-to-face with Mulder and that he, too, seemed to be stirring from a restless sleep as he made little groaning noises in his throat. His hand at her waist unconsciously drew her closer to him. Or maybe not unconsciously.

The vehicle hit what seemed to be a gigantic pothole and her head knocked against Mulder's, where it rested lightly against the crown of her head. "Uuhhh," he moaned, his eyes flying open.

"Guys," Scully called out, although the pain in her head flared with the sound of her own voice. "Can we slow it down some? This road is killing us back here."

"Sorry!" they chimed back in unison.

She could feel the decrease in speed and it seemed to quiet her stomach somewhat. She looked back at Mulder to see him wincing in pain. Disentangling herself somewhat from his grip, she reached for the bottle of Gatorade and emptied the last of it into the paper cup. "Mulder," she said gently and smiled when he opened his eyes. "Here. You want the last of this?" She brought the cup to his lips and he took a healthy swallow.

Mulder grimaced and pushed the cup away. "Jesus!" he cried. "Warm Gatorade sucks."

Scully was thirsty herself, but decided against draining the cup when she saw Mulder's reaction to it. "Hey," she called out. "You guys got anything cold and wet up there?" She heard the sound of someone digging into ice in a cooler and soon Langley's face appeared above the seat in front of them.

He handed her a bottle of water and she smiled at him gratefully. "How much farther?" she asked.

"Probably another twenty, thirty minutes."

Scully rolled the bottle briefly across her forehead. It was icy and wet from the cooler and felt absolutely wonderful. She touched the bottle to the side of Mulder's face that was exposed to her and he chuckled appreciatively at the sensation. He smiled and opened his eyes a bit, rolling onto his back to feel it on the other side of his face. She grinned back at him and placed the hand that had held the bottle against his cheek. It was cool and wet and soft and he pressed his face against it with a sigh.

Scully dumped the remains of the Gatorade back into the bottle and refilled the cup with some of the water. She leaned down to offer him some and he shook his head. "You first." She drank deeply from the water, and poured some more into the cup. As he had earlier, he put his hand over hers as she raised the cup to his mouth.

He drank about half the water, his eyes locked to hers. Then he dipped his fingers into what remained and drew a cold, moist trail across her cheek. She shivered and looked away from Mulder's face to see Langley staring at them as if they were some kind of mutant life forms.

Feeling suddenly self-conscious, she sat up straighter and fixed Langley with *the look* and he smiled sheepishly and turned back to look out the front window. She gave a small, inward triumphant smile. *The look* rarely failed. It hadn't since she'd developed it in sixth grade, when she was entering her fourth new school since kindergarten and needed a way to combat the new kid feeling she always seemed to have.

Scully ventured another glance at the guys in the front seat. Langley was making little hand gestures, his expression animated--as animated as it ever got. <Oh God, don't tell me. They've developed some kind of hand language, silent communication. How paranoid is that?>

"Shut up, Langley," Mulder called from behind her and she saw the alarm in the Gunmen's faces as they looked at one another.

"What?" Langley replied defensively and Frohike chuckled maliciously.

"You know what," Mulder replied. "You too, Frohike."

Langley quickly clamped a headset over his ears and slumped down in his seat.

Mulder knew the hand signals, too? <No, wait, he's curled up on the floor. He can't see them.> In her exhaustion, she'd almost forgotten about the *voices.* He'd been so quiet since they'd left the city that the problem had almost slipped her mind. "What?" she whispered. "What was he saying?"

He shook his head in exasperation. "Nothing worthwhile, believe me," he replied with a wry grin.

Looking down at him grinning up at her, the reality of their situation hit her with the force of a freight train. Mulder could *hear* Langley's and Frohike's thoughts. Their thoughts but not hers. Why would that be?

"You *hear* their thoughts." It was a statement rather than a question and he nodded. "What's it like?"

"We're talking Langley and Frohike here, Scully. You know that can't be pretty." She frowned slightly at his attempt to make light of her question. "This isn't bad," he said quietly so only they could hear. "Not like in the hospital. It's just the guys, I know them. Their thoughts are familiar. I'm part of their thoughts and so are you. And when there's just one or two, I can keep track of... There are different levels. People think a lot of things at the same time. And except on the most surface level, they don't follow any pattern or order that makes sense to me. But I hear lots of levels and sometimes it seems like bits and pieces of different levels. And when there's a lot of people, it all blends together with the thoughts and the feelings and the emotions. And it's... it's overload." He shuddered and she reclined resting on her elbow to face him at his eye level. They weren't touching, but they held one another's eyes.

"Mulder, this is..." Her tone was filled with awe, but she couldn't decide if it was wonder or dread. "I can't imagine what this must be like for you. Does it hurt?"

He paused to consider the question, his finger brushing aimlessly across his chin. "I don't think so, not really. But it did in the hospital. My head... it was like a constant throbbing pressure. It felt like the voices were pushing against my skull. But not now. Now it's like I'm aware that they're there, but it's just the guys, you know?"

"You're sure it doesn't hurt?" she asked, looking into his eyes. She'd know by his eyes if he were in pain. He shook his head, and she knew he was okay. "But still not me?" He shook his head again and Scully struggled to understand. "Mulder," she said hesitantly. "How do you know that what you're hearing is really what they're thinking?"

He met her question with an indulgent smirk. "You're never alone with schizophrenia, huh Scully? Okay, fair question. Langley is listening to old Devo, even though the case says it's a Pink Floyd CD. He doesn't want Frohike to know that he's listening to something as lame as Devo. He's paging though an old comic book, but really he's quietly freaking out about this and wondering how he can block his thoughts from me." She gave him a faintly skeptical look. "Go ahead, ask him what he's listening to."

Scully raised herself to her knees to look over the seat at Langley. On the dashboard was the jewel case for a Pink Floyd CD and in his lap was a comic book. She poked his shoulder lightly to get his attention and he moved one of the earphones aside. "What are you listening to?"

"Pink Floyd. *Dogs of War,*" he replied, giving her a curious look.

"Mulder says it's Devo."

Langley gave her a panicked look. "Cha, as if." He tried to be nonchalant about removing the headphones and placing the machine in the glove compartment but didn't quite achieve nonchalance with his hands shaking ever so slightly.

"Devo!" Frohike snorted derisively from the driver's seat beside him. "Welcome to the world of techno-pop. What's next, Langley? Plastic hair?"

Scully looked back and forth between them. Devo must be some kind of sensitive spot between them, but it was at a level that was over her head. She watched as Langley tried and failed to come up with a retort. She almost felt sorry for him.

Mulder chuckled behind her. "I don't think someone who's singing songs from *Fiddler on the Roof* in his head has room to make fun of Devo." Scully watched as Frohike's mouth literally fell open.

"*Fiddler on the Roof?*" Langley laughed with delight. "Come on, sing one for us, Melvin," he teased. "I'll start you out. If I were a rich man..."

"Kiss my ass, Devo Man," Frohike said in a quiet warning.

"Ooo, snappy comeback." Langley laughed maniacally. "Come on, just one. Sunrise, sunset..."

And they were off in one more of their nonsensical arguments as Scully turned back to Mulder. She resumed her place beside him. "So what do you think about me getting my own 900 number now? Spooky's Psychic Hotline?" he asked quietly.

Scully's brow knit in a kind of resignation. "Okay, so maybe it's not schizophrenia."

"Sorry to disappoint you, Scully." His tone was wry, bordering on hurt.

She sighed and sent out a silent plea for his understanding. "I'm doing the best I can here, Mulder. You must know it would be easier for me to deal schizophrenia than with what it looks like is really happening to you."

"Yeah," he admitted. "There were times in the hospital that I was sure it was schizophrenia. But it's not." He reached out to wrap a hand around her waist and pull her close.

"Mulder," she protested. "They're just up in the front seat."

He smiled against her objection. "They're arguing like two people on *Judge Judy.* I don't think they're paying too much attention to us."

She turned away from Mulder to hazard a quick glimpse at Langley and Frohike, who were, indeed, deep in the belly of yet another inane argument, having left Devo behind for greener pastures. Turning back, she was alarmed to find Mulder grimacing again.

"It's hotter than hell in here, Scully."

She nodded. "The windows back here don't open and you know this heap doesn't have air conditioning."

He lowered his head, turning it slowly back and forth. "I smell bad." His voice had taken on the whiny kid tone again. "How can you stand this? I smell bad. I don't want to smell bad."

Scully chuckled tiredly. "Neither of us is going to be offered any perfume endorsements in the near future, Mulder. I think that's why they stuck us all the way back here. I'm feeling pretty ripe myself."

"Uh-uh. You always smell great." He reached and pulled her next to him, nuzzling his face into her neck and inhaling deeply.

"That's not what you said when that dung factory exploded," she reminded him, thinking she should pull away, but not really able to muster the resolve to do it. It was a nice place for his face to be.

"I was full of shit," he replied. He pulled away slightly and sniffed at himself again, his nose wrinkling in distaste.

"If I remember correctly, we both were." When that didn't get even a smile from him, she understood how truly distressed he was. "It's okay, Mulder. We'll be there soon and you can get cleaned up. Half hour, max."

This seemed to placate him. "'Kay," he said with a weary sigh. "They wouldn't let me take a shower in there. Said I was too dangerous. Had to pee in a toilet in the corner and they were always watching." He closed his eyes and shuddered.

She pulled him close and rocked him back and forth. "Ssshhh. Don't think about it now." He tried to pull away from her, but she just kept him clasped to her. "I don't care how you smell. Listen, we'll get where we're going real soon. You can get cleaned up and have something to eat. Then you can sleep as long as you need to. You'll feel lots better when you're rested and then we can talk. But don't think about that place now, Mulder. You're out, you're safe."

He chuckled at that. "I'm out, I'm safe? You'd make a bad umpire, Scully. They have to make a decision and stick with it."

She laughed with him. "Actually," she replied. "I'm pretty good at sticking with my decisions."

He sat up a little and pulled out of her embrace, pulling her instead into his. "I know you are. Does that include the one you told me about in the hospital?"

His expression was strangely shy and expectant and it touched her heart. "Oh, yeah," she replied and reached up to kiss his stubbly cheek. She was suddenly aware again of the fact that Langley and Frohike were just in the front seat and it made her feel a bit shy, too. But not quite enough to make her pull away. She moved her lips over just a bit to whisper in his ear. "I'd never say that to you if I didn't mean it. Not that."

"I know," he whispered back, his voice low and husky. "I know you wouldn't. You kept me sane in there, Scully. You kept me alive."

"You kept yourself alive in there."

"Nope," he disagreed. "Without you, there wouldn't have been a reason to."

He rubbed his face in the crook of her neck again, and his beard slid over the sensitive skin there. It was distracting, but not enough to take her mind away from the enormity of what he'd said to her. He'd said he didn't want to live without her and she didn't know how to react to the feelings that statement brought up. It was exhilarating and heart-warming, but at the same time, it was frightening, too. To be someone's reason for living...

She pulled away slightly, touching his cheek as she looked into his eyes. "Don't say that, Mulder. We don't know what's going to happen to either one of us, but if something does, the other has to go on. This is too important."

He moved his face a bit and pressed a kiss into the palm of her hand. "I can't promise you that, Scully. I know how important it is, but it's not as important to me as you are and it hasn't been for a long time." His eyes began to droop again as he fought an unsuccessful battle against a yawn. "Tired," he mumbled.

Mulder rested his head against hers and Scully could feel his breathing start to even out. "Hey," she said, with a gentle poke to his ribs.


"We're almost there, Mulder. Can you stay awake a little longer so the guys don't have to carry you into the cabin?"

"Cabin?" he asked, slightly confused. "Is this another nice trip in the woods?"

"From what I can see through the windows it is. Come on, stay awake." She nudged him, trying to make him sit up.

"Yeah, yeah," he replied over a yawn, sitting up with his back braced against the side of the vehicle. "I can stay awake, at least till I get a shower."

"And a shave?" she asked hopefully.

He rubbed a hand over his face, annoyed at the itchy, grimy feeling of his skin. "The hirsute look doesn't make it for you, huh?

She shook her head, her nose wrinkling a little. "It's scratchy. And it covers up your spot."

His hand came up automatically to his right cheek. "That would be one of the few reasons I could think of to actually keep the beard."

"I like your spot." She gave him a tired smile--the best one she could come up with.

And he smiled in return. "Then I'm clean-shaven for life."

They arrived at their destination a few minutes later, following a washboard ride over a downhill sloping driveway. Frohike and Langley came around the back and opened the door and a rush of pine-scented air greeted Scully and Mulder. There was a gentle breeze and it was much cooler and drier than it had been in the city. They scooted to the edge of the van's doorway--both a little unsteadily--and sat for a moment breathing in the fresh air. Langley and Frohike stepped forward to help them out of the vehicle and were waved away with gestures that would have looked amazingly alike to someone watching the scene from afar.

Slowly and on wobbly legs, but definitely under their own steam, they made their way to the cabin, looking around as they walked. They were in the middle of a small clearing surrounded by dense forest. A long driveway ensured that they were not visible from the access road. The cabin itself was a small, well-kept A-frame structure with a front porch spanning its width.

Langley ran ahead and opened the door for them. It entered onto one high-ceilinged room that made up the entire home. In one corner was the kitchen-dining area. Another corner, close to the bathroom and blocked off discreetly by Chinese lacquer screens, apparently served as the bedroom area. A living room of sorts was set up in front of the natural stone fireplace. Not overly spacious, but clean and well appointed with nice furniture and modern appliances.

Scully raised her eyebrows in surprise that, for once, was pleasant. This was far better than she had hoped for from a D&D buddy of Langley's. She'd met several of the Gunmen's friends in Las Vegas and this place was not what she would have expected from any of them. "This is where your friend *camps,* Langley?"

He chuckled. "Derek isn't exactly the *camping* type. Made a little money developing software and built this place. He just uses it to get away sometimes. Used to come here more before his girlfriend dumped him for playin' the game all the time."

Scully looked over to see Mulder swaying slightly on his feet. She directed him to a straight-backed chair from the dining room set and he kicked his leg over the seat, sitting backwards to use the chair back as a headrest. She saw him struggling to keep his eyes open and wondered what either of them was running on. She herself was afraid to sit down, afraid that she might be overcome with sheer exhaustion. "Where's Byers with the car?" she asked.

"He'll be here in a while," Frohike replied. "He stopped at the last big town to buy some groceries for you guys. Shouldn't be too long." He elbowed Langley in the ribs. "Come on, let's get the stuff out of the van."

Mulder stood to go with them, but Frohike pushed him by the shoulder back onto the chair. "We got it, Mulder. You should probably just rest. You look like hell."

"Gee thanks," Mulder replied sarcastically.

Frohike grinned wickedly. "Hey, if your friends can't be honest with you, who can? There's not that much stuff to bring in. Just relax." He left to join Langley, who was already descending the porch steps.

Langley brought the suitcase in and Scully noted that he seemed awkward, as if he didn't quite seem to know what to do with it. And she understood his unease because bringing the suitcase to the bedroom would acknowledge that there was only one bedroom and she, herself, didn't know how comfortable she was with that acknowledgement.

"Just put it on the couch," she said and thought she saw a grateful look on his face. Frohike followed closely behind and put the bag with the artifacts on the sofa beside the suitcase.

There was an awkward silence for a few minutes, until all heads turned at the sound of tires on gravel. Byers came in with several plastic grocery bags and told Langley that there was a couple more in the car. He put the refrigerator items away and left the rest on the counter. Looking between Mulder and Scully, he could see that both were on the verge of collapse. "We're going to get back to DC, Scully." He addressed her because he wasn't certain Mulder was even still awake. A soft snore from that direction gave him his answer.

Scully nodded and walked toward the Gunmen, her head lowered in weariness and sadness at her lack of words to sufficiently thank them for all they had done. "Guys, I don't know how to tell you..." Her voice trailed off as a lump formed in her throat.

