Book II - Mulder's Story - continued
By J. T. Filipek

Chapter Four

"I promised you an explanation," he said, almost as if he could read her thoughts again. "You want me to go on."

A small shudder of apprehension passed through her and she pulled away slightly. Could he? Could he *hear* her again? "Did it come back, Mulder?"

"What?" he asked, confused.

His response was her answer and she gave a small sigh of... what? Relief? Regret? "I thought... When you said I wanted you to go on... When you said it, I was thinking it. I thought you could *hear* my thoughts again. That maybe it came back."

"No," he replied. "Still not. Nobody here but me right now, but I wouldn't have to be the Stupendous Yappi to figure out that you need an explanation. I'd sure as hell want one."

He lowered his head and she watched him struggle to adopt a mien of grim determination--a look she could only associate with standing outside the confessional awaiting her turn with the priest. She remembered that feeling, apprehension and a vague sense of dread, and she didn't want that for him. Too many other people in his life had made him feel that.

"This isn't just about Diana," she said, raising his head to face her. "I don't think it's even mostly about her. I want to know about you, Mulder. It's time--for both of us."

He nodded and moved his hands to her hips to coax her off his lap. She knew what he was doing. She wasn't sure if it was conscious or unconscious, but he was trying to distance her from him during his tale, almost as if he weren't worthy to touch her. "Don't," she protested, refusing to budge. "My ass hurts from sitting on the wood."

He laughed, relieved that she wanted to stay where she was. So relieved, he could play along. "Like mine doesn't hurt."

"Yeah?" she said. "Well, live with it 'cause I thought of it first and I'm not going anywhere, G-Man." She snuggled closer and he brought his hands loosely around her waist, rubbing his cheek against her hair. "Next time, you can sit on my lap," she whispered in his ear and he smiled.

They rocked in a companionable silence for awhile, Mulder trying to formulate words and Scully waiting patiently for him to do so. Finally, he spoke. "They had an official review the day after Steve Wohlenberg's funeral, like they always do when an agent is shot in the line of duty. Not only did they not put the blame for his death on me, they actually put a letter in my personnel file about my *exemplary* performance under pressure. I couldn't believe it, how blind they were, although I was too tired to really analyze the whole thing. I'd hardly slept at all since it happened. Every time I fell asleep, I'd see it playing like a movie on my eyelids. Steve getting shot in the face and falling back--in slow motion, over and over again. Barnett shot his face off, Scully. The Academy can't prepare you for that, either. And the dreams... the dreams about his family. And the others, the ones I couldn't remember." He shuddered and she held him close, rubbing her forehead against his temple.

"On the way home from the hearing, I stopped at a liquor store and bought three bottles of scotch and went on a four-day bender. I told myself I was just going to have a few drinks to help me sleep. But who buys three fucking bottles as a sleep aid? I didn't make it to work and finally Reggie showed up, dumped what was left of the bottles and got me cleaned up. Said he'd write up my absence as stress leave--nobody would question that--but that I had to see one of the employee assistance program psychologists. I agreed, but only because Reggie insisted. I didn't want... I couldn't go in and tell some Bureau shrink what was going on. He'd probably insist on some course of regular therapy and I didn't want... I'd decided to make a career with the Bureau and I thought it wouldn't be good for my record to show that I needed therapy not even two years after joining. My record used to mean something to me." He laughed bitterly.

"Was that the only reason?" she asked quietly. "Your record?"

"I thought so at the time. That's what I told myself then. I couldn't operate any deeper than that, Scully. That was as far into me as I could go. So I went to the Bureau shrink, which was fairly pointless. My degree was bigger and newer than his. I knew the questions he was going to ask and the answers that would get me out of there never to return. I answered correctly and he authorized my return to active duty. So I went back to work, regular field stuff with Lemana. But there was this pall over everything, you know? Wohlenberg was gone and everybody missed him so much. And I knew it was my fault even though nobody said anything. And I..." He hesitated, lost in the memory. "I was... I was scared pretty much all the time. Every time we went out, I wondered if we might get into another scene like the one with Barnett. What if I froze again? If it came to gunpoint, whose life would I ruin next? Lemana's? Somebody else they were stupid enough to pair me with? I thought about it all the time. And it scared the piss out of me. I began to hate my partner. Not really Lemana, but more the idea of having a partner, somebody I was responsible for.

"Pretty soon I was trying to find ways that he and I got only the most mundane cases. Ones that made our fertilizer cases look like high intrigue. This was pissing Lemana off royally because he had ambitions. He was looking for that one fast-track case that would get him a promotion and a transfer to where the action was and I was looking for cases where they wanted us to get cats out of trees. All this time, the sleep thing was going from bad to worse. I was having nightmares--the Barnett thing over and over and the other ones, the ones I never remembered when I woke up. It was a rare night where I slept all the way through. It was hell on my social life. By the time I'd scared a couple of women out of my bed, I pretty much gave up trying. Not that it made much difference. Nobody stayed around long enough for me to care anyway." He toyed absently with her hair, but Scully had the feeling he wasn't really aware she was even there, as he looked inward to his past.

"One day Lemana says we have to talk about what's going on. So after work he drags me to some bar downtown and we first agree that whatever we say stays between us. We then proceed to drink and talk. He tells me about what he wants from his career and I agree and pretend to want the same things. So we're drinking and I'm pretending because otherwise I'd have to tell him that I didn't know what the hell I wanted from my career anymore. The Barnett thing changed everything. So he's wondering why, if I want the same things he does, we're not getting better cases. He'd been in a couple years longer than I was but he'd heard the "golden boy" stories about me and hoped that would help us get good cases. And we drink some more and I finally reach the point where I'm drunk enough to tell Lemana that I'm *nervous* about getting back in the field. Even drunk, I couldn't tell him that *nervous* really meant *scared shitless.* And he gives me this inebriated tirade about how everybody is nervous and getting back up on the horse after it throws you. And I'm grinning and agreeing and we're getting drunker and louder. Finally the bartender cuts us off and calls a cab and I manage to get into my apartment and fall down on the couch and sleep for six hours straight.

"I woke up the next day and actually felt pretty good. No hangover and six hours of real sleep. It had been weeks since that had happened. I stopped on my way home and bought a pint of scotch and had a couple of shots before I went to bed. Slept straight through again. I knew where this could lead and I really tried to keep it in control. Just a couple times a week. I've never needed much sleep but everybody needs some. I figured just a couple nights a week and I'd be okay. Never had more than a pint in the house at a time. No more three bottle benders. I don't know if I was stupid or desperate believing that I could keep a handle on it. I'd seen what the booze had done to my father and my own history should have told me something. But sometimes I just got so fucking tired."

"You must have known you needed help, Mulder." She pulled away from her warm cozy spot tucked under his chin to look into his eyes.

He nodded. "I knew. But sometimes you just get frozen with fear. Hell, in my mind I was famous for it. I was afraid to ask for help, Scully. Didn't even know how to start to ask for it. I thought about going to my doctor and seeing if I could get a prescription for sleeping pills. But I was afraid to do that because I didn't want to *need* them. It was like trading in booze for sleeping pills. And I was afraid to go to a shrink because he'd try to make me talk about things I just couldn't say out loud. At that time, I couldn't even think them. I was stuck."

"How long before drinking didn't work anymore?" As a doctor, she knew that his tolerance would have increased over time to a point where a couple of shots wouldn't get him to sleep.

"Quite a while, really. I was doing okay till I got transferred to Behavioral Sciences," he replied quickly. Then he thought about it and shook his head. "That's not true. I was drinking more and sleeping less, but I still thought I was doing okay. I got to work, I did the job. About a month after Lemana and I had our *talk* Reggie comes in and tells me I've been transferred to BSU with a promotion, working as a profiler. He said it was because of the Monty Props thing, that the higher ups said my talents would be used better there. And I wanted to believe him, but I always wondered if maybe Lemana had requested a new partner, or they wanted to keep me out of the field because they knew I hared out in the Barnett thing.

"But I was relieved, too. *I* wanted to be out of the field because I'd hared out on the Barnett thing. I'd just do profiles. Field agents would come to me. I wouldn't have a partner to be responsible for. Profilers work alone. That's how it works. I mean, there were a whole bunch of us up there on five. We worked in the same proximity but we didn't work together. So I profiled and it was like it was at the Academy. The Props thing wasn't an accident. I was good at it right away but being good at it came at a high price. It does to every profiler. Everybody brought us their monsters, the uncatchable ones who did unspeakable things. Bill Patterson used to say at the Academy that you had to get inside their heads. But that wasn't how it worked for me. I never felt like I was inside them. It was always like they were inside me. Their voices, their thoughts. And sometimes I couldn't get rid of them. Lots of times. I'd go to a crime scene and know things about a perp just because I could sometimes still hear echoes of him. I'd talk to victims and hear the perp's voice in their eyes."

"Hear the voice in the victims' eyes?" Scully looked at him, confused.

His brow furrowed and he nodded. "I've never told anyone about this," he whispered. "I don't know how else to describe it. The victims... the ones that survived the monsters and might be witnesses... I'd go to see them and that's where I learned that sometimes it's better not to survive the monsters. I'd go see the victims. Seemed like it was always in the hospital and they were in pain and they were absolutely terrified. Of everything. Especially the kids. Sometimes I'd go in and they'd give me these looks of complete and utter terror. Other times, whatever happened to them was so awful, so unbearable that they simply shut down. But I didn't need them to talk. I just needed to be with them for a few minutes, to see their eyes. And when I did, I knew things the perps had done, had said. I could hear their voices in the victims' eyes.

"But once I let the voices in, I couldn't get them out. I'd hear their thoughts constantly, all the time. I really didn't know that that wasn't the way it worked for the other profilers. But the only way to get the perp's voice out of my head was to catch him and start another case--let someone else's voice in. Start with new crime scenes, new victims. And sometimes the victims' voices would be there, too. Crying, screaming, begging for mercy. I learned quick in the game that I couldn't let them in, couldn't let them be people to me. Sometimes seeing them would feel like I was having my guts ripped out, and their voices, their cries, were to *me.* I'd leave them and sit in my car for a while, shaking and hearing their screams in my mind. Sometimes the screams would drown out the perp's voice and I'd miss something and he'd strike again because I hadn't been fast enough. I couldn't keep letting that happen. It was tearing me up inside. The victims had to stop being people to me and become tools. It was the only way I could help them, the only way I could stop the voices." He shifted Scully around on his lap. Thinking that her weight was becoming uncomfortable for him, she tried to move, but he just held her close. She was happy to stay.

"By this time, I could hardly sleep at all between the voices all day and the dreams all night. Two shots before bed wasn't making it anymore, not even seven or eight. I decided maybe some sleeping pills might help, but I knew my doctor wouldn't prescribe them without a lot of questions I couldn't deal with. So I went to this other doctor I heard about--one who didn't ask a lot of questions--and he kept pills right there on hand. Didn't even have to go to a pharmacist who'd ask a lot of questions. They seemed to help some and as long as I kept the cash coming, the doctor kept the pills coming."

"What were you taking?" she asked. *Doctors* working on the wrong side of the law weren't above passing off illegal substances they'd made themselves or seriously outdated versions of once-legal drugs that had been removed from the market.

