MAKING IT PERSONAL

by Brandon D. Ray


==================

RATING:  Mostly PG or PG-13.  Some chapters are NC-17, and
have been appropriately marked.

CATEGORY:  Story, Romance, Angst -- there's even a bit of
Humor

SPOILERS:  The entire series, but especially the second half
of Season 6, beginning with "One Son" and running through
"Biogenesis".

KEYWORDS:  MSR.  M/S married.  MulderAngst.  ScullyAngst. 
Explicit sex.  Bad language.  Diana Fowley.  Maggie Scully. 
Bill Scully, jr.  Lone Gunmen.

SUMMARY:  A series of episode-based vignettes, covering the
second half of Season 6 and tracing the evolution of Mulder
& Scully's relationship during that time.  Based on the
following quote from "One Son":

"Because it is personal, Mulder.  Because without the FBI,
personal interest is all that I have.  And if you take that
away then there is no reason for me to continue."  -- Dana
Scully

AUTHOR'S NOTES:  This started as a standalone.  I wrote "A
Slight Miscalculation" (which is now the prologue) shortly
after "Biogenesis" aired, and I thought I was done.

Wrong.

Almost immediately, I started getting email from people who
wanted the back story.  At first I didn't see any way to do
that, but after talking it over with some of my net pals, I
decided I could write a story or two to fill in the blanks.

Ha.

Two months later, it's finally done.  Nearly a dozen and a
half stories in all, and something in the vicinity of 270K
in length.  And here it is.

THANKS:  To all the lovely ladies at Babyfishmouth, without
whose tireless beta reading this story would not be nearly
as good as it is.  If I try to list you all by name I'm
afraid I'll leave someone out, so I'll just leave it at
that.  ;)  Of course, any remaining lack of cool is my own
responsibility.

FEEDBACK:  You betcha.  publius@avalon.net

DISCLAIMER:  Yeah, I own 'em.  I'm pretty sure I've got the
proof around here somewhere.  NOT!!!!!




================== ==================

MAKING IT PERSONAL

an X-FIles novel

by Brandon D. Ray

================== 

Contents: 
Prologue: A Slight Miscalculation
CHAPTER ONE - There But By the Grace of God
CHAPTER TWO - Making It Personal
CHAPTER THREE - Objects in Motion
CHAPTER FOUR - Sin of Omission
CHAPTER FIVE - Fallout
CHAPTER SIX - All the Myriad Ways
CHAPTER SEVEN - A Little Comfort
CHAPTER EIGHT - Declarations
CHAPTER NINE - Cherish
CHAPTER TEN - Outfield Interlude
CHAPTER ELEVEN - TMI
CHAPTER TWELVE - Flashback
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - Out of Africa
CHAPTER FOURTEEN - Into the Night
EPILOGUE - The Last Day of Summer


==================


Biogenesis:

Prologue: A Slight Miscalulation

==================


I've always prided myself on being thorough, and considering
all the possibilities.  Preparation, I've always believed,
is the name of the game.  Prior planning prevents poor
performance.  You snooze, you lose.  And all the other Type
A cliches.

Even as a girl I was like that.  I was one of the kids who
always arrived on the first day of school with all of the
necessary supplies:  Three number two pencils, meticulously
sharpened; two wide-ruled spiral bound 118 page notebooks;
and all the rest.

I continued this pattern in college, and later when I joined
the Bureau, and it's always stood me in good stead.

Until I finally met someone who is even better at it than I
am.  Until I met Dana Scully.

I underestimated her right from the start.  When I received
the phone call summoning me back to the States, nearly a
year ago, the man who calls himself C.G.B. Spender -- among
other things -- warned me that Fox had a new partner, and
that I would have to watch my step.

Unfortunately I didn't take his warning seriously, and that
was my first mistake.

I already knew about Agent Scully, of course, having kept
tabs on Fox through various contacts over the years.  So
when I reviewed the Project's dossier on her during the
flight back from Europe, I found no surprises.

She is, like me, a Type A personality.  A place for
everything, and everything in its place.  She lives in a
neat, orderly world of straight lines and primary colors. 
Her rent is always paid on time, she donates precisely ten
percent of her annual income to charity and she's always
exactly five minutes early for an appointment.

You see, I thought I had her number.  I even knew her most
intimate secret, the quality which made her uniquely
vulnerable and which she also happened to have in common
with me:  I knew that she was in love with Fox Mulder.

What I didn't figure on was that *he* was in love with
*her*.  It never occurred to me that the man I had known and
loved so many years ago could ever form an attachment to a
woman like Dana Scully.  They are so different from each
other, with so many potential points of conflict, that I
just didn't see how it was possible.  After all, if Fox and
I couldn't make a go of it ....

That was my second mistake.

Once I realized the nature of their feelings for each other,
of course, I did not hesitate to try to use the situation to
further the goals of the Project.  I had been ordered to
return to Washington for a very specific purpose, after all,
and as they say in the military, no plan of action ever
survives contact with the enemy.  This new development was
simply another data point, something to be considered,
analyzed and ultimately shaped into yet another weapon. 
These unresolved feelings between Fox and Agent Scully would
actually make my job easier, I thought.  And so I set about
trying to drive a wedge between them on a personal basis,
rather than just on the professional level as I had
originally planned.

That was my third -- and most crucial -- mistake.  And this
one has cost Fox his freedom and may very well wind up
costing him his sanity.

There was a time when that would have bothered me -- and
deep down inside, it still does.  I *do* still have feelings
for this man, and it breaks my heart to stand here and watch
him on the monitor as he stumbles back and forth across the
room he's in, calling out, crying, *begging* ....

Begging for "Scully".

There was a time when he would have been begging for me.

I angrily push the thought away.  My personal feelings have
no place in this situation.  Whatever there once was between
Fox and me, it really and truly is over.  If that wasn't
clear to me the night of the El Rico massacre, Fox made it
abundantly clear to me last night in his apartment.  I
finally had to use a stun gun to keep him under control, and
now here we are.

Agent Scully was here a few hours ago.  Fortunately Skinner
was here too, so I didn't have to face her alone, and
between the two of us we were able to prevent her from
getting in to see Fox.  Skinner's influence as her
supervisor was enough to turn her away, so that I didn't
have to pull out my ace in the hole.

I think Fox knew she was here, though.  Something very
strange has been going on inside his head.  From his
behavior while she and I were watching him on the monitor, I
am almost certain that he was aware of her presence.  He had
been fairly quiet the last hour or so prior to her arrival,
but as soon as she walked into the room he started up again.
 Which was a good thing, of course, since it made it easier
to justify our claim that he is dangerous.

Even *I* know *that's* a lie.  Fox Mulder is not dangerous. 
Not to her, anyway -- and she knows it.  Skinner and I were
able to distract her, though, and now she's gone again.

I turn my eyes back to the monitor.  Fox has quieted down
again; he quieted almost as soon as Agent Scully left.  He
looks so sad and lonely, though, crouched there in the
corner of the room, just staring up at the camera.  He looks
scared.  I wish I could go to him and hold him, and make it
all go away.  I wish none of this had had to happen.  I wish
I had never been ordered to leave him and accept that
transfer to Europe.  I wish they had chosen someone a little
more reliably cold and closed off to replace me.  I wish
....

I hear the door open behind me, and I turn around to see who
it is.  To my surprise, it's Agent Scully.  Dammit, I
thought we were rid of her.  And now Skinner is gone, and
I'm going to have to deal with her myself.  Alone.

"Agent Scully," I say calmly, trying not to betray the shock
and dismay I feel at her sudden reappearance.  "What brings
you -- "

Before I can even finish my greeting she has moved past me,
as if she were unaware of my presence, and is staring
intently into the monitor.  My gaze follows hers, and I am
unsurprised to see that Fox has risen to his feet and
appears to be looking back at us.  This time, however, he
isn't moving frantically back and forth across the room, and
he isn't saying anything.  He's simply standing there,
staring up at the camera as if he can see us.  No, not as if
he can see *us*; as if he can see *her*.

"Mulder," she says, very softly.  "Mulder, I'm here."  And
god help me if he doesn't nod slightly, as if he just heard
every word she said.  "I'm going to get you out, Mulder,"
she continues.  Her voice is gentle and tender, almost
loving.  "I've taken the necessary steps, and you'll be
transferred to Johns Hopkins first thing in the morning, so
my mother can keep an eye on you.  I've got to make a quick
trip to check a few things, but I'll be back in a couple of
days.  Okay?"  And again he nods.

I can't let this go on.  I don't know what "necessary steps"
she's taken, but I've got to stop this right now.  I step
forward and grab her elbow and turn her to face me.  Her
eyebrows shoot up in surprise, as if she hadn't realized I
was still in the room.

"I'm afraid he's not going anywhere, Agent Scully," I say
firmly.  "He's going to stay right here, where he can be
taken care of properly."  I wince inwardly at the double
meaning in my words, but she doesn't seem to notice.  "He's
staying right here," I repeat.

She shakes her head slightly, as if at a minor annoyance. 
"No he's not," she says.  "I've already made the
arrangements."  And she starts to turn away as if that were
the end of it.

"Agent Scully!" I say sharply, and wait until I have her
attention again.  "Fox is in no condition to be moved."

She stands quietly looking at me for a moment, and I am
almost starting to believe that she's going to back down --
but then she shakes her head dismissively and turns away
again.

I feel my eyes narrow at her casual disregard for my
presence.  I was important in this man's life once; I was
there when he found the X-Files.  She hadn't even graduated
from the Academy yet, and I was there, with him.  Even
though part of me suspects that this reaction is just what
she wanted, I can feel the anger building within me, and I
stride forward into her personal space, trying to use my
height to intimidate her.

"He is not going anywhere!" I say, biting off the words one
at a time.  "He is staying right here, and there is nothing
you can do about it.  I hold his power of attorney."

There it is, the ace in the hole.  Prior planning and all
that.  Top *that*, Agent Scully.

Her eyebrows twitch slightly in surprise.  Not shock, not
worry, not panic -- just surprise.  Mild surprise.  As if
she has encountered an unexpected obstacle, but one she is
confident she can overcome.  Already she's reaching into her
purse and pulling out a sheaf of papers.

"Then it's a good thing I had myself declared his guardian,
isn't it?" she says, and I can tell that she's struggling to
keep the amusement out of her voice.

Dumbfounded, I take the papers from her hand and let my gaze
skim over them.  They are just what she said they are:  She
apparently found a judge somewhere and obtained an emergency
order of temporary guardianship.  This won't stand up, of
course; it can't withstand the light of day.  The only
situation where something like this might actually work
would be if she and Fox were --

Oh my god.

I look back up at her, and the only thing I can think of to
say is, "When?"

Her lips quirk slightly.  She's trumped my ace, and she
knows it.  "Shortly after El Rico," she says.  "I suppose I
have you to thank for it, in a way.  If it hadn't been for
all the head games you kept playing with him ...."  Her
voice trails off, and she shrugs -- and I realize that I've
lost.  After all that planning and thinking, after all that
*scheming*, dammit, I've been outmaneuvered.

I've lost.

"I've got to go now, Mulder," she says, and I realize she's
turned back to face the monitor.  "But I'll be back.  I
promise."  One last time he nods, and then he settles back
down in his corner -- but now he no longer looks lost and
despairing.  He looks, in fact, about as content and happy
as it's possible to look when you're locked in a room
against your will.

Agent Scully moves past me and walks towards the door, but I
continue to stare at the monitor in disbelief.  There is no
possible way it should have ended like this.  I had it all
planned out; I had everything under control, and I knew what
I was doing.  How could everything have gone so terribly
wrong?

And what can I possibly do to fix it?

"Have you ever read Nietzsche, Agent Fowley?" I turn at the
sound of Scully's voice, and see her standing in the doorway
with a look of amused triumph on her face.  Of course I've
read Nietzsche, but I gesture numbly for her to continue. 
"'That which does not destroy me, makes me stronger,'" she
says.  She starts to turn away, but then she glances back
over her shoulder one more time.  "I'm stronger," she adds,
very softly.  And then she's gone.

I think there's been a slight miscalculation.


==================

One Son:

CHAPTER ONE - There But By the Grace of God

==================


They were some of the most powerful men in the world, but
most of the world didn't even know of their existence.  And
now they're nothing but ashes.  Literally ashes.

I sit at the desk in my cold, dark apartment, and I pore
over the crime scene photographs.  Crime scene.   What a
prosaic term to describe that horror chamber.  I can still
smell the acrid odor of charred human flesh; it fills my
nostrils and seems to permeate my soul.  I don't know if
I'll ever get rid of it.

I don't know if I ever WANT to get rid of it.

A phrase keeps drifting through my mind, over and over, as I
stare at these photographs:  There but by the grace of god
go I.

There but by the grace of god.

The phrase doesn't really apply to me, of course.  It has
been many years since I believed in god, and it's been even
more years since I believed god manifested grace to his
creations.  But still I can't seem to chase the phrase from
my mind as I examine these photographs.  Still it continues
to haunt me, echoing and reechoing inside my head,
reverberating in my soul.

There but by the grace of god.

There's always Scully, of course.  Always Scully.  If I
could believe in a god who cared, it would be Scully whom he
cared for.  It would be for her sake that I was moved to
call her on my cell phone, allowing her voice to drag me
back from the depths of despair.  It would be for her sake
that I sent Diana on ahead of me, alone.  It would be for
her sake, always for her sake.

There but by the grace of god.

Diana.  How could I have been so wrong about her?  How could
I have failed to see the signs?  Especially when my own
partner, the one I have come to trust as no other, my one in
five billion, kept trying to get through to me, kept rubbing
my nose in the unpleasant facts that I didn't want to see,
didn't want to hear, didn't want to know.  How could I have
been so blind?

God, Scully....I'm so sorry.

There but by the grace of god.

She came to me earlier this evening and tried to talk it
out.  She was so gentle and understanding, so open and
caring.  She wanted to forgive me; I truly believe she
wanted to forgive me.  But I would not allow it; I shut her
out and kept her at arm's length, and finally I sent her
away.  I couldn't face her; not tonight.  Not with these
horrible photographs freshly burned into my memory.  Not
with the sure knowledge that if events had followed the
course I intended there would be two more charred bodies on
that hangar floor, and one of them would be hers.

There but by the grace of god.

I remember another time, another place.  I sat in a hospital
cafeteria, and a woman eerily like my partner, yet very
different, sat across the table from me and pleaded with me
to save her sister's life.  I was in a very dark place that
day, and somehow she could see that and tried to pull me
out.  "You could spend the rest of your life finding every
person who's responsible," she said.  "And it's still not
going to bring her back. Whoever did this to her has an
equal horror coming to them."

And I asked her, "Including myself?"

There but by the grace of god.

I think now perhaps Melissa was right after all.  For
certainly the men who died in that hangar were partly
responsible for what happened to Scully, both then and
subsequently, and they have all now faced their own horror. 
Whether death by fire is commensurate with their offenses I
cannot say, but what's done is done.  And now only one of us
remains, and surely my own punishment in the months and
years to come shall cause theirs to dwindle to
insignificance.  And that's as it should be.

There but by the grace of god.

Tomorrow I'm going to have to face her again.  Tomorrow I'm
going to have to walk into the office and look her in the
eye, and somehow I'm going to have to work with her. 
Spender has asked for a meeting with the two of us, and with
Skinner and Kersh.  I don't know what he wants, but for some
reason I've agreed to go.  I suppose it will just be more
flogging, more recrimination, and I hardly even feel the
beatings anymore.  I hardly even feel that pain.

There but by the grace of god.

I feel a draft against the back of my neck and I turn to
look, but there's no one there.  I didn't really expect her
to return; I don't even really want her to return.  She
doesn't belong here in the shadows; she should be in the
light and sunshine, with the wind blowing through her hair
and a sparkle in her eye.  That's why I sent her away, after
all.  That's why she isn't here.  But god I miss her.

There but by the grace of god.

Something moves in the shadows and I squint into the gloom,
but there's nothing there.  Then it moves again, and I think
I see a flash of red and I hear a woman's voice.  "Why is it
so dark in here?" she asks, and I want to say that it's
because the lights aren't on, but I don't.  I know what she
really means.  And she continues speaking:  "Listen. I don't
have to be psychic to see that you're in a very dark
place... much darker than where my sister is.  Willingly
walking deeper into darkness cannot help her at all.  Only
the light...only the light...only the light...."  And her
voice trails off and is gone.

There but by the grace of god.

I sit numbly at my desk for a long time, still peering into
the darkness.  It never occurs to me to question whether she
was really here; some things you just know.  The photographs
lie neglected on my desk, and somehow I no longer feel the
urge to pore over them and examine them.  I no longer feel
the need to obsess on them.  Something has changed. 
Something has changed.

There but by the grace of god.

I am startled from my fugue by a knock on the door, and I
rise from my seat and cross to answer it.  It never occurs
to me to question who might be calling at this hour of the
night; some things you just know.  I stand before the door
for just a moment, steeling myself for the ordeal to come,
and then I twist the knob and pull the door open -- and it's
Scully, as I knew it would be.  Her eyes are red from
crying, but still she is strong, unbroken and unbowed.  And
she says, very softly, "Mulder, we need to talk."  And I nod
slightly and I reach out my hand to turn on the light,
banishing the darkness, before I usher her into my
apartment.

By the grace of god.


==================

One Son:

CHAPTER TWO - Making It Personal

==================


How has it come to this so quickly?

I shift awkwardly on the hard, wooden bench in the
courthouse lobby.  This is far from the first time I've had
to wait like this, of course.  Any law enforcement officer
can tell you horror stories about long, tedious hours spent
waiting outside of courtrooms.  Waiting for the lawyers to
get their acts together.  Waiting for the judge to come back
from lunch.  Waiting for the witness ahead of you to finish
telling *her* story.  Waiting.

So yes, I've waited before.  But never when the stakes have
been this high.

I cast a quick glance at Mulder, seated next to me on this
godawful bench.  He's waiting too, of course, but for once
he seems to be taking it better than I am.  Normally Mulder
would be climbing the walls at this point.  He has very
little patience for the antics of lawyers, and he hates
being cooped up.

By now he should be up off the bench and pacing, making
acerbic comments about the personal habits, probable
ancestry and ultimate destinations of the other participants
in the proceeding, and generally being a pain in the ass. 
It would then be my job to keep him as calm as possible, to
divert him and entertain him and have him ready when our
turn finally comes.  But today he just sits, serene and to
all appearances content.

I wish I could understand how he's managing it.

I force my attention away from my partner, and for the
hundredth time in the past thirty minutes I look around the
lobby.  It is an undistinguished chamber, no different from
a hundred other rooms in public buildings where we've had to
sit and wait over the course of the past six years. 
Directly across from us is a portrait of Thomas Jefferson;
the decor also includes a weathered bronze plaque
commemorating someone I've never heard of, a hand-sewn
tapestry proclaiming the Ten Commandments, and a relief map
of the county which must be at least thirty years out of
date.

As I said -- typical.

I shift restlessly in my seat again -- and then I start in
surprise as Mulder lays a gentle hand on both of mine, where
they sit tightly clenched together in my lap.  I look up at
him, and I see the question marks in his gaze.

I know what he's asking, but despite my jitters at the
suddenness of all this, I'm sure this is where I want to be.
 And so I lace my fingers through his and give his hand a
reassuring squeeze, and we both smile.

What time is it, anyway?  I free my hand and look at my
watch.  12:17 p.m.  Three minutes later than the last time I
looked.  We're supposed to be back at the Hoover Building by
a quarter till one, but unless something happens soon we
aren't going to make it -- and Kersh is far less forgiving
than Skinner when it comes to minor infractions.

12:17.  There's something about that number that seems
familiar.  For a moment I can't place it, but then I
remember:  It was 12:17 a.m., exactly 36 hours ago, when I
arrived at Mulder's apartment for the second time.  Thirty
six hours since I pushed over the first domino and started
the chain of events that led us to this moment.

Thirty six hours.

#          #          #

I stepped off the elevator and walked slowly down the hall
towards Mulder's apartment.  I'd been here earlier in the
evening and he'd turned me away, flatly refusing even to
listen to what I had to say.  Rejecting the forgiveness I'd
tried to offer, because that would have required him to
acknowledge the pain he'd caused me, and the damage he'd
done to our partnership.

I left his apartment fully intending to put an end to it. 
I'd given him his chance, I thought.  I'd given him a clear
and unambiguous warning in the Gunmen's office two days
earlier, and he'd chosen to ignore me.  I'd then come to him
tonight, in the aftermath of that nightmare at El Rico, and
I'd tried to reach out to him.  I'd tried to build a bridge
which might allow us to save what little we had left.  But
he had not cooperated.  He'd refused to do his part to save
our partnership.  And so I left, and as I drove away from
Alexandria and back towards D.C. I truly believed that it
was finally over.

Something wouldn't let me give up, though.  As I sat on our
old bench by the Reflecting Pool, trying to say goodbye to
Mulder in my mind, I found myself unable to let go.  I kept
remembering all the things we'd been through together,
everything we'd seen and heard and said and done, and I just
couldn't put that down and walk away.

I couldn't leave him, no matter how much part of me wanted
to.  And so at length I dried my eyes and blew my nose, and
I headed back to Mulder's place.

Finally I stood in front of his door, trying to work up the
courage to knock.  A small corner of my mind suggested that
maybe he was asleep at last, and that I should leave him be
and we could address these problems tomorrow.  But I knew
better than to really believe that.  Mulder hadn't slept
since El Rico, and I knew he wouldn't be asleep now.  I
gathered up all my courage and knocked lightly on the door.

For a moment I thought perhaps he hadn't heard me.  It was
so still and quiet; I couldn't even hear the TV playing, and
that worried me more than anything.  Mulder always has the
television on; if he'd turned it off that meant he was in a
very dark place indeed.

Abruptly the door swung open, and my partner stood in front
of me.  The lights were out in his apartment, and his face
was lost in shadow.  He seemed so calm, so still, and I felt
a shiver of fear race down my spine -- and in that moment, I
knew I'd done the right thing to come back.

"Mulder," I said, "we need to talk."  And he nodded
slightly, and turned on the light and allowed me to enter
his apartment.

#          #          #

It's past 12:30 now, which means we are definitely going to
be late getting back to work.  I've finally exhausted the
possibilities in examining Mr. Jefferson's portrait, and
I've had the Ten Commandments committed to memory since I
was seven, and so I've resorted to studying the back of my
partner's hand.

It's really quite an interesting hand.  Long lean fingers,
such as you might find on an artist or a musician.  The
knuckles are well-defined, but not so prominent as to be
considered gaunt or bony.  Good muscle tone, and I know from
experience that his grip is firm and controlled without
being overbearing.

I turn his hand over in mine, and now I study the palm.  The
soft, fleshy pads of his fingertips.  The bold pattern of
creases and indentations.  The underlying structure of bone
and tendon and ligament.  The barely discernible network of
veins and capillaries.

"Scully?"

I flush slightly as I realize I've been studying and
manipulating Mulder's hand as I would that of someone on my
autopsy table, and I hesitantly look up at his face.  But
there is no reproach there, nor any sign of the weariness
and resignation which I've seen in his features so often
these past few months.  Instead I see a glint of the old
humor in his eye -- and unless I am greatly mistaken, there
is a hint of tenderness, as well.  Has that been there all
along, and I've just been missing it?  Or is it something
new?

Before I have time to examine that question, however, the
door across the way swings open, and my attention is drawn
to the middle aged woman who earlier took our names and told
us we'd have to wait for a few minutes.

"Fox and Dana?" she says, and there is a friendly smile on
her face.  "We're ready for you now."

As we rise to our feet I hear Mulder mutter something which
sounds suspiciously like, "Geronimo."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

#          #          #

"Scully ... I don't know what to say."

At last Mulder spoke, breaking the silence which had hung
heavy between us since my arrival twenty minutes earlier. 
We were sitting on opposite ends of his sofa, and at the
sound of his voice I lifted my gaze from the floor and
looked at my partner.

God, he was hurting.  He was hurting so terribly much.  In
that first instant all I could see was his pain, and I so
wanted to reach out and comfort him.  I very nearly did.

But I couldn't.  I just couldn't.  The anger of two days
before was gone, but in its place there was a dull, burning
ache, and I could not simply set that to one side, no matter
how much I wanted to.  And so after the briefest of
hesitations I looked away again, and resumed staring at the
floor.

"Scully?" he whispered.

I closed my eyes and shook my head.  Not this time, Mulder,
I thought.  Not this time.  I've done as much as I can
simply by coming here tonight.  I can't do anymore.  Not
this time.

I felt the sofa sag a little as he shifted his weight, and I
tensed slightly lest he try to touch me.  But either he'd
never intended to do that, or he thought better of it.  And
after another moment he spoke again.

"Scully," he said, using my name as if it were a talisman. 
"Scully.  I don't know what you expect of me.  I don't know
why you came back."  He paused, just long enough for my
heart to begin to break.  Then:  "But I'm glad you did."

I let out a breath which I hadn't realized I was holding,
and at last I was able to open my eyes and look at him
again.  But still I could not speak; the hurt was just too
strong.  It was almost more than I could bear just to sit
silently in the room with him.  I knew that he was hurting
too; I could feel it radiating off of him in waves.  But I
couldn't find the strength to respond.  I just couldn't do
it.

"Scully," he repeated, and now that I was looking at him I
could not ignore how much this was costing him.  He looked
as if he was tearing each word from his own flesh before
offering it up to me -- and I was letting him do it.  Worst
of all, deep down inside a small part of me was glad.

"Scully," he said to me one more time, shaking his head. 
"Scully, I don't know any way to say this other than what
I've said before.  If I knew how, I would; you know that." 
Somehow, I managed the tiniest of nods, encouraging him to
continue.  "You finish me, Scully," he went on, his voice a
tragic whisper.  "You make me what I am.  If it weren't for
you I would have long since withered up and blown away. 
It's all because of you, Scully.  Everything is because of
you."

It wasn't enough.  God, how I wanted it to be enough, but it
just wasn't.  As his words flowed over and around me I tried
to make them fit, I tried to use them to fill in that
terrible emptiness, but still the void remained.

Almost against my will, I compared what he'd just said to
the words he'd spoken last summer, when we'd both thought
that I was leaving.  I remembered the sense of utter loss
and despair I'd felt then, and I remembered the rising hope
as his words -- just what I'd come there hoping to hear, I
realized later -- soaked into my soul and seemed to offer
salvation.  "You make me a whole person," he'd said then. 
And I'd believed him, because I so wanted it to be true.

I still did.

But I couldn't do it again.  Despite everything we meant to
each other, despite all that we'd been through together, I
could no longer put my blind trust in this man's words.  No
matter how much I wanted to.  No matter how much part of me
desperately needed to.

I think he must have read my answer in my eyes before I
started speaking, because even as I opened my mouth to
respond I could see him shutting down, and getting ready to
turn out the lights.  But not even that was enough this
time.  Not even that.

"I've heard that speech before, Mulder," I said, very
softly.  "Last summer.  Right outside that door.  It didn't
work out the way either of us hoped, I think.  I know it
didn't work out the way *I* hoped.  And this time it just
isn't enough.  This time, I need something more."

He sat silently for a moment, simply looking at me. 
Finally, his voice even softer than my own, he replied,
"That sounds suspiciously like an ultimatum, Scully."

I shook my head.  "No," I said.  "No, it's not an ultimatum.
 I gave you the ultimatum two days ago in the Gunmen's
office.  This is your second chance, Mulder; this is me
coming back and saying I don't want to follow through on
what I said then."  Work with me on this, Mulder, I thought.
 Don't force me to make this decision.  Please don't force
me to do this.

Don't force me to leave you forever.

He frowned.  "This is about Diana, isn't it?" he asked.

"Of course it's about Diana!" I snapped, trying and failing
to keep the sudden surge of anger from my voice.  My God, I
wondered.  How could this man be so brilliant and so stupid,
all at the same time?  He's a profiler, for God's sake; how
could he not understand?

"Can't you see that by now, Mulder?" I continued.  "How many
times and how many ways do I have to say this?  I've been by
your side for nearly six years, and I need to know that
you're by *my* side, rather than hers."

He tried to speak, but fell silent as I shook my head.  I'd
thought about this so often in the past year -- worried over
it, obsessed over it, and now even *cried* over it -- that
it almost seemed like a preprogrammed speech.  I could only
hope he would be able to hear the truth in what I was
saying.  He hadn't heard me in the Gunmen's office, but
maybe now, after all that had happened as a consequence of
that error ....