"It's okay, Scully," Frohike said. "We get it."

Byers nodded in agreement. "You two just get some rest. You need to think this through, figure out what's going on and you need a clear head for that. You should be okay here for a few days at least and there's plenty of food."

"Weapons, other I.D.s? Where are they?" Scully asked.

"Box on the coffee table," Langley replied.

They stood at the open door engulfed in another awkward silence. Finally Frohike spoke. "You guys try and let us know you're okay when you can, huh?"

"Yeah," she said. "I don't think we're going to be doing too much more than sleeping for the next few days. Looks like Mulder's getting a head start." She looked over at him with a wistful smile.

Byers turned to leave and Scully placed a hand on his shoulder, pulling him into a fierce hug. He brought his hands up and patted her shoulders clumsily. "You two take care of each other." His voice was thick and he turned away without looking into her face. She then hugged Langley and, finally, Frohike in turn and stood in the doorway watching as they walked together to the van and drove away. Shutting the door, she locked it behind her, not trusting even this isolated place.

Mulder stirred somewhat at the sound of the door closing, swiping unconsciously at a bit of drool that had dribbled across the cheek resting on his arm. He sat up straight and yawned, stretching as he did so, and Scully took a good look at him for the first time. The scraggly growth on his face accentuated his thinness and pallor and his eyes were dim and weary. He looked like a refugee--a victim of some kind of unspeakable disaster. It was time to get him cleaned up because her Mulder was nobody's victim. Drained though she was, she crossed over to him and took his arm to help him to stand.

He stood up shakily and placed his arm around Scully's shoulder when he felt her arm go around his waist. "Shower time?" he asked hopefully.

Even though he had gotten painfully thin, his weight was still a lot for her to bear, but bear it she did. "You're still not too steady," she said, gasping somewhat with the effort. "How 'bout a bath instead? You can't fall and hurt yourself if you're already sitting."

"Yeah, okay. Just so soap is involved here somewhere."

"Know what you mean, G-Man." She herself was looking forward to a shower, even though she'd had the opportunity to wash up on planes and in airports during her travels. It just wasn't the same as the full body water experience.

She helped him into the bathroom and was happy to see that it was a spacious room with a large, old-fashioned tub with a slanting back. She knelt down to plug the drain and turned the water on, carefully adjusting the temperature so as not to burn him. "Why don't you start getting ready and I'll go get your overnight bag. The guys brought 'em in from the trunk."

Each of them kept a small suitcase in the other's car for times when they had to make quick unexpected trips. The bags held a change of clothing and underwear, as well as toiletries to use on their excursions. They also kept a large, well-stocked medical kit in each car for the strange emergencies they often found themselves facing. These things had come in handy on more than one occasion.

Scully emptied the clothes in Mulder's bag onto the sofa and took the rest back to the bathroom. Mulder had managed to get his t-shirt off and was bending forward trying to untie his shoes. He looked up as she entered. "Byers tied them with double-knots." His tone was full of helplessness that might have been amusing to her if she hadn't seen the frustration written all over his face at his inability to untie them. "Asshole," he muttered to himself.

"Not a problem, Mulder," she said with a smile he couldn't help returning. She knelt to untie his shoes and pulled them off, along with his socks, setting them aside so he wouldn't trip over them later. He finished undressing and she set his shampoo and soap on the ledge of the tub and his razor, shaving cream, and tooth-brushing supplies on the counter next to the sink.

She caught herself watching his reflection in the mirror, admiring the slopes and angles of his broad back and shoulders as he moved, bracing himself with a hand against the wall to stand unsteadily on one foot and test the water temperature with the other. Muscles working in concert with bones. She knew she could still name each of them from all the years of anatomy classes she'd taken, but nothing in those classes could have prepared her for the affect a moving and breathing Mulder had on her--although she knew she could also explain those physiological responses as well. As attractive as he was clothed--and she smiled that she could finally admit to herself that he was--naked, he was magnificent. Realizing that she had stopped moving just to gape at his reflection, she looked away, somewhat embarrassed and relief flooded her that he hadn't turned to witness her perusal. She heard him sink into the water with a satisfied sigh as she closed the door behind her. The air was cooler outside the bathroom and she paused a bit to catch her breath and get her bearings back.

While she waited her turn in the bathroom, Scully headed to the kitchen to see what Byers had bought them for groceries. She was a little surprised to see he had taken care to buy simple things--canned soups, crackers, instant hot cereals--that would be easy for Mulder to digest after such a long period without eating. There were also bananas and strawberries, as well as milk, butter, and eggs in the refrigerator, along with bread and sandwich fixings, and for some reason she couldn't guess, boneless chicken breasts. And less Byers's heart, he'd remembered to get a bag of sunflower seeds. She poked through the kitchen cabinets and drawers and found pots and pans, dishes, glasses and silverware. The cabinet beside the stove revealed a large selection of herbal tea bags and, surprisingly, a bottle of Flintstones vitamins.

She placed a kettle of water on the stove to boil and got out two mugs and bowls. Reaching for the chamomile tea, she placed a teabag in each mug. The tea would help both of them sleep a little more soundly, she thought. When she heard the kettle whistle, she removed it from the flame and poured steaming water over the teabag in her mug and on top of the instant cream of wheat with its little dehydrated blueberries. She poured a little milk on it and added a few banana slices. Attacking it with a gusto she didn't think she possessed, she tried to recall the last time she'd had anything substantial to eat. She'd make some for Mulder when he got out of the tub so that he could eat while she showered. On a whim, she grabbed the vitamins and tipped a few into the palm of her hand, placing two Betty Rubbles next to his empty bowl, and grabbed a Fred and a Dino for herself, relishing their fruity, vitamin-tasting sweetness.

Scully crossed back to the bathroom and gave a discreet knock before entering. "Hey, when's it my turn?" she asked as she opened the door.

Mulder was sprawled in the bath in the steamy water, fast asleep. The soap and shampoo were where she had left them and his hair was still dry and matted in spots with the EEG adhesive. His head lolled toward his right shoulder and a small, peaceful smile played at his lips. A wave of protectiveness swept over her, made more powerful by an intense feeling of joy and relief to have him with her instead of in that awful hospital.

<Well, I guess if I'm ever going to get a turn, I'd better get him out of there.> She touched the top of his head, wondering how she was going to get that stuff out of his hair. Her mother used to use peanut butter to get the chewing gum out of her hair. Maybe it would work on the clumps of adhesive as well. She returned to the kitchen where she found a plastic pitcher and rummaged through the cupboard in the hopes of finding peanut butter. The ever-resourceful Derek came through again, for there was a big jar of Jif on the second shelf. She located the linen closet and got out towels and washcloths and brought everything into the bathroom where Mulder seemed not to have moved at all in her absence.

She took a deep breath searching for the trained medical professional side of her persona. Dr. Scully, however, was nowhere to be found as she stared at him, wet and naked before her, and she could admit to herself how much she wanted to do this. To touch him, to take care of him, to clean away all that had happened to him since this whole ordeal had begun. To be able to express to him with her actions what she could finally admit to herself that she'd felt for a long time. Her heart beat fast, like a young girl's, in her chest.

Scully folded a towel and knelt upon it beside the large bathtub. Moving him by the shoulders so that his head was closer to her, she began gently to massage the peanut butter into the strands of hair held together by the adhesive, hoping to remove the biggest clumps before trying to shampoo it. Running a damp washcloth over the strands, she was pleased to find it worked just as it had for her mother as the gobs of glue came easily out of his hair. He slept on, stirring only when a particularly bad clump caused her to pull his hair a little.

His eyes still closed, she watched his nose twitch as he caught a familiar scent. "Mmmm," he mumbled. "Peanut butter? I saw something like this in a video once. What did you have in mind, Scully?"

He managed to open his eyes and fixed her with a look that would have taken her breath away if she hadn't had her emotions so tightly held in check. This was so much easier when he'd been asleep. But his eyes were locked to hers and his drowsy smile seemed to indicate that he was not uncomfortable with his current state of nudity. But then he never had seemed too concerned with her seeing him in various stages of undress. This, though, was different--intimate, powerful. This was not to be bantered about.

Not trusting her voice to speak, she filled the pitcher with warm water from the tap. She snaked an arm behind his neck, cradling his head as she slowly poured the water over his hair, wetting her own shirt to the shoulder in the process. He emitted a pleasured moan and smile, and sat up a little to help her when he realized what she was doing. She rubbed a dab of shampoo between her palms and skimmed it through his dripping hair, working it into a rich lather with gently massaging fingertips. This elicited a soft sigh from him that sent a quick, unexpected chill down her spine. When she was finished, he tipped his head back as she poured pitcher after pitcher of warm water over his scalp until it ran clear down his back and the shampoo was completely rinsed away.

Pushing his dripping locks away from his forehead, she eased him back against the slanting back of the tub, her eyes locked to his in silent communication--different, more intense than their usual *eyespeak* but close enough to be heartwarmingly familiar. She felt his eyes move with her as she stood and turned to the sink, running hot water over a small hand towel, then ringing it out until it was damp and steaming. Kneeling again, she placed it over his face, covering his beard to soften it and prepare it for shaving. She left it there as she reached for a washcloth and the soap.

"Scully..." Mulder whispered.

"Sshh." She placed her fingers on his lips and another shiver shot down her spine when he kissed her fingertips, his eyes never leaving hers. "Let me do this for you."

She could feel him shiver beneath her fingers. He watched in what appeared to be utter disbelief as she soaped up the washcloth until it was overflowing with foamy lather and began to wash his chest and arms with a drowsy circling motion. Dipping the washcloth into the water, she brought it up over his skin again and again, dispelling the soap into little islands of foam that floated in the water around him.

For the most part, she kept her eyes on her task, only occasionally hazarding a glance at his face, for what she saw there was almost too much to bear. Mulder was happy--he radiated it, glowed with it. Until that instant, she hadn't realized that she had never seen him truly and unqualifiedly happy. And he'd never seen it in her. She felt a brief intense stab of anguish, but banished it quickly to bask in the wonder of his expression. She tried to give it back to him, but she was finding it difficult to maintain eye contact and still remember to breathe.

Pulling him forward slightly, she ran the cloth over his neck and shoulders and down his back. More than anything, she wanted to drop the cloth and use just her hands. But at the same time, there was something breathtakingly alluring in using it. Through the cloth she could feel the ridges of his spine, the ripple of his muscles. But still, there was a thin barrier between them, leaving her something yet to explore when the time for exploring came. Exploring would come later. Now was the time for purifying, cleansing away all that had happened to him. He needed that and she needed to give it to him. She rinsed his back and gave him a little nudge, making him recline again against the back of the tub.

She soaped up the cloth again and raised each leg in turn--washing them slowly and thoroughly, even the spaces between his toes. She looked up as he groaned and flexed his foot against her hand and saw as he tried to blink away the tears that filled his eyes.

But Scully saw his tears and felt her heart swell with love for him. She'd never had a relationship with a man where she'd done anything like this and couldn't imagine wanting to do it for anyone but Mulder. Reaching up to touch his face, she found that the towel she had placed there had cooled to a tepid temperature, so she took it off and leaned forward to kiss him. His mouth was wonderfully responsive, and he let her control the kiss as she ran her fingers through his dripping hair and down his cheek. She delved and he welcomed it, his acquiescence thrilling her beyond her own understanding.

"This has got to go," she whispered, running her hand over his face and the soft, damp stubble there. She reached behind her for the shaving cream and razor and, shaking the can, she squirted a mound of foam into her palm. Using the fingertips of her other hand, she spread it across his cheeks, down his neck, and across his upper lip, careful not to get any in his mouth for she was certain that it would taste vile. She raised herself to the full height she could achieve while kneeling to have better access for the task at hand. As she dipped the razor into the water, she looked into his eyes, seeing nothing there but infinite love and trust as he tilted his head back to expose his throat to her.

She made one steady, sure stroke from his lower jaw and down his throat, following the path of his jugular. Touching the vein, she felt the beat of his pulse beneath her fingertip, along with a slight abrasion from stray leftover whiskers. She rinsed the razor and changed the direction of the stroke, making a swipe upward over the same path, till the skin beneath it was smooth. Her face a mask of concentration, she finished shaving him, her eyes meeting his during brief pauses to rinse the razor. She could feel her face contort as she shaved above his upper lip, trying to coax him to make the same faces. And it made her smile with delight when he actually did it.

When she finished, she wiped away the remnants of cream with a damp cloth and ran her hand down his cheek. "Not bad for a newbie, huh?" She smiled at him with pride, and bent to give his spot a little nudge with her nose.

"You are truly gifted, Scully," he replied, covering her hand with his own, pressing it to his face. "The hands of a surgeon." He leaned forward to give her what he thought would be a brief kiss but, once begun, it turned into more somehow. "Thank you," he murmured when they finally pulled apart somewhat.

She smiled. "Anytime. Isn't that why I went to med school?" She tried to chuckle, but he silenced her with two gentle fingers on her lips.

"No," he said, his tone solemn and sincere. "I mean for everything, Scully. Thank you for everything."

Tears sprang to her eyes and suddenly she was just so tired of crying, wouldn't cry. "I know, Mulder. But let's not talk about anything now, okay? We're both just so tired."

He nodded reluctantly. "We can look at this a little more rationally when we're rested, huh?" His tone was quiet and she could almost hear him struggle to keep it neutral, to keep from sounding hurt and needy.

But she knew, she knew his fears, saw them in his eyes. And, somewhere in her mind, she knew he was justified in having them because she *could* rationalize this away. There were probably hundreds of reasons that this wouldn't work. But tired as she was, physically and mentally, she was even more tired of hiding behind rationalism. She wanted what they were starting to have and it was time to let him know that. She took his hand and brought it back to her cheek, pressing her face against it. "This doesn't change, Mulder. Rested or dead on my feet, I love you." She smiled at his visible relief. "But so much else has changed, so much has happened, and I've been so tired for so long that I can't even begin to sort it all out. And all of it is part of who we are and what we're becoming. But for now, let's just rest, okay?"

He nodded, a small grin pulling at the corners of his mouth. "I love you, too," he said. "You're right. We'll rest then we'll talk." He moved his hand to the back of her neck to draw her to him for a gentle kiss. She broke away slightly and his eyes opened slowly, drowsily. "Oh, man," he whispered.

"You need to eat," she said, blushing a little. She was trying for the *for your own good* tone, but a quick check revealed that Dr. Scully was still among the missing. "Why don't you finish up here and I'll go make you something. Then I'll take a quick shower while you're eating." She rose to her feet and left the bathroom, grinning at him before closing the door.

Scully set about getting his food ready, dry cereal in the bowl, another bowl with applesauce beside it. She located the spice cabinet and stirred a little cinnamon and nutmeg into the applesauce and sprinkling a bit of sugar over the top, hoping to avoid him balking about eating it. Mulder did have a sweet tooth, especially for fruity things like pies and pastries. One day they'd been working a case and stopped for lunch and Mulder had waxed enthusiastic about *the best damned pie he ever eaten* at a diner in Twin Peaks, Washington--wherever that was. While eating a slice of key lime pie, followed quickly by blueberry, he explained that he'd gone there while assigned in Behavioral Science to assist in the investigation into the mysterious disappearance of an FBI agent--a mystery that was never solved. Agent Dale Cooper, the man who had vanished, had since passed into the realm of FBI myth and legend, cloaked in rumors of strange goings-on and demon possession. But even as much as that case had been right up his alley, Mulder just went on and on about the pie.

After about fifteen minutes, the water was boiling merrily away in the kettle and Mulder still had not emerged from the bathroom. "Hey," she called out. "Did you fall asleep in there again?"

His face appeared in a crack in the door. "I'm naked in here, Scully. Is there anything out there for me to put on?"