"Didn't know, didn't care. They were little, they were blue and I they helped me sleep. After a while, though, one pill wasn't cutting it anymore. So I started taking two sometimes and I'd wake up the next day feeling like a steamroller had plowed over me during the night. I'd get to the office, feeling like shit, and when I got there I'd find six or seven pending files and agents from all over the country waiting to see me. All of them with some kind of "Spooky Mulder" line and all of them with some kind of maniac they couldn't get a handle on. So many of them, especially the old timers, thought of profilers as a step above tarot readers, but they were down to their last shot. Sometimes it felt like everybody wanted a piece of me and for every case I solved, there'd be ten more monsters waiting in the wings. I know the exact week I started back on cocaine again. Working eight pending cases, horrible sick mutilations, murders, serial rapists. All unrelated--eight separate cases and the brass wanted them solved and stopped like yesterday. I was working with eight different crime teams, barely sleeping, voices in my head all the time, and everyone from the Director down to ambitious SACs on my ass. I'm going to crime scenes, trying to talk to witnesses and victims. One day I was at three different crime scenes in three different states. Burning up my laptop on planes, then back to DC for debriefings and crime team meetings. After three straight days of this, Mike Warner takes me aside, says I look a little frazzled and that he has just the thing to fix me up."

Scully's brow knotted in concern. "Mike Warner? Didn't he...?"

Mulder nodded. "Committed suicide about three years ago. I bet if you did a historical analysis of profilers, you'd find they have a suicide rate right up there with air traffic controllers. If you don't get out, the monsters eventually get you. Like they did to Bill Patterson. Warner didn't get out in time."

"So Warner took you aside and gave you cocaine?" Scully asked softly, trying to keep her voice neutral and failing miserably.

"Don't blame Warner, Scully. He didn't shove it up my nose. He was there, he had it. But if it hadn't been him, I'm pretty sure I would have ended up there anyway. I was out of ways to cope. And I took back to it like a baby to a bottle. That first hit and I couldn't even remember why I'd stopped doing it. And suddenly, there was this clarity that just hadn't been there. I was alert and everything made sense. Went back in and wrote up my profiles. Solved six of the cases over the next four days--exactly the wrong thing to have happen at that point. If I had screwed up the cases, I might have blamed the drugs and maybe gotten some help. The way it was, I credited the cocaine for my success. And I was golden at that point in time. Commendations out the ass. Sleeping pills got me through the night, cocaine got me going in the morning and kept the voices in line. I'd go out with some of the other guys sometimes for drinks, maybe a few hits off a joint. Hell, everybody wanted to be around ol' Spooky." He gave a bitter, caustic chuckle.

"And more people wanted a piece of me. More and more agents insisted that only I could work on their cases with them. Even the other profilers would bring me the ones they got stumped on, which surprised me because that was a matter of pride. To admit there were psychos they couldn't profile... It just wasn't done. So everybody's coming at me with files in their hands and monsters in their closets. And nobody seems to notice that Spooky is getting spookier. All the signs were there. Dragging my ass in in the mornings, sudden boosts of energy after coming out of the bathroom, shakes because I couldn't seem to get warm. And nobody seemed to notice. Nobody except Lemana."

"Lemana?" Scully repeated.

"Yeah. A couple of months after my "big week" as the boys in the BSU were calling it, Jerry Lemana came by to see me. By that time, he'd already had the incident with the missing evidence that ruined his career and he was doing scut work out of the DC field office. You know, background checks, wiretap surveillance, errand boy."

She snorted. "The kind of stuff they give you when they're hoping you'll quit. Yeah, I'm vaguely familiar with it." That earned her the briefest of smiles from him and for even that she was grateful.

"So he stops by," Mulder continued. "And I'm up to my ears in case files, as usual. He takes one look at me and physically drags me away to go have lunch with him. We get to this diner and I'm trying to choke down a hamburger. Cocaine doesn't do much for your appetite and I'm trying to convince him that there's nothing wrong with me. But it isn't working because Lemana is right on me. He can see I'm using and using big time. And there was nothing gentle about how he confronted me about it. I believe he called me a shit-for-brains with my head up my ass and that I better get some help before it killed me. And I unceremoniously invited him to get the fuck out of my life and get back to the urgent Bureau matters he had been assigned to. I accused him of being jealous of me because he had screwed up so bad."

"Jesus, Mulder." Scully's tone was hushed and solemn. Try as she might, she could not imagine Mulder's voice wrapped around those words. The man he was describing was a stranger to her. Not her Mulder, whose empathy for the victims in the crimes they investigated moved and even frightened her, for it was sometimes too deep. Not her Mulder, who--she knew--saw their partnership as a sustaining thing in his life, despite problems they'd had during the course of it.

"I told you I was an asshole," he said, his voice strained with shame. "Christ, Scully, he was my partner. I still thought of him that way. He was the only partner I'd ever had and I treated him like shit. The evidence thing wasn't even his fault, and a judge got killed because of it and I had to rub it in that his career was in ruins."

Scully nodded in understanding. "That's why you didn't say anything when he stole your profile and passed off your ideas as his."

"Yeah," he said with a sigh. "I owed him at least that much. After I finished yelling at him, he just stood up and told me I knew where I could find him if I wanted help. Then he paid for lunch--both lunches--and left. Hell, I'd gotten two promotions and three raises since I'd worked with Lemana and he paid for lunch. After he left I thought about what I'd said and it literally made me sick. I barely made it to the alley behind the diner before puking my guts out. But once my stomach settled down, it was disgustingly easy to convince myself that he was full of shit. I didn't need any help. I was the top Bureau profiler and I had a handle on things. I never saw Lemana again until he came looking for my help on the Wilczyk case. The case where he got killed."

"Mulder, even you can't blame yourself for that one," Scully said softly. "There was no way that was your fault."

"No, it wasn't," he agreed. "Just the final example of Jerry Lemana's piss-poor luck. He didn't deserve the things that happened to him. He was a good man and he tried to be a good friend. Unfortunately, I wasn't ready to have or be a friend in return. Especially to someone who thought I should give up the only thing keeping me going." He sighed deeply and Scully watched his Adam's apple bob as he tried to swallow past the lump in his throat.

"So whenever things got slow enough in BSU, some of us would go out after work--Mike Warner, Ricky Ramirez, a couple of the other guys. Club crawling, looking for women. Though I gotta admit, I wasn't looking too hard. A two-year bout of Phoebe Green, combined with an almost nonexistent self-image and a burgeoning drug habit didn't do a hell of a lot for my libido. But I went, I got lucky occasionally, though most of the time I could barely remember the women's names by the end of the evening. Hell, at that point I would have considered it getting lucky if I could have a decent conversation with a woman who didn't want to show me crime scene photos. Anyway, that's how I met Diana. It was winter, late November of 1988, right around Thanksgiving."

"Hold it," Scully interrupted. "The Gunmen told me you'd dated her after you got out of the Academy."

He laughed. "I don't remember ever telling the guys how I met Diana. Wonder how they came up with that one?" He hesitated, looking at her curiously. "When did you ask them about her?"

*Shit, busted,* she thought, remembering that she hadn't told him about her initial conversation with Frohike, Byers and Langley. "When she first came back," Scully admitted. "I had some stuff on Gibson that I wanted them to look at, and I asked them if they knew Diana. Frohike told me she used to be your *chickadee* when you graduated from the Academy, that she was around when you discovered the X-Files. I shouldn't have gone behind your back, but I didn't feel like I could ask you about her. Things were pretty shaky between us then. And suddenly she just appears out of nowhere..."

"Wait, sweetheart," he interrupted her and she looked at him amazed at the endearment. "You don't have anything to apologize for. Believe me, I know how things were between us and I don't blame you for going to the guys to find out things that you needed to know. I should have told you then what I'm telling you now. Hell, even before that. I'm the one who should be apologizing." He shook his head and lowered his eyes, ashamed to look at her.

But Scully was having none of that. Pressing two fingers beneath his chin she raised his face to make him look at her again. "So tell me now." He nodded and she prompted him to continue. "So you met Diana in a club..."

"Yeah, some dance club downtown. Loud music, watered down drinks. One of those places where the tables are about a foot in diameter and they expect you to seat eight at the table. The other guys had scoped out their targets for the night and were on the dance floor and I was sitting there wondering if they'd even notice if I left. I was down to my last two cigarettes and didn't have any change for the machine and I was just plain tired--physically tired, tired of the whole tired club scene."

"You used to smoke?" Scully asked, surprised.

"Sure," he replied. "It was just part of the whole abuse my body thing. Guess I could have skipped the cigarettes and just breathed the air in those clubs. Smoky as hell, but I think they meant it to be part of the ambience. So anyway, I'm just about to leave when Diana comes up to the table, cigarette in hand, looking for a light. God, I must have been stoned not to see how cliche *that* was. But I lit hers and the second to the last of mine and waved to her to sit down. We both do the dance club screaming introduction thing and I signal to the waitress to bring us another couple of drinks and we sip them and lie to each other about how we never go to places like that. Yadda yadda. She was pretty and had a nice smile, so I asked her to dance. We did that for a while, then she looks at her watch and says she has to go, but gives me her number and tells me to give her a call if I ever feel like going someplace quieter. Then she was gone and I left shortly after that.

"Couple of days later, the guys are planning to go out, but I just couldn't face it again and I wussed out on them. But I didn't want to go home either, so I ended up calling Diana and she agreed to meet me at a bar in Forest Heights. Quiet, just like she asked for. It was one of those places where they have little furniture arrangements meant to seem like living rooms or something. A post-fern bar fern bar. So we sat there and had a few drinks and actually talked. The lighting in there was different and I could see that she was a few years older than I was--probably five or so--but that didn't matter. She was smart and funny and actually seemed to want to have a decent conversation without showing me any crime scene photos. She told me she was in the middle of getting her Ph.D. in conventional psychology, but she was just using that to get her into doors where they wouldn't normally let her in so that she could continue her research in parapsychology. Amazingly enough, I wasn't so stoned that I just laughed in her face about the parapsychology and the fact that a seemingly intelligent woman would be taken in by that kind of bullshit."

"You're so skeptical, Mulder," Scully kidded him. "No wonder the Stupendous Yappi kicked you out when he was investigating."

He smiled back at her, and she was relieved to see that it was genuine and unforced. "I was then. But I listened and didn't make fun of her, even though I think she knew I was dying to. But we talked about a lot of things for a long time. She was charming and well-spoken, we'd read a lot of the same psychology stuff, and I only made one trip to the bathroom for a quick hit of coke, which was pretty good for me at the time. So we talked for a long time and when it was time to leave, she said she lived in the neighborhood and had walked over and I walked her home."

She interrupted him. "I think we can skip the next part, Mulder." She could do without details of their sex life, thank you very much.

He nodded, understanding. "We started seeing each other regularly. Work kept up at its usual insane pace and a lot of the time I wasn't very pleasant company, but she never seemed upset by it. Just sat quietly and waited for me to talk about it which, being me, didn't happen. But still, I appreciated what she was doing. She became like this little island of normalcy in my life. I was still doing drugs, but never around her and I was pretty sure I was covering myself okay in that area.