"When I follow you off to the far corners of the earth," I
said abruptly, "I need to know that it's you I'm following,
not her.  Because I don't trust her, Mulder -- you're the
only one I trust.  And because you were right in what you
said the other night:  It *is* personal for me, and it has
been for a long time.  I don't want to give that up, but you
have to give me something.  Some sort of reassurance. 
Something tangible, something I can depend on, to tell me
that you and I are in this for the long haul.  Together,
Mulder.  You and me, together."

His lips quirked at my words, and for just an instant I saw
the playful, spirited man I used to know -- and then from
somewhere I had a sudden premonition of what he was about to
say.  "You sound like you want to get married or something,
Scully."

I paused and blinked, and in the space between two
heartbeats a jumble of images flashed through my mind:

-- Me and Melissa giggling in our beds after lights out as
we one-upped each other in imagining the most lavish wedding
possible.

-- Dancing with Marcus Hollister at the senior prom, and
realizing with regret that he would not be the one.

-- Lying in bed with Tom Danforth the afternoon I lost my
virginity, terrified that I might be pregnant and wondering
what I was going to do if I was.

-- Filling out applications for medical school and suddenly
realizing that I hadn't seriously considered the question of
a husband and children for years.

-- Leaving Jack Willis' apartment for the last time, after
that horrible fight the night he proposed.

-- Sending Mulder away when he tried to comfort me, and then
lying down next to Emily and waiting for her to die.

-- Hearing Mulder's voice on my cell phone asking me to
marry him, and feeling a strange flutter of ... something
... in the brief instant before I turned his words aside.

-- Mulder's lips lightly touching mine for one eternal
instant as we stood in the hallway outside this very
apartment.

And then time started up again, and I was sitting on
Mulder's sofa and looking up into his eyes, and very soberly
I said,  "Maybe I would."

#          #          #

I'm sitting in the passenger seat of Mulder's car as we make
our way through the late lunch hour traffic.  The ceremony
didn't take very long; only ten minutes or so, fully half of
which was consumed by the magistrate's desire to "get to
know" us.  But finally we each said the necessary words and
signed the necessary papers, and now we're in the car and on
our way back to work.

I don't feel any different yet.

I turn in my seat and look at Mulder.  He wants me to
believe that all of his attention is focused on the traffic,
but I know better.  Inside that mind of his, wheels are
turning.  Just as they are in mine.

I wish I understood a little better how this all came to
pass.  Even more, I wish I knew what's supposed to happen
next.  There are so many questions we haven't answered --
haven't even addressed.  So many things we still need to
work out.  So many things I still want to know.

Will we live together?  If so, where?  How will we tell our
families?  *When* will we tell our families?  We never
really discussed it, but somehow we've arrived at an
agreement to keep this to ourselves, at least for the time
being.  My mother will be hurt, and my brothers will be
furious -- but I didn't do this for them.  I did this for
me.  For us.  To save what we had.  To save each other.

God.  Will we sleep together?  Married people typically do
-- but there is very little about my relationship with Fox
Mulder which can reasonably be characterized as typical.

We haven't even bothered to buy rings.

Mulder is pulling into the underground parking garage at the
Hoover Building.  In a few more minutes we'll be getting out
of the car and walking back inside, back to the bullpen with
all the other agents, where we'll proceed to spend the
afternoon doing paperwork and conducting background checks. 
Just as we did yesterday, and just as we'll do tomorrow.

We've met with Skinner and Kersh and Spender, and we have
hopes that we may soon get the X-Files back.  But so far
that's all it is -- a hope.  As of right now, nothing has
changed.  It is still possible that nothing *will* change.

Unless we decide to make it change.

The car comes to a halt and Mulder switches off the engine,
and for a moment we just sit together in silence.  He seems
to be studying the dashboard, and for a moment I think he's
trying to come up with something to say, but then I realize
the truth:  He's waiting.  Waiting for *me* to say
something.  And somewhere, deep down inside, I find the
courage.

"Mulder?" I say, very softly.  His mouth twitches slightly,
and then he turns his head to look at me.  In his eyes I see
everything I'd ever hoped would be there, and I reach out
one hand and lay it on top of his as it rests on the
steering wheel.  "After work, would you like to come over to
my place?  We could have dinner and ... talk."

A slow smile spreads across his face, and he says, "Yeah,
Scully.  I'd like that."  And then he leans over and kisses
me on the mouth, giving me a provisional answer to at least
one of my questions.

And that's good enough for a start.


==================

One Son:

CHAPTER THREE - Objects in Motion

==================


I'm going to wear a hole in this carpet if I'm not careful.

I've been pacing back and forth through my apartment for
something like twenty minutes now.  I glance at my watch. 
Twenty-three minutes, to be precise.  It is now 6:54 p.m.,
and Mulder is due to arrive in exactly six minutes.

I tried sitting on the sofa, but it didn't work.  Isaac
Newton said that objects in motion tend to remain in motion
unless acted upon by an outside force, and I guess maybe
that law applies to me tonight, because I just can't seem to
stay still.

Or maybe I'm just nervous.

It's been a little over two hours since we parted company at
the Hoover Building.  I've spent most of the intervening
time getting ready -- putting together dinner and, God help
me, changing clothes three times, from the skin out.

Which makes no sense at all.  Mulder has seen me in just
about every state of dress and undress imaginable -- down to
and including stark naked and covered with sticky green goo.
 Still, somehow it seems to matter how I look tonight.  I
guess in a way it's like getting ready for a date.

A blind date.

With my husband.

Jesus.

I can't believe I'm actually doing this.  I can't believe
I've actually *done* this.  I can't believe I've actually
married Fox Mulder.  Forty-eight hours ago the thought had
not even entered my mind.  Forty-eight hours ago I was ready
to call it quits, and walk out -- on Mulder, on the X-Files,
maybe even on the whole damned Bureau.

Now I'm more committed than I ever was before.  Or maybe I
should just *be* committed.  Or something.

I stop pacing for a moment and stare at the small collection
of photographs sitting on the bookcase.  Pictures of my
family:  Mom and Ahab; Melissa; Bill and Tara and Matthew;
Charlie and Betty and their kids.  Bill, especially, seems
to be staring back at me accusingly, but the others don't
look too happy at the moment, either.  Except for Matthew,
of course.  He's too young to care.

There's a knock on the door and I glance again at my watch. 
6:59 p.m.  Mulder is actually punctual tonight.  Well, he
has reason to be.

I move to the door and pull it open, and there he is.  Fox
William Mulder, Oxford educated psychologist and Special
Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  My husband. 
I turn the word over in my mind:  Husband.  Husband. 
Husband.

*My* husband.

Dear God.

"Scully?" he says.  "Can I come in?"

I realize with a start that I've been standing here in the
doorway staring at him, mesmerized by his sudden presence. 
He's gorgeous, simply gorgeous.  It has been a very long
time since I've allowed myself to notice this about my
partner, but there's no denying it.  He's dressed in black
jeans, a white t-shirt and a v-necked pullover sweater which
I don't remember seeing before, and the overall effect is
absolutely ... something.

And he's holding flowers.  Two of them.  One red rose and
one white one.

"Scully?" he says again -- and I'm finally prompted to move
out of the doorway and allow him to enter.  As I do so I
realize that he's looking at me, too, openly checking me out
for the first time in years.  And it looks as if he likes
what he sees.

I look down at myself and realize with embarrassment that
I'm wearing what could be construed to be makeout clothes: 
My nicest pair of casual slacks and my loose-fitting,
low-cut, blue angora sweater.  I bought the sweater because
I thought it went well with my eyes, but from the expression
on Mulder's face it obviously has other qualities as well. 
The thing is, I only put it on tonight because it's
comfortable.

I think.

This is just one of the many things we have to work out. 
The whole question of sex, I mean.  I don't think it's going
to happen tonight -- that is, actual sex is not going to
happen tonight-- but we may be able to talk about it a bit. 
Along with all the other myriad details which we never quite
addressed before we drove over to that courthouse in
Virginia at lunchtime today and swore we wanted to spend the
rest of our lives together.

I've been working on a list.

"I brought you some flowers," Mulder says unnecessarily. 
Who else would they be for, after all?  But the way he
stutters it out is actually very endearing, and I find it
reassuring to know that he's just as nervous as I am.

"Thank you, Mulder," I say, trying to keep the tremor out of
my voice as I take the two roses from him.  White for
friendship, red for ....

"I didn't know which color you liked best," he explains, and
now he sounds even more nervous.  "So I got one of each."

I stand there in front of him for a moment studying the
flowers, not saying anything.  Despite the subterfuge, it's
easy to see that Mulder is actually asking me a question, in
his own oblique, idiosyncratic way.  And it would be so easy
just to take the white rose and be done with it.  It would
resolve a lot of the stickiest issues and questions
emanating from our actions of the past two days.  It really
would.

But I can't do that.  I can't do that to him, and I can't do
that to myself.  Most of all, I can't do that to *us*.  Us,
I remind myself.  Since this afternoon it's no longer him,
or me.  It's us.

"Thank you Mulder," I say again, very softly.  "I think I'd
like to keep them both, if that's okay."  I dare to look up
at him, and judging from the relieved smile on his face I
must have picked the right answer.  I reach out with my free
hand and lightly touch the back of his, then turn away to
get a vase from the kitchen.

I stand in the kitchen looking at the roses for just another
minute after I put them in the vase.  They really are
beautiful, and the symbolism is touching.  So Mulder is a
romantic.  I wonder how I managed not to know that?

Maybe this marriage is going to have some fun in it after
all.

Before going back to the living room I turn the heat on
under the pot of water I left sitting on the stove earlier
and throw in some vermicelli.  The herbed butter sauce is
already simmering, so I just give it a quick stir, then grab
the bottle of sparkling cider from the fridge and two
glasses from the cupboard and head back out to Mulder.

I find him standing in front of the bookcase, examining the
same pictures of my family which I had looked at earlier. 
He doesn't seem to have heard me come back in the room, so I
quietly set the bottle and glasses down on the coffee table
and then move up behind him.

I hesitate for just a moment, and then I remind myself that
this is my *husband* standing here, and that I'm allowed to
show some affection towards him.  And so I take the last two
steps until I'm standing next to him, and tentatively slide
my arm around his waist.

He jumps slight at my touch, but I don't mind that.  I'm
kind of jumpy myself this evening.  Then he puts his arm
around my shoulder, and glances down at me for a second and
nods his head in the direction of the photos.

"You have a nice family, Scully," he says, just a hint of
wistfulness in his voice.  "Very normal and wholesome.

Coming from anyone else in some other context those words
might seem self-pitying, but Mulder and I have been through
a lot together, and I know exactly what he means.  He's
referring to this whole "normal life" discussion that he and
I have been intermittently carrying on ever since the
X-Files were taken away from us at the end of last summer. 
There are some incredibly subtle shades of nuance in his
simple statement -- and as is so often the case with Fox
Mulder, he's asking a question which is very different from
what he seems to have said.

"They like who they are and what they're part of," I offer. 
"They're happy."  I pause, then continue, "But I don't think
I would be.  There was a time when I could have been like
that -- " and now it's my turn to nod at the photographs "
-- but that was a long time ago."  I raise my eyes to meet
his, and I finish, "I've told you before, Mulder:  Even if I
could, I wouldn't change a single day."

"They're your family, Scully," he replies, very softly.

"Yes, they are," I acknowledge, my own voice equally soft. 
I can't force myself to go on; I can't force myself to say
the rest of what I'm thinking, and tell Mulder that I've
made my decision and that I'm happy with it.  I only hope he
can read it in my eyes.

It seems he and I still have a few issues to work through.

#          #          #

It's later.

Dinner is over, and Mulder and I are sitting curled up on my
sofa, not quite cuddling, but just a little closer and more
intimate than mere friends would be.

I've discovered I like this; I like it a lot.  I like the
warmth of his body only a few inches from mine.  I like the
gentle comfort of his touch.  I like the fact that we can
sit here holding hands and watching television, just sharing
some quiet time together.  I like the soft rumble of his
voice, and the friendly company of his laugh -- a laugh
which I have not heard in so very, very long.

I like everything about this.  Maybe we really can make a go
of this.  I have to admit that despite the determination
I've been projecting the past two days, I have had my
doubts.  I still do, but they seem to be slowly fading.  I
don't kid myself that we're over the hump by any means, and
I know there are still plenty of challenges ahead of us. 
But I'm beginning to feel pretty good about my relationship
with Mulder -- for the first time, really, in more than two
years.

One challenge we face at the moment is figuring out how to
draw this evening to a close.  It's getting late, and we
both need our rest.  The problem is, I don't quite know how
to ask him to leave.

"Scully?" Mulder says.  "Would you be upset if I went home
now?  It's been a long day, and I have a few things I need
to do around my place before I hit the hay."

I feel a slow smile spread across my face.  Score one for
non-verbal communication.

I turn to face him, and dammit, this time I'm going to give
in to temptation, just a little.  I slip one hand behind his
head and draw his mouth to mine.  "That's fine, Mulder," I
murmur, just before our lips meet.  "I've got some things I
need to get done myself."  And then I kiss him.

It's not a great kiss, but it's a good kiss.  Much better
than the one in his car this afternoon.  I think we're both
just a little too nervous for it to be a great kiss, but
this too is something that will come with time.  Finally I
release him, and we share a smile.

I wait for him to get up and leave, but it seems he still
has something on his mind.  I wait patiently for him to work
up his courage, and then my eyebrows shoot up in surprise as
he suddenly starts digging in his pocket.

"Mulder?"

"I brought something for you," he explains, and his hand
emerges from his pocket and he opens it to display a ring.

Not an engagement ring or a wedding ring; a heavy gold ring,
suitable for a man's hand.  I feel my pulse speed up a bit,
and I reach out and take the ring from him, and I turn it
over and examine it.  There's a large blue-green stone, and
as I look closer I realize there's a small crest of some
sort with what looks to be a diamond chip on it.  Studying
it still closer, I discover that the crest is a stylized
rendition of the letters CHS, and on the inside is an
inscription:  FWM, 5/24/80.

It's his high school class ring.

My vision is suddenly blurry, and I shift my gaze back up
from the ring to my partner.  He appears nervous and
embarrassed, but more than anything else he appears
determined.

"I've thought and thought," he explains, his voice almost
breathtaking in its sudden shyness.  "Trying to think of
something I could give you as a ... present.  This is the
only thing I have that really seems appropriate.  I know we
haven't talked about rings and we may not want to wear them
under the circumstances and this is kind of cheesy at our
age, but -- "

"It's beautiful," I say, cutting him off.  "I like it. 
Thank you."  I pull his head down again and we share another
kiss.  This one is better than the last, but not as good as
the next will be.  There is promise here, promise of
wonderful things to come.  Promise that we *will* be able to
work out all the other problems which still are unresolved.

This time when our lips finally separate I find myself a
little short of breath -- and Mulder is, too.  Again we both
smile, and he lifts his hand and lightly caresses my cheek. 
I lean into his touch, just a little, and I close my eyes,
and for a minute we simply share the quiet.

At last he rises from the sofa and heads for the door.  He
stops with his hand on the knob and turns back to look at
me.

"See you tomorrow?" he not-quite-asks.

"Wouldn't miss it," I reply with a smile -- and I wonder how
long it will be before we don't feel the need to say goodbye
at the end of the evening.  Mulder smiles back, then he
pulls the door open and in another moment he's gone.

I stay sitting on the sofa for several minutes, thinking
about everything that's happened here this evening.  I'd
thought we were going to talk about things tonight -- all
the details, both trivial and important, and all the changes
that lie ahead.  Money, living arrangements, sex -- all the
things that most people work out *before* they get married. 
And of course there's still the small matter of Agent Fowley
and his misplaced trust in her ....

I shake my head and push those thoughts away.  We do still
need to talk about those things, but I guess they can wait. 
Establishing a comfort level, which I now realize is what
we've been working on tonight, is more important, and even a
necessary prerequisite to all those other discussions we're
going to have down the road.  We're still not there yet --
we're still not where *I* want us to be, and I don't think
we're where Mulder wants us, either.  But at least we've
taken a step in the right direction.

Objects in motion tend to remain in motion, unless acted
upon by an outside force.  Two days ago Mulder and I were in
motion, all right, but we were moving away from each other. 
Now we've been acted on by an outside force -- Diana Fowley
-- and we're finally growing closer.  We're still in motion,
though.  We probably always will be.  It's not in either of
our natures to remain still for long.

And now I'm tired.  I'm really, really tired.  It's been a
long stressful day -- hell, it's been a long, stressful week
-- and I truly do need to get some rest.  But first I have
two things I need to do.

The first is easy.  I reach up behind my neck and unclasp
the chain which holds my cross.  I thread Mulder's class
ring onto the chain, then fasten it back in place.  The ring
is cool and heavy lying against my skin, and its presence
comforts me.  I touch it lightly with my fingertips, and I
try to imagine the gawky, unhappy boy who wore this ring so
many years ago.  That gawky boy has grown into the man who
sat on my sofa tonight and kissed me so thoroughly, and I
desperately want to know more about both of them.  Someday I
hope I'll have the opportunity.

Now for the harder of the two chores.  I rise from the sofa
and go to my desk.  It takes a few minutes of rummaging in
the drawers, but finally I find it:  The one and only
picture I have of Mulder.

It's a crime scene photo, taken by one of the Bureau's
official photographers.  I don't even remember which case
it's from anymore; it was taken years ago, very early in our
partnership.  It shows Mulder supervising the investigation,
looking very calm and authoritative and in control.  In the
background there's a short, blurred figure with red hair --
me.  And I'm watching his every move.

Did I really used to be that person?

I shake my head and move back over to the bookcase.  For a
moment I look once again at my family, considering where I
want to put the newest member.  Finally I prop Mulder's
picture up against the one of Melissa.  Tomorrow I'll stop
by Wal-Mart and pick up a frame, but this will have to do
for tonight.  That shouldn't be a problem, though; Mulder
can stand on his own for that long.

I stand gazing at my newly enlarged family for just another
minute, before I finally turn the lights off and go to bed.


==================

Arcadia:

CHAPTER FOUR - Sin of Omission

==================


The good news is we've got the X-Files back!

The bad news is -- we've got the X-Files back.

I don't mean to suggest I'm unhappy about this -- and Scully
seems pretty pleased about it, too.  I certainly don't mean
to be looking a gift horse in the mouth.  But the timing
could have been a little better.

I mean, it wasn't even a week ago that Scully and I managed
to dodge the metaphorical bullet and save the tattered
remnants of our partnership.  Somehow in the process we
wound up married -- I still don't quite understand how that
happened, although again, I'm not going to look a gift horse
in the mouth.  When it comes to Dana Scully, I'll take
whatever I can get.  But the fact remains that we now have a
huge number of issues to work through, both personal and
professional, and it would be nice if we had a little
breathing room to do it in.

Trust the universe not to allow that to happen.

Yesterday afternoon we were called into Skinner's office and
informed that we had our old assignments back.  This
morning, before we even had a chance to go down to the old
basement office and see what kind of shape it was in, he
called us in again and told us that we're being sent out to
the field.  Immediately.

As in, our flight leaves Washington National tomorrow
morning at five, we have a briefing and other preparations
at the San Diego field office scheduled to begin 30 minutes
after we arrive, and then we're supposed to be on site by
mid-afternoon.

Oh yes -- and it's an undercover assignment.  As husband and
wife, no less.  When God decides to play games with our
heads, He doesn't fuck around.

The end result of this is that we spent all of today --
Scully's birthday, when I had promised to take her out for
an extended lunch at a nice restaurant -- cooped up in a
conference room, eating stale sandwiches and receiving an
intensive briefing on a series of mysterious disappearances
at a planned community called the Falls at Arcadia.  This
doesn't really sound like an X-File to me, but what the
hell.  Skinner's got it classified as one, and it sure beats
the manure patrol.

God, that briefing was long.  We were told what we will
wear, how we will act, and what we're supposed to look for. 
We were even told what sort of food we're going to eat.  My
one contribution was our phony names:  Rob and Laura Petrie.
 Nobody caught it except Scully -- of course -- who shot me
such a glare that it should be no problem making people
believe we're married.  Especially since we are.

Anyway, now we're in her car on the way to Georgetown, where
I will spend the night on her sofa since we have to get up
at such a godawful hour to catch our plane.  We don't even
need to pack; clothing and other personal necessities
consistent with our cover identities will be waiting for us
at the other end.

At last we arrive at her apartment building, and I'm just
starting to really look forward to the opportunity to take
my shoes and necktie off and relax -- and suddenly my
partner begins swearing.

"Shit!" Scully says as she pulls into her parking spot.  "My
mother's here!  Damn, damn, damn!"

"Scully?"

"I promised I'd let her take me out to dinner for my
birthday," she explains.  "But I got so wrapped up in the
briefing I completely forgot.  I was supposed to be here at
six.  Dammit, Mulder, I was looking forward to it, too!" 
She slams her hands on the steering wheel in apparent
frustration, then climbs from the car and heads for the
front door, and I have to hurry to catch up.

As we wait for the elevator I take a moment to consider the
situation.  Mrs. Scully doesn't know yet that I've married
her only remaining daughter.  In fact, nobody knows, other
than a few clerks and one magistrate at the Fairfax County
Courthouse.  Which means I am about to come face-to-face
with a woman who does not yet know she's my mother-in-law.

Christ.

I'm not quite sure how we came to the decision to keep our
marriage a secret.  Certainly in the long run that's not
going to work -- not if it's going to be a real marriage. 
But I have the impression that Scully isn't quite ready to
go public, and that's okay with me.  We both need some time
to adjust to the situation, and it'll probably be easier to
do if we don't have a lot of people watching our every move
and second-guessing us.

At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

At last the elevator arrives and we get on board and ride up
to Scully's floor.  The walk down the hallway to her door
seems to take forever, making me feel like a condemned
prisoner being led to the gallows.  I like Maggie Scully,
and I'm not at all comfortable with the idea of lying to
her, even if it is a sin of omission.  Unfortunately, that's
pretty much what we've been doing for the past week -- and
if I feel this badly about it, it must be ten times worse
for Scully.

Just as we reach her door I grab her elbow and turn her to
face me.  We need to talk about this; we need to work out
what we're going to do and say.  We just stood in front of
Skinner for the fifth work day in a row and kept it from
him, but this is different.  This is Scully's *mother*.

But before I can even open my mouth to say anything, Scully
arches an eyebrow at me and shakes her head, and I can hear
the message as clearly as if she'd spoken the words:  Shut
up, Mulder, and follow my lead.

I acquiesce.  It's her mother, after all.  She studies my
face for a few seconds, then turns and unlocks the door and
we both step across the threshold into the living room.

Which is empty.

I glance at Scully, and she shrugs.  "Probably in the
bathroom," she says.  "Or went for a walk."  She gets that
nervous look which says she's about to kiss me, and then she
does.  It's a pretty good kiss, too.  We got in a fair
amount of practice over the weekend, and we're both finally
starting to get comfortable with the touching that goes with
a romantic relationship.  "I'll be back in a minute," she
adds after she finally releases me.  "I want to get out of
my work clothes."  And she disappears down the hall in the
direction of her bedroom.

While I'm waiting I wander over to the shelf where Scully --
my wife, I remind myself -- keeps her family pictures.  I
have not yet told her how touched I was when I came over
here the day after we were married and found that she'd
added a photo of me to her collection.  It has been a very
long time since I had any real feelings of belonging or
intimacy with either of my parents, and Scully's simple,
quiet act of inclusion has made me feel warmer and better
loved than I am comfortable admitting to her, at least yet.

I only hope the rest of her family feels the same way when
we finally get around to telling them -- although in the
case of her older brother, at least, I realize that's
probably asking a bit much.

"Fox?"

I turn to see Maggie Scully standing in the entrance to the
hallway, apparently having just come from the bathroom. 
"Mrs. Scully," I say, moving forward to greet her.  "Scu --
Dana will be out in just a minute.  She just went down the
hall to change.  I'm surprised you didn't bump into her."

"I see."  Her manner seems slightly stiff; I guess she must
be a little angry at having been stood up.

"I'm sorry Dana wasn't here when she said she would be," I
go on, hoping to smooth things over.  This *is* my
mother-in-law, after all, even if she doesn't know it yet. 
"We just got a new assignment and the briefing took longer
than we'd hoped, and Dana forgot to call."

Mrs. Scully nods in acknowledgement of this information, but
it seems to do nothing to alleviate her annoyance.

I'm forced to remind myself that I really don't know this
woman very well.  We spent a fair amount of time together
after Scully was abducted by Duane Barry, but that was years
ago, and a lot has changed since then -- not all of it for
the better.  I am uneasily aware that there is more than a
little justice in Bill Scully's reasons for disliking me,
and I can't help but wonder if some of that dislike hasn't
rubbed off on his mother.  If that turns out to be true,
it's going to make it that much harder when we do finally
break the news to her.

Which may well be tonight.

"Mom?"  We both turn to see Scully emerging from the
hallway.  She's changed out of her suit and is now wearing
soft gray slacks and a light blue blouse which sets off her
hair and eyes.  She's been dressing in a more casually
feminine style during our non-work time this past week, and
that's one change of which I wholeheartedly approve.

"Mom," Scully repeats, moving forward to hug her mother. 
"I'm so sorry.  We had a meeting at work and it ran late,
and I --"

"Yes, Fox was just telling me about it," Mrs. Scully
replies, cutting her off -- and if I wasn't sure before, I
am now.  This woman is angry -- more angry than seems
reasonable at what appears to me to be a fairly minor
offense.

Mrs. Scully steps out of her daughter's embrace and moves a
few steps away before continuing.  "I suppose if you've got
a new assignment that means you're going to be busy this
evening getting ready, so I'd better be going."  And she
starts to walk towards the door.

"Mom?"  Scully's voice is showing the strain; it's obvious
she's picked up on her mother's feelings.  "Mom, what's
wrong?"

Mrs. Scully hesitates, her hand on the doorknob.  I can see
from the set of her shoulders that she just wants to keep on
going, but she apparently can't quite bring herself to do
it.  Unfortunately, I don't know her well enough to know
whether that's good or bad.  And then she apparently settles
her internal debate and turns to face her daughter again.

"When were you planning to tell me, Dana?" she snaps.

Oh my god.  She knows.  I don't know how she knows, but she
knows.

"T-tell you?" Scully stutters.  "Tell you what?"  From the
look on her face I can see that she's drawn the same
conclusion I have, but she apparently couldn't keep herself
from trying to dodge the question.

"Oh, come on, Dana," Mrs. Scully replies, the anger rising
in her voice.  "It's bad enough that you cut me out of this;
please don't play stupid with me as well."  She gestures at
Scully's desk, where a small stack of personal papers sits
waiting to be processed or filed.  "You left your marriage
license lying out in plain sight."

Scully's gaze flicks briefly at me, and I can see in her
expression that even now she's considering denying our
marriage -- denying *me* -- but then she looks back at her
mother, takes a deep breath, and says, "Mom, I'm sorry.  I
didn't mean for you to find out this way, but it just ...
sort of ... happened."

"'Just sort of happened,' Dana?" Mrs. Scully replies,
mimicking her daughter's tone.  "'Just sort of happened?' 
To *you*?"  She shakes her head and takes a couple of steps
towards Scully, who right this minute is looking pretty
damned small and lost and vulnerable.  I wish I could do
something to make this better, but even I have enough sense
to realize that anything I say or do right now will almost
certainly just make matters worse.

"More than any of us," Maggie Scully continues, "you were
the one who always had everything planned out in advance.  A
place for everything, and everything in its place --
including love and marriage.  And you want me to believe
that you just woke up one morning and decided to get married
-- and then you simply forgot to tell me?  I'm sorry, Dana,
but I can't believe that."

I wince at her words, and I want to break in and tell her
that's pretty much exactly what happened, and that she's
trivializing the pain and heartache the two of us went
through to get where we are.  But it won't help, I remind
myself, and she's clearly not in a mood to listen even if it
would.  So I remain silent.

"Mom -- "

"Save it," her mother replies.  "Don't even bother to try. 
You've been progressively shutting the family out of your
life ever since you joined the FBI, and I guess I shouldn't
be surprised that it's finally come to this."  And she turns
and walks to the door.