Shit. She'd forgotten to tell Byers to find sleepwear for both of them. In fact, she hadn't looked through the clothing in the suitcase at all. "There's a robe on the back of the door. Put it on, then you can look in the suitcase. I sent Byers and Langley shopping for us under conditions that were entirely too stressful. No telling what we've got. Just put on the robe."

"I can't wear some other guy's robe," he protested.

"Mulder, for God's sake," she answered, exasperated. "How much goop, grime and slime have we been covered in during all the time we've been together? I don't think a little used terrycloth is going to hurt you." She felt hesitant to remind him that perhaps his modesty was out of place here as she'd just seen the full show a few minutes before. The memory brought a wicked grin to her face. <It was a pretty good show.>

He was still chuckling when he came out of the bathroom, tying the belt of the robe around his waist. He sat down at the table where Scully had placed his food and looked at up at her, his nose wrinkled in distaste. "Cream of wheat, applesauce, and tea?"

"Hey, I slaved over a hot teakettle to make you this meal," she said, laughing at his disgusted expression. "Mulder, you haven't eaten in days. You'll be lucky if your stomach can handle this. Besides, I think we're too far out in the sticks to get Thai food delivered. Now dig in and don't forget your vitamins."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied as crisply as his weariness would allow. He reached for the vitamins first. "Oooo, Scully, Betty Rubble!" He popped them into his mouth and chewed with delight.

"Yeah, I figured since we both identified with her bustline..."

He laughed and shoveled in a spoonful of the cereal. "Your bustline is much better than hers, Scully."

"Gee thanks," she replied. "I can rest much better in the knowledge that my boobs are superior to a cartoon character's."

"Better than *all* the cartoon characters'," he replied sincerely, swirling his spoon in his applesauce trying to avoid having to eat a food that so distinctly reminded him of hospitals.

"And on that note, I think I'll go take a shower." She crossed over to where the suitcase lay on the sofa. Opening it, she found that Byers and Langley had purchased a case with a divider inside and had separated their clothing. She opened the side with her things and saw they had purchased what she'd asked for--jeans, t-shirts, underwear, socks. But tucked beneath them, she came upon a floral patterned nightgown trimmed in ribbons and eyelet lace, sleeveless and princess-waisted. It was pretty and sweet in an old-fashioned way and she wondered which of the two long-time bachelors had thought to include this for her. Though the obvious choice would have been Byers, Scully was hesitant to discount Langley's hand in this. Thank God Frohike had stayed at the hospital with her or she'd be holding something red and see-though and trimmed in marabou. <But that might be a possibility for later.> She gathered the nightgown in her hands, along with her overnight bag and headed toward the bathroom.

Mulder grabbed her forearm as she passed and she looked down at him, struck suddenly at the difference in perspective. Most of the time, it was he looking down at her, the downward angle keeping his countenance almost always partly in shadow. From this viewpoint, his face looking up at her, the light played off his eyes in a way that she rarely got to see, reflecting off the gold flecks in his irises, lending them an incandescence that she'd never seen before. Or maybe never allowed herself to see. She looked away briefly at his hand resting lightly on her arm, then returned her eyes to his.

"Scully," he whispered, his voice raw and urgent. "That bath... when you bathed me... it was like..." His voice trailed off and she watched him struggle with the frustration of not having the right adjective, the right metaphor.

And his hesitation, his incapacity to find words, scared her a little because Mulder always had words--more words, longer words, more obscure words, better words than anyone she knew. So often, they were both his sword and his shield. And right now, she wasn't certain she could deal with discussing a situation that was so important that it stole his language.

"It was a bath, Mulder," she said, smiling yet hoping to telegraph her unreadiness to talk about this.

He shook his head. "No, it was..."

"Just a bath," she interrupted and this time she saw him catch her silent plea, understanding dawning in his eyes.

"Okay," he replied with a tone that was quietly resigned but not downhearted. "It was just a bath and the Taj Mahal is just a building." Mulder gave her a small reassuring grin and squeezed her arm a little. "We'll rest, then we'll talk."

Scully smiled her gratitude at his willingness to allow her to do this in the only way she could. She was treading new ground here, not even close to certain of her footing. But she knew she wanted to make the trip.

"Now go take your shower," he said, releasing her arm with a caress. "And let me know if you want me to wash your back." Mulder's tone was light, but still serious enough to let her know that he would be available if she chose that option.

"In your dreams, Mulder," she replied with a smirk. A strange new look passed over his face, one that maybe said that he'd had that dream. And it made her shiver a little. She turned back to him and ran the tips of her fingers through his still damp hair. Bending forward, she whispered in his ear, "In mine, too." Blushing furiously--the curse of all redheads--she turned and quickly walked into the bathroom. "Now quit playing with your food and eat!" she called through the closed door, leaning against it with her hand on her chest, almost as if to still the mad beating of her heart, and a smile that threatened to split her face in two.


Mulder chuckled quietly to himself and the smile stayed on his face as he continued to make swirls of no discernable pattern in the applesauce. Steeling his courage, he brought a dab to his mouth and was surprised to find it not nearly as repugnant as he remembered. Maybe Scully had done something to it. She'd surely heard him bitch about hospital applesauce enough times. He took another, bigger bite and found that he was actually hungry and it was actually pretty good. She must have done something to make it better for him.

For him. This amazing woman had made his applesauce special. She'd given him *just* a bath--the most amazingly profound and moving experience he could ever remember. Tears came to his eyes again as he recalled the feeling of her small, strong hands cleaning him, soothing him, making him better. He realized with a sad wistfulness that he'd never in his life been touched with such love, had never known cherished prior to that night. He'd gone until now without it, and this amazing woman had given it freely. And at no small cost to herself, for it couldn't have been easy for her to let him see so much of her. And he'd seen. He'd watched her face, seen the shifting expressions, met her eyes and saw the love there. She'd let him see into her, finally, and what was there both awed and humbled him. This amazing woman--who bathed him, made his applesauce special, saved him a thousand times--loved him.

He yawned deeply and began to eat his cereal. Actually, he liked cream of wheat a lot, especially the kind with the fake blueberries. For some reason, they reminded him of the Crunchberries in Cap'n Crunch--undoubtedly the world's finest food. He spooned the banana slices into his mouth first, sucking the cereal off before chewing, then ate the cereal, careful to make sure there was at least one fake blueberry per spoonful. About halfway through, he realized what he was doing and made a mental note to make every attempt to eat like an adult when Scully was around.

But finally, even in his exhaustion, his mind turned to the events of the past few days, as he knew it must, and a shudder of dread raced down his spine like drops of ice water. One more time she'd saved his life, pulled him from the brink and healed him. She'd saved his life and according to the Chinese, that meant she owned it. Truth be told, she'd owned it for a long time. Well, maybe they owned it together--joint ownership. He liked the sound of that. Before Scully became part of it, he hadn't had much interest in owning his life himself. Before Scully.

Before Scully. He wondered vaguely when it was that he had begun using her entrance into it as the point by which he marked significant events in his life. Things happened either before or after Scully. Like they used to happen either before or after Samantha. Before Samantha and after Scully were the only periods of his life that seemed real to him and the recollections of the time before Samantha had taken on a mythic, mystic quality to him. Only the time since Scully was really real.

They'd come so far together and seen so much. She'd been sent into his life and she let him show her strange and inexplicable things, although she rarely--if ever--believed them to be what did. But still she let him show her, still she looked. Her disbelief delighted him, pissed him off, challenged him, exasperated him, made him love her. He recalled more than one occasion when he'd spent nights and weekends pouring through the files for the most bizarre thing he could bring to show her--almost as if to see if she would still look. And--incredulity and skepticism ringing in the air--she always did. Even though much of what he had shown her had hurt her badly.

She made him real. Even after all the incredible things they'd seen, even in the surreal situation they found themselves in currently, he felt more alive than he ever had before she'd come into his life. Before she'd become his life. And she had been for so long. Maybe since her abduction and definitely since he'd watched that shapeshifting bastard bend his arm around Scully's throat and demand that Mulder trade the only thing he thought he wanted in his life--his sister. And he'd done it. Not without question, not without agony, but because his very existence had depended on it. He'd believed the clone to be Samantha--also not without question or agony. And he'd given her up, in the face of his father's wrath and his mother's baffled despair, because he couldn't live without Scully. He had lived without Samantha for more than twenty years, but it had been the three months of living without Scully that had almost killed him.

Now they were close to something, something that they were almost certain to wish that they didn't know about. But also something that they couldn't not find out about, something they *had* to discover. The pieces had been so slow in coming together, but only since Scully had there even been any pieces to assemble. Before Scully, he'd done nothing more than spin his wheels and convince himself time after time that he was onto something. With her, what had been nebulous was becoming concrete and frightening though they may be, they had both earned the answers.

With another deep yawn, his head slipped off of it's resting place on his palm. Hunger assuaged, sheer weariness was beginning to take over. Rising with a stretch, he went over to the suitcase and dug out boxers and a t-shirt, slipping them on and throwing the robe over the back of the couch. He briefly considered moving everything off the couch and sleeping there, but he just didn't want to. He wanted to rest--really rest--and he wanted to sleep beside his Scully. She wouldn't object to that, would she?

Entering the bedroom area, he was inordinately pleased to see a queen-sized brass bed. He turned on a small lamp on the bedside table and walked through the rest of the house, dousing lights as he went along until the lamp was the only light in the cabin. He returned to the bedroom and looked at the bed once again, feeling little twinges of reluctance in the back of his mind. Maybe she would object. He grabbed the sheets and blankets, pulling them back. The idea of turning down the bed with her intimidated him somewhat--it seemed, perhaps, too intimate. Slipping beneath the crisp top sheet and blanket, he felt a mellow warmth creep over him, and he fought off sleep to wait for her to come out.


She emerged after about a half-hour, her hair in damp curls around her face because she didn't have the energy to blow it dry. Mulder was already in the cabin's sole bed, having opted for a t-shirt and boxers as sleepwear and the side furthest from the bathroom as "his" side. All the lights in the cabin were out except for a small lamp on a bedside table at his side. She paused in the doorway, looking at him on his side facing her, his head propped in his hand and his eyelids drooping in a curious state of pre-slumber. <Droopy eyes is a good look for him.> And she found she was nervous about sharing a bed with him.

"You look pretty," he said softly, his voice husky and low. He noted her hesitation and he smiled sweetly at her, patting the mattress beside him. "Come on, I promise I won't attack you in your sleep."

She shrugged and found she had to return his smile. "I'm so tired, I don't think I'd know it if you did." She climbed into the bed and pulled the sheet up over them, laying her head on the pillow facing him.

He waggled his eyebrows at her. "Oh, you'd know it, Scully. Trust me on that one."

Her eyes started to drift shut and her speech started to slur a little. "You're the only one I trust."

Mulder's own eyes were starting to close as well, much as he tried to fight it so he could watch her fall asleep. "Scully?" he whispered, reaching out to take a damp curl between his fingertips.


"I ate all my cereal and applesauce and took my vitamins."

She yawned, deep and large. "That's good, Mulder."

"So can we snuggle for a reward?"

She chuckled low in her throat. "Well that certainly deserves a reward." She moved closer to him just as he was moving closer to her and they met in the middle. He took her into the crook of his arm and she reached around his waist, laying her head on his chest. Sighing in unison, they each shifted slightly to find the most comfortable snuggle. They both deserved a reward, it seemed.

Cocooned together, they slept for a long, long time.

Chapter Two

<<come with the fbi man. but be careful. there are those who want what you have. come with the fbi man.>>

It was dark when Scully awoke after what she thought finally might be enough sleep. The dream, the dream had startled her awake and her first thought was that she didn't know what time it was, or even what day. The dream. Albert Hosteen had been in her dreams twice since they'd fallen asleep--whenever that was--imposed upon a field of stars. Like the dream she'd had about Mulder. The dream that hadn't been a dream.

She had absolutely no idea how long it had been since they'd arrived at the cabin, but she had awakened several times--sometimes with Mulder, sometimes by herself. She'd gone to the bathroom, gotten something to eat or drink and then fallen back into bed to sleep some more, only vaguely aware that Mulder had done the same thing.

Once again, she found herself clasped to him in some kind of death grip, and managed to gently extricate herself from it somehow without waking him up. Apparently Mulder was a serious snuggler, something she herself was not. <Not that that's a bad thing,> she told herself, just something that would take getting used to. It had been a long time since she'd shared a bed with anyone.

Scully walked slowly to the kitchen, making her way carefully through dark, unfamiliar surroundings and smelled the scent of cooking. On the counter near the sink, she spied a crock pot and, lifting the lid, she inhaled deeply. She reached for a spoon and stirred it, seeing that it was some kind of spicy chicken and vegetable stew that Mulder must have put together because she certainly didn't remember doing it. In the sink were several used bowls, cups, and glasses, and the counter was scattered with three or four empty hot cereal envelopes, four banana peels, and the lots of little green strawberry heads with lots of sunflower seed hulls intermixed. A little rest seemed to have done wonders for his appetite and, from the looks (and smell) of things, he was ready for some more substantial food.

While waiting for the water to boil for tea, she washed the dishes that were in the sink, placing them in the dish rack to dry, and threw the litter into the trash. If she was going to learn to snuggle, then Mulder was going to have to learn to straighten up the kitchen. <As if,> she said to herself, recalling his own kitchen. <Oh well, it wouldn't be a fair trade anyway. Snuggling with Mulder beats the hell out of straightening the kitchen.>

She took her tea outside to the cabin's front porch, where she'd seen a glider as they came in. Sitting down, she sipped from the steaming mug and rocked back and forth, the glider squeaking companionably beneath her. In the extreme darkness of their surroundings, myriads of stars were visible in the night sky <<Albert Hosteen.>> and, from the position of the moon, she guessed it to be around midnight.

As a kid, Scully had learned the names of all the stars and constellations. She was, after all, the child of a Navy man and, as such, was expected to be able to navigate by the stars. She loved the times she'd spent with her father--her beloved Ahab--looking at the stars, with him quizzing her and her firing back answers as quickly as he asked them. She'd loved his pride in her quick mind and in their shared interest and the sky had seemed a friendly place--vast and infinite, but identifiable.

Now, however, she knew differently. The skies weren't friendly and the truth was, indeed, out there. She'd seen the ship, watched it rise and streak away. And much as she wanted to, she could no longer deny what Mulder had contended for so many years, what she herself had experienced at that dam in Pennsylvania--an event she still could not consciously recall.

She'd kept the tape of her hypnotherapy session with Heitz Werber, but she could never bring herself to listen to it or examine the experience too closely. When it was going on, she had been relieved for Mulder's *rational* explanation, although, at the same time, it had disturbed her greatly. His loss of belief, his crisis of faith following her recovery from cancer, had affected her as well. He'd seemed so lost, so far away from her at a time when they should have been closer than ever--a time when she, too, could have believed. He had been bitter and angry at what he saw as his own gullibility and it had nearly torn her apart that his finding her cure had destroyed his faith in himself, and that there hadn't seemed anything she could do to help restore it.

She'd seen that faith reborn, seen it on his face as she drifted in and out of consciousness on that ice field in Antarctica, sharp and clear as the cold sky overhead. But she hadn't seen what it was that restored that faith. She simply had not seen it. Although she'd tried to explain to him that she didn't doubt that he'd seen it, she couldn't--wouldn't--swear to Bureau officials that she had. And he'd been so... Not quite angry, not that. And not exactly disappointed in her. She couldn't name the emotion Mulder seemed to have had toward her, but it had colored their partnership ever since.

Now, though, it was she who had seen the ship, who had found the objects that it had left behind. Would that mean that they were finally on the same page? Would they finally have a shared belief and, if so, what would that mean for them? Her very foundations, the basic tenets by which she ran her life, were shaking down around her and the only truth she had was the trust she'd always had in him.