"After we'd been seeing each other for a couple of months, I had to go out of town for a week or so on a horrific case I'd been assigned to. Serial murderer of teenagers--both boys and girls--but he'd torture them first. Make little tiny cuts all over their bodies with razor blades, then pour household cleaners, disinfectants, over the cuts. Trying to purify them. He'd do it for days, opening old cuts and adding new ones. None of the cuts were fatal in themselves but eventually he'd do so many that they'd just bleed to death. Fourteen in three midwest states. Eventually we caught a break and found one girl before she died. It was awful. I was awake for days, a madman's voice in my head, and the victims screaming for mercy. For justice. We got him eventually but I felt like I'd been through the wringer. Worse than usual. Got back to DC and forgot that I was supposed to meet Diana at this bar I usually went to after work. I don't know if I got the days mixed up or just plain forgot, but I was in the back room with the other *regulars* and just fixing a line of coke on the table when Diana walked in. Ned, the bartender, just sent her back there when she'd asked if he'd seen me. He didn't know that she didn't know. Guess he figured that anybody going out with me would have to know about the volume I consumed. So Diana walks into the back room, and I'm sitting there about to put a fast food straw up my nose when I see her out of the corner of my eye. And she was livid. I didn't even know she had that kind of anger in her. She comes up to the table and sweeps the whole pile of coke onto the floor--two hundred dollars worth--smacks me across the face and turns on her heels and leaves the bar. I ran after her, I think maybe to yell at her for dumping my coke. And she let me have it--verbally this time--and said it wasn't fair to expect someone else to care for me when I didn't care for myself."

His voice dropped to a tone barely above a whisper. "Her words just stopped me short. I realized that I'd never--not since I was twelve years old--expected anyone to care for me. And I realized I *wanted* someone to care for me, wanted it so badly I could barely breathe. Right there before me was an attractive, bright woman who, for some reason, wanted to care for me. And she would if I would just let her. All I had to do was ask. I knew what the alternative was. My body and my head couldn't stand to live the way I was for much longer. So I asked if she would help me and she did. She drove me back to my place and had me call in sick for the next day. While I was doing that, she went through the apartment and dumped everything--the booze, the sleeping pills, the coke, even the two lowly joints I kept in the back of my desk drawer. Cleaned out my stash and sent me to bed alone. Said she couldn't have that kind of relationship with me until she was sure I was serious about changing my life. The next day, she had me call Blevins before the shakes got too bad and arrange for a leave of absence, at least two weeks. He was pissed, but I told him I needed some time off and it was either that or I had to quit. So he approved it, grudgingly. And the next ten days or so were sheer hell, just working the drugs out of my system. My head felt like there was a jackhammer working on my skull twenty-four hours a day. She'd try to make me eat or drink and I'd puke, then she'd try again later. Once I started keeping stuff down, she'd make me go for walks with her around the neighborhood. It was January and cold as hell, and I already couldn't get warm even in the house. And the dreams were starting to seep back in. After five or six days, she made me start going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, NA. At first, she'd drive me there and wait in the car till the meeting was over to make sure I actually went in. Till I got used to it, till I went on my own."

"You went to NA?" This surprised Scully as she didn't see Mulder as the type to spill his guts in a group setting.

"I still do," he replied. "A couple times a month. More if I'm feeling stressed about something. I'm an addict, Scully. I will be my whole life. It doesn't just go away, you know that. It's like alcoholism."

"That's where you kept disappearing to when we got assigned under Kersh. NA meetings."

He nodded. "It was the only way I could keep it all together. I was so angry I could barely see straight. And so scared. We were so close to finding out what was going on, and they took away our access to the truth."

Scully looked up at him in sudden understanding. "That's why you won't take the painkillers the doctors try to give you when you get injured."

He nodded. "It would be so easy to fall back into it. I've been clean for ten years and it still scares me sometimes. It's so fucking seductive, when you start, when you go back to it... No, when *I* went back to it, I always felt like I could handle it, could keep it under control. But I couldn't, I can't, so I always have to be aware of it. I have to control it so it doesn't control me."

She felt a sudden chill at his story, the impact of it starting to make itself known to her. Would she have been able to tell him all of these things if they had happened to her? Would she even still be here if all of those things had happened to her? She couldn't conceive a life like the one he'd led. And suddenly, so much made sense to her. She could almost fill in the blanks to his story from here. He'd fallen in love with the strong and lovely Diana, married her, found his life's work with her, then she left him, breaking his heart. And then she came back and he wasn't sure how he felt about her. He didn't have to go on with this.

"I think I understand, Mulder."


"About you and Diana," she said. "I mean, the love of your life, who you thought was gone, comes back..."

His brow knitted in momentary confusion, then he shook his head, placing his fingers gently across her lips. "No, that's not it. Diana helped me so much, I never doubted that she saved my life. But she wasn't the love of my life, and that was a big part of our problem. Maybe she could have been if I'd known the first thing about love at that point in time, and she'd really been who she pretended to be. But the point is, I didn't know anything about love. I hadn't had a single solid example of it in my whole life. Not how to give it, not how to accept it. But I seemed to know instinctually how to take it. And that's what I did. Not out of meanness or a desire to be cruel, but just out of... I don't know... need, I guess. Not knowing any better, maybe" He seemed disconcerted by his inability to explain his feelings then.

"Maybe I don't understand," Scully said.

"There's still more to explain," he replied. "Okay, so I'm on leave in serious detox mode and sometimes going to three NA meetings a day just to hang on. Diana's got classes and stuff. She was trying to get her Ph.D., and she was skipping all the classes she could but she had to go to some of them. I told her not to worry about me, to go to class, but the truth was, I was scared to be alone, scared I wasn't going to be able to make it out one more time but I never told her. So she went to classes, I went to meetings. We'd spend evenings and nights together. Eventually my two-week leave was over and they were chompin' at the bit to get me back, because there was a huge caseload backlog going on. When a profiler is out, there's nobody to fill in because it's not something just anyone can walk in and do. So I decide against asking for another week and go back after two weeks. Big mistake. One of the things I learned at NA, or was supposed to have learned, was if you take drugs as a reaction to stress or frustration, do everything in your power to eliminate the source of the stress or frustration. I should have resigned, found another job. I've often wondered what would have happened if I would have, but I guess it doesn't do any good to wonder because I didn't do it.

"I thought about it, though. I talked to Diana about it. She asked if the job was something I thought was fulfilling and the answer, honestly, was yes. She said it was an important job to do, if I thought I could, and it was. It was important. I remember the night we talked about it. Just on a whim, she asked if she could run a test of psychic ability on me and I said okay. We did the one with the symbols on the cards and she said I scored a very high normal--highly intuitive but not psychic. She said that was probably what made me so good at what I did and that not many people would have the ability to do it. So if I found it fulfilling and was good at it, maybe I could find a way to channel the stress and frustration. She sounded perfectly reasonable and convincing to me then. Except if I'd have thought about it, just from a professional standpoint, no psychologist would have talked someone in the condition I was in then into going back to work--especially the work I did."

He ran the fingers of one hand through his hair, grabbing a fistful at the top of his head and giving it a small tug. "I wish I'd have told you this a long time ago. Not just because I should have, but because if I'd told you before I knew what I know now, I might not have felt like such an ass."

His voice was tight, full of self-recrimination and while it tore at Scully's heart, she couldn't contradict him. He *should* have told her.

But he didn't seem to expect reassurance from her as he continued. "So I went back to work, slipped right back into it. Nobody said anything about the fact that I was gone for two weeks or that I looked like I'd spent them in a concentration camp. I just got back to it. At first, I tried to make myself go slower, easier, but it just didn't work. There was too much to do and it was still the same. Their voices in my head all the time. Till I found what would catch them, stop them from what they were doing. Then that voice would go and I'd get more cases and it just kept on and on. And without the drugs, they were so much more intense and sometimes... sometimes there were other voices, too, not just the perps'. Sometimes I'd be working, concentrating on something, and I'd hear what sounded like one of the other guys. Then when I'd look up, they'd be busy, too, not even looking at me. Sometimes it happened with Diana, too. But the things I'd hear them say didn't make sense, they were things I didn't think they would say."

His voice dropped to a whisper. "Sometimes I was certain I was going insane."

She pulled away to look at his face, tired and anguished in the moonlight. He'd been talking for hours and the moon had changed positions in the sky. "And still you didn't get professional help, Mulder?"

"No," he said, shaking his head. "It was... I don't know how to say this. The voices... sometimes they were so loud and there were so many, I could hardly stand it. But...but they weren't telling me to do horrible things--shoot up a post office or take hostages. They were there and they helped me *stop* people from doing horrible things. Scully, my solve rate at that time was running just under ninety-five percent and it would have been higher but a some of the bad guys offed themselves when they realized they were close to busted, so I didn't take credit for the arrests. I found ninety-five percent of all the slimeball psychos they sent me after. So even though I could hardly stand it, it was like a gift, too, in a way. And it..." He hesitated.

"What?" she asked, wondering what his uncertainty could have been about after all he told her.

He closed his eyes tightly, his brow knitted in concentration. "I don't know... I just... I knew most people didn't hear voices. Good or bad, hearing voices was not a good sign. But I'd only been clean for a couple of months and I just wanted... My life had been so screwed up for so long. I just wanted a little bit of time where... Diana and I had been getting closer and she started talking about maybe getting married." He looked at her intensely, wanting desperately to make her understand what he had been feeling then and not knowing if he could do it because he wasn't sure he understood it himself now. And he definitely hadn't understood it then.

"Do you remember when we were driving to Roswell and you asked me if I ever just wanted a *normal* life?" he asked softly.

"Yes," she answered, just as quietly.

"Back then," he said. "At that point in time, I wanted a normal life more than anything in the whole world. I hadn't had anything close to that since Samantha was taken, and I wasn't sure it was all that normal before she was gone. I wanted a normal life, I craved it. I wanted it so badly I was willing to substitute gratitude in the place of love. I was willing to believe gratitude *was* love. Scully, it was like... I thought... For the first time I could actually see a way to make my life normal. If I could just hold it together, I had a job that I was good at, really good. If I could just hold it together, I could have a *career.* I was almost twenty-eight then and well on the way. Diana wanted to get married. She'd been there for me through the whole thing--supportive, caring, but tough when she needed to be. It was good to have her in my life. At the time, I thought that that surely must have been love. I mean, why wouldn't I love an attractive woman who'd done as much for me as Diana had? I had no idea what love really felt like. I'd gone over half my life without it. I figured what I felt for Diana was good, so it must be love. It was a long, long time before I found out how wrong I was, before I found out what love feels like." He cupped her cheek gently and she pressed her forehead against his.

"So we got married. It was early April, April seventh. We went to a Justice of the Peace. Nobody from my family, nobody from work. It was just the two of us. Hell, I didn't even know if she had family. I didn't find out about her family till I was in the hospital. Diana was there all the time while I was locked up. I heard her thoughts constantly and found out everything. And believe me, it's suitably ironic. But I didn't know then.

"So there I had it. A wife and a successful career--the life of a *normal* twenty-seven year old man. I was a normal twenty-seven year old man who didn't tell anyone I worked with that I'd gotten married. A normal twenty-seven year old man who had the voices of maniacs and madmen in my head and night terrors so severe that I rarely slept more than two hours at a time. Diana never said anything about the nightmares, so I figured she was just one of those lucky people who could sleep soundly. And since she didn't say anything, I didn't say anything." Mulder shook his head sadly.

"About a month later, they gave me a file on a woman named Susanne Modeski. Just the fact that she was a woman was strange enough. You know for yourself what a small percentage of violent crimes is committed by women. Anyway, the file said she was a chemist at an Army research facility in Whitestone, New Mexico and that she'd blown up a lab there, killing four people, and escaping with top secret information about chemical weapons, probably with the intent to sell it on the international terrorist black market. She was supposed to be headed to the Baltimore area and they wanted me to find her."

Scully nodded. "Byers told me all about it a couple of months ago. When they lured me to Las Vegas under false pretenses."

"You never really told me about that," he said, looking at her curiously.

She shifted uncomfortably in his lap. "I will," she said simply. "Some other time." She really didn't want to get into the fact that there was something strange about those days--a big period of time that she just didn't recall.