"Mom, wait!"  Scully runs after her mother and catches up
with her just as the older woman opens the door to leave. 
"Mom, *please* don't go.  I want to talk -- "

Mrs. Scully hesitates, then turns back to her daughter --
and I'm relieved to see that her features have softened,
just a bit.  "We'll talk, Dana," she says.  There's still a
grim undercurrent to her voice, but it seems suddenly a
little less implacable.  "We'll talk.  Just not ... not
right now."  She looks over at me.  "I'm sorry Fox," she
adds.  "I know this should be a happy occasion, but I'm just
not up to it right now."

"I'm sorry too, Mrs. Scully," I say, very softly.  "Neither
one of us wanted it to be like this."

She nods slightly, then looks back at her daughter and her
features soften even further.  "I'm sorry, Dana," she says. 
"It's just come as a bit of a shock.  Call me when you get
back from wherever you're going."  And then she turns and
walks out of the apartment, closing the door quietly behind
her.


==================

Arcadia:

CHAPTER FIVE - Fallout

==================


I'm trying to figure out just what's gotten into Scully
these past few days..

I'm pretty sure it's got something to do with our stay at
the Falls at Arcadia.  Just what, I don't know, because it
seemed to me that things went pretty smoothly, considering
it was our first time in the field together since last
summer -- and especially considering the personal challenge
it presented to both of us.

Having to pose as husband and wife in order to conduct our
investigation of the planned community was pretty well
guaranteed to present us with problems -- especially in
light of our *actual* marriage ten days ago.  But somewhat
to my surprise, we seem to have passed that test with flying
colors.

I suppose Scully's upset must have something to do with that
horrible confrontation with her mother the night before we
left.  I can see Mrs. Scully's position, of course.  Oh boy
can I see it.  It must have come as quite a shock to her to
let herself into her daughter's apartment and discover our
marriage license sitting there on the desk.

But that doesn't change the fact that Scully ... my Scully
...  Dana ... my *wife*, dammit ... was pretty badly hurt by
some of the things her mother said to her that night.  And I
can understand that, too, and I can't help feeling partly
responsible for having driven a wedge between my partner and
her mother -- and probably the rest of her family, too.  So,
yeah, that's probably what's been bothering her.

Scully started giving me a hard time almost as soon as we
arrived in Arcadia -- even going so far as to heckle me
about squeezing the toothpaste wrong and leaving the toilet
seat up.  By the time we got back to DC it was no surprise
to me that she didn't invite me back to her apartment to
unwind.  I may not have been married very long, but I've had
enough experience with women to know when I'm in the
doghouse -- even if I don't understand why.  It even
occurred to me to wonder whether she's going to keep our
date for this afternoon -- but she hasn't called to cancel,
so I here I am, pulling into the parking lot at the new
shopping mall in Chevy Chase.

The venue was Scully's choice, but the basic concept was
mine.  We've been working on establishing a comfort zone,
adjusting to the idea of being married and all that it
entails.  Most of this has taken place either at her
apartment or mine, and at the end of last weekend I had
hesitantly suggested that it was time to take the show on
the road, so to speak, and start getting used to being a
couple in public.

Somewhat to my surprise, she agreed -- but then, one of
Scully's strengths is her ability to face up to reality and
do whatever is necessary.  So here we are, about to embark
on our first real "date", window shopping at the mall of all
things.  As I said, it was Scully's choice, but I don't
really mind -- assuming she shows up, of course.

I park my car and make my way into the mall.  The original
plan was to come here on Saturday, but since we wound up
spending the weekend working, we rescheduled for Monday
afternoon.  And I have to admit that it's actually not too
bad here, at least in terms of crowds.  All the kids are in
school, of course, and a lot of adults are at work, leaving
the place comparatively empty.

Well, almost all the kids are in school.  As I stand in the
entryway a small group of teenagers -- three boys and two
girls -- push roughly past me into the mall.  For an instant
I'm tempted to go after them, and I have visions of taking
them down with a bark of, "Federal agent!  Freeze!"  But
then I have additional visions, visions which involve
explaining to Skinner why I was spending my day off using my
badge and gun to enforce truancy laws in suburban Maryland. 
And so I desist.

A few minutes later, having checked the directory by the
main entrance, I find myself drifting slowly in the
direction of the food court, which is where I'm supposed to
meet Scully in twenty minutes or so.  There's a definite
sameness to all of the shops I pass, despite the variety of
products they offer.  It seems so strange to me that Scully
would be drawn to a place like this.  She's so alive and
vital and original, while malls have always seemed to me to
be sterile places, stamped out of plastic and mediocrity.

Still, I remind myself, Scully must like it here, or she
wouldn't have made the suggestion.  And so I amble along,
not paying much heed to the other shoppers.  I have to admit
that it's nice just to stroll along at loose ends, not
needing to be anywhere at any particular time, and not
having to watch every passerby against the possibility that
he's an enemy.  The only thing I can think of that might
improve the situation would be to have Scully with me, and
she'll be here soon enough.

Maybe I'm beginning to see the point to this after all.

After a few minutes I come to a stop in front of  a jewelry
store.  I hadn't been planning this; I haven't even been
consciously thinking about the possibility of buying Scully
a ring.  She seems pretty happy with my class ring, as corny
as that may sound, and I'd sort of assumed we were going to
leave it at that, at least for now.  It's not as if we don't
have plenty of *other* issues we need to settle.

However I got here, I am now standing in front of this
jewelry store, looking in the window and trying to get up
the nerve to go inside.

And I'm having a sudden flashback to the last time I visited
a jewelry store with this purpose in mind.  It was in early
1989, and Diana was with me that time, of course.  We spent
a pleasant afternoon hitting every jewelry store in
Georgetown that we could find.  We finally settled on a pair
of simple gold bands, then went out to dinner before going
back to my place to celebrate.

I can barely remember being that person.  Diana and I had
been together for nearly three years at that point, and we
thought we were ready to make the commitment.  Practical
obstacles kept getting in the way, and we never did set a
date, but we wore the rings as a sort of promise -- right up
until the day she left for Europe, more than a year later.

I even continued wearing mine for several months after that.
 I assumed she was coming back, of course; she never did
quite explain how she got that assignment, but she promised
me that it was temporary, and that when she came back we
would finally finish what we'd started.  I believed her, of
course, and I still think she was sincere about her
intentions.

Then her letters stopped coming.

I shake my head and try to force the memories away -- and it
occurs to me that my relationship with Diana is probably not
the most suitable or constructive topic for reflection under
the present circumstances.  It is, of course, one of the
most important sore points still remaining between Scully
and me, and although I know we're going to have to deal with
it at some point, I don't think today is the best day for
it.  Besides, we're supposed to be having fun this
afternoon.

"Is this spot taken?"

I can't help but smile at the familiar words, and I turn to
see Scully standing beside and a little behind me.  She
smiles back, and takes my hand, and there's hardly any
awkwardness at all as she leans up and kisses me briefly.

I guess maybe I'm forgiven for whatever transgressions I may
have committed.  I suppose I should be grateful for that,
but I'd still like to know what I did.

"Actually, it is," I say, once my mouth is free.  "It has
been for awhile."  That elicits another smile.  "And the
woman who's taken it -- she sometimes experiences violent
impulses."

"Well, I'm armed, so I'll take my chances," she replies, and
at this point we're both grinning like idiots, so I kiss her
again.

Finally we break the clench, and Scully raises an eyebrow
and nods at the jewelry store window.  She doesn't even have
to say anything; I can see the question in her eyes, and
suddenly I'm nervous all over again.  There's something in
her manner that isn't quite right, despite her apparently
outgoing mood.

"Well, you said window shopping," I point out, trying to
keep the unease from my voice.  "This is a window.  I was
shopping."

She studies my face for a moment, and if I wasn't sure
before, I am now.  Something's wrong.  For just an instant
she looks as if she wants to say something in response to my
comment, but then she just snorts softly and tugs on my
hand, leading me away from the jewelry store and on in the
direction of the food court.  "Come on, Mulder," she says. 
"I'm hungry."

As we stand in line at Taco Bell I spend a few minutes
pondering the situation.  The only things clear about it are
that Scully is upset about something, and that she has
deflected me from considering buying wedding rings.  *Why*
she did so is a mystery.  Does she not need a ring?  Does
she not want to spend the money on something we couldn't
wear most of the time anyway?  Or is there some other thread
of Scully logic that I'm just completely failing to see?

Is she having second thoughts about the whole marriage?

I don't know where the hell *that* idea came from, but I
instantly reject it.  Whatever else may be wrong, I know
that can't be true.  Scully wouldn't do that to me.  She
wouldn't jump into something like this if she wasn't
absolutely sure it was what she wanted, and it would take
more than a few days of stupidity from me -- from her
husband -- to make her decide she wanted out.

God, I hope that's true.

Suddenly I feel very claustrophobic and oppressed.  I don't
know where all these people came from; the rest of the mall
is almost deserted, but the food court is actually crowded. 
They couldn't all have come here just to eat, could they? 
Eventually we reach the front of the line and place our
orders, and a few minutes later we're making our way through
the knot of people and sliding into seats at one of the
ridiculously small tables.

For a few minutes we both concentrate on our food.  Scully
doesn't talk much when she's eating, and in this instance
that's fine with me, because it gives me a little time to
collect my thoughts.

Not very much time, as it turns out.  She eats about half of
her burrito, then sets it down with a sigh and catches my
eye -- and I've already been married long enough to know
what *that* means, so I swallow the bite I'm working on, and
push the tray a little to one side.  Clearing the decks for
action, so to speak.

"Mulder, why did we get married?"

Oh my god.  She *is* having second thoughts.  I feel as if
I've just been pitched headfirst into a bucket of ice water,
and I am suddenly acutely aware of exactly how easy it would
be to have this marriage annulled and just walk away from
it.

I've got to find a way to talk her out of this. 
Unfortunately, the only thing I can think of to say is,
"W-why?  I thought you wanted to get married."

She nods slightly.  "I did.  I do.  I'm very happy with my
decision."  Before I can even breathe a sigh of relief, she
goes on, "But that's not an 'us' answer, Mulder.  That's a
'me' answer.  If the only reason we got married was because
I wanted to, that's not good enough."

I can't think of anything to say to that.  I'll admit, if
only to myself, that I didn't expect her to take me
seriously when I suggested we get married, that night in my
apartment.  But that doesn't mean I was insincere when I
took those vows, does it?

Does it?

But Scully isn't giving me much time for introspection
today.  "Mulder," she says, "why did you act the way you did
in Arcadia?"

"I -- I don't understand, Scully.  How did I act?"

She stares at me in apparent disbelief for a pair of
minutes, and if my stomach hadn't already sunk through the
floor it would now be doing so.  "Scully?  I say quietly, "I
really don't understand.  Help me out here."

She shakes her head slowly.  "You really don't know?"  I
know better than to answer that question; instead, I just
wait.  Finally she says, "Mulder, you were ... " Her voice
trails off, and she seems to be struggling to find the words
-- and suddenly there are unshed tears in her eyes.  I want
to reach out and wipe them away, but something tells me
touching her at this point would be a bad idea.  So I
continue to wait.

Finally it all comes out at once:  "Mulder, you were
treating the whole thing as if it were a joke.  You were
treating *me* as a joke.  And I had to stand there and take
it, and play the part of the happy housewife for the sake of
our cover.  While *you* were mugging around and making a
fool out of me."

"Scully, I never intended --"

"No, Mulder," she snaps.  "No, you never do intend to, do
you?  You never intend to ditch me, you never intend to
ignore my advice or embarrass me, you never intend to -- "
her eyes widen slightly as if she hadn't realized what she
was about to say " -- hurt my feelings."

Her words hang between us for an extended moment, and I'm
just beginning to realize that I'm supposed to say something
-- an apology, maybe -- when she speaks again.

"I think I need some time to myself," she says, rising
quietly to her feet.  She turns to go, but she's only gone a
few steps before she turns back again, and now I see she's
got her hand resting lightly on her chest, right at the spot
where the ring I gave her hangs beneath her blouse.

"This wasn't a mistake, Mulder," she says quietly.  "Arcadia
was just a little too much, too soon, and I  ... I need some
time.  I'll see you tomorrow at work, okay?"  I nod dumbly,
and she forces a little smile.  Then she turns away again
and threads her way through the crowd of strangers.  Away
from me.

And I just sit there at the table watching her go.

I think this is going to be a long night.


==================

Monday:

CHAPTER SIX - All the Myriad Ways

==================


As I first awaken I'm afraid to open my eyes, for fear of
what I might see.

My mind is assaulted by a jumble of confused and
contradictory thoughts and images.  Things which appear to
be memories, but cannot possibly be.  I squeeze my eyes even
more tightly shut, and try to banish these visions, and of
course I fail.

#          #          #

MONDAY, 6:47 a.m.

I awaken at my usual time and climb promptly out of bed.  I
step into the kitchen just long enough to start the coffee
machine, then head back down the hall to the bathroom,
stripping off my pajamas and underclothes as I go.

A few minutes later I emerge from the shower and stop to
look at myself in the mirror as I dry my hair.  I frown.  My
hand goes to the ring and gold cross suspended from a chain
around my neck.  My frown deepens.

It's been a week since I left Mulder at the mall in Chevy
Chase, and told him I needed some time.  I realize now I
should have stayed and talked it out with him, rather than
leaving both of us hanging.  It's too late to change that
decision, but it's still not too late to make a new
decision.  Today, I decide.  Today we'll address the issue,
and things will start to get better again.

Today I'll tell him that I love him.  At last.  And I finish
drying my hair and grab my robe, and I head back out to the
kitchen.

Mulder is late for work, which is unusual since we got the
X-Files back.  Under Kersh it was different.  Neither of us
really wanted to be here then.  But now that we have our
proper work, we've both been coming in early and staying
late.  Today, though, he's late.  The one day I need him to
be on time, so we can talk, he's late.  I pace the office in
frustration, but somehow I know we've missed yet another
chance.

Finally I can't wait any longer, and I go to the budget
meeting without him.  During a break I return to our office,
to find that Mulder has finally arrived.  I want to talk to
him about our relationship, about our marriage, and about my
epiphany from this morning, but there's no time.  At lunch,
I decide.  We will definitely talk at lunch.

I go back to the meeting and Mulder goes to the bank.  After
more droning from Agent Arnold, Skinner finally asks me
where my partner is, and I roll my eyes and go to try and
find him.

I walk into the bank looking for Mulder, and find myself
staring down the barrel of a gun.  Before I can react
there's a flash of motion, and the man with the gun changes
his aim and fires.  My own weapon is out in an instant, and
then the two of us are facing each other down ... until he
opens his jacket and shows me what's strapped to his chest.

I'm on my knees, trying to hold back the tears as the waning
seconds of Mulder's life stain my hands and clothes.  I tear
my eyes from my partner, my husband, and I beg the shooter
to let me save this life.  I plead with him; I tell him he's
in control, and that he doesn't have to let this happen.  My
last thought before he throws the switch is that I never
told Mulder that I love him.

#          #          #

MONDAY, 6:44 a.m.

I awaken in the predawn darkness.  Someone is in the room,
but before I can become alarmed I hear Mulder whisper my
name as he slides into bed and wraps his arms around me.

For just a moment I tense.  We have not taken this step
before; we have not discussed it, and I have not agreed to
it.  But even as those objections flash through my mind, I
dismiss them.  This is Mulder, my husband, the man I love,
and this is what I want.  His arms are wrapped around me,
warm and strong and comforting.  I have never felt this
cherished and secure.  For the first time since I walked out
on him at the mall in Chevy Chase, everything seems right.

I smile sleepily and turn to face him.  I start to speak,
but he puts his fingertips on my mouth to silence me.  No
words this morning, then.  That's fine.  We don't need words
for this.

His fingers trace down my jaw to my neck, and then brush
against his class ring where it hangs on the chain next to
my cross.  He lifts the ring to my lips and I kiss it; then
he kisses my cross.  The emotion evident in this simple
gesture warms me, and sends waves of desire rippling outward
from my center.  And then my husband gathers me into him and
captures my lips with his.

We arrive at work together, and only a few minutes late. 
The budget meeting is long and boring, but my memory of how
we spent that early morning hour makes it bearable.  At last
Skinner calls a break, and Mulder and I leave to run an
errand at the bank.

We step through the doors just as the bearded man loses his
temper and draws his gun.  We both reach instinctively for
our own weapons, but he has the drop on us.  There's a
burning in my chest as I fall to the floor, and an instant
later Mulder falls beside me.  I turn my head to look at
him, and I see him reaching out to me even as my own hand is
moving towards him.  I want to touch him so very, very much,
but our fingers are not quite in contact when the shooter
throws the switch.

#          #          #

MONDAY, 6:52 a.m.

I awaken at my usual time, but I don't feel rested.

It's been a week since I told Mulder I needed some time to
think.  I realize now I should have stayed and talked it out
with him, rather than leaving both of us hanging, but it's
too late to change that decision.  As I slowly come to full
consciousness I realize with a heavy heart that I've been
putting off the inevitable for long enough, and today I'll
have to make some phone calls, and see what needs to be done
to unravel this terrible mess we've made.

Then I get to break the news to Mulder, but somehow I doubt
that it will be too much of a surprise.

I lie in bed for a few minutes, fighting back the tears and
thinking back on all the things that went wrong.  Our
marriage was strange and unconventional, and obviously an
error in judgment.  We were fools to think we could make
something like that work under these sorts of circumstances.

With a sigh of resignation I climb out of bed.  Getting
ready for work seems to take forever, and I finally decide
to skip breakfast and just grab a cup of coffee to drink in
the car.  Maybe by the time I get to work I'll be hungry,
and I can pick something up in Hoover's cafeteria.

Mulder's late, of course.  I knew he would be.  We've barely
spoken since I left him at the mall last week, and his
working hours have been growing more and more erratic.  I
finally go to the budget meeting without him -- but I take
his ring off first.

I'm sitting in the meeting, not listening to the
presentation being given by Agent Arnold.  Mulder's ring is
clenched in my fist, and all I can think is that I don't
want to do this, I don't want to give it up.  But I can't
seem to find a way out of this trap we've set for ourselves.

There is a dull booming noise in the distance, coming from
outside the building, but I barely notice, so lost am I in
my own despair.  A few minutes later Skinner's assistant
enters the room, a stunned look on her face.  Somehow I know
before she speaks that the decision has been taken from me. 
And so has my husband.

#          #          #

MONDAY, 6:49 a.m.

I awaken in the predawn darkness.  Eyes closed, I reach out
across the bed, but there is no one there, and the sheets
are cool and undisturbed.  I move my hand to my throat, and
lightly touch Mulder's ring.  I feel a stinging moisture in
my eyes.  I don't want it to be like this.  I don't want it
to end like this.  I don't want to be alone, and I don't
want *him* to be alone.  Not today.  Not ever, but
especially not today.

Please God, not today.  Don't let us be alone today.  Don't
let us die alone.  I'll give up anything else if at least we
can be together.  I'll even settle for simple friendship, if
only we don't have to be alone.

#          #          #

WEDNESDAY, 7:28 a.m.

As I first awaken I'm afraid to open my eyes, for fear of
what I might see.  My body is drenched in sweat and my
pajamas and the bedclothes are cold and clammy.

I don't want to know this.  I don't want to know which world
I've awakened to.  I just want to keep my eyes closed and go
back to sleep, and try to dream of better times.

The shrilling of my cell phone cuts off my thoughts.  Eyes
still closed, I reach across the bed and fumble around on
the bedside table until I find it.  Somehow, I manage to
punch the connect button.

"Scully, it's me," comes my partner's voice, very hesitant
and tentative.  "I'm about ready to leave; I'll be there in
twenty minutes.  You going to be ready?"

"Ready?" I ask.  Ready, Mulder? I think.  Ready for what?

"Ready for me to pick you up," he explains, almost as if he
can read my thoughts.  And I'm in a strange enough state of
mind that I think perhaps he can.

"Pick me up," I repeat -- and gradually the memories come
filtering back.  Car trouble.  I had car trouble last night,
and Mulder drove me home.  Now he's supposed to pick me up,
and we'll drive to work together.

"Yeah," he says, sounding even more uneasy.  "You do still
want me to drive you in this morning, right?"

More memories start reporting in.  Memories of my anger when
we got back from Arcadia.  Memories of walking out and
leaving Mulder at the mall in Chevy Chase.  Memories of
working together in tight-lipped silence for the last week.

And still there's more:  The woman in the bank the day
before yesterday, Pam Oates, throwing herself into the line
of fire.  Even though I had never seen her before that day,
somehow I'm sure she knew what she was doing:  Saving
Mulder's life.  Saving my life.  Giving us another chance.

I realize that Mulder is waiting for my response.  "Yes, of
course," I say, hoping that my voice is a little clearer, a
little stronger.  "Of course, I do.  But I can't be ready
that soon."  I glance at the clock and see that it's past
7:30.  "I guess I slept through my alarm," I add, suddenly
feeling very contrite.

I wait for Mulder to reply, but he doesn't speak.  The
silence stretches on, becoming heavy and uncomfortable.  I
wonder what he's waiting for.

And then I know:  me.  He's waiting for me to tell him what
to do.  I have not invited him up to my apartment since we
got back from Arcadia, and we've spent no time together
outside of working hours in that time, either.  Even
yesterday, when we were both in shock due to our brush with
death at the bank the day before, I kept him at arm's
length.

I am tempted to do the same again today.  It would make
things so easy.  So simple.  So plain.  But then I remember
Pam Oates, and my conviction that she died to give us
another chance, and I just can't do it.  I can't deny this
man's importance in my life.

I lick my lips nervously, and I reach up with my free hand
to lightly touch Mulder's class ring, trying to draw
strength from it.  Images of his blood staining my hands and
clothes invade my consciousness, but I push them firmly
away.  I can do this, I think.  I can do this, and I must do
this.  It's really not that hard.

"Mulder," I say, "I need some time to get cleaned up and
dressed.  Why don't you ... why don't you come on over and
let yourself in.  That is, if you don't mind waiting a bit."
 I've missed you, I add in my mind.  I've missed you so very
much.  Please hear me.

The silence on the other end continues for just a few
seconds longer -- long enough for me to know he understands
the layers of meaning in my words, and has heard my silent
plea.  At last he says, in a very low voice, "Sure, Scully. 
I'll be right over."  And then the connection is broken.

I sit in bed for another moment or two.  It has to have been
a dream, I think, a nightmare brought on by the stress of
Monday's events.  Just a dream, I repeat in my mind.  But
even as I think those words my hand rises once again to
touch Mulder's ring, and I know that much, at least, is
real.

And I climb out of bed and go to start the coffee, so it
will be ready when my husband arrives.


==================

Alpha:

CHAPTER SEVEN - A Little Comfort

==================


I make it as far as the elevator before I realize I'm doing
it again.  I'm walking out on Mulder.

I stop and look back down the hall towards our office door
as I consider the matter.  We just got back from California
a couple of hours ago, and I am really tired.  Jet lag has
never been my best friend in the world, and on top of that
this has been an emotionally stressful case, both
professionally and, I admit, personally.

It's the personal angle that's making me want to leave
Mulder alone in the office, I realize.  The rest of it --
the long days and short nights, the inevitable disagreements
over the nature of the case, and on and on and on -- that
part I could handle.  I *have* handled it, many times.  No,
it's the personal side that's threatening to drive me away
-- just as it did when I walked out on him at the mall in
Chevy Chase.

It took more than two weeks for us to recover from that
little episode, and we still aren't completely over it. 
Inviting him over for breakfast a week ago last Wednesday
helped, and spending most of the following weekend together
just kicking around doing nothing much in particular helped
even more.  But there's still a bit of an edge whenever
we're together, and the events of the past few days while we
were in California investigating the supposed Wangshang
Dhole have done nothing to help matters.

Mulder's relationship with Karin Berquist is at the heart of
my discomfort, of course.  At least I can admit that to
myself now, even if I haven't quite managed to work up the
nerve to talk to him about it.

I've always been a jealous person where men are concerned. 
This is not something I'm proud of, but I seem to be unable
to change it, so I've tried to accept it as part of who I
am.  From my earliest crushes in junior high school, right
down to my relationship with Jack Willis, I've been
possessive and protective of any man who I perceived to be
mine.

That applies to Mulder too, of course, and not just since
we've been married.  As long ago as our first year as
partners, I remember doing a slow burn when I saw him
kissing Phoebe Green.  I told myself at the time that I was
just annoyed at his blatant display of unprofessionalism, to
be necking with his old girlfriend when he was supposed to
be working.  But deep inside I knew the truth, even then.

I was jealous.

Through the years there have been other women, of course. 
None that he slept with, so far as I know, but a steady
enough parade of women showing an interest in him -- and him
showing an interest back -- to keep me at a low boil a good
deal of the time.  Bambi Berenbaum.  Angela White.  Melissa
Ephesian.  Marita Covarrubias.  And now Karin Berquist.

And then there's Diana Fowley.

She, of course, is the crux of the whole situation.  It's
because of Agent Fowley that Mulder and I had what could
have been our final blowup -- and indirectly, it's because
of her that we wound up married.  I guess I should thank her
for that, but quite frankly I'm not feeling that generous
towards the bitch.

Yes, I said bitch.  I do know the word, and I use it from
time to time, when circumstances seem to warrant.  And boy
do they ever warrant it in this case.

Fowley is a special situation, both because she actually has
been Mulder's lover, and because she is now actively engaged
in trying to discredit and destroy him professionally.  The
mix of those two factors, the personal and the professional,
has caused more pain and heartache for Mulder and me than
any other issue in our six year partnership.

Damn her.

I push thoughts of Agent Fowley out of my mind.  I'm not
ready to deal with her -- not today.  Mulder and I are going
to have to settle that issue once and for all, but we just
aren't strong enough as a couple to face it yet.

Which leaves Karin Berquist.  I would have to be blind not
to see the parallels between Mulder's relationship with her
and his relationship with Fowley:  In each case, he trusted
a woman too easily and allowed her to take advantage of him
-- *and* in each case he chose not just to ignore my
warnings, but to openly dismiss them.

And of course, as he did with Fowley, Mulder kept Berquist a
secret from me.  That's what hurt most of all.  I know I
should be used to it by now -- Mulder has a pattern
stretching back to the very beginning of our partnership in
which he dribbles out information about our current case a
little bit at a time.  But in this instance he was over the
line.  As I stand here thinking about it, I'm once again
experiencing that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach
that I get whenever I realize some other woman is interested
in my man.

My man.  My Mulder.  My husband.

My husband, who I have just left sitting by himself in our
office when I knew he was feeling hurt and depressed. 
Suddenly I feel a stab of guilt at my own behavior.  Mulder
may have been a little cavalier in not telling me about
Karin Berquist ahead of time, but I'm just as wrong for
having left him to his own devices when what he clearly
needs is a little comfort.  Which, of course, is one of the
things that husbands and wives are supposed to provide each
other.  And so I take a deep breath and try to swallow my
own feelings as I head back down the hall towards our
office.

As I step across the threshold I see Mulder sitting in his
chair behind his desk.  On the wall behind him is a new "I
Want to Believe" poster -- presumably the one from
Berquist's office.  So that's what was in that mailing tube.
 I'd wondered about that, but he didn't offer to open it
while I was still here, and I was too proud to ask.

I can't keep myself from feeling a slight burn of resentment
as I see it hanging there -- I've spent a considerable
amount of time trying to find a replacement for him, and now
*she* has stepped in to fill the gap.  I suppress the
emotion, though; even *I* can see that's unreasonable.  I
should be glad that he finally found a new poster, I tell
myself firmly.  I know how much the old one meant to him --
and to be perfectly honest, I was fond of it as well.

"Hey, Scully," he says.  I look back down from the poster to
see a puzzled expression on Mulder's face.  "What are you
doing here?  I thought you'd gone home."  His lips quirk
slightly.  "Did you lock yourself out of your car again?"

"No," I say, shaking my head and forcing a smile.  You are
not going to distract me today, Agent Mulder, I think.  I
came here for a reason.  "No, I didn't lock myself out."  I
take a couple of steps closer to him, and I see his eyebrows
rise slightly.  "I came back because ..." I hesitate, and
the words catch in my throat for an instant. "Because you
looked lonely," I finally manage.  "I thought you might like
some company."

His eyebrows rise even farther, and it suddenly strikes me
just how pathetic the two of us are.  Here we've been
married nearly a month, and friends and partners for more
than six *years*, and we *still* have difficulty expressing
our feelings for each other.  We haven't even said "I love
you" yet.  I intended to say it last week when we had
breakfast together, but I couldn't quite manage to get the
words out.  I don't know why it's so hard, but it's got to
stop.  Now.