Yet, he hadn't trusted her like she thought he did. He hadn't trusted her enough to tell Scully about *her*... <I can't even say her name in my head. No! She doesn't get that kind of power. Diana. Her name is Diana.> ...about why he'd continued to place his trust in her in the face of what Scully considered overwhelming evidence that she wasn't trustworthy. He'd thrown her proof back in her face, had taunted her in front of the Gunmen. His words had cut her to the center of her heart and then when she thought she couldn't possibly hurt any more, she'd had to turn and bear the looks of discomfort and pity on the faces of Byers, Langley and Frohike.

Undoubtedly one of the worst moments of her life, right up there with her first glimpse of the x-ray of the tumor growing subtly and irrevocably behind her face. Even worse, somehow, because when she saw that x-ray--terrified though she was--part of her could hold on because she knew that Mulder would be there for her. <<Would have been if I'd let him.>> She'd told him about the cancer first, something she wasn't certain her mother would ever completely forgive her for.

But that moment in the Gunmen's dark office, she'd been completely alone. She knew she'd had the guys' sympathy, but that they'd felt they couldn't set aside nine years of loyalty to take her part. And she really wouldn't have wanted them to. It would have been more than she could fairly ask of friends.

And so she'd stood there, alone and confused and shaken to her very foundation. She'd had proof, hard evidence that that woman <Diana, for God's sake.> was not who she seemed. Scully had had proof. And damn it, she'd been right.

But how many times had in their years together had her *proof* managed to sway him from what he believed? How many times had her *proof* actually proven anything? No, it was when she had been willing to stray from her proof, move more instinctively, that they'd had the most success, worked the best, been the closest. She knew her instincts were good, when she let herself listen to them, and that Mulder knew that, too. What if she'd just told him how she felt, what her gut was telling her about Diana?

<He'd have just chalked it up to jealously,> her mind answered.

<<And would he have been wrong?>> her heart countered.

<Shut up,> her mind commanded her heart.

Ever since Diana's return, Scully's heart had tried to ask that question, only to be stilled, forcefully anesthetized, by her mind. Now, however, her heart had been reawakened and she found she no longer had the strength--or even much desire--to push the question away again. Would his assertion of jealousy been wrong?

<Yes,> her mind answered immediately, insistently.

But her heart was awake and alert after a long slumber. <<Come on, Dana. It took you a year to make yourself ask that question. Is it going to take another one before you answer it truthfully?>>

She sighed and sifted in her seat, uneasy with the debate between two parts she didn't often allow to talk to one another. Truth of the matter was, she'd loathed Diana before they'd passed a hundred words between them. Had loathed her since Mulder had uttered that horrid sentence--*You know what to do, Diana.*--when he'd wanted a battery of psychic evaluations performed on Gibson Praise. He'd simply uttered the request and left. Scully had despised Diana from that point on because Diana had, indeed, known what to do. And it hadn't taken Scully long to figure out why she'd known what to do. They'd worked together before. And she'd seen how he'd just been able to tell Diana to proceed, knowing that she would. He hadn't needed to explain or charm or beg or cajole her. Diana had simply known what to do and he hadn't even questioned that she'd do it. So Diana had gone off to do what she knew to do. And Scully stood alone in the hallway outside of Gibson's room, stunned almost to inactivity by the revelation. Alone and... jealous?

<No,> her mind insisted. <It was professionally threatening.>

<<Like when you saw them holding hands through the window?>> her heart probed derisively. <<Like when you couldn't get out of the building fast enough? Like when you sat in your car barely able to breathe?>>

<It was the shock of finding out about them. Finding out from someone other than him.> Her mind sounded almost triumphant.

And this time, her heart had no ready retort. Because it was the part that had had to bear the pain of the fact that he hadn't told her. And then there had been no time to deal with the pain because everything became a blur and their lives immediately turned to shit. Diana had been shot and Gibson kidnapped.

<<He was there with you at his apartment and not at the hospital with her,>> her heart offered hopefully. That seemed to make her mind pause to think.

Then what could have, and perhaps should have been the final killing blow--the purposeful incineration of their office. The destruction of the X-Files. But it hadn't been the killing blow. Or maybe it had and they were too stunned to notice in the events that followed. Their *temporary* reassignment, the events in Dallas, the preposterous charges filed against them after the bombing. The secret trip back to Dallas and all they'd seen there. Salt Lake City, Utah--transfer effective immediately. That heart-stopping, heart-affirming, heartbreaking moment in his hallway. Antarctica. Censure and reassignment under Kersch.

Then she'd watched him die, slowly and seemingly inexorably. Not physical death--no, that at least would have been quick and merciful. It was the death of his soul, a cancer as malignant and deadly as the tumor she'd had. First it had been his hair, his beautiful hair cropped off like Kevin Costner on a bad day. His hair gone, like a sacrifice to all he had lost. She realized shortly after their reassignment that he wasn't sleeping much--his eyes were often bleary and unfocused, dark circles forming on skin that grew increasingly pallid. Then she'd noticed that he seemed to have stopped running, his usual proclivity for junk food starting to show just ever so slightly around his formerly lean waistline. Junk food had never been a problem for him between the running and the extremely active investigations they'd always undertaken. Scut work was, for the most part, inactive work. But most tortuous of all to watch was the gradual atrophy of his mind, the stifling of his intellect. His fire, his passion, his drive were replaced by ennui and apathy.

And in the beginning she'd contributed to that, urging him to accept their fate and follow the rules. What else would Special Agent Dr. Dana Katherine Scully do? Rules are rules and must be followed absolutely. And for a while he did, his eyes growing dimmer and deader with each passing day. Sometimes he'd just disappear for a couple of hours during the day, never a word about where he was going or when he'd be back. But he always came back, and would sit at his desk doing his background checks like a grimly determined automaton while she stared at his slumped shoulders from her place at the desk behind his. She had watched him dying of cancer of the soul just as surely as he'd watched her dying not so long before. And this time she had no implant to save him as he had saved her.

Until the Crump thing in Nevada, when he'd seen the television report and his starved soul grabbed onto it like a life preserver thrown to a drowning man. She'd known where he was going with his thoughts and had resisted. What if Kersh found out? They were down in the Bureau as far as they could get--the next step was out.

They were arguing about it over the roof of the car when Scully saw it. She saw it happen and it stirred her heart. The light returned to his eyes again, just a small flicker, but growing as they debated. They were arguing. They were bantering. They were Mulder and Scully again. Fast on the heels of that epiphany came the realization that the cancer in his soul was killing her, too, and that nothing--not her life and certainly not her bullshit job--was worth seeing that light in his eyes go out again. And it would surely expire if they didn't pursue this case. So they'd gone to Nevada and they'd worked together, separated by hundreds of miles, and figured out what was going on. And even though the results had been tragic, they'd succeeded in seeing that it didn't happen to anyone else.

It had been worth the fine Kersch had levied against her. And Mulder had helped with the expense, although he'd never admitted to it. Her bank statement the following month had shown an unidentified deposit for exactly half of what she'd had to pay. She knew then that he must have pilfered one of her deposit slips and it brought a smile to her face that he knew her well enough to know that she would never have accepted him paying the full amount. He'd paid half, as her equal, and she'd been extremely grateful because, in truth, she could ill afford the expense, still paying off some of the medical expenses from her cancer that had not been covered by insurance. The experience had allowed them to begin to heal some of the things that had come between them since the disastrous happenings in Arizona.

<When he went off with her,> her mind sneered at her heart.

<<And you got jealous.>> Gloatingly.

<No!> her mind insisted. <It was a professional thing. I'm his partner. I should have been with them. If I'd been there, she wouldn't have been able to pull the crap she did in her report. It wasn't jealousy.>

**Give it up, Dana!**

Oh God, it was her conscience. Her heart had obviously called for backup when her mind wasn't paying attention. For a long time--since her sister's murder--Scully's conscience spoke to her in Melissa's voice, sounding like Melissa had the last time she saw her alive, when she'd nearly begged Scully to acknowledge her emotions.

**For God's sake, it never changes. Why can't you admit you're jealous of Diana?** Melissa's voice in her head conjured up in Scully a familiar yearning to see Melissa again, to be able to talk to her just one more time.

<I'm not jealous.> The protest was weakening.

**He isn't worth being jealous over?** Melissa's voice was wryly teasing.

<Of course he is. But jealousy is so...>

**So what? So imperfect? So human? People get jealous, Dana. It's human nature to want to keep the person you love close to you. Why do you want to be above that?**

<Believe me, Missy, I know I'm all too human?>

**Do you? Do you know that? Are you willing to claim your humanity? Because the time's growing short and only humanity will be able to save itself.**

Had she done that? Had she gone so far as to place herself above feelings and human emotions--love, jealousy, even happiness? For the past year her mind had been able to convince her that she wasn't jealous, while her heart forced her to do things that spoke exactly the opposite. She'd never before felt the searing pain in her chest that she'd experienced when she'd seen them holding hands. The pain of having her heart ripped out by Padgett's psychic surgeon had paled in comparison because at least then she'd had the luxury of screaming. She recalled sitting in her car, her heart sending out a primal wail, stopped excruciatingly by a throat so tightly constricted that air could barely make it through. How long had it been before her mind released her throat enough for her to be able to call him and lie about where she was and ask him to meet her at the office? What else could the pain have been except jealousy?

And the scene at the Gunmen's? She'd gone directly to the guys after changing her clothes following the incident in the decontamination unit. She'd gone there angry, humiliated. They'd forced them to take a shower together in the same area--all done under the watchful eyes of Diana's decon goons--and still he'd excused what she'd done. Sitting there in those shapeless scrubs, stripped of makeup, hair a damp stringy mop listening to that bitch dressed in a Donna Karan suit issuing an *abject* apology, watching Mulder lap up that apology like a cat with cream, then being issued a burlap sack of a dress four sizes too large for her as a replacement for her own clothes. It was the end, the last she'd take.

So she'd gone to the guys and sent them to hacking nirvana trying to dig up information on Diana Fowley, gloating triumphantly at what they'd found. She could hardly wait for Mulder to show up to wave it in his face. She was right, she had proof. And maybe--just maybe--hurt him a little, too, the way he'd hurt her.

Only now could she see what a mistake that had been, having learned what she had about Mulder's life since then. She'd grossly mishandled it, and now could see that she'd been unfair, too. She'd ambushed him in front of his friends. Had done everything but call him a fool, an idiot. How many people had done that in his life? She was the one he should have been able to depend on never to do something like that. What had she been thinking to confront him in front of the guys? Professional courtesy, at the very least, would have dictated that she talk to him in private, and after all they'd been through, they must surely be beyond mere professional courtesy. She'd called him a fool in front of his friends and screamed out that he'd been betrayed. And Mulder's fear of fire paled in comparison to his fear of betrayal.

Then she'd given him her *conclusive* evidence--the same kind of evidence that they had seen manipulated and planted and vanished a hundred times over the course of six years. Mulder would have gone, and did go, immediately into defensive posture. What else could he have done? She'd seen a flicker of doubt, brief though it was, pass in his eyes. But his partner, his friend, his Scully--the person who had publicly defended him against people who called him a fool--had just done so herself. She'd placed him in a position where he could not back down and still retain any face, any pride. Had she handled it differently, he might have told her about Diana then.

What except jealousy could have prompted her to arrange that scene? The only alternative to jealousy was fear. Fear that if she didn't hurt him first, he would hurt her again?

But even knowing about Diana now didn't change the fact that Scully loved him. In spite of everything, she loved him. And she was so tired of pretending that she didn't, of denying it even to herself. Even the hurt, the rage she felt didn't change that. And much of that rage was directed at herself *because* she still loved him. What did that say about her?

It just wasn't supposed to have happened. She wasn't supposed to be in love with Mulder and he wasn't supposed to be in love with her. He'd been right to worry about her rationalizing this away. There were so many reasons for this not to work and only one good reason that it would.

They couldn't live without each other. It came down to that one reason. But was it enough? Could she really answer that question without knowing the whole story?

It annoyed her that this was so important to her in the face of everything else that was going on, all the things she'd never believed that seemed now to be true. The world could very well be on the verge of collapse and no one knew, no one was prepared. But what preparation could there be?

A shooting star caught her eye and she was surprised to find her heart racing. *Relax, just a meteor. Not another ship.* She sighed at her own foolishness. But the skies weren't friendly and the truth was, indeed, out there.


Mulder stood at the screen door, watching her glide back and forth and a sad smile played over his features. She was achingly beautiful sitting there looking at the sky, with the moonlight illuminating the side of her face closest to him and playing off the golden tints in her hair.

Even after hours--maybe days--of sleep, he still couldn't hear her, her voice wasn't in his head. He'd been aware the last couple of times he'd awakened that his was the only voice in his head and he'd almost wept with relief. Quiet, blessedly quiet, after days and days of endless voices, endless noise. Soon, though, he realized that he couldn't hear her and, for just a brief flash, felt a pang of loneliness--even though she lay right beside him.

But watching her now, he didn't need her voice in his head to tell him that she was pondering something troubling and he wondered if she would tell him about it if he asked. How to ask, that was the problem. He'd learned from past rebuffs when he'd asked her questions she didn't want to answer. He looked toward where her eyes searched the skies and he, too, saw the shooting star.

During one of the times he'd been awake he, too, had come out to sit on the glider. Just sittin' and thinkin'. It had been twilight, the lilac-colored sky struck through with ribbons of pink and gold. But he'd been only vaguely aware of the beauty around him, simply glad for the silence as he tried to sort though the sounds and thoughts and memories he'd had at the hospital. Now that he was rested, his system cleared and the voices gone, he realized all that they had done to him, all that they had taken, what they'd caused him to do to himself. He remembered now, and was filled with and impotent wrath as bitter as gall. They'd taken him memories, his gift--not just once, but twice. And they'd tried to again, but Scully stopped them.

Scully. Despite everything--all the things he hadn't told her, all the things he'd said and done to hurt her--she'd stopped them. He sighed, remembering his promise of an explanation in the letter he'd left for her, but the promise had been an empty one, although he hadn't known it at the time. Before this, he wouldn't have been able to give her an explanation because he didn't remember. And maybe that was part of the reason he hadn't told her--because he couldn't make everything that had happened make sense in his own mind. They'd left the memories of events but stolen the motivations behind them.

Until now. He could tell her now. He had the ability, the memories. But did he have the strength? And what would she think if he did tell her, when she finally saw that he'd been weaker and even more a pawn than he'd ever been able to perceive?

In the end, he realized that everything outside the explanation was out of his hands--even whether or not she would accept an explanation. But he had to offer it to her. After all she'd been and done and given, she had to have that option. And he had to accept any reaction she had to it because it was time to start giving back.

The screen door creaked as he pushed it open and she looked away from the heavens to give him a smile that somehow was both solemn and welcoming. "Hey," he said with a hesitant smile. He felt awkward, unable to gauge where they were emotionally.

"Hey yourself," she answered softly. "I see you cooked. I didn't even know you could do that."

He smiled and leaned against the porch railing facing her. "Throwing a bunch of stuff into a crock pot doesn't exactly qualify me as Wolfgang Puck." He longed to sit on the glider beside her, but was uncertain if she wanted him there.

"Smells good," she remarked. "You hungry now?"

He shook his head. "I put it in the refrigerator. I figured we could heat it up whenever we felt like eating."

They fell silent and Mulder willed himself not to fidget in his uncertainty and fear. He was so afraid she'd reconsidered, wouldn't blame her if she did, although it would break his heart. Despite his resolve, his fingers seemed to have minds of their own as they drummed spasmodically against the wood of the railing. "You sleep okay?"

"Yeah," she replied softly. "But it's weird. I don't have any idea what time or even what day it is or how long we slept."

He nodded his understanding. "I'd guess somewhere between eight hours and a week."

That earned him a chuckle, the first thing that gave him any kind of hope for where they were now. "Well that narrows it down some." She patted the empty seat beside her in unspoken invitation.