"Byers told you about the ergotamine-histamine gas I was exposed to?"

Scully nodded. She wanted to tell him about the drops found on the pillowcase from his bed, but she also didn't want the conversation to digress. She wanted to know about then. There would be time later for later events.

"You know what the effects of that would be," Mulder said and she nodded again. "The gas was stored at a warehouse I followed the guys to. I'd met them earlier at an electronics convention where I'd been told Susanne Modeski would show up. I flashed their picture and the guys said they hadn't seen her. But I knew they were lying."

"You *heard* it, didn't you?" Scully asked.

"Yeah," he admitted. "It was just a matter of following them and getting into the warehouse first. Anyway, there was a lot of shooting and I jumped behind these boxes of supposed asthma inhalers that were really filled with the gas. It sprayed all over me. I breathed it in, lots got into my mouth. The next real thing I remember, I woke up in a hospital in Baltimore in full restraint with a plainclothes detective from Baltimore PD standing at my bedside. When I finally was able to convince them of who I was and the fact that I was *okay,* they let me go. I got back to HQ to talk to Reggie about the status of the case and he told me Susanne Modeski was still missing but that the case was now closed. She was missing, but suddenly she wasn't a fugitive murderer and seller of government secrets. She was just gone. I went back to the warehouse and it was all cleaned out, but I remembered what I saw there."

"What you saw," she repeated, not understanding.

"I was sort of semi-conscious when the *clean-up* crew got there. They were grays, Scully. I saw EBEs."

"Mulder, with an ergotamine-based drug in the kind of dose you got... It would have been very unusual for you not to be hallucinating."

"No, no, no." He shook his head, searching for a way to explain. "I knew they were hallucinations--not when they were going on, but later. I knew that what I was remembering was a hallucination. But, it was like... It felt like it had happened before. Like the hallucination touched on an earlier memory, but I couldn't put my finger on it. And I couldn't get it out of my head. And I thought about Susanne Modeski, about why they would close a file when it wasn't resolved. The only thing I could think to do was try and find those guys. So I went back to the convention center and they were all there, huddled together and you could see they'd had the shit scared out of them. They told me everything she'd told them about the chemical weapons being developed and how she'd just been trying to get away. And that she'd told them to find the truth and get it to the people just before she was taken away. And when I heard their story, I knew I'd been used. They used me to track her down so they could get her back into their *corral,* so they could use her to develop things they were bound by treaty not to develop. They used me, they used Susanne, and I started to wonder who else they were using and for what purposes.

"I went back to DC and told Diana about what had happened. I didn't tell her about the hallucination about the grays, though. It was nuts. Who'd believe something like that? It wasn't *normal.* And normal was still the big goal. I went back to my regular duties, but with every case I started to wonder in the back of my mind if they were having me track down someone else for them to eliminate. And I started hearing from the Gunmen, who were getting more and more heavily involved in tracking down government conspiracies. They'd call me to meet with them with some strange information they wanted me to see if I could get a handle on. I figured, what the hell, they were basically harmless, so I started looking into the rumors and things they'd heard. I did it in my spare time--after work, weekends, stuff like that. And I was finding out that a lot of what they'd heard and suspected was true. Byers resigned from the FCC. Frohike and Langley had some money saved up from selling pirate cable signal stealers and they got together to publish *The Lone Gunman* and the rest is history." He gave her a smile of fondness for their friends.

"Meantime, I'm working hard at profiling, voices and all. But it seemed like I was getting a handle on the voices, like I could use them just when I needed to. So my caseload was, of course, overwhelming. It was that way for all the profilers and in every minute of spare time, I was running down stuff for the guys. What I was really hoping to do was exhaust myself in the hopes that I could finally get some sleep. The nightmares were escalating with every night that passed. It finally got to a point where Diana was complaining about them. But I couldn't talk to her about them because I still didn't remember what they were. She told me I'd be crying out for Samantha in my sleep, and I hadn't even told her that much about my sister. I still had no conscious memory of that night and I never had shaken the fear that I might have done something to her--something so terrible that my mind simply refused to accept it and that's why I couldn't remember it."

"Mulder, you had to have known that you didn't, couldn't have done it."

"I wanted to believe that but I didn't know for sure, I couldn't remember and it was ruining my life. Had ruined my life. She said that if I really wanted to remember, she knew someone who might be able to help me, if I was willing to try it. She knew of a doctor, Heitz Werber, who specialized in regression hypnotherapy to recall repressed memories. I agreed just because I didn't have any other ideas. And if something didn't give, I had the feeling I was going to be spending more time in restraints. I almost never slept, and people just can't live like that. But I was scared, too. Did I really want to know something that was so terrible that my mind had blocked it out completely? But I couldn't *not* know anymore, either. So I agreed to try it.

"We had a couple of preliminary sessions that I don't remember too clearly, but he said I was blocking and that we needed more intense therapy than what he could do for an hour in the office. He wanted me to check into a small clinic he ran for a week of daily sessions. The nightmares had intensified since we'd started the preliminary sessions and Werber said that wasn't unusual since we'd stirred things up, but that they would keep getting worse if I didn't remember what happened. The nightmares getting worse was not an option. Diana said she thought that I should do it. So I arranged for a two-week vacation and checked into the clinic. I was scared and Diana was there supporting me and after the therapy, I remembered that Samantha was taken by the grays. That's why I had hallucinated them in the warehouse. She was taken and one of them had told me she would be all right. That she'd be returned one day."

Scully nodded. Mulder had allowed her to listen to that tape a few months after they'd started working together--the tape from June 16, 1989. A lump formed in her throat as she remembered the tone of his voice on that tape--young, childlike, afraid. No, not just afraid, terrified. But somehow hopeful, too. *I want to believe.*

"I remembered," he said quietly. "You can't imagine what it felt like finally to know that I hadn't hurt Samantha. To actually be able to say I didn't kill her, even if just to myself. I'd wanted to believe that for so long, but I could never be sure. It was such a relief, it was almost like a physical weight was removed from my chest. One that was there for so long it felt like a part of me. I was so relieved, so fucking grateful to Werber and Diana for that. Diana helped me get my life back, Scully."

No wonder he couldn't believe that Diana could possibly be working against him. She'd helped him kick his drug habit and recover the memory of an event that had haunted him almost his whole life. Until he'd understood her betrayal, he would have seen her actions as devotion to him, as love. The only love he'd known since childhood.

"But it wasn't long before I realized that even with remembering, I wasn't much better off than I had been. How could I go to my parents and tell them that I remembered Samantha being taken away by aliens? How could I expect them to believe that? How could I believe that? Yet once it was unlocked, the memory was clear and detailed. It had to be true because I saw it happen. But who could I tell? Neither one of them, Dr. Werber or Diana, was very surprised, though. Werber said he'd had patients who recalled abduction experiences during regression hypnotherapy. Diana said that she had encountered abductees during her paranormal studies. She said that even though I was skeptical, there were literally thousands of people claimed to have been abducted by beings from other planets and that many of them were respected people whose stories could not be disproved. But still, how could I tell my parents?

"I went back home, still not knowing what I was going to do. The nightmares were gone. I was sleeping better, but not great because I didn't know what to do. The only answer I came up with was to try and find her. If I could find her, everyone would be so glad to see her they wouldn't care about the hows and the whys. I didn't have the first idea how I was going to do that, but I had to find a way. If I could just find her, I could fix everything."

"So they'd forgive you." Scully's voice was laced with pain.

He nodded and his eyes filled briefly with tears that he managed to blink back. "And maybe I could forgive myself. I had to find a way to get her back for us.

"I went back to work the next week. My vacation was up and I was no closer to the answer. I started working the cases again like before--going to crime scenes, talking to witnesses and victims--but something was wrong. I couldn't do it like before. I chalked it up to being distracted about Samantha, but it wasn't working right."

"The voices were gone?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said wearily. "But not just that, the memory of the voices was gone. This is so strange, Scully, but I didn't remember about the voices till I was in the hospital. When I found out from Diana that they'd destroyed--or thought they'd destroyed--the God module. Like my father thought he'd done when I was hospitalized after Samantha was taken. But I didn't know that then, I just knew that something was different. I still did profiles. I was a good profiler, but it wasn't a desperation thing anymore. I still worked the crime scenes, still had intuitions and hunches that seemed to come out of nowhere, but I wasn't fighting to get voices out of my head because they weren't there anymore and I didn't remember that they ever had been. My solve rate dropped to about eighty percent, which was still way above average. But I just wasn't driven anymore.

"Instead, I became driven with finding a way to get Samantha back. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding alien abduction. I asked Dr. Werber if I could talk to some of his patients, but he wouldn't let me. Violation of patient confidentiality. I talked to the guys about it and they said they were running into a lot of UFO people in their investigations. They put me in touch with all the standard organizations we've come to know and love so well--MUFON, NICAP, SITU, UFOCCI. I'd find things out and have the guys run them down, and in exchange, I'd use whatever government access I had to run down their rumors. It was a match made in heaven.

"Unfortunately, that and my job took up all my time. Diana told me she knew how important it was to me and volunteered to help out just so we could spend some time together. She was done with her studies and was just waiting for her degree to be granted. I told her about the guys and that I wanted her to meet them so they could show her how to find out some of the stuff they did. She said it would probably be better if they didn't know we were married. They might tell her things they wouldn't necessarily tell her if they knew she was my wife. I didn't know the guys very well at that point, so I trusted her instinct on it and we didn't say anything about being married. What the hell? I hadn't told anyone at the Bureau that I'd gotten married. So we all started digging around in a lot of different areas--abductee accounts, UFO accounts, rumors of weapons development, technological and medical advances. They were digging, I was talking to anyone I could whenever work didn't get in the way. Evenings, weekends. I worked and I looked for Samantha. Diana and I didn't even get to spend that much more time together because I was always running down leads, staying what always seemed one step behind shadowy informants. Lots of dead ends and hoaxes and getting my ass kicked. I seemed to have a knack for pissing people off. But sometimes we'd hit on something that was--or at least seemed--real, legitimate. And I'd get my ass kicked and warned on those. The day my wife received her Ph.D., I was in a hospital with a separated shoulder and a broken jaw because I got mugged in an alley waiting for someone to get to me with information."

He reached for what was left of his orange juice and handed Scully her glass so she could finish what remained. "I talked to people with convincing stories who told me they'd been investigated by people from the Air Force, the CIA, the FBI, but that nobody had followed up after the initial visits. Men had come to talk to them, sometimes taking away things those people had as evidence. Then they'd never hear from them again. I started checking some of those stories against the FBI database. The names never showed up when I did computer searches. I couldn't think of any plausible reason that all of those people would have lied to me. Some of them, sure. You know we tend to find the nut cases. But not all of them. So if they were investigated, where were the reports? There had to be paper on these things somewhere. So on a whim, I decided to make the acquaintance of Debbie, the custodian of the hard copy files, records clerk extraordinaire."

"Debbie," Scully said. "I don't believe I know her. Do you still have her acquaintance?" A contact in records would be a good thing, but she wasn't certain she liked the idea of an acquaintance with somebody named Debbie.

"Yeah," he admitted. "I still take her to dinner once a month or so."

Scully realized with somewhat of a start that she didn't know much of what Mulder did when he wasn't with her. "You take her to dinner?"