"Mulder," I say, my voice sounding far steadier than it has
any right to sound, considering how much unease I'm feeling
at the moment.  "Mulder, I ... I care about you."  I
wouldn't have thought his eyebrows could go any higher, but
somehow they do.  "I care about you," I repeat more firmly. 
"And I don't like to see you hurting and unhappy.  So I came
back.  To see if there was anything ... anything I could
do."

God, that sounded lame.  I can barely stand to look at
Mulder; I'm sure that at any instant he's going to burst out
laughing, or pop out one of his cute little jokes, or in
some other way deflect my statement, humiliating me and
hurting my own feelings in the process.  It's not that he
*wants* to do that; I know him better than *that*.  He just
can't help himself; it's the way he is.

Which of course doesn't make it hurt any less when he does
it.  God.  Why did I decide to come back to the office
tonight?  Why didn't I just go home, like I started to do? 
Why --

"Scully," Mulder says very softly, interrupting my rapidly
building panic.  "Scully, come here."  And he pushes his
chair back from the desk and holds out his arms to me.

Somehow, despite my suddenly shaky legs, I manage to cross
the intervening space, and then Mulder is drawing me down
into his lap and wrapping his arms around me.

For a few minutes we just sit there in his chair and cuddle.
 A small part of me, the practical part that runs me most of
the time, is generating a dozen different reasons why this
is a bad idea, at least here and now.  It's unprofessional. 
Nobody knows about our relationship yet.  Physical intimacy,
even of the limited variety Mulder and I have engaged in
since our marriage, is no substitute for real communication.
 And on and on and on.

Except to hell with it.  This feels too good to stop, and I
suddenly realize that holding Mulder and being held by him
is one of the things I missed while we were in the field
this week.  We never really talked about it -- we never seem
to talk about *any* of these things -- but somehow we came
to the mutual decision not to do this sort of thing while we
were conducting the investigation.  And I hadn't even
realized that I missed it until now, when I finally have it
back.

It gradually occurs to me that the reason I came back to
Mulder just now was to comfort him, and that I haven't
really been doing that.  I've just been curled up here in
his lap, letting the warmth of his body and the strength of
his arms soak in through my skin.  I inhale deeply, and
immediately add his scent to the equation.  Nothing else in
the world smells quite like Mulder, and this is still
another of the many things I am now allowed to notice and
enjoy.

Still .. I *am* supposed to be comforting him.  I give a
little sigh and raise my head off his shoulder and open my
eyes.

God, he's beautiful.  He's looking right back at me, and the
expression on his face is so warm and tender it almost makes
me cry.  There are question marks in his eyes -- he's still
wondering why I came back, I suppose.  But even the
questions seem open and accepting.

I feel a sudden rush of sexual arousal spreading out from my
lower abdomen.  This man is mine, I realize; mine in a way
that no other man has ever been before, not even Jack. 
Mulder and I have been through so much together; we have
done and seen so much, and we've come to depend on each
other so completely that sometimes I almost feel like we
aren't two separate people anymore.  The sensible part of me
is trying to tell me that this is not a healthy adjustment
for us to have made, but my heart just doesn't want to
listen --

And before I quite know what I'm doing, I'm kissing him,
fiercely and deeply.  My tongue probes aggressively at his
lips, and then his mouth opens and I plunge inside.  God ...
he tastes so good tonight.  Mulder and I have kissed before,
but he's never tasted this good.  I try to move a little
closer on his lap, and I cup the back of his head with one
hand while gripping his upper arm with the other.  One of
his hands is holding the back of my neck, while the other is
gently stroking his spot on my lower back.

I hear somebody moaning, and I realize it must be me.  It
has been a long time since I've been this aroused, and it's
come on so very suddenly.  I feel as if I should be afraid,
but there's no room in me right now for anything but my
desire.  My desire for Mulder.

I shift on his lap, trying to get a better angle on his
mouth, and now I can feel his erection pressing up against
me.  He's gripping me more tightly, too, and now his tongue
is exploring my mouth the way mine explored his a moment
ago.  His hand caressing my lower back is driving me wild,
and I wonder for the thousandth time since I've known him if
he has any idea what it does to me when he touches me there.

I shift my body again, moving so that I'm straddling his
lap, and now I finally have to break the kiss so I can catch
my breath.  I close my eyes and rest my forehead against
his, and for a moment I just breathe.  There are so many
images flitting through my mind, and all of them have Mulder
in them.  Mulder as I've dreamed of him; things I haven't
allowed myself to consciously acknowledge for years, all
coming to the surface in a sudden rush.

I lean forward and press my mouth against Mulder's again,
very briefly.  I then move on to shower fast, tiny kisses
across his face, working my way along his jaw towards his
ear as I press my center down against his erection.  A
shiver runs through me as we make contact.  I have waited
for this for so long, and now it finally seems right.  I
press a long, open-mouthed kiss into the hollow beneath his
ear, and then proceed to slide my tongue down towards the
base of his neck, reveling in the warm, salty flavor of his
flesh.

And then Mulder pushes me away.  He gently but firmly pushes
me away.

I open my eyes and look at him.  I can't be wrong about
this.  I simply can't be.  I know he wants me; I can still
feel his erection pressing up against me, and I can see the
desire in his eyes.  But as I try to lean forward to kiss
him again, he grabs onto my shoulders and holds me at arm's
length.

"Mulder?" I say, trying very hard to keep the hurt from my
voice.  "Mulder, what's wrong?"

"I'm sorry, Scully," he says, very softly.  "I can't do
this.  Not tonight.  Not ... not like this."

I shake my head in confusion, and I fight to keep the hurt
from mutating into anger.  I thought he wanted this.  I
*know* he wanted this.  He can't be refusing me; not now. 
Not when I'm finally ready.

"What do you mean, 'not like this'?  I don't understand." 
My voice sounds bitter and whiny, even to me, and I wince as
I hear my own words.

"Scully," he murmurs.  "Oh, Scully."  He pauses a moment, as
if he isn't sure he wants to say what he's thinking.  Then
he does speak, but what he says only confuses me further. 
"Why are you doing this, Scully?  Why now?  Why here?"

"I - I don't understand," I repeat.  "Why now?  Because,
because you're my husband.  And I told you a few minutes
ago, I care about you.  Don't you believe me?"

He releases one of my shoulders and reaches up to gently
stroke my cheek.  "Of course I believe you, Scully," he
says, his voice still very soft.  "I know you would never
... "  He lets his voice trail off, apparently not wanting
to complete that thought.  He looks at me, and seems to be
calculating something.  Finally he says, "Come here," and
tugs gently on my shoulders.  I resist for just a moment,
before allowing myself to be drawn back into his embrace.

We sit cuddled together on the chair for a pair of minutes. 
I try to think, but with my body still buzzing with arousal
it's difficult.  I don't understand why Mulder pushed me
away, but it's clear he isn't completely rejecting me.  He
still wants me, I reassure myself; I can feel the evidence
pressed against the side of my thigh.  He still wants to
hold me and touch me; he just doesn't want to make love to
me, at least for tonight.  I may not understand the reasons
for it, but I have to respect it.  No matter how much it
hurts.

And then suddenly I have it.  I realize what I've been
doing.  It's so blindingly obvious I want to kick myself,
and then run from the room and hide somewhere.  Two months
ago I would have done just that -- I would have gotten up
and left the room, and shut Mulder out.  But I can't do that
anymore.  If I want this relationship -- this *marriage* --
to work, then I have to learn to open myself to him, even
when it's painful to do so.  And so I take a deep breath and
lift my head from his shoulder again.

Mulder is still looking at me, making and keeping eye
contact as soon as I turn my head towards him, and I am
relieved to see nothing but caring and compassion on his
face and in his eyes.  His clear willingness to accept and
try to understand whatever I have to say helps me find the
courage to speak the words.

"I'm sorry, Mulder," I whisper.  "I've treated you very
badly tonight."  I have to stop and swallow down the lump
that's forming in my throat before I can continue.  Now
comes the hard part.  "I've been ... using you," I say. 
"I've been treating you like some sort of prize or trophy. 
I'm sorry."  And I close my eyes and press my forehead
against his.

"I was jealous, Mulder," I go on.  "I'm still jealous.  I've
always been that way.  I don't know why, and I can't seem to
stop it.  But when I realized that you knew Karin Berquist,
and had been keeping it from me ...."  I let my voice trail
off; I can't go on.  It's just too much.

"It's okay, Scully," he replies, his voice very soft and
loving.  "I do understand.  But do you understand why I
can't -- do that?  Tonight, I mean."  I nod silently, and
try to keep my chin from quivering.  Mulder looks at me for
another moment, then smiles and leans forward to kiss me
lightly on the cheek.

"I love you, Scully," he whispers in my ear.  I shudder
involuntarily as I realize that this is the first time
either of us has said those words -- at least, it's the
first time when I was sure I could believe it..  "I love you
and I'm committed to you.  We can work this out.  We just
need a little more time."

He pulls back and looks at me again, and waits for me to
nod.  "Now why don't we both pack up and go back to your
place," he says.  "I'll fix some dinner; Frohike gave me a
great recipe for huevos rancheros ...."  His voice trails
off, and suddenly *he's* the one looking nervous.  "And
then, if you like, we could ... go to bed.  To sleep."

I study his face for a moment, and I realize that he's
trying to offer me something.  Not a compromise, exactly,
and certainly not a consolation prize.  No, it's much more
than that.  Despite what I just put him through, despite the
embarrassment and the frustration and the risk of further
misunderstanding, Mulder is offering me everything he has to
give, at least for tonight.

He's offering *me* a little comfort.  Which is one of the
things that husbands and wives are supposed to provide each
other.

No wonder I love this man.

I lean forward and kiss him lightly on the mouth, and then I
climb off his lap.  I wait for him to stand, and watch as he
stuffs a few papers into his briefcase and slips on his
coat.  Then I reach out my hand and he twines his fingers
through mine, and for a minute we just stand there, looking
at each other.  At last Mulder pulls me to him and kisses
me, briefly but thoroughly, before we finally turn off the
lights and leave the office.

Together.


==================

Trevor:

CHAPTER EIGHT - Declarations

==================


I am 35 years old, I remind myself as I steer the car
through late afternoon Baltimore traffic.  I am 35 years
old, I am a professional woman, and I have been completely
independent of my parents for more than a decade.

So why do I feel so much like a little girl being called in
for a spanking?

I glance over at Mulder, sitting in the passenger seat next
to me.  Outwardly he appears completely calm and relaxed,
but surely that can't be true.  Surely he's as nervous as I
am.  He's got to be.  If he isn't, I may have to kill him.

I turn my attention back to the highway.  Almost there. 
Shouldn't be long.  Not more than another 20 minutes until
we arrive at my mother's house for dinner.

God help us both.

Mom finally called me at the end of last week.  We hadn't
spoken in nearly a month -- not since that horrible
confrontation in my apartment the night of my birthday.  I
had intended to call her the next day in hopes of smoothing
things over, but the case in Arcadia went longer than we'd
hoped, and then Mulder and I had that fight the day after we
got back, and then we'd barely made up before we had to go
to California again, and there was always *some* damned
reason not to call her.

Yes, it was avoidance, and I knew it even while I was doing
it.  The truth of the matter was -- and is -- that I'm
afraid to face my mother again.  I don't know what I'm going
to say to her; I don't know how I'm going to explain the
reasons which led me to marry Mulder.

None of this is going to make sense to her.  Hell, it
doesn't make sense to *me* when I stop and think about it
too hard.  It's not something I had ever considered, before
that night in his apartment a few days after the El Rico
massacre.  As I said to Mom the night she found out:  It
just sort of happened.

But now I've done it -- *we've* done it -- and we have to
move forward.  We may not have thought this through as
thoroughly as we might have, but we did make this decision,
and we did act on it.  Together, I remind myself.  We did it
together.  We've faced liver eating mutants and prehistoric
insects and dark conspiracies against all of humanity.  We
can face this, too, as long as we're together.

Besides, I *do* love the man, and I'm sure he loves me. 
That ought to count for something.

I glance at Mulder one more time, and now he's looking back
at me with warm, sympathetic eyes.  He smiles slightly and
nods reassuringly, almost as if he can read my mind, and he
reaches out to squeeze my hand where it rests on the
steering wheel.  I force a smile in return, then face once
more to the front.

And there's Mom's house, dead ahead.

It's showtime.

#          #          #

The first few minutes of the visit are taken up by empty
pleasantries.  I have just the briefest instant of panic as
the front door swings open, but then Mom is stepping forward
and giving me a warm hug, and I start to feel better almost
immediately.

Then she turns to Mulder, and I don't even have time for
another panicky moment because my husband is stepping
forward and giving his best friendly smile.  He really can
be very charming, even charismatic, when he wants to be. 
For Mom's part, I'm pretty sure I detect a slight
hesitation, and maybe just a little stiffness as she moves
to embrace him.  Then she lets him go and leads us on into
the house, ever the perfect hostess.

Now we're seated in the living room, Mulder and me on the
sofa and Mom in the old recliner that was Ahab's chair for
as far back as I can remember.  It doesn't really go with
the rest of the living room, but every time I see it I'm
glad she still has it.

As Mom rattles on about her neighbors and the letter she got
from Charlie last week and all the other trivialities
involved in getting caught up, it gradually dawns on me that
she is as unsure about what's going to happen this evening
as I am.  Ever since that night in my apartment I've been
thinking of her as a powerful, threatening figure, but she's
really not.  She's my mother and she loves me.  All she
wants is for me to be happy.

Maybe this won't be as hard as I thought.

" ... but here I am chattering on, and I'm sure it's not
really what's on any of our minds tonight," Mom concludes. 
She pauses and takes a breath.  "Dana.  Fox.  I'm terribly
sorry about ... that night.  Please accept my apologies."

For a moment there's an uncomfortable silence.  I glance at
Mulder, and I see that he's looking steadily at me, waiting
for me to take the lead.  Fair enough.  It's my mother.  I
take my own deep breath, and look back at Mom.

"Mom ..." My voice trails off and I shake my head.  "I don't
know what to say."  And I really don't.  This is not at all
what I had been afraid of -- Mom no longer seems to be angry
or upset.  But it's still so very awkward.  I glance at
Mulder again, and he's still watching me, so I reach out and
take his hand before looking back at my mother.

"We never intended to hurt you," I continue.  "And I was
telling the truth that night; it really was ... rather
sudden."  Mulder squeezes my hand slightly, which for some
reason I find infinitely reassuring.  "I ... we never meant
to shut anyone out, though."  I can see her start to cloud
up again, and I realize this is still a sore point.

"It just happened so fast," I add hastily.  "Honest, Mom.  I
would never want to hurt you."  I wince as I realize I just
repeated myself.  I'd better shut up now; I'm starting to
sound like a teenager trying to explain what her boyfriend
was doing in her bedroom.

There's another awkward silence, and now I can see in Mom's
eyes that even though she's trying to make a clean breast of
things, she still can't quite bring herself to forgive me
for having kept her in the dark.  She may feel guilty over
the way she lashed out at us that night, but she also still
feels she was wronged.

Finally Mom lets out a sigh, and reaches over to pat my
knee.  "It's okay, Dana," she says.  "Sometimes ... things
happen."  She smiles and rises from her seat.  "Now why
don't we go see about dinner.  The pot roast should be about
done by now."

But from her body language I can see that it's not quite
okay.  Not all of it.

#          #          #

Things seem to get a bit more relaxed during dinner.  Mom
really does have the gracious hostess routine down to a fine
art, and Mulder -- well, Mulder can charm a baby away from
its mother's breast when it suits his purposes.  And tonight
he's pulling out all the stops.

While Mulder and Mom are chatting I take the opportunity to
look around the dining room for a minute.  Not much has
changed since I lived in this house, I realize.  The same
display cabinet with Grandmother Kinsella's china in it. 
The same reproduction of Winslow Homer's "Lost off the Grand
Banks".  The same handmade linen tablecloth.

I'm suddenly reminded of the case we just finished in
Mississippi.  All Pinker Rawls really wanted was an
opportunity to live this sort of life.  Another chance,
Mulder said as we drove back to our motel the evening we
closed the case.  All that Rawls wanted was another chance
at ... this.

I doubt that he would have been interested in these
particular trappings, of course -- but they're really just
symbols anyway.  Symbols of a home.  A family.  Neighbors. 
Kids playing in the yard.  All the conventional things.  A
normal life, as I put it to Mulder last fall during our
abortive trip to Area 51.  Rawls wanted it so badly he was
willing to kill for it -- and ultimately, he was willing to
die for it.

I wonder when *I* stopped wanting it?

I've always wanted a career, of course.  As far back as I
can remember, I wanted to do something more with my life
than just raise children and keep house.  I have nothing but
love for my mother, and respect for her accomplishments, but
I never wanted her life.

On the other hand, I never intended to sacrifice a family
life in order to have a career.  I assumed that I would have
all those other things, sooner or later.  I never really
planned for them, the way I did for my career in medicine,
and later in the Bureau, but I always supposed that somehow
they would come to me.  Good things come to those who wait,
after all.

But somewhere along the line I stopped wanting them quite so
much.  Despite what I said to Mulder last fall, sometime
during the last six years a "normal life" stopped seeming so
important.  And just in the past few months, whatever
lingering desire I had for one seems to have completely
vanished.

I force my attention back to the conversation.  Mulder is
just finishing up an account of one of our less alarming
cases, but from the look on Mom's face I can see that our
idea of what's truly alarming doesn't jive with hers very
well.  And I suddenly realize that this is yet another way
in which I've become set apart from my family and left the
conventional way of life behind.

My mother is not a sheltered schoolgirl, of course -- her
husband was a Navy man, and so are both of her sons.  But
the X-Files are something different, and there's a reason
I've never tried to explain my work to my family in any
great detail.  In retrospect, I can see now why Mom feels
I've been shutting the family out of my life, but I was
really only trying to protect them.

Wasn't I?

Almost as if she can read my mind, Mom is now turning her
attention directly to me, and suddenly I feel like a bug
under a microscope.  This is the moment I've been dreading
ever since she called me last week.  The gloves are about to
come off.

"So Dana," she says, her voice deceptively calm.  "Where
should I be addressing your mail these days?"

Shit.  Shit, shit, shit.  A very reasonable question, but
one for which I don't have a reasonable answer.  Even worse,
it will lead inevitably to other questions, questions for
which the answers I have are even less reasonable.  Well,
nothing to do about it now but respond as best I can.  My
mother loves me, I remind myself.  Even if she doesn't
always understand why I do the things I do, she still loves
me.

"I'm still living at my apartment in Georgetown, Mom," I
reply, trying to match her calm as best I can.  "Same
address and phone number."  As you well know, I add to
myself.  You called me there last week, remember?

She nods slightly, and her gaze flicks to Mulder and then
back to me.  "I take it Fox has moved in with you, then?"

I sigh and shake my head.  No, this isn't going to be easy. 
"No, Mom," I reply.  "We ... haven't worked out all those
details yet."  We're sleeping together most nights, Mom, but
we're not *sleeping* together, if you catch my drift. 
Another one of those minor details we overlooked when we
embarked on this little venture.

My mother's eyebrows do not shoot up in surprise -- she has
raised four children, after all.  I do see the barest
flicker of ... something ... in her eyes, but before I can
say or do anything, Mulder intervenes.

"Mrs. Scully," he says, leaning forward slightly and
catching her eye.  "As Dana said, this has all been very
sudden, and there are a lot of, well, practical details that
we haven't worked out yet.  Some of it's as mundane as
living arrangements."  He reaches over and takes my hand and
squeezes it.  "But I want to assure you that I do love your
daughter.  I wouldn't have done this if I didn't."

Damn him.  Or bless him.  Or something.  I couldn't have
asked for a better speech if I'd written it myself.  Mulder
and I aren't the types to go in for flowery declarations or
wearing our hearts on our sleeves, but for Mom ... well,
that was just about perfect.

It *was* just for Mom.  Wasn't it?

Mom is nodding thoughtfully, still looking at Mulder -- and
I suddenly remember that the two of them have a relationship
of sorts; one that does not include me other than as a
common interest.  It was formed after I was kidnapped by
Duane Barry, and I've never been able to find out much about
it.  Melissa claimed not to know anything, and I've never
had the courage to ask either Mom or Mulder directly.

"I see," Mom says.  She glances briefly at me and then looks
back at Mulder.  "Well, I guess that's all that really
matters, isn't it?"

"I like to think so," Mulder replies, and he actually
reaches over with his free hand and briefly squeezes hers,
and then his lips quirk slightly.  "Besides, there really
isn't anyone else who'd be able to keep me out of trouble. 
It's kind of a full time job."

Mom chuckles slightly and shakes her head.  "I have no doubt
of it," she says, and then she turns back to me, which is
just as well.  I was beginning to wonder if I was still part
of this conversation.

"Dana," she says -- and I can see from the set of her
shoulders that she's about to tackle a topic which she
considers difficult.  "I realize you're probably going to
regard this as a rather personal matter, but ...."  Her
voice trails off, and I suddenly realize what she's about to
say.  Oh God, please no.  Not that argument; not again.

Unbidden memories flash through my mind; memories of the
horrible fight the night Missy told Ahab she wanted to marry
outside the Church.  She finally stormed out of the house,
and was gone for more than a year.  She didn't even come
back for his funeral.  Mom, I can't go through that; not
again --

"Dana, I really think you ought to tell your brothers."

"What?"  I'm so startled by what Mom *didn't* say that I
almost didn't hear what she *did* say.

"Bill and Charlie," she says, much more gently than I had
expected.  "I think you should call them.  Or at least
write.  They're entitled to know, Dana."

"Mom, I don't know," I say.  My voice sounds childish and
whiny, even to me, and I try to firm it up a bit.  "You know
how Bill feels, and Charlie -- "

"You brothers will adjust," my mother says firmly.  "I know
that Bill and Fox have had their ... differences, and I have
to admit that I contributed to that a bit."  She frowns, and
I know that she's remembering the same things I am:  The
cancer, and Bill's reaction to the whole thing.  I'd always
wondered why he responded with such extreme hostility
towards Mulder, and I think maybe this is as close to an
explanation -- or an apology -- as I'm ever going to get.

"Just tell them, Dana," she says, very gently.  "They may
not like it at first, especially Bill, but they'll come
around in time."  And now she reaches out and squeezes *my*
hand, completing the circuit.  "We all love you, Dana," she
adds.  "Whatever else happens, don't forget that we all love
you."

#          #          #

It's later, and Mulder and I are on our way home.  Back to
D.C., I mean; it's still a little premature to say that we
have a well-defined home.  We've spent a few more nights
together at my apartment than we have at his, but that's
mostly because I live closer to work than he does.

The rest of the evening ... passed.  Mulder's driving now
because he seemed to be less stressed by the whole
experience than I was.  To be fair, Mom never did subject us
to the inquisition that I'd been more than half expecting --
but she didn't quite let us off the hook, either.  There was
always a slight edge to the conversation, and the end result
has left me feeling pretty drained.

At last we arrive at my apartment building.  Our apartment
building?  We have been sleeping here more often than not
when we're not out in the field -- but is that enough to
make it "ours" rather than "mine"?  I'm just tired enough to
find that a meaningful question, but not nearly tired enough
to believe that I can reach a useful conclusion.

I push that particular distraction away and turn in my seat
to find Mulder looking back at me quizzically.  I know
exactly what question he has on his mind -- but I also know
that he will never, ever flat out ask me if he can spend the
night here.  The fact that our marriage has not yet
progressed to the point where my husband and I can count on
sleeping next to each other on any given night is one of the
many things I'm just as happy not to have had to explain to
Mom this evening.

But it's an ill wind that blows no good.  Mulder's
willingness to wait patiently for an invitation means that I
have as much time as I need to decide how to broach the
*other* subject that I've been ruminating about for a good
part of the evening.  And so for a pair of minutes I study
my husband's face.

He really has quite a good face, in my admittedly biased
opinion.  Sensitive, almost feminine lips.  A prominent,
fleshy nose which some may think is too big, but which seems
to me to be just right.  And his eyes:  warm and liquid and
hazel colored; caring and compassionate.  Mulder truly lives
in his eyes, and I could spend a lifetime exploring them and
never tire of his infinite variety.

As I examine my husband's face I feel the beginnings of a
warm tingling between my legs, but I quickly suppress it. 
It's not the time for that, unfortunately.  I tried to act
on those feels last week, the night we returned from
California, and it was an unmitigated disaster.  Mulder and
I need to be on much firmer footing before we try to explore
that particular extreme possibility.

"Mulder," I say, quietly but abruptly.  I need to say this
quickly, before I lose my nerve.  "Mulder, I don't want to
stop the car."

There.  It's out.  To his credit, Mulder's expression barely
flickers -- but then, we've been carrying on this
intermittent metaphor of a conversation for more than six
months now, so there's really no reason for him to be
surprised that I'm bringing it up again.  The only real
uncertainty lies in the timing of my statement.  Profiler
that he is, he's probably already figured out what I'm about
to say.

"I mean it, Mulder," I continue.  "I've been thinking about
it for months, and tonight when we were at Mom's ...."  I
let my voice trail off as I struggle to find the words that
will make my meaning clear.  "I got a glimpse of the world I
used to live in," I say at last.  "The world I grew up in. 
And as I told you a few weeks ago, there was a time when I
think I could have found my niche in that world, and been
happy in it."

I reach out and lightly scratch the back of his hand as it
rests on the steering wheel.  "But that's not true anymore,
Mulder," I go on, still looking into his eyes, and finding
nothing there but love and understanding.  "I *don't* live
in that world anymore, and I don't want to go back -- if for
no other reason, then because *you* don't live there. 
Pinker Rawls -- I can get into his head, but only partly.  A
normal life?  I don't want a normal life, Mulder; I just
want what's mine."  I lean over and kiss him gently on the
cheek.  "And I've already got it."

Mulder looks at me for just a moment or two after I fall
silent.  I can see that he's calculating something, trying
to come to a conclusion.  Only a few weeks ago seeing this
look on his face would have filled me with unease, but not
anymore.  Now I know beyond any possible doubt that whatever
he decides and wherever he goes, he'll take me with him.

At last, without ever breaking eye contact, he moves his
hand to the ignition switch and starts the car.  "Where
would you like to go, Scully?" he asks, very softly.

I smile and shake my head.  "I don't care," I reply.  "As
long as we're together."

He nods, and an expression flits across his face which can
only be described as one of pure delight.  "I've been
hearing reports from the back country in the Carolinas of an
itinerant balladeer named Silver John.  Nobody seems to know
who he is or where he comes from.  But they say that
wherever he passes, good things happen.  Magical things."

My smile broadens.  "I'm sure there's a logical, scientific
explanation, Mulder."

"We'll never know unless we go look, though, will we?" he
replies, his voice the perfect mix of amusement and
affection.

"No, we won't," I answer.  And Mulder throws the car into
gear and pulls away from the curb and I lean back in my seat
and close my eyes.  I don't need to watch where we're going;
not with my husband at the wheel.

Later, it will be my turn to drive.


==================

Milagro:

CHAPTER NINE - Cherish

NOTE:  This chapter is rated NC-17

==================


Maybe I should just have my feet amputated, Scully.  It
would certainly make it easier to get them into my mouth.

"Well, let's just say it ends with you doing the naked
pretzel with the Stranger on a bed in an unfurnished fourth
floor apartment.  I'm assuming that's *a priori*, too?"

Yes, that was indeed my voice saying those words.  Much as
I'd prefer that it wasn't so, there really isn't any way to
deny it -- just as there's no way to deny the shock and hurt
that flickered through your eyes when you realized what
accusation your husband had just leveled at you.

For the barest instant I thought you were actually going to
cry, but then you just gave an agonized little laugh and
said, "I think you know me better than that, Mulder."  Then
you simply stood there, and I could almost hear your voice
asking for reassurance.  But somehow I couldn't give it to
you, and after a moment I handed you the manuscript,
suggested that you read it, and turned and walked away.

Damn me, anyway.

I told myself I just wanted you to read the manuscript so
you would see I was right -- that I *am* right, and that
Padgett really is responsible for those killings.  But the
truth of the matter is I wanted to hurt you a little,
Scully.  The truth is I was shocked and angered by what I
read in his book, and I was dealing with it in my accustomed
manner by lashing out at someone I love instead of at the
person who was really responsible.