He sat down gratefully, his head reclined, not quite daring to meet her eyes. He saw her bare feet sticking out from her floor length nightgown and was delighted to see the caps of her impossibly tiny toes painted a color something like the blush on a peach--they were just so pretty. They rocked together for a while, gaining comfort between them with the soothing motion. Finally defying his anxiety, he willed his gaze to her and saw her looking off into the distant sky. Another brief flash of light in the distance, and he felt her stir slightly. "Summer meteor shower," she said, almost to herself.

"Wishing?" he asked quietly.

"Watching," she replied, her voice also hushed in the stillness of the night.

"For what?"

"Them." The quiet dread in her voice left him no doubt about whom she was talking. She paused for a long time and he wondered if she was going to continue. "I... I saw one of their ships, like you did in Antarctica." He looked at her expectantly, and she told him about what had happened to her in Africa--finding the artifacts, seeing the ship, seeing Alex Krycek. He was careful not to interrupt, just listen, sitting perfectly still except to use his legs in tandem with hers to propel the glider. "I saw it, Mulder. I believe," she whispered, looking down at her hands folded in her lap.

By the end of her recounting, Mulder was sitting with his elbows on his knees, propping his forehead with his hands. Wanting to see his expression--to see what he thought--she pulled at one of his hands to try and coax him to lift his face to hers. Instead, he took her into a fierce embrace, enfolding her into him with her head pressed firmly against his chest. "Thank God," he murmured into the crown of her head. "Thank God."

"I believe," she repeated softly. "You win, Mulder."

He pulled away, dropping his arms and sliding to the end of the glider. "What?" he asked, confused. He looked at her, at the misery that was so clearly etched in her face at this admission. "Do you... have you seen this as some kind of competition, Scully? Something either you or I were going to win?"

Mulder watched as her brow knitted slightly, seriously pondering a question he had meant as rhetorical. Had she seen their partnership as a sort of competition? "You have, haven't you?"

Her eyes had taken on a wary look, one that he'd seen a lot in the past year, one that tore at his heart. "I don't know what you want me to say, Mulder. For years, you've wanted me to believe and now I do. Isn't that why you were so angry with me after the OPR hearing when they transferred us? When my disbelief cost us the X-Files?"

Angry with her? He'd been angry, certainly--enraged, livid. But at her? Was that how it had come out, how it had appeared to her? He tried to recall his reactions, but the memories were colored by what he had learned since. "Cost us?"

And suddenly he knew what she had been carrying around inside her for months. She felt that he blamed her for their transfer. And with that knowledge, came memories of incidents--some small and some large--where he had unconsciously reinforced that feeling in her. Incidents in which he'd merely been venting his general anger and frustration, but that he could now understand that she might have seen as being directed toward her. "Oh Scully, it wasn't your disbelief that cost us the X-Files. The OPR hearing was a farce, a setup from the start. Nothing either of us did would have made the slightest difference. Cancer Man and his cronies expected us to die in Antarctica. When we didn't and we came back here, they couldn't just eliminate us, kill us outright. We'd made too much noise and killing us would have drawn all kinds of attention they didn't want. They couldn't kick us out of the Bureau because they'd lose one avenue of control of us. So the only other option was to discredit us, transfer us, hope to break us that way. We could have brought in a whole family of EBEs--Mr. and Mrs. Gray and their two point five offspring--and it wouldn't have mattered. There was nothing that you did or didn't do that caused that. And I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, for anything I did to make you think I believed this was your fault."

"But you needed me to validate what you told them." Her voice was quiet and sad. "You were so angry."

"Oh hell yes, I was angry," he answered. "I still am. All the wasted months. But, Scully, even though at the time I thought it would make a difference with the OPR, *I* didn't need you to validate what I'd seen. I knew what I'd seen."

"But you wanted me to say that I saw it, too. You wanted me to believe."

"I don't want your belief at the cost of your integrity. Not ever. I never wanted you to say you believed if you didn't," he protested.

"Didn't you?" she asked quietly.

"No." He hesitated, trying to find the right words for what he was feeling, to express something that he hadn't been able to sort out in his own mind for years. "I wanted… I want you to believe. I've wanted that for a long time. But not for the reasons you think."

He paused, thinking about what he'd just said. "No, that's not entirely true. I've wanted you to believe sometimes--a lot of times--just because I wanted you to believe me. Me. But is it wrong to want the person who's most important in your life to believe you? I wanted that. I still do. But it was more than that, Scully, especially after Antarctica. I wanted you to believe me because I was afraid… I knew what I'd seen. I saw the ship. I… *we* were inside it. I saw the aliens gestating, using human beings as incubators. And I wanted you to believe it. Because I was afraid for you not to believe. I was so afraid--terrified--that you might not believe until it was too late."

"How do we know that it isn't too late already?" she asked.

"I guess we don't," he conceded. "But we have to keep thinking that it's not, that there's still something we can do to stop this. Otherwise, why are we even doing this? I'm sorry Scully. I wish you hadn't seen what you saw, that I hadn't seen what I saw. I wish for our sake, for everybody's sake, that I'd spent the last ten years in some delusional state. But I didn't and, God help me, I'm glad you saw the ship."

"You're glad," she repeated, pain tingeing her voice. "Okay, okay, I understand that. And I'm sure there's some part of me that's glad about it, too, because it's better that I know the full scale of what's going on here. But, my whole belief system is falling apart here. Everything I was raised to believe, that I was taught, that I learned to believe, is falling down around my head. And it's scary as hell, Mulder."

He reached for her, but she raised a hand, asking that he keep his distance and he feared that gesture. "Wait," she whispered. "I need to say this. It's terrifying and I always knew it would be. Do you really think that I've never considered the possibility that you were right all along? Do you think I've never thought about that? But it was so scary, on so many levels. That's why I had to work so hard to disprove you. There's such a rightness in science, Mulder, in things that are the same over and over. Something I've always needed and until I started in the X-Files, science never once failed me. But your being right makes everything I've ever believed in wrong or at least in question. Everything. I don't know what to believe anymore. I saw the ship. We don't know how to make anything that big that can fly or anything that can fly like what I saw. So it has to be them. Beyond that, I don't know what I believe. You've been right about so much of all this. But, damn it, I want the world the way I believe it is. I don't want to blindly believe what you believe."

He placed a hand on her shoulder, feeling awkward because he didn't know in what ways he could touch her now, whether she wanted him to. He was heartened when she didn't pull away and he ventured a light caress with his thumb. "Is that what you think I want?" he asked. "Unquestioning belief? Scully, don't you see? I've been wrong about so much of this, too. You said it yourself a long time ago. The truth is out there, but so are lies. I don't know how many times I've been blinded by this whole thing, ready to believe any lie that came along. But you've been there to help me cut through the lies. You ask the questions I don't think to, don't *want* to. You thought your disbelief cost us the X-Files. Just the opposite, Scully. It's what let us keep them for as long as we did. You make me sort through the bullshit, think things through. I meant it when I said you've saved me a thousand times. I'd be a corpse in a shallow grave somewhere if it hadn't been for you."

"Then why didn't you trust me? Why didn't you tell me about Diana?" He watched her eyes widen briefly as if in shock, quickly replaced by that heartbreaking, wary look. She hadn't wanted to be the one who brought this up first, and she shouldn't have had to. "No, never mind. Forget I asked. If you'd wanted..."

He cut her off abruptly. "Don't, Scully. Don't act like this doesn't matter." The walls were coming up again and he had to stop it because maybe this would be the time that neither of them had the strength to tear them down again. But at the same time, he wanted so much not to be having this conversation.

"I'm not sure that it does," she replied.

"This doesn't matter?" he said, trying to keep his disbelieving tone mild. "You're not pissed about this?" He knew what she was doing here--trying to sublimate her feelings, keep them logical and in control. Keep them the way she knew how to do them. In his mind, in his heart, he was begging her not to do it. But maybe she had to--for herself. He'd told her in the note to do the best thing for her. And he wanted to let her do that. Wanted to.

She didn't answer, and looked down at her hands in her lap. His eyes followed and he saw that her hands were clenched together so tightly that her knuckles were turning white.

Anxiety twisted his stomach into knots and he felt glad that he hadn't eaten in a while. Anxiety for her, for himself, for them. She was so afraid of losing control, and he both wished she would and prayed she wouldn't. But what would happen if she did? The only answer was the truth, the only hope.

He wanted to raise her face, to make her look at him again. But at the same time, he couldn't force her, didn't want her to look at him unless she wanted to. "You get to be mad, Scully." His tine was heavy with apprehension.

She looked up at him then, a confused and somewhat apprehensive expression on her face. "To what end? Would it change anything? There's no purpose in it, Mulder."

"How about just to let me know for once what you're feeling?" He held his breath, hoping he hadn't gone too far. He knew he shouldn't push, didn't have any right to. But he didn't want her calm, he didn't want her rational. That had gone on far too long.

"For once..." she whispered, almost to herself. "Don't push this off on me." Her tone was quiet, intense. "I'm not the one with the secret spouse here. You want to know how I felt? Okay, I guess you could say I was little pissed." The hands she'd stared at had balled themselves into tiny fists. "Mulder, I found out about your wife--your *wife* for God's sake--in a note promising me an explanation. Or there was the convenient video version if you were dead. The note was written four months ago. Four months where, until this happened, I thought we were getting back on track together. Was I wrong in thinking that?" She finally looked up, seeking the answer in his eyes. He saw the momentary flash of anger in her eyes, and he both feared and relished it. Anything--even her ire--was preferable to the stony silence and lifeless eyes he'd witnessed for so long.

"No." This time he wanted to look away, but fought against the urge. "You weren't wrong. And God help me, I used how good things were getting between us as one more excuse not to tell you."

She heaved an exasperated sighed. "This makes no sense to me. Millions of men have ex-wives, Mulder. It never once occurred to you over the course of seven years that you should tell me you're one of them?"

"Of course it did," he replied. "So many times."

"So why didn't you?"

He shook his head with a shrug. "There was a different *good* reason every time I hared out. But I think I know now, Scully. Part of it was chicken-shit cowardice, like I said in the letter. But part of it was that I couldn't."

"So what does that mean, Mulder? You trust me with your life but not your marital status? Why couldn't you tell me about her?"

"It wasn't that I didn't want to tell you about *her*." He looked down at his hands, clasped and dangling between his knees. He took a deep breath and made himself raise his head. If he was going to tell her about this, he had to say it to her face. She deserved that at least. "It's that I didn't want to tell you about me. Most of it, anyway. To tell you about her, I'd have had to tell you about me. And I didn't want you to know what kind of... I didn't want you to know how I used to be. But some of it was that *I* didn't want to think about it. I wanted to put it all behind me. I told myself I deserved to put it all behind me. But some of it was that I just didn't remember. I didn't remember until all this started happening. While I was in the hospital."


Scully suddenly felt apprehensive, as if they were crossing over into a place she might not be ready to enter. Did she really want to know something he'd felt so compelled to hide from her? If he told her about his past, wouldn't she, in turn, have to tell him what she knew of it? And she had no idea how she was going to do that. How she could tell him something that would hurt him so. Suddenly she had an idea of why Mulder hadn't been able to tell her about the theft of her ova. He'd wanted to protect her from the kind of pain he was going to feel when she told him what she'd learned. And maybe protect himself, too, because she also understood how easy it would be not to tell him, not to have to be the one to hurt him.

"You don't have to do this," she heard herself say. And her heart screamed out, <<Yes he does!>> cried her heart that still felt hurt, betrayed. Her heart that needed to understand this, that needed the explanation--the one he'd promised. But still, she had to offer him an out. She would not, could not, badger him into this.

"Yes I do," he replied quietly. "I should have done it a long time ago. I'm so sorry, Scully. I wanted to, I meant to." He paused as if unsure how to continue. "Now I'm afraid not to. Afraid what it's done, what it will keep doing, to us..."

"We'll be fine, Mulder," she interrupted, not sure why these things she didn't believe, didn't want to say, continued to fall out of her mouth. Was she as afraid to hear what Mulder had to say as he was to say it?

He shook his head, closing his eyes almost as if he were in pain. "I don't want *fine* Scully. Christ, I hate that word! We've been *fine* for years. Fine as fucking frog hair. We've been hurt, sick, dead, near dead, missing, had family members torn away from us, our fucking futures torn away from us. And we're *fine.* It's gotta stop." He lowered his head to his hands, running his fingers through his sleep-tousled hair. Then he raised his head searching for her eyes. "I want more than that. I want you. I want what you're thinking, what you're feeling. I want your stories, and to get that, I'll give you mine. And that's no small feat, Scully, because I come out quite the asshole in this one. Especially with what I know now. But as lame as they are, there were reasons for what I did. Shit, maybe they're just sorry excuses. The whole thing is pretty sorry in light of what I found out. But I didn't know it then."

"Know what?" she asked.

"How blind, stupid and totally manipulated one man can be," he replied bitterly. "And the really ironic thing is that I still don't know why. But I could go off on that for days and I promised you an explanation. If you'd let me give it to you."

She studied his face in the moonlight, his eyes glowing silvery in the ambient light, searching for some kind of hesitation on his part. If he were reluctant about this, she'd have a reason to stop this conversation. And they'd be fine. Fine as fucking frog hair.

But she saw no hesitation on his face. His eyes offered but didn't plead, didn't challenge. It was her call, just as he'd promised in the note. But she knew that if he gave her his story, what he saw as the truth, he'd expect no less from her. But maybe that was okay. Maybe they couldn't afford not to anymore.

"I want more than *fine,* Mulder. I've earned more than *fine*." Her voice was quiet and firm.

He made a noise--something between a chuckle and a sob. "You've earned more than I've got, Scully. More than I'll ever have. And you've definitely earned an explanation, a rationalization, whatever the hell this is. But I'll warn you now, it's a long story."

She nodded. It was an undetermined time in the middle of the night of some unknown day. Time seemed different here, less important. Not nearly as important as this. "I like long stories. You've told me long stories before," she whispered.

"Not like this. I don't even know how to start this," he said, his brow knitted in frustration. "I'm glad I didn't die. The videotape I made sucked."

She glanced up to see if he was joking and found his expression was serious, anxious. Something she found disturbing, yet somehow endearing. "I'm glad you didn't die, too." She gave him a small smile and laid a hand on his arm. He put his other hand over hers and gave it a quick squeeze of appreciation before pulling away.

"I know you think that I trusted Diana because she used to be my wife," Mulder said and she nodded. "But that's not it. Not exactly. That should be the reason, that's part of it..." He stopped, as if suddenly aware that he was babbling. He took a deep breath. "I trusted Diana because she saved my life, or so I thought. No, she did. Her motives were different from what I thought they were but she saved my life."

Scully felt a bitter ache in her chest. "So it's two in five billion, huh? Still not bad, I guess."

He looked at her, a stricken look on his face, his eyes misting over. "No!" His tone was adamant. "Just you. Only you."

"She saved you. I saved you. That's two, Mulder."

"No," he repeated. "She saved my life, Scully. She helped me keep my heart beating and keep breathing. But you saved *me.* Before you came into my life, there was no *me* to save."

He paused and Scully wondered if he expected her to make a comment, and the lull in the conversation was awkward to her for she didn't know how to respond.

He gave her a gentle smile. "We hardly know anything about one another, do we? I mean, really know. I don't even know how you came to be Agent Scully and I've never told you how I came to be Agent Mulder. Seven years."

He down to his hands resting in his lap and Scully followed his gaze. He was moving the fingers of both hands in odd patterns. "That's just a little less than sixty thousand hours."

"How do you know that?" she asked, astonished.

He raised is hands before them and smiled. "Finger math. My dad taught it to me when I was a kid. It's a system for working with numbers using your fingers. Seven years is 59,930 hours, but that doesn't take any leap years into account. I never use a calculator."