He smiled at her. "Yeah, usually to a really nice place. I get a deal on her meal because of her senior discount. Debbie retired from the Bureau in 1990. She was counting down the days when I met her. It took some sweet-talking and cajoling, but every now and then I could talk her into running down a hard copy file in an *unofficial* capacity. I was running into a lot of files that seemed to be buried. Nothing electronic on them at all. I couldn't take the files out and didn't have much time with them, but even a quick read-through showed that the investigations had been handled sloppily, if they were even conducted at all. I started taking pictures of the pages whenever Debbie wasn't hovering right over me. I didn't want her to get into trouble that close to her retirement. Then I'd bring the film back to the Gunmen to process and they and Diana would start looking for any background they could get and I would ride their asses from the time I gave them the stuff. I was unbearable, needed everything yesterday.

"I kept working my regular hours, did everything I was supposed to, did my profiles, caught the bad guys. But my heart wasn't in it. My mind was pretty much always on the search for Samantha. I needed the job to live. Diana was doing consulting work in the paranormal--running psi testing, assisting with research. But that was whenever it happened. It was my check we were living off of mostly. I had a small trust fund from my father's mother, but I mostly used that to cover the expenses of our outside activities. So I had to be careful and not let my search for Sam jeopardize my job. But every waking minute outside of it was spent looking. Diana decided that as long as she was spending so much time with FBI files, she might as well join the Bureau. That way we would both have inside access.

"During that time, I also ran into Senator Matheson on my way to lunch one day. I hadn't seen him since my father's retirement party and he took me to lunch. Started having lunch with him every other week or so. We'd gotten along really well at the party--talked for a long time. My father had told him I'd joined the Bureau and was making a name for myself. He asked what if I was working on anything interesting and I found myself telling him about some of the files I'd run across. At the time he was on both the Senate Appropriations and Intelligence committees and he seemed to be surprised about the existence of these files. That was also around the time I first met Arthur Dales. The one who lives in Florida."

"I remember," she said looking at him strangely. She didn't know, Mulder hadn't told her about the other Arthur Dales, or the sister Arthur Dales. Or the goldfish.

"He told me about the X-Files. I mean, I knew about them, that they were unsolved cases. But Dales told me that they weren't unsolved cases, they were cases that were *designated* unsolved. It wasn't too long after that that I got a call from Debbie, saying it was her last day and she was sending me a little something to remember her by. A little while later, these guys from maintenance bring up two big file cabinets on dollies and hand me an envelope with keys and a note from Debbie saying she'd deny she ever met me if it got out that she'd sent me the files. I didn't know what the hell to do with them. I just had a little cubicle in the fifth floor bullpen. No place to put those cabinets. Then I remembered the copy room in the basement. There was a little alcove and I figured I could stash the cabinets there and just keep the keys with me. Nobody'd even notice that they were there. So I did and they didn't. That was toward the end of the year.

"Diana was entering the January class at Quantico right after the holidays. So while she was gone, I had a lot of time and started going over the files. I'd just do my job all day and when it was time to leave, I'd go down to the basement instead of home. Nobody ever used that copy room much. I mean, it was in the basement. Inconvenient as hell. So I was down there most of the time by myself looking through the files. Man, I'd never seen anything like what I saw in those files. Pretty soon I thought I needed just a little workspace and I brought in a small table and chair. Nobody seemed to notice that, either. Even when I had to move the shelving unit with the copier supplies into the hallway. I had collected a lot of information through Diana and the guys, too, and I started to realize I needed to have all that stuff together so I could cross-reference things. Since the files were FBI property, I couldn't move them to my place, so I moved in another cabinet with my stuff. Things were getting pretty crowded and I really did need to have a real desk, so I moved the copier out into the hallway next to the supply shelf. Then I changed the lock on the door. And still nobody said anything. I guess they had some kind of reorganization or something because one day I came in and the photocopy stuff was gone. Never saw it again and nobody brought up the fact that I had a whole bunch of stuff in a room that only I had a key for."

Scully's mouth dropped open in surprise. "You mean you stole the X-Files office?"

"I prefer *comandeered.*" He grinned at her wickedly.

"All this time and it wasn't your office either?"

He shrugged. "Well, I was never officially assigned there. But it was a tacit agreement thing, I think."

She pulled away and sat beside him, still in the crook of his arm, but no longer on his lap. "I got a psychosis-inducing tattoo and a one-night stand with a homicidal maniac over a *tacit agreement thing*? Over your possessiveness of something that wasn't even really yours?"

Mulder winced at the memory of that horrible time that just led into more horrible times. The office--*his* office--had been a sensitive spot between them that seemed silly and asinine to him now. But at the time, and even now, he didn't fully understand what the tattoo episode was supposed to have meant. "I'll admit to being a self-centered asshole, Scully. Then and now, I guess, because I still don't get what that was all about. How could a nameplate and a desk have led to that?"

She exhaled a sharp breath through her nose, her lips pressed together in consternation. "I tried to tell you then, but you wouldn't listen. I felt like you weren't listening a lot of the time."

He shook his head. "Not fair," he replied, slight indignation coloring his tone. "You decide to start spilling your guts when I've got forty-five minutes to get to the airport to take a vacation that was forced on me?"

"They can't force you to take vacations, Mulder," she shot back.

"Skinner can. He called me into his office and said he'd noticed a lot strain between you and me. He gave me a choice. Either a vacation or one of us was going to be temporarily reassigned. The bitch of the whole thing was that I knew he was right and I got to thinking that maybe if we were reassigned, even temporarily, you'd decide not to come back. And since that alternative was completely unacceptable, I took the forced vacation. I had to take it.

"But Scully, if you'd been feeling like that for a long time, why didn't you say something earlier? You could have said something even the night before instead of just wandering off. I know I said stupid, hurtful things to you but I was feeling distinctly ambushed right then. Why did you wait until I was walking out the door?" he asked.

"Would you have listened then either?" she questioned him quietly.

"I guess we'll never know," he replied. He paused as if considering whether or not to continue. "Scully, I can quote verbatim everything you've ever said to me. I've always listened. But sometimes what you've said... what you've said hasn't spoken to me as much as how you've said it. It seemed like... it felt like you were... I mean, you started this hugely important conversation when you knew--you *knew*--I was going. It seemed to me like you started it because you knew we wouldn't be able to pursue it. Like you were setting me up not to listen so that you'd be able to say I wouldn't listen."

Her first impulse was to deny his statement, but instead she paused to consider. "Maybe I did." <Of course I did,> she thought. At the time, she'd already suspected she had cancer. Was she subconsciously so certain of it that she'd already begun cutting him out of her life? Why had she felt the need to cut him out? Had it been so that he wouldn't have to see the end of her, or so that she wouldn't have to watch him watch her die?

"Then when you came back, I tried to talk about it. I tried to tell you that I didn't understand and you made it pretty clear that it was your life and..." He stopped and took a deep breath, surprised at how much hurt was still there. "...and I didn't really have that much to do with it. I wanted to understand."

"I know you did," she replied sadly. Taking a deep breath, she expelled it slowly through pursed lips. It was time for her to come up off of some Truth, too. "There are things I didn't tell you, too, Mulder. You're right. I set you up as the bad guy in that scenario. I don't think it was a conscious thing but I couldn't seem to not do it. It was the only way I could keep denying... God, I was so scared. I suspected... No, I *knew* I had a brain tumor. No matter how much I tried to deny it, I knew I had cancer."

"You knew even then?" he asked, astonished. That had been nearly a month before she told him.

She nodded and felt a slight shudder go down her spine. "Leonard Betts told me," she said quietly. "Right before he tried to kill me. To get the tumor." She grimaced and felt a larger shudder pass through her.

Mulder felt her shiver and automatically tightened his grip around her shoulder. "He told you," he repeated dully. "After what we knew about him, he you that you had cancer and you didn't tell me." There was no anger in his tone, just profound, grief-filled disbelief.

She gave a shaky nod and though her eyes filled with tears, they never left his. "In the ambulance. Before I..." Scully closed her eyes as if trying not to see the memory and took a deep breath, sighing it out in relief as she felt him pull her closer still. "I didn't believe in him, in what you thought he could do--didn't want to believe it. I couldn't tell you because that would have meant that I gave some kind of credence to what you believed about him. It was scientifically impossible. It had to be scientifically impossible because if he was right that meant... that meant I had cancer and my mind just couldn't accept that as a possibility. But that night... I was dreaming, I think. I was dreaming about..."

A brief, intense flash of discomfort passed through her--not really pain, more like a kind of heat. She tensed with a dread chill and then it was gone. Mulder felt her movement and turned to face her full on. By the time he was able to look at her, it appeared as if her expression hadn't changed. "What's wrong?"

She looked at him, suddenly feeling somewhat confused. "I don't know. It was like... It was like what my Grandma Scully used to call a goose walking over my grave." Her tone was vague, as if she couldn't quite recall the sensation.

He gave her a curious look. "My mom used to say that. You said you were dreaming about something that night. What was it?"

Her brow knitted. "I was dreaming about... I don't remember. It must have been about him, I guess--Betts. But I woke up coughing, like something was caught in my throat. I turned on the light and I was having a nosebleed. The first one. There was blood on my face and on my pillow. It was late November, and it had been unusually cold and dry. I told myself that first time that it was just some nasal irritation. Lots of people get nosebleeds in cold, dry weather. But I knew. At some level I knew, but I just kept telling myself it wasn't true, even when I got more nosebleeds. I couldn't help thinking about Betsy Hagopian and those MUFON women in Allentown. If Leonard Betts was right, then I was just like them. And I was dying.

"That's what the thing in Philadelphia was all about. It wasn't about a desk or a nameplate, but... but that was part of it. It was about all the things I'd wanted for my life that never happened. It was about thinking I could have made a difference and instead having to investigate things like... Leonard Betts. And all the other things I hadn't quite been able to prove weren't true. It was about not being good enough to prove that all those inane, ridiculous things you kept shoving in my face were bogus. I gave up everything for science and I wasn't a good enough scientist to refute the impossible. And it was about never getting the chance to be good enough. Not enough for my father, my brother, you. It was about you, Mulder, even though I said it wasn't. The desk, the nameplate, they were just symbols to me of the fact that I wasn't good enough. I wasn't good enough to do what they'd sent me to do, and I wasn't good enough for you to see me as an equal--just someone to handle the scut work on a bullshit case while you were gone and only that with close supervision."

"Not good enough? Scully..." he interrupted.

"No, wait, let me say this," she insisted. "You were checking up on me." He shook his head in denial. "Yes, you were. You called me from your vacation--from your fucking spiritual journey--just to make sure I was following your orders. You just took it for granted that I'd run off and check right into our usual place in Philadelphia. And I did. Good old dependable, predictable Scully. But you didn't take it for granted that I could actually do what you ordered me to do. You were checking up on me."

"No," he protested vehemently.

"What else would you call it then?"

"I called it missing you," he replied quietly. "I called it wishing you were with me, that I was anywhere you were. I missed you so much, Scully, but I didn't know how... When I left, we were... I was testing the waters. Trying to figure out how things were between us. I wanted the case to be something--something big, something real--so I'd have an excuse to come up there and work it with you. I missed you and I hated the way we'd left things between us. I thought if the case was good and we could just work on it together, we'd find our way back to where we were before. Not that I was that crazy about where we were before, but it would have been better than where we were then. Come to find out that you'd just passed off the whole thing to the local field office. I was hoping it would fix us and you palmed it off on the locals. Then, just because my karma wasn't quite bad enough, you had to tell me you had a date."