Even as I was throwing the "naked pretzel" in your face,
Scully, I knew I was being irrational.  I knew that whatever
Padgett wrote in his book, it was just the product of his
own sick imagination -- the same imagination which conjured
up the image of a man literally ripping the heart out of
another human being.  It's not your fault that this guy
became obsessed with you, after all.

Even when I burst into Padgett's apartment and found you, my
wife, sitting on his bed, I didn't have any *real* doubts. 
You wouldn't do that to me, Scully; not after all we've been
through, especially these last few weeks.  The similarity
between the scene I interrupted and the one in Padgett's
book was just a coincidence -- or at least, that's what I
keep telling myself.  I really *do* know you better than
that after all.

Don't I?

It's that tiny, niggling shadow of a doubt that has me so
upset, of course.  And which in turn made me rub salt in the
wound with that asinine comment a few minutes ago.  Because
Scully, even though I know that you would never betray the
fragile trust we've been trying to rebuild since El Rico, I
can't seem to stop seeing the images which Padgett conjured
up.  The images of you and him, together.

Damn, damn, damn.

Now you're sitting all by yourself in a deserted conference
room, reading some stranger's sexual fantasies about you. 
Just like I asked you to.  I can't imagine how that must be
making you feel, Scully.  You already felt violated just by
the things he told you when he met you at the church, that
much was obvious. And reading this manuscript is probably
making it at least a thousand times worse.

And it's all my fault.

Good job, Agent Mulder.

#          #          #

I wish you would stop hovering, Mulder.  It's bad enough I
have to read this crap without you walking by in the hallway
every few minutes.

I wonder if you think I don't know you're out there?  I've
been able to recognize you by your footsteps for a very long
time, Mulder, until now it's almost an instinct.  You step
into the room -- or in this case pace by in the hall -- and
I *know* it's you.  It's almost enough to make me believe in
auras, or maybe telepathy.

But not quite.

I release a soft sigh and try to concentrate on the
manuscript, but it's not easy.  Not only is the prose dense
and almost unreadable, but the subject matter, quite
frankly, makes my skin crawl.

It's not the murders that are upsetting me, Mulder.  Grisly
and cruel though these killings are, they're still just
words on paper -- and in any case, I've seen far worse at
crime scenes and in autopsy suites.  I long ago ceased being
shocked at the brutality that humans choose to visit on one
another.  Appalled and saddened, yes.  But not shocked.  Not
anymore.

What *is* bothering me is the way Padgett has depicted me. 
The things he said in the church and in his apartment were
bad enough; what he wrote about me in his book -- well, the
only word that comes to mind is "lurid".

I can't imagine how you must have felt as you read these
words, Mulder.  When you confronted me about this in the
hallway a short time ago I was angry -- angry and hurt that
you would question my fidelity like that.  We may not have
consummated our marriage as yet, but I still take those vows
seriously.  I am totally and completely committed to this
marriage, Mulder, and to you -- my husband.  And I was
distressed that you would even think otherwise of me.

Let alone say those awful words.

Now I think I understand your reaction a little better.  The
sex scene Padgett wrote between himself and me -- I refuse
to think of it as "making love" -- there's an eerie
similarity between that scene and the encounter Padgett and
I had in his apartment.  To you those similarities must have
seemed even more pronounced and disturbing, since you saw
only a few seconds of it, and of course had no way of
knowing what was in my mind and in my heart.

And in truth, I don't entirely understand my own behavior
this afternoon.  Most especially, I don't understand why I
entered Padgett's apartment in the first place.  My only
intention when I knocked on his door was to return the
milagro he left for me, and make it clear to him that his
attentions were not welcome.  But then he engaged me in
conversation, and the next thing I knew I was sitting on his
bed with a cup of coffee, just -- talking.

That's all we were doing:  talking.  And Mulder, even if you
had not intervened, I have to believe that's *all* that
would have happened.  I am not the helpless heroine of
Padgett's book, nor do I find him particularly interesting
as a man.  The only man whose touch I crave is yours; the
only lips I long to taste are yours.  And the only man who
can finally and completely fill me and fulfill me -- the
only man I love and trust -- is you, Mulder.

Just you.

Only you.

This was not my fault, and in my heart I know it.  Nothing
happened, and nothing was going to happen.  But still I pray
to God that I haven't ruined everything.

#          #          #

It's over.

The police are gone now, Scully, and so are the paramedics. 
You can relax now.  You're safe.

Most importantly, Padgett's gone.  He almost ruined
everything for us.  Everything we've worked for, everything
we've built.  He almost ruined *you*, Scully.  Almost.

I'd like to find some way to apologize for my blundering, to
apologize for once again allowing my own arrogant blindness
to put you at risk.  You're my partner; you're my *wife*. 
But I let that fucking madman get under my skin and provoke
me to the point where my own anger and stupidity almost got
you killed.

Again, Scully.  Once again, I almost got you killed.

I don't know if you can understand how I felt when I stepped
through the doorway and saw you lying there, covered with
blood.  I thought I'd lost you.  After all we've been
through and after all we've overcome, I thought I'd finally
lost you.  And in that eternal moment I felt as if my own
heart was being ripped from my chest

You're sitting on the end of my sofa, now, so stiff and
still.  If it weren't for the slow, steady movement of your
chest, and the very occasional flicker of your eyelids, I
could almost believe you were dead.  Again.

You seem so small and vulnerable tonight.  You never seem
small and vulnerable; you're the strongest, most courageous
person I have ever known.  It makes me feel so safe, and
even proud, to know that you're by my side and watching my
back.  I would never have anyone but you in that role.

Do you know that, Scully?  Do you understand it?  Do you
realize how much I need you with me?

Have I ever told you?

Tonight, though, I think perhaps *you* need *me*.  And
maybe, just maybe, tonight you'll permit me to be there for
you.  Will you let me do that for you?  Just this once, just
for tonight, will you allow me to be the strong one?

I sit down next to you on the sofa, and I slowly, carefully
put my arms around you.  I feel your body stiffen slightly
at my touch before you relax into my embrace.  You lay your
head on my shoulder, and though I can no longer see your
face, somehow I know that you have closed your eyes.

This is all I've ever wanted from you, Scully.  This is all
I've ever needed.  To be allowed to hold you and care for
you when you're hurting.  The Consortium, the quest for the
truth, even the search for Samantha -- all these things
remain important, but none of them has any meaning without
you.  Not anymore.  Not for a long time.

I turn slightly on the sofa and lift you up and onto my lap.
 You come willingly into my arms, resting one hand at the
base of my neck and tucking the other in against my chest. 
You are so warm and alive and vital, and as I lean down to
kiss you lightly on the brow, you murmur, so very softly, "I
need to be clean."

I can do that for you.  I swear I can do that.

I rise slowly and carefully to my feet.  Your muscles tense
slightly once again, but then you relax as you seem to
realize what I'm doing.  Your hand slides further around my
neck and your grip tightens.  It's unnecessary, because I
won't drop you Scully -- I promise.  But you can hold me as
tightly as you need to.

My bathroom is small and cramped, but somehow I manage to
maneuver us into it -- and then, for just a moment, I have
to set you down so I can draw the water for your bath.

I wish I had some of your nice soaps and shampoos.  I
especially wish I had some of the bubble bath which I don't
think you know I found out about.  I've been intending to
stock some of your favorite toiletries, for the nights we
stay over here, but somehow I never quite got around to it. 
It seemed like an intrusion, I guess, if that makes any
sense at all.  Now I wish I had, because I know how much
those things would comfort you.

I know I should feel awkward undressing you for the very
first time, but I don't.  Perhaps it's your own acceptance
of the situation, or maybe it's my own deep certainty that
what I'm doing is utterly necessary and completely welcome
and right.  But whatever the reason, I'm grateful for it.

I quickly dispose of your blood-soaked blouse and bra,
dropping them into the waste basket without a second
thought.  Your slacks I treat more respectfully, folding
them neatly and hanging them over the towel rack before
turning back to face you.

For a moment I pause, briefly taken aback at the enormity of
what I'm about to do.  It's really such a prosaic thing to
have such significance; nonetheless, I'm suddenly breathless
as I recognize the line we are about to cross.

Abruptly I feel awkward and uncomfortable.  Trying
desperately to keep my gaze focused only on your face, I
question you with my eyes:  Is this okay?  Is this what you
want?  And your eyes answer back:  No.  This is not what I
want.  This is what I need.  And so, eyes averted, I slide
my thumbs inside the elastic band, and slowly, and gently, I
lower your panties down your legs.

The tub is full now, and I bend to turn off the tap.  For a
moment I wonder if I'm supposed to lift you into the bath,
but for the first time since I found you lying in my doorway
a smile flickers across your lips, and you step unassisted
into the warm, welcoming water.

I kneel by the bathtub for a moment, finally allowing my
gaze to touch your body.  You're beautiful, Scully.  Even
covered in blood, you're beautiful.  So beautiful it makes
my heart ache and my throat constrict.  Before we were
married I never allowed myself to look at  you so openly,
even fully clothed, and now that I have, I don't ever want
to stop.  I don't even know if I could.

You catch my eye, and I see question marks in your gaze. 
This is me, Scully.  Not Padgett, just me.  Mulder.  Your
partner and husband.  I don't really think that's what
you're asking, but I feel the need to reassure you, and
perhaps myself as well.  As I lean forward to kiss you
lightly on the mouth, I feel your lips curving upwards
against mine.  And then I take a washcloth and begin to
clean you.

The blood comes off easily; more easily than I had expected.
 After only a moment or two of firm but gentle ministrations
with the damp, soapy washcloth, your skin is clean. 
Completely clean and unstained, as if the blood had never
been there at all.  Pristine.

Still I continue washing you.  This is not just about the
blood, and we both know that.  This is not just about wiping
off the blood, or even the sweat and grime of the day.  It's
a cleansing; a ritual.  And so I continue washing you, as
softly and gently as I can:  Your shoulders.  Your breasts. 
Your ribs and belly.  Your hips and the outsides of your
thighs.

Slowly and thoroughly I traverse your body, taking away as
best I can the darkness and horror.  I know I can't banish
it completely, though I would give anything if I could.  But
I do what I can, Scully.  I always do what I can, no matter
how pitifully inadequate my best efforts may be.

Finally I reach your inner thighs, and one last time I
pause.  I'm not sure if I should do this.  I mean, I know I
*should*, but I'm not sure if I can.  I'm not sure if *we*
can.  I raise my gaze to yours once again, and once again I
speak to you with my eyes:  This is a cleansing.  A ritual. 
May I do this?  And again your eyes answer back:  Yes. 
Please do this.  Please complete the ritual.  I trust you.

With a suddenly shaky hand I slide the washcloth upwards,
until finally it glides across your core.  I hear a stifled
gasp and I glance up once more at your face, but you smile
and nod your head, and I know that it's okay.

And I know, somehow, that we're going to be okay, no matter
what the future holds.

#          #          #

We'll be okay, Mulder.  No matter what happens.  I know
this; I feel it; I believe it.  Can you feel it too?

For once, I want to believe.

We're lying in your bed now, curled up beneath a heavy down
comforter.  After you finished bathing me you lifted me from
the tub and toweled me dry, and then you carried me in here
to tuck me into bed.  You didn't bother with finding
something for me to wear. We don't need clothes tonight. You
took just seconds to slip out of your own before you
followed me under the covers, pulling me close and wrapping
your arms around me.

I've never been cared for like this Mulder.  I've never
*allowed* myself to be cared for like this.  I don't know
why I'm allowing it to happen now, but much as it frightens
me to release this much control, for once my need to be held
and comforted has overcome my need to be self-contained and
isolated.

My need to be held and comforted by *you* Mulder.  No one
else; never anyone else.  Only you.  I haven't yet managed
to say those words aloud -- I have not yet even managed to
say the words, "I love you."  You're braver than I am, in
that respect at least.  But I'm working on it, Mulder, and
one day soon I will say them, I swear.  Until then, I hope
you can hear them in other ways.

One day very soon.

I snuggle back a little closer, silently reveling in the
feel of your bare skin against mine.  You're spooned around
behind me, almost completely enveloping me with your body,
keeping me warm and safe and cocooned.  I know this can't
last; I know that soon, in a matter of hours at most, we'll
have to climb from this bed and face the world again.  But
for now, for tonight, we have this.

We have each other.

At last.

I've been thinking, Mulder -- thinking about something I
said to Padgett yesterday, when I went to his apartment. 
Something important, although I hadn't really thought it
through when first I said it.

I'd gone there to return the milagro charm he left for me. 
It was a spur of the moment thing; I was walking by his
apartment on my way to yours and I heard the typewriter
going, and it occurred to me that I could simply return the
charm and be done with it.  And so I knocked on his door.

The thing is, he wouldn't let me just return the charm and
be done with it.  Somehow -- I still don't understand how --
he managed to engage me, with only a few simple sentences. 
Prosaic words about his apartment and its lack of furniture,
and about his writing.  Simple words -- words which may have
been significant to him, but which for me were devoid of
meaning.  But still I couldn't leave.  I felt transfixed. 
Compelled.

Finally he came to the point -- the point which I now
realize he'd been working towards ever since we met at the
church.  He told me he was lonely, and suggested that I was
lonely, too.  That perhaps we had this in common.

I told him he was wrong, of course.  Not in so many words,
but the implication was clear:  "Loneliness is a choice," is
what I said.  A choice which he had made, and I had not.  He
had chosen to be lonely, while I had chosen simply to be
alone.

I could see that he didn't believe me; it was written on his
face and echoed in his voice.  He didn't believe me because
he didn't really understand me, although he thought he did. 
He thought I was in denial, and that with a little coaxing I
could be made to see that he and I were meant for each other
-- or at least that we could ease each other's pain.

But Padgett was wrong.  I'm not lonely, and I never could
be.  Not with you by my side.  I've been alone, yes, but
that's different.  And just as loneliness was a choice for
Padgett, aloneness was a choice for me.  A choice I made
long ago, and one which I can change whenever it suits me. 
And now it suits me.

I choose not to be alone anymore, Mulder.

I stir slightly in your arms, to let you know I'm still
awake and about to move.  I feel you tighten your embrace,
ever so slightly, as if you don't want me to escape, but I'm
not trying to escape, and I'm not trying to push you away. 
We're done with that, Mulder; I'll never run from you again.

I turn over in bed and allow you to draw me closer.  The
touch of your skin against mine, the heat of your body, your
scent ... all these things surround me and infuse me and
intoxicate me.  Already I feel the arousal building within
me.  Already I feel the desire spreading outward from my
center.

This is not like the night in our office, Mulder.  That
night, the night we got back from the Berquist case, I was
aroused, but for all the wrong reasons.  I felt threatened
and possessive, and I wanted to own you, and so I responded
in that way.  I tried to take you and make you mine.  I
tried to overwhelm you.  I tried to dominate you and make my
feelings be yours.

Tonight is different, though.  Tonight, again, I want you
physically -- I want you so much it makes me ache inside. 
But it's a clean want, Mulder; a pure want.  Unlike that
other time, tonight I long only for what you can give, and
no matter how much or how little that may be, I know that it
will be enough.  Because this time it's right.  This time it
will be for love.

I press my body against yours and slide my arms around your
shoulders.  I can feel you responding, Mulder; I can feel
your body fitting itself against mine.  Your arms are still
around me, your hands caressing my back from my shoulders to
my waist, sending urgent signals throughout my system
wherever they linger.  I inhale again, deeply, allowing your
scent to fill my lungs, but even that is no longer enough; I
want more.  And so at last I touch my lips to yours.

I feel an electric shock racing through my body, as if a
circuit has finally been completed.  My lips part with a
groan and our tongues meet -- and dear God, Mulder.  I never
knew a simple kiss could be like this.  Your lips are
burning on mine; your tongue is thrusting deeply into my
mouth, tasting, exploring; and your hands -- your hands are
everywhere, touching me, feeling me, holding me.  And still
it's not enough.

I can't hold still, Mulder; I physically cannot hold still. 
I find myself rubbing my body against yours, exulting in the
feel of your flesh sliding against mine.  Everywhere our
bodies touch I feel pleasure and contentment; everywhere
they part I feel bereft.  There isn't enough of you, Mulder;
there will never be enough of you to cover me completely.

But I'll make do with what I can get, because even that is
more than I've ever had before.

At last our lips separate, and for a moment we cling to one
another, gasping for breath.  I look up into your eyes, and
I see a question there.  You start to speak, and I shake my
head.  No words, Mulder.  Not tonight.  Words have gotten us
into so much trouble in the past.  So no words tonight.  As
strange as it may sound, coming from me of all people,
tonight I only want to feel.

I slide one hand behind your head, tangling my fingers in
your hair, and again I draw your face to mine.  Our lips
meet, softly, briefly, and then I'm peppering your face with
kisses.  Your stubble is rough and abrasive against my lips
and cheeks, and I know I'll have whisker burns come morning,
but I just don't care.  All I care about is tasting as much
of your skin as possible, as quickly as I can.  All that
matters is the passion I feel building between us.

You have not been idle or passive, of course.  Your hands
continue to roam across my back, touching and stroking and
caressing, and setting me on fire in the process.  Now your
head drops, and I have just an instant to prepare myself
before your mouth closes over my left nipple --

Oh God --

Mulder ... oh God, Mulder ... oh God.  Don't stop.  Please
don't stop.  Your lips, your tongue, oh sweet Jesus, even
your teeth.  How are you *doing* this?  My arms are wrapped
around your head, holding it in place, and I just can't get
enough.  Please don't stop --

You lift your mouth away from my breast, but before I can
draw in my breath to protest, you descend upon the other
one, and for a moment all I can do is close my eyes and
gasp.  Oh God ... this is so good.  So very, very good ....

And so very, very inadequate.  I can't remember when I've
been this aroused, Mulder, and I just can't wait any longer.
 I've been waiting so long for this, and I'm so ready.  I
need this so much.  I need *you* so much.  I need you,
Mulder.  Now.

I roll onto my back, pulling you down on top of me, and I
wrap my legs around your waist.  Your mouth comes free of my
breast, and you capture my lips with yours and kiss me so
sweetly and tenderly it almost makes me cry.  Your tongue
slips into my mouth again in a premonition of intercourse,
and my head is spinning, my senses on overload.

I'm clinging to you for dear life now, Mulder.  You're my
life raft in a sea of sensation.  You're my rock.  You're my
stability.  Nothing exists, except for you.  Nothing is
real, except for you.  Your warmth.  Your weight.  Your
touch.  Your scent.  Your taste.

Your love.

And now you're entering me.  At long, long last, you're
entering me.  Filling me as only you can, Mulder. 
Fulfilling me as only you could.

Making me whole.

For a timeless moment you pause, and I wait in an exquisite
agony of anticipation.  With each passing second my desire
and need for you grow stronger, yet still you do not move. 
God, Mulder.  Oh God.  Please move.  Please move.  I need
you to move.  I try to shift my hips, I try to create some
friction on my own, to somehow ease the ache I feel inside,
but you're too heavy, you're pinning me to the mattress with
your weight.  I hear a whimper of frustration coming from
deep inside my throat, and I force my eyes to open.

You're hovering over me, staring down at me, and yet again
there are questions in your eyes.  Oh, Mulder, do you really
still have doubts?  Have I truly been so hard on you?  Have
I  been so distant and walled off and unapproachable that
even now, even as you're already buried as deep inside my
body as it's possible for you to be, you still have
uncertainties?

Can you possibly believe that I don't want this?

Yes, Mulder, I reassure you with my eyes.  Yes, I want this.
 Yes, I need this.  Yes, I crave this.  If I could hold you
any closer I would.  If I could touch any more of your skin,
I would.  If I could kiss you any deeper, I would.  Kiss me
again, Mulder.  Hold me tighter, Mulder.  Make love to me,
Mulder.  Please.  Now.

And at last your hips begin to move, and I am lost.

For a moment I am transfixed, in shock.  This is so much
better, this is so much more intense, this is so much deeper
and more profound than anything has ever been before.  I've
been in love before, Mulder, and I've made love before. 
I've been with men I cared about and to whom I tried to be
committed, as difficult as that's always been for me.  But
it's never been like this.  It's never been so nearly
perfect.

Your movements now are smooth and steady, your heat and
hardness penetrating my body in the age-old way of man and
woman.  I didn't think it was possible to hold you any
closer but I feel my arms and legs tightening around you
further, drawing you ever deeper into me in a desperate
attempt to fill my aching need.

My own hips have begun to move, reflexively and
involuntarily, and that just makes it better.  I match your
rhythm effortlessly, without thought, and now we two are
becoming one as we move together in perfect synchrony.  This
is sharing, Mulder; this is partnership.  We are no longer
seeking my orgasm; we are no longer pursuing your release. 
This is not about you, and it's not about me.  This is about
us.  This is ours.

Abruptly I feel the first waves rippling through me and over
me and around me.  I'm drowning in a tide of feeling, tossed
about on foamy whitecaps of emotion.  I've never cried while
making love before, but tonight my cheeks are wet with
tears.  You've filled all my empty places, Mulder; you've
filled me in ways I didn't know were possible, and in places
I didn't know I had.

My body cramps and shakes and arches against yours, meeting
you and loving you and finally, at long, long last merging
with you.  I feel your silent answer, and our climax sweeps
across us, buoying us up and carrying us away, far, far, far
out to sea, together.

A story can have only one true ending, but in every ending
there lies a new beginning.

"I love you, Mulder."


==================

The Unnatural:

CHAPTER TEN - Outfield Interlude

NOTE:  This chapter is rated NC-17

==================


Eventually we grew tired of batting practice.

The evening was still comparatively young, though -- at
least, for a Saturday night it was.  And so I paid off the
boy and told him Scully and I would take care of gathering
up the baseballs.  Which we will.  Eventually.  Right now
we're just too damned comfortable.

After the boy left I went back to my car just long enough to
grab the blanket and picnic basket I'd stashed in the trunk.
 Scully trailed along after me, and I saw her eyebrows shoot
up in surprise when I turned back to face her, those two
items in my hands.

"I think I've been set up," she said in an amused tone of
voice.

I smiled and nodded.  "I do believe you're correct, Agent
Scully," I replied, offering her my elbow.  She chuckled and
took my arm, and together we moved back out across the
baseball diamond.

She'd been set up, all right, I mused to myself as we walked
on out into right field.  But then, she'd probably suspected
as much from the moment she got the message from "Fox
Mantle" asking her to meet me at the ball field.  Pay more
attention to the mystery of the heart, Arthur Dales had
enjoined me this afternoon.  Well, Mr. Dales, I intend to do
just that.

Finally we wound up spreading the blanket on the ground
about 250 feet from home plate, and a hundred feet short of
the chain-link homerun fence.  Now we're both stretched out
on the blanket, Scully curled up against my side with her
head on my shoulder, and the open picnic basket a few feet
away on her other side.  When we first sat down we munched a
little of the fruit and cold cuts I brought along; now we're
just lying here together, quietly enjoying each other's
company and looking at the stars.

Scully sighs and moves a little closer to me, throwing her
left leg up across my hips.  Since we finally consummated
our marriage ten days ago, casual acts of intimacy have
gotten a little easier for both of us.  We've only made love
twice more since then, but our comfort level has increased
dramatically.  I tighten my arm around her shoulders, very
slightly.

"Two months," Scully murmurs, her breath tickling the base
of my neck.  "That's what this is about, isn't it?"

I chuckle softly and lean over to kiss her lightly on the
forehead.  "Not much gets by you, does it, Agent Scully?" I
reply.  She simply smiles and shakes her head, and snuggles
yet closer.

She *is* right, of course.  Tonight's our two month
anniversary.  Our two month *wedding* anniversary, strange
as that idea still seems.

Even before I had my encounter with Arthur Dales I'd
intended for this to be a special night.  I didn't have more
than the vaguest idea of what I wanted to do, but I knew I
wanted it to be special.  Once I'd heard Dales' story,
though, I knew exactly what I wanted:

I wanted us to play.  Have fun.  In the words of my
adorable, enigmatic and occasionally infuriating partner and
wife, I wanted us to get a life, even if it was only for a
few hours.

Seems like maybe I got my wish.

My gaze drops down to Scully's left hand, resting
comfortably on the center of my chest.  Seeing her bare ring
finger reminds me that there is still one industrial-sized
fly in our happy little ointment.  More than one, actually,
but this is the one that's been bothering me the most these
last few days, since the conclusion of the Padgett case. 
And suddenly I want to talk about it.  Now.

"Scully, do you want a ring?"

She hesitates, then replies softly, "I already have a ring."
She doesn't raise her head, but simply lifts her hand to
touch the spot on her blouse over my class ring before
returning her hand to its spot on my chest.

"That's not what I mean, Scully," I reply, equally softly. 
I take her hand and kiss the bare ring finger.  "I mean a
wedding ring.  You know that."  I don't know why, but this
conversation has suddenly become very important to me. 
Scully seems to have realized that, because now she raises
her head up off my shoulder and seems to study my face, a
thoughtful expression on her own features.

"I don't know," she says at last.  "I guess so, at some
point."  She smiles slightly.  "It would be nice to be just
a *little* conventional."  Then she turns serious again, and
squirms against me until her face is only inches from my
own.  "But I don't need one right this minute," she
continues.  "I've got everything I really need already. 
Right here."  And then she kisses me.

We've been getting pretty good at this kissing thing the
past two months, and this particular kiss goes on for quite
awhile.  I was already semi-erect just from having Scully
cuddled up next to me; by the time she finally lets me come
up for air I'm hard as a rock.

I'm not *quite* ready to let the subject drop, however.  Sex
is good, and making love is even better, and I have a pretty
strong intuition that's going to play a part in tonight's
festivities -- but this other stuff is important, too.

"Scully," I say, "I think we *should* get you a ring.  And
maybe me, too."  I place another kiss on her ring finger. 
"I *want* to get you a ring.  And I want to have a proper
ceremony, something your mother and brothers can attend. 
And -- "

"Mulder," she says, freeing her hand and pressing her
fingertips against my lips.  "Mulder, it's okay," she
continues.  "I want those things too, but we don't need to
do it all right away.  We've got plenty of time."

I feel a chill pass through my body at her words, although I
have no idea why -- but there's no time to consider the
matter, because Scully's still speaking.

"Right now we're just barely getting to the point where
we're really comfortable with all this," she says.  "I want
to take a little more time so we can just enjoy being with
each other.  Okay?"  And she kisses me again.

This kiss goes on even longer than the first one, and by the
time it's over we're both gasping for breath.  Scully has
crawled around until now she's lying almost completely on
top of me, and her hand on my chest is fingering one of my
nipples through the rough cloth of my baseball jersey and
the underlying shirt.  She's also gently but deliberately
rubbing her thigh against my erection ....

"Scully," I whisper, and then I have to stop to clear my
throat and begin again.  "Scully?  Maybe we should be
heading for home?"

Scully smiles, but shakes her head.  "Not yet," she says --
and then she lowers her head to my shoulder again and starts
nibbling on my neck.

Automatically, my arms tighten around her, and I groan
softly and tilt my head to give her a better angle.  All
those years when we were just platonic partners, I never
guessed that Scully would be sexually aggressive, but she
is.  All three of our encounters so far -- four, if you
count the aborted attempt in our office -- have been
initiated by her.  That's at least in part due to my own
residual uncertainty that Dana Scully could really be
interested in someone like me.  I'm working on that, though
....

Now the hand which had been teasing my nipple is sliding
down my chest to my belly.  At first I think she just wants
to get under my shirt, but she keeps right going past the
hem of my jersey, and I realize just before she gets there
that --

Oh, Christ ....

Scully's hand gently strokes my erection through the denim
of my jeans, causing my hips to jerk reflexively.  My wife
chuckles softly, squeezing me slightly with her hand, and
then takes another nip at my neck.

Okay, so that's the way she wants to play it.  I don't know
exactly how far she wants to go with this, but I'm happy to
go along for the ride.

As Scully continues to work on my neck and rub her hand
across my erection, I slide both of my hands down her body,
finally coming to rest on her lower back.  We're both still
learning about each other's bodies, but I've already
discovered that her lower back is one of Scully's hot spots.
 And that's where I begin my assault.

Within seconds Scully is moaning against my neck, squirming
and rubbing the length of her body against mine -- which of
course just makes it better for me, too.  Before very long
just stroking her back through her clothes isn't enough
anymore, so I roll onto my side, carrying Scully with me,
and immediately bring one of my hands up between us to cup
one of her breasts.