"Is that why your expense reports are the way they are?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Hey, the math part is always okay. It's the justification part that sometimes gets a little creative," he smiled briefly. "But seriously Scully, I bet if we examined it, we'd find that we've spent a lot of those sixty thousand hours together. Wouldn't you think in all that time we'd have talked about why we chose to do what we do? I bet Kinsley and Stonecypher have talked about it."

"And what scintillating stories those would have been," she replied dryly, recalling their traveling companions to the seminar they'd almost attended in Florida.

"Riveting," he agreed with a weak smile. "But the point is, if you asked Stonecypher why Kinsley joined the FBI, she'd be able to tell you. We can't. I don't know why you're here with me now instead of chief of pathology at a major hospital somewhere."

"You never asked," she said softly, slightly wistfully.

"Neither did you," he answered. "I don't know why you didn't ask but I know why I didn't. Because then you'd expect me to tell you why I was here. And you'd have said something about justice and duty and honor as the reasons you joined. And I'd have had to lie to you or tell you that I joined hoping to kick a seven-year drug habit."

She stared at him in stunned silence, at a total loss as to how to respond, not knowing even if she could. A drug habit? No, simply not possible. She wouldn't have guessed it in a million years. Her mouth firmly refused to form words.

"Well, that was a conversation stopper," he said with a strange soft bitterness.

She was trying to recuperate, to regain the use of her wits. "I... I don't know what to say, Mulder." Her voice was quiet and shaky and she wasn't quite able to meet his eyes.

"Know what you mean. But it was a big problem for a long time." He swallowed hard. "Remember way back on our first case in Bellefleur? When I told you how Sam's disappearance destroyed our family?"

Scully nodded, her heart filling with anguish about what Teena Mulder had told her. She knew more about that time in his life than he thought she did. But she only knew what it had been to his mother, not what it had been to him.

"Well, when I said it destroyed our family," Mulder continued. "I was painting a rosier picture than what actually happened. There are worse things than destruction. At least with destruction, it's over. Sam's disappearance... it wasn't really like destruction, it was more like... like it *gnawed* at us. A constant gnawing for years and years that never stopped. Samantha wasn't dead. We couldn't bury her and go on. She was just gone, missing. And I was the one who was there and I couldn't tell them anything and I didn't try to stop it."

"Mulder, you were just a kid," she protested, her hand reaching out to touch his face.

"No wait, Scully." He stopped her hand, pressing it between both of his and drawing it to his lap. "I know. I was just a kid and it wasn't my fault. I know that now. Rationally, I know it. But the only way this might make sense for you is if you know what it was like at the time. And I need this to make sense for you. I need you to understand why all this happened.

"We weren't the Cleavers even before Samantha was taken. But then, who was? My dad worked a lot, was away from home a lot. Most of my friends' dads were away a lot. We lived on Martha's Vineyard and lots of dads worked in Boston. But when he came home, he did dad stuff. Played ball, took us swimming, looked at our homework. We went on vacations. I know now that he and Mom weren't close, but at the time they were just Mom and Dad. I didn't have anybody else to compare them to. At least they were still married. Lots of kids I knew had parents who were divorced."

He sighed. "Anyway, after I lost... after Samantha was gone... I didn't go back to school that year. I was in seventh grade. After it happened, I had to go to a hospital for a while. A month, maybe. I was never sure. They said it was for my own good. After I got out, they didn't make me go back to school. Dad hired a tutor and I worked at home. It was okay, I didn't much care either way. The tutor talked, I listened, I did what he said, Mom cried, and Dad disappeared. That's what happened in the Mulder household the first year after Samantha was taken."

"Mulder, I know..." Scully began.

"Scully, please," he interrupted. "The only way I know how to do this is to plow right through it. This is so hard."

She nodded and laced her fingers through the hand that was beneath hers. She'd tell him later. Not now. He was hurting enough now. And so was she.

"I had to go back to school the next year. It was bad, like I knew it would be. I was the kid whose sister disappeared. That was bad enough to keep most of the kids away. A little while later, some of them started saying that maybe I'd killed her myself."

"Oh, Mulder, no."

"They were kids, Scully," he said with a weary grimace. "You know kids say the first thing that falls out of their mouths. The teachers for the most part were okay, although I think there might have been one or two who thought maybe there was something to the rumors. Chilmark was a very small place. Kids just didn't disappear and I was the last one to see her. The worst part was that I couldn't tell them for sure that they were wrong. I had absolutely no memory of what happened that night. They told me I got the gun out and didn't fire it, so I knew I didn't shoot her. But other than that, I didn't know what happened. I'd see my mom looking at me, waiting for me to come up with something, anything that might help them find her. And my dad..."

"I know," she said softly and he nodded gratefully.

"Let's just say he was *disappointed* in me. Anyway, this goes on for a few years, till I turned sixteen. Mom and Dad got me a car for my birthday--a brand new blue Trans Am. Never let it be said that Bill and Teena Mulder's son didn't have *stuff.*" His tone was caustic and sardonic. "At least the car gave me somewhere to go besides school and home. I did okay in school as far as work goes. Eidetic. Read anything once and it was always there, so I didn't have to study much to get good grades. So mostly I just drove around the island. The Vinyard was beautiful, Scully, but it's pretty small. Used to skip school sometimes. Take the ferry to the mainland and drive up to Boston. Nobody ever said much about it. The school never turned me in to my parents as far as I know. Or maybe they did and my parents just didn't say anything. I showed up when there were tests and to hand stuff in. I got good grades and people left me pretty much to myself.

"So I'd drive around the island, go up to Boston, anywhere to keep from having to go home. Started hanging around in the area around Boston University. Usually I'd park and just walk around. There were always lots of people, nobody paid too much attention to me. Found a club where they weren't too careful about who they served. Met a few people, people who didn't know anything about me, who didn't think I killed my sister. We'd have few beers, go out into an alley somewhere and smoke a joint. And it made things okay. Things were funny, there were people to laugh with. Shit, there hadn't been a decent laugh in our house since Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. So I kept going back, driving home from Boston loaded to the gills. I have no idea how I kept from wrapping that car around a tree on some of those road trips. Got any tea left?" He made a dry, smacking noise with his mouth.

Scully looked at the cup still in her hand. "It's cold," she said, handing the cup to him.

"Doesn't matter." He tipped his head back and drank the last of the tepid liquid. He took a deep breath, rolling the empty cup back and forth between his hands. "So eventually my new friends told me how I could get dope, too. Guess I looked like a prime target--kid with a nice car, no friends, money. I had a lot of money pretty much all the time. A lot for a kid anyway. My dad would cap off a forty-five minute tirade about what a fuck-up I was by giving me a couple hundred dollars. Mom would leave fifty for me on the counter with my breakfast before I went to school. There was this big long period where she and I only talked by note. I'd wake up, find the money, eat my breakfast. Then when I got home, there'd be a note telling me whatever meeting or social thing she was at and what there was to eat in the refrigerator. I'd eat something, write a note about whatever mythical friend I was supposedly spending time with and split. By the time I got home, she'd already be in bed and the whole process would start all over again the next day. She gave me money to be invisible. But with my dad, I had to work for it. No bucks unless I made myself available for mental abuse. It was like a job. Other kids had paper routes or worked at the Sack 'N' Save. I got paid better." His tone held an aching bitterness that tore at her heart. And she wished she could tell him that he'd misinterpreted what happened. That his pain had amplified and distorted what he had been feeling. But she knew the truth of what he said from what Mrs. Mulder had told her.

"So one day at school, I decide to sneak back behind the field house and smoke the joint I'd taken to carrying around in my wallet. To my surprise, I found that there were other kids there with the same idea. At first, they didn't trust me. I was the honor roll kid who may or may not have killed his sister. By that time, the honor roll thing pissed them off more than the possibility that I'd killed my sister. But after a while, they saw that I pretty much always had primo smoke and, voila, instant friends. I finally actually did have friends to write notes to my mother about. So I'd make the run to Boston, sometimes with my new buddies and a couple of girls, and we'd bring back the goods. Before I know it, I'm selling the goods to my new friends. Unfortunately, this gets me in trouble with the only real drug dealer in Chilmark because I'm undercutting him royally. I wasn't in it for the profits. I just wanted to win friends and influence people. So this drug dealer guy catches up with me and beats the snot out of me and tells me to quit undercutting him. I figured, what the hell, it wasn't worth getting my balls cut off for. So I quit selling dope and started buying it from him, too. And surprisingly enough, he had higher quality product."

Scully hated the mordant nonchalant tone he'd adopted, but he continued, not recognizing her dispair.

"Well eventually I graduated, top of my class. Gave the valedictory speech so high I could barely find the podium, but the stoners--the ones who graduated--were on their feet. For them it was like local boy makes good. I was like a mascot or something. So I applied to BU and got accepted. I already knew people there. Spent the next two years partying--a lot. I went to classes most of the time. It wasn't much harder than high school and the reading material was better. They even gave less of a shit if I showed up and I think that might actually have been what made me go. Anyway, I'd go to classes, spend an hour or so with the books, then party into the small hours of the morning. I learned that you could get going after a hard night with just a little snort of coke in the morning, a refresher during the day, a little more with drinks at night. Then if I smoked a little dope, I'd get hungry enough to actually eat and then I could sleep some. Money might not be able to buy happiness, but it can buy all kinds of numb. And sometimes that's enough." He tried, unsuccessfully, to smile at her.

"I'd go home for a weekend to see Mom every five, six weeks. Mostly to sleep off the rest of my life and detox a little. I'd get home real early on Saturday morning--drove back after the clubs closed. Then I'd sleep for like fourteen hours. Get up and take Mom someplace for dinner. Then I'd sleep another ten hours or so. Wake up and Mom would cook something. While we ate she'd ask how my studies were going. I'd tell her fine, help her clean up the dishes and drive back to Boston on Sunday night. Start partying again the next night. Every now and then I'd hit a weekend where Dad was home. He'd express the opinion that he was sure I was just fucking off and wasting his money--which was true--give me some money and send me on my way. But he must have been on time with the tuition payments because they didn't kick me out of school.

"Declared psych as a major mainly because I didn't have any better ideas. And maybe because I thought that I could learn something that would help me remember what happened to Samantha. Even with everything else, I got good grades and won a fellowship to Oxford at the end of my junior year. Three years. It was a big deal, a prestigious fellowship. And somewhere in the fog of my brain this voice says that this could be a chance. I was so sick of my life, Scully. The drugs, the people--the friends I had as long as I had dope, feeling like shit all the time, the obligatory visits home. The drugs made me feel like shit, but they made everything else at least bearable. It was like I was handcuffed on a treadmill set at a speed just slightly faster than I could run. Then the fellowship came along and I thought maybe if I got away, got to a different place... I went home that weekend to tell Mom and Dad about it, for some reason thinking they'd be proud. Mom managed a *that's nice, Fox* and Dad didn't even look up from the newspaper when he asked when I'd be leaving. That pretty much clinched the decision to go to England."

He looked down at her and saw the sorrow and pain she knew must be written in her expression. "Scully, don't look at me that way. It's just something that happened. Listen, I'm gonna go in and get something to drink. You want anything?"

"There's some orange juice in the fridge," she said. "A glass of that would be nice." He started to get up but she stopped him with a hand on his arm. "I don't mean to look at you in any particular way, Mulder, but it hurts me to know you were in so much pain."

"I know. But I'm not telling you this to... This is part of why I couldn't tell you this. It's so fucking pathetic. To be so stupid, so... weak."

It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him he wasn't weak. But even though she believed that with all her heart, she knew that saying it would sound like some kind of automatic dismissal. And an off the cuff denial from her would not eliminate the belief on Mulder's part.

"You don't have to keep this up," she said softly. "Not for me. Who you were then isn't as important as who you are now. Don't think you have to do this for me."

"You're the only one I'd do this for," he replied simply. "When I was in the hospital, I swore to myself that I'd tell you everything if you'd let me. It's still your call. But I don't know any other way to explain Diana to you than this. I promised you an explanation and this is all part of it."

"Do you want to?" she asked.

"What?" He looked at her, perplexed.

"Are you telling me this because of a promise you made in a letter or because you really want to?"

He looked down at his hands as he thought about her question. "Yeah," he answered looking up at her again.

"To which part?" she asked. She didn't know why this was such a vital question to her, but it was.

"Both," he replied, standing up. "I'm probably way past the statute of limitations on the promise. And I am a sorry son of a bitch that it took this to get me to this point, but I want to keep it. I promised you and right now there's nothing more important than that. But it's gotta be what you want, too. I'll be right back."

She watched him go back into the cabin, his bare feet making little splatting noises on the wood of the deck, and she thought about what he'd told her. And about what she might yet hear. And suddenly she realized that this wasn't about Diana, and maybe never was. Yes, she was curious about her, but the idea of her existence didn't sting nearly as much as the fact that Scully hadn't known about it. But now, sitting here under the stars, it wasn't so much Diana she wanted to know about as Mulder. And how she, herself, fit into this sad, dark tale--the tale he was tearing from his soul to give to Scully.

At the same time, it scared her, too. What if what he told her changed her belief in him? What if he wasn't who she believed he was? She'd stayed at his side for seven years--had seen things, had lost so much--in part because of the man she believed Mulder to be. Could she take the risk of allowing him to say something that would completely invalidate everything that had happened to her?

Yet he was tearing it from his soul to give it to her. How could she not accept it? She needed to hear it and maybe, just maybe, he needed to say it just as much.

Mulder came back a few minutes later with two large tumblers filled with orange juice. Handing one of them to her, he sat beside her and touched his glass briefly to hers. She drank deeply, relishing the cold tartness of the juice, then set it on the table beside the glider. Setting his glass aside, he turned to her taking a deep, shaky breath.

She could see his determination not to look away, to face her while giving her the worst of his life, to lay it out before her. And she knew how difficult that was for him, how difficult it would be for her when her turn came, as surely it must. She reached to the back of his neck and pulled his head toward her to touch his forehead with hers. "This isn't an interrogation, Mulder, and nothing you say will be used against you." She touched his cheek gently, then turned and leaned against him, drawing his arms around her. "So Agent Mulder, whatever made you decide to join the FBI?"

Chapter Three

Turning slightly, he moved to shift her more closely against him, wrapping one arm around her waist and the other across her chest to pull her to him. He felt her hands come up to grip his forearm and he swallowed past the lump in this throat. She would listen, would forgive him, wretched and blessed as he was. If he were to search for evidence of a Benevolent Being, Scully would be the only plausible proof he'd ever seen. And she was a pretty convincing argument in favor. Her continued presence in his life--her compassion, her strength, her love--should probably qualify for miracle status. She'd saved him yet again. He could tell her.

"More than a thousand times," he whispered, his voice steady and low next to her ear and she gave his arm a squeeze.

"I went to England and for the first year or so, I stuck to my resolve. I wasn't using, only went out for an occasional beer, went to class, actually studied. I was doing work in abnormal and criminal psychology. It was interesting and I was doing well. But I was so lonely I thought I'd go out of my mind. I didn't know anybody, living in a drafty third floor walkup. I... I didn't know how to make friends who didn't want me to give them dope. Christ, I even started missing those fun-filled weekends at home." Her fingers were tracing light patterns through the fine hair on his forearms, slow and random, and the motion was soothing, almost hypnotizing.

"I guess I was just going stir crazy but I decided that it would be okay to go to London, check out a club or two. I felt like I had a handle on it. Who could have known that I'd meet Phoebe Green that night? You've met her, you know what she's like, so I can spare us both a lot of ugly detail. I'd never known anyone like her. At least no one who would have given me the time of day. She was incredible to me then, wild and irrepressible. But she made it clear from the start that I was not the most important thing in her life. I didn't expect to be. I'd never been the most important person in anybody's life. Wouldn't even have known how to do it. It was enough that she let me be there. She was like an event, you know? Funny, she was studying criminal law yet she seemed to know every drug dealer around and places you'd never believe existed. She knew about Asian opium dens and one time she took us to this upscale shooting gallery--where the well-to-do junkies went. Luckily for me, some last ditch survivalist instinct kicked in and told me that heroin was probably not something I should consider taking up. She didn't do any that night either. So we just walked through, stoned on one thing or another, and watched other people shoot up. Freaked me out, Scully. Scared me straight for almost a week.