"Which you scorned with disbelief," she said. He started to reply, but she pressed a finger to his lips. "And that was part of it, too. You believed in vampires and extraterrestrials, but you couldn't believe that I might have a date. A possibility too extreme even for you. And the pathetic thing was that I didn't. I'd turned Ed down earlier when he asked me out to dinner. I called him back when I got off the phone with you. Because I was angry. Because I was scared, terrified. I was so afraid I was dying and I'd never really lived. I'd given up everything. I'd done all the things that everyone else in my life expected of me, and I was going to be dead within a year. It was about, just once, doing something that nobody expected of me. It was about losing control for once in my goddamned life. It was about being alone and scared and about maybe not being so scared if I could just find someone who wanted me."

"Jesus, Scully," he said, regret clearly written on his face. "It wasn't disbelief. It was panic--full blown gut-wrenching panic. I never doubted that you could have a date. Any sentient hetero male would want you. I wanted you--so badly and for so long I couldn't even remember when I didn't. And all I could think of was that if you found someone else--someone normal, someone who actually deserved you--you'd never come back to me, especially after the way I'd treated you. I was on the next flight back to Washington and in the office at five-thirty the next morning trying to call you at the hotel. They didn't say you'd checked out, they said you weren't answering. I knew what it meant not to be home from a date at five-thirty and it felt like my guts were torn out and stretched all the way from DC to Philadelphia." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Did it help, Scully? Did he make you feel less alone?"

"At first..." she began hesitantly. "At first it was different, exciting--something nobody would expect me to do. I was in this seedy dive with a total stranger, drinking too much and telling him everything I was convinced was wrong with my life. And he was listening to me like I was the most fascinating person he'd ever met and I started feeling that way. Interesting, intriguing, exciting. The tattoo thing was like a dare, a challenge. I was fairly drunk, but I can't blame it on that. Suddenly, it was like I could do anything. I never thought once about dirty needles, or being in a neighborhood that scared me even though I had a gun, or the possibility that this man might be a psycho killer because it just didn't matter. I was dying anyway. I was so scared and so numb. The pain from the needle was the only thing that got through and even that was exciting because it was something I could feel. I could finally feel. And Ed was... He was somebody I could please, somebody whose approval I could win just by getting a tattoo. And for a while, I wasn't alone.

"Until we got back to his place. There was a bad storm that night and the hotel was far away, so we went back to his place, and I was still on such a high from booze and all the daring things I was doing. So we got there and..." Scully looked at his face, at the pain and anxiety there, and couldn't say the words out loud, couldn't admit what he'd surely always suspected, but she couldn't deny what had happened, either. Not anymore. "Afterward, I realized I hadn't known anything about really being alone at all--until then. In his bed, I was completely and totally alone. I didn't even have myself anymore. I'd even failed me. What I'd done went completely against everything I believed was right. I was so pathetic that I'd done something incredibly stupid and dangerous--just to gain the approval of a complete stranger, then used him like... I don't know what. I didn't care anything about him--his sad, ugly little life. I didn't give a damn about it. I kicked him out of his own bed and when I woke up, I couldn't even really recall what he looked like. I'd never had anything but contempt for men who treat women like that, yet I'd done it without a second thought. And all because I didn't have the guts to face what I felt about you, about us. And I was dying and would never have the chance to. And after what I'd done, I didn't know how I'd ever be able to face you, and that was even before he went postal on me. I was so ashamed. I didn't know how I was ever going to be able to make it right with you. I even called you, but I hung up when I heard your voice."

"That was you? When it rang, I hoped it was you but when you hung up, I prayed that it wasn't. I wish I'd have known. I wish I'd known about everything." He shook his head in anguished disbelief. "You had all those feelings... You were *dying* for God's sake, and you couldn't tell me. I'd have done anything to make it right, but I didn't know what to do. I wanted to get you a nameplate for the door. I did get you a nameplate for the door while you were still in the hospital in Philadelphia. But when I got to the office to put it up, I was afraid..."

"You were afraid that I'd think you were making some kind of conciliatory gesture to patronize me," Scully said and he nodded. She wondered how they could know so little and so much about one another simultaneously. "You were right. It would have pissed me off."

"So I put it in the back of my desk drawer for a better time." He chuckled bitterly. "A better time. I was still waiting for that time when the office burned up. I'm sorry, Scully. It's our office, it always has been. We'll put your name on the door when we get back."

She was quiet for a long time. "I think maybe we aren't going to be able to go back," she said finally, fear and something like sadness in her voice. In essence, she'd called the Assistant Director a liar to his face, abandoned her job when she took off for the Ivory Coast, and spirited Mulder away to an unknown place while he was in a questionable mental state.

"Maybe not," he agreed, trying to read her expression.

"I think we can drop the maybe on this one, Mulder. We're pretty much toast at the Bureau. Even if Skinner is on our side, I don't know if he can fix everything I did. So I guess it's just you and me on this one."

"Has it ever not been?"

They both knew the answer to that one, so no answer was necessary. They rocked the glider slowly back and forth, both of them silent for a long time. She wondered if he would finish his story, and just as the thought passed through her consciousness, he spoke.

"Diana was at Quantico and would come home for weekends, since she was a local. I knew I should be doing something to make those weekends special, and I even gave it a half-assed attempt sometimes, but it was just as likely that I'd be gone when she came home. Off to interview some guy whose brother-in-law knew a guy who lived next door to a woman who said she'd been abducted. The files Debbie had sent me were jam packed with things to run down. I had everyone hopping. I know the Gunmen lived for the day that they could tell me to shove my attitude up my ass, but in the meantime they were loving it, too. They'd never had stuff like that to put in their paper before. Went from monthly to every other week and people were buying it. Diana'd come home and even when we supposed to be doing something together she could see where my mind really was. Finding Samantha was all that mattered and I hated wasting time at anything else. We'd already lost so much time. So we'd end up working the files even when we'd planned something different.

"She was all excited when she got home after graduation from the Academy. And as soon as she walked in the door, I was on her about giving me an outdated version of some information the guys had found with no problem. Literally screamed at her. Told her that if she couldn't get me what I needed, not to even bother. I remember she just stopped dead in her tracks, looked at me for a second and went in and started packing her bags. And, complete clueless shit that I was, I asked what the hell she thought she was doing. Seems the reason she was all excited was the assignment they'd offered her. Anti-terrorism Unit in Berlin--a huge assignment for someone just out of the Academy. She said she'd wanted to talk to me about it, but since it didn't have anything to do with Samantha, I probably wouldn't be interested anyway. She said maybe it would be better to spend a little time apart. She'd take the assignment for a while and let us both evaluate what was important to us. And I didn't stop her, didn't even try to because... God, what an insensitive prick I was. Part of me was glad she was leaving because I didn't want the distraction. Sometimes it felt like she was in the way." He made this admission fast in a voice barely above a whisper, like a kid having to admit he was the one who hit the baseball that broke the window.

"She got to the door with her bags and I was just stood there watching her. I mean, what's the proper etiquette? When your wife is leaving you, do you help her with her luggage? Before she left she told me she could have lived with my obsession, with my demands, if just once I'd been able to rise above the level of indifference with her, if I'd ever just once told her I loved her. Then she wished me luck and she was gone. I went to three NA meetings, back-to-back."

Scully was astounded. "You never told her you loved her?" He shook his head. "Not even at your wedding?"

"The judge said something about it and I said yes. But I never said the words. I never told her. I just... I just didn't know it was important. I don't remember ever hearing my parents say it to one another and the only other long-term relationship I'd ever had was with Phoebe. And love was never a factor in that one. I pretty much had myself convinced that the *I love you* thing was made up as shorthand for movies and tv so they didn't have to waste a lot of film time trying to establish relationships between characters."

"Not too cynical, huh Mulder?" she asked with a small, sad smile.

"No," he insisted. "I wasn't cynical about love, Scully, just unaware of its existence. But don't dismiss the fact that I was a completely self-absorbed asshole, either. That fact didn't hit me until about a week after she left and I finally let myself think about it. I couldn't believe how badly I'd treated her. I hadn't made the slightest effort to find out how she felt about anything or ever let her know what I felt. And I found that I missed her, too, in an ambivalent kind of way. We hadn't been in contact since she'd been gone--no phone calls anyway. She did send a short e-mail saying she'd arrived safely in Berlin and would be in touch. After a couple weeks of hearing nothing, I started thinking about maybe going to visit her, to see if there was any way we could work it out. I went to Blevins to see about vacation time and he said that that he was just about to send for me. It seems that Senator Matheson wanted official investigations of the X-Files and wanted me to be the one to do it. Blevins said the files could stay where they were and I could work from the basement until something more appropriate was located. Guess they never found anyplace else, huh? So instead of going to see Diana, I opened the X-Files office. I never saw or heard from her again until last year. The work became my life and my life was the work. Until you came along."

"It must have been a shock for you to see her all of a sudden like that," Scully said quietly. "It sure was for me, let me tell you."

"Yeah, I was surprised," he admitted. "But I was glad to see her, too, you know? The way you'd be glad to see an old college roommate or an army buddy. Someone you'd shared a significant experience with and then moved on. And I wanted to find some way to thank her and to apologize for everything I did and everything I wasn't back then. And maybe..." His voice dropped down low again. "Maybe show her, try to show her, that what she'd done had been worth the effort. That I was a better person than the one she'd left all those years ago. To prove to myself that I was a better person.

"That's why, Scully. That's why... I couldn't conceive of anyone who'd done so much for me working against me, against us. At that point in time, I saw her as someone who'd saved my life and then stepped out of the way to let me live it. I thought she'd loved me. I felt like I owed her so much and treated her so badly. I couldn't distrust her, too, on top of everything else. She'd never given me a reason to distrust her. Can you understand that, Scully? It was never a matter of trusting her over you. It was a matter of feeling certain that I knew who she was. And based on what happened between us, I thought I did. Until I heard the truth in her head."

The truth. Scully sighed and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. There'd been so many truths over so many years. But maybe everyone's life was that way--with whatever truths that concerned them changing with experience, circumstances, time and perspective.

"It's about the God module," she said sadly. "It was then and it is now."

He nodded. "Some of it. A lot of it, I think. But there are other things, too. I can't make all of it fit together. Even with so many pieces. It's never made sense to me, and I'd never have been able to make it make sense to you, Scully, because I just didn't remember. They took away what would have made it make sense, given it gestalt. So much came back to me in the hospital. It was like waves and waves of memories. The God module. It was there when I was a kid, just like for Gibson. I think Samantha had it, too, but I'm still not clear on that.

"But I remember that night now. I remember what really happened. Samantha was taken by EBEs, but it wasn't the grays, it was the rebels--the faceless ones. One of them put his hands around my skull and I could *hear* him. He told me that Samantha would be safe and that I'd see her again someday. They barely got her away before the grays came. They shot something at the house that made all of the windows blow out. I was already utterly terrified, but that pretty much pushed me over the edge. The ones who took Samantha didn't have faces, but at least they looked vaguely human. But the other ones..." He shuddered. "I was cowering in a corner in a state of shock. I don't know if they didn't see me or if I just wasn't important because they were only looking for Samantha, but they left me alone. Things after that are really sketchy, but I remember my father driving me to the hospital and I tried to tell him what happened to Samantha but he said I had to forget that. I could hear his voice in my head, Scully. I knew he was taking me to a place where they'd take it away--the gift. He knew I could find Samantha with it. He gave me to them and they did electroshock. Killed the God module and erased my memory of that night. Then the son of a bitch told me over and over again that it was my fault because I didn't do anything to stop it, because I was too weak to remember what happened. I remember for a long time after that, strange men would come to the house and Mom would make me talk to them. I think they were checking to make sure I their handiwork had taken.