"Jesus ... Mulder ...."  Her voice is somewhere between a
gasp and a moan as she ceases ministering to my neck and
captures my mouth with hers once again.  This kiss is
frantic, savage, her tongue plunging into my mouth and
aggressively probing and exploring.  My right hand continues
caressing her breast, while the other leaves her lower back
to grip the back of her neck, holding her firmly in place as
the kiss progresses.  We're both moaning almost constantly,
but I'm already so far gone I can no longer tell which
sounds belong to whom.

Scully's left hand continues to squeeze and fondle the bulge
in my jeans, causing my hips to spasm intermittently.  It's
really getting uncomfortably tight down there, but her touch
feels so damned good I can't bear to make her stop.

Abruptly the hand under my jersey is gone, and a moment
later I feel something tugging at my jeans.  I barely have
time to figure out she's pulling my zipper down before one
of her hands delves into my now-open fly.

I break the kiss.  "S-scully," I manage to stutter out. 
"Wait."

Immediately her hand stops moving, and anxiety and tension
begin to replace the desire and hunger which had been in her
eyes only seconds earlier.  This is still so very new for
both of us, I remind myself.  It would be so easy for us to
hurt each other through a misunderstanding.  Once again I
recall that night in our office, after we got back from the
Berquist case.  I pushed her away that night, and the look
on her face now is very similar to what it was then.

"Mulder?" she asks, softly and hesitantly.

"It's okay, Scully," I reassure her, still a little short of
breath.  I'm not pushing you away, I add with my eyes.  "I,
I just think maybe we should pack up everything and go back
to your place.  Or my place."  I stroke her breast lightly
through her clothes, and smile as she shudders slightly in
response.  "Or even the nearest motel.  I'm not fussy at
this point."

That gets me a raised eyebrow.  "A motel?" she replies. 
"Why a motel?  What's wrong with right --" and she squeezes
my cock through the thin cloth of my boxers "-- here?"

"Here?" It takes all my willpower just to get that word out.
 Her strong, warm fingers have started to stroke and caress
me again, and now there's essentially nothing between her
hand and my cock to lessen the sensation.  "Scully," I
manage to get out, "this is a public place!"

"That's true, it is," Scully murmurs.  As she continues to
speak she begins planting soft, delicate kisses along my
jaw.  "But it's almost midnight."  Kiss, kiss, kiss.  "No
cars have gone by for at least an hour."  Kiss, kiss.  "And
even if someone *did* happen by --" kiss, kiss, kiss "--
they'd probably just turn around and walk away."  A long,
slow lick from the base of my neck to just under my ear.

"But ... the police ... "  My voice trails off as Scully
goes to work on my ear, flicking her tongue in and out of it
repeatedly.

"The police?"  A soft, sexy chuckle, followed by a nip on my
earlobe, just as her hand finally slips into the fly of my
boxers.  "Mulder, we *are* the police.  Remember?"  Her
fingers touch my erection, and I moan and jerk my hips. 
"And if a D.C. cop *did* happen to come along, the most he
would do would be to tell us to zip up --" delicate squeeze
"-- and move along."

Christ.  She's serious.  She actually wants to do this --
she actually wants to make love here on this damned ball
field.  It occurs to me that she doesn't sound as if it's a
new idea to her, either, but before I can really process
this apparent fact she gives my cock yet another gentle
squeeze, transfers her tongue to the side of my neck which
she'd been neglecting -- and her hand starts sliding slowly
up and down my shaft.

While I've been analyzing her behavior, she's been trying to
unbuckle my belt with one hand while continuing to stroke my
erection with the other.  There's something oddly comforting
about the way she's handling me now.  Even as I'm becoming
more and more aroused, I'm also getting more relaxed and
comfortable with the whole situation.

Finally I just give up.  This is going to happen, and I
might as well cooperate and enjoy myself.  So as Scully
continues to fumble with my belt buckle and the button on my
jeans, I slide one hand back around to start caressing her
lower back again, while the other slips up under her shirt
to resume fondling her breasts.

She finally gets my belt and jeans unfastened, then pulls
away, sitting up to push my jeans and boxers down around my
knees before quickly disposing of her own clothes.  I
promptly follow suit -- or unsuit, more accurately -- and as
she stretches out next to me again I grab the far corner of
the blanket to drape it over us, hiding the essentials from
any prying eyes that might happen along.  Then she presses
her body against mine once more, and we both groan with
pleasure -- and her left hand resumes its now-accustomed
stroking of my cock.

Before she can go back to working on my neck, however, I
take her face between my hands and kiss her -- and this time
it's *my* tongue that's doing the exploring.  Deep into her
mouth I probe, and she accepts me willingly, tilting her
head back and cupping the back of my head with her free
hand, tangling her fingers through my hair.

At last we break apart, just enough to breathe, and as I
move to plant another kiss just below her ear I murmur,
"From the way you were talking it sounds like you've done
this before, Scully.  Done the wild thing in the great
outdoors, I mean."  I don't know quite why I asked that
question; I certainly didn't plan it out in advance.  But
I'm finding her attitude towards this whole thing
unexpectedly exciting, and I want to know more.

She gives a throaty chuckle, just this side of a giggle, and
says, "Yeah.  Yeah I have, a long time ago."  Her hand
continues its slow, sensual up-and-down movement on my
erection.  "There's not much to tell though, really.  It was
the summer before my senior year in college, and there was
this guy named Mike -- a Navy friend of Bill's who was
visiting us.  We hit it off and went out a few times, and
one night after everyone else had gone to bed we were
sitting out on the porch, just talking -- and he started
kissing me, and one thing led to another ... "

Her voice trails off, and I wait to see if she's going to
continue, but she doesn't seem to be inclined to do so. 
Finally, I say, "And?"

She shrugs, but now she seems embarrassed, making me wonder
if maybe I should have just let it drop.  "No 'and' to speak
of, I'm afraid, Mulder.  We were both young and
inexperienced, and it lasted about five minutes.  I like to
think he got more out of it than I did, but who knows?"  She
gives a wry laugh.  "And the next day he told me very gently
that I was a sweet girl but he was seeing someone else and
when he got back to Hawaii he was going to ask her to marry
him.  I was crushed, of course, but he and Bill left the day
after that, and I never saw him again."

"I'm sorry, Scully," I say softly, wishing I could think of
something more eloquently comforting to say.  "That must
have hurt a lot."

"Yeah, it did," she says, shrugging.  "But it was a long
time ago, and it was a learning experience."  She smiles
slightly, perhaps a bit wistfully.  "That which does not
destroy me makes me stronger, right?"

She seems to notice at the same instant I do that her hand
on my cock has stopped moving, and now her smile broadens as
she starts it up again.  "Besides," she goes on in a lighter
tone of voice, "if I'd gotten tangled up with Mike I might
not have been available when you came along, and we wouldn't
want that, now would we?"  And she moves a little closer
until there's no space between our bodies at all, and once
again she presses her lips against mine.

I don't know if it will ever be possible for me to catalog
all the different sorts of kisses Dana Scully has shared
with me.  This one is tender and loving and giving, and so
damned sweet it almost makes me want to cry, which is
something I haven't done in a romantic situation since
before I met Phoebe.

God, this woman can kiss.  Her lips and tongue seem to be
everywhere, and the sweet taste of her mouth and the scent
of her arousal just contribute to the rapidly-building
sensory overload.  And of course, her body rubbing against
mine and her hand continuing its slow, sensual slide up and
down my shaft just makes it better.

My own hands have not been idle, of course.  One is now
stroking the length of her spine, being careful to include
that spot on her lower back, of course, while the other is
cupping and caressing one of the cheeks of her ass.  Her
hips are moving restlessly, and so are mine, and the air
around us is filled with the mingled sounds of our pleasure.

At last our lips separate once again, and Scully buries her
face in the hollow of my neck.  "God, Mulder," she whispers,
her lips tickling my shoulder as she speaks.  "God, you feel
so good."  She tightens her grip on me slightly, apparently
wanting to ensure that I know what part of me she's talking
about.  "I love touching you like this, holding you in my
hand.  It feels so ... powerful.  Like there's an electric
current running between us."  She chuckles slightly, I know
not at what.  "It's almost like a switch has been flicked
somewhere."

"It feels pretty good to me, too, Scully," I reply softly. 
And it really does, and I don't just mean physically. 
There's a profound sense of connectedness and sharing here,
a level of intimacy I don't remember ever experiencing
before.  I'm still pondering this strange new feeling,
wallowing in it, really, when Scully suddenly lifts up again
and scoots around until her head is resting on my belly. 
And when she speaks again her voice is soft and dreamy.

"I really, *really* like this, Mulder," she says, now
bringing both hands to bear on my penis and balls.  Her
fingers are just fluttering around, touching here, stroking
there, and occasionally giving a gentle squeeze for good
measure.  "I could do this for hours," she continues in the
same quiet, sing-songy voice.  "Days."  I hear a low
chuckle.  "But I bet you wouldn't like that very much.  Not
after awhile, anyway."

I'm about to take exception to that statement; I want to
tell her that I actually could just lie here and let her
fondle and touch me for days on end, because it's so
heartbreakingly intimate and personal.  But before I can get
the words out her head moves slightly, and then I feel
something warm and wet sliding up the length of my shaft.

Oh, god ....

My hips jerk spasmodically, and I don't even have time to
fully process this sudden new sensation before I feel her
lips close around the tip.  Oh, god, Scully ... Scully ...
Oh, Jesus ....  All I can seem to force out of my mouth are
inarticulate grunts and moans -- and every time I think I'm
about to get myself back under control she takes a little
more of me into her mouth, intermittently swirling her
tongue around the head while her fingers continue to stroke
and tickle the parts still exposed to the air.

"S-scully," I finally force out.  "Scully, you don't have --
" But then she finally takes the whole thing into her mouth,
and my head falls back to the ground and I groan.

God.  I can't stop this.  I just don't have the strength. 
From a purely selfish standpoint, of course, I don't *want*
to stop it, but the thing is that I've never been with a
woman who really seemed to enjoy doing this.  But I didn't
coax her into it, and from the happy humming sounds that
keep coming from her throat and vibrating against my cock, I
don't think she's regarding what she's doing as something
onerous, either.

Scully's not like the others; I have to keep reminding
myself of that.  She really does seem to love me, for
whatever unknown reason, and I have to learn to take that at
face value.  Someday, maybe I will.  Someday.  Then her head
begins to bob up and down, up and down, up and down, and it
feels so amazing ....

But I just can't help myself.  I've got too much of a
backlog of guilt and self-loathing to let this go
unchallenged.  I have to tell her she doesn't have to do
this; I have to let her off the hook.  Never mind that this
is strictly voluntary on her part.  Never mind that to all
appearances this is being done out of love.  I still have to
say this.

"Scully," I pant out, reaching down and running the fingers
of one hand through her hair.  She doesn't respond, though,
and her head continues to move, her lips and tongue sending
jolts of lightning down my cock and into my body with each
motion.  "Scully!" I say again, somewhat more forcefully,
hating the desperate tone I hear in my voice.  "Scully ...
love ... you don't have to be doing this."

She actually takes her mouth off me at that, and looks up at
me in surprise -- but her hands continue their work, even
so.  "You don't ... " I say, feeling stupid and foolish even
as I'm forming the words.  "I ... I don't want you to feel
obligated -- "

Scully laughs, but there's so much love and caring in her
eyes even I can't manage to take it wrong.  She shakes her
head with a smile, and as she bends her head back to her
task she murmurs, "Shut up, Mulder.  I'm giving you a blow
job."  Then she takes me into her mouth again and resumes
that slow, sweet motion --

-- and it occurs to me that two can play at this game.  So I
reach out and find her hips, drawing them close in to me,
evoking a muffled yelp of surprise from my partner as I bury
my face between her legs.  I take a moment to inhale her
wonderful, arousing fragrance before I press my mouth
against her ....

Scully stiffens and moans as my tongue slips between her
folds and finds her center, and for an instant she just
holds me in her mouth as I work at returning the pleasure
she's been giving me.  Finally her head starts to move
again, and without any effort at all we fall into a rhythm,
our motions complementing each other in perfect synchrony.

This is partnership, I realize, as sensation and emotion
build upon each other, sending us soaring towards the peak. 
This is passion, and it has transfigured us, just as Arthur
Dales said it would.  This is sharing and synergy and
friendship and commitment and trust.

This is love.


==================

Three of a Kind:

CHAPTER ELEVEN - TMI

==================


I blame Byers.

It was, after all, his idea that we drag Agent Scully into
this operation.  He was the one who insisted that we needed
our own government agent to counteract the other government
agents we'd run up against.  He was also the one who was
adamant that it had to be Scully rather than Mulder that we
called in.

To be fair, and to spread the blame as liberally as
possible, Langly had a hand in this as well.  *He* was the
one who suggested using a simulation of Mulder's voice to
persuade her to help us, and he was also the one who let her
wander away from the autopsy suite in this condition.

Leaving me, as usual, to clean up the mess.  Byers is
upstairs trying to jumpstart a relationship with a woman he
knew for two days ten years ago, and Langly is playing D&D,
which means he isn't even as close as Byers is to getting
laid.  And people think *I'm* a loser.

I turn my attention back to the matter at hand:  to wit,
trying to get the lovely Agent Scully upstairs to our room
so we can maybe figure out what the hell's going on with
her.

I don't know what's come over her; I've never seen her like
this, and for a few seconds there I didn't think I was going
to get her out of that bar with her virtue intact.  I
finally had to pull rank -- her rank -- to get it done, and
Agent Scully herself was no help at all.

One thing I know for sure:  This is *not* jet lag, as Langly
claimed a little while ago.  I'm not smelling any booze on
her breath, either, and she doesn't seem to be
uncoordinated, just ... goofy.  She even said she *likes*
me, and much as I wish I'd been wearing a wire so I could
immortalize those words for all time, that's just not ...
Scully.

Hell if I know what's going on.

Not that those jackals she was hanging out with gave a damn.
 To them she was just another bimbo, and the only question
in *their* minds was which one of them was going to take her
upstairs.  Good thing I showed up when I did.

Of course, now that I've got her out of the bar I still have
to get her into the elevator and up to our room.  Which is
turning out to be no easy task, as she's already escaped
twice:  once to admire the color scheme used for the little
pictures in the slot machine windows, and the second time to
get acquainted with a ficus that reminded her of her 11th
grade chemistry teacher.

And now here we go again.  I loosened my grip on her wrist
for just a second, and she's broken away once more and is
heading for the gift shop.

For just an instant I'm tempted to let her go.  I do have
other fish to fry, after all, and it really isn't fair that
I've been left to solve a problem all by myself which was at
its heart created by my two fine, upstanding colleagues, the
bastards.

I quickly suppress the impulse to blow it off, though,
because not only is Scully one luscious babe and a half,
she's also Mulder's .... Well, whatever she is to Mulder,
he's very protective of her, and he'll kick our sorry asses
if we let anything happen to her.  And if he ever finds out
exactly *how* we lured her out to Vegas ....

I shudder and take off after Agent Scully.

"Look, Hickey!" she exclaims with childlike delight as I
come to a halt next to her.  We're standing in front of the
magazine rack, and Scully is paging through a copy of Sports
Illustrated in apparent fascination.  "It's all about
Fernando Tatis!"

"Who?"  I glance over her shoulder at the magazine.  Some
guy hitting a baseball.

She looks up from the magazine, her eyes wide and her mouth
forming a little "o".  "Hickey!" she exclaims breathlessly. 
"You haven't heard of Fernando Tatis?"  I shake my head, and
she continues, "He hit homeruns.  Two of 'em.  Grand slams. 
All in the same inning.  Mulder's been raving to me about
it.  Look!"

She holds up the magazine about two inches from my eyes. 
It's currently open to a full page ad for a BMW Z3, which
sheds no light at all on the matter at hand.  But rather
than try to explain that to her, I slide it gently from her
hands and put it back on the rack, then take her elbow and
try to steer her towards the door.

"N-o-o-o!" she says, sounding just exactly like a frustrated
four year old whose balloon just got away from her and
sailed off into the sky.  She pulls away and heads back for
the magazine rack.  "I wasn't finished!"

I sigh and go after her again, to find her once more looking
at the picture of the baseball player.  "Two grand slams,
Hickey," she says with little-girl seriousness.  "No one's
ever done that before -- not in the same inning.  Two grand
slams.  Mulder was very impressed."

A slow, sweet smile starts to spread across her face.  On
anyone else I would describe that smile as sultry and
provocative, but this *is* Dana Scully.  For just a second
certain images flash through my head -- but then I push them
away and gently put my hand on her elbow again.  I have
*got* to get her out of here; there are things that need to
be done, not least of which is figure out why she's acting
the way she is.

"Hickey," she says, pulling me out of my thoughts once
again.  She leans towards me until her face is only inches
from my own, and her breath is warm and sweet.  God damn. 
How the hell does Mulder resist this, day after day?  If it
were me --

"You know what Mulder and I did last week?" she asks in a
conspiratorial whisper.  "We hit a grand slam of our own." 
And she starts to giggle.

"Did you, now," I reply, my mind working frantically.  She
did *not* mean that the way it sounded; that was just my own
dirty mind supplying that interpretation.  If she and Mulder
were doing the naked pretzel I would know about it.  At
least, I *think* I would.  It's true that Mulder hasn't been
around much the last few weeks, but that's a normal part of
his cycle ....

"We went to this ball field," she continues through her
giggles.  "Mulder and me, Hickey.  We went there.  And there
was this pitching machine and Mulder taught me how to swing
a baseball bat."  More giggling.  "A baseball bat.  A real
Louisville Slugger."

She leans a little closer and nudges me in the ribs with her
elbow, lowering her voice still further so that now it's
almost too throaty and sexy to bear.  "I didn't have the
heart to tell him I'd played fast pitch in high school. 
Besides, if I *had* told him that, ol' Poopyhead might not
have let me play with his bat and balls!"  And as she
dissolves into helpless laughter she stutters out, "S-see? 
I d-do *so* have feminine wiles!"

If I didn't before, now I'm really beginning to understand
the reactions of those men in the bar.  There's something
incredibly arousing about seeing her like this -- like I
need any help in *that* department.  But that's something
else that just isn't going to happen, for a number of
reasons -- not least of which is that it's blindingly
obvious that she has eyes only for Mulder.  I figured that
out within five minutes of meeting her, although the two of
*them* have displayed a breathtaking level of denial on that
particular topic.

Meanwhile, this little scene is getting out of hand, and
people are starting to stare.  Agent Scully is laughing
semi-hysterically, almost to the point of tears, while
tightly clutching my arm for support -- and just as I'm
thinking it can't get any worse she starts singing, in a
reedy, offkey voice.  "B-ball Park F-franks!" she carols,
barely able to get the words out between chortles.  "They
plump when you lick 'em!  Ball Park Franks!"  And then she
loses it completely.

I've got to put a stop to this.  "Agent Scully?" I say,
trying to get through to the rational part of her that I
know must be lurking down inside somewhere.  "We need to get
going.  We're late."  And I try to take the magazine from
her again.

"No!" she says petulantly, the laughter dying out as quickly
as it began.  She clutches the magazine more tightly.  "I'm
going to buy it for Mulder.  I haven't got him a proper
present yet, and I think he'd like it."

"Fine," I say, making no effort to keep the tone of
exasperation from my voice.  At this point buying the stupid
magazine will probably be quicker than trying to talk her
into leaving it behind.  "The cash register is that way."

"Okay," she replies placidly -- and wonder of wonders, she
allows me to lead her in that direction.  The transaction
goes without incident, and a moment later we're out of the
gift shop and heading for the elevator.  Agent Scully has
quieted somewhat, and is allowing herself to be led, so I
guess letting her buy the magazine was the right decision. 
Now we're standing in front of the elevators and she seems
to be totally absorbed in reading about Fernando Tatis.

Thank God.

"Stardust!"

Oh, Jesus.  Not *him* again.  I glance quickly at Agent
Scully, and see her eyes light up as she spies one of the
assholes from the bar bearing down on us.  By great good
fortune the elevator doors choose that moment to open, and I
grab her arm and drag her bodily into the car.  Lover Boy
speeds up a little as Scully waves to him enthusiastically,
but the doors close again just in the nick of time, and I
close my eyes and sag against the wall in relief as the car
begins to move.

"Jesus!" I mutter.  "That was too close."

"Aw, Hickey."

I open my eyes to see Special Agent Dana Scully *pouting* at
me -- and dear God help me if *that* isn't a big turn-on,
too.  I've got to be strong, I remind myself.  Not only
would it be wrong to take advantage of her in this situation
... but, well, it would be *wrong*.  That's all.

But if she starts to tremble her lower lip at me I won't be
responsible for the consequences.

"Hickey, you didn't have to do that," she says, in a sulky
tone of voice.  "I just wanted to talk to him again.  He's
funny."

"Uh, Agent Scully," I say, "somehow I don't think
conversation is what that guy had in mind."

She rolls her eyes at me, looking exactly like an
exasperated teenager.  "Oh, Jeez, Hickey, *I* know *that*. 
I didn't just fall off the turnip truck, you know."  She
shakes her head.  "Besides, I'd never hurt Mulder like that;
you know me better than that.  Don't you?"

Suddenly she looks anxious, and I want to reassure her --
but I have to reflect for just a moment.  I don't know all
the details of their relationship, but from late-night
beer-and-pretzel sessions with Mulder I know that she *has*
hurt him from time to time, sometimes pretty badly.  On the
other hand, Mulder can be a real pissant too, on occasion --
the whole tawdry business with Diana Fowley comes to mind. 
On the whole, based on what I *do* know, I'd say the honors
are about even.  So I just say, "Sure, Agent Scully; I
understand."

Only I guess I took too long thinking it over, because
rather than looking relieved, the anxiety on her face
deepens.  "Frohike," she says with the hurt dignity of that
aforementioned exasperated teenager, "I wouldn't do that.  I
just wouldn't.  I know Mulder was worried about that during
the Padgett case, but I would never betray him like that.  I
take my vows very seriously."

Sometimes there are advantages to being short, and this is
one of those times, because my jaw doesn't have nearly as
far to fall as it would if I were a six footer like Mulder.

"Vows?" I say, hating myself for the stupidity of it, but
not able to stop myself or think of anything more eloquent
to say.  She does not mean that the way it sounds; she
can't.  Not that I have any right to object, or even *want*
to object; I've never known two people who were more clearly
intended to be together.  But ... Jesus ....

"Yeah," she says, and suddenly her expression is softening,
and there's that light in her eyes that says she's thinking
about Mulder in a personal way rather than a professional
one.  "February 18," she adds with a dreamy smile.  "That
was the day.  We drove over to Fairfax County during our
lunch hour and saw one of the magistrates.  Can you believe
it?"  She shakes her head as if *she* is having trouble
believing it.

I know the feeling.

"I know you're probably hurt we didn't invite you, Hickey,"
she goes on, looking and sounding like a kid caught with her
hand in the cookie jar.  "But it was all very sudden.  My
mother was very upset."  Then abruptly her happy smile
returns, and she, God help me, coos, "But we're going to
have another ceremony that all our friends and family can
come to, and when we do I want all of you to be my
bridesmaids.  You and Langly and Byers, I mean."

I feel my eyebrows shoot up at that statement, but before I
can respond Agent Scully goes on, "And you'll all wear pink
tulle, because that's what I always wanted for my
bridesmaids."  She starts to giggle again and clutches my
arm.  "Don't you think Langly would look positively
scrumptious in pink tulle?"

Now *there's* a thought.

The elevator comes to a halt at our floor and the doors
slide open.  I take Scully's arm and lead her down the hall
to our door, and she begins humming that Ball Park Franks
song again -- and suddenly I realize what she was actually
singing about.

Oh, Jesus.  They plump when you *lick* 'em?  That really
*was* what she meant by "grand slam".

We finally reach the door and I dig in my pocket for my key
card.  Hopefully once we get her into the comparatively
controlled environment of our hotel room, we'll be able to
figure out what's wrong with her and find a way to fix it. 
At least, I hope to God we can fix it, because if we *can't*
there won't be anyplace on Earth where it'll be safe to
hide.  Mulder will find us if it takes the rest of his life,
and he is *not* going to believe -- or care -- that this is
really Byers' and Langly's fault, and that I actually argued
against it.

Shit.

I finally get the key card into the slot, but before I can
open the door Scully goes into another fit of giggles.  She
grabs my arm again and says, "Hey, Hickey, you know what? 
There's one thing you said about Mulder a long time ago that
turned out to be true after all."  She pauses for effect,
and lets out a couple more giggles.  "He really *is* a
Redwood among sprouts!"

And that's it; that's all I can take.  Some things are just
too much information, even for me.  I know the expression on
my face must be comical, because Agent Scully starts to
laugh even harder, but I just don't care anymore.  I turn
the handle and the door swings open, and I propel her into
the room.

Byers and Langly are gonna to pay for this.


==================

Field Trip:

CHAPTER TWELVE - Flashback

NOTE:  This chapter is rated NC-17

==================


I awake in the pre-dawn darkness, and Mulder's hands are
already on me.  I smile sleepily, but I don't open my eyes,
nor do I make any move to turn over and face him.  Not yet. 
I want to enjoy his touch for a little while first.

There is a game we've invented in the short time we've been
together, a game in which we neither speak nor see.  We
explore each other's flesh by touch and taste and scent,
gradually building our mutual arousal to a fever pitch,
until finally we join our bodies in a sweaty explosion of
sensation and desire.  In just a few weeks this game has
resulted in some of the most profoundly emotional sexual
experiences of my life.  And this morning I feel like
playing.

When we finally returned from North Carolina late last
night, we were both exhausted.  The emotional stress of
those horrifying hallucinations, coupled with the physical
trauma of nearly being ingested by a giant fungus, had worn
us down.  So when at last we arrived at my apartment we
didn't even bother to unpack.  We simply stripped off our
clothes and fell into bed, with no thought of anything but
getting a good night's sleep.

But that was last night.  This morning I, for one, am
feeling remarkably rested and refreshed -- and judging from
what just brushed against my butt, Mulder is doing better,
too.  I give a contented sigh and move a little closer, so
he'll know that I'm awake.  But still I do not open my eyes.

Mulder's fingertips begin drawing an intricate pattern on my
back, touching here, rubbing there, even pinching in a few
spots, very gently.  To an outsider his motions might seem
random and unplanned, but I know better.  Even though we've
only been lovers for a very short time, already he has more
intimate knowledge of my body than any other man has ever
had, and he knows exactly what he's doing.

Now the fingers of one hand are tracing the length of my
spine, beginning at my neck and sliding slowly downwards,
thoroughly exploring each vertebra before moving on to the
next.  His other hand is resting lightly on my waist, his
fingers splayed out to tickle and caress my hipbone. 
Already I feel the familiar, welcome dampness between my
legs, and I shift my hips backwards again, pressing myself
against his erection.

Finally his fingers reach the small of my back, stroking and
caressing the sensitive spot which I have long since come to
think of as his.  At the same instant, his lips touch the
juncture between my neck and shoulder, and an electric shock
jolts through my body, as if a circuit has just been
completed.  I arch my back and moan, very softly, and I
angle my head to expose more skin to his ministrations.  And
for just a moment I am lost in a sea of passion ....

I can no longer remain passive; the desire has grown too
strong within me, and I need to touch him, to taste him, to
feel his skin beneath my hands.  Eyes still shut, I turn in
Mulder's embrace, wrapping my arms around him and pulling
him close against me.  I rub my body against his, desperate
for more contact, and I feel him respond as he arches his
hips to press his erection against my belly.  My face is
buried in the hollow of his neck, and I inhale deeply,
filling my lungs with him and with the mingled scent of our
arousal.

I begin to explore his shoulder and chest with my lips and
tongue and even teeth, nipping and biting and licking.  His
skin is warm and salty, with an overlay of flavor that's
uniquely his.  I feel his arms tighten around me as I stake
my claim, my mouth browsing further down across his chest. 
At last I close my lips around one of his nipples, gently
biting down ... and he shudders, and moans.

Mulder, of course, has not been idle.  One of his hands is
now cupping my left buttock, holding my pelvis tight against
him and pressing my center against his thigh.  The other
hand continues to stroke and caress my lower back, each
touch adding more fuel to the need that burns within me.