"I don't even remember how it happened, but we ended up living together my last year at Oxford. If you could call it living together. Couldn't depend on her for shit. She might come home at night, maybe not. Those nights away, I knew where she was and what she was doing. She never made any secret of it, or why she did it. She said she loved me but that I wasn't... enough. I didn't... I didn't satisfy her all the time. But it wasn't like that all the time. Sometimes things were good between us, and we'd laugh and talk. She was so bright. But then, all of a sudden she'd be off again and most of the time, I didn't understand why. She was unpredictable and exciting and didn't ask anything of me, which was perfect because I had nothing to give. But still it felt like something. There was somebody there at least some of the time. I liked having her stuff around--stockings hanging in the bathroom, little bottles of nail polish all over the place. They made me feel real somehow, like I had a life. I got that feeling from her stuff but never from her."

She was so quiet he could barely hear her breathing. He had no idea what she thought about what he was telling her. His arms were still wrapped around her shoulders, crossed in front of her. But her hands now rested, folded and still in her lap. But as wonderful as she felt, warm against his chest, he wished he could see her face, her eyes. Had she chosen this seating arrangement on purpose, so that she wouldn't give her feelings away to him? She hadn't asked him to stop, so he supposed she wanted him to go on.

"I was back to the same old routine--get loaded, go to classes, get loaded, find whatever party or club looked promising, get loaded, and go home. Sometimes I'd get phone calls from my Dad--at different times of the day and night, almost as if he couldn't figure out the time difference. Usually he was tanked, which was okay because I was pretty much always tanked, too. He's the one who told me about the divorce, and sometimes if he was loaded enough, he'd tell me how he felt about it. Sometimes it was almost like we talked during those phone calls. Sometimes it seemed like he missed me, but I was never sure it wasn't just the booze." He felt her nod against his chest.

"And Phoebe? I wanted to be enough for her, but I didn't know how. I mean, where do you learn...? Even with my new chummy drunk buddy father, I couldn't... The nights she was gone would make me crazy. But I couldn't blame her, either. I wasn't enough. So on the nights she was gone--and believe me, there were plenty of them--I started renting tapes. Shit, I hadn't had that many experiences before Phoebe. Loaded gropings mostly. It just started as a way to see what I was doing wrong."

"Purely educational, huh," Scully said and he could hear the smirk in her voice. She moved her hand from her lap and gently grazed the skin of his leg, her nails raking the wiry hair there momentarily before returning to rest on her own leg. He shivered at the sensation, not knowing quite how to interpret the gesture.

"At first," he responded quietly. "And it seemed to help some sometimes. Other times she just laughed and told me what movie I was *borrowing* from. But sometimes it worked. Enough so that I kept watching and trying. The guy at the video store knew me, started saving the *good* ones for when I came in. One day he gives me one that he was supposedly made locally and pretty hot. Imagine my surprise..." He paused, amazed at how much this still hurt, how much he still didn't want to talk about this.

He felt her become rigid against him and gasp with realization. "Oh God, don't tell me..."

"You guessed it, Scully. The star of this locally made, pretty hot vid was none other than Phoebe Green. Wearing a necklace I'd given her so that I couldn't even delude myself into thinking she did it before we met. Hey, at least she had the decency to use a fake name. But I was fairly certain it wasn't to spare me any embarrassment. More to try and protect her inheritance. Just another adventure for the bored little rich girl. So I watched the video and she was so into it, making faces, making noises like she never made when we were together."

"Mulder," Scully interrupted. "It's not like the people in those movies are really having the time of their life. I can't imagine that they're an accurate gauge of sexual satisfaction."

"Don't wreck the illusion, Scully," he said with a bitter chuckle. "No, I get that now. But at the time I was twenty-four years old and watching a porno movie starring my supposed girlfriend doing the horizontal bop with a pretty amazing variety of strangers, and looking and sounding like I'd never been able to make her look or sound. Then there's the matter of how many other men had watched that video, seen and heard her doing things I'd never been able to make her do? But you want to know what's really sick? I watched the video all the way through to see what it was I might be able to do that would be enough."

*Too much information!* his mind screamed. You are so pathetic, Mulder. Isn't she going to be overjoyed that she fell in love with you? He couldn't help thinking she should reconsider, and he hated himself for his doubt--not in Scully because the part of him that knew Scully understood that she wasn't reconsidering. His doubt, as it always had been, was in himself. He wished again that he could see her eyes, but he didn't know if he could move them.

"So," he continued because he didn't know what else to do. "True to my nature as always, I didn't bring it up to her. We never talked about her foray into film, not even whether it was a one-time event. Meanwhile, I'm doing major internal damage control in the rationalization area. After a while, I had myself convinced that it was a cry for help. That she just needed me to get her out of the kind of life we were leading. It was my last year at Oxford and I just assumed that I'd stay in England. Things were okay between us right then. Except for the porno movie thing, but I was going to save her from all that. Oh, and me being stoned all the time. But getting out would fix that, too. All I needed was a plan. Figured I'd find a job, she'd graduate the next year. We'd both have jobs then and we'd be able to afford a better place, get away from the low-lifes who inhabited our universe. No shit, I'm making all these plans. Stoned to the bejeezus, no idea what kind of good jobs we're going to have, but making plans. So I go home one day to tell her about all these wonderful plans--a middle of the day surprise--and of course, find her in bed with some guy--and another woman. The only possible ending to this whole *thing* we'd had. She, being Phoebe, had absolutely no reaction to my discovery other than mild irritation at being interrupted.

"And I... I don't know how to explain this. It really wasn't so much that I was mad about what she was doing. It was more that I was mad that I *should* have been mad and really wasn't. But anyway, she gives the *you're being annoying* look and I start sputtering *I thought, I thought...* And she says--I'll never forget this, she says--*What did you think, Fox? That we were going to have a house with a pretty little rose garden somewhere? Is that what you thought? Is that what you want?* And suddenly I realized that I didn't have the first idea what I wanted. Not even a clue. All I knew in that moment was that I didn't want my life the way it was. I got my stuff and went to the airport. Had to wait six hours at Heathrow to get a flight to Boston. Called my father from the airport and he said he'd pick me up. Isn't home the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in?" He turned in his seat to rest his back against the arm of the glider, pulling her with him and nestling her into the V of his legs. One of his feet still rested on the porch and he used it to keep moving them slowly back and forth.


Scully looked behind her briefly to see him staring off into the distance, his eyes unfocused. He didn't notice her scrutiny as he gently massaged her shoulders his thumbs rubbing drowsy mindless patterns on her shoulder blades. It felt exquisite, as she'd known it would every time she'd stared at his hands and allowed herself to imagine this, and she leaned into his massage with a sigh and listened as he continued.

"The father who came to pick me up wasn't the schnockered old man I'd been talking to on the phone. This was my cold-as-the-light-of-day sober father standing just to the side of the group waiting for us to get off the plane, far enough away so that I'd be sure to see him when I came out of Customs. He's standing there ramrod straight and I walk up to him--scrawny, exhausted, three days worth of beard, and nursing a withdrawal headache the size of Cleveland. He doesn't say a word to me all the way to the car, all the way out of the parking area. Finally, he asked me if my mother knew I was home and I told him no. He said I was to call her and say I was still in England. Then he said that I could live in the apartment above his garage until I got myself cleaned up and some decisions made about my life, but that I couldn't see my mother until I wouldn't disgust her as much as I disgusted him."

Scully recalled telling Mrs. Mulder that she hoped Bill Mulder was rotting in hell. She wanted to amend that sentiment, but nothing that she could think of would be a horrible enough fate for Mulder's father to face for eternity. "Mulder..." she tried to interrupt him.

"Wait," he said softly. "My father made a lot of mistakes, Scully, but in that case, he was right. I was nearly twenty-five years old and going to live at my father's house, so strung out for so long that I was having those little withdrawal tremors--not the big ones like from heroin. Just those little ones you can pass off as chills. But the point was, I had no plans. Just a useless degree from an impressive university. I couldn't practice. I couldn't presume to give guidance to anyone else when my own life was so fucked up. And research? I think you know how well suited I would have been to that. I remember wondering briefly how much they paid at the Sack 'N' Save. Nearly twenty-five years old. It was time to stop blaming my past for what I'd become. It was time to get over it."

She leaned to the side so that she could look up at him. "Get over it?" she repeated. "You're were a psychologist--you are a psychologist. Where did you think all that pain you didn't express was going to go?"

She saw a sad knowledge in his eyes that she'd seen there before, but hadn't known for what it was. "I think we both know where it goes, Scully, and I hope maybe someday you'll tell me." His tone was wistful and completely non-accusatory. Her face still tilted towards his, he bent and gave her forehead a gentle kiss.

"Yes," she whispered, sealing her part in the promise that Mulder had already begun to keep. He sighed and pulled her against him and she felt him rest his cheek in her hair a while. "What happened then?"

"So Dad lets me into the garage apartment and I don't see him again for three days. Three days of sweating and shaking and sleeping and drinking gallons of water and taking aspirin by the fistful. Three days of wondering what kind of man lets a woman like Phoebe walk in and take over his life. Three days of wondering why I hadn't been enough for her--never, right from the start--and why that had been acceptable to me. No answers, just hundreds of questions. And you want to know something really pathetic? I missed her. At least when we lived in the same place, I could pretend some of the time that I wasn't alone. I had a lot of time to think between the shakes and the sweats. I knew... I knew that the people I'd caught her in bed with were probably just two more in a long chain of extracurricular partners. But sometimes it was me, she was with me. And maybe if I'd been better or more... But I didn't know what to be better or more at, how to get to be enough. For her, for anybody. I didn't know what was missing." He sighed, frustrated with his inability to explain to her what he'd felt during that time.

Of course, he would have believed that the inadequacy was with him. And at the time, probably a great deal of it was. But he wouldn't have been able to see Phoebe's machinations for what they were, blinded by his own shortcomings. Scully had had Phoebe Green's number from the first words out of her mouth. She hadn't known Mulder for very long when Phoebe had come into their lives ostensibly looking for Mulder's help on a case and Scully remembered wondering at the time how he could ever have been involved with such a condescending, manipulative woman. She'd chalked it up to the fact that Phoebe was long and willowy and Mulder was a man who appreciated those attributes. She hadn't known him well then. At the time, Scully had bought into Mulder's studied nonchalance. If she saw the same actions and expressions in Mulder now that she had seen during Phoebe's visit, she'd have known that this woman from his past had meant more to him than he'd let on to Scully then. She understood now--he'd desperately wanted to prove to Phoebe that he'd grown, that he was competent, that he was enough. But even after all those years, Phoebe couldn't let him do that. She brought him face to face with his greatest fear and he'd failed the test. Not just in front of Phoebe, but it front of his new partner as well. Phoebe was probably pleased as punch to have had the extra bonus of humiliating Mulder in front of Scully. She'd taken an instant disliking to Phoebe when she first met her, but now she felt a particularly vehement loathing toward her that was particularly pleasing to allow herself to feel.

He shook his head as if to clear his thoughts, and continued. "Anyway, my father came back about three days later with some food, which was just about the time I could stand to look at it. While I ate, he told me that I had two months to *clean up my act.* My father is probably the only person in all of 1986 to use that phrase. Clean up my act because in two months, I'd be entering the fall training class for the FBI. And that I'd better whip myself into shape physically, or the training program would kill me. He put a couple brochures on the table and left."

"Your father got you into the FBI?" she asked with quiet incredulity.

"Yeah," he admitted sheepishly.

"What about the entry process and all the interviews and stuff. What about the drug testing? It would have been longer than two months before you'd test clean."

He shifted uncomfortably. "On the wall of my dad's study in the house in West Tisbury is a picture of my father and George Bush--you know, former president, former Director of the CIA. It was taken at my father's retirement party. At the same party were Ted Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, and Bob Dole. It's where I met Senator Matheson for the first time. My dad played tennis with Bush a couple times a month. They went way back. It wasn't too hard for him to get his errant son into the Bureau."

Her eyes widened in shock. "Geez, Mulder. I never knew. You told me you were recruited in."

"I knew you, what, three or four days when I told you that? What was I supposed to say? The guy who was vice president when I joined got me in? Way more information than I was ready to share with you at that point."

"Understandable," she conceded. "Then what?"

"I cleaned up my act. Bill Mulder had spoken. It was sort of like when a judge sentences a guy to either doing time or enlisting in the army. I didn't have a viable alternative, so I figured, what the hell. So I ran, swam, found a set of weights in the garage and started using them. I ate all that crap you're always on me about eating now. No drugs, no booze. I even planned my run routes to avoid passing any bars. And I got into shape. Went to see my mother and it was okay. Not exactly June and The Beave, but okay. I told her I was joining the Bureau, and she seemed pleased about it. I'd see my dad every now and then when I was out running and he'd drive by. I lived above his garage and I never saw him. Till one day when I'd been there about three weeks and he dropped by to give me some pointers on weightlifting. From my father that was an almost embarrassing gush of emotions and neither one of us knew what to say after that. I saw him watching out the window when the shuttle came by to take me to the airport when I left for Quantico.

"Quantico was what I needed, Scully, just the discipline of it. After Samantha disappeared, there wasn't anything like a routine in our lives and my only goal was to stay invisible. But at the Academy, I had stuff to do, places to be at certain times, goals I had to meet and I had to do it. And the physical part didn't kill me and I started to feel pretty good, but it was tough. But there were other people--men and women there from all over the country--going through the same thing I was. They didn't know anything about me, but we had this incredible shared experience. I'd never had anything like it before. Academically, it was okay except for the section on profiling. That was incredible to me, that it was possible to figure out a person down to minute details just by careful examination of evidence and an understanding of human nature. Remember Romano from the Academy? Was he still teaching when you were there?"

"Yeah," she answered. "He was one of my instructors for the profiling section. Very strange man, very intense. But then, that section wasn't one of my favorites."

"Man, Romano was great." Mulder's tone was soft and far away. "Incredible profiler, incredible teacher. He said things that tied together so much of what had confused me about abnormal psych in college. I asked and he gave me some old case files that had been solved by the profile and I read 'em over and they all made perfect sense to me. Remember the unsolved case assignment?"

"Yeah, the one where they give everybody a copy of a case file on a case that was still pending and have them write a monograph on it. We got like five days to write it up, right? I remember how panicked I was when I hadn't even started writing by the third day."

Mulder chuckled. "Yeah, that one. My class got the Monty Props case. Romano hands out the files at the beginning of class. I looked through the file and thought it was some kind of mistake. I didn't understand how anyone could be confounded by this case. I wrote the profile in class, typed it up that night and turned it in to Romano the next day. He read it, got it to the Behavioral Sciences guys and they got Props two days later. They got him before the assignment was due."

She'd always wondered if the Monty Props myth were true, but had never asked him about it, and she wondered why she hadn't. Or why she'd never seen the commendation he had received for his part in profiling the perp. Had he been so afraid of revealing the bad things in his life that he hid the good things? Or did he think he didn't deserve the good things?

The swing creaked beneath them and it seemed to blend with Mulder's soft and distant tone. It almost seemed to Scully as if he were talking to himself, yet at the same time, so close to her ear that it felt like he were inside her head. "After Quantico, I was assigned to Violent Crimes. It was okay, it was good. I came out of the Academy solid and they seemed glad to have me there. Just general field stuff at first but the brass considered me someone to watch. Used to watch me for good things. Jerry Lemana was my partner, working for Reggie Pardue. I guess it was during that time that I stopped seeing my job with the Bureau as a way station until I figured out what I really wanted."

She looked at him, surprised. "That's how you went into this?"