"They never stopped checking up on me and they began to get suspicious when I started profiling. Nobody has a ninety-five percent solve rate. That's when they sent Diana in to check things out. She was trained to make that kind of assessment. But she couldn't get a really accurate picture with me on drugs, so it was up to her to get me clean and sober. Remember I said she did the test with the cards, the test for psychic ability? I wasn't high normal, I was off the charts--a hundred percent. When she determined that the God module was active, they decided to deactivate it again. But if something went wrong, they needed to have some kind of control over the situation. So she married me. As my wife, Diana would have say over my medical decisions, just like she tried to do when I was in the hospital this time. Till you came and saved me." He gave her a gentle smile that somehow turned into a bitter sneer.

"Nothing about her was true. She wasn't a Ph.D. candidate, there weren't any classes. It was all part of the story they'd invented for her so that I wouldn't question her abilities or her place in my life. I got mugged in an alley the day my *wife* was supposed to get her degree because it was the day she was supposed to get her degree and there wasn't any ceremony. I got out of the hospital and her degree was already neatly framed and hanging on the wall." He shook his head in disgust.

"Werber did the electroshock the last time. That's why they had me check into the clinic, because it incapacitates you for a while after they've done it. Then he hypnotized me and planted the memories they wanted me to have."

"I don't understand why they planted those memories, Mulder. Why didn't they just have you remember a regular kidnapping or her running away? I don't get it," Scully said.

"There's so much about this I still don't get and Diana was never let in on the big plans. All the time she was in my head, and I never got the feeling that she knew really why they'd asked her to do what she was doing. Even the first time, she was in favor of the lab rat scenario. like they did with Gibson. As a parapsychologist, she wanted to know more about the God module. But her vote didn't count for much against what her father wanted."

"Her father," Scully repeated dully. It wasn't a question because she didn't even need to ask. She just closed her eyes and waited for the response she knew had to come.

"CGB Spender, of course. Cancer Man, that lying snake bastard, was my father-in-law. Jeffrey the weak and sniveling was my wife's half-brother. I told you it was suitably ironic. My whole life--my entire fucking life--I have been manipulated and lied to by my father and those other Geritol Nazis and I still don't know why." His voice was tired and defeated and bitter as gall.

"So Diana hung around long enough to make sure the God module was destroyed and to get enough information released to the right sources to lead me to the X-Files. I don't know why that was, either. But once everything was in place and her part was done, she went tripping off, happy as a clam to be gone. She'd spent enough time living with a man she despised."

"You got all of this from her thoughts at the hospital?" Scully asked and he nodded. "How, Mulder?"

"It's hard to explain. All the while she was there, she'd stand outside the door or in the monitor room and talk to me in her head. Constantly, almost without stopping. Her voice was always there, telling me you'd abandoned me, that you were tired of all the things that had happened to you, that you weren't coming back. And she'd try to tell me that she was the one I could trust, that she was trying to help me. But even after all the studying she'd done, she didn't understand it at all. I could *hear* those thoughts and they almost drove me insane. But she didn't understand that I could hear *all* her thoughts, her memories, everything. The whole story was there.

"She came back last year because of the Gibson Praise thing. *Daddy* told her that coming between you and me would be considered a plus, but she was there because of Gibson. They were pretty sure he had an active God module and she wanted to know about it. Finally get to study Gibson like she wanted to do with me. She was the one who arranged for the operations and tests they ran on him after they took him. The shooting just went wrong. She was supposed to be injured to cover them taking the kid, but their marksman must have been having a bad day or something. After she recovered and you and I were censured, Smoky arranged for his kids to have the X-Files and she thought she could find out how much we know from them. Jeffrey just went along on the ride for spite. He didn't know jack about anything. And you know the rest of the story. You knew it all along."

He'd been looking down at the deck as he told her about Diana's real place in his life, cursing his own naivete. Finally, though, he looked up at her, his brow knitted in frustration and despair. "I don't have words... There are no words adequate enough to tell you how sorry I am, Scully. And I don't know how to ask for your forgiveness."

Somehow over the course of the last few minutes, they had drawn apart, sliding to opposite ends of the swing. Mulder noted the distance between them with a weary sense of inevitability. He'd hurt her so much, so many times since he'd known her. He'd hurt her himself and caused her to be hurt. How much could he reasonably expect her to take? But if she would just forgive him one more time he'd... He'd what? Make it up to her? Give her back her sister, her daughter, her unborn children, the missing months of her life? Take away the anguish they'd all endured watching her dying of cancer? And if she forgave him, what then? More of the same ahead for they were in too deep ever to hope that they could just leave it all behind.

He rose from the glider and stood at the railing, his back to her. "The right thing to do would be for me to hope that you wouldn't forgive me. To hope that you've finally reached the end of the line and get the hell out." His voice was barely audible over the sounds of night in the forest.

*No! Not after everything...* She couldn't even finish the thought. Unable to bear the anger and frustration, Scully sprang from her seat and grabbed his arm, turning him to face her. "Get the hell out and do what, Mulder? Go back to my little apartment and wait for whatever they have planned to play out? Read a good book? Write my memoirs? Jesus, I'm in this!"

"You don't have to..."

She grabbed his arms and gave him a hard shake. "Listen to me. Watch my face, look into my eyes, Mulder, because we are going to do this one time." She took a deep shaky breath, trying to calm the tremors she was feeling. "I am in this. I am in this with *you.* It has to stop, this guilt you wear like some kind of second skin.."

"Everything th..." He tried to interrupt her.

"Shut up!" She screamed and was dismayed to see him startle and try to move away from her. She moved with him and placed her fingertips lightly across his mouth. "No, wait, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Her voice dropped, her tone low and desperate. "But please, please listen to me. Leaving you, getting away from you stopped being an option a long time ago. I don't know if it ever was an option. I could have requested a transfer anytime after we wrapped up the case in Bellefleur and no one would have blamed me. But I chose you. When Tom Colton told me that everybody at the Bureau calls me Mrs. Spooky, I chose that to his face. When I came back to work after being missing for three months, I came back to you. After the monsters and the fights and the cancer and your doubts and my doubts and a side trip to the South fucking Pole we are right here together. After I got back from San Diego, after Emily... after we lost Emily..."

She saw his face contort and his eyes well up with a pain she felt in her own heart. "She'd have been yours, too, Mulder. If we'd been able to keep her, there's no way you wouldn't have been part of her life." Scully reached up and with a trembling hand brushed at a tear that slowly crept down Mulder's cheek. She brought it to her own face where, though her heart was constricted in grief, her eyes were dry. Sometimes they were the bearers of one another's pain.

She continued, her voice soft and steady. "A few months after Emily died, I talked to Charlie and he told me what Bill said to you when I was in the hospital. Bill confirmed it to me and I told him in no uncertain terms that he could keep his nose out of my relationship with you or get the hell out of my life." He started to speak but she pressed her fingers to his lips again. "Ssshh, let me finish. The point I'm trying to make is that I've chosen you time and again--over my career, over my family, sometimes over my better judgement--and I can't imagine any circumstances that would make me choose any differently. Now it's time for you to choose. Months ago you asked me if I wanted you to make a choice. I didn't know the answer then, but I do now. I want you to choose."

"Between you and Diana?" He was confused and it was written all over his face.

She shook her head, slightly irritated at his lack of understanding. "No, between me and the guilt." He started to protest, but she stopped him. "Horrible, unspeakable things have happened to me during all of this. But Mulder, you did not do them. I know you'll say they hurt me to get to you and, you know, that's probably true. But the point is, *they* hurt me. It was them. And every time they did, I chose to come back. And I need..." She hesitated, uncertain how to form the words to explain.

"What?" he asked with a quiet urgency. "What do you need?"

"I need..." She swallowed hard, her breathing slightly irregular. "I need you to honor my choices. I need you to try to stop feeling guilty about me. I know it'll be hard for you, but I need you to try. I choose to be with you. I've chosen it from the start. I will always choose you. We've got enough problems. You can't feel guilty for my choices."

"But I do," he replied softly.

She turned to face him. "Oh God, Mulder," she said with a sigh. "There's so much else. The guilt serves no purpose. It takes away from..."

Her fists were clenched in little balls at her sides in her frustration to make herself clear. "I don't know how to do this... this...: She waved her hands in a small circle before her. "Us. I don't know how to do *us* like this. I guess if I stop and think about it, I've never been sure of how to do us in almost any stage we've been in, but I really don't know how to do this one. I want to know, though. I want to know more than anything because I want there to be an *us.*" her voice dropped to a tremulous whisper. "Christ, I'm babbling."

She looked at him--really looked at him--for the first time since he'd finished his story, since he'd laid his soul bare for her. To someone who didn't know him, his expression might seem devoid of emotion, neutral. He'd long since learned to construct that face at a moment's notice, automatically and unconsciously, to keep an often-hostile world at bay. But Scully knew the barometer of Mulder, could read the apprehension in the gray color his eyes had turned, could see the hesitation in the slight clench of his jaw, could feel the tension in his body so close to her own. He'd given her his life--all of it--and wasn't sure if she'd accepted it. She knew he needed a sign from her, as he had in his hallway the previous summer when he'd given her his heart. Again, as then, she stepped toward him and wrapped her arms around his waist. And, as then, his arms came around her in return and it felt like home, as if the only safe times she could remember had occurred right there. She tightened her grip and felt his hands tangle in her hair to press her face against his chest, his cheek resting on the crown of her head.

"Can you forgive me, Scully?" he asked quietly, not really sure he could stand to hear her response.

She was silent for a long time, uncertain how to answer. She wanted to pull away and look at him some more, but she was reluctant to leave the safe warm place she'd found leaning against him. Finally, she spoke, choosing to stay nestled against him. "I don't know if this is about forgiveness, Mulder. I think it's more about understanding. So much." She squeezed him tightly to her briefly before pulling away to see his face. "You gave me so much of you. I need to process everything you've told me. I understand... I understand why you did what you did, as much as I can. But there's part of me that..." She hesitated. God, this was hard to do, but she couldn't be less honest than he had been. Taking a deep breath, she continued. "There's part of me that still hurts about this. And a part of me that's angry about this. It was incredibly stupid not to tell me about your addiction, Mulder. Incredibly stupid and dangerous--to both of us. I'm the person who has to give your medical history to the staff of every hospital you end up in. What if some treatment you'd been given was compromised by your history? What if Cancer Man and his cronies had used it against you? Just being your partner should have entitled me to know about it. So, yes, I'm hurt and I'm angry."

She felt him tense in her arms and the fingers that had been lightly caressing the muscles of her back stilled. But he didn't move away, rather he simply waited for her to continue.

"And I'm hurt and angry about Diana. No matter what you said about it not being about trusting her over me, the fact of the matter is that you didn't believe me. I can understand why you didn't want to tell me about your drug problem. It tears my heart out that you didn't think that you could, but I understand it. And if I stretch, I can even understand why you didn't tell me about Diana." Her voice dropped to a whisper as she struggled to keep in under control. "But Mulder, none of that compares with how it felt to know that you didn't believe me. After everything we've been through together over seven years--seven years! What would make you think I'd lie to you? When have I ever worked against your best interests?"

"Never, Scully. You never have." he replied without hesitation. "And I did believe you--at least part of me did. After you left and the Gunmen finished tearing me a new one for how I treated you, I stopped and thought about what you said. At first, I just chalked it up to jealousy. I wanted it to be jealousy."