Finally I can wait no longer.  I roll onto my back, drawing
my husband down on top of me and cradling his hips between
my thighs as I wrap my legs around his waist.  My center is
on fire, and I cup the back of his head with one hand,
pulling his mouth to mine for a savage kiss.  My other hand
reaches between us to capture his erection and guide it
towards its goal.

The head of his cock brushes against my outer lips, and I
hiss with pleasure as my hips arch upwards to meet him.  I
realize in that instant that I need to see him, to watch his
expression as he enters me.  I break the kiss.  My eyelids
flutter open, and I look up --

-- straight into the eyes of Phillip Padgett.

#          #          #

For a timeless moment I hover over her, staring down at her
face in shock.  I am poised, ready, the tip of my erection
actually pressing against her entrance, ready to plunge
inside her.  All it would take would be one sharp thrust and
I'd be sheathed within her softness.  Just one thrust ....

But this isn't who I ought to be making love to; it's
supposed to be my wife.  It's supposed to be Scully.  Scully
is the one I can rely on; she's the only one I can trust and
care for and love.  She's the one who was with me in North
Carolina.  She's the one who nearly died alongside me in the
dark.  And she's the one who knew without having to look
that I was reaching for her hand as the ambulance carried us
away to safety.

I close my eyes again and try to think, but the thrum of my
arousal makes it difficult.  This woman lying under me and
wrapped around me must be Scully.  She feels like her and
tastes like her and smells like her.  She knows all our
secret touches, our special intimacies and private rituals. 
I don't see how she could be anyone but Scully.  I don't see
how she can be ....

I open my eyes again.

Diana.

Abruptly I push myself off of her and try to climb out of
bed.  I have to get away from this; I have to get away from
*her*.  I don't know what happened or how I got into this
situation, but I have to get away, I have to find Scully.  I
need Scully.  But Diana reaches out and grasps my wrist with
surprising strength and holds on tight.

"Fox!" she says sharply, anger and frustration now evident
in her voice.  "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

I try to pull away again, but her grip remains strong --
unbelievably, inhumanly strong.  At last I give up
struggling and acquiesce, allowing her to drag me back
across the bed.  I can't resist, and I discover to my
distant horror that a large part of me doesn't even want to
resist.

But I have to try.  I have to.  For Scully, if not for
myself.  I feel tears forming in my eyes as I try to hold
back, and finally I begin whispering her name, as if it were
a talisman:  "Scully.  Scully.  Scully. Scully."

"Fox!"  Diana's voice cuts through my mantra, drawing my
focus back to her face.  There is anger in her eyes, but I
can see she's trying to hold it in; she's trying to project
caring and compassion.  But even I can see it's a facade.

"Fox," she says, more gently than before.  "Fox, you have to
let her go.  You have to accept what happened.  You
remember, don't you?"

I shake my head, but whether from denial or from honest lack
of memory, even I cannot say for sure.

Diana reaches up and strokes my cheek.  "She wouldn't come
with us, Fox.  She didn't trust us.  She didn't trust *you*.
 She was always that way -- denying what you knew was true,
doubting you, contradicting you.  Holding you back."  She
draws my head down for a gentle kiss.  "I know you cared for
her, Fox, but she made her choice.  At least now she isn't
suffering anymore."  And she kisses me again, and despite
the agony in my soul, I feel my body begin to respond.

For an instant I feel as if I'm outside myself, watching as
I settle down between her thighs again, watching as she once
more wraps her legs around my waist and draws me closer. 
Then her hand reaches down between us, lightly grasping me,
bringing me back and sending a jolt of pleasure through my
cock and up my spine as she urges me gently forward.

I see the passion and hunger on her face as I hesitate for
one more moment.  This is wrong, and somewhere deep inside
I'm screaming that it's wrong, but I can no longer help
myself.  Her fingers are stroking and caressing my shaft and
balls, and the tip of my cock is nudging past her outer lips
as I move slowly downward and forward and inward.

And then with one quick thrust I'm all the way inside.

#          #          #

He enters me with one smooth stroke, sending waves of
pleasure racing through my body.  My hips arch up to meet
his thrust, and my fingernails dig into his shoulders as I
try to draw him closer.  My doubts and reservations of a
moment ago are gone, like dead leaves in the autumn wind,
and all I want to do is feel.

He begins to move within me, drawing slowly out until only
the head remains, then easing back in with a tender
gentleness that makes me ache.  He pauses at the bottom of
the stroke to place a gentle kiss at the corner of my mouth
-- and then he begins again.

I am transfixed; overwhelmed.  My thoughts are slow and
sluggish, but for once I just don't care.  This is what I
want; this is what I need.  I've been lonely for so very
long.  So empty.  So bereft.  So lost.  This man is my
deliverer; this act is my salvation.

Deep inside a small part of me is screaming, insisting that
this is wrong, so very wrong.  This is not where I should
be, or who I should be with.  This man is a stranger; he
doesn't truly know me or understand me.  He's not the one I
love and trust; he never was and never can be.  He's not my
man.  My Mulder.  My husband.

Even as I think those words the pace of our lovemaking
increases, and again my doubts are swept away.  I'm awash in
a sea of passion, far out of sight of land, beyond all
thought of turning back.  Everything seems clean and fresh
and bright and new, and I feel myself being lifted up and up
and up on tides of ecstasy.

And I want more, so very much more.  I tighten my arms and
legs around him, urging him onward:  harder, faster, deeper.
 My eyes are tightly shut, my face pressed hard against his
shoulder, my breathing sharp and shallow.  I'm so close, so
close.  Just a few more seconds.  Just a few more strokes. 
I arch my hips upward, seeking my release, meeting his
downward thrusts in perfect synchrony.  Soon, soon, soon
....

I feel his body quiver, and I force my eyes to open as I
realize that the moment is here at last.  I lift my head
from his shoulder, ready to drink in his essence and mingle
his orgasm with mine.  I see his face only inches from my
own, and eagerly I lock my gaze with his ....

But there is no emotion there, no engagement, not the
slightest sign of joy or even pleasure.  There's nothing
behind those eyes.  No thought.  No feeling.  No soul.  Not
the smallest trace of human contact.

I am alone.

My facade of wholeness falls away, and once again I am
bereft and in despair.  I want to cry, but I cannot.  I want
to scream, but I cannot.  I want to rage and shriek and
bellow my grief and anguish, but I cannot.  In this eternal
moment all I can do is meet his thrusts, and match his
movements with my own.  All I can feel is my physical
response, devoid of meaning.  All I know is what I see ....

All in an instant it hits me like a lightning bolt. This is
false and untrue; this is impossible.  Phillip Padgett is
dead, and even while he lived I didn't want him.  There was
no spark, no attachment, no commitment.  There was no love
or caring or concern.  No passion or devotion.  This is a
shadow, a trick, a lie.

A hallucination.

And he turns yellow, and he glistens --

#          #          #

-- and all at once she melts away.

I collapse on the bed, exhausted, distantly aware that I'm
still cradled between a woman's thighs and buried deep
within her body.  I try to pull back, I try to withdraw, but
she will not allow it, and after  a moment I lie still in
her intimate embrace.

"Mulder?"

Her voice is soft and hesitant, so much so that at first I
can't be sure I've heard it.  Her voice is what I want to
hear, and she is who I want to see.  And so of course it
isn't true.

"Mulder, it's me."  This time her voice is a little stronger
-- but still I can't bear to look.  I want it to be her so
very much; I want to be safe in her bed and in her arms. 
But I'm afraid; I'm so afraid ....

"Mulder, it's okay," she says, and something touches my
cheek, featherlight.  Her lips.  I feel a surge of energy
and desire, but not even that is enough to overcome my fear.
 Not even that.  "Mulder, please open your eyes," she
whispers.  "Please look at me."

I don't want to refuse her.  A very important part of me
*can't* refuse her.  I know she needs this, and I even know
and somehow accept that she needs *me*, as impossible as
that sometimes seems.

But I'm so afraid.

But she needs me.  And I need her.

I'm afraid.

I need her.  I want her.  I love her.

I can't live without her.

The fear is gone.

My eyelids flutter open, and I force myself to look.

It's Scully.

"Yes, it's me," she says, smiling through the tears I hadn't
known that she was shedding, and I realize I must have
spoken her name aloud.  Both of her hands are on me,
touching me, feeling me, proving to herself and to me that I
am real -- and my hands are doing the same to her.  Her
fingers brush her lips, and then my own, and in hushed tones
of joy and wonder she whispers, "And it's you."

"Yeah, Scully, it's me," I reply, as her fingers continue to
trace the outline of my lips.  I lower my forehead to rest
against hers, and continue, "It happened to you, too, didn't
it?"  I know it did; I've known since the instant Diana
began to melt.  But still I feel a need for confirmation.

"Yes, Mulder," she replies.  "It happened to me."  She
kisses me gently on the mouth, and when she speaks again her
voice is a little stronger.  "But it wasn't real; it was
just a residual effect.  There must have been some poison
left in our systems, and now it's over.  It's over, and
we're still here.  And we're still together."

She kisses me again, and this time I return the kiss.  Our
tongues meet, touching and caressing and sliding past each
other with an urgency which wasn't there only seconds
before.  I feel her shift slightly beneath me, and I know
what she wants -- I know, because it's what *I* want, and
need, and have to have.

Reassurance.  Validation.  Affirmation.

Her arms go around me, pulling me closer.  Her legs tighten
around my waist, drawing me deeper.  Our eyes stayed locked
on each other, holding our connection as our hips begin to
move, driving us higher.

Already her body is trembling, and so is mine.  This won't
take very long; not very long at all.  Our need for each
other is so great, so overwhelming, and our desire is so
intense ... and when we're done, we will be better than we
were before.

Because that which does not destroy us makes us stronger.


==================

Biogenesis:

CHAPTER THIRTEEN - Out of Africa

==================


I'm on my way out of Africa in a wide-bodied jet.  I don't
know where I'm bound, but I fear I've lost my way.

I've grown accustomed to some uncertainty, of course.  In
the six years and more since I started working with Fox
Mulder on the X-Files, there has been more than one occasion
when we embarked on an investigation with no sure knowledge
of our final destination.  But this time is different.  This
time I've lost the anchor of my beliefs.

Thirty-six hours ago I stood on a beach on the Ivory Coast
and watched all of my convictions crumble before me. 
Everything I thought I knew, about science, about God, about
humanity, about myself -- in those few seconds all of it
came crashing down around me.  A day and a half later, I'm
still waiting for the dust to settle -- and when it does,
I'm not sure that I will like what I'm going to see.

I told Mulder when I called him from New Mexico that what he
believed was impossible; that it was science fiction.  The
artifact with passages from Genesis on it could not be
extraterrestrial in origin.  It was a fraud; a hoax; a lie. 
And if the object *was* what Steven Sandoz claimed, that
still would not support Mulder's conclusions.  It would not
abet his assertions that humans had not evolved on Earth, or
that the Bible came from an alien intelligence rather than
the Hand of God.

Even as I spoke those words to him, I knew that I was on
thin ice -- ice which had been growing steadily more
treacherous ever since the Gibson Praise case.  Where once I
moved and spoke and thought with confidence and assurance,
now I shuffle and creep, each hesitant step taking me
further from the safety of the shore.  And now, at last, the
ice has cracked and given way, and I've fallen through into
the freezing water below.

Somehow I managed to go through the motions, back there on
the Ivory Coast.  I interviewed the local residents,
performing physicals and taking medical histories on whoever
would cooperate.  I collected soil samples and water samples
and air samples.  I took specimens from nearby plants and
animals.  I am now smuggling these items, along with my
notes, back into the United States under the aegis of a
forged diplomatic passport provided by Langly and Frohike on
the night I left Washington.  This one last time, at least,
I will be a scientist.

I wish I could believe that it was all going to be of some
use to someone.

I glance around the cabin at my fellow passengers, and for a
moment I can't help wondering what they're doing here.  Why
are all these people gathered in a fragile metal tube, five
miles above the sea?  Don't they know how insubstantial the
science is which holds this craft aloft?  Don't they realize
that all of it is based on the unproven and unprovable
assumptions that the world is what we observe it to be, and
that natural law is universal and unvarying?  Would any of
them have set one foot in this plane if they *did* know
those things?

Perhaps they would.  I did, after all.

My gaze falls on the empty seat next to me, the one where
Mulder ought to be.  For the thousandth time in the past
three days I feel a tremor of anxiety at his absence.  I've
given up trying to stop this emotion; I fear for my
husband's safety and well-being, and there's no use in
trying to deny it any longer.  I spent six long years
fighting my feelings towards this man, and now that I've
given up that battle there can be no turning back.

For just a moment I try to imagine what Mulder would be
doing if he were here with me right now, but I cannot.  From
the day I walked into the office which once was his and now
is ours, we have been at odds with each other.  Not over
goals or values, and certainly not over trust; but over
methods and evidence.  And although I have become intimately
familiar with the nature of our arguments and disputes, I am
unable to imagine the form of our agreement on such a
fundamental issue.

I find this fact disquieting, because very soon -- in a
matter of hours -- I am finally going to have to face that. 
I am going to have to look Fox Mulder in the eye and tell
him that he was right all along.  This is unknown territory,
and the prospect of finally stepping off my chosen path and
walking into the darkness terrifies me, even if I am going
to have my husband at my side.

I turn my attention to the cheap paperbound Bible which I
purchased at the airport in Accra.  This, of course, is the
other part of the equation.  Just as my training in science
provided the underpinnings for my professional endeavors, so
my faith in God has guided my personal life.  But now even
that has been called into question.  I no longer know if the
Bible is what I've always believed it to be.  I no longer
know if I can trust that this is the Word of God.

Trust.  Before this week, that's a concept I never thought
to apply to my relationship with God.  I was raised to be a
believer, to have faith, and although I've had my
differences with the Church from time to time, it had never
crossed my mind to question the underlying goodness of God
-- much less His existence.  My deep, unquestioned certainty
of His presence and concern has sustained me more than once
through the years, as I faced the inevitable trials and
tribulations of being human.  But now I don't know what to
think.  Now everything has changed.

There are limits, though, even in this dark moment of the
soul.  There are good teachings in this Book; rules for
leading a just and moral life.  No matter where these ideas
came from, I cannot believe that the injunctions in favor of
peace and charity and kindness are ill-conceived, or were
merely part of a malevolent plan for our eventual
subjugation.

I will not accept that we were not meant to love.

I reach up and pull Mulder's class ring from where it hangs
beneath my blouse, as once again my thoughts return to him.

Mulder is the key, of course, as he so often has been in the
past.  Professionally and personally, he is the linchpin
around which the rest of my life now revolves, both for good
and ill.  I've long since passed the point where I can pull
away from him; to do so now would be unthinkable.  And the
only thing that makes that bearable, despite my need for
independence, is the sure knowledge that I am just as
necessary to him as he is to me.

Now he's more important than he ever was before.  I've come
to believe that Mulder may be part of the chain of evidence
-- along with Gibson Praise and Cassandra Spender -- that
will finally allow us to answer many of the questions which
have plagued us these past six years.  And with those
answers may come the opportunity to finally take effective
action against the aliens whose existence and intentions I
am no longer able to deny.

In the few minutes I was in Mulder's presence, back at
Georgetown Memorial, I had a sense of contact which I had
never felt before -- not with him, and not with anyone.  I
could perceive him in my mind.  I couldn't hear his words,
but I could sense his being and his emotions; I could
actually *feel* his thoughts surging as he seemed to realize
I was there.  And I took vindictive comfort at the revulsion
I saw coiled within him at the presence of Diana Fowley.

Even while it was happening I knew that I should fight what
I seemed to be experiencing.  I knew then and I still know
now that telepathy is impossible, and without any scientific
merit or evidence.  I have spent the last six years of my
life combating just these sorts of subjective, unmeasurable
phenomena.  But what I felt inside me was so strong, so
all-pervasive ....

When I returned to the hospital later that evening, I wanted
him to know that I loved him, and that even though I had to
leave, I would soon be back. Even as I was speaking to him I
didn't really believe he could hear me, but I had to do
something -- to assuage my own conscience, if nothing else. 
So I used that connection to try to communicate with him, to
let him know that he could depend on me, and that I was
*not* abandoning him.

And then I had to leave him there, and I've prayed all the
way to Africa and halfway back that my mother and the Gunmen
can keep him safe for me until I can return.

I wish I could be sure there was Someone there to hear those
prayers.

I'm on my way out of Africa in a wide-bodied jet.  In a few
more hours I will arrive in Baltimore, my final destination
unknown, my one remaining certainty residing in the man I am
returning to.

I can only hope it will be enough.  For both of us.


==================

Biogenesis:

CHAPTER FOURTEEN - Into the Night

NOTE:  This chapter is rated NC-17

==================

"How is he?"

Those are my first words as I finally clear Customs and step
forward to embrace my mother.  Those are the words which
have been echoing and reechoing within my soul for the past
three days, ever since I left Mulder at Georgetown Memorial
to go to Africa.

I feel her body stiffen slightly, but whether at my question
or at my touch I cannot tell.  Then she relaxes and her arms
go around me, and for just a moment I'm warm and safe.

My mother has always had this effect on me.  As far back as
I can remember her mere presence has been a comfort to me,
her voice and touch a balm.  Through the years I have come
to her when I was troubled, and although she has not always
been able to solve my problems, she has nevertheless
steadied and calmed me, giving me the chance to catch my
breath and find my own solutions.

It was for this reason that I didn't hesitate to call her
before I left for the Ivory Coast, and ask her to look after
my husband in my absence.  Despite the tension caused by my
abrupt marriage to Mulder, I knew that she would be there
for me -- and for her son-in-law -- in our moment of need.

Yet even as I take comfort from my mother's hug, I'm
uneasily aware that she hasn't answered my question.  I keep
holding her, and letting her hold me, waiting for her to
respond, but at last I can't wait any longer, and I draw
back a bit to look into her face, but she isn't giving
anything away.

"Mom?" I ask.  "Mom, is something wrong?  Is Mulder --"

"Fox is fine," she says firmly, pulling loose from my
embrace and turning to lead the way towards baggage claim. 
I feel unaccountably cold at her withdrawal, as if she was
never really in my arms at all -- and then I grab my
carry-on with its precious load of evidence and hurry after
her.  "As well as can be expected, at any rate," she
continues as I catch up with her.  "He was released from the
hospital this morning."

"They let him go?" I reply.  "That's wonderful!"  I feel
like a little girl who's just been told that Christmas will
be early this year.  Mulder is okay!  He's been released,
and soon I'll get to see him.  Thank God....

"Dana!"  My mother's voice cuts through my thoughts,
bringing my attention back to her.  She's stopped walking,
and is standing in front of me with her hands on her hips, a
grim look on her face.  "Dana, there are some things we need
to talk about, and we may as well do it now, while I still
have your attention."

This doesn't sound like it's going to be a fun conversation,
but it appears that I have little choice.  When Mom gets
determined about something, there's no stopping her.  I make
no reply, but gesture reluctantly for her to continue.

She studies my face for a moment, and then she sighs, and
her features soften slightly as she takes a step closer. 
"Dana, first of all, know that I love you, and so does the
rest of the family.  That has never been in doubt, and it
never will be."

She pauses for a moment, and the silence stretches on as she
seems to be unable to find a way to say whatever's on her
mind.  Finally, keeping my voice as steady as I can, I say,
"But?"

Another sigh.  "But there are some problems, Dana."  She
raises her hand and quickly adds, "Not with Fox.  As I said,
he's doing as well as can be expected.  The problems are
with you."

"Me?" I respond, hating myself for the tremor I manage to
put into that one word.

"Yes, Dana, you.  To be more precise, your relationship with
the rest of the family."

Abruptly everything falls into place, and I realize what's
about to happen.  I've been waiting for this conversation,
dreading it, really, ever since my cancer went into
remission.  And suddenly it's two years ago, and I hear my
mother's words echoing inside my head:  //I don't know why
you didn't tell me.  I don't know why you didn't tell me
immediately .... I don't want to be kept in the dark.//

I promised her she wouldn't be; I told her I'd try to keep
her better informed -- not just about my illness, but about
my entire life.  And I tried to do it; I really did.  But so
much of my work on the X-Files would be troubling to my
family, and somehow it seemed ... easier ... just to gloss
over a lot of that.  And once I'd started glossing, then
even those things which weren't directly connected to my
work became harder to explain.

Looking into my mother's eyes, I can see that she's
recalling at least some of the same things, and that these
memories are even less pleasant for her than they are for
me.

Finally she sighs yet again, and says, "Dana, I know this
isn't really the best time for this --" she glances around
at the crowds of people hurrying past "-- or the best place.
 But I've tried for over a year to find a time and place,
and I haven't been able to.  And quite frankly, I've reached
my limit, and I need to get this out.  And so has Bill."

"Bill?  What does he have to do with this?"

"He's here, Dana," she says, weariness evident in her voice.
 "He's at home with Fox right now.  I asked him to come home
and help me after you ... left."

I feel my eyes widen in shock and concern.  "But Mom, I gave
you the number for the Gunmen, and --"

She shakes her head sharply.  "Those are *your* friends,
Dana -- and I did call them and they've been very helpful,
especially Melvin.  But I needed someone *I* could trust.  I
would have called Charlie, since I know Bill and Fox don't
get along, but Charlie's out on a deployment right now."

I feel as if the walls are closing in on me, and the abrupt
change from the joy I was feeling only a moment ago is
almost enough to give me vertigo.  I shake my head slowly,
not quite able to meet my mother's eyes.

"Mom, I understand what you're saying, but you didn't have
any right to call Bill in on this.  This is --"

"Pardon me?" she responds brusquely.  "I didn't have any
*right*?  May I remind you that *you* called *me* on two
hours' notice and asked me to look after your husband for
you?  And that you gave me very little by way of explanation
of where you were going, or why, or even much in the way of
guidance as to what I was supposed to do?  Other than to
keep your supervisor and that Fowley woman away from him, of
course."

"Mom -- "

"Which I was able to do, by the way, but *only* because I
had Bill there to help me.  Mr. Skinner wasn't too
difficult, but that woman was nearly impossible."  She
shakes her head again, and her tone softens slightly.  "I'm
sorry, Dana; I know this is a difficult time for you --" and
suddenly the edge is back in her voice "-- even if I don't
know all the reasons.  But these matters are going to have
to be addressed, for my own peace of mind if nothing else."

She stands there studying my face for a moment, before she
finally turns on her heel and heads off once more in the
direction of baggage claim.  And after just another instant,
I follow.

#          #          #

The ride from the airport to my mother's home passes in
silence.  Mom seems to have said what she wants to say, at
least for the moment.  I don't kid myself that this
discussion is over; she has simply given me her opening
statement, and now is apparently allowing me time to digest
it, and perhaps consider a response.

Whether or not that was truly her intention, I spend the
drive doing just exactly that.  As my mother guides the car
through midafternoon traffic, I remember with aching clarity
her words last February in my apartment, on the night she
found out the hard way that Mulder and I had gotten married:

//It's bad enough that you cut me out of this; please don't
play stupid with me as well.//

//You want me to believe that you just woke up one morning
and decided to get married -- and then you simply forgot to
tell me?  I'm sorry, Dana, but I can't believe that.//

//You've been progressively shutting the family out of your
life ever since you joined the FBI, and I guess I shouldn't
be surprised that it's finally come to this.//

And I have to admit that there is some truth in what she
said that night -- but only half the truth.  The other half
is that my family started pushing me out the day I announced
my plans to join the Bureau.  Neither my parents nor either
of my brothers ever really understood that decision.  Only
Missy seemed to accept it, and even she didn't grasp why I
chose the FBI.  But at least she understood my need to put
some distance between myself and thesepeople who I dearly
loved, but who sometimes seemed suffocating and controlling
when it came to my life and my choices.

So yeah, Mom, I guess you're right.  Perhaps it is time we
had this out.  I could wish for a better time and place, but
that choice seems to have been taken from me.

I am drawn from my reverie by an odd tingling feeling deep
inside me, a feeling I've experienced only twice before: 
the two occasions last week when I visited Mulder at
Georgetown Memorial.  I've given up fighting this feeling;
he's close and somehow I know it.  This is just one of my
many capitulations over the course of the last several days,
but unlike the others this is one I cling to -- because as
much as part of me hates this feeling of dependency, I
*need* Mulder, now more than ever before.

A moment or two later we're pulling into the driveway of my
mother's home, coming to a stop next to Mulder's car.  The
tingling has now grown into a steady hum, buzzing lightly
inside my head and filtering down to the rest of my body. 
I'm beginning to understand why Mulder was so distressed
over the things he was hearing.  What I'm feeling is barely
noticeable, and pleasant, but it's still distracting.  I
can't imagine what it must have been like for him.

Bill is waiting for us at the doorway, his features grim and
remote.  Of course.  I pause for just an instant, trying to
remember the last time I saw him look otherwise, but I
cannot.  I know this can't really be true; I know my brother
and I haven't truly grown so far apart that he hasn't smiled
at me in years.  But right now it feels that way.

"Bill," I say at last, breaking the impasse.  "It's good to
see you."

He studies me silenty for a moment longer, then nods
briefly.  "You too," he says, making no move to hug or kiss
me.  He jerks his head in the direction of the living room. 
"He's in there."

I want do something.  I don't know what, but I want to reach
out to my brother, and try to break the wall of ice between
us.  I should at least thank him for dropping everything on
a moment's notice to take care of a man he despises.  But
the words just aren't there, and finally I simply nod in
return and walk on past Bill into the house.

And finally I'm with Mulder again.

I stand for a moment in the doorway, simply looking at him. 
He's stretched out on my mother's sofa, a light blanket
tucked loosely around him despite the early summer heat. 
His eyes are closed, but from the way the humming inside my
head has suddenly intensified I know he's not asleep.  And
then his eyes pop open and he smiles.

"Thought so," he says quietly, mischief dancing in his eyes.

In the space between two heartbeats the universe seems to
contract, until it's a bubble just large enough to contain
the two of us.  We've been in this bubble before -- a few
times before we were married and with growing frequency
since then.  In the past, even since our marriage, it's made
me feel a little restless and claustrophobic, but now it
seems just right -- perhaps even a bit larger than it
realliy needs to be.

Fortunately, I know what to do about *that*.

Keeping my expression calm and serene I begin to move across
the room in the direction of my husband.  During this
endless journey of perhaps half a dozen steps Mulder's eyes
stay on me, his steady gaze like a beacon in the darkness. 
And with each step I take, the joyful humming in my head
grows stronger.

At last I reach the sofa, and without hesitation I set down
my carryon and drop to my knees.  I reach out with one hand
and gently brush a stray lock of hair from his forehead,
just as he slips one arm around my waist.  And for a minute
or two we stay that way, my hand now resting motionless on
his cheek, while his fingertips lightly caress the small
patch of skin where the tail of my blouse has pulled loose
from the waistband of my slacks.

"You really can hear me, can't you?" I say at last, very
softly.

He nods slowly.  "Yes, I can."

"That's why you were so cr --"  I almost bite my tongue to
keep from saying that last word, but it's too late. 
Fortunately, Mulder seems to take it well, because his lips
quirk and there's a glint of humor in his eye.

"That's right," he says, nodding slightly.  "That's why I
was even crazier than usual."  His expression turns solemn
again.  "I kept hearing voices, everytime I was near that
rubbing.  It was confusing, and it hurt, and I didn't know
where it was coming from or what it meant.  I still don't
know what's causing it, but at least I'm learning to control
it a little."  He smiles slightly.  "It's not as hard as you
might think.  It's sort of like tuning out the conversation
at the next table when you're in a restaurant."

I nod in acknowledgement.  "It sounds like something I could
stand to learn, too," I reply.

"You can hear me, too, can't you?" he asks quietly.  He
lifts his hand off my waist to stroke the side of my head,
and I lean into his touch.

"Sort of," I say.  "Not the way you describe; I don't hear
voices or anything, and I don't hear anyone but you -- and
even you I only hear when you're nearby."  I grab his wrist
and bring his hand around so I can kiss his palm.  "All I
really get is a sort of buzzing.  Nothing articulate; just
... I dunno.  Emotions, I guess."  I feel myself blushing
slightly.  "I can tell when you're thinking about me."

"That's pretty much all the time," he murmurs, and he frees
his hand and cups the back of my head, and finally draws me
down and kisses me.

I don't know how I survived six years without this.  Having
finally found it, I don't know where I got the strength to
walk away from him and do without it for six long days.  I
feel myself sinking into a warm, erotic haze as his lips
press against mine and his tongue strokes and caresses the
inside of my mouth, and the thrumming in my head grows
stronger with each passing second.  Every other thought is
driven from my head as we share a moment of sensual bliss.