"Yeah," he admitted. "I figured I'd join, stay long enough to make my father think I'd given it a shot, and buy some time till I could figure out what I really wanted. Then come to find that maybe the Bureau was what I really wanted. It was good. I'd gotten a hot assignment after the Academy--everybody wanted to be in DC. Work was new and interesting. I wasn't Spooky yet, just Fox, and nobody even made much fun of that. Went out for a beer or two with my fellow agents couple times a week. Dated a few women here and there. Nobody long enough that they found out that I wasn't enough. Up and comer and all-around fun guy."

"Until John Barnett." He sighed deeply and backed away from her slightly--an unconscious motion that Scully was immediately aware of. She understood. She knew some of this story, although obviously not everything there was to know of it. She knew how it had affected Mulder for years, probably still. Settling back against him, she was unwilling to let him move off into himself, and he tightened his arms around her as if she were what was keeping the past from swallowing him whole. "You already know the story, Reggie showed you the tape. You saw what happened."

Scully wanted to tell him that it wasn't his fault but it would be pointless because he'd been told that all along. Nothing that anyone had said had convinced him that he'd done the right thing in following Bureau procedures. And there was nothing she could say that wouldn't come out sounding like a mindless platitude.

He continued. "I'd never been involved in anything like that before. I'd just been doing basic fieldwork. Never had my gun out of the holster outside of the firing range. They try to prepare you for it at the Academy--firing range, doing the Alley, simulations. But they just can't. They can't prepare you for what it feels like when you do it for real--when you've got your real gun drawn, going into a real dark place after a real guy who's already killed a lot of real people. Know what I mean?"

She gave a weary snort. "Yeah, I think I have an idea."

"Oh, God, of course you do. I wish you didn't know it as well as you do." He hugged her close, enfolding her in his arms. "Well this was the first time for me and I was scared shitless. All I could think was, *What am I doing here? What the hell am I doing here?* As I passed around the back of the truck to try and get in position behind Barnett, my heart was beating so loud I couldn't believe Barnett couldn't hear it. And I got up right behind him, Scully. Not more than six feet away. I had a clear shot. Once in the head before he could even move. But I didn't take it and Barnett killed Steve Wohlenberg."

Scully turned in his arms so that she could see his face, his eyes. "Mulder, I can't tell you anything different than anyone has ever told you, but you acted in accordance with Bureau procedures. You did what they taught you to do. You don't endanger the hostage."

"The *hostage* was the accomplice," he insisted.

"It doesn't matter who the hostage is," she shot back. "You don't endanger the hostage. That's the rules."

"Yeah, that's what everybody said and I wanted to believe it. But I knew the truth. I wasn't standing there with the gun at Barnett's head reciting the rules and regs to myself. I wanted to shoot him. The son of a bitch had already killed seven people and he didn't care who he took out there. I was going to shoot him. And I froze. But nobody else seemed to see it that way and I could have let the *by the book* thing ride until I went to the funeral and saw Cindy Wohlenberg and their two sons--Chip was six and Bubba was four. And Cindy had had to tell them that their father wasn't coming back. I couldn't look at them and keep lying to myself. I couldn't pull the trigger on the murderer and as a result, two little boys were going to have to grow up without a father. I froze and wrecked Steve Wohlenberg's family just like I froze when they took Samantha and ruined my family." His voice was thick with the memory of how that moment of realization had felt, still felt, and he lowered his head in a shame he hadn't been able to escape for more than a decade.

Scully swallowed hard and tried to meet his eyes. "Jesus, what did they do to you?" she whispered, almost to herself.

"Scully, it wasn't them," he said tiredly. "It was me. I fucked up. I should have shot Barnett and because I didn't, he killed Wohlenberg and Reggie Pardue, and he almost killed you. You. I saw him shoot you." She felt him shudder and draw her closer. "I fucked up. I believed it then and I believe it now."

His arms dropped to his side and she missed the contact. "And there were other things, too. I wondered if maybe I should have refused the assignment. I hadn't been sleeping well and I wondered if that didn't affect what happened. If maybe I was too tired to react well under stress."

Scully's brow knitted in confusion. "You already were having trouble sleeping even before Barnett?" He nodded. "How long?"

"It had been going on for quite a while," he admitted. "Maybe even since Quantico. It's hard to pinpoint when it started because it was such a gradual thing. At first it was just little episodes of waking up in the middle of the night but I'd be able to go right back to sleep. Started out just a couple times a night, but it got to as many as five or six. Then it got to where I'd wake up and my heart would be racing. I assumed they were nightmares, but I didn't remember any of them when I woke up. Couple times a night, couple times a week. That's about where it was when the thing with Barnett came up. Sometimes I woke up in a different place. I'd fall asleep in bed and wake up on the couch. Once I was in the back seat of my car. I felt okay, but I really wasn't getting much solid sleep. I always wondered if I'd have reported it, seen one of the Bureau doctors..." His voice trailed off.

"Why didn't you?" She pulled away and turned to face him, but his head was bent, his eyes downcast.

"I don't know," he said, bewildered. "It was like... I don't know. I wasn't worried about them finding out about the drugs. I'd been clean for a long time. As a psychologist, I knew the symptoms I was having could have been mental as easily as physical. But I still didn't do it. I'd make up my mind to do it, but then I'd get these feelings--really strong--that I shouldn't. That I shouldn't go to a doctor, shouldn't tell. It was so strong that I never seemed to be able to get past it. I wasn't supposed to tell. So I didn't."

<<don't tell. don't ever tell. we'll hurt them.>> Scully felt a chill of apprehension run down her spine at a memory she couldn't quite recall.

"I held it together through the funeral, through watching Cindy hold onto the boys like they were the only things anchoring her to the earth. And they didn't understand any of it. Why they had to sit still and stare at the box with a church full of strangers. I know they couldn't have understood why their daddy wasn't there. I understood, though. So I go through the receiving line after the service, my stomach tied up in knots, not knowing what to say to her, how to beg for her forgiveness. And when I get to her, she hugs me and thanks me for coming and tells me how much Steve liked and admired me."

Scully had to bend to see his face as he continued to refuse to look at her. Although his eyes were closed against them, small flat renegade tears still escaped from the fringes of his eyelashes. As she touched one with the pad of her finger, he flinched as if he had been burned and she pulled her hand away quickly.

He looked up and noted her alarm, her distress, her own unshed tears. He snatched her hand back and brought it to his face, pressing small kisses into her palm. Another of his tears escaped and traced a path to land at her fingertip, where it rested against his cheek. "Oh Scully, I'm sorry. I don't want you to hurt. I don't want you to hurt for me."

"I can't help it, Mulder. I do. I hurt for you," she whispered as a single tear slid down her cheek.

"Oh God, let's just stop this. You were right, it's pointless." He pulled her hand from his face and gave her fingertips one gentle kiss before setting her hand back in her lap. "I hurt you and I make you hurt for me."

She took his hand back and held it in both of her own on her lap. He didn't pull away and she found herself looking down at it as she toyed aimlessly with his long fingers. He had beautiful hands--graceful and long, even for his height--and she wondered how many times she had wanted to be able to do this, to be free just to touch his hand.

She was quiet for what seemed a long time, trying to sort through the feelings that all of this was bringing up. Feelings she'd buried for years, only poking at occasionally, and quickly covering back up when she found she couldn't deal with them simply because the pain of them was unbearable.

"Do you hurt for me?" she asked finally, softly.

Mulder had been staring at their hands, too--his face downcast, mesmerized by the languorous movements of her small soft hands over his. He seemed so enthralled by this wondrous sight that he barely heard her when she spoke. "Hmm?" He looked up at her face and she was almost taken aback by his fathomless eyes shimmery in the moonlight.

"Do you hurt for me?" she asked again, her eyes never leaving his. "Do you hurt for what they've taken away from me?"

"Yes," he replied, his voice tight with sorrow, anger and guilt. "Every single day of my life."

"I know you do. Because you love me. You hurt for me because you love me and I hurt for you because I love you. You hurt for me and I'm so grateful for that because... because so much of the time I can't hurt for myself. Because there's too much pain and I just can't feel it all. I just can't. I'd never be able to keep going. But there's so much it just has to be felt. So you take it to your heart and you feel it for me so I can go on. You feel it with the depth it deserves. And that's why I hurt for you, too. I don't want not to hurt for you."

"Is that what we are, Scully? The bearers of each other's pain?"

She gave him a slight smile, her face contorting somewhat as she struggled to find the words to explain. "Yeah, Mulder, we are. That's some of what we are. And I'm just beginning to understand what a remarkable thing that is. It's why... it's why we're both still here."

He looked at her, confused. "I don't understand."

She nodded. "For so long now, Mulder, my life has felt like some kind of endless endurance race. Endurance takes strength and as awful as it's been sometimes, it seemed like the only thing I still had was my pride--my pride in being strong. Being strong, getting back into it time after time, was the only way I could say *fuck you* to them, to say that they didn't get to beat me. But I couldn't have been strong... I wouldn't get to say *fuck you* to them if you hadn't been there to bear my pain. And I'm going to say it someday, Mulder. But I couldn't have felt all that pain and still be strong, so you did. And I've hurt for you. We've never talked about it. We take it on in silence and grief and guilt, but we let one another be strong. And we make one another strong. So let me hurt for you, Mulder. I can do it."

"But there's no need for it, Scully," he insisted. "None of what I'm telling you has anything to do with what really happened. There's some of my pain that you shouldn't have to bear. The pain of being a complete and utter idiot should be mine. Hearing why I was an asshole doesn't change the fact that I was."

She sighed deeply. "If you don't want to tell me about this because you can't talk about it, or if it's something you don't think I should know, that's one thing. But if you're stopping because I hurt for you, that's bullshit. I know what I can take. And I think we need this, Mulder. On a lot of levels, maybe more than I even know--as partners, as individuals, as whatever it is we become. I have to understand this. You accept that Diana was working against us all along, you know that now, right?"

His voice was cold and bitter. "I know everything about Diana."

Scully gave an internal sigh of relief. At least that much had come out of this. "They've tried so many things to pull us apart, Mulder, and she was the thing that almost did it. I need to know why she was able to do that. I wanted this not to matter so much. I mean, with everything we're facing... But I need to know as your partner and..." Her voice dropped almost to a whisper as she looked away from him. " and as the woman you say you love."

She heard a sharp, painful intake of breath from Mulder as he reached for her shoulders to turn her to face him. With two fingers beneath her chin, he raised her face seeking out her eyes, his brow knitted in anxiety. "Say? Do you doubt that I love you? Do you think I doubt it?"

"No," she said, shaking her head. "No, I don't. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have put it that way. It's just that for so long I've had so many doubts--about myself, about my career, about my value in our partnership, and about you. And I could never figure out why you trusted her over me. I need to know why, Mulder."

He looked at her, his expression a mixture of incredulity and despair. "I never trusted her over you. Never. I can see how you would think that, but it was never what I felt, I swear. And I apologize, I am so sorry, for all the things I did to make you doubt yourself or who you are to me. There was just so much I didn't know, couldn't stand to consider. But I always knew one thing. You are essential, vital, absolutely indispensable to our partnership, our work. I can't do this without you. It's not a *want to* or *don't want to* thing. I just can't. And you are essential, vital, absolutely indispensable to my life. You're right up there with the big three, Scully--air, food, and water--the things I can't live without. And I'd give up the other three in a heartbeat for you. I love you with everything I've got. I've loved you for a long, long time in ways I didn't even know existed. And I'll go to my grave loving you. And trusting you. I don't know how to make it any clearer than that."

Scully stared at him, not sure if she could speak, ecstatic and awed to see every bit of the love she felt at that moment reflected back to her in his eyes. He made absolutely no attempt to look away, just looked at her with an expression that mirrored his words--one of pure adoration and trust--and she realized what a gift he was giving her. With his words, he had laid bare his heart, had willingly placed it in her hands without hesitation, trusting completely that she would care for it, cherish it, never use it to hurt him. And the feeling of the dissolution of months of doubt was almost a physical thing. They were simply gone, leaving in their place a buoyant elation she'd never felt before in her entire life, a joy and radiance she never would have been able to imagine.

Raising herself slightly, she tucked her legs beneath her to kneel beside him on the glider. She needed to be at his eye level, wanted her face close to his, longed to give him words as beautiful as those he had given her. But she couldn't. Not because she didn't have them, but because there were too many words and none of them nearly adequate to express what she was feeling. Reduced to speechlessness, she could only rely on things more basic, more primal. She brought slightly trembling hands up to touch his face, her fingertips barely grazing the skin of his cheeks, stubbly once again with soft whiskers and watched as he struggled to keep his eyes from fluttering shut at her touch, desperate to keep looking at her. Her thumbs descended to lightly support his face as her index fingers traced a gentle line around his mouth, and she could feel his breaths coming shallow and faster. She shivered and her heart quickened as she felt his tongue touch the sensitive skin of her fingertips before closing his mouth around them, suckling them gently. Reluctantly to pull her fingers away, but unwilling to wait any longer, she moved her hands around to the back of his head to thread through the silky strands there, holding him steady as she moved to press her lips to his "I love you," she whispered as her mouth claimed his.

His hands had come to rest on her hips of their own accord as soon as she knelt beside him. He could feel the warmth of her skin through the thin cotton of her nightgown as his thumbs caressed her hipbones and she touched his face. Light as ocean mist, she ran her fingers over his lips and suddenly he could feel nothing else. There was nothing else anywhere in the universe but that sensation and it nearly overwhelmed him. He could breathe only because he told himself to, but not too much air, nothing to take away from the all the sensations of her. Touch was being overloaded as he moved his hands to her back to pull her to him. Some other sense had to help here. He listened to her, the sound of her sighs, and would almost swear that he could hear her blood coursing through her veins. Or was it his own? Taste, he needed to taste her, and he bought his tongue greedily against her small warm fingertips, his lips following to capture them for himself, forever. But then he relinquished her fingers to receive her kiss. An excellent trade. And her taste--sweet and tangy and brand new, though he knew he'd known it for all time. Too much and not nearly enough, he tasted her again and again. He touched her hair and he knew the feel of the sunset.

She felt his hand bury itself in her hair, his fingers rasping against her scalp at the nape of her neck, and she shivered in delight at the little moaning sounds he was making. His other hand traced the ridges and valleys of her spine, rubbing, kneading, caressing, claiming. Pressed against his chest, she could feel their hearts beat, first his then hers, racing frantically as if trying to catch up with one another. His tongue beckoned and she followed it into his mouth, loving his flavor, his warmth. She'd never kissed, been kissed, like this and it banished all other kisses to positions distant in her memory.

Finally, goaded by their bodies' biological imperative to breathe, but barely able to stand to do so, they pulled apart a little. Their eyes, dark and glittery, met and held and neither of them could, or wanted to, stop the slow smiles spreading across their faces as their chests heaved, seeking the air that their oxygen-starved lungs had almost given up hope for. Scully hadn't been aware of the pain in her knees from the hard wooden seat until Mulder pulled her to sit in his lap and she settled in, her chin resting on his shoulder, her cheek pressed against his. He loved the feeling of her snuggled up against him, her warm breath playing through his hair.

"Wow," Mulder whispered, still trying to regulate his breathing. "The earth really does move. Makes me want to test out all those old cliches."

"That was fairly incredible," she agreed, the grin still plastered on her face.

Her smile faded somewhat, though, when she began to think about the fact that he still hadn't answered her question. He denied not trusting her, he'd told her what he felt. But he hadn't explained why she would have come to the conclusions she had about them, why Diana had been so important that she'd almost broken them. Scully's first impulse was to bury the feeling of disappointment, to not let him know about it. But she didn't want to fall back into that habit. If this was going to work, they had to start saying what they felt, what they needed, no matter how difficult. He had given her so much of himself, but not what she needed. She was about to speak when he beat her to the punch.

Continued in Chapter 4.