"You wanted me to be jealous?" she asked in almost stunned disbelief.

"Yeah," he answered, shame coloring his voice. "I guess I thought that if you were jealous, that might mean that you felt a little for me what I felt--*feel*--a lot for you. Don't worry, that thought didn't last for long. I dismissed it as impossible almost immediately. But if you weren't jealous, that meant that you really believed what you told me about Diana. And if that was the case, I had to check it out. I went to her apartment to do that."

"You checked out what I said and never told me? Do you know what it would have meant to me that you'd even considered what I said? Mulder, I left there thinking you completely disbelieved me, dismissed everything I said. If I'd just known you had even a little doubt..." She stepped away, missing his arms around her, but feeling stifled, trapped by all the pain between them.

He shook his head, his eyes squeezed shut at the memory of that horrible night. "I did doubt, but at the same time, I couldn't doubt. I couldn't tell you, Scully, because I was going there to prove you wrong. You had to be wrong. I wanted so much for you to be wrong. Because..." His voice trailed off to barely a whisper.

Scully felt her heart pounding in her chest. So much, it was all so much. Her first impulse was to turn and leave, just stop the conversation. She even began to turn toward the door, but found that she couldn't. This, this was the explanation he'd promised her. This is what everything he'd told her led up to. The denouement of all that had happened to them, certainly in the last year and maybe over their entire relationship. And she had to know the answer. And to know the answer, she had to ask the question.

"Why Mulder? Why was it so important that I was wrong?"

His arms dangled at his side, his hands alternately stretching wide and balling into fists.
"Scully, I didn't know then what I know now. I didn't know. I sat there in my car parked down the block from her apartment and I tried to look at it the way you did. I knew you and the guys wouldn't have fabricated the information you showed me, that you believed it. And I tried to see it that way. But all I could see were images of her holding the basin while I puked and cleaning it up when I missed. Or her bringing me food, then bringing me more when I threw it across the room and screamed at her to leave me the fuck alone. Or her holding onto me while I had shakes so bad that anyone watching would have thought I was having seizures. Or her telling me she loved me and never getting angry when I couldn't say it back. I sat there in the car remembering all that stuff, feeling like a shit because of how I treated her. I knew I'd never loved her, and that that was part of the reason I could never say it. By then I knew what love is. But I was sure that she had loved me. She said she did. Why else would she have done everything she did for me? And I was so thankful that she had, that she'd helped me make myself live. And you know what? Even knowing what I know now, I'm still thankful because even as horrible as it's been sometimes, the years with you have been the best of my life. If she hadn't helped me, I wouldn't have lived to see them. So I sat there in my car, feeling like even more of a shit because I was going to break into her apartment. After everything she did, I was going to break in and spy on her."

She watched helplessly as he turned his face away from her, wanting to say something, wanting to touch him, to bring him back to her and ease his anxiety. But she couldn't quite make herself do it because her own pain was nearly paralyzing her. She fought back the bitter thought that his need to be right was so important to him that he could hurt her the way he did. No, that couldn't be true, there had to be more. But he'd been quiet for so long. Would he continue? Could she stand it if he did? Could she stand it if he didn't?

Finally, he spoke. "And so I told myself that I was doing it to prove you wrong. So I could live with not trusting her after all she did." He paused again, his brow furrowed in a look of frustration. "But it was more than even that, Scully. I hoped to prove you wrong because of her, but I *needed* to prove you wrong because of me. Because if you weren't wrong, that meant that I was. If you were right, that meant that Diana had lied to me from the beginning. And that couldn't be, because she loved me. Back then, she told me she loved me. Nobody else in my life since Samantha was taken ever told me that. If everything she said was a lie, if she didn't love me, that meant nobody ever had. And if nobody every had, maybe that meant..." His voice dropped away as his head lowered. "Maybe it meant that nobody ever could."

The plaintive tone of his voice broke her paralysis and she stepped toward him, her arm outstretched. "Mulder..."

He stepped back, twisting away from where her hand grazed the skin of his forearm. "Don't!" His whispered vehemence startled her and she jerked her hand back in alarm. "Not now. Not like this, Scully. Not out of pity."

"Pity?" she cried, angry at his misinterpretation. "Jesus, Mulder! You make leaps of logic that no one else in the world does and you're right most of the time. You see conspiracies under every rock and around every corner, and it's looking like you're right there, too. But you don't see what's right in front of your face. Nobody loved you? I was right there at your side, through everything, for seven years. Didn't that say anything to you?"

Scully noted the trembling in his lip as he tried to smile. "It said what it's always said. That you're strong. That you're compassionate. That you have character and integrity and a sense of justice. That you're the best person I know and that I was the luckiest man in the world to have you in my life in any capacity at all."

"Mulder, stop," she said, feeling a tear escape her eye to fall down her cheek. "Don't make me into more than I am. I can't live up to that. I'm human. I've said and done stupid, hateful, hurtful things and I'll probably do them again. I'm a person, no better or worse than anyone else. Don't set me up to disappoint you."

"You never could," he said with quiet sincerity.

"I will if you don't see me for who I am," she replied, tears making her voice thick and heavy. "I stayed, Mulder. Through everything for seven years. Longer than anyone in your life. Lots longer than she did. You didn't see any of that as my love for you?"

"You never said it, and you didn't believe me when I did," he whispered. "I didn't even dare to hope that, Scully. I didn't have any right to hope that. I knew that you cared for me, about me. And I knew that was way more than I was entitled to, especially after what I'd done and said."

He took a deep breath and continued. "I picked the lock on her door and started looking around and hadn't gotten very far when I was joined by another guest, one that was probably expected. Smokey showed up saying he was looking for his son and protege. Before I even had a chance to consider how strange it was that he was looking for Spender in Diana's apartment in the middle of the night, he launched into his story. I told you what he told me and it all fit in so well with what I remembered that I didn't even question whether it was the truth. Then he left and I couldn't move. In fifteen minutes, he'd torn my entire life apart then handed me a piece of paper that would fix everything I cared about. I just sat there and thought about the whole thing. How I'd spent the last ten years of my life running around like some deluded lunatic trying to find answers to something I had no chance of doing anything about. How I'd dragged you into it and everything that had happened to you because of it. Everything you've lost, how many times you almost died, were killed. For something nobody could stop. But in my hand was the thing that could save you. I could save you, at least. He told me I could.

"I was still sitting there when Diana came home and I told her why I was there. She denied my suspicions, but she was acting weird, nervous. But at that point, it didn't matter enough for me to question why. Because I could save her, too. I couldn't leave her there, knowing what was coming--not after everything she'd done for me. I was... I could repay her and I wanted to. I wanted to save her because I owed it to her. But I *needed* to save you because there was no point in saving myself without you. There was no me without you. But in the end, as always, you saved me." He gave her a weak smile.

"You never questioned her about what CGB was doing in her apartment?" Scully asked in mild disbelief.

He shook his head. "My head wasn't exactly in any condition for analytical reasoning," he admitted. "I don't know. Maybe it was the last vestige of my self-delusion. I didn't put it together until I saw the list of the victims, expecting to find Diana's name on it. She should have been there and CGB, too, and when they weren't, I didn't really have much to base my denial on anymore, or my belief in Smoky's lies. And I wanted to apologize to you, but what I'd done was so far past the boundaries of apologies, that I didn't even know how to start. And I was afraid to bring it up. Afraid that if we started talking, you'd finally figure out all the reasons you should leave. Then we got the X-Files back and you didn't request a transfer. I knew we weren't together--not like real partners, not like we were before--but at least you weren't gone. I didn't know what that meant, but I was so damned grateful and so scared I'd say or do something that would make you change your mind. That's when I started promising myself I'd tell you everything. That's when I wrote the first letter I put in the safe deposit box. And I wrote it over and over and put each new version in the box. And I made the video so that you'd know even if something happened to me. But I wimped out every time I thought that maybe I could tell you. I was already enough of an asshole in your eyes and I couldn't stand adding gullible, naive, stupid, and patsy to the list of adjectives I knew you already had running in your head. And I'm so sorry I kept all of this from you for the sake of my pride, Scully. I'm so sorry. But it truly felt like that was all I had left." He stepped away from her and returned to his place on the glider, his head in his hands.

Scully suddenly became aware of the fact that her knees were shaking, threatening not to hold her up anymore. She went and sat beside him and reached a tentative hand out to touch his, relieved and heartened to feel him grasp hers in return. Edging closer, she relished the feeling of their hands clasped together in the space between them, their thumbs gently caressing each other. She watched his profile in the waning moonlight, realizing they'd spent nearly the entire night on the porch and that morning would be coming soon. His head was downcast and he wouldn't look at her, although she could feel his grip on her hand tighten.

"Mulder?" she said softly and waited for him to turn and face her. "Thank you. Thank you for telling me. I wish it had been sooner, but I do understand. And I know it was difficult for you. So much, Mulder, we've been through so damned much." She used her free hand to brush a lock of hair from his forehead.

She heard him take a deep, shaky breath and felt his trembling through their clasped hands. "It's been too much, hasn't it Scully? This is the part where you tell me you can't take any more." There was a sad resignation in his voice that tore at her heart.

She smiled at him reassuringly. "Some psychic you are," she said, chiding him gently. "No Mulder, I already said I'm not going anywhere. Everything you talked about, we've already lived through. We got through all of that and we still ended up here together. The only thing that's important now is what's coming. There are still questions that it seems like we were destined to ask and I think the only way we're going to get the answers, the only way we've ever gotten the answers, is together. And I want those answers. We've earned them. We deserve them. And I want there to be an *us,* Mulder. I want it as much as I want the answers.

"I'm glad you finally told me the whole story. It truly does make it hurt less. But I'd be lying to you if I said there wasn't still some pain from all of this. But it's something that I have to work through, Mulder. I have to work through it and dump it, just like you do with the guilt. Because we can't afford to wallow in it. Not now."

He nodded. "I know. This would be hard enough if it was just about us, but it's not. So what do we do?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "I need some time. I have to think about this." She saw him frown slightly. "It's who I am, Mulder. I can't do this any other way. I have to think things through. You know that about me."

"Yeah," he replied with a sigh. "Yeah, I do. It's who you are. It's part of what saves me. It's part of what I love."

She smiled, grateful for his understanding. "I know we don't have much time, but I need a little. There are still things you need to know, things I have to tell you, and we have to try and figure out what's going on and what we're going to do. But I also know I have to understand what all that you've told me means to me, to us. Just a little time."

He looked to the east where the sky was beginning to lighten. "Look," he whispered. "Almost daybreak. Why don't we make some breakfast, then I'll shower and go for a walk or something. Give you some space. Give us both some space. Then you can head for the tub."

She smirked at him. "Are you implying that I could use a bath?"

"No," he said, with something approaching a genuine grin. "The bathtub's where you go to think."

She looked at him, astonished. "How did you know that?"

He gave her an indulgent smile. "I've traveled with you for seven years now, staying at places that, when we were lucky, rated slightly above sleazy dives. Thin walls." She gave him the Scully *eye-brow thing.* "I don't listen on purpose, but I'm not deaf, either. When we're on mundane or boring cases, you take a shower at the end of the day. When they're puzzling or disturbing and you need to think about them, you take baths. Really, really long baths."

She smiled back at him, surprised and somehow pleased that he'd noticed that. "The Mulder powers of observation strike again. Come on. I'll make omelets, but you have to chop up the stuff. We'll eat what you made later. I don't think I can deal with spicy chicken stew at sunrise."

She took his hand and led him into the cabin.

Continued in Chapter 5