Finally, our lips separate.  Eyes closed, I rest my forehead
against his while I catch my breath.  Finally I pull back a
little and open my eyes, to find him looking at me with such
open adoration that it almost makes me cry.

"You could do it because you had to," he says gently,
apparently responding to the questions I was asking myself a
few seconds ago.  "You survived because you're strong --
you're the strongest, most courageous person I've ever
known.  I don't know if I'll ever be able to express to you
the pride I feel at what you've done -- for us, and for our
work."  Then his head drops back on the cushion and he
closes his eyes, and in a few more seconds he's fast asleep.

I continue kneeling by the sofa for a few minutes, trying to
digest what he just said.  Mulder is proud of me?  I know he
loves me -- I'm confident of that, at long, long last.  That
he cares about me, is concerned, values my friendship -- all
of these things I also know are true.

But pride?

I shake my head and allow a smile to touch my lips, and for
just a moment longer I stay by my husband's side, watching
him sleep.  He seems so calm and peaceful now; his face is
so untroubled.  A small part of me wishes he could be like
this all the time, but that wouldn't be who he is.  That
wouldn't be the man I fell in love with.

At last I climb wearily to my feet.  It's been a really long
day, coming at the end of a difficult, stress-filled week,
with jet lag perched on top like a large, ungainly cherry. 
I want nothing more than to crawl into bed and sleep for
about a week, preferably cuddled up in my husband's arms,
but from the conversation Mom and I had in the car, and the
way Bill was looking at me a few minutes ago, I don't think
that's in the cards.  But at least maybe I can get Mulder
upstairs where he'll be a bit more comfortable -- not to
mention being out of the direct line of fire.

I glance around the room, but neither my brother or my
mother are anywhere to be seen.  Which isn't too surprising,
really; whatever other differences I may have with either of
them, they're still decent people, and they really do love
me.  Given their obvious negative feelings, it was actually
very sweet of them to give us a few moments alone.

But it does leave me the problem of getting Mulder upstairs
and in bed unassisted.  Fortunately, it's not the first time
in the past six years I've been faced with this problem. 
After a small amount of coaxing he is sufficiently roused,
and allows me to sleepwalk him up the stairs.  He's had a
hard week, too, I remind myself -- not that I ever really
forgot, but my own exhaustion has suddenly become so
all-pervasive that I'm finding it a little hard to focus.

Finally, though, I've maneuvered up the stairs and tucked
him into the bed in my old room.  He smiles up at me
sleepily, and whispers, "Scully," before closing his eyes
and dropping back off to sleep.  Once again I'm sorely
tempted just to crawl under the covers next to him.  My
mother and Bill can wait.  This discussion has been building
for the better part of a decade; a few more hours aren't
going to matter -- and I am really tired, and have
desperately missed sleeping next to my husband these past
few days.

"I could have helped you, you know."

I jump at the sound of my Bill's voice, then turn
deliberately to see him standing just inside the bedroom
doorway, his face cool and expressionless.  I stand there
looking at him for a moment, and finally I shake my head.

"It's okay," I say.  "I managed fine."  And I walk past him
into the hall.  Of course, he follows.

"Dana!"  I stop at the top of the steps and close my eyes. 
This is it, then.  I take a deep breath, open my eyes again
and turn to face my brother.  "That's always the way it is
with you, isn't it?" he says in a flat tone of voice. 
"You're always in control; you never need *or want* anyone
to help you -- no matter how deep the water gets or how
close you get to the edge.  It's always, 'I'm fine, no
problem, leave me alone.'"

"What if it is?" I snap, all the repressed tension and
exhaustion coming bubbling out at once.  "What the hell
business is it of yours anyway, Bill?"  I take another deep
breath and he tries to interrupt, but something's just cut
loose and I'm on a tear.  "You disappear from my life for
years at a time, and then show up at the critical moments
expecting to second guess the decisions I've made?  Is that
how it works?"

"Don't knock it, Dana.  It looks like you could *use* a
little advice!"

"You think so, Bill?  You think poor little Dana can't make
her own decisions and manage her own life?"  I take a couple
of steps towards him, my fists clenched at my sides.  "Well
guess what?  I've managed pretty well without your help. 
Sure, there were times when it would have been nice to have
a little support for the things I was doing, but I gave up
on that a long time ago!"

"Support, Dana? Which times were you thinking you'd like
some support?"  He starts ticking off items on his fingers. 
"When you ditched all the money Dad spent to put you through
medical school to run off and be a 'special agent'?  When
you then accepted this assignment to chase little green men
instead of doing serious work?"

He moves forward into my personal space and lowers his voice
-- but his tones are drenched in anger.  "Or maybe you mean
when you decided to *marry* that sorry son of a bitch in
there -- without telling anyone, much less consulting with
us.  Just exactly how long have you been screwing him,
anyway?  I've been wondering about that for a long time."

I struggle to suppress the urge to slap him, and a dozen
responses flash through my mind, each more angry and biting
than the last.  Finally I say, "It's always me, Bill.  I'm
always the one who has to ask permission.  You and Charlie
-- you picked your careers and your wives and decided when
and whether to have children.  But not me.  Not Dana.  With
me there was always someone standing there, ready to tell me
I was making a mistake or that I was disgracing the family
or some damned thing."

I take yet another deep breath, then continue, "Well I'm
sick of it, Bill Scully.  I've had it up to here with your
fucking paternalism and sniping and second guessing."  He
tries to speak, but I keep right on going.  "I've chosen my
career, and I'm damned proud of the work I do.  You will
never in your life understand just how important and
fulfilling the pursuit of those 'little green men' is, Bill.
 You will never realize what Mulder and I have accomplished,
or what you owe us -- you and everyone else on this stupid
planet."

Now our bodies are almost touching, and I'm staring directly
into his eyes.  "And now I've chosen my husband.  I'm in
love with him and he fulfills me and, and he makes me a
whole person.  And if you can't cope with that, you can just
go to hell!"  And I push past him and head back for the
bedroom door.  I've got my hand on the doorknob when he
speaks my name.

"Dana!"

I freeze in place.  A big part of me wants so badly just to
go on through the door and slam it in his face, but I can't
quite make myself do it.  This is my *brother*, I think.  He
loves me and he wants the best for me.

I keep repeating that in my mind as I slowly turn to face
him once again -- and I just have time to recognize the
glint of malice in his eyes before he says, "Have a good
fuck."  And then he turns and heads back down the stairs.

I stand there looking after him for a long minute, my body
shaking with shock and anger.  I'm so very tempted to launch
myself after him, and take out all my rage and frustration
on him.  I want to punish him for stealing the joy I should
be feeling at being back home and having my husband safe and
sound and in my arms once again.  Most of all I just want to
beat some sense into Bill, and make him realize what an ass
he's being, and how much his words have hurt me.

But that wouldn't accomplish anything, I realize.  Mulder
needs me, and we have work to do, and that work won't be
advanced by getting in a fistfight with my older brother. 
And so I turn back around and reenter the bedroom.  Mulder
is wide awake, of course, although I don't know if it was
our voices or his new ability to hear people's thoughts that
woke him.  He smiles at me, tentatively and uncertainly, and
I smile back.

Neither of us says a word as I strip down to my skin and
crawl in bed next to him.  Mulder gathers me into his arms
and tucks my head beneath his chin.  I want to cry, but I've
never been good at that, and so at last I just close my eyes
and let his touch relax me.  Now that I'm no longer focused
on Bill I can feel that comforting hum of Mulder's presence,
and in another few minutes I'm fast asleep.

#          #          #

When I awaken again the sun has set.  The sky outside the
bedroom window has turned the royal blue of early evening,
and shadows have invaded the room, making eerie patterns on
the wall.  I'm drowsily reminded of all the times I woke up
in this room when I was a teenager -- before Mulder, before
the X-Files, before the Bureau.  Even before college and
medical school.

Those were good years, I think, still only half awake. 
Those were family years.  My father and Missy were still
alive, my mother was someone I could go to with all my
troubles, Charlie was the closest of all my siblings -- even
Bill seemed to fill an essential role, despite his
overbearing ways.  A small part of me misses those years,
that sense of completeness and belonging.

But that was more than half a lifetime ago, I remind myself,
and there's no turning back the clock, even if I wanted to,
which I really don't.  Going back would mean giving up who
I've become, and all the things I've seen and thought and
done.  No matter how terrible and heartbreaking some of
those things have been, they led me in the end to Mulder,
and I would never even consider giving him up.

No matter what the cost.

Still not completely awake, I force my attention back to the
present.  I may be lying in my old bed in my old room in my
mother's home, but I'm no longer that shy, uncertain fifteen
year old.  I'm now a grown woman, with adult concerns and
responsibilities.  I have a good job, I enjoy my work, and I
even have a husband -- who at this moment is snuggled up
behind me, his arms wrapped loosely around my waist and his
chest pressed firmly against my back.

I don't even have to wonder whether he's awake or not.  The
quiet, comforting hum is back, the hum I've come so quickly
to recognize as Mulder's thoughts, and I feel his embrace
tighten slightly.  I smile, knowing that he can hear my
pleasure and contentment, and for a few minutes we simply
lie together, enjoying a rare moment of peace and
tranquility.  This is what I've missed the most of all these
last few days:  the touching and casual intimacy that Mulder
and I have worked so hard to establish since February.

At last I feel a delicate kiss at the base of my neck.  I
tilt my head and sigh happily as Mulder's tongue lightly
touches my skin, sliding slowly up my neck and sending a
thrill of pleasure down my spine.  I snuggle back a little
closer in his arms and close my eyes, and for a moment I
just accept his attentions.

I notice the thrumming inside my head is growing louder, and
is overlaid with something that wasn't there before.  I feel
a strange quiver of excitement and urgency racing through
me, clearly sexual, but different from and more intense than
anything I've felt before.  For a moment I'm bemused by
this, but then I realize what it is:  Mulder.  This is how
it is for Mulder.  This is how I make him feel.  And he
chuckles softly and whispers against my neck, "You ain't
felt nothing yet."

Now his hands begin to move, his fingertips lightly touching
and caressing my belly, moving in slow, steady circles and
sending ripples of desire through my body and my mind.  I
hear myself murmuring his name just as his lips reach my
ear, and he kisses and licks the sensitive spot below it
before nipping lightly at my earlobe -- and I feel a shiver
of delight as I seem to taste my own skin, filtered through
his perceptions.

God, this is good.  This is so, so good.  Mulder's hands are
moving upwards now, his fingers skimming across my ribs and
finally cupping my breasts.  I arch my chest outward against
his hands, reveling at the dizzying sensation of his fingers
on my nipples and the simultaneous feel of my breasts
beneath his fingertips.  I push my butt back against him,
until his erection brushes the backs of my thighs. 
Instinctively I part my legs and allow him to slip between
them ....

Suddenly I'm breathless as waves of arousal go sweeping
through me.  Part of it is mine and part of it is his, the
two distinct and separate feelings somehow mingling and
combining, the total rapidly becoming far more than the sum
of its parts.

The rational part of my mind is distantly aware that
feedback is taking place, my own need and desire feeding
into his, which in turn is reflecting back to me.  I push
the thought away, though.  I don't want to think about this,
and I don't want to understand it.  All I want to do is feel
his cock between my legs, my thighs against his shaft.

I can no longer remain passive.  I reach up and grab his
hands where they cup my breasts, pushing them more tightly
against me and holding them in place.  I turn my head,
pulling my earlobe from between his teeth and capturing his
lips with mine.  My tongue plunges into his mouth,
aggressively exploring and probing, the flavors and textures
of our mouths mingling together in my mind.  The room is
filled with the groans and murmurs of our passion, my soul
with the golden haze of our desire, but I'm already so far
gone I can't tell which sounds and thoughts belong to whom.

Mulder's hips start moving against me, his erection sliding
slowly back and forth between my thighs.  A growl forms deep
within our throats as I quickly complement his motions, and
my explorations of his mouth grow even more demanding. 
Everything about this is right:  the taste of his mouth, the
feel of my skin, the sounds we're making and the scent of
our mutual arousal, all of it driving us onward and upward. 
Most of all our arousal buzzing inside us, separately and
together, intensifying and reinforcing itself in an endless
spiral of want and need and desire.

I can wait no longer.  My need for Mulder is a dull ache
deep within my belly, an ache which is matched only by his
need to fill me.  We break the kiss, gasping for breath, and
I reach down between my legs and find his cock, long and
hard and warm.

My body shudders as a spike of electricity races up my arm,
matched by the strange new eroticism of experiencing the
touch from his perspective.  Mulder moans, his breath hot
and moist against my cheek and ear.  I arch my hips,
thrusting back just as he thrusts forward, and in an instant
he's buried in me to the hilt.

For a moment I simply freeze, my head thrown back against
Mulder's shoulder, my mouth wide open in a silent cry of
wonder.  This is ... this is ... unbelievable.  I'm feeling
this connection from both sides, and it's setting me on
fire, sending wave after wave of heat coursing through my
body.  I can barely breathe, it's so intense, and my body is
already trembling, already on the brink.  Mulder's hands are
on my hips, and now he begins to move, and I move with him
....

Oh God.  Oh God.  Oh God.  This is not going to take very
long.  Between the abstinence of the past week and the
nearly-overwhelming flood of sensation from this new
connection we share, I'm wound up tighter than I can ever
remember being.  Having him inside me, knowing that it's
him, and simultaneously feeling his joy and pleasure at
having me surrounding him is almost more than I can take.

But not quite.

I feel both our climaxes building as our hips continue to
move against each other.  Each inward thrust seems deeper
than the last, and Mulder's breath is hot and harsh against
my neck, my skin warm and slightly bitter against his lips. 
I want this to go on forever, and at the same time I can't
stand for it to last another second.  I want to keep feeling
him deep inside me, I want to keep feeling myself wrapped
around him, I want to keep smelling the wonderful scent of
our arousal -- but I also want our climax, and I want it
now.

Please, God, I want it now ....

And then we're there, and we're together, crying out with
our voices and our minds, the orgasm ripping through both of
us with unbelievable intensity.  Mulder's hands slide off my
hips and his arms wrap tightly around my waist as we buck
and convulse against each other.  I feel as if any instant I
may fly apart, and the only thing preventing it is Mulder's
warm embrace, his body holding me and surrounding me.  He's
keeping me grounded with his touch, and I'm doing the same
for him.

It's so beautiful ....

Finally, slowly, gradually, I feel the storm abating.  My
husband's arms are still wrapped around me, and his chest is
warm and firm against my back.  I can still feel him, in my
body and in my mind, the warm, joyful humming now soft and
fuzzy around the edges.  I want to turn and face him, but
this is so good, so comfortable, so pleasantly erotic -- and
besides, I'm too worn out to move.

Mulder knows my feelings, of course, and I know his, and so
I turn my head just as he turns his, and once again our lips
meet in a soft, gentle kiss.  After the intensity of our
lovemaking, the quiet sweetness of this kiss provides
comfort and reassurance.  I feel a great calm settling over
me, and at last we break the kiss and I sink back into my
husband's arms, both of us already more than half asleep
again.

#          #          #

When next I awaken it's in near-total darkness, the only
illumination coming from the hallway light.  For an instant
I'm confused; I know I closed the bedroom door, but now it's
open.  Then I feel a hand on my shoulder, shaking me
roughly, and my brother's voice.

"Dana!  Wake up."

I squint at his form, silhoutted against the light.  I can't
make out his face, but his voice sounds grim and determined.

"What is it?"  Even as I utter the words I'm aware of Mulder
waking up behind me.  He doesn't move, or change his
breathing pattern -- but I know.  I can feel it.  "What time
is it?" I add grumpily.  The memories of my last
conversation with Bill are still fresh and sharp, and I feel
the pain all over again as I gradually come to full
consciousness.

"You just had a phone call," he says brusquely.  "And it's
almost three a.m."

There's still repressed anger in his voice, but I put that
thought aside.  Bill would not have come in here to wake me
unless the call was important.  And I feel a surge of
emotion from Mulder which I interpret as agreement.

"Who was it, Bill?" I ask, drawing the blankets around
myself and sitting up in bed.  Still Mulder lies still,
feigning sleep.  I can sense he's uneasy about letting me
face my brother alone, but I try to send some reassurance. 
It seems he must have gotten the message, as his anxiety
quickly eases off.

"One of your friends," Bill replies coldly.  "Byers.  He
wouldn't stay on the line, but he said to tell you that all
work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

For a moment I freeze.  My mind kicks into overdrive, and I
can feel Mulder's thoughts accelerating too.  This is one of
several code phrases we've worked out with the Gunmen over
the years.  It was originally Langly's idea, and I admit
that in the early years I thought it pretty silly and
cloak-and-daggerish.  But recent events have changed my view
on that, as with so many other things.  And the meaning of
this one is crystal clear:

They're coming.  Run for your lives.

And if Byers refused to stay on the line, that means the
Gunmen are in trouble, too.

Jesus.  After all this time, everything we've been through,
they've finally decided to take us.  Presumably because of
Mulder's gift, and presumably they waited until I returned
so they could scoop us up together.  But whatever the
reason, they're coming.  And we have got to get out of here.

Already Mulder is sitting up in bed; I throw off the covers,
heedless of my nakedness and my brother's presence, and hit
the light switch.  Then I start tossing clothes to Mulder
and pulling on my own.

"Dana?  What the hell?"

"We've got to go, Bill," I say as I finish tucking in my
blouse and reach for my shoes.  "Right now."  I try to think
of some way to explain it to him, but nothing reasonable
comes to mind.  Sorry, Bill, but a bunch of men in black are
on their way over with their zap 'em up guns, and we've got
to head for the hills.  I shake my head and turn back to my
husband -- to see him still only half-dressed and slumped
back against the wall.

"Mulder," I say softly, sitting down on the bed next to him.
 I can feel the exhaustion radiating from him, and I feel a
pang of guilt over our earlier activities.  But God, we both
needed that ...

"Mulder," I repeat, shaking him gently.  "Mulder, we've got
to go."

He nods, then opens his eyes.  "Okay," he says, and he
forces himself to a full sitting position as I begin
buttoning his shirt.

"Dana!"  If anything, Bill's voice is even sharper than
before.  "What the hell is going on here?"

I finish buttoning Mulder's shirt and help him stand before
turning to face my brother.  "Bill, as I'm sure you've
already figured out, that was a code phrase.  Something
we've worked out with a few of our friends.  And what it
means is ... "  Hell, I still can't find the words. 
Finally, I just repeat, "What it means is that Mulder and I
have got to go.  Now."  And I grab my carryon in one hand
and take Mulder's elbow with the other, and we head for the
door.

Which Bill is blocking, of course.

"Bill," I say through gritted teeth. "Move.  Now."

"Dana --"

"Bill, so help me God, if you don't get out of that doorway
this second I'll never speak to you again!"  An empty
threat, since that's a probable consequence of what's about
to happen anyway.  But Bill doesn't know that.  Yet.

For a moment Bill hesitates, staring down at me -- and
finally I see the question marks in his eyes, the ones I've
been looking for ever since I arrived.  He really is
concerned; he honestly is.  Despite all the the bluff and
arrogance and plain pigheadedness, he does care.

Not that it makes any difference at this point.

Finally my brother moves reluctantly to one side, and Mulder
and I pass through the doorway and into the upstairs hall. 
He follows us in silence as we make our way down the stairs,
until finally we're standing by the front door.  I know I
can't just leave; I have to make one more attempt to make
some contact.  I can feel Mulder's thoughts pulsing
understanding and agreement, and he leans against the door
while I turn to talk to Bill.

"Bill ...." I say, but then I let my voice trail off.  I
just can't find the words.  We've grown so far apart, and
now I have about thirty seconds to try to tell him
everything that's led me to this point.  It can't be done. 
I also want to go to my mother's room and at least kiss her
goodbye, but I wouldn't be able to explain this to her any
better than I can to Bill.  Finally I shake my head in
frustration, hating myself for my cowardice, and I just say,
"Take care of yourself."

It occurs to me as I utter these words that taking care of
himself -- not to mention Mom and Tara and the rest of the
family -- might be a tall order, under the circumstances. 
My only hope is that by leaving, Mulder and I will draw the
attention away from the rest of them.  A thin hope, at best.

"You'd better get going," my brother says at last.  His
voice is flat and unemotional, and the flicker of concern I
saw a few minutes ago appears to be gone.  My shoulders
slump and I feel Mulder's touch, on my elbow and in my mind.
 Time to go.

I turn away from my brother for the last time, and once
again I take my husband's arm.  The door swings open easily,
and we move out onto the porch and down the steps.

It's dark and quiet outside, and the stars are shining down
like tiny gems set against a velvet backdrop.  It's hard to
believe there can be danger here ... it's so peaceful and
beautiful.  But we can't ignore the Gunmen's warning; we
can't afford to take that risk.

At last I get Mulder to his car and into the passenger seat.
 He reaches in his pocket and pulls out and hands me his
keys without comment, then slumps back in his seat and
closes his eyes while I fasten his seatbelt.  I move around
to the driver's side and start the engine, then turn to look
at  Mulder.

He is so beautiful.  I don't know how or why any of the rest
of this had to happen, but as long as I've got Mulder I've
got everything I really need.  I feel a lump forming in my
throat, and I know he's still awake and listening, because
the humming in my head is louder, and a tiny smile is
tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"You ready, Partner?" I say at last.

His smile broadens, but he doesn't open his eys.  And he
replies, "Yeah, Scully.  I'm ready.  Whither thou goest."

I lean across and kiss him briefly on the mouth, then
straighten up and put the car into gear.  We back out of the
driveway.  Another moment and we're moving forward, down the
street and away from my mother's home, into the night.


==================

EPILOGUE - The Last Day of Summer

==================


I awaken before my usual time on the last day of summer. 
Despite the early hour, Mulder is already up and active,
which I know by the humming inside my head even before I
reach sleepily across the bed to find his spot empty.

I sigh, regret mingling with contentment, and snuggle a
little further into the bedclothes, happy in the knowledge
that there's no schedule to keep today.  Two weeks ago I
gave my notice to the Sheep's Head Cafe, and yesterday was
my last day.  This morning Mulder and I will have a
leisurely breakfast, load our few possessions into the car,
and start heading east at last, and back into the fray. 
There's no timetable for our departure, though; this one
last day we can pretend we're on vacation.

There's no real reason why we have to leave today, for that
matter.  But we've been discussing our future plans for
several weeks now, and today is as good a day as any -- and
the symbolism of the change of season has played a role in
this decision as well.  We've rested long enough; just as
summer gives way to fall and vacations end, so our
sabbatical from our proper work must also draw to a close.

As the smell of coffee drifts in from the other room of the
efficiency apartment which has been our temporary refuge, I
let my thoughts drift back over the events of the past four
months.  So much has happened in that time -- and yet the
basics remain the same.

After we left my mother's home we headed west.  We had no
particular destination in mind that morning, other than
putting as much distance as possible between ourselves and
anyplace our enemies might think to look for us.  We also
hoped that by leaving we might draw pursuit away from our
friends and families -- a goal which has met with mixed
success, unfortunately.

Eventually we settled in a small university town on the
banks of a river in the upper Midwest.  The pace is slower
here; the lifestyle is less intense than what we'd been
accustomed to.  The people are friendly without being pushy
or intrusive, and the student population is sufficiently
transient that no one took particular notice of two more
strangers arriving unexpectedly from nowhere -- nor are they
likely to miss us when we leave.  We've made a few
acquaintances and engaged in some socializing, but we've
deliberately kept it casual and remained a little distant.

When I found out about the cache of money and forged
identification papers Mulder had in the trunk of his car, I
didn't know whether I should be appalled or grateful.  He
told me he'd put the packet together the morning after the
X-Files were burned, and on the whole I'm glad -- it
certainly has stood us in good stead.  The money tided us
over until we could settle on a place to hide and find jobs;
the new identities, courtesy of the Gunmen, have allowed Fox
Mulder and Dana Scully to disappear without a trace.

We hope.

All of which has given us the time and space we needed. 
When we left my mother's home in Baltimore, four months ago,
we still had many issues in need of resolution -- issues
both personal and professional.  We haven't settled
everything, and I don't suppose we ever will.  But at least
we've had the chance to catch our breath, and some things
have slowly become clearer.

The small part of me that remembers being a law enforcement
officer still cringes every time I use Betty Bruchstein's
I.D. to cash a check, but as a practical matter I have
little choice.  And in any case, the list of things I won't
do for Mulder and for our quest has been shrinking steadily
ever since I walked into that basement office so many years
ago.

I draw my hand from under the covers and lightly touch
Mulder's class ring where it hangs from the chain around my
neck.  I feel a fresh surge of affection, both for him and
from him, as I remember the night he gave it to me, and for
at least the thousandth time I'm grateful that this, at
least, is no longer in doubt.  We went through so much pain
and suffering and heartache to get to this point, and much
as I might wish some of those things had happened otherwise,
I can't make myself regret the chain of events that finally
led us to each other.

As I continue to hold Mulder's ring in my hand, my fingers
brush against my cross.  This, too, has become more coherent
and intelligible while we've rested here.  I've been reading
the Bible a lot since we arrived, and I've done a lot of
praying.  My faith is still not as strong as it once was;
it's not even as strong as it was after my remission, and
nowhere near where I would like it to be.  But at least it
hasn't left me entirely.

Or more accurately, I haven't left it.

Somewhat to my surprise, Mulder has joined me in my Bible
study.  He hasn't volunteered his reasons for this, and I
haven't asked -- but despite his numerous questions and
frequent skepticism, I do sense a warm feeling of
contentment from him whenever we read Scripture together.  I
don't know whether that's because he recognizes the comfort
I find in it, or because he takes pleasure in our spending
time together, or even because he's doing a little spiritual
exploration of his own.  Perhaps it's a combination of the
three.

The one thing I do know is that I feel less alone, because
Mulder is with me -- just as he always is.

Three weeks ago Langly and Byers passed through town in the
guise of Jehovah's Witnesses, bearing news of the outside
world -- news which Mulder and I had not dared seek out, for
fear of drawing attention to ourselves.  Unfortunately, all
of it was bad.

The night after we left Baltimore, my mother's house burned
to the ground.  The fire was ruled to be an accident, and no
one was home at the time, but none of us believe it can have
been anything other than a warning.  No further incidents
seem to have been directed at my family, but of course the
threat remains.

The X-Files have been closed again, of course.  That was
inevitable, once we had to go into hiding, and as much as
the confirmation saddened both of us, it's not the worst
thing that could have happened.  At least this time our work
has not been burned, or handed over to a Consortium agent. 
We can hope the Files will still be there, waiting for us,
when we finally return.

If we're ever able to return.

Not surprisingly, Diana Fowley has dropped out of sight
again -- but this time Walter Skinner and Teena Mulder have
also disappeared.  So far as Langly and Byers have been able
to determine, no foul play was involved.  The three of them
are simply -- gone.  But whether that's for good or for ill
is impossible to say.

The worst news is that no one has heard from Frohike since
the night we were forced to flee.  After calling us with the
warning the Gunmen split up, each going into hiding in a
separate, confidential location.  They had plans to find
each other once again, but when Langly and Byers arrived at
the rendezvous point Frohike wasn't there.  We still have
hopes he may appear, but at this point they are only hopes.

But hope is one of our most important remaining resources. 
Hope is what allowed Mulder and me to find each other at
last, after the disaster at El Rico.  Hope is also what
allowed us to heal and become stronger during our sojourn
here.  Rather than simply burrowing into the ground and
giving up, we've held each other and cared for each other,
building some happy memories to go with all the bad.  And
now on the last day of summer we're finally ready to
continue the battle.

I'm drawn out of my reverie by the sound of Mulder's
footsteps in the short hallway between the bedroom and the
living area, and a moment later the shower comes on.  I feel
his thoughts, suddenly erotic and inviting, and I smile as I
throw back the covers and climb out of bed.

By the time I reach the bathroom I've already stripped off
my clothes.  Now I'm standing just outside the cramped
little shower stall, a slight smile on my face, waiting. 
This is a game we play from time to time.  Mulder knows I'm
here, and of course I know he's there; the object is to see
which one of us will give in first, and finally open the
door.

It doesn't matter which of us it is, of course, because
either way we both win.  The shower door swings open at last
and I step forward into my husband's arms, ready to make one
more happy memory before it's time to go.


==============The end of the whole story